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Square Pegs in Round Holes- How Society Unintentionally Perpetuates the Idea that “Differently Wired” is “Bad”

By Brandy Browne

I was sitting in a small room in the back of our doctor’s office late last summer. The room was chilly, but I was not. My head was throbbing, and all of my children were bickering a bit. We were there for a consult for my eldest daughter, who routinely suffers panic attacks and has trouble sleeping. Our doctor looked at me and said, “You’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.” Sweet Grace is differently wired. I would hear that phrase again during the evaluation process with a psychologist the following month. When I scanned the table of contents for Differently Wired, I noted the third chapter is aptly titled, “Square Pegs in Round Holes.” I knew that I needed to read this book, both as a parent, and as someone who spends quite a bit of my time coaching other families with children who are wired differently. 

The author, Deborah Reber, discussed how she came to the title of Differently Wired after struggling to find a phrase that did not hold the same negative connotations that words like “disorder” hold. Whether our society is intentional about doing this or not, the language that we use to describe kids who process the world around them differently often insinuates that there is something wrong with them. Reber discusses how a couple memes that are constantly passed around the internet are hurtful to parents of children that have atypical children. For example, 

Your child’s success or lack of success in sports does not indicate what kind of parent you are. But having an athlete that is coachable, respectful, a great teammate, mentally tough, resilient, and tries their best IS a direct reflection of your parenting. 

For many, their child will never excel at team sports. The unpredictability of a game, sensory processing challenges, the inability to process rejection, etc. makes the world that is team sports very challenging. While these are important skills to cultivate in your child, seeing a child that does not display these abilities may not be a reflection of poor parenting, but rather a reflection of a child that has developed in an atypical manner. 

I remember agonizing over where my daughter should be placed one year. Someone that I’m sure meant well told me, “You need to request —. She won’t put up with that anxiety bull.” Instantly, I bristled. My face grew hot. I excused myself. Anxiety bull? Like it was something she was making up? Like she wants to be anxious? Who WANTS to have a panic attack rock their body? I’ve also heard, “She doesn’t do that with me. I don’t put up with that. She just needs to suck it up.” Or, “I don’t really buy into the anxiety thing.” As a lifelong sufferer of anxiety myself, I can attest first hand to the very real physical and mental challenges that living with anxiety brings. 

Our world, our schools, our workplaces, our churches, our everything…it is not set up to celebrate the square peg. I teach social skills classes. The idea is to help children gain the skills that they need to be successful in society. However, I do ALOT of celebrate who you are as well. Because our square pegs bring brilliant contributions to the world. As a parent, you are your child’s best advocate. Reber (2018) stresses, “Although admittedly, accommodating the needs of differently wired kids in such activities may involve more effort, time, and resources than many organizations can afford, that doesn’t make the outcome any less harmful or unfair for an entire generation of exceptional children. Some people call it ableism, a type of discrimination defined by StopAbleism.org as a ‘set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value (worth) to people who have developmental, emotional, physical, or psychiatric disabilities.’ In its simplest form, it boils down to normal equals good and abnormal equals bad” (p 61).  

In our world, one in five people are atypical, or wired differently. It is time to change the conversation. Our current system is one where parents of typically developing children can generally feel safe and secure. The same cannot be said for parents of children who develop atypically. If we want the next generation to grow into a kind, inclusive society, we must start by compassionately educating their parents, who, according to Reber, are “unwittingly supporting systems and norms that are excluding so many of us” (p 64). Simply put, they don’t know what they don’t know. It’s time to change that. I look forward to sharing my takeaways from the next chapters of Differently Wired. 

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