Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Popping the Clutch

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Popping the Clutch

Article excerpt

I remember that when I was a kid, my dad seemed to know everything about cars. One day, our car wouldn't start. My older brother and I sat on the porch watching him try to start it. Then, he said, "Come on over here, Johnny. I've got a job for you." He told him to sit in the driver's seat and steer straight down our long driveway while he pushed the car from behind. "When it gets going fast enough, just pop the clutch, ok?" Off they went down the driveway, Dad pushing and John steering. And sure enough, as soon as the car was moving along fast enough, John popped the clutch and drove off down the street, waving from the window. My Dad laughed and said, "Sometimes that's what you have to do to get them started!"

I tell this story now because the memory of this event returned to me one day as I was sinking into yet another period of serf-doubt regarding how I was parenting my child with learning differences. I was worrying that I might be enabling my son's disorganization and dependent behavior Our son was doing well in school in spite of being 'labeled'. While this was somewhat comforting, my doubts often nagged me.

I wondered if I had created this dependent person. Did he think that I would always be there to pick up the pieces so he wouldn't have to? It was true that I reminded him of things he needed to do. I seemed to be more focused on his learning than he was. Was this a result of his learning issues or was this just normal behavior? I couldn't tell and the experts often confused me more.

I wanted to know when it would all end. I actually found myself counting how many years of school until graduation. I couldn't even think of college and how we would handle that.

When the memory of my dad's popping the clutch came to me, I realized that I had been doing the very same thing. ! had been pushing and supporting my son until he had enough momentum to move forward under his own power Truthfully, I was getting tired and I wished he would get going! But when I thought about the situation this way, the pathology of 'enabling' melted away and the image of a caring, supportive adult who had only the child's best interest at heart took its place.

I really embraced this metaphor and it helped me through the next few years.


When I first thought about "popping the clutch," my son was still struggling. It seemed to me the road was all uphill. The morning push to get to school was very stressful. The endless pattern of losing important things was the norm. I couldn't tell anymore where normal adolescent forgetting and disorganization left off and LD began. I kept after him to stay organized, to stay on top of his work, to write things down. I felt like the biggest nag in the world.

I was sure of one thing: failure breeds failure and success breeds success. I knew in my heart that letting him fail would put him to sleep forever. Every kid is unique, and this one would not respond to failure.

We tried hard to point out to him what he was doing right. We praised and celebrated his accomplishments. I hoped he could hear this along with all the 'pushing'. I told him how much courage he had and how he was going to be the best adult ever--if we could just get through school! He seemed to listen. I think he felt comforted that he wasn't working alone at his job of getting through a system that is not particularly understanding of different learners.


"We" made it to 7th grade! Things were getting harder. My son would often greet me as I came into the house after a long day at work with "Mom, we've got a social studies test tomorrow!" When was he going to realize that HE had the test, not me? I didn't know the answer to that question. I did know that when I helped my son study by making visuals or sentences to help him remember, he did well. We joked about historical figures so they would stick in his head better. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.