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, 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. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Creating Is a Way of Life

This is the third in my series on Dabrowski's five over-excitabilities - Imaginational OE.

I would love to be a fly on the wall of the kidlet's imagination. There is so much going on in there, it's hard to even comprehend how busy it must be. It doesn't slow down - ever. He even imagines when he dreams. It took me a while to realize that imagination - creating and re-creating - is how the kidlet processes information. 

As most boys do (notice I don't say "little" boys because the phenomenon carries into adulthood), the kidlet loves Legos. When we purchase a new set, he usually completes it one time by the instructions, then he starts on his improvements - instructions never to be picked up again. Sometimes he doesn't even get through the instructions the first time before he's improving things. Soon, he has made something completely different and completely wonderful, and nothing like the picture on the box. Creativity is his passion. And I don't say that flippantly - he wants to be an inventor (and "bio-inventor" is what he says). 

He reads a book on dinosaurs - and all the thinks about (and all we hear about) for weeks are the "new dinosaurs" he is making up. "Do you have any ideas for my new dinosaur, mommy?" He insists that some of these dinosaurs that he is making up will eventually be found in the deeper digs or new areas that haven't been explored yet ("you can't prove they never existed, mommy.") He researches Latin and Greek words to make sure he names them in true paleontologist form. 

Then he reads a book on WWII weaponry, and all he thinks about are tanks and guns for weeks. He makes up new tanks: this one is really heavy but has extra-thick armor so it's impenetrable; this one is fast and light, but made of titanium (or, he also makes up new elements that provide super-strength or other characteristics) so it's really strong; this one can shoot accurately  over a distance of ten miles. 

Next it's Star Wars. He makes up a new planet - including flora and fauna, intelligent life, atmosphere, and physical forces on the planet from its star or neighboring planets or moons. He makes up new technologies for the planet, decides how its life forms will interrelate with the life forms of other planets, and whether it's a member of the Rebellion or the Empire. 

I can't believe how long it took me to realize that this is actually how he processes information - through his imagination. I know that he has learned something deeply when he starts telling me how he is improving it or something new he's created to go with it. Recently, he's even been coming up with a few scientific hypotheses through this process that I think have real merit (having to do with the proteins and enzymes inside of cells), if he can figure out a way to research and prove them. 

The kidlet takes all that he reads, watches, or learns - which is mostly non-fiction - and improves it in amazingly creative ways. Reality feeds his imagination. Soon his imagination will be feeding reality. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Psycho-Motor Intensity Keeps Us Moving!!

This is my second post on the five over-excitabilities described by Dabrowsky - psychomotor OE.

I have no idea why Dabrowsky called this one "Psycho"-Motor OE - but it certainly can make a parent go psycho, so maybe that's why. This is the one that keeps gifted kids MOVING... CONSTANTLY. Time and again people have told me my child has ADHD (but he doesn't have attention problems...??) simply because he never stops moving. Unless he's sleeping, and then you can't wake him.

I get it, though... when I was a child I had a lot of energy (why can't I have that much energy now??). I remember my mother telling me that people were saying I was hyperactive, "but you're not - you just have a lot of energy." I actually smashed a bone in my heel from bouncing when I was 6. Tigger was my favorite (he's bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, fun fun fun fun fun!). I think I could appreciate how he felt. I actually sang that song and imitated Tigger in the halls of my high school a few times... bouncing and pouncing as my classmates dragged along to class. 

So it's no surprise my child has a lot of energy. He runs, he jumps, he comes down the stairs on his knees (makes mine hurt every time!), he fidgets, and most nights during dinner he's up and away from the table at least once - drawn in by something in the next room or something going on in his head. He paces when he talks, as if the movement helps him center his thoughts. When he's working on the computer, he spins in the chair, or jumps out of it and does a little dance after he's typed out an especially thrilling thought on the screen.   

But - and this is the part few people besides those of us living in our house ever see - he also sits for hours and reads, he lays on the floor to play with Legos, he cuddles with one or both of us (his parents) to watch TV or a movie. And this is how I know it's an over-excitability and not a chemical imbalance - because when the interest is there, the movement quiets. Sure, he still fidgets (I'm trying to teach him to wiggle his toes in his shoes instead of tapping on the table or clicking his pen when he's in a group), but there is a calmness that alights on him when he's thinking of something really interesting. And I know that's the look that will come at that "a-ha!" moment of discovery - the moment when whatever it is he chooses to do will change the world we live in. 

And I can't wait to see that. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Living with Sensory Intensity

This is the first in a series on Dabrowsky's five over-excitabilities - sensual OE.

We spent the first night of the kidlet's life with all the lights on. All night. Daddy and Mommy wanted to sleep, but the kidlet screamed as soon as the lights went off. Being new parents, at first we struggled to figure out what was wrong - does he need his diaper changed? Is he hungry? The crying would stop as soon as we turned the lights on to check - and then it would start up again immediately when the lights went out. I think we checked his diaper about three times and tried to feed him twice before we put it together (we were a bit tired already) - the cries were only when he couldn't see what was going on around him. 

And that was our introduction to sensory intensity. It is one of the hallmarks of Dabrowsky's Over Excitabilities in gifted children - experiencing the world through the five senses in a hyper-aroused state. The kidlet has been diagnosed with sensory processing challenges - especially visual, auditory, interoception and proprioception. (Never heard of those last two? Interoception is our sense of where our bodies are in space. Kids with understimulation or overstimulation of interoception will run into things, drop things, be unaware of their personal space. Proprioception is pressure on and inside the joints - the kidlet expresses his need for proprioceptive input by running, jumping, climbing.) 

As he grew older, the kidlet continued to need lots of sensory input. As a baby he cried a lot, especially if he was put down or held in a way he couldn't see out. Breastfeeding was painful (especially after he got his first tooth), because he was constantly looking away from me to see what was going on out there - and trying to take the nipple with him. I had to feed him in a quiet room with the door closed. He was interested in everything. Being our only child, we didn't realize how different this was from other kids until he got to preschool age.

I started learning about hyper-sensitivity when the kidlet was 3 or 4. I was reading a book on spirited children, and it talked about how these kids would see and hear things most people could not. It started to click for me after a particularly horrible restaurant experience. The kidlet hadn't taken his afternoon nap that day, grandparents from out of state had arrived in late afternoon, and we were late having dinner. We went out to a restaurant, and he proceeded to have a complete meltdown in the restaurant after the food he ordered (macaroni and cheese) wasn't exactly what he expected (no bright yellow cheese like in the box). He and I waited in the car while the grandparents and daddy finished their meal. While we were sitting in the hot car - doors and windows wide open, in a large parking lot full of cars and motion - the kidlet asked me, "what's that sound?" I didn't hear anything so I asked him to describe it to me. He said it was "ticking." I listened closely, and finally picked up the faint click of a car motor cooling from five rows away. 

On the other hand, when kidlet got to school he had a very hard time managing all the sensory input he was getting. During assemblies, he would curl up into a ball and rock himself, cover his ears, and cry. In the classroom, his teacher put him at the back of the room (because of his psycho-motor intensity - constant motion!! Another blog about that one later), but he couldn't concentrate because he saw every movement, and heard every scratch of a pencil on paper in the room, and every bird's chirps outside (where is it?), and... oops someone left a ball out in the bushes after recess. He still refuses to use a pencil because he doesn't like the sound of it or the feel it has rubbing against the page. 

When he gets excited (especially when guests come to our house), he runs in circles. That's proprioceptive need, reacting with his psycho-motor intensity, mixing with the emotional intensity of meeting someone new. When he's feeling anxious or angry, he needs tight hugs (interoception). That seems to help him recover his sense of where he is - to get more grounded within himself. 

To me it's a chicken-or-egg thing - is this truly a 2e-type diagnosis of sensory processing disorder? Or is it strictly the high intensity we see in everything he does due to giftedness and OE? I guess it doesn't really matter - he has been helped to learn coping skills through occupational therapy, and we start seeing signs of over- (or under-) stimulation early enough to avoid the huge meltdowns - most of the time. He competes against himself in martial arts, and we play tennis together (so he can "whack" things) - both great ways to gratify the need for proprioceptive input. He's learned to pick up a book when he's getting overstimulated, and if he is in a group of children that gets too loud for him, he will isolate himself and play quietly with Legos until it is time to go home. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Top Ten Things I Wish Teachers Understood about Giftedness

  1.  Not all gifted kids might seem “smart” according to common definitions. In first grade my son was failing at math, despite being able to do algebra in his head at home. But he adamantly refused to complete – or even to start – the “timed” addition tests that were given weekly at school. To him, it was boring addition, but even so he wasn’t convinced he could complete both sides of the page in the time given, so he refused to try (besides, he was – and still is – highly insecure about his letter and number formation so is resistant to completing anything written). It wasn’t until near the end of the year that we found out the teacher didn’t actually expect them to complete the tests – she just wanted to see them try.
  2. Not all smart kids are gifted. There is so much more to “giftedness” than just being smart. Yes, intelligence is part of the equation, but I’ve met so many children who do well in school due to parental pressure and through plain old hard work. It’s not a quantitative difference, it’s a qualitative difference. And I don’t mean that my kid is better than another because he’s gifted – what I mean is that he is just DIFFERENT. He thinks differently about things, he looks at the world with different eyes, he experiences the world differently. His intensity goes well beyond intellect – although that might be the most obvious sign of giftedness.
  3. Just because a child is gifted does not mean that child will be high performing. My child simply doesn’t care what you think of his work. He only cares what HE thinks of his work. If it’s not exactly what he wants it to be, he would rather you never see it. And I will guarantee that his idea of what he wants is far different than yours. There are ways to get him to show you even something that isn’t exactly right – but he’s got to trust you to show you
  4. Yes, he is smart. Yes, he can probably run circles around you when he’s talking about biology, chemistry, physics, or anything else scientific. But he is still a child, and needs the structure, discipline, and guidance of any other child. Corollary: just because he can talk like an adult and reason like an adult, doesn’t mean he has the self-control, wisdom, and maturity of adulthood.
  5. Don’t try to out-think him, but be specific in your instructions. The summer after first grade, the kidlet was taking swimming lessons. He hates to put his head under the water, so the teenage coach was trying to convince him to do “bobs” (go completely underwater). She suggested he do 10 bobs. He said no. So she said, “how about 8 like you did yesterday, then two more.” He agreed. She started giggling with the lifeguard, laughing that the kidlet had refused to do the 10, but would do 8+2 (as if he didn’t know that was the same thing), when the kidlet started doing his bobs by fractions –“one-half, one-half, that makes one! One-third, two-thirds, that makes two!... “ He did all ten bobs in fractions, never putting his head fully underwater .
  6. Embrace the unexpected. In kindergarten, the kidlet was still quite sad over the results from the previous Fall’s Presidential election. His teacher gave the kids an assignment to draw a picture of a noun – a person, place or thing. The kidlet chose to draw a person. When she was looking at his picture, she asked the kidlet whom it was, expecting it to be a grandparent, friend, or teacher like the other children had drawn. The kidlet responded, in an exasperated voice, “It’s John Kerry… you know, the man who was SUPPOSED to be President!”
  7. Allow creativity in routine tasks. Kidlet’s second grade teacher gave out a math worksheet, knowing it was going to be difficult to convince kidlet to do it. She agreed when he asked if he could do it his “own way.” He translated each number to its correlating element on the periodic table (by atomic number), and completed the math problems that way – and then created an “answer key” on the same paper so his teacher wouldn’t have to look up each element.
  8. Just because a student won’t do something doesn’t mean he can’t. The kidlet’s 5th grade math teacher came to me quite upset because she was convinced that he couldn’t do multiple-digit multiplication problems. She told me I needed to teach him, since he wouldn’t learn it from her, and she gave me a page of problems for him to do with the instruction that I would need to help him. We got home and he pulled out the sheet – I asked if he needed help, he said no. I asked him why he didn’t do it in class, and he said that his teacher wouldn’t let him do it in his head. I told him to write it all out for his teacher so she could see HOW he was doing it in his head – he finished all the problems in 5 minutes (and they were all correct).
  9. Most parents really strive to do what’s best for their child. Please listen to them. The kidlet’s first grade teacher spent the whole year interrupting me and not listening when I tried to talk to her about my child. She didn’t listen to my child, either, and never had any clue the level of his ability. Instead she spent the entire year frustrated that he wouldn’t complete menial tasks, telling me all the diagnoses she suspected (all the usual suspects – ADHD, Asperger’s, ODD – all of which had been ruled out by physicians and therapists), and complaining that he lacked imagination because he only checked out non-fiction books from the library. He spent most of that year sitting in the hallway outside the classroom, reading the dictionary. On the plus side, the kid is a sponge so he’s got a great vocabulary, now!
  10. You won’t discover what a child can do until you give him the opportunity. I’m a pretty involved parent, and I know my child pretty well… but even I wasn’t prepared for the result when I took my 11 year old child to sit in on a college-level majors biology class. I thought I’d give him a taste for what’s coming to get him through the boring stuff. Instead, I discovered a place where he “fit” more than he’s ever fit anywhere else. This child who can’t sit still for 5 minutes, doesn’t ever seem to listen to instruction, and doesn’t want to complete any kind of assignment was completely focused and engaged in a 90-minute lecture on cell communication, answered questions, interjected useful information (on topic!), gave examples and offered complementary information that took the subject to a new level. The professor asked us to keep coming, because she was so intrigued by this little kid who knows more about biology than her biology majors. I suspect he might become a sore spot with some of the students, since he keeps showing them up with his knowledge (despite the fact they’ve been reading the textbook and he hasn’t even seen the textbook), but I think it’s also a challenge to them to answer a question before he does.