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

Sunday, February 1, 2015

What the Super Bowl Can Teach Us about Homeschooling

Today is Super Bowl XLIX, when the Seattle Seahawks defend their National Champions title against the New England Patriots. Yes, this is a post about football. But it's also a post about finding your groove.

When Pete Carroll was hired to coach the Seahawks out of USC in 2010, there were detractors who said he couldn't make it in the NFL as a coach. He'd been fired from the Patriots before, and hadn't had much success on this level. Lots of success with USC, though, and Seattle was happy to have him.
Recruiting class of 2012... in their second Super Bowl in a row.

The first couple of seasons with the Seahawks were tough, as Carroll began implementing his plan, but the mostly-losing team began to win a few games, and that was encouragement enough. But they needed a quarterback. Badly. So in 2012, Carroll drafted Russell Wilson in the 3rd round out of Wisconsin. The media went crazy, giving the Seahawks an "F" on draft day for a class that included now-starters Wilson, Bruce Irvin, and Bobby Wagner. And I quote:
Pete Carroll is proving why he didn’t make it in the NFL the first time. Not only was Bruce Irvin a reach at No. 15, the Seahawks proved they were oblivious to their madness by celebrating their selection. As if the day wasn’t bad enough, Seattle selecting Russell Wilson, a QB that doesn’t fit their offense at all, was by far the worst move of the draft. With the two worst moves of the draft, Seattle is the only team that received an F on draft day.
Today, the class of 2012 (including Jermaine Kearse - 2014 NFC Championship winning touchdown scorer, who wasn't even drafted but came out of University of Washington that year) is going to their second Super Bowl in a row. All thanks to their coach.

Now, I'm a big football fan, but I'm not one of those people who studies all the coaching moves and such. But the thing I keep hearing from the Seattle Seahawks themselves is that they love working for Carroll because he lets them work their strengths. He doesn't try to mold them to his system, but he allows each player to play his own game, for the good of them all. He coaches them to be family, brothers, united for a single goal. And he lets them be the professionals they are. He works them hard, doesn't allow them to let up on areas that are not as strong. If there is one thing to which you could put down the success of this team, it is this: Carroll allows each player to find his groove. 

It's working.

And this is what I loved about homeschooling - instead of trying to force my son to fit a system that wasn't working for him, we were able to allow him to work his strengths as we supported the areas that needed growth. We could do this by being creative with curriculum - in his strengths we just gave him the opportunities and let him fly; but in his weaker areas, we were able to create assignments that would blend into his interests and give him the opportunity to learn and grow. He also had opportunities to learn life skills that he couldn't at school - doing laundry, cooking, and cleaning. And he was able to "be socialized" (if that's even a thing) in a way that was appropriate for his learning and ability - with people of all ages.

Whatever the result of Super Bowl XLIX, Pete Carroll and the Seahawks have done something amazing these last few years (and Seattle fans hope for many more to come!).

And whatever my child decides to do in the future, I know that homeschooling him has helped him get there. It has given us the opportunity to allow him to fly in his strength areas, while being supported in his weaker areas.


Friday, November 21, 2014

It Gets Better

I seem to keep saying this to parents of younger gifted kids: It gets better.

When the Teenlet was younger I felt all alone, adrift in the midst of the chaos of a highly asynchronous, twice-exceptional, and drastically misunderstood child. We were all frustrated - he because he wasn't getting his learning needs met and didn't have any true peers, and dad and I because he was hard to parent. HARD to parent. The emotional outbursts, the anger and frustration over schoolwork, housework, even just asking him to pick up something he'd left on the floor was potentially a land mine. His anger went from 0 to 10 in a millisecond. At that time, he would describe his emotions as a smoldering volcano which was ready to blow at any moment, and uncontrollable.

All of that changed at about 12-1/2 years old. The combination of an excellent therapist and puberty kicking in has made such a huge difference in how we all function. Let me tell you about some of the most dramatic changes we've seen:

  • Growth. Physical growth. My scraping-the-bottom-of-the-5th-percentile (height and weight) child, in one year, went from barely-5th to 50th percentile. That makes mom happy, doctors happy, and child happy not to be the teeny one any more. And he gets treated like the age that he is, not like a child. It doesn't quite make up for the intellectual difference between himself and his peers, but he's more welcomed into older groups because he doesn't look like a 3rd grader.
  • He can tolerate boredom better now. WOAH! Boredom has been his worst enemy throughout his childhood - causing classroom troubles, home boil-overs, and friendship disasters. This makes such a huge difference in how he can engage with others in every aspect of life. He can play with a friend doing something that isn't his favorite, because he can tolerate being bored for the sake of his friend. He can sit in a classroom where he knows everything already and not make a scene or start distracting the other students. He has figured out how to entertain himself even when his usual entertainments are inaccessible. 
  • Speaking of school, he is (finally) getting straight As. My non-performer is performing - because he wants to! Executive function skills have kicked in and he has been doing a fantastic job of doing his homework (without any prompting from me), and conscientiously following through on required tasks for school. This year he is taking two classes at a local public high school (Biology - so he can get a lab, but this is the class he knows more than the teacher does, because it's his specialty, and he's already taken AP Bio at home; and Freshman English for continued writing support), and three classes in a dual-enrollment program at DigiPen Institute of Technology. I'm not homeschooling any longer because I don't need to. He's doing it all himself. 
  • I figure we got through the terrible teens when he was ten - at that age he was pushing all the intellectual and physical boundaries he could at the same time he was emotionally quite infantile. We are seeing nothing in the teens that we haven't already dealt with, and because we've been consistent from day one in how we deal with things, he already knows the boundaries. I'm not suggesting that we're not in for a testosterone-driven ride as he hits older adolescence, but so far the consistency of our parenting has carried us through the few little rough patches that we've hit in the past 2-1/2 years. He's been challenging his parents' beliefs since he was 8, so he doesn't have a lot more to do there, and emotionally he's been far more stable as a teenager than he ever was as a child. If the job of the adolescent is to figure out who they are apart from their parents, he's been doing that for a while. 
  • He's learning to be self-assertive. One of his biggest challenges has always been to communicate to non-parent adults (or even parental adults when he's in a state of overwhelm) what he needs. The ability to say to a teacher, "I need some quiet space" or, "I don't know when this assignment is due" has been, until just this year, elusive. But this year he is doing all the communicating with his teachers, and I hardly have to be involved at all. He is able to advocate for himself when it's needed, and reliably follows through on homework, passing information to his teachers and coaches as it's needed, and is basically functioning as his own person. We're still here for him if he needs us, but he hasn't needed us to advocate for him at all in the past year. 
  • Because we were able to homeschool for some of his crucial pre-teen years, he has learned some adult responsibility and survival skills. He does his own laundry (has done for 3-4 years), packs his own lunches, or makes them if he's home at lunch time, he gets himself up, dressed, and fed. He feeds the cat every day. He is helpful around the house when he notices something is needed (taking the garbage out without being asked, carrying in groceries from the car, etc.). 
The Teenlet turns 15 in less than a month, and to quote someone who knows him well, "He's not that little kid who is so much smarter than everyone else any more. He's 15 - he's there!" 

He's not perfect - nor is our relationship. But I really like the relationship we have now. 

So this is my word to all the parents of younger kids who are going through hell right now: it gets better. I never thought we'd get here, but I always hoped we would by the time he turned 30. He's only half that, and I'm so proud of the young man he has become and is becoming. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Gifted Kids Become Gifted Adults

When a gifted kid grows up, they are still gifted.

That means we have a lot of gifted adults out there - parents, grandparents, young adults, elderly adults. And while we may learn to cope with our over-excitabilities, they don't go away. And I'm pretty convinced that asynchrony doesn't ever fully even out, either (see the former sentence).

I, like my son, have all five OEs. Very strongly. And I am a multipotentialite, which means I am gifted in many ways. I have said to people, "I'm good at many things, but great at nothing." Over the years, I've also told people that I'm a generalist, rather than a specialist, though as I get older I find that I do have some areas of preference to which I naturally migrate.

With my own OEs, I find that I continually have to monitor how I am coping. I get overwhelmed easily with a lot of sensory input, so I must manage my environment. I love learning new things, so I tend to jump from interest to interest quickly, making the work of completing tasks and staying engaged a challenge. Movement is my friend, helping me think more clearly and stay focused. My imagination has morphed from childhood fantasies to turning my interpretation of events into a reality of its own, which isn't a healthy response, so I try to adjust my imagination to more positive uses.

And then there is emotional OE. After all these years, you'd think I would learn. But yet, here I am, still emotional as anything. I can't go to a funeral without crying, even if I never knew the deceased - the weight of everyone's emotions in the room gets overwhelming. I have to intentionally tone down the reactive nature of my emotional OE, but if someone catches me off guard, it slips. It's all or nothing with me emotionally, it seems, though I work hard to keep it all balanced and in check.

And, as I mentioned before. I'm pretty sure that my own asynchrony - though far better than it was as a child - is still a factor. There are times I can see myself responding like a four year old and can't stop it. Most of the time, it's an internal-only reaction (that's the adult part), but I mess up regularly enough to keep me humble. There are times when my hands - so adept and quick at certain tasks like typing or playing the piano - feel like they are fumbling along completely inept at simple things like using scissors or a needle. I'm still a child in an adult body.

People ask me how I can understand my son so well. The reason is because I recognize what is going on with him, because it would be the same for me. It still is the same for me, though I have more control over my environment and how I express what's going on inside of me.

I might have grown up, but I'm still gifted.

This post is part of a blog hop hosted by the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum. To read more great blogs on this topic, see hop on over to the link here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

God and Giftedness

If my small little cohort of connections in the gifted world is any indication, God is a sticky subject among gifted people. Perhaps it is such a sticky subject in the general population as well, but it seems like it's more so in the gifted world, because faith is aggressively rejected by many gifted people, under the guise of intellectualism.

Stained Glass Cross at Cedar Hills Baptist Church, Portland, OR.
Photo by me.

As a Christian pastor, this is troubling to me. I understand the objections; in fact, I've had almost all of them myself. I've read atheist books and materials. And I have spoken to many, many people who self-identify as atheist or agnostic, who recite objections about the religious treatment of science and/or the idea of believing in something as implausible and invisible as God, the hypocrisy of the Church, or the countless abuses committed in the name of religion.

I get it. I really do. I completely understand the thought process that could lead someone to believe that religion is a psychological trick to make oneself feel better. I've had that thought, more times than I can count. Marx was the one who called religion the "opiate of the masses," and the charge that religious leaders exert control through emotionalism and tyranny is of course one that must be taken seriously.

It is this idea - that God is a ridiculous, made-up, fiction - that is rampant among the gifted population. Smart people just don't believe in impossible ideas, right? If it's not provable through science, it's not worth the time. I've had my intelligence questioned because I believe - and I'm not the only one. But I will be honest with you - I can't not believe.

Like many gifted kids, the Teenlet began questioning his parents' beliefs earlier than most, when he was about 7 or 8. We were faced with these big questions about the existence of God as a very young person. He asserted that he was having trouble believing in something he couldn't see. I asked him if he believed in gravity. He, being the physics fan that he is, said, "of course, but that's because I can see the effect that gravity has on everything."

I asked him, then, what he would see if he didn't know anything about gravity. He would see things fall, but he wouldn't know why. He would probably think it's just the way things are. He wouldn't identify it as gravity if he didn't know about the force that pulls everything to the Earth's core. I said, it's the same with God - I see God actively engaging with me and the world every day, but that's because I'm looking, and I can identify it when I see it. I can see the effect of God on everything. But if I don't know it is from God, I might assume that it's coincidence, or an accident, or just the way things are. But when I'm looking, I see it.

And that's why I have to believe.

I am frustrated by many of the same questions that others are frustrated by. But in the end, God is bigger than all of that. In the face of all the questions, the challenges, and the struggles in my faith, I cannot ignore my real experience of God - in miracles (though I have no answers to why miracles happen for some and not for others), visions, nature, dreams, and discernment/guidance that comes from outside myself. God may be invisible, but God's work is not. In those moments when I want to throw up my hands and give in to the questions, I am reminded of what I have seen God do. And I believe.

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