The Unintended Effects of Expectations

The January 9th, 2015 episode of This American Life featured a story titled “The Batman,” about Daniel Kish, who’s blind, but can navigate the world by clicking with his tongue.  This gives him a surprising amount of information about what’s around him by listening to the echos generated from his clicks.  As a result, he is able to do all sorts of things most blind people don’t. Most famously, he rides a bike.  In the story, we learn that he was raised quite differently than most blind kids. 

            Growing up, Daniel’s parents deliberately gave him the space to explore the world, bump into things, get a few cuts and bruises and take certain risks some people might feel uncomfortable.  He climbed nearly everything he could get to.  By trusting his ability to develop his own way of navigating his surroundings, he developed a very powerful, unique and ultimately useful skill that would serve him so well for the rest of his life.  Ever since he was an infant, he started to use the spatial information garnered from hearing how his clicks generated by his tongue reflected off his surroundings.  By starting to do this as a child, he developed an essential skill for survival that may have only been allowed to develop from his unique upbringing.  Many blind kids may be led around by the hand, or taught to use a walking stick, or just not allowed to go out as much.  Because blind kids don’t have vision, which most people rely so much on, those who care for them may not be able to even imagine that other means are possible to “sense” the environment. 

            A recurrent theme I see in our brain aneurysm support groups involves the complex interaction between survivor and caretaker.  Everybody’s goal is for the survivor to recover to where they are independent and hopefully as a result, happy.  Many times though, there may be persisting problems with memory, strength, or mood that are so challenging.  I often get asked if the bleeding in the brain, or the aneurysm, has caused so much damage that these issues may persist and never get better.  To some extent, there may be some irreversible brain injury that causes significant neurologic problems.  But another cause for why these problems persist may actually be the expectations of the caregiver or family member.  Even though it may take much longer for the survivor to do, and it might be so much easier for the caretaker to do, perhaps allowing the survivor to navigate their daily activities and the world will foster the development of amazing new coping skills.  It may never be quite as impressive as Daniel, “the Batman’s” clicking skill.  But I think caregivers and family members owe it to their beloved brain aneurysm survivors to give them a lot of time and patience for them to find their own ways to get around and we just might be surprised as to what magic may result.