A gifted individual is a quick and clever thinker, who is able to deal with complex matters. Autonomous, curious and passionate. A sensitive and emotionally rich person, living intensely. He or she enjoys being creative. -definition of giftedness written by the Netherlands Study on Giftedness in Adults

Monday, July 21, 2014

If I Was Your Parent...

"If I was [sic] your parent, I would (or wouldn't)..."

Agra Fort, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India

How many times, as the parent of an outlier, have I heard another parent say this to my child? Or to me, in reference to my child and the "obvious" errors in my parenting.


And most of the time they have an excellent point, but their point doesn't hit any mark that is on our target.

The most recent experience of this was with a good friend, one with whom the Teenlet loves talking about math. You see, as he was taking calculus, so was she - so they talked about theorems and about problems they were encountering. She would challenge his assumptions, and he would then prove and re-prove them (backwards!) for her. She is an adult. He is 14.

One day, as they were having yet another wonderful conversation, she asked him if he ever talked to his friends about calculus. His response, "none of my friends have taken calculus."

She was horrified. Here is this child who can't talk to his friends about his interests! How horrible!

I wanted to say, "welcome to the life of a PG child." But I didn't.

She responded to him, "If I was your mother, I would make sure you were around people with whom you could talk math."

(Again, me thinking, "why do you think I bring him here?" But again, I didn't say it out loud.)

She then started pressing me on where I could find groups of math-loving people, but soon she saw the problem. The classes for children and teenagers are so far behind him, they have nothing to offer him (even those that are intended for gifted learners). The places where math is discussed at the level he needs to discuss it are mostly in contexts that are inappropriate for a 14 year old with social anxiety.

So he talks about math at home with dad, and with our dear friend, and every so often he finds a sympathetic ear who will listen, even if they can't understand.

I am so grateful for those other adults who have given the Teenlet and outlet to talk about what is interesting to him. For the doctor who listened intently as the Teenlet told him about the Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment. For the youth leader who listens and asks questions. For the rock hound and the fireworks enthusiast who taught him to share their passions.

Peers are important for everyone. But for the gifted outlier, the term "peer" doesn't describe a single age group or demographic. And they are very, very hard to find.

This post is part of the SENG National Parenting Gifted Children Week blog tour. You can find more fantastic posts here

Monday, July 7, 2014

Why I Don't Read Parenting Books*


I used to read parenting books. I don't any longer.

Don't get me wrong. I read. A lot. Reading is my "go to," when everything else fails. I love reading, so it was natural that when I was pregnant, I read everything I could get my hands on about pregnancy and babies. It's the way I handle a new challenge that I don't feel up to - I read to gain understanding, tools, and to discover ideas. When my son was a toddler, I had books on every topic imaginable. Even in preschool and early elementary, I was still in thrall to all the Parenting Gurus out there. I just knew that someone could help us figure this thing out. I wanted a parenting manual, and I looked everywhere for it.

But I didn't recognize my child in any of the children described in those books. Where was this child who, when given the appropriate consequence, responds with corrected behavior? Why didn't the "cry it out" method OR the "cuddle him to sleep" method work? Attachment parenting? Who are we kidding - this kid was far too interested what is OUT THERE to want to be attached back here. The formulas, so clearly elucidated in each book, didn't work for us. Ever. With one exception, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka's, Raising Your Spirited Child. That one nailed him. And me.

One day, a friend of mine with a wonderful child who happens to be on the autism spectrum, said to me, "I bought a normal parenting book for the first time in years." And that's when it hit me - normal parenting doesn't work for non-normal children. They might have wonderful ideas and reliable tips and tools - but they aren't meant for a child who is so asynchronous that we're dealing with four stages at once. I can't imagine talking to my child the way some of the books I read suggested. When he was 4 years old, he didn't need to be told about sugar-bugs on his teeth; he already knew about cavities. But launching into the full story of what it's like to lose your teeth isn't right, either - the emotional side of him couldn't take it.

Recently, I picked up a much-lauded book on teenagerdom. I was excited to read it and find out more about what is going on in my son's body and brain. I was, once again, disappointed. Those things it said about how he is in this process of sculpting his own individuality - he's already light years ahead. He's been separating from his parents (us) intellectually since he was 7, even though - at 14 - he's still emotionally connected to us like he's 8. And reading it made me incredibly sad - hearing how all those "normal" high school activities and behaviors affect how his brain is reconnecting neurologically; and yet he won't have most of those activities or behaviors because of his unique wiring. The book talked about the goal of separation - going away to college to learn to be on his own. Well, he's going to college at 14, so he won't be going far. That transition will have to happen in another way. Again, it doesn't fit. I closed the book.

I do still read many books on giftedness; books on the unique challenges and wonders these children present us as parents. And these books fit... better. They aren't perfect, because every child is so unique, and the Teenlet's uniqueness is a brand I haven't seen anywhere except in small circles of amazingly exceptional children. But I can take the ideas these books present and adapt them to our individual circumstances; sucking the marrow from the bone in order to understand my child better. And from understanding comes better parenting.

So this is the bottom line for me: does what I read lead me to understand him better? Because, with understanding comes making good parenting decisions. I can't push him to do something for which he isn't ready; but I can push him to stretch himself to take that next step - understanding him means being able to see that fine line (or at least guess where it is... approximately).

And as I learn about my child, I learn about myself as well.

This post is part of a blog hop on Gifted Parenting, hosted by the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum. Find other amazing posts here.

Mona's recommended books on giftedness:

Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students, by Christine Fonseca
Off the Charts, by Neville, Piechowski, & Tolan
Giftedness 101, by Linda Kreger Silverman
Living with Intensity, by Susan Daniels & Michael Piechowski
If This is a Gift, Can I Send it Back? by Jen Merrill
Misdiagnosis & Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults, by Olenchak, Goerss, Beljan, Webb, Webb, and Amend
Parenting Gifted Kids, by Jim Delisle
A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children, by Webb, Gore, Amend, and DeVries

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Excelling in School Isn't Always the Best Goal

A lot of people assume that, if my child is gifted, he gets good grades. I'm here to tell you, that isn't the case. Some gifted students do get good grades, and they work hard for them. That's great. But that comes from an internal motivation to please others that is distinct from the motivation to learn. My child loves to learn, but he learns for himself instead of for others.

"Excelling" in school looks different for (some) gifted learners, and I'm not sure that difference is one we want to encourage.

photo credit inwallspeakers 

What it would have looked like for us:

A student who dumbed himself down, in order to keep pace with the class. I'm not saying that the rest of the class is dumb, but I am saying that my son has a very different pace of learning than most students. The statistics say that most learners require 7-9 repetitions before they learn something new. A gifted learner usually needs 1-3 repetitions, and I joke that my profoundly gifted student needs about 0.75 repetitions. Yes, not even a full one. He usually finishes the teacher's thought and makes about five different leaps by the time the teaching point is fully developed. In 5th grade, when he was finally set free to do math at his own pace, he raced through 6-8 grade math in a month, then pre-algebra, algebra 1, and geometry in 9 months. That's 6 years' worth of math in the equivalent of one school year.

A student who may get straight As, but isn't learning. We have seen so many examples of this through the years - the student who "performs" well, but for whom learning is done in the off-hours, or not at all. This was me in school, also. I had nearly straight As through high school, but most of the work was done in the class after or the class before. I never studied for tests until the class prior to the test, which tells me that I wasn't paying much attention in that class, either. But still, As in all of my honors, College Prep, and Advanced Placement classes. But is that what we want? Every student deserves to learn, but I don't consider treading water to be learning. I see it in the Teenlet even in our homeschool curriculum - we do not pressure him (much) about grades, but we do expect a level of excellence in his comprehension. If he takes a test and gets a B or C, it really doesn't matter much to us because he can explain the concepts to us, which is far more difficult than taking a test. (I realize that eventually, he will have to learn to be careful on tests so he doesn't make so many "silly" mistakes, but that will come as he is exposed to more and more external learning sources.)

A student whose passions get lost, because none of his "peers" are interested in the same things. I think this is the most discouraging thing about the push to excel "in school" - the loss of passion. We still have administrators who tell us the Teenlet shouldn't be allowed to participate in college-level courses because he is "too young" and he will be with students who are so much older than he is. Yes, this could be a problem. But these students have something in common with the Teenlet - an interest, a passion, a way of looking at the world - and they have the intellectual ability to connect with him over those interests, in a way that very few other 8th graders can. For his whole life, the Teenlet has preferred to discuss his ideas with adults than with kids his own age. I've watched him, time and again, playing with classmates or same-age friends, start engaging his creative imagination only to have the other kids walk away because they can't go there with him. Even some adults respond to him with, "I can't talk to you because you're too smart for me." It's really tragic to see a child's world shrink so much that they lose interest in their passions because there is nobody else with whom they can share them. Pushing a child to "excel in school" can stifle the creative imagination.

Is that what we want for our gifted learners?

This post is presented as part of the New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week's blog tour. Find other intriguing posts here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Education Puzzle

Every step of the Teenlet's educational career has been fraught with roadblocks and detours. To say it's been frustrating would be like saying that losing a leg is inconvenient. It doesn't do justice to the experience.

From earliest years in preschool, when we had to decide whether to keep him back to help his maturity (we didn't, and it turns out it wouldn't have helped if we had), to changing schools every year until third grade, to fighting the school district for services, to the incessant "he's too young for..." that makes me want to poke my eyes out - we haven't had a single year that was simple, when we didn't feel like we were being blocked from accessing programs or services that could have helped him gain the skills he needs or the academic challenge to keep him engaged.

Now, at 14, the challenges haven't stopped. We no longer have the option of rapid acceleration of "regular" subjects. Up to this point, we've been letting him go - at his own pace, piecing together educational experiences from various places in order to create some semblance of a well-rounded education. But we can't do that any longer. He's topped out that which we can option for him. So again, we are piecing together and making our arguments that age shouldn't limit options - for him or anyone else.

I always thought that if I had the documentation to back up my claims, it would be enough. But so far, this isn't proving to be true. The SAT scores don't matter. The Coursera certificates "with distinction" don't matter. The current course load doesn't matter. Even the entrance exam, passed with flying colors, doesn't matter. All they see is the age.

All we want is to see our son keep learning, and loving it.

There are options, sure. Some of them might work for him, some definitely will not. If I wasn't concerned that complete mental laziness could set in, I would suggest he spend the next year doing Coursera courses that sound fun to him (read: science). But he does need to keep moving forward in his writing (which he hates), and math (which he's very good at, but he says he hates). Colleges like to see full math load for four years of high school, but I have no idea what that looks like for him since he's completing calculus in "8th grade." The community colleges around here tend to be a bit constrained by rules, and the school district hasn't proven to be much help in overcoming them. He's not yet ready for full college entrance.

But this is a child that rises to the occasion with consistency. He matures when he's forced to do so. He figures out how to get the work done when there is no other option. Taking this next step will be another occasion for rising to - but he has to be given the opportunity first.

It's my job to make sure that happens. Let's hope I'm up to it.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Adolescence: A New World

Parenting an adolescent has a bad rap. For every parent who loves this stage of growing independence, raging hormones, and intense emotions, there are 10, maybe 100 or 1,000, who want to run and hide. Add to typical adolescence the challenges associated with gifted intensity and twice-exceptionality, and you have a dangerously challenging mix, right?

Contrary to how the rest of parenting has been for us, adolescence has been kind in our household. Yeah, we have some eye rolling and a little 'tude every so often, but overall the teenage years have so far proven to be more pleasant than any other stage we've been through as parents.

I'm sure there are multiple reasons for this, but I believe there are two main reasons why this stage is so much easier than earlier ones. First, we have been fighting the adolescent battles for many more years than he's been a teenager. Second, those raging hormones have fast-tracked the maturity that has been dragging behind - way behind - in earlier stages.

Let's take the teenage battles first. Teenagers are known for emotional outbursts that rival the "terrible twos," and frustrating parents by making irrational decisions. The Teenlet's special mix of high IQ, hair trigger emotions, over-excitabilities, and immaturity that has complicated every aspect of our lives, have given us a 14 year history of "doing the teens" already. We've fought many of the battles we've watched other parents of teens fight,  but we did it when our son was 5, 6, or 7, when the consequences of poor decisions were difficult, but not life-changing. He knows we are his parents, he knows we mean business, and though he has us pushing him towards independence almost more than he is yet striving for it, he knows that we are there supporting him but he will always have to face the consequences of his actions - good or bad. His decisions have become wiser, not perfect by a long shot, but he is learning responsibility and the freedom that comes with it.

Pair that growing wisdom with hormones that have shot his maturity through the proverbial roof (relatively), and it is fantastic to see this child, who has been wringing tears from my heart since he was in preschool,  flourishing in ways I sometimes thought if I would never see.

I used to dread these years, thinking I couldn't imagine things getting worse, but that's all I had heard about adolescence - how challenging it is for parents (it's no cakewalk for teens, either). And we may still have that coming. But for now, I love seeing him grow into manhood - becoming independent, passionate about his interests, accepting challenges and stepping up to meet them. I love seeing him stretch his executive skills to work out his own system of organization, and watching him take responsibility when it falls apart and he has to try again.

It is, indeed, a new world. But it is the same one, too.

This post is part of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop on Homeschooling & Parenting Gifted and 2e Kids