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Roxanna Sarmiento publishes Everyday Treats, a blog about living well every day, and The Frog & Snail, a lifestyle blog for parents of boys.

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Got Quirky Boys? There’s a Good Reason For That

By Roxanna Sarmiento |

A recent article in The Economist sings the praises of both misfits (defined as people with Asperger’s syndrome, attention-deficit disorder, and dyslexia) and well-rounded “organization men,” arguing that to truly succeed, businesses need both types.

Fair enough. Just think of the odd genius of Mark Zuckerberg and the polished business acumen of Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook. It’s clear that companies benefit from both types of brilliance.

But it was the paragraph at the end of the article was most interesting to me:

More broadly, the replacement of organisation man with disorganisation man is changing the balance of power. Those square pegs may not have an easy time in school. They may be mocked by jocks and ignored at parties. But these days no serious organisation can prosper without them.

Yes, the future belongs to the geeks, but when you’re raising quirky kids, adulthood feels a million years away. And those of us raising boys, who are more likely to receive the labels and diagnoses (troublemaker, ADD, dyslexic, ASD) that are increasingly a badge of genius in adulthood, are left to wonder — how do we help our square pegs survive childhood and the pressure to fit in of the teenage years?

Well, I have good news, and I have bad news. The bad news won’t surprise you at all: Raising your quirky kid (whatever his quirk may be) will be more work than raising the average child. But the good news: All the extra work pays off in the end, and sometimes it does so handsomely.

A few years ago, there was an article in The Atlantic Monthly that discussed the orchid hypothesis. It basically splits children’s temperament into “dandelions” or “orchids”:

These dandelion children — equivalent to our “normal” or “healthy” children, with “resilient” genes — do pretty well almost anywhere, whether raised in the equivalent of a sidewalk crack or a well-tended garden. Ellis and Boyce offer that there are also “orchid” children, who will wilt if ignored or maltreated but bloom spectacularly with greenhouse care.

I also appreciate that this hypothesis acknowledges that just like a company needs both types of genius to survive, so does humankind:

In this view, having both dandelion and orchid kids greatly raises a family’s (and a species’) chance of succeeding, over time and in any given environment. The behavioral diversity provided by these two different types of temperament also supplies precisely what a smart, strong species needs if it is to spread across and dominate a changing world. The many dandelions in a population provide an underlying stability. The less-numerous orchids, meanwhile, may falter in some environments but can excel in those that suit them … Together, the steady dandelions and the mercurial orchids offer an adaptive flexibility that neither can provide alone. Together, they open a path to otherwise unreachable individual and collective achievements.

Of course, this is a generalization — that’s the nature of a hypothesis, after all — and just like no two normal kids are normal in the same way, no two hothouse flowers are challenging in the same way. What works for one child won’t work for the other. As parents, we will make mistakes, and sometimes, despite all of our hard work, our children will “wilt.”

There are no guarantees in parenting. Still.

But I think that this idea, that the children who suffer most from bad environments will also profit the most from good ones, is simple but revolutionary. It redefines the behavioral card our kids have been dealt as not just a problem or vulnerability, but also as potential and possibility.

Isn’t that refreshing?

What do you think of the orchid theory? Does it make sense to you?

If you still need more inspiration as you raise your quirky sons, here are 10 misfits who grew into extremely successful adults.

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Raising boys with Asperger's, ADHD, and Dyslexia

David Beckham

The footballer suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder. He had kept his condition a secret, but is now open about it. He acknowledges that it has influenced both his rigorous training regime and teasing from teammates. (Image Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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ROXANNA SARMIENTO
About MeEveryday Treats The art of living well every day
The Frog & Snail Society We’re all boy

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Roxanna Sarmiento

Roxanna Sarmiento publishes Everyday Treats, a blog about living well every day, and The Frog & Snail, a lifestyle blog for parents of boys. Read bio and latest posts → Read Roxanna's latest posts →

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8 thoughts on “Got Quirky Boys? There’s a Good Reason For That

  1. [...] Read the rest of the article at the Society Page! [...]

  2. Asha Dornfest says:

    We could talk about this for HOURS. This has been our experience exactly…we have an “orchid” son and a “dandelion” daughter. In the meantime, have you read the BV post I wrote about school and anxiety? In it, I talk about how a change in environment turned everything around for our son…and how he’s now able to tend more toward dandelion.

    http://www.babble.com/babble-voices/the-accidental-expert/2012/03/13/anxiety-and-learning/

  3. Korinthia says:

    I like to think we’re heading into an era of more acceptance for quirky boys as part of the broader movement to accept gay rights. I think homophobia has harmed many boys both gay and straight who simply deviated from the norm. As the mother of a quirky boy that gives me hope.

  4. Roxanna Sarmiento says:

    Thank you for sharing that post, Asha! One of my sons suffers from anxiety and I’m worried about how that will manifest itself at school. But it’s all about perspective, and in the end — love and trust, isn’t it?

  5. Alix says:

    This topic always makes me think of one of my favorite songs, “Raise Your Glass” by Pink. “Raise your glass if you are wrong in all the right ways…if you’re too school for cool, if you’re treated like a fool.” Hooray for the misfits and oddballs – without them, the world would be a very boring and stagnant place! It takes more nurturing to raise an orchid, but the outcome can be breathtaking!

  6. [...] I discussed why the world needs misfits over the my column on Babble Voices. (Have you visited yet? You should!). [...]

  7. Meagan H says:

    I am a quirky girl who is ADD(although mine is milder than most) and am moderately disgraphic(I think that how its spelled anyway :-P ) and I do think there is room for more acceptance of mental diversity I find the “orchid hypothesis” unsettling. I think the idea that people with mental differences are some how high mantainence or demanding is somewhat patronizing and makes it sound as those of who are differrent are somehow fragile or weaker than “normal” folks. It feels like what the author is saying is that we should treat the freaks with kid gloves cuz it helps us normal folks. Is it too much to ask that we simply be treated like people?

  8. mbaker says:

    Meagah…
    I don’t really see it that way probably because of the experience I’ve had with my older son. He has ADHD, Aspergers, and a very high IQ. He really struggled until we found right combination of therapy and the right therapeutic school. He doesn’t know he has those issues and we don’t use them as a crutch to let him get away with problem behavior or as an excuse to shield him from the world. We’ve instead busted our butts to help him learn what he needs to jknow to function successfully in the world.

    It’s been tough and we’ve found that when we relax our efforts he starts to backslide but our efforts have been rewarded because we now have a happy, creative and playful kid who has friends and who will mainstream next year under special circumstances.

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