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

Sunday, 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.