How STEMSmart helped my non-neurotypical son find friends and the confidence to be himself.
My son? He’s the loud one. The little bit sassy, kinda rambunctious, definitely precocious and ever so slightly obnoxious one. He’s also blisteringly funny, incredibly charming and unapologetically intelligent. Add to that kind, generous, caring and social (to the point of being desperate to make new friends). The sum of all these qualities and many more is my beautiful boy, whom I love beyond measure. But, what he also is….is…. weird… quirky…. and a little bit different. Perhaps his difference is most easily explained by the diagnosis he’s been given. You see my son is Twice Exceptional (2E), he is both intellectually Gifted and has ADHD.
Finding the right ‘fit’ for him socially and academically has been a challenge we’ve faced his whole life. Swimming lessons, daycare, kindy, school, Auskick, drama class, specialist gifted programs, each new activity has been met with some trepidation. Will they ‘get’ him? Can they manage his enthusiasm and see it as just that and not seek to marginalise or segregate to reduce the volume? Will his peers give him a chance endear himself to them or will they dismiss him as the ‘annoying kid’. Finding the right balance of engaging subject and understanding, meaningful delivery has also been tricky. Over the years, we’ve had some really good experiences, and, I’m not going to lie, we’ve had some total shockers.
Will they ‘get’ him? Can they manage his enthusiasm and see it as just that and not seek to marginalise or segregate to reduce the volume?
But with STEMSmart, we feel like we’ve struck gold. He has finally found his tribe and they have embraced him with open arms. From the very first time we scrolled through the website looking at the huge range of courses (his eyes nearly popping out of his head he couldn’t believe there was a holiday program out there helping him indulge his tech-dreams), to the first course he attended where he was met with friendly and welcoming smiles at registration and those same smiles were just as bright at pick up at the end of the day, the tutors brimming with lovely stories about the things they’d learned from him and what they had achieved together. As his Mum, it’s the greatest gift to know your child is understood, valued and respected for who they are, especially when who they are is a little left of centre sometimes.
Making Real Connections
My son has made friends at each of the STEMSmart workshops he has been to. Real ‘let’s swap email addresses with the parent so we can catch up for a playdate sometime’ friends. And each time, the conversation I’ve had with the other parent has been, “Wow, they’re so alike. I don’t know many other kids quite like my own. How wonderful they have met each other and shared this great experience”.
And the tutors? He LOVES them! Young, dynamic, endlessly patient and brimming with enthusiasm for their subject, I love that they have been just as keen for him to show them what he can do with his newly acquired knowledge. He hopes to one day get a job as a STEMSmart tutor himself!
The STEMSmart programs are relevant and so diverse, and never fail to pique the interest of my tech-obsessed boy. The online registration is simple and straight-forward and the drop off and collection on the day of the course has always been a smooth transition. There is often multi-age courses running simultaneously which is heaven for coordinating with siblings to give you a full day respite during the school holidays!
Kids like my son have the potential to do great and amazing things in this world, we just need to embrace and celebrate their difference, something I’ve seen the STEMSmart team demonstrate with empathy and understanding.
But these courses aren’t just for quirky kids, I have two other children who are neurotypical. They have both attended STEMSmart workshops and been equally enthusiastic about the program content, raved about the delivery by the tutors and have relished making friends along the way. They have enjoyed being exposed to the various levels of experience each participant has and appreciated the opportunity to have some peer-lead learning where possible.
There’s something unique about STEAM learning (and STEMSmart’s delivery of it), which seems to equalise the usual social conformities of a classroom. The curiosity and willingness to explore new concepts in groundbreaking subjects helps unite all different types of kids, and that makes for a pretty special learning environment, both academically and socially. And in the end, isn’t that what we all hope for our children? Connection: to have a passion for learning and to treat each other with empathy and kindness.
by Catherine, mother of a 12 year old, STEMsmart, previously known as Fire Tech Australia, student