Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A helping hand? It depends on your kid's perspective

recent piece in Business Insider features this photo of a girl born without a hand who gets a new pink bionic one thanks to 3D printing. The hand was made through e-NABLE, a Google-funded nonprofit group of volunteers all over the world, including school children. In the Business Insider piece, e-NABLE's founder Jon Schull says: "The hands can have a magical ability to make a kid feel good about his or her special hand or arm, and give them some confidence. The other kids at school think they're really lucky. It turns out to be as important psychosocially as mechanically."

A mother writing in The New York Times' Motherlode column assumed her son, who was also born without a hand, would be just as excited about getting one that would make him look like a superhero. So were her friends, who flooded her e-mail box with a related video. But the boy had a different take on things.

"We were sitting on the couch, and he turned toward me. "I've been thinking about it," he said. "And I don't want a new hand."

"But why?" I was devastated. All that time, research and enthusiasm. He was throwing away a chance to have a five-fingered hand? He was quiet for a moment, then started to explain his three reasons.

First of all, he said, he didn't want to lose his sense of touch. "I don't want to lose the way things feel." This caught me off guard. I hadn't thought of how much he could physically feel at the tip of his wrist, how stifled it was under something else plastic.

"I can figure out how to do stuff my own way." It was true. Thaddeus had figured out how to leverage his arms, feet and neck to open jars, marker and pen caps, and even play baseball. "My brain just works different because of my hand, and I think that's a good thing."

I nodded in agreement.

"And my friends like me just the way I am," he said. If he started wearing a new hand, he explained, it would draw more attention to him—the kind he didn’t want. “I don’t think kids would be my friend because of me. They would just want to play with my robot hand.”