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Learning difficulties vs. Genius

March 22, 2014

This is the third and final instalment for our current uni assignment on adolescent psychopathology. While my fascination for conundrum and complexity prevails, I am also intrigued at the media-generated feedback loops. Isn’t it dreadful/ handwringing is a common trope:

Back to Cameron’s growing pains

Social factors

In providing a centre catering for students with Autism, Darland school can be seen as offering a safe environment for nurturing genius. While Cameron Thompson claims “I have the social ability of a talking potato”, and he is worried about first impressions which may be created at a new school, the welcome notes surrounding his desk are a source of affirmation. Mrs Moore informs Cameron he can function as “You being you with people around you”.

Of immense significance is the blossoming friendship with Tim which suggests Cameron is not at risk of adopting maladaptive behaviours such as school avoidance. While a meeting in the park with local Acton boys reveals Cameron’s social inadequacies and he states that he doesn’t meet his friends in person, preferring to connect on Facebook or playing World of Warcraft online, scenes which depict prosocial relationships with Tim, his teacher Mrs Moore, and karate student Jonathan, are all positive signs of Cameron’s developing social skillset.

Friendships foster flourishing: Shared interests are affirming; according to Mrs Moore, Cameron’s quirky sense of humour is a “Good omen for the future”.  It is interesting to see that when Cameron and Jonathan attend the “geek’s paradise” Games Expo, Cameron is amazed that new-found friend Gabi likes the same things as him – Dr Who and World of Warcraft – while Jonathan is on the periphery of their animated conversation, and Cameron’s mother, Alison, is pleased that Gabi’s phone number is secured.

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There are a number of other signs towards the end of the documentary when Cameron turns fourteen that the social issues reinforcing why he sees himself as “such a loser” are dissipating.  Despite the LD diagnosis, Cameron has made friends. Tim might not be popular, and Cameron sees himself as “dragged down”, but he doesn’t care.

There is also evidence of newfound maturity – a moustache – growing interest in females, a first date without the presence of chaperoning parents, and an “awesome” birthday party which friends and family alike attend. Emotionally, Cameron has experienced enormous self-growth along with a surge in confidence. Couple this shift with his improving achievement in the Open University course and, by definition of interlinked complexity, it becomes difficult to determine which has the greatest bearing on subsequent emotional changes. Cameron is no longer able to affirm that “Most people my age do despise me; I’ve been like this for years”. His altered manner is a harbinger of continuing change and development.

Conclusion

Cameron Thompson’s Mathematical genius in combination with a diagnosed Learning Disability suggests that, while common LD characteristics may exist, it is the complex interplay of psychodynamic and neurodevelopmental factors which shape the case’s idiosyncrasies. As anxiety disorders are comorbid with each other, as well as other disorders, such as OCD or mania, and they are also associated with social impairment, the interplay of genetic and environmental factors is critical. Moreover, the literature asserts that changes in LD symptoms occur with age, so individuals may manifest shifting or persistent learning difficulties across the lifespan.

For Cameron at thirteen, difficulties arise in achieving social acceptance among peers since he fails to comprehend non-verbal cues. Similarly, stress of underachievement causes obsessive thinking, and Cameron seems to experience panic attacks when adversely affected by achievement pressure as a result of his LD. While adaptive responses are evident, such as when Cameron is seen making friends, and Open University marks are improving, the greatest overall impact lies in his Learning Disability.

At one extreme, it is highly unlikely that Cameron will become, as he predicts, a hobo “eating out of bins”. A more probable prognosis for this young genius is that growing self-awareness and ongoing support from family, friends and advisers will ensure that the alternative trajectory predicted by Imre Khan – Cambridge in four years – comes to fruition.

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