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, December 16, 2012

With a Heavy Heart

This has been a rather brutal week. Between some personal family changes that have required me to have some very emotionally difficult conversations with people I love dearly, a certain teenlet officially becoming a teenager, some acute health problems (including trips to Urgent Care and the ER), and then little babies being senselessly killed in Connecticut - my heart is very heavy. I'm wavering between being unable to breathe and weeping uncontrollably.

It's not hard to imagine that the teenlet picks up on this. Despite his outward demeanor of not caring (a very carefully constructed defense mechanism of his), the teenlet has a very sensitive heart. During an emotionally-charged scene in a movie, I look over at him through my tears and see his eyes brimming, too. He still gets weepy when you bring up the death of our cat - that happened in 2008. Certain songs have been known to bring him to full emotional meltdown. I fear his reaction the first time he reads Old Yeller, Watership Down, or Where the Red Fern Grows - so I haven't suggested those books to him.

But he was watching the news on Friday. He loves watching the news each morning, so when I got up and he was laying on the couch with Good Morning America on the television, I didn't really think much about it. But then I began to hear the story unfolding, and I was horrified. And my little boy (ahem, teenager) was sitting there, taking it all in. He didn't say a word. At 9am when the news was over, he turned the television off and got himself dressed, and then went to work on his school work. He took a test. He wrote a paper. He listened to online lectures. He didn't say a word about Connecticut.

But he hugged me a lot that day. And the next. And the next.

Talking to a bright and emotionally sensitive child about incomprehensible tragedy can be a challenge. They need reassurance, but not empty promises of safety and security that they know you can't keep. They need to know why - but so do most of us and we really never figure it out. They feel a deep need to DO something, and a sense of helplessness that the problems are so big.

The best you can do is to ask them questions - what do you think about this? How does this make you feel? What is going on in your heart? What would you do? Help them plan how they would react if a friend confided in them that they had a plan to hurt someone. Help them decide ways they can help - can they reach out to someone who gets bullied at school? Can they raise money at their school to help the families of the victims? Can they identify someone who might need a little extra help, and offer it?

Your child will benefit most from being able to talk through all the emotions they are feeling. I know it's hard when you are feeling overwhelmed as well - but in my experience, it helps me, too, to talk to the teenlet about these things. It helps me to process as we are processing together. And it gives me hope that this little part of the next generation sees value in life (even though he is a teenage boy and obsessed with guns and weapons of war).

And give them lots of hugs.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

I Love Books

Reading is awesome. Our whole family really loves to read. The teenlet reads faster than any other person I know. Hubby and I aren't slow readers ourselves. We have bookshelves in every room in the house - and books piled on the floor and every surface they can find. My Kindle makes me happy.

The thing I like so much about reading is that it allows you entry into another world. Fiction (my personal fave) allows you to become part of a world you might never encounter in any other way, whether it's hiding in the hills of Tibet, surviving on yak cheese and terrified of the spirit gods; or in 19th century England, solving the mystery of who is this Anne Catherick. Historical non-fiction and biographies provide insight into a time, a place, or a person that can guide our decisions today and tomorrow. Religious books can provide spiritual guidance to the devout, opening windows to God and your heart to love. Self-help books can give you psychological insights in an effort to strengthen your inner world or heal from past hurts. Parenting books offer perspectives on helping our children become the strong, well-rounded, emotionally secure individuals who are successful (whatever that means) and happy adults. There are many, many more genres that I haven't mentioned that are equally as constructive and/or fun to read. Bottom line is: I just love to read. Reading is an easy pathway to information. And information is my friend.

Which is why it is so weird that I have such a hard time reading parenting books, especially those having to do with giftedness and intensity. What I've read have been fabulous, and I have a gadzillion others in my "to-read" pile. I've learned a lot from what I've read. I've met (virtually, at least) many of the authors and they are fabulous people. I continue to buy new books on giftedness, knowing that knowledge is power, and the more I know the more I can help my child and others who are struggling with their own giftedness/gifted children. Oh, and myself, too.

I think that's the thing that keeps me from opening those books - the more I learn for the teenlet, the more connected I become with my own giftedness. It's disconcerting. I'm old enough and I've managed to get this far in life without knowing all this stuff, and it's a little upsetting to take a look back through life and see all these markers I didn't know were supposed to be telling me anything. The more I learn to help my child, the more in touch with my own intensities I become. And that is at once freeing and frustrating. How wonderful to realize that I'm not a freak of nature - all of this stuff is there for a reason. But it's also frustrating because as I'm learning about it, it takes on this new life that has been hidden all these years.

But I keep reading. I pick up those books less frequently than others, but I still pick them up. I put them down for longer periods as I readjust to new realities, new images, new ideas about why we are the way we are (these are usually things the teenlet and I have strongly in common, since our intensities are nearly identical). I read them because the better I understand myself, the better I can understand my child. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

When Good OEs Go Bad

News Flash: I am not a perfect parent.

Whew, got that out of my system. Hope you all heard that. I'm not perfect. Sometimes I lose my patience. Sometimes I make the wrong decision. Sometimes it's all I can do to manage my own feelings, and I just can't sit there and help the teenlet manage his. If you are a gifted adult with a gifted child, you know what I'm talking about. I'm talking about managing my own intensity.

Over the years, I've figured out ways to cope with feelings of being overwhelmed, frustrated, and having my feelings hurt. But there are still those times when I've got multiple things going on that I'm managing and then someone says just the wrong thing and it sends me over the metaphorical edge. Then nothing works, none of my coping skills are enough.

Last week was one of those weeks. There was nothing I could do to keep my own OEs from sending out warning shots to anyone who came near. My body was on constant high alert, my brain panicking and racing, my senses picking up every little tiny thing (and then the anxiety-prone brain converting it all into self-immolating signals). It's exhausting. And then I have a child who picks up on all of MY anxiety and stress, and it sends him whirling off into his own OE space! Can you say, over-excitability? Oh we can. We definitely can.

What do you do when your own OEs are threatening revolt, but you know that your child needs you to remain calm, cool, and collected? How do you handle the subsequent meltdowns and arguments? Especially when you cannot get away for some R&R to take care of yourself?

For me, exercise really helps. And yoga. And just picking up a book and reading for a while (preferably with music in headphones so I can really tune out). It's more than the endorphins that exercise produces in your brain - there's something about pushing my body to its limit that lightens the OE load immensely. I think in occupational therapy-land, they call it "proprioception" - the sense in your joints and large muscle groups. Whatever it is, it helps. And I really, really appreciate the fact that my life allows me to exercise daily now. Because even in weeks like last week (when the LAST thing I wanted to do was add one more daily chore of exercise) I knew I needed it, and it kept me going and kept me from snapping out of control, and gave me just enough reserve to help the teenlet manage himself (although he's getting SOOOOO much better at doing it on his own!).

I'd love to hear your ideas - what helps you?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Welcome to Adolescence. Please Keep Hands and Legs Inside the Vehicle at All Times.

As the munchkin, erm, teenlet, has been maturing, we've been seeing fewer and fewer full meltdowns. This is a good thing.

Over the years, I've told myself that the adolescent years MUST be easier than what we've already been through - yes, still challenging in their own way, I'm not a fool - but we've been through so much with this child already it seems teenager-dom is just another stage to take in stride and make it through, all while trying to enjoy the young man he is becoming and instill our values in his ever-morphing sense of self.

The food bill has gone up exponentially. The clothing bill the same - he now has zero pajamas that "fit", and the pants that were fine yesterday are too short today. We took him to the doctor for a checkup last week and he'd gained more weight in the past year than he had in the previous 5 years, combined. His voice sounds like he's got two voiceboxes in there that are competing for airtime, especially when he laughs it's like a duet coming out of the same throat.

And he's not yet 13. It's only going to speed up from here.

But, as I said in my opening statement, the meltdowns have reduced significantly as he has become better able to manage his emotions on his own. This is welcome. This is so very welcome. This is like when the power comes back on after 13 days of having none. Suddenly the whole world seems more manageable, and while you know you can handle anything now - you're oh so very glad you don't have to.

However, "better" is a relative term. Sure, they don't happen daily any more. But when they do happen, they are startling in their power. Perhaps more so, because they aren't as frequent so it's easy to forget. Like those mama hormones after you have a baby that make you forget how horrible that whole experience just was. And, just to add a little spice to our day - those adolescent hormones start to kick in and add a new dimension to the emotional intensity. WOO HOO we're in for a ride, baby!

Bring it. After what we've been through, I feel like I can handle anything - teenage years included.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Making Decisions

People who know me personally will tell you that I make decisions pretty quickly and decisively. Highly intuitive, I can almost always tell you what my decision will be before you're even done asking the question. As I've gotten older, I do tend to wait a little just so it doesn't look like I'm not even considering it. It's not like I can't be persuaded to change my mind, but it doesn't happen often. Gut rules all. 

My husband is the exact opposite. He is also very intuitive, but he weighs everything. He guesses and second-guesses. He told me once that he continues to second-guess his decisions even after they've been made - sometimes for years. He then hastily told me that he's NEVER second-guessed his decision to marry me. I think that was in response to the furrowing he saw in my forehead.

So generally, I think we make some pretty good decisions between the two of us. I make him decide a bit more quickly and trust himself more, and he slows me down and makes me think things through a little bit more than I would naturally. My gut and his logic have done us well. 

All bets are off, though, when it comes to the teenlet. Especially where his education is concerned. When faced with a decision to make, both of us sit there, completely incapable of making headway. We can talk the issues through until we've exhausted every option and thought, but to come to a decision has us stymied. Because it seems like every educational decision we've made for him up to this point has been the wrong one, with one exception. But in every case, we did what we truly thought was the best course of action. Looking back, we don't really see how we could have made a different choice given the parameters within which we were working. But somehow it's been wrong. 

Except homeschooling.

This makes us very leery of making any more decisions regarding his education. But we are faced now with another educational decision - put him back in school at the strong suggestion of a knowledgeable and trusted counselor? Or continue to homeschool? 

Neither of us wants to even face the question. DH's comment, when I said that I didn't want to make another bad decision, was, "it's too late for that." Is this another case of damned if you do, damned if you don't? Sure seems like it. 

But in the beautiful innocence of childhood, when I asked the teenlet if he would like to look into this particular high school, he said, "sounds interesting!"

So I guess he can start making some of his own decisions now. We will still have to guide him and help him think through his options, but he can be part of the process instead of having to only live with the result. And that makes me feel better about making a decision. 

We'll keep an eye on his anxiety level as we look more closely at what going to high school might mean (would be a one- or two-grade skip, easy for him since he's already done both of those grades at home), and would mean that he would have to start using some of those coping skills we've been working on so diligently. It means he needs to start caring about his grades, and work hard on learning to express himself in writing, and verbally when he's upset or overstimulated.

But if he wants to go, it won't do him any good to keep him back. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Reflections on Growing Up

Yes, dear friends, it is happening. The kidlet, ahem, teenlet, is growing up. This summer has been remarkable, as we have begun to see signs of change that we've been awaiting for ages. The teenlet's asynchrony gaps are closing.

Change is never a smooth process. It is a sometimes jarring, sometimes invisible tornado that carries you along in its whirling. You may not notice much if you're in the eye, but shift ever so slightly off-center and you're caught up in a force to which you can only submit.

A school administrator once told me to expect this - she said that we would see a major shift at about 13. The teenlet still has three months to go before he officially becomes a teenager, but the change that has begun is remarkable.

I'm not just talking about physical changes - those are happening, too, but the emotional changes are more profound. I suppose that's because he had further to come. In a few short months, he has gone from a 7 year old maturity, to much closer to his real age. I can't even ennumerate the signs for you, but it gives me such hope. And I hope it gives you hope, too.

The teenlet won't ever be like everyone else. But now I can begin to see the adult he will be. And I like him. I like hanging out with him.

It's not all roses and butterflies, there is still much to do. But it doesn't feel so overwhelming for the moment. I'm enjoying.this place for as long as I can.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Giftedness, Creativity, and the Fear of Being Wrong

This post is part of the World Council of Gifted & Talented Children's International Week of the Gifted 2012 blog tour
Around here, creativity isn't something you do, it's who you are. The teenlet* and I are both high in imaginational OE, and some (okay tbh, it's most) days will find both of us lost inside worlds of our own creation. 

Cybraryman posted this quote on Twitter the other day during #gtchat, and it struck home to me. 

“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”


So here we have our imaginational OE and our intellectual OE at odds - intellectual needs to be right; imaginational gets stifled by that need. I see it so clearly in the teenlet when he refuses to share his ideas with others because he's afraid of the criticism he's made up in his mind. We had a friend - a researcher and expert in biology - over recently, and the teenlet had said he wanted to tell her about an idea he had that could cure aging. When she got here, he wouldn't even give her the basics, just saying, "I think we could cure aging." He didn't want her to laugh at his idea, or tell him it wasn't possible.

I see it in myself as well, when I let someone's off-hand comment cast doubt in my enthusiasm over a new idea I had (even though I know those comments were intended to be supportive). 

Recently, I figured out that those key doubts that creep in and make me lose courage - those are the ones that I need to guard against the most. In my case, it's the sense of originality. I've been stuck in this place of not being able to write anything because it's all been said before. Feeling like I have nothing to contribute has been a huge place of fear for me, and has stuffed my creativity down into a crevasse so deep it was beginning to be crushed by the rock on all sides. But somehow (thanks to some special friends - Arash, John, Manal, and Sonia), I realized that it's my voice that makes what I say original. 

And then the creativity comes rushing back. 

So, as we are looking forward to the WCGTC's Year of Giftedness and Creativity, it is my hope that we will all find ways in which to let the creativity flow, to figure out where the stoppers are and pull them out. 

And may you find that the dragon you are trying to slay is really an alligator lizard. 

Not that I *ever* have dragons involved in my imaginary world. Ever...

*The "kidlet" has unofficially graduated to "teenlet" as his 13th birthday approaches. This is based on the food consumption, the additional sleep needed, and certain other indicators that suggest that he is moving into a new stage of life. Like growing an inch overnight last Monday (previously, it would have taken him 3 years to grow an inch! Growth has not been an area in which he has been hyper-accelerated). So one of my friends asked if he was graduating to teenlet, and I figure now is as good a time as any! 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

It's Coming! It's Coming!

I'm so excited to tell you about something that is coming up! It's the International Week of the Gifted, coming August 6-12. This year, we will be sharing ideas on how we will celebrate the International Year of Giftedness and Creativity (2013). So it's going to be super-exciting to see what is coming up in the year ahead, and ways we can engage our gifted learners in expressing their creativity! 

And then start writing (or creating)! Anyone may submit a blog or visual presentation to become part of the tour. How will YOU celebrate? Come back here during the first full week of August to see what the kidlet and I are up to... <evil laugh>.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

But It Won't Be Like That for the Kidlet

The other night, I was watching a television show. It was an episode that I'd seen before, but had always thought that the 22-month old boy they had chosen to play a certain role had to be a bit, well, slow. He didn't have much vocabulary - repeating a single word or maybe putting together a sentence of 3 words every so often. But this time, I was struck by the thought that maybe this kid wasn't slow, maybe my whole view of what is appropriate for a 22-month old child is massively skewed by my own experience of parenting a profoundly gifted child. It made me cry.

You see, we've just been through the season of graduations. I know a lot of high school graduates in the class of 2012, and we spent most weekends last month going from one graduation party to another. It's terrific. Except it makes me very sad.

These seniors have been doing all the things that high school seniors are supposed to do. They took senior pictures, they've been filling out college applications and getting their acceptance letters, they went to prom, they are doing senior trips and senior skip days and of course there is baccalaureate, graduation and the required graduation party (and I'm sure a lot I don't need to know about). They are looking forward to their next steps - some will be traveling on an in-between year before heading to college; some are going far away to universities; some are staying closer to home. They all have plans.

It won't be like that for the kidlet. How do I know? Well, he's 12 and he's already mostly finished high school. He took the SAT in May and scored higher than I did as a junior in high school. I could have "graduated" him with the class of 2012 without blinking an eye. There was no reason to - and he's CERTAINLY not ready to go to college yet (I have no doubt that he could comprehend everything in a college class, and contribute to discussions fairly well. But there's no way he could actually pass one yet). We will fill the time with the one remaining high school subject he hasn't completed yet, and let him start researching more deeply into his special interest field (aerodynamics). If I can get him into a college course, I will do so as it's appropriate.

See, college is going to be a gradual adjustment for him - not a big celebration followed by a move into the dorm, freshman activities and midnight ice cream or Taco Bell runs. He could be finished with his Bachelor's degree before he ever decides to move away from home. Will he ever have a dorm experience?

I'm trying to be happy for my friends who have their now- (or nearly-) adult children graduating. But I can't help feeling a bit envious of the normalcy. And I can't help grieving the list of childhood markers in our family that have been greatly accelerated beyond our capability to manage them.

But I've got to let him be who HE is. And that's never been, nor will it ever be, "normal."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Intensity and Perfectionism

This post is written as part of the New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour. To continue on with the tour, please click the picture above, or here

I'm sitting here trying to write a post on perfectionism, but having a hard time getting started. Why? Because I know that whatever I say won't be good enough. However I express my thoughts, they won't come across exactly the way I want them to. Yes, at times I am swallowed by the beast of perfectionism. Everyone in my family is - although it comes across in vastly different ways for each of us. 

The kidlet struggles with perfectionism. It's a particularly difficult struggle when you are also quite intense. This week, we've had a few examples of intensity and perfectionism battling it out in a death-match as the world looks on. For the kidlet, it takes a simple mistake and amplifies it to meltdown proportions. This is how it happens:
Kidlet is working happily with two friends on a project. They each have different colored collections of building blocks. One of the friends reaches over and takes a red one from the kidlet's pile, and adds it to her own. The kidlet is now upset that the unstated rule that he gets all the red blocks has been violated - and he tries to grab the piece back from his friend. A tussle ensues. 
This is a turning point. With a little more emotional maturity and less intensity, the kidlet might have been able to tell his friend the color-rule, and ask for the red block back. He may have been able to negotiate a truce. But, intensity takes over and he does not manage the situation well (sometimes he can do so, but not this time). He tries to take the block back. She resists. Adults get involved since the children are unable to resolve the issue themselves. 
At this point, since the adults have now been involved, perfectionism kicks in. What was a frustrating situation turns into a full-on meltdown. The kidlet knows he has broken a bigger rule, but the intensity doesn't let him back down. He is asked to leave the room - he refuses. He can't calm himself because he is now backed into a corner - he messed up, but he can't just admit it and rejoin the rest of the group. He starts screaming and crying, and throwing things. He doesn't realize that his reaction makes everything worse - what was just a simple mistake turns into "an episode." Well, perhaps he realizes it, but he's in that corner now and can't go anywhere. He's stuck in the cycle of crisis.

We (the kidlet's parents) try to be good examples of making mistakes, laughing at ourselves, and learning from them... but it's hard because we are both perfectionists, too. I, in particular, HATE letting others see me fail (yes, the intensity is in me, too!) - so making a point of it with the kidlet when I do fail is counterintuitive. But I try. We also try to praise effort, not results. And we try to encourage attempts at new things (something perfectionists really don't like doing! WHAT IF I FAIL??) and to model that behavior (but, what if I fail?). 

Intensity and perfectionism - trying to be perfect and failing and feeling the shame of failure deeply. It's a dangerous mix, but it can also bring about fantastic rewards if managed well. After all - the quest for perfection can lead to excellence, at the same time intensity draws out expertise and creativity. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Eminence is a Result, Not a Goal

‎"outstanding achievement or eminence ought to be the chief goal of gifted education."
From Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, et al.

In the world of education, there is little that is more tragic, in my opinion, than seeing a child who has great aptitude turn into one who shuns opportunity and challenge because expectation has created a burden that is too heavy for them to bear. And I reject this goal for gifted education outright - because "outstanding achievement or eminence" is a burden that is too heavy for most of our gifted children.

Someone defined eminence as the child of passion and intelligence. It seems to be a efficacious goal for a group of children who, by anyone's definition, possess high intelligence and quite often a great deal of passion to go with it. 

But what about the child who can't limit her interests enough to find a place of mastery? What about the child who is fascinated by a subject about which nobody else cares? Or the child who doesn't desire a place in the limelight, but simply wants to do interesting stuff and be left alone? 

What does that pressure do to a child who begins to think all he is valued for is his brain?

And, how many people truly become eminent? If we send children through school with the full understanding that we expect them to be like Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Nikola Tesla, or any number of names that go down in history - what happens to those children once they realize how unlikely it is that they will be? Even for those who take all the chances, who make all the right moves - maybe they won't be in the right place at the right time when the light bulb turns on, or the apple falls from the tree. Maybe they go through life always feeling like a failure because they haven't achieved The Thing they were told was their goal, their destiny. What could have been a full and meaningful life turns into a wasteland.

Once you put that level of expectation on a person, can you take it back? What happens when the glass shatters and a fragile ego, built upon expectations put upon them from misguided parents, teachers, or friends, can't be put back together? 

I know a lot of truly gifted people (some of them quite highly gifted) - and I can count on one hand how many of them could be considered eminent. In fact, make that one finger - and I'm being generous with my allocation of "friends" at this point just to get that one. There are some who have localized eminence or a reputation of expertise amongst their friends and colleagues. They are well-respected. But eminence? No. But you know what - they are all doing things that they love. They are contributing to their world in unique and wonderful ways - sometimes through their chosen career, and sometimes through other activities. And, for the most part, they are happy. Are they not gifted because they haven't achieved the highest status in the land in their area? 

We have GOT to get away from making achievement our goal for gifted children. We need to engage teachers and administrators in learning about giftedness so they can recognize it and know what to do with it when they find it. We've got to start supporting our gifted children, not adding demands to their already intense lives. We give them the tools they need to create their niche, their space in which they can feel accomplished and find contentment and joy. If their passions lead to eminence - fantastic! We will support them the whole way there and wherever they go from there. But if it leads to an underground bunker/home/workshop where he can build his inventions and hold a sale every year on his birthday - if that's where his passions take him, what's wrong with that? 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Still a Square Peg and a Round Hole

There's been a lot of discussion recently about how to define giftedness. It's an important discussion to have, because in order to effectively advocate, inform, and educate for and to gifted children, we need to first have common language so that we are speaking with a unified voice. We will be better heard if we are speaking together. So this is an important challenge for us to face.

There seems to be a divide on the issue, however, between educators and parents. Having said this, it's no surprise that educators seem to be more interested in a child's education and performance, and parents are concerned about whole-child issues. It's our job(s). And we're pretty good at them.

I wonder sometimes, as we are discussing back-and-forth the value of the whole-child approach to gifted education - do these same conversations happen in regular education? Or other types of special education? I know that every parent is interested in whole-child, but do they expect educators to nurture the whole child in the same way parents of gifted children expect it?

Maybe it boils down to the level of intensity in gifted children - my kidlet, for example, cannot be understood (nor taught) without having some basic understanding of asynchrony and the social-emotional effects of giftedness. And, as we learned at our last school, bad things happen when those aspects of his personality are not carefully nurtured in addition to the intellectual side. As his parent, I recognize this and would love it if a school (anyone? anywhere? well, anywhere near us?) could take on the challenge of supporting him emotionally and cognitively. School (traditional and non-traditional) seems to be able to handle one, but not both extremes.

How does he fit into the current debate on the definition of giftedness?

He won't perform. Recently, a friend who had met him for the first time got a glimpse of his mathematical brilliance, and then set about trying to elicit a little tap-dance of mathematical problems from him. The kidlet just glared at him and walked away - sigh, another lecture from mom on being polite. It's not about stricter discipline, or him learning who is in charge, etc. He's not a computer, he's a child. Yeah, he's pretty amazing at that stuff, but performance anxiety makes his brain shut down when he feels like he's on the spot. He's really not trying to be stubborn - he's panicking. This goes for regular schoolwork, too (I've learned this as we are homeschooling - he needs lots of opportunities to go outside and walk around to process in between subjects, or even when he comes up against a problem that is hard - he will come back in ready to tackle it again).

His sensory and emotional sensitivities ratchet up very quickly, and learning will not happen in those interludes. Everything stops. You cannot get in his face and try to get him to learn when his brain is in full shut-down procedure. One classroom full of noisy kids is enough to keep him on shut-down all day; an assembly with the whole school sends him into a rocking fetal position and tears. And you expect him to come back to class, sit quietly at his desk, and write for 30 minutes? Sorry - complete mental shut down at the same time the body is revved up. That is not a recipe for self-control. Nor "performance" on any measure or standard.

Any discussion of "talent development" has to recognize that performance cannot be standardized for all gifted - and especially 2e - kids. When we talk about potential, we have to understand that how we determine potential for one child isn't going to work for determining the potential for another - it's so subjective I don't know if there is any way to make it "fair" for all children. So I get scared as we talk about "potential" and "talent development" - because I see my kidlet falling through the cracks. If we don't want to lose our most gifted children, we've got to give them the freedom to express their giftedness in ways that are appropriate to who they are. Because, they are children and should be valued for all of what they bring to the world, not just their brains.

I realize that educators are in charge of the brain part, but I don't think we can be quite so dualistic about it. No child should be seen as just a brain, but our smartest children often get treated like that's all there is to them. They are complicated. They are intense. They are whole persons who care, who love, who dream, who imagine, who create... We should treat them that way.


"Stop Short-changing Our Most Gifted Students" by Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, president, National Association for Gifted Students [sic], article for The Hill

"A Defining Moment" by Jim Delisle (response to NAGC's Bold Step).

Sunday, March 11, 2012

But Your Child Has "Problems"

Note to the non-parents out there: This is, most definitely, NOT how to get on a mother's good side.

"...but your child has problems."

First of all, don't even go there until you've walked a mile... when you have children, I'd be willing to bet your child will have problems too. We all have them. I know no parent who doesn't have problems with their child. Even great parents. Even great children. It's a relationship fraught with "problems." And joy. And frustration. And grace. And tremendous, tremendous amounts of love - going both ways and all through it.

Secondly, my child's biggest problem is people like you. People who don't understand, and who expect mediocrity (oops, I mean "normal") because you don't know any better. My child will never be what you expect - because he isn't average. He isn't a cookie-cutter. He isn't a child who fits inside the little box that teachers (and yes, the person who said this to me was a TEACHER - not one that has ever had him in class, mind you) want their students to fit into so they are "easy to teach." And until people like you stop judging others for whatever perceived lacks you see in them, people like him are going to be misunderstood. What a tragedy, that those who are in charge of educating all these little minds feel so - challenged? threatened? intimidated? - by one that has so much promise. 

I can't even describe to you the feeling that puts in your stomach, when someone throws a dagger like that at your child. It's not the first time. It won't be the last. Somehow I have to pick myself up, dust off the negativity and move forward to what I know is possible. My child needs understanding, guidance, tolerance, and freedom to get there - and that's the world I want to surround him in. 

And that's what I will do. Because yes, I AM Mama Bear.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Yeah, My Kid is Smart, BUT...

Yesterday, I read a really frustrating blog post on the Momformation blog at babycenter.com. It is entitled, "I hate hearing about your gifted child." The blog goes on to talk about how hearing about others' children's successes makes her feel as if her child is somehow less valuable, less special, less unique. Somehow, this mom seems to think that another kid's smartness puts them in a special glass case that nobody else needs to bother with. I wonder if she feels equally as threatened by parents who talk about their children's sports accomplishments, or musical talent?

 Well, let's set the record straight about giftedness.

 Maybe it comes across as bragging, but when I talk about my gifted child it certainly doesn't FEEL like bragging, because it's more like venting. I don't want to suggest that parents of gifted/2e kids have it worse off than any other parent - by no means, everyone has their own struggles with their children. But I'd really like this babycenter mom to trade kids with me for a day or so - if for no other reason than I could send her kid off to school or a friend's house without worrying about getting That Phone Call telling me it's time for her to come home. And I could get some peace and quiet for a while.

Let me be clear - I do not homeschool because I want to. I do not homeschool because I think my kid is too special to be in a regular classroom. I had to quit a job I loved so I could stay home to homeschool my child because we could not find a school that could educate him. We had three private schools that were willing to try, but none of them would say that he'd learn anything. Sorry, I'm not going to start spending money against the equity of our home to send him to a school where he won't learn anything (and I'm likely to get That Phone Call at least on a weekly basis, so really, working at any job that's not incredibly flexible is out anyway). We homeschool because his pace of learning is about a grade every month or so (that we started noticing that trend when he was in 2nd grade and was being tested for reading comprehension, and it went up a full grade and a half every month - they stopped testing him when he hit 12th grade reading level, a month before his 8th birthday). When left to his own devices, he has managed to race through 9th, 10th, and 11th grades since September, and is half-way through two AP courses he started three weeks ago. People ask me what we're going to do next, and it's all I can do not to shout out - "how the heck should I know?" Because here's the thing - HE IS NOT READY TO GO TO COLLEGE.

And this is the thing that most people don't get about giftedness - asynchrony. The kidlet has an amazing brain, but emotionally he is far, far behind his age. Imagine how frustrating it would be to have an intellectual understanding that exceeds most of the people you run into, but are unable to express yourself beyond what a 7 year old can do (and I might be aging his emotional development a little too much). Just imagine how frustrating that must be! For HIM! And for his parents, who are doing our darndest to try to help him navigate those waters, but can't even figure out where to start. And dagnabbit - somehow I've got to keep him learning while waiting for him to mature enough to actually go to college!

Recently, I had this conversation with the kidlet.

Kidlet: Mommy, mommy. Guess what I figured out today!
Mommy: What's that??
Kidlet: A new way to ANNOY people really bad! I just keep saying the name of my favorite character in my game... Kevin kevin kevin kevinkevinkevinkevinkevinkevin...
Mommy: Stop now.
Kidlet: See it works! kevinkevinkevinkevinkevinkevin
Mommy: Do you realize that when you annoy people, it makes them not want to be around you?
 Kidlet: It does?
 Mommy: Uh, yeah... you didn't know this?
 Kidlet: No, I didn't.
Mommy: How does it make you feel when someone annoys you?
Kidlet: I want them to stop it.
Mommy: And you really didn't know...

Yes, thank you asynchrony! I could go on - the school struggles that sent the kidlet into chronic stomachaches and crying fits and me into anxiety-induced hives. The IEP meetings. The parent-teacher conferences when all we hear is negative. The report cards with "1"s down the personal skills column (that's like an F). The attempts to get him involved in team sports and having coaches ask me not to bring him any more. The mean, horrible, terrible things people have said about him. The frustration-induced temper tantrums that come out of nowhere because he cannot express himself the way he can think it.

So, if you think I "brag" too much about my gifted child, you clearly are not listening. And, Momformation mom - I hope you appreciate the fact that you have a kind, "normal" child, who can fit in with other children her own age, who can participate in activities without one of her parents in viewing distance, and who can go on sleepovers with friends because their parents aren't afraid to have her over.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Describe Giftedness in 50 Words or Less

Think it's not possible? Giftedness is such an amazingly complex set of characteristics that are put together in so many unique ways, it seems almost impossible to put together a description that takes into account the many variables and yet still manages to capture the essence of what it means to be gifted. Dr. Linda Silverman (of the Gifted Development Center in Colorado) has created such a paragraph. I've been coming back to it for several days, because it's clear that she has taken her years of experience with gifted children and adults, and has been able to describe (not define!) the key characteristics that uniquely identify gifted individuals (although I do not think her intent is to use this for identification). Here is what she says:

‎"Giftedness is not what you do or how hard you work. It is who you are. You think differently. You experience life intensely. You care about injustice. You seek meaning. You appreciate and strive for the exquisite. You are painfully sensitive. You are extremely complex. You cherish integrity. Your truth-telling has gotten you in trouble. Should 98% of the population find you odd, seek the company of those who love you just the way you are. You are not broken. You do not need to be fixed. You are utterly fascinating. Trust yourself!" ~ Dr. Linda Kreger Silverman

"Giftedness is not what you do or how hard you work." 
My kidlet is not what people in the educational realm would call a "high achiever." He simply does not care what you think of what he does - but he cares very deeply what HE thinks of what he does. He doesn't understand jumping through hoops to prove his intelligence. He simply wants to learn and live on his own terms. I fluctuate between agreeing with his assessment that there are a lot of really stupid educational requirements out there that he won't need in order to be a really great biologist and engineer; and realizing that in order to GET THERE, the easier path is college, and college requires jumping through those very same really stupid hoops. 

"You think differently."
I just caught my kidlet giggling over The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Now, I realize it's been a while since I read it - but I don't seem to remember there being too many humorous parts. But something caught in his imagination, and made him laugh. I remember far too well the many times in school when it was painfully clear that I was not thinking the way I was expected to - so I try to support that uniqueness in my child. Still not sure what he thought was funny - but I'll hear about it soon, I'm sure (see below on truthfulness). 

"You experience life intensely."
Hoo boy. Yeah. Everything is big. One of my favorite stories about my kidlet was the time I rearranged the dining room while he was at preschool. He came home and walked into the room (a room we do not use often), and said, "Mommy! You rearranged the furniture! My perfect life is RUINED!" Intense. More. Big. 

"You care about injustice." 
Leave it to my then-5 year old child to unify his combined first/second grade classroom under the banner of the "Save the Germs Club." They spent recesses by the school-yard fence, building a safehouse for all the germs their parents and teachers were so carefully telling them to wash away. When asked how he knew the germs were in there, he rolled his eyes and said, "Mommy, germs are EVERYWHERE, and they're not all bad." He studied about viruses and bacteria, and was convinced that we were destroying all the good guys in the efforts to get rid of the bad guys. "It's just not FAIR!" 

"You seek meaning." 
Yeah, the meaning the kidlet seeks in his immature 12yo mind isn't exactly the kind of meaning the rest of us think about when we go searching for it. But it is there. I see it when he says that if he had only one day to live, he would spend it by writing down all of his creations (which are mostly military vehicles at this point in his life) and would email them over to Boeing, "to keep them out of the hands of our enemies." In his own way, he wants be part of making a better tomorrow for his world. 

"You appreciate and strive for the exquisite." 
This one is harder to find in my kidlet, but only because his definition of "exquisite" is so vastly different than mine. He would describe the process of photosynthesis as "exquisite." He finds beauty in the molecular structure of titanium ("it's so STRONG! But I want to create a substance that is even stronger!"). He sees patterns where others see only chaos. Traditional beauty means nothing to him - he sees beauty in symmetry, in form, in function. And he designs all of his creations to live up to those standards.

"You are painfully sensitive." 
I'm going to leave this one (mostly) alone for now, but with a warning when dealing with gifted people - a careless word or action can crush the spirit. It's only now that we are homeschooling that we can see our happy kid begin to creep out from the hard shell of anger and frustration that had become his demeanor since starting school. Like a turtle tentatively slipping the tip of his nose out from his shell, that happy kid is coming back. But it's a long, slow process. 

"You are extremely complex." 
Yeah - don't even go there. People think they can throw around a few labels and define the kidlet. But he will defy that definition every time. He is more than a brain, more than a set of behaviors, more than a sweet boy who loves to give and get hugs. He is a complex human being - a whole person. And he won't let you forget it. 

"You cherish integrity. Your truth-telling has gotten you in trouble."
I laughed out loud when I read this part. My kidlet regularly tells me when he's done something he knows he's not supposed to. My sister laughed over the holidays when she overheard this conversation,
Me: "We are going out, you can play your computer game while we're gone, even though you've used up all of your screen time already today." Kidlet: "Yay!... Um, to be honest, Mommy - I would have played my computer game anyway." 

My sister listened carefully to see how I would respond (I sighed and said, "I know, but thanks for being honest" and gave him a hug before we left). I always know when I get that "to be honest..." phrase that he is going to tell me something that I don't want to hear. But I'm glad he tells me. This is why I trust his accounts of things that happened or when he gets into trouble - he might try to paint himself in a better light, but he always tells the truth. Even when he's trying to get away with something, he ends up telling the truth and much of the time suffering for it. (This is also a maturing issue that we are working on - because he absolutely cannot stand it when an someone is explaining something wrong, so he will correct them. This doesn't go over well with many adults.) 

It is my hope that, as my kidlet grows older, he will seek out and find those people who don't think there is something "wrong" with him. People who accept him for who he is, even if they don't understand it. I pray daily that he will grow to trust himself, and accept who he is despite the many people who misunderstand, who want to label, who want to find a "fix" for him. He doesn't need fixing. He needs understanding. 

Thank you, Dr. Silverman, for 50 beautiful words.