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

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Vigorous Mind

 A mind too vigorous and active, serves only to consume the body to which it is joined. ”
— Oliver Goldsmith

I don't know that there has ever been a quote that better encapsulates my child than this one by Oliver Goldsmith. It so well describes the mind-body connection to activity (Dabrowski's intellectual and psycho-motor over-excitabilities). 

We discovered throughout the kidlet's school years how desperately this child needs to learn. When he was getting ready for kindergarten, I kept telling him how fun it is to learn, and how school is a great place to learn all sorts of things. His face would light up and he would ask all sorts of questions about school with such enthusiasm and excitement that I was thrilled that he seemed to already love school as much as I always did.

The first day of kindergarten was amazing - we waited anxiously for the kindergarten bus to come pick him up in front of our house. We took pictures, and video, and we told stories about school. He wore a red-and-black striped shirt with a huge nametag pinned to it, and his new backpack that was almost larger than he was. 
The kidlet getting off the bus on the first day of kindergarten.
We loved his kindergarten teacher - she was so sweet and excited to meet her new students! He adored Mrs. Cooney, and she enjoyed him a lot. But it didn't take very long before he started balking at doing "pointless" coloring pages, and spent most of his time wandering around the classroom looking at what the other students were working on. I spent two days each week in the classroom, helping other children learn to recognize letters, read, or do simple counting (which the kidlet had already surpassed as he was already doing simple algebra and reading C.S. Lewis', The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe at home). Within about a month, I noticed that his enthusiasm had waned. 

Mrs. Cooney welcoming her students on their first day of kindergarten.
I won't belabor the rest of the story. He got into the gifted program in our district (which accelerated students one year ahead) and proceeded to get more and more disenfranchised from school. He had yet to learn anything at school by 2nd grade, despite his ability and willingess to make creative adjustments to assignments that brought a little more interest to them. I could see it in his eyes by the end of 2nd grade - his dream that school was a place where he could learn all day every day, had been smashed to bits. We switched to a private school that was set up to teach students at their own pace with one-on-one appointments with teachers. Sadly, although he did learn a few things, instead of being set free to learn, the environment only succeeded in heightening the frustration and anger he felt. One of the teachers even said to me that she didn't want to "frustrate" him, so she didn't teach him any math over the three years she taught him (her words: "he knows all of his 6th,7th, and 8th grade math, but none of his 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade math!" Note: she was his math teacher for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades). 

The lack of learning - first in public and then in private - succeeded in exacerbating the asynchronous gap between his intellectual ability and his emotional and social ability. The frustration of not learning was expressed through movement and aggression. His body was being consumed by a mind that was too vigorous for his environment. When we visited a college course, the body stilled as the mind spun into action. 

People say to me fairly regularly that they think they can "fix" him with some stern teaching. It makes me grin and wish I could let them try (without damaging my child). The thing is - now that we are homeschooling and he is learning at his own pace, with all subjects being appropriate for his ability - not one of those people would recognize him if they sat in my kitchen during a school day. None of his former teachers would recognize him. None of the people who have made comments about his behavior, or have tried to convince me of whatever pet diagnosis they decide fits him... none of them would recognize him when he is transfixed in the world of science, engineering, or even (finally) math. 

 A mind too vigorous and active, serves only to consume the body to which it is joined. ”
— Oliver Goldsmith

Keep the mind engaged, and the body will follow.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks

There are so many people who make this journey we are on easier... I'd like to take this opportunity to tell you about those who have gone out of their way to lighten my load.

First and foremost is my husband. Even though in many ways he just doesn't get parts of our child's personality (those that come from my far-more-OE side of the family), he is a stellar support and an amazing parent. He makes learning fun - especially in history, maths, economics, and sciences, where he is able to turn the most frustrating lesson into an interesting story. He somehow, "instinctively" (read: when mommy starts throwing things and/or gives him "that look" and says she's running away) knows when I need a break and takes over. And all the while, he is there to wipe away the tears, give me hugs when I need them, make me laugh when I don't even feel like smiling, and loves me despite the insanity. Oh, and in his spare time, he "brings home the bacon."

Second is my RL friends - those who challenge me to take on a new role (thanks MaryEllen, I think - the homeschooling is great for the kidlet, but I still don't like it); and those who are there to lighten my load when needed. There are too many to mention, but I'd like to especially point out my neighbors (Roxanne, Anne, Doug) who are always ready to lend a helping hand - or two tablespoons of ginger when I need to bake but can't get to the store; Twila, for the offer to take the kidlet out to lunch, and the understanding in Sunday school; Clay for the support and pressure to be better tomorrow than I am today; and Hillary and Denise for being sympathetic ears. And all of my Facebook friends and blog followers who regularly encourage me and give me reasons to smile. 

Third is the professionals who are working together to help our family move in positive directions and who provide services for the kidlet. This year I am especially thankful for the opportunity provided to us by biology professor Emilie - because it opened my eyes a great deal about the issues we are facing with the kidlet (and we so enjoy hanging out with her family!). I'm thankful for the coaches, physicians, psychologists, and therapists who are part of our weekly routine, and who provide excellent care for the kidlet. I am thankful for the opportunity to participate in the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth , and the classes and events the kidlet can participate in to keep him engaged (he recently was asked if he liked math, and his answer was "YES!" - HOORAY!!!).

Also I would like to thank Mary St George of Gifted Online, for introducing me to the world of gifted education and all the resources that her Facebook group has opened up for me. To have such a group of individuals from around the world who are completely focused on the needs of gifted students and 2e students has been amazingly helpful and supportive. It has been so wonderful to have so many different perspectives, but yet a single focus and desire to see gifted students understood and given freedom to reach their potential. Also, I will include Deborah Mersino of Ingeniousus, and her leadership of Twitter #gtchat - what an amazing resource and so nice to find kindred spirits and tweet in real time! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Finally, I would like to thank my FOO. My parents, John and Sherrie, for their unfailing love, support and cheerleading; my brother, John C., for his cautious but carefully thought out guidance; and my sister, Kristen, for her encouragement in the face of frustration and self-doubt. 

For those and all of you - THANK YOU! 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Another Trip to College

We took another trip to college today. Well, sorta. Our local state university has a top-ranked engineering program, and since the kidlet wants to study engineering, we thought he might enjoy a series of free engineering lectures put on by the alumni association and the engineering department. When I told him, he was excited. We haven't really studied any engineering. He's got all the sciences fairly well handled, at least on a basic level, but engineering is so far out of my personal intellectual framework that I don't feel at all confident that I can do an effective job. So the three of us - Daddy, Mommy, and Kidlet - bundled up in the car and headed out to our first engineering lecture. 

Is it safe to say, it was a success? 
DH and Kidlet listening to the lecture.

The lecture was on reducing the carbon footprint of the US military, (and it just so happens that the kidlet is currently working on creating a whole fleet of military vehicles - in his head, mind you). He was excited to see that Boeing is already working on some of his ideas. I'm imagining the "flights" of fancy he will take in the next week will involve biofuels, superconductors with flywheels, and combination fuel cells. 

In particular, it was great to have DH along to see the miraculous change that happens when the kidlet gets engaged in something. The nervous energy calms, the eyes lock in, the brain starts spinning. The same thing happened when kidlet and I went to a college biology class last spring. All the little annoying habits that made his elementary classrooms impossible for him, disappear when he is engaged in something interesting. We're working on transferring those skills to every situation, but for now it's helpful to see that it's possible. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Halloween and OEs

Each year around this time, kids all over start thinking about candy and dreaming up ways to increase their load. The kidlet is nearing the end of his trick-or-treating days (already his friends are eschewing the idea), but this year he is still excited. If it's for the costume or the candy is unclear, but we've got 10 days to go and he's already bouncing off the walls. 

One of the challenges we face each year is making up the costume. The kidlet has never wanted to be "a firefighter" or "a crayon" - oh no no. Those might be easy. One year he was an Arcadian Beast (I didn't have a sewing machine, so the whole costume was done by hand), another year he was a Nemian Lion, another year a tank. Last year it was a pilot - but not just any pilot, one who flew a certain type of jet with a unique uniform. And this year... sigh... a "dragon insectoid" (half dragon, half dragonfly). 

In the process of creating these amazing works of imagination, we end up piecing together bits and pieces of all sorts of things. Part of the process is creating the plan, but the far more difficult piece is finding everything you need to put it together. And thus begins my story...

As is our usual process, we first travel around the costume shops to gather inspiration and see if there is anything we can use to enhance the costume. Since this year's creation requires the head of a dragon, in particular I was hoping to find something already made for that piece. I can make wings, and the dragonfly eyes I figured out - but how to make a convincing dragon head? So off we went in search of a dragon mask. 

Always before this year, I've been extremely careful about which sections of the costume store we walk through - but the dragon mask required a little deviation. The masks are usually back with the zombie costumes. So we found ourselves walking through a horror shop, with kidlet's eyes growing larger with each step. I could see it happening - overactive imagination going wild with all of that horrific new information. The clown costume with glowing eyes (think Stephen King's "It") made him stare for a good 2 minutes until I finally pulled him away (with his eyes not leaving the clown's face until we turned a corner and he couldn't see it any more). That was on top of the skeleton at the first store that was motion-activated, and started moving and laughing maniacally when the kidlet walked by - making him jump about a foot off the ground. 

Needless to say, by the end of our shopping trip (which was sadly ineffective in finding a dragon mask), the kidlet was visibly shaken. As we were getting into the car, he complained, "Why is Halloween becoming so much about bad things?!" I had to explain the origins of Halloween (All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day - well that was the version I told him anyway), and also how I've kept him out of those scary parts of the stores before. He listened intently, but I was nervous that the images he'd seen would stay with him, like so many images from the news, or movies, or anything remotely unsettling have done. Welcome to the world of super-sensitivity. He's already hyper-anxious about pretty much everything, and I'd just added some new horrors to his ever-growing list. Great job, mom. 

I remembered as a child having a horrible series of nightmares about a billboard in my town that advertised the Stephen King movie, "Carrie." Nothing could convince me that the blood that covered the front of her gown wasn't her own, from having her skin flayed from her body. In my own over-active imagination, she was dying - and the horrors that had been inflicted upon her were coming for me next. I had nightmares for weeks over that scene. (It wasn't until years later I heard the story of pig's blood being thrown on Carrie in the book/movie.) 

Seeing that look in my kidlet's eyes reminded me of those days... but fortunately the kidlet is much older than I was (4yo) and managed his fear far better than I was able to. I'm pretty sure he has had some nightmares - he hasn't said anything, but he has been extra tired and hyper-sensitive to stimuli during the days. But he will learn from this, as I did, one more step down the road of learning to manage his own over-excitabilities. 

And his costume is going to be great. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


As a parent, it's sometimes difficult to keep a realistic perspective of your child. Some of us make the mistake of expecting too much, some of us not enough. 

I think this is especially difficult when you have an only child - and a gifted one at that. I've got no other reference point, other than this one child who is clearly different from most other children his age. So, I have a really hard time keeping perspective on who he is and what he can do. And it goes both ways - sometimes I expect too much, and sometimes not enough. 

A perfect example of this was over the weekend. We attended a marine biology event for gifted children, offered through Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. It was a great opportunity, with lots of fun adventuring and learning (well, I learned a lot). But it made me very conscious of how unique my child really is. I told him there would be other kids "like him," but I was wrong. These kids were clearly quite smart, but they weren't in the same league as the kidlet. Not even close. And the really amazing thing (as his mom, I know these things) is that there he was, astounding the socks off the teachers and other adults, and this isn't even his main area of interest. I could see it in the look I got from one of the teachers, when she asked the kidlet if he wanted to be a marine biologist - clearly expecting that this is a special interest of his - and he said "no, I want to be an inventor." I could have told her that his interest in biology/marine biology/etc lies in his fascination for the mechanics of how things work. 

It made me a little sad, as I was reflecting how hard it is for this little person to find peers - those intellectual peers he might find have no similar interests, while his interest-peers don't follow his logic and don't get his jokes. It's no wonder he doesn't engage others very often. For a socially immature person it's hard enough to know how to enter into and maintain a conversation, but when your experiences mostly end up in misunderstanding and frustration... well, it's easy to understand why he might stop trying. 

But then there's the other side of the "perspective" coin, too. Sometimes I expect him to act like an adult simply because he can reason like an adult. But that's not appropriate, either. When he is falling apart in tears because he made a mistake that can't be undone, I have to remind myself that he is still a child. When he has days that require more physical movement ("run around breaks"), or he has trouble calming himself over something exciting - I have to remind myself that he is still a child, and still learning skills that most adults take for granted. Yes, he is definitely behind the curve in some areas, as much as he is ahead of it in others... which makes it doubly important for DH and I to set appropriate expectations (and doubly hard to know what ARE appropriate expectations. Grade level expectations, while his maturity isn't grade level? Is that fair?). 

I hope that I am keeping my expectations realistic - whether intellectual, social, or emotional. I hope that I am giving the kidlet the support he needs to become better at those things in which he does not excel, while continuing to find joy and interest in those areas in which he is beyond the curve. 

Monday, September 12, 2011


If there is one thing I am trying to teach the kidlet, it is the amorphous quality of resilience. You know, that thing that makes you keep trying after something doesn't work out quite right, or that makes you push through when something is hard. 

Wikipedia starts its article on resilience like this: 
Resilience in psychology is the positive capacity of people to cope with stress and adversity. This coping may result in the individual “bouncing back” to a previous state of normal functioning, or using the experience of exposure to adversity to produce a “steeling effect” and function better than expected (much like an inoculation gives one the capacity to cope well with future exposure to disease).[1] Resilience is most commonly understood as a process, and not a trait of an individual.

Resilience is important for everyone, but it can be elusive for gifted people. Since most things come easily for someone who is gifted, they don't encounter enough push-back in early years with the frequency that most people do. So they don't learn how to move through it and find the successes on the other side. In fact, for highly gifted or broadly gifted people, even the slightest bit of resistance can lead to full melt-downs or quitting. 

We have spent quite a bit of time recently dealing with the inadequacy of the kidlet's resilience level. He hates being unable to do something, so he refuses to try. My favorite illustration of this was back when he was closing in on 4 years old, and not yet potty-trained. His younger cousin had just been potty trained, so I asked the kidlet when he was going to do it. He asked me when he needed to have it done. I told him that I'd heard if he wasn't potty-trained by the time he was 4, we'd have to go to the doctor to be checked out. He told me then that he would be trained when he was 4. He still refused to try out the potty chair, but what do you know - on his 4th birthday he put on big-boy underpants and never looked back (for day or night!). He had to be sure he could do it before he'd be seen trying. It's been the same story all along - riding a bike, sports, handwriting, and especially anything to do with academics. Frustration builds fast and ends up in melt-down mode when challenged to try something that is difficult. 

Most people know that most things that are worth doing take a little bit of work - but someone who has never had to work for anything doesn't connect the level of work with a positive result. If you've never had to work hard/ think hard/ try hard / practice hard /etc. in order to accomplish something that gets accolades and rave reviews, once you hit that point where you need to work (and in order to really succeed at something, you've got to hit that point), instead of giving you that sense of, "okay, I can do this!" - it feels like a failure. 

One of the final straws at the last school kidlet attended was when the math teacher told me that she wasn't pushing the kidlet to do hard math problems because she didn't, "want to frustrate him." After three years of that kind of attitude, his resilience level is on the Delicates cycle. So we've been pushing him pretty hard to work through the tough problems and get the right answer (and go back and check it to make sure before you move on to the next math problem). I love hearing the sound in his voice when he finishes some exercises and says, "I got 100%!" - or even when he is re-doing some problems he'd done poorly on and says, "I improved by 200%!" Not only does that tell me that he is understanding the work, but that he is getting positive feedback from his attempts at resilience. And next time, maybe it won't be so hard to find the courage to keep trying.

A piece of paper in the kidlet's work area quotes Albert Einstein: "One should not pursue goals that are easily achieved. One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one's greatest efforts." It is there to remind the kidlet (and me!) that effort is not only worthwhile, but a positive aspect of achievement. 

Sadly, when faced with something that is difficult, it is all too easy to quit. But then you never get the satisfaction of knowing that you conquered something that was hard. Resilience definitely builds upon itself - the more success you find (and that great feeling that this was hard but you did it anyway), the more you will be willing to keep trying when failure looms. 

Keep going, kidlet! I know you can do it! But you need to know it, too. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

It's the First Day of School

I got an email from my sister-in-law, asking about the kidlet's new school year. It was the typical questions, "Why did you decide to home school?" and "What grade is he in?" Couple that with the martial arts instructor, who said to me, "Are you teaching him at home? Are you some kind of genius, too?" and you end up with trying to answer unanswerable questions.

The simple answer to "Why did you decide to home school," is this - we had no other choice. The child needs to be intellectually challenged, but also needs to be a kid. You can't put a child like this in a typical classroom and expect that it will all go smoothly - he takes to boredom like I take to grass pollen (it makes bad things happen in our bodies). We've tried it. It wasn't successful and led to even higher anxiety, lower self-esteem, and a more frustrated everyone. We tried a school that did all one-on-one instruction, but ended up paying for extremely expensive child care, since they didn't understand giftedness and the needs of gifted students. One teacher told me she was afraid to frustrate him... um, resilience anyone? 

My answer to the martial arts master was this, "I'm not a genius like HE is, but he's still a child and it is my job to teach him." Much of learning is figuring out how to learn - questions to ask, problem solving, critical thinking. Also, because of the kidlet's asynchrony, there are areas in which he is not as advanced; although his ability to think about those areas is quite advanced - math, for example - you can't just skip over the "easy stuff" because he can think in complex mathematical ways... he still needs to learn all the building blocks so he can do the complex stuff correctly.  

Now the toughie - which grade is he in? No idea. I can tell you for sure that he is NOT in 6th grade -which would be his chronological grade. He had easily passed all the 8th grade requirements by the end of last year, so we're calling this 9th grade. But even that is a misnomer - since the work he is doing is equally from college texts as from high school. We picked 9th because that seems like the lowest common denominator for him. We expect him to complete 9th grade work by the end of Autumn and start into 10th - IF things go as quickly as we think they can. But the beauty of home schooling is that we can go at whatever pace works best - some subjects might go more quickly (I have him going through a full college text on Marine Biology in one month, as we prepare for a group trip through Johns Hopkins CTY to the aquarium at Newport, Oregon for a weekend class - but don't let that fool you, he's been "studying" marine biology on his own for years). 

Another nice thing about home schooling is that you can really tailor learning without being stuck on someone else's idea of flow. This year, I decided to mold everything to World History (that being a key element in 9th grade). So, we are taking things era by era, and most of his assignments will be linked to whichever era we are studying. For example, we start off with the earliest beginnings of the world - he will read from two different history texts about pre-history and ancient cultures, will study the geography of the middle-east then and now, is reading some ancient myths about creation and flood - as well as a book on the Big Bang theory, learning about scientific advancements in the ancient world (hello Aristotle!). For those subjects that don't fit into the plan - we'll work our way through anyway. It's not a perfect system, but I think it will work well to put everything in perspective - since no learning is in isolation, may as well make as much as possible work together. 

Who knows what this year will bring... but at least I can be sure that my child will continue to learn, will have opportunities to explore his world, and can find that spark within himself again. It has been so hard seeing his interest in learning fade - that excitement about school turned inside out into angst, boredom, and frustration. I don't know if we can turn that around in one year, but I'm going to try.

Learning is fun! School is fun! I think we'll go to the fair later this week to celebrate. :) 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Math: The Eternal Struggle

Photo of Einstein's desk from Life Magazine,  - note the written-out equations. Even HE couldn't do it all in his head. 
The kidlet is good at math. Really good. He totally gets upper-level mathematical concepts - call it the philosophy of math - and he has for a long time. In kindergarten he was solving simple arithmetical equations using a convoluted algebraic formulation he came up with himself. In his head. But it worked, so he kept doing it. 

Here's the struggle: he won't learn math facts, and he won't write out the problems on paper and work it out by hand. I guess his little algebraic formula is supposed to take care of that for him. The problem is: you can do that with simple equations, but as the problems get more complex, it gets too difficult to keep everything straight as you are walking through the steps. So, his brilliant little math mind is making a complex equation that much harder by sending it through all these extra filters, and since he isn't walking through it on paper, he can't go back and see where his mistakes are - and he is getting the problems wrong. When we sit down and work out the problems with him, he gets every problem correct. I know he knows the process and can work out the answers. 

But he is failing.

And this is the (rhetorical*) question with which I struggle as his parent - do I let him fail?

On the one hand, it would be really good for him to learn what it feels like to fail, to pick himself up and try again. It's not something he is good at (are any of us?), and he doesn't frequently have opportunities to try it out and see where it can take him. Failure leads to discovery, and discovery is all good. And failure builds resilience, which is definitely a character trait the kidlet needs to learn.

On the other hand - this is an expensive (online) class, and I'm not sure we are going to be very willing to pay another hefty sum to have the kidlet retake a class he should have passed the first time. And since the kidlet is already bored and impatient, I can't really imagine trying to do this again. He has been surprisingly cooperative this time around, but I don't see that happening again if he has to retake the class (performance anxiety rears its hideously ugly head). 

And so... the math drama goes on. As I'm sure it will in the next class, and the class after that.  

*I say this is a rhetorical question, because I know that Daddy and I will come up with the best answer for our family. I am not asking for you to answer this for us. Not that I don't appreciate your comments, dear readers, but we will make our decision based upon far more complexity than a blog post can communicate. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Ups and Downs of Vacation

97 F with 90% humidity
...and long sleeves.
So the kidlet has been saying for three years that he wants to visit the Smithsonian museum. We thought this summer would be a good time for three reasons: 1. 5th and 6th grades are US history grades, and since kidlet hadn't really had any US history in 5th grade we may as well take him to Washington DC to whet his appetite for it; 2. we haven't taken a family vacation in several years that was just the three of us, and 3. we were already going to be half-way there, in Chicago, for a celebration of my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. So, here we come, Washington DC. It was a grand adventure... but I learned a few things.
Mommy's mistake, packing: I told kidlet it would be hot where we were going, but I didn't explicitly tell him to pack clothing that would be appropriate for warm weather. He wore long pants and long sleeves. Fortunately, he did pack mostly short-sleeved shirts, but no shorts. At all. He roasted. As a Northwestern-born weather-wimp, the 90+  temperatures plus high humidity really got to him. But, he was a star traveler and didn't complain too much (although his favorite time of every day was in the hotel swimming pool!). 

Kidlet with his headphones
around his neck.
Mommy's stellar planning: I had purchased ear plugs and an MP3 player for kidlet to help with noise modulation. We were going to two big cities (Chicago and Washington DC), and I knew we would be in some places that would be quite loud. He used ear plugs for the plane ride to Chicago and for one night in the hotel, but sleep wasn't really the issue for him. Places where noise bounces around a lot was. Shedd Aquarium - where he enjoyed the shows and looking at the fish, otters, sea lions, dolphins, beluga whales, etc. was loud. L.O.U.D. LOUD. My brother and I both got overwhelmed by it (why didn't I take my own MP3 player???), and I ended up leaving for an hour and a half to take a walk through downtown Chicago just to get away from it. But kidlet had (wisely) taken his MP3 player that day, and even if he didn't have music playing sometimes he'd just put the headphones on to mute the noise. He did great. Even after a very long day of a lot of walking, noise, chaos, and a professional soccer game (fortunately not one of the more well-attended stadiums in the MLS, so the noise was there, but not too bad), and staying up WAAAAY too late - he was, once again, a star traveler. 

I think I did a good job of setting up expectations, but even so the kidlet was disappointed that we didn't get to any museums on our first day at Washington DC. He was anxious that we wouldn't get there, which made him impatient with all the walking we did as we toured the US Capitol, wandered around the White House and federal buildings, and visited all the monuments  and memorials along the Capitol Mall. And he was hot. By the time we hit the Lincoln Monument at the south end of the Mall, he was ready to head back to the hotel and swim. This became a consistent refrain throughout the rest of our trip, "why don't we go back to the hotel now to swim?!" By our last day of vacation, my husband and I had begun joking about how the only things the kidlet was going to remember from this trip would be the hotel pools. The kidlet joined in on the joke and now, if you ask him, he will say, "We did a bunch of boring stuff, then went back to the hotel and swam in the pool!"

As great a traveler as the kidlet is (and he really is a stellar traveler!) I think I have learned a bit more about trying to pack too much into one trip. We did a lot, frequently felt rushed and as if we wanted to see more, but couldn't. The kidlet learned quite a bit about the Battle at Gettysburg while we toured the battlefield (daddy is a great teacher and tour guide!), but he didn't care. He also didn't care much about the colonial days as we visited Williamsburg ("we should go back to the hotel to swim!"). He was ambivalent about the Capitol and government sites in Washington DC, but he loved it when we started singing songs from Schoolhouse Rock. But best of all was going back to the hotel to swim.
"I'm just a Bill, yes I'm only a Bill,
and I'm sittin' here on Capitol Hill..."
So I guess the whole adventure was successful - even though the kidlet didn't appreciate much of what we did, he did learn about it. He watched and listened as daddy explained the back-and-forth nature of the Battle at Gettysburg, and would pipe in about if a particular spot was a good defensive position. He read the Gettysburg Address on the site where it was orated, and seemed to understand the significance of what both sides were fighting for in the Civil War. He understands our government, how checks-and-balances works, and the roles of Senators, Representatives, the President, and the Supreme Court in making laws that fit with our Constitution. And he saw real trilobite fossils and a really big giant squid (that was the thing for which he'd been waiting three years!).

And he really liked swimming. 

Lovin' the sweaty hair style in Williamsburg's 100 F.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Follow-up: Auditory Sensitivity, Self-Control, and Summer Camp

It's no surprise by now that we are still trying to figure out the precise combination of things that make the kidlet go from our funny, sweet boy into an explosive device ready to destroy anything in its path. It's a cause of great concern for DH and myself, as we struggle to understand not only the feelings being displayed, but how to help the kidlet to manage them in a way that is socially acceptable and not destructive.

So this week was a great test. The kidlet pointed out to me once again, at the beginning of the week, how noise affects him. He said that loud, surprising, and shrieking noises makes him angry. Ok - so we did an experiment. I told the lead counselor what to do, and it seems the message got through - we had zero calls home or even comments at pick-up time. The kidlet told me he started to get angry one day, but controlled it. I cannot tell you how ecstatic that makes me and DH. 

The same morning that kidlet made this revelation to me, I read an article on self-control - and how it is an exhaustible resource. Makes perfect sense to me - I can tell that in my own life. but I want to share this article anyway, because not only is their methodology for the study tantalizing, but the results were so very lopsided.

Here is the link: Why Change Is So Hard: Self-Control Is Exhaustible

Okay, so no wonder the poor kidlet was falling apart after lunch! Lunch is when all the kids at summer camp are together - not JUST the 30 children in his own age group, but the nearing 200 children at the camp! NOISE! By the time he is back in his "small" group, he has already exhausted every bit of patience and self-control he's got! Giving him opportunities to escape the noise proved to be not only relieving for him, but it made the week at camp a successful experience. Success breeds upon itself - he knows he's done it once and now he knows he can do it again.

So we are planning this vacation and I decided to try some of the suggestions that I got after my last post. One, in particular - earplugs. I've been trying them out at home to see which ones work best, and which ones allow a little sound vs. none at all. I've got both - four different types, in fact. Kidlet hasn't seen them yet, but we are taking an overnight flight so we will try them during the flight and hope he gets sufficient sleep so when he runs into grandma and grandpa (just about his favorite people in the world), his cousins and aunt and uncle, he will have some patience to manage the chaos having 9 people all together for four days can create. I also bought him an MP3 player with some fun songs on it (he is so psyched about "Ghostbusters," "Pinch Me," and his very favorite song, "Video Killed the Radio Star") so he can "tune out" when he needs to. 

Oh, the earplugs will help me sleep, too! :)

Putting things together like this seems like it should be an easy process.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Is This "The Thing" ?

So today as we are walking up to Robot Camp, discussing group behavior, temper tantrums and why you can't do that at camp, the kidlet turns to me and says, "sometimes when the other kids are screaming it makes me feel really angry." 

Lightbulb! Ok yeah, so the kidlet doesn't have the emotional vocabulary to use, but I fill in for him, "Oh, so you mean that you start feeling really agitated when there is a lot of noise?" 

"Yeah. But the jets taking off right behind me don't matter so much" (his camp is on a small airstrip where planes take off regularly). "It's when the younger kids scream."

Well, duh mom! Ever since first grade, when kidlet would sit in school assemblies, covering his ears, rocking back and forth, and crying - I've known that he is extremely sensitive to noise. After he said this today, I started tracking back over times he typically gets over-excited or over-agitated, and yes - they seem to be mostly connected to an extra measure of people-noise. I always associated it with the excitement of (fill in the blank - guests at our house, a classroom full of kids with so much to see and do, church with people milling about and loud music...)... but what if it's the noise? 

So I explained to him that he needs to pay attention to when he starts to feel agitated and let the counselors know that he just needs a quiet(er) place to calm himself, I talked to the counselors myself to explain, and sent the requisite email to the head counselor. Of course, when I picked him up at the end of the (uneventful) day, I asked if he had been paying attention to the noise level and how it made his body feel. He said, "not really." (This is when I want to take that darned Executive Function and force-feed it some green beans so it can mature faster. WHEN will he get that connection between knowing what to do and doing it?)

So now we are on (yet another) sensory-modulation and coping skills hunt - how can we modulate the auditory input just enough so he doesn't go over the top emotionally, while giving him enough input so that he can learn adequate coping skills? I almost always have music on in the car and at home - that is MY auditory modulation device because helps me block out the sounds that I don't want to hear. I wonder if that will that work for the kidlet (I don't mean blocking him out by turning up the music - I mean giving HIM some music to tune in to). I will have to buy him another MP3 player (first one went to tech heaven after a run-in with the clothes washer - and dryer) and fill it with some of his favorite songs, just to see. I'll let you know how it goes.

We may never get a full answer to some of our questions, but days like today give me hope that maybe - just maybe - we will find ways to help our little kidlet take another step to maturity. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Living on a Tightrope

It’s an honor to be blogging for SENG’s National Parenting Gifted Children Week. Please follow the blog tour all week for fantastic writing on giftedness and parenting this special community.
National Parent Gifted Children Week is hosted by SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted)
Download SENG's free NPGC Week ebook, The Joy and Challenge: Parenting Gifted Children

There are so many pieces to the puzzle of parenting gifted children, that it's frequently hard to know where to start. How do you balance all of a gifted child's often-divergent needs? In our case, trying to balance the high need for intellectual stimulation, with the strong reluctance to perform due to performance anxiety, with intense emotionality - and you get a pair of parents that feel like they are balancing a tightrope while being chased by a tiger.

We are at a crossroads, it seems. The kidlet is starting high school - a bit early, but he's clearly ready to move ahead. But I'm not sure he's going to learn much that is new. I believe it will, once again, be another disappointment in a long line of intellectual disappointments. The good news is, because we are homeschooling we can take it at a pace that at least will feel like we are going somewhere. The bad news is - he's ready for that level of information, but can he produce work that is commensurate with that which is expected of a high school student? This is our tightrope - do we hold him back intellectually so that he can produce the proper amount of work so that he can take a test that will open doors to college? Or do we allow him to enjoy the learning he is doing, take it where it will and not worry if he cannot write a 5-page paper adequately? 

Dr. James Webb, founder of SENG, spoke a keynote address during Saturday's lunch at the SENG Conference in Seattle over the weekend. The title of the address was, "Preparing Gifted Children Children for College... or Preparing Them for Life?" The point of his address was that not everyone has to go through the accepted route to success - college. There are plenty of examples of highly successful people who didn't finish college (Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Steve Jobs being some of the examples given), and some who never started. Now, I'm not going to say that my little engineer doesn't need to go to college in order to be successful in his chosen career, but Dr. Webb's words did underscore the thing I keep considering for my own kidlet - is all of this going to make him have a happy life? Or is there another way to go about this that will help him achieve his goals and 
bring him joy? Sure, there are things the kidlet definitely needs to add to his repertoire of abilities before he can take the next step toward his dreams (prose being one of them). But I'm not sure it has to look the way most people of our generation assume it will.

And that is the balance we parents are constantly trying to keep. I cannot hold back his intellect and creativity to wait for the rest of him to catch up. And I don't ever want to send the message that he cannot begin to make a change in the world until he has jumped through certain hoops (I feel fairly confident he will get that message enough "out there").

So we walk our tightrope - at a sprint at times, and sometimes just hanging on for dear life. And that tiger? He's doing the same thing.

Monday, July 11, 2011

It's been a weird week (or, Asynchrony, part II: The Summer From... well, you know)

We started homeschooling in May. 2011. Yes, we are newbies. It was a tough decision - mostly because I've always said I couldn't homeschool the kidlet because we would end up killing each other. But clearly school was not working for him. Even the uber-specialized private school he was going to couldn't keep up with him. We visited a lot of other (private) schools. A lot. I think my husband used up all of his vacation time, hour by hour, just doing site visits and parent interviews. But in the end, we decided to homeschool. Because differentiation is where it's at.

Of the myriad of schools we looked at, only two were - rather nervously - willing to attempt to educate a child they both knew would never "fit" with their student body and would outpace their academic programs within his first year. Most of the schools we visited were forthright with us - telling us outright that they couldn't support his intellect. One school said they were looking for "leadership" qualities the kidlet clearly does not have (one has to acknowledge the presence of others in order to lead them - key feature in leadership, I figure, so I couldn't argue with the school's rationale; regardless of whether I think "leadership" is a quality that an 11 year old boy needs).

So we started homeschooling. We took a day at the homeschool store and picked out our books - deciding which subjects to study as we stood there, guessing at which grade level to choose, and dazed at the plethora of options. We brought our books home, and I looked through and made up a list of assignments for the coming week. On Monday - our first day of our new school - the kidlet took out his pen (he won't use a pencil because of the way it sounds and feels as it scratches across paper) and his weekly schedule that I made for him, and he decided how he was going to attack his work. He read, and I (verbally) assessed how well he understood the information. He finished 7th grade life science in one month - and learned nothing. I knew we'd have to up the ante a bit. This is a voracious learner.

After much discussion between our school's lead teacher (me) and our key assessment specialist (daddy), we decided to skip a couple grades. Three, to be exact - we will start 9th grade. For our baseline. However, we know that he will progress through math extremely fast (but we can't skip much because it all builds upon itself - conceptually he is as amazing at math as he is in science, but he needs to cover the building blocks, and he will hate every minute of it), and science will require a higher level - if we can't find a college class to take, we'll do an online course from MIT (did you know they offer free online courses? SWEET!). His writing skills need a lot of work, but today I flipped through the English grammar and composition books, and picked up one for 12th grade - because the others seemed far too simplistic, but I figured we needed something. Even if it takes us two years to get through - he'll still be ahead of the game. I did get 9th grade geography and world history books - figuring we'll do them in concert, and pick up US history, then civics and economics as we finish.

You're probably wondering by now why I titled this, "It's been a weird week." I'm getting there, if somewhat in a roundabout way. We did all this work and it was going great - kidlet was excited, cooperative, and seemed to be maturing right in front of my eyes. Then we stopped for summer. BAD idea. Really, really bad. Summer has not been fun. The camps he's been to have been disappointing - I could see it in his eyes when I picked him up on day one of rocket camp. "What did you learn?" "Nothing. We talked about Newton's Third Law." Sadness. And he almost got kicked out later in the week because, in this little asynchronous child, the disappointment translated to anxiety translated to anger translated to the Terrible Twos. And the disappointment, anxiety, and anger have continued - uncharacteristically, even at home. I got sat down by the kidlet's counselor and told what I already knew - "he's bored - he needs to learn." That's why I was at the homeschool store again this week - picking up books for our summer lessons. Yeah, we're going back to school so we can make it to Back to School.

It's been a weird week. I'm making plans to start him in high school and get a phone call from the weekend sleep-away camp the kidlet is attending, saying he's horribly homesick. He was so sad, he couldn't even eat s'mores. (S'MORES!! Chocolate, graham crackers, and toasted marshmallow! That's where I GO when I'm sad!) We talked with him on the phone and he perked up a bit - and downed two s'mores the last night of camp. But I digress. This is a roller coaster we are on - trying to balance the needs of such an amazing, adult brain, at the same time we're trying to support emotional growth and maturity in a little child. I think I've got whiplash. I can't even imagine how it feels to him.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


I'd been married for 7 years and had been raising a child for 4, when I finally realized why the three of us were driving me up the wall. It was perfectionism, but paired with my optimistic tendencies and the other two's pessimism. See - I need to do everything right, but they need everything to be perfect. I try to make a nice meal, plan a nice vacation, buy a nice present - and the response I get to my inquiry, "are you having fun?" is "yeah, I guess so. But..." It was driving me crazy - why couldn't I do anything right for these two? At least it did until I realized that it wasn't because I was doing things wrong - but rather that we had different expectations of the world. Both the kidlet and the husband want perfection, but expect to be let down. I want perfection, and am willing to look for it to find it. 

Once I got that cleared up in my head - I didn't feel so bad when the kidlet's birthday party, planned to perfection and went off without a hitch, received an "it was okay, but everyone went home too soon" mark from the kidlet. He was let down because it went too fast. Bummer. I also didn't feel so bad when the meticulously-planned meal I made for my husband's birthday got a "nice dinner" response from said husband. He knows better now (after 15 years) not to give me the "but..." response - or sometimes he does with a twinkle in his eye, just because he knows how it gets to me. 

Perfectionism is a fantastic tool, but can also become a tinderbox of frustration and immolation. I see how it hinders the kidlet's ability to communicate, because he must speak every word precisely as he intends - he hesitates mid-word as if he is checking to make sure it's the right one, and that he is using it exactly right. I see how it hinders my husband's ability to excel at work (in software design), because he hates "hacks" and wants to write the code right the first time - but sometimes that's not possible or feasible with a deadline. I see how I have difficulty in getting started writing something down on paper, knowing that the writing process requires revision which implies imperfection. I see the kidlet frustrated when trying a new skill - like bicycle riding or swimming. He's not used to something requiring practice; everything has always come so easily to him. I see him refusing to try something until he knows he can do it.

But perfectionism is also a fantastic motivator toward great accomplishment - if it is harnessed and paired with resilience. If the team in Houston hadn't demanded perfection when the Apollo 13 mission seemed doomed, we would have lost not only the lives of our astronauts, but a great opportunity for learning. If Jonas Salk had given up when he felt most discouraged in his research to find a vaccine for polio, millions more would have been crippled, paralyzed, and possibly killed by the disease. 

So this perfectionism - this need to get everything just right, just so, exactly perfect - is a blessing  and a curse. With my child I want to support it, but also give him the tools to manage it - to make it work for him, instead of against him. I try to teach him to reach for the stars but manage expectations - because I know if the stars don't come easily, they are easily given up. And that would be a tragedy. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Asynchrony - The Root of All Evils?

I keep trying to start this post, but this is a very difficult subject around our house. I am convinced that asynchrony is the root cause of most of the struggles we have with the kidlet. He's fairly on-par with himself in most academic areas (except handwriting), but it seems to me that all of his growth energy has gone into his intellect, leaving none for his physical, emotional, spiritual, or social growth. I don't know if child development scientists would support my thesis - but that's how it seems. 

When the kidlet was in preschool, his teacher recommended not starting kindergarten "on time" because he was so immature. We struggled with that decision - we knew he was advanced academically (he could count to 7 when he was 15 months old, and knew all of his letters by 18 months, and was already reading), but we also recognized that he was extremely "spirited" and reluctant to follow directions or get involved in what the other kids were doing. Circle time was a N.I.G.H.T.M.A.R.E. (this goes back even to the days he was a baby - we sat in Kindermusic in a circle and all the other little babies were happily sitting with their moms, clapping and cooing, while the kidlet would struggle to get away, grabbing toys and anything he could get his hands on). Eventually, we decided that we needed to support his more advanced intellectual needs, figuring the rest was more about his character than about actual maturity. He went to kindergarten.

Ha! It's a good thing we didn't wait for his emotional side to catch up to his intellectual side or he'd be the oldest (and smartest) kindergartener in the country. He's still not there. Just yesterday I was *ahem, excuse me - bad mommy moment ahead* lecturing him about how he should act like an 11 year old instead of a 3 year old. Yes - he has more frequent temper tantrums now than he did when he was 3. I thought I had it made back then - after the first few times he threw a tempter tantrum, he figured out that it didn't work with me, so he stopped. But his little immature and intense emotional life needs expression, and for some reason he's just not able to identify the emotions and catch himself before he spirals out of control - even though he (intellectually) knows he needs to and he says he really tries. 

Some say it's ADHD rearing its ugly head. I might agree, except that I see none of the other signs of ADHD, and we have tried medication which does not help. Some say it's Asperger's or Autism - again, I don't agree because you can't make a diagnosis based on one existing symptom. That's why I say that asynchrony is the culprit. You see, it's got to be so frustrating to think like an adult, easily socialize with other 11 year old boys (who have very little in common, but they are someone to play Legos and Pokemon with), but be unable to understand your emotions or express them to another beyond what a 5 year old can do. Throw into the mix the extreme perfectionism (I know what I should do and I can't do it, but I don't want everyone else to see me fail), and you have a recipe for the kind of spiraling that sends him into internal chaos that wreaks external havoc.  

It's tough as a parent to know how to help. Especially since he doesn't have the huge meltdowns at home, so we can't even walk him through the process in real time. We're stuck with trying to talk things through after-the-fact, when he's calmed down and can think clearly. It breaks my heart to know how hard he tries, but there is something there that is blocking his ability to think it through at the moment of highest frustration. We were even discussing ways to intentionally frustrate him at home - to make him lose it so we can help him through the process (that sounds really horrible - but we are really at our wits ends to know how to help him). 

The good news is this: we see him exercise great control most of the time at home, and all of the time at martial arts. So we know it's there and is getting better. But I guess it's like the physical growth - you can feed him healthy food, but you can't make him grow. I'm hoping that with our new school plan, his intellectual needs will get sufficiently met that the rest of him - the social, emotional, spiritual, and physical maturity - can get some growth time in. 

Here's hopin'! 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

It's Not All About Intellect... Or Is It?

This is the fifth and last in my series about Dabrowski's over-excitabilities - Intellectual OE. 

This is probably the most notable and most identifiable in a gifted learner - the quest for knowledge. It goes beyond being smart - it is a thirst that is never quenched, an all-consuming effort that takes up more than brain power, it takes whole-being power. The gifted person has to learn. They will shrivel up if they stop. Too frequently, that is what happens at school when a child is not given the appropriate learning environment (for whatever reason - maybe not having been identified as gifted, possibly focus on another difference such as a 2e diagnosis, or perhaps a child needs more radical differentiation that isn't available). 

I've seen it happen - the shriveling. The kidlet's school decided that he was "smart enough" that he didn't need to be taught. "He'll learn it on his own," was the refrain I heard over and over again from his teachers. He went to that school for three years, and I saw him progressively shrivel. With each passing month of not being stretched, he become less flexible with his interests, and less willing to try something new (not that trying new things has ever been a strength of his - he has always needed to KNOW he could do it before he "performed" for someone else). He hasn't learned academic resilience - having not been challenged to push himself beyond what he already knew. As he become more resistant, the school tightened their grip. It was the wrong way to go. His behavior progressively worsened, and school turned into playtime with his friends - not a place to learn. The past three months that he was in school, my husband and I joked that this was really expensive babysitting (it was a private school) - until we finally pulled him out and decided to homeschool - at least for long enough to undo some of the poor work habits he picked up along the way. 

It's just like in your body - if you stretch yourself regularly, your muscles loosen and can move in so many directions with strength and agility. But if you don't use them, muscles tighten, become rigid and inflexible. Even the lightest workout will hurt. Because you're out of practice - and that's what the "brain muscle" needs, too! It needs to be stretched, pushed lightly and then with more rigor... it needs MOVEMENT!! 

I've seen it so many times with him - if his intellect is not stimulated, the behavior goes downhill quickly. But engage him in something interesting, and you will see all of those characteristics - you know, the ones that people love to put labels on - dissipate and almost disappear. So, in that sense I do think it's all about intellect. The other four over-excitabilities described by Dabrowski certainly make their mark on the gifted learner - in different ways and to different results. But it's the intellectual intensity that serves as the task-master, the internal drive that governs the rest of the person. This is what makes the gifted learner so distinguishable from their high-performing peers. 

At least, this has been our experience. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Feeling with Everything You've Got

This is fourth in my series on the five gifted OEs (according to Dabrowski's theory of positive disintegration) - emotional over-excitability. 

One dry autumn Saturday shortly after the kidlet started kindergarten, I came home from the grocery store to find water dripping onto my husband's car. Now normally, in a wet climate like we live in, this would not be a problem... except that the car was in the garage. I quickly went inside, found my husband (deeply engrossed in a book, if I remember correctly - the apple doesn't fall far from the tree), and asked him why water would be dripping inside the garage - from where is it coming? My husband went out to make sure I wasn't creating some catastrophe out of my own vivid imagination (this is how it seems to me, but I know he just has to see it for himself). Sure enough, water was dripping. "Where is the kidlet?" I asked. "I dunno" was not a surprising answer. I went upstairs.

Sure enough, there was the kidlet - in his bathroom, ankle-deep in water, with the faucet running full-blast in the sink as he bailed out the water onto the floor. I'm sure I freaked out, but eventually we managed to discover what it was the kidlet was doing. He was figuring out how water overflow worked, and trying out remedies for flooded spaces. You see, that was the autumn of 2005, and the evening news had been all about the devastation caused in New Orleans and the surrounding communities by Hurricane Katrina

What does that have to do with emotional OE? Well, because gifted students experience the world with more intensity, news items, things they see on the street, or other information that contain an emotional element will seep deeply into these little souls and cause an emotional reaction. Some gifted children will show a great amount of empathy - showing a caring and helpful side that rivals professional care-givers. But you won't find the kidlet throwing his arm around a friend, telling him it's okay that he struck out in his last at-bat, or introducing himself to someone new. The kidlet's empathy comes out in very different ways - like his Katrina experiment. He wants to know how and why that happened, and how it can be fixed. I call it his "engineer's empathy" (no offense, please, to the lovely engineers out there). His empathy comes out as problem-solving. And he feels it deeply.

I mentioned in an earlier post that the kidlet was quite fond of John Kerry and was hoping he would win his bid in the 2004 Presidential Election. He actually picked Kerry out from amongst the throng of hopefuls before the Democratic primary even had been settled. And, before you think his parents were instilling their opinions into their child, please note that his daddy isn't even a Democrat, and his mommy hadn't yet made up her mind, but was leaning toward another candidate. So kidlet forged ahead with his pick prior to the Iowa caucuses - and ended up being right on target for who the Democratic nominee would be. The kidlet watched the evening news carefully for any and all information about the election, but Kerry did not end up being elected. I told the story in another post about how, a year and a half later when he was in kindergarten, the kidlet surprised his teacher by drawing a picture of John Kerry ("you know, the man who was SUPPOSED to be President!"). What I didn't say was that several months after that, daddy was going through the names of the Presidents with kidlet, when kidlet added in, "daddy, you forgot John Kerry." Daddy explained that Kerry had not won the election, so he was not President. The kidlet cried and cried. He had known, but the pain of the loss still cut deep. 

I could share so many memories when the kidlet's emotional intensity has shown his empathy toward people, animals, events... But there is another side, too. And this one is not so nice. He is also a volcano - all of the intensity of emotion can come out violently at times when he doesn't know what to do with it. This has been a huge frustration for us, his parents, because we still look for the catalysts - why is it that some times he manages his emotions well, even if they are felt very deeply, but other times they erupt into a molten mess? I will blog about asynchrony another time (it is our biggest challenge, and for us it's the emotional part of our child that is lagging so far behind), but in terms of emotional OE all I can say is - he feels with his whole being. Frustration is not just something he feels in his head, it takes over his body. Sadness shakes him to the core. Anxiety expresses itself in every fiber of his being. Joy is uncontainable.