Lots of things are mysteries. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an answer to them. It’s just that scientists haven’t found the answer yet. -Mark Haddon
There are many remarkable students at Bunditnoi Song. There are students who have hugged me in fits of affection, there are students who have demanded to play rock-paper-scissors (the game I taught them a few weeks ago when they started to lose interest in thumb wars) after a long day at school, there are students who just like to prove that they can say “Good afternoon, teacher,” when I pass by, and smile proudly to themselves when they think I’ve stopped looking.
And then there’s Om Si.
Om Si is in the first grade of EIS (English Integrated Studies, the division of Bunditnoi where Hannah teaches all of her classes and I teach over half of mine). He has a small frame with an almost comically large head. He also has a learning disability.
I personally believe that he has severe ADHD, and Ben and Hannah tend to agree. None of the English-speaking Thai teachers have told us whether they know his actual diagnosis or not. To them, he is simply, “difficult.”
Difficult is to put it lightly. The span of Om Si’s attention is so short, the capacity of his focus so miniscule that it is all but impossible to form a connection to him. Om Si does not sit quietly in class unless he has been quite heavily medicated (which does happen, as more often than not his mother will spend the day at Bunditnoi, waiting for her son to cause a disturbance, at which point she will heroically march up to him and medicate him). When he is not on medication, he is not on a plane of consciousness that we farangs can reach. He will not communicate to me even in the little English that is classmates use (“Excuse me teacher may I drink some water?” or “Excuse me teacher may I go to toilet?”), but rather march up to me and spout a monologue of high-pitched Thai.
But that monologue is short-lived, because soon Om Si’s interest in whatever I’m doing has run out, and he has moved on to the next thing that will hold his attention for 3-5 seconds.
I’ve managed, once or twice, to get Om Si to sit next to me against the back wall on days that he was particularly disturbing to the rest of the class. On these occasions all I could think to do was talk to him in a low, calm voice, and allow Teacher Lheaw to carry on with the lesson. I remember one particular day very early on in my time at Bunditnoi when I was talking to Om Si about whatever came to mind, and somehow got on the topic of Batman. At the word “Batman,” whatever calming powers my voice has were broken, or some kind of recognition dawned in his abnormally large head, and Om Si shouted “BATMAN!!” at the top of his lungs.
But all of the above is just prelude to the most notable thing about Om Si…
On Tuesday we had a test in all of the first grade classes. To begin, I wrote the alphabet in jumbled order on the white board. Up until about a week ago, we’d only been practically the alphabet in, well, alphabetical order. But now I jumbled the letters, and the students had to come to the front of the room one-by-one and recite the entire list, or a random selection of letters that Teacher Lheaw chose.
After the first student in EIS first grade performed rather poorly, Om Si ran to the front of the room. I expected him to be gone again after a few seconds, but instead he spoke to Teacher Lheaw in Thai. Lheaw nodded, and Om Si stood up straight. I knew then what had happened: Om Si had volunteered to take the test next, rather than wait his turn.
Om Si recited every single letter of that jumbled alphabet with perfect pronunciation and diction. When he was finished, Lheaw and I congratulated him, and he returned to his seat, where, honest-to-goodness, he proceeded to stick a pencil up his nose, smiling his mischievous smile.
Nasal antics aside, none of the other students in EIS first grade performed so well. Om Si’s perfect score confirmed what the Thai teachers had been saying and I had begun to doubt: that Om Si is the one of the smartest students his age.
I have great affection for Om Si, even though I know that it will never be returned. He is not stupid and he is not unaware. He very often wears his mischievous grin when he’s up to no good, but I do think it is currently beyond his capacity to connect with other people meaningfully and ignore the constant wanderings of his mind.
More on everything to come!