Pro-Social Skills

There is a difference between developing social skills and developing prosocial behavior. Parents often confuse the two and feel that if their child has good social skills, they will grow to be considerate, collaborative, kind individuals. However, prosocial skills are more nuanced, they revolve around compassion, social justice, and philosophical evaluation of one’s impact on others. It requires children to be able to take another’s perspective, to feel empathy for others, and to analyze their own behaviors in relationship to others. It can be a difficult thing to teach, particularly to students who don’t have a good track record with socializing, as they lack opportunities to practice. Children who are shy, misfits, bullies, or atypical are often rejected by others, so cannot have the daily interactions that build understanding and empathy.

Parents can teach pro-social skills directly, and early training at home can set their children up for social success as they grow. Children learn by watching and listening to their parents and caregivers. When the parents act with compassion to help others, their children learn from their actions. Parents can also talk about events that the children have witnessed, both positive or negative, to explore why people took those actions and how those actions impacted others. They can also read stories and watch programs that show people being compassionate, sharing, helping, exhibiting kindness and so on. Owning a pet and being taught how to love and care for that pet can teach children pro-social skills. Often having a sibling or siblings offer children ways to learn good pro-social skills, if the parents model pro-social behavior. In addition, authoritative parenting of collaboration, compassion, empathy, and support will teach children how to be pro-social.

Forced To Be A Schoolboy

jj-thompson-142854.jpg

Recently, a parent of one of my newly enrolled students told me his son had been intellectually starved at a past school. He told me that one school day morning, his 8-year-old son woke up and through tears proclaimed, “Born to be a scientist, forced to be a school boy.”

That statement so powerfully captures the struggle that most 2e children go through every day they are in schools that don't work for them. They have exquisitely complex brains that rarely get the opportunity to think deeply and creatively. According to Dr. Miracia Gross, an eminent researcher on exceptionally gifted persons, children with profound giftedness waste virtually all of their time in a traditional classroom. They are not allowed to work to their full capacity.

Our education system has been stripped of most of the complex curriculum, whittled down to math and English test preparation, homogenized history, and hands-off science. No longer are children asked to consider deep topics such as philosophy or the origins of language. Nor do they get to truly experiment with science or discover nature. There is no place for freely dancing or drawing or daydreaming. Our children are starving, hollowed out by a diet of junk education. It is a tragedy of epic proportions that is creating a generation of people who will not know how to think freely or create change. Why can’t we educate our children so they don’t have to choose between their passions and their education? We need a system that will allow a school boy to be a scientist.

The Best Gifted Myths of 2012

Here is the gifted version of "The Year's Best" lists. The following are the best myths about giftedness that I have heard in 2012:

  • Gifted kids are not asynchronous in their development or abilities.
  • Gifted means gifted in ALL areas.
  • Acceleration is not good for gifted children because they will be too young to enter puberty at the same time as their classmates.
  • Children who are ahead in Kindergarten are not gifted, they are just early learners; the other kids will "catch up" by third grade.
  • All gifted kids read early and want to read all the time.
  • The "most gifted" children are gifted in math and science.
  • If your child is not academically inclined, they are not gifted.
  • If your child speaks like an adult, they must also possess the logic and reasoning skills of an adult.
  • Children cannot be learning disabled and gifted.
  • Gifted children are very mature for their age.
  • A child with advanced intellectual ability simply would not also delight in fart jokes.
  • Gifted children are always the product of gifted parents.
  • Your gifted child will be intellectually challenged in the classroom, because the school has a policy which supports differentiation for every child.
  • If your child cannot speak well or write well, that is evidence that he or she is not gifted.
  • Giftedness is the result of overly motivated parents who started flash carding their kids early on.
  • Any academic endeavor is easy for gifted kids.
  • Gifted kids need to do rote practice drills just like everyone else
  • There is no such thing as a "gifted underachiever."
  • Gifted students are easier to teach.
  • Gifted children have an innate desire and ability to be peer tutors.
  • Your kid couldn't possibly be gifted because she or he does (or doesn't)...
  • Private schools will provide an appropriate education for gifted kids.
  • IQ tests can definitively identify all of your gifted child's abilities (or disabilities).
  • Giftedness can't be identified until third grade.
  • "Gifted" is elitist.
  • Your kid can't be gifted because I quizzed them about ____ and they didn't have the answers.
  • All children are gifted.
  • Gifted children learn the same way "normal" children do.
  • Your child is too young to learn about...
  • Taking gifted kids out of the school system is unfair because it will lower overall test scores and make it harder for the school to get funding.
  • Gifted children don't get bullied any more often than any other group of kids.
  • All gifted children learn the same way and a "gifted curriculum" will work well for all of them.
  • Perfectionism is not a problem for gifted kids.
  • Giftedness is a harbinger of success in all endeavors.
  • Children should progress through school with their age mates, because otherwise, how will they find friends?
  • Your child is refusing to do the worksheet because he or she doesn't know how, not because he or she is sick of the same boring work.
  • All parents overestimate their children's intelligence and abilities.
  • Gifted children should be kept in school to be socialized, otherwise they won't be able to relate to "normal" children.
  • Revealing to your child that she or he is gifted will cause social maladjustment.
  • GATE is enough.
  • Boredom never hurt anyone.

Happy New Year everyone. Hope 2013 brings you all a little less of the aforementioned #$*%&@ and a little more grace and compassion from those around you.

The Difference Between "Gifts" and "Gifted"

I often get asked, “Aren’t all kids gifted in some way?” I suppose you could say that all people have gifts. The word “gifted” is problematic in that way, but the difference between “gifted” kids and “kids with gifts” is that they think differently. They act on information differently, they have an intense internal drive to learn everything they can about any particular topic. They don’t take someone’s word for it, they have to research it for themselves. They are questioners of everything. (I acknowledge the problems with lumping all intellectually “gifted” kids into one category, but for ease of discussion, I have just gone ahead and done it.) Here is a good example. In the months leading up to the elections, as in many households, the adults were talking about the issues and candidates. But in our household, it wasn’t just the adults. Not only were my kids discussing all the issues and candidates; but they were researching online and doing their own fact checking. My daughter debated each issue in depth and wanted to make sure her parents understood what was at stake when we cast our vote. She came with me to the polling station and said she can’t wait until she can vote. The night of the election, my kids watched the election with the same interest and concern as did my husband and myself.

Did the interest die out after the election was over? No. It was just the beginning. All the questions that arose during the pre-election discussions and research, such as, “What is the electoral college and how does it work?”, or “What is wrong with the First Past the Post voting system?” or “What is gerrymandering?” became the objects of intense research.

My son was really excited when he found that the entire Constitution, all of the Amendments, and the Bill of Rights were available online. And yes, he read them all and has discussed them with me at length. I am embarrassed to admit that I learn more from my kids’ research and discussion than they ever have from me.

When my son finally felt he had a firm grip on our political system and how it works, he moved on to reading diverse opinions about politics in America, trying to understand how “everyone else” thinks. Each topic he explores spins off many more threads to follow, and follow he does. He also remembers most of what he researches, so he becomes a formidable fount of knowledge.

But it doesn’t stop there. Once all the “serious” research is done, the “fun” stuff starts to happen. For example, did you know that Ronald Regan is the only president to have worn a Nazi uniform? (Don’t get to worked up, it was only a costume in a movie.) Or that Chester Arthur changed his pants several times a day? (President Arthur? I didn’t even remember there was a President Arthur!) Or that John Quincy Adams skinny dipped in the Potomac every morning? How about the Lincoln’s holding Whitehouse séances? Did you know the United States of America was the first country to become independent from a Colonial empire? Or that it is theoretically possible to win an election with only 21.91% of the popular vote? Who knew politics could be so interesting!?*

From past experience, this intense interest in our history and politics will last several weeks, maybe even months, until my son feels he has a thorough understanding of the topic. Then his intellectual efforts will move on to another topic. Perhaps the obsession with knowing all there is to know, the drive to pursue that knowledge, wanting to find information from many resources, doubting and checking the “facts,” and the ability to retain the information are good examples of the difference between how a “gifted” kid thinks and how a kid with “gifts” thinks. It is not that a “kid with gifts” couldn’t do all those things, at some level, they probably could; but they are not driven to do those things. My guess is that most “kids with gifts” would not spend the bulk of their waking hours pursuing information on a given topic for weeks on end. So by all means, let’s celebrate all the gifts our kids possess; but please, can we also recognize that there is a difference between having gifts and being gifted?

*(Look up some of this fun stuff at www.usconstitution.net, CGPGrey’s Youtube videos, or Dan Brown’s Youtube videos).

Shame on you, Ann Coulter

Shame, shame, shame on you Ann Coulter. You are a typical, cowardly cyber bully. You would never have said those words in person or on camera, yet the R-word just rolled off your tweet as if it didn't matter. Your hate was so beautifully deflected by John Franklin Stephens' response. I admire his gentle love for someone as misdirected as you, but I am not a big enough person to so easily forgive. I wish I could magically make you walk a mile in someone else's shoes. I have to watch my son, and the clients I serve, deal with this kind of mean-spirited, cruel, and downright offensive attitude way too often. Why do you think you have the right to use a word like "retard" in a demeaning way? Are you such a paragon of virtue that you can judge others? I look at what you have contributed to the world, compared to what someone like John has contributed, and you just don't measure up in any significant way.

Unfortunately, your public scorn does have an effect. Many of us are working to eradicate bullying, and you just undid the work of thousands of decent people with your thoughtless tweet. It is a pervasive attitude, I see it every day. I was driving through Berkeley the other day and saw three middle school-aged boys spitting on a homeless man who was lying in the bushes. They were laughing at his struggle to get up and out of their way. We are creating a culture which lacks empathy. It will come back to haunt us.

Thank you John, for standing up to bullies, for lighting the way with your joyful, classy approach to life. You are a role model I would be honored to have my children emulate.

Credentials

There is no specific credential here in California for working with gifted students, especially 2e students. I could hold a special education credential, which the state would say qualifies me to work with the disabilities of my clients, but nothing to ensure that I could adequately meet the high abilities of these same clients. When I am working within the school system, I often see teachers who don't know what to do with 2e students. If they are special education teachers, they know several methods for mitigating disabilities. If they are GATE teachers (which are a rare breed these days), they may know how to teach gifted children, but I have not had the chance to work with any teachers who understand how to do both. If the 2e student is profoundly gifted, there is even greater chance that the teacher will have no idea how to help this student meet his or her potential. This is not entirely the teacher's fault. There is no funding, very little interest, and scarce formal training on how to deal with gifted, let alone twice exceptional, children. But I am not willing to let teachers off the hook entirely. I have offered free consultation, advice, professional training, and support to every teacher I have encountered in various meetings across schools in the Bay Area. I can count on one hand the number of teachers who have taken me up on this offer. I have also offered to conduct a professional development training on the needs of twice exceptional children to many administrators. None of them have expressed any interest.

I have worked as a teacher. I know what a hard and thankless job it is. I also know that there is a movement across the nation to teacher-bash, as if all of our educational problems could be placed squarely on the teachers' shoulders. I am not trying to do that. I am trying to raise awareness of the many lives which are being tattered by the system. I see children so damaged and withdrawn that it appears they have given up on everyone and everything. I see parents who are worn out with trying to advocate for their child against an intractable system. I see teachers stretched to the limits by ridiculous administrative and curricular demands. I see administrators trying to spread themselves and their dollars impossibly thin.

Even if there isn't any clear villain here, there is a clear victim. Our 2e children have the same right to a fair and appropriate education as neuro-typical children. Twice exceptional children have potential, they have hopes and dreams; so why are they so far down the priority scale in our school system? What will it take to get someone, somewhere to recognize that we cannot continue to force these children into an ill fitting, potential wasting system?

Mental Catch

My son loves to quiz us, all day, every day. His topics range from chemistry, to geography, to history, to physics, to math, to chess. Never mind that neither my husband or I are experts in any of these subjects, he does it for the sheer joy of thinking. I often feel guilty that I can't quiz him on any relevant subjects, I know he would revel in the chance to give his brain a real exercise for once. Thank heavens for Sue, his indefatigable math teacher and friend! At least once a week he gets to match wits with someone who is well versed in his subject matter. My husband calls it "mental catch," other parents might go out to throw the ball around and play catch with their kids, we do it with ideas.

"Mom, why do they recommend bringing mercury thermometers inside when the temperature reaches about -35 degrees?"

"I thought they stopped using mercury in thermometers because it is dangerous," I say.

"No, they still use mercury thermometers in some places. They bring them in because mercury freezes at that temperature. In mercury thermometers which contain nitrogen, when it freezes the nitrogen bubbles can go into the mercury and when it warms up again the nitrogen bubbles will stay stuck in the mercury, making the thermometer unusable until it is sent to the factory for reconditioning."

"Okay..." I say.

He asked his Dad the other day, "Does Euclid say how to construct a regular pentagon in his Elements?"

Dad, "I don't know. Who is Euclid?"

Son, "He was a Greek mathematician, but not much is known about his life. Do you want me to show you Euclid's Elements?"

Dad, "Sure."

Son, "Euclid showed how to construct a regular pentagon using compass and straight edge..." And on it goes throughout the evening. I am an early to bed person, so my husband has to take the night shift. I often hear their mental catch sessions late into the night. My son never seems to tire, he takes right up where he left off with me the next morning. Sometimes he corners his sister, but she is usually pretty adept at dodge ball. Thank heavens there are two of us willing to tag team with him.

I guess we are providing some benefit, he solidifies his knowledge by teaching us what he knows, and if nothing else, he has a willing partner to toss his ideas back and forth. We probably drop the ball more often than we catch it, but our son is a patient teacher.

Sibling Rivalry

My daughter lives in the shadow of her twice exceptional brother. Not only does she hear people commenting often about his brilliance, she also experiences the embarrassment and frustration that come with his special needs. She is brilliant too, just not in ways that are as obvious. She is incredibly mature, highly creative, artistic, imaginative, and a gifted leader. On the flip side, her twice exceptionality is not as noticeable either. She keeps her anxiety well hidden from the outside world, and she is socially skilled, which makes her seem pretty normal to most people. Last week we were visiting my Mom and headed off to an amusement park for the day with our extended family. My son was having a difficult day with his germ phobia and repeatedly did things that embarrassed her in front of her cousins. At the end of the day, as we were getting out of the car, he pushed into her in his efforts to stay a "safe" distance from the car tires. She reacted by pushing him into the car tire, at which point all hell broke loose.

Later, as I tried to talk to both of them, I made the mistake of asking my son if he was okay. My daughter screamed, "Why don't you ever ask me if I am okay?!" and stormed out of the house. I gave her a minute to settle down and then I went outside and lay down on the grass next to her. "I know life with your brother can be hard," I said and she began to sob.

"I feel so ashamed that I pushed him," she gulped, "I love him so much, but he drives me crazy!"

I looked at her and said, "Me too, but as his Mom, I also have the responsibility to try to help him grow up and become functional. You have the option to walk away from it."

She looked me in the eye and said, "Not really, I can't get away from it. I live with it every day and none of my friends really understand or want to talk about it." She went on to tell me how lonely she felt. Her close friends don't want to have deep, emotional conversations. She feels they don't really understand who she is or what her life is like. She is not interested in many of the things they find fascinating and vice-versa. She often feels she has more in common with their older siblings. Having a weird brother just makes her feel more isolated. On some level she longs for a "normal" sibling relationship, including the rivalry. She doesn't feel she can fight with her brother, rely on him for anything, or even banter and tease him. Because he is so gullible and strange, she feels extremely protective of him; but at the same time she longs for him to understand her and interact with her in a more typical way. He looks up to her and is extremely wounded if she is mean to him. She said when she lashes out at him, it makes her feel like she just whipped a puppy.

It was one of those moments when you realize you have let the parenting ball drop. I have tried very hard to make sure she didn't feel responsible for her brother. I would never purposefully guilt trip her about her reactions to him. I only required that my children be kind to each other. I have worked to ensure she had plenty of time with friends and an active social life away from her brother. Even though dealing with her brother's issues have taken the majority of my time, I had tried to work in some Mom/Daughter time with one-on-one attention. I thought I had been allowing her the space and freedom to not deal with his issues continually; but now I realized she carries that burden with her where ever she goes. Despite her coping skills and independence, she needs my advocacy and attention as much as her brother. I had no idea she felt so alone.

As I lay beside my incredible daughter, looking up at the stars on this warm summer night, I took her hand and promised her that I would try harder to be sensitive to her needs. I vowed to listen more, be better at acknowledging her efforts, and more attentive to her accomplishments. I told her how much I valued both her independence and support. I assured her that friendships will get easier as she gets older, there will be more chance of meeting like-minded people as her world expands. I also told her that her brother will probably get better at handling his problems and may get to the point someday where he doesn't embarrass her. But in the meantime, I encouraged her to talk to him about her feelings. That it is okay to tell him she feels uncomfortable, or frustrated, or embarrassed; but that she also needs to let him know what she loves about him. I told her that I hope someday he will be able to give her the same kind of support she has given him, that eventually she can put some of her burdens on his shoulders. In the meantime, I want her to experience the sheer joy of growing into her own potential and I promised her I would be more attuned to helping her get there.

As we all learn and grow as a family, I fervently hope that she will see what an incredible person she is, know that she is valued, and have the confidence to believe in herself, even when I drop the ball.

Independence Day

Last night as I watched the last fireworks fade away, I realized we had enjoyed an entire Fourth of July celebration without incident. My kids had fully participated in the picnic, the games, and the fireworks, all while blending in with the perfectly normal kids. I don't recall anyone looking at them and then at me with that "What the..." look on their face. I feel inordinately pleased with myself and my family. Compared to past years, this evening was a rousing success. We have bravely soldiered through many Fourths. We were smart enough not to take babies to fireworks, but we thought by the time they were kindergarteners, we could celebrate with the masses. Boy were we wrong. My son spent his first fireworks alternately covering his eyes and ears while continually screaming "Turn it off, turn it off" loud enough to be heard over the fireworks.

The next year we ostracized ourselves from our fellow picnickers when my daughter began to cry and scream, "She bit my butt," while pointing at the daughter of acquaintances we had come with to the picnic. This was followed by an uncomfortable denial, a butt examination, a cleaning and bandaging of a definite bite wound, an awkward conversation with the biter's parents, and a long, stonily-silent ride home.

Election year Fourth of July witnessed stunned silence among adults who overheard the tail end of an intense discussion about a woman's right to choose...between my second grade daughter and her little friend. Who knew second graders' considered presidential candidates based on their pro-life or pro-choice views? Unfortunately, her little friend's parents did not appreciate my daughter's decision to exercise her right to free speech.

The following year was the year my son began to question the safety of everything. Those Fourth of July revelers unfortunate enough to be seated around us had to listen to two hours of broken-record pyrotechnic safety questions, to which no answer was satisfactory. Then there was the food safety year, and finally the gross and wasteful consumption year.

So it was with a certain resignation that I sallied forth to celebrate this year's Fourth. Imagine my surprise when the evening ended incident free. Do I dare declare my independence from miserable celebrations? Perhaps, like our founding mothers and fathers, I can put the battles behind me and watch my little revolutionaries mature into fine, upstanding citizens.

Support is the Key

"It's never too late to be what you might have been." ~ TS Eliot I disagree. I think there is a point where you go from having had incredible possibility...to being a has-been. I know plenty of adults who feel they never had the chance to reach their full potential. While I wouldn't call them failures, I would say that their life accomplishments do not come close to matching their early potential. Perhaps we should say, "It's never too early to discover what you might be." We should be looking for kids with exceptional potential and finding ways to support them early on.

Here is an all too familiar scenario. A profoundly gifted child begins reading at age two and by kindergarten is reading high school level material. They are excited about math, science, and literature. They can't wait to get to school and learn. Until they actually start school and find that no one is at their level. There is nothing to learn and not much to do. Pretty soon they are mind-numbingly bored. They start to misbehave. They are labeled a behavior problem. Their abilities are overshadowed by their behavior. From the very first year, the system begins to work against their natural genius.

I read a great article the other day, "The Boy Who Played with Fusion" by Tom Clynes for PopSci (http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-02/boy-who-played-fusion). Clynes tells the story of Taylor Wilson, a physics prodigy who had exceptional parental support through many phases of experimentation in his garage. Their outreach led to recognition and mentoring for Taylor by University of Nevada's atomic physicist, Ronald Phaneu, and nuclear technician, Bill Brinsmead. These two professionals have helped Taylor build a fusion reactor in the basement of their labs at the tender age of thirteen. Taylor is now working on a bomb sniffing application for his reactor, which has caught the eye of the Department of Homeland Security.

On the flip side, Clynes also mentions David Hahn, another genius with a plan to build a nuclear reactor in his garage. The full story is told in Ken Silverstein's Harper's Magazine article, "Radioactive Boy Scout" (http://harpers.org/archive/1998/11/0059750). David started out much like Taylor, but once he began experimenting with dangerous materials, his parents forbid him to continue. He decided to proceed in secret, moving his operation to a storage shed and creating an alias which allowed him to begin buying radioactive materials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Hahn's story didn't end well...he was arrested and all of his materials were confiscated in a radioactive cleanup by a haz mat team.

Clynes' article states that the difference between Taylor and Hahn is support. "Hahn, determined to achieve something extraordinary but discouraged by the adults in his life, pressed on without guidance or oversight—and with nearly catastrophic results. Taylor, just as determined but socially gifted, managed to gather into his orbit people who could help him achieve his dreams: the physics professor; the older nuclear prodigy; the eccentric technician; the entrepreneur couple who, instead of retiring, founded a school to nurture genius kids. There were several more, but none so significant as Tiffany and Kenneth, the parents who overcame their reflexive—and undeniably sensible—inclinations to keep their Icarus-like son on the ground. Instead they gave him the wings he sought and encouraged him to fly up to the sun and beyond, high enough to capture a star of his own" (Clynes, 2012).

There are extraordinary profoundly gifted children like Taylor and David in our communities and they need support. African American children, Latino children, girls, and twice exceptional children are most likely to be overlooked and underserved. Yet, they all need a team of mentors. I am continually surprised at how few politicians, government entities, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists are lobbying for educational reform; or at least providing funding for appropriate intellectual and creative support. Surely they must see that these kids hold enormous potential for producing the discoveries, inventions, and innovations needed in the world right now and into the future. How much collective brainpower and creativity is wasted every day? What future are we sacrificing with our short-sighted view of education?

Parents, caregivers, friends, teachers, and neighbors, it is up to us. We have to be the force that creates change. Don’t take no for an answer. Refuse to teach the same old way. Offer to mentor a kid who shares your passion. Create a new way of doing things. Support the parents who are struggling to meet their kid’s intense intellectual needs. Start a grass-roots movement. Donate to a fund. Find a need and fill it. We have to start somewhere and our kids can’t wait. We can't afford to let them become has-beens.

"Higher" Education

I attended a play by Steve Tillis, "Dante's Club Inferno," last night at St. Mary's College. The play was touted as a "satirical and biting adaptation of Dante to modern times. He [Tillis] sticks close to the text but he applies it to concerns of our students at the same time." Since St. Mary's is a liberal arts college, I was expecting to see a critical commentary on Dante's version of hell. I was disappointed to find that despite a modern twist, religious propaganda was still being presented as truth. Eating menstrual blood, raping a priest, and peppering the dialogue with "f*ck" may make the play sensational, but those scenes did not encourage the audience to think deeply about Dante's judgments and categorization of sinners. The audience, mainly students who I suspect were assigned attendance, were not presented with material which might open their minds to alternate ways of thinking. The gluttony scene was particularly sad. It depicted an overweight man and woman forced to eat sewage for eternity. The woman states that despite her continued efforts to diet she was unable to conquer her weight problems, therefore she deserves her fate. Are we really still putting the message out there that being overweight is a sin? That people who can't control their appetite deserve to eat feces for eternity. Is it any wonder fat kids are bullied in our country? Or how about the idea that people with addictions don't deserve any empathy? Suicide victims didn't suffer enough in life and should be tortured forever. How exactly does that address the "concerns of our students?" All our efforts to get kids to tap into social justice are undone by adherence to this biblical version of crime and punishment.

God has no tolerance for sin, but apparently doesn't stand for individuality or questioning the status quo either. Dante, the truth sayer, has to conform to party lines to avoid eternity in hell. He is told pity (empathy) has no place in God's judgment. By not examining Dante's outdated, dogmatic "truth" the professors behind this coursework are continuing to tell students that the supreme being, controller of their world, is a vengeful, violent, intolerant entity who they must emulate. Wow, no wonder this generation is disillusioned.

We are the elders, teachers, and role models for our children. If our schools continue to teach classics like Dante without critical commentary on religious agendas, we are part of the growing problem of disconnectedness, which leads to cruelty and corruption. Let's change the paradigm, starting with letting go of an admiration for classics which present this message to the world. If our college and university professors are "higher" educators, I think it is time they acted that way.

It's Not Easy Being 2e

It's not easy being 2e. Not for anyone. Not for the 2e kid, his or her family, their extended family and friends, or the general public we come in contact with each day. An eleven year old's weird ways are not cute anymore. It is was much easier to forgive a toddler's disruptive or strange actions. When my son picks his nose and eats it, or stands up repeatedly in the theater, or touches everything in the store, people look at me as if I somehow didn't read the parenting manual. Trust me, I am fully aware of all of his annoying qualities. I understand that his behavior makes you uncomfortable. I know I come across as too lenient sometimes, but I am just picking my battles. I have to walk the fine line of pushing him hard enough to help him grow, but not so hard that he feels like a complete failure. It might not seem like it, but he is highly sensitive to how others feel about him. He wants to be "normal" but his disabilities make it extra hard to conform. If he was physically disabled people wouldn't expect him to just overcome that difficulty; but because he looks "normal" on the outside, people are less apt to cut him some slack. Parents of neurotypical children don't understand that I live every day wondering how much worse things are going to get. The specter of my son as non-functional adult haunts me all the time.

Every day, without giving it another thought, parents with neurotypical kids do things that I would love to be able to do with ease. Like eating in a restaurant, for example. We can't blend in, my son talks too loud, he jumps up and flaps his hands when he is excited, he won't eat most of the food on the menu. I get that he is loud and disruptive. I go to bed many nights with my ears ringing. I would love nothing more than to live in a quiet environment; but he has trouble understanding how loud his voice really projects. He bumps into things and people because he does not know where his body is in relationship to the world around him. I can see how others might think that I am allowing rude behavior and I should be a stricter parent. Maybe they are right. Perhaps if I removed him every time he talked too loud or moved too much, he would stop talking loudly and jumping around. Or maybe he would just stop talking.

Families with 2e kids have a monumental task in helping their kids socialize and make meaningful connections to others. I am so grateful when my son carries on a reciprocal conversation. I am too focused on the fact that he finally asked me something about my day to notice that his volume is turned way up. Or perhaps I am so thrilled he is actually eating something slightly different than his normal rigid diet, that I may not correct him for standing up while he's doing it.

But even when he is quiet and still, he doesn't fit in. I see people staring at him when he does something odd, like pressing his hand into his pizza slice and slowly rotating it in the light to examine the reflective patterns in the oil. Or refusing to eat his grilled cheese sandwich because, despite our desperate instructions to keep it whole, it came cut in half. We really were not being jerks about sending it back and ordering another one served whole. I wish I could somehow help people understand that we are not coddling him, or making him weird, or allowing bad behavior; we are just trying to get through the day with our family in one piece.

The stressors we are dealing with are often not obvious to people who don't live with a 2e kid. I don't know too many people who would lick the toilet seat to try to show their germphobic kid that it is safe to use the toilet. Or experience the frustration of having to choose between crooked teeth or an exhausting physical battle at every visit to the orthodontist. How about trying to figure out how to teach your kid to identify and respond to being hungry, hot, cold, in pain, or tired? Or how to understand and interpret facial expressions and body language? Most parents won't know how it feels to be over the moon because, for the first time in his life, your 10 year old kid spontaneously gave you a hug. Our quiet desperation comes from the relentless need to explicitly teach our children every nuance of life in a "normal" world. Most children will learn what is socially acceptable just from living in the world with other people. Not our kids.

We often feel judged and misunderstood by the world at large. Sometimes we just need a safe harbor, someone we can vent with who won't misunderstand or judge. We are not asking for solutions, just acceptance. We need some places where we can visit without having to apologize or walk on eggs. Families of 2e kids need some respite. 2e kids need acceptance and understanding. It would be wonderful if people stopped putting expectations for "normal" on our kids. They probably aren't meant to walk a normal path anyway. Who knows how their lives will turn out, what they will do in the world, or how they might impact your life? Whatever the future holds, they have the right to be accepted for the unique, wonderful, difficult, weird children that they are.

Why Be Normal?

The world tries so hard to knock the edges off our children and make them fit into that smooth, round hole we call normal. I think normal is overrated. We have enough normal. We need different, exceptional, weird, and oppositional. Einstein said, “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." To think differently, you need to be different. I saw a t-shirt that read, "Why try to fit in when you were meant to stand out?" Exactly! Our children are not meant to fit in. If we do polish off those rough edges, they will lose an important piece of their authentic selves. The piece you shave away might just be the one that could have steered them toward greatness. They might blaze an erratic and frightening path at times, but we need to help them stay on that path, however tough it is on all of us.

As a parent of exceptional children, there are some days I would kill for normal. Just once I would like to have my instructions carried out without having to hold a debate. I would like to watch my son interact with friends and feel confident that nothing will hit the fan. I am jealous of parents who can drop their kids off at school and have the whole day to themselves. It would be fantastic to put my children to bed at 8:00 pm and have some adult time with my husband. Imagine not having to make the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. I wonder what I might accomplish if so much of my time wasn't spent dealing with an abnormal kid?

Despite exhausting, unpredictable days, I wouldn't want my kids to feel they had to fit into a preconceived notion of who they should become. My daughter's spacey, dreamy, out-of-this-world time (lack of) management comes from the same well of creativity that drives her to write for hours at a time. My son's eccentric, all-night math sessions that use up reams of paper (and my energy) are part of what keeps him lit from within. I can't bring myself to rein in those behaviors which are driving them to explore their inner selves. I wish I could find a school environment staffed with knowledgeable people who could nurture those traits.

I often work with parents who are hoping to find that for their children too. A good match happens occasionally; but more often than not, no such place exists. It seems the more exceptional the child, the less likely the possibility of finding a school that meets their needs. Miracia Gross, a leading expert on profoundly gifted children, believes that children on the high end of the gifted spectrum waste virtually all of their time in a typical classroom. Even programs for gifted children don't usually go far enough to intellectually challenge our kids. There seems to be a scholastic glass ceiling which prevents them from rising to their full potential.

So what are we supposed to do? The key seems to be in really listening to your child and being open to their possibilities and ideas. You have to put your own hopes, dreams, and agendas to the side while you explore the options with your child. It might require you to give up your preconceived notions about the path to success. You may need to rethink your priorities. You may even need to rearrange your life. But it is worth it. You will protect their unique abilities and keep the world from making them normal.