A Token of Appreciation May 6, 2013

When exceptional parents find themselves on the board game of "Special Needs" and are trying to "win at all costs," they are employing the same principles of "game theory."

By Rick Rader, MD

When I was in college and fumbling through "connecting," I remember the first time I heard the words, "I hope you're not into playing games." This amused me since everyone referred to it as "the dating game." The expressions "He's a loser," or "I hope I score," all referred to "games." So it begged the question, how can you find yourself in a "game," (granted a large scale game) and not be "playing?"

Game theory is a set of mathematical concepts used in strategic decision making, not necessarily intended to decide which of the two Tri-Delts to ask out, but is based on the same data sets. Game theory has implications in economics, political science, psychology, logic, and biology. It is played out every day at the Pentagon and the State Department. It is defined as "the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers." It is based on the presumption that each person (player) has found or developed a tactic that cannot successfully better his or her results.

And whether one is trying to decide to build a hotel on Marvin Gardens or Ventnor Avenue, or opt for securing the B & O Railroad (while avoiding a "trip to Jail") the concepts of "how to win" remain consistent. When exceptional parents find themselves on the board game of "Special Needs" and are trying to "win at all costs," they are employing the same principles of "game theory."

The board game Monopoly is where most of us probably learned the principles of "game theory." Here, we learned all about strategy, greed and tactics. It was from playing Monopoly that we learned how a board consisting of 40 spaces could define our self-esteem. It was from playing Monopoly that we learned that orange bills ($500) were better to have than white bills ($1), and that something called "rent" was good to receive from others. Monopoly also provided us with a cruel realization that you win when others lose. In Chess, you simply "check-mated" the opponent, no harm was done, the game simply ended. In Monopoly you brought your opposition to "bankruptcy," total devastation. There were no co-winners, no second placers, no ties, no team victories. You won and others lost.

It was from playing Monopoly that I first experienced the role of the "lucky charm." I needed the "race car" as my token. Anything else relegated me into being a "loser." If I got the "thimble" or the "top hat," I was doomed. The "race car" was my ticket to success.

The "tokens" represented each player and were moved around the edge of the board according to the roll of two dice. For years, the choice of tokens included a "wheelbarrow," "battleship," "race car," "thimble," "boot," "Scottie dog," "top hat," and "iron." I never won represented by any token other than the race car.

It was therefore significant when, earlier this year, Hasbro (the toy company that owns Monopoly) decided to conduct an advertising campaign in which the public would vote on replacing one of the classic tokens with a new one. This contest would result in one of the tokens being retired and a new one would take its place on the board. The choices for the "new" piece were a "guitar," a "diamond ring," a "helicopter," a "robot," or a "cat."

So I began to think as an exceptional parent playing Monopoly. Which token would they opt to remove and what would they replace it with?

A "wheelbarrow" is a keeper, since "exceptional parents" have lots to carry with them: memories, dreams, records, reports, assessments, appeals, denials, birthday cards, bank statements, photos. They couldn't possibly give up the wheelbarrow. The "battleship" is also a keeper, since it represents how they obtained every inch of justice, inclusion and support....through battle. The "thimble" should also be saved. One could make the argument that the thimble is necessary to sew things up, to mend things and to protect...all define the exceptional parent. The "boot" should be saved as well. After all, it's what every exceptional parent wants to use (especially sharp pointed ones) to express their displeasure with bureaucratic indifference. The "Scottie dog" is somewhat of a problem for exceptional parents. One could make the argument that the beloved US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a Scottish terrier, Fala, that was FDR's favorite companion. It was FDR who, despite having polio and was confined to a wheelchair, served as an inspiration for many people with disabilities. But you could also argue that FDR refused to be seen, depicted and photographed sitting in his wheelchair. He believed that the public would see him as weak, incapable and infirmed. So the jury is still out on the Scottie dog as a token to save. The "top hat" was my choice to be replaced. It represented formality, elitism and a distinct class, none of which resonated with the reality of parenting a child with special needs. It also represented the origins of "handicap," the picture of crippled kids holding their hats to passerby asking for money to be placed in their hats. Yeah, the top hat had to go. The "iron" is a tool used to "smooth" things out, a chore that tops the list of everything on the exceptional parent's "to do" list. And of course the "race car" had to stay. After all, this was my lucky charm.

The "new" Monopoly tokens also have potential symbols for exceptional parents. The "helicopter" reflects parents hovering over their children. The "guitar" represents the harmony that all exceptional parents try to create for their families. The "diamond ring" is a symbol of how "hard" and how "committed" exceptional parents have been. The "robot," it could be argued, reflects the need for exceptional parents to be tireless and often mechanistic in insuring that everything that their child requires is available to them. As I am a dog person, the "cat" could go.

The votes were recorded on Facebook (wonder why a "smart phone" wasn't one of the potential new tokens) and the choices were announced. The "iron" was to be retired and the "cat" was introduced as the new Monopoly token.

Not being a cat person, I was obviously disappointed. I always viewed cats as being indifferent, unaffectionate and always looking out for themselves, not exactly the "token" to represent the exceptional parent. So I decided to study cats and feel better about its selection as the new token. I finally was convinced by reading a quote by Jim David, the creator of the comic strip Garfield, the personification of the cat as human. Jim's observation resonated with me and I'm at peace.

"Way down deep, we're all motivated by the same urges. Cats have the courage to live by them."
Hmmm, the "courage to live by them." Just like exceptional parents everywhere.

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