I can’t count how many times people have said to me recently, “Your son’s woodcarvings are fantastic. He’s so talented, he should start up a little business.”
My response is always the same. “Yes, Michael’s woodcarvings are fantastic, and he is indeed talented.” Then, I mumble under my breath (never in a mean way), ‘but you don’t have a clue.’
What these kind and well-meaning people are clueless about is that Michael doesn’t have motivation. Yes, he loves to carve boats and fish and three-dimensional reliefs of animals. He’s even won second and third place for pieces he entered in the Canadian Woodcarving Championships. And, not insignificantly, he feels great when he sells carvings, which he does. Like everyone else, Michael likes money.
So you’d think he’d be motivated to carve and carve and sell and sell. The possibilities are there for him to do so. He could start a little business, perhaps. Create a website to sell online. Try to get carvings into a shop. Go to craft fairs around the province, sell at flea markets and Christmas bazaars.
But it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t matter how talented he may be. Michael doesn’t have motivation. Drive, determination, vision, goal or ambition? I won’t say he doesn’t have any. I’ll just say he doesn’t have enough to motivate him. Ah, yes, motivation.
Michael has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), brain damage caused by the alcohol his birthmother drank while pregnant with him. Adopted at birth, he was diagnosed when he was six. Now 25, little has changed (regarding motivation) since he was in public school when his teachers would say some version of “Michael’s so smart. He just needs to try harder.” “Michael can do a, b, or c, he just isn’t trying.” Or, plain and simple, “He’s lazy.”
Not so simple, we’ve learned.
My husband and I have spent the last 20 years, at least, trying to motivate Michael, whether it’s to wash his dishes, shower, do homework, get exercise, and now, develop a steady routine of woodcarving. We’ve used rewards, bribes, consequences, encouragement and undying love. We, like the teachers, believed that he ‘just had to try harder.’ On some level, I think we still think that. We think we’re going to find the magic bullet, treatment, approach, words, reward or encouragement that’s going to make him try harder to do what he needs to do. To motivate him.
One of the symptoms for many people with FASD is low motivation. Why exactly, I’m not sure, but clearly, it must have to do with brain development. I’ve come to believe over the years, from knowing many other people besides Michael who are considered ‘lazy,’ that perhaps there is no such thing as lazy. Perhaps what we think of lazy is, rather, some underlying problem with brain functioning or confidence, or ability to understand how the world works and navigate within it. Or, maybe these people are just missing the ‘motivation gene.’
It means we have to accept that Michael isn’t ever going to be entrepreneurial. With our help and support, we can encourage him to carve and help him to sell his pieces here and there. But we cannot expect him to start his own little business, set up a website, travel to far away places, place his work in shops.
However, what we can see is that Michael responds positively when people say nice things about his carvings. Encouragement encourages him. Normally shy and withdrawn, he will actually participate in and even start a conversation about his work when people encourage him to talk about it. When our friends are visiting and they ask about his carvings, he’ll go into his room and bring them out to show. He’s building confidence through his carvings. It clearly makes him feel good about himself. And well it should.
Not surprisingly, it seems that the better he feels about himself, via the carvings, the more we can convince him to carve, sell and keep the positive cycle going.
But guess where all the motivation has to come from. Me. And my husband. Get his work into stores? Online sales? Go to craft fairs? Sure, if we’re motivated.
As any parent of a child with FASD will tell you, it’s hard to keep the energy up.
I’m not sure where my ongoing motivation to help my son comes from. But I’ll take a guess.
Love. And, probably, my brain chemistry.