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

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.

Countless.

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*

*anymore

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