2e Tuesday: The Care and Keeping of a Twice Exceptional Kid.

You’ve heard me say it before…there are some kids who fly outside the sphere of ‘normal, average, look them up in a child development book’. My kids, for example. I finally threw all my child rearing books away, because they just didn’t fit my experience or my kids out of the box natures. Actually, I did keep one, Raising Your Spirited Child Rev Ed: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic. That title alone made me love it. Back then, they didn’t have Raising Your Spirited Child Workbook, to my parenting detriment, but sometimes you just have to work with what you’ve got.

Ironically, parents of 2e kids (and 2e kids themselves) really need a lot of information and input into what the best ways are to help them overcome obstacles and really attain happiness.

I’m going to a dark place for a paragraph, to highlight the necessity of understanding and support for 2e kids. I don’t mean it in the popular “touchy feely, yay for self esteem, let me tell you how great you are” way, but in a meaningful, insightful, supportive, anchoring way. A way that will establish one touchpoint in their life so that when the going gets hard, they know they are loved and valued. And the going gets way hard for these kids at times. Current research indicates that gifted kids are at a higher risk (here’s the dark places) for drug abuse, dropping out of high school, teen pregnancy, and suicide. Some traits that make them more prone to these risks are:

(a) perfectionism, (b) supersensitivy, (c) social isolation, and (d) sensory overexcitability (Delisle, 1986; Dixon & Scheckel, 1996; Fleith, 1998; Hayes & Sloat, 1989). Driven by a self-oriented or socially prescribed perfectionism, the individual establishes high and rigid standards. To do the best is no longer enough and the individual feels frustrated no matter how well he/she performs (Lajoie & Shore, 1981). Excessive concern about errors, in addition to high parental and societal expectations, can result in depression and absence of self-worth.

Supersensitivity may be associated with gifted students’ heightened awareness about world problems and their feelings of frustration and powerlessness about making changes that can affect the world. Feelings of being abnormal or experiencing rejection from peers can lead the talented adolescent to experience severe identity problems. Finally, gifted adolescents who present traits of sensory overexcitability such as high energy levels, emotional intensity, unusual capacity to care, and insatiable love of learning may not find a receptive environment. The lack of support from family, peers, and teachers may also contribute to self-concept problems (Lovecky, 1993). When one or more of these issues occur, potential problems emerge. Gifted adolescents’ inability to deal with complex and intense feelings may be a source of vulnerability that can contribute to suicidal thoughts.

And guess what? These risks are also higher in the LD population (adding in a higher risk of incarceration). So when you put the two traits (gifted with LD) into one child, the potential is there for a difficult adolescence (even preadolescence) that leads down tragic roads.

I try to shy away from overly dramatic scare tactics, but in this instance I could already see Naturalist shutting down by 3rd grade. She told me, after I took her out to homeschool, that in 4th grade she would have found a way out of the school building and run away. A truant 4th grader doesn’t bode well for any future academics, eh? I listened to a kid even younger than she was tell his mom how much he hated himself and wanted to die rather than go back to school anymore. Reading the stories of the authors of Learning Outside The Lines : Two Ivy League Students With Learning Disabilities And Adhd Give You The Tools For Academic Success and Educational Revolution is also an eye opening experience as to how traumatic being 2e is without any anchoring support network in place.

After 4 years of collaboration with my kids while we homeschool, I have developed a few Must Do things on my list of the Care and Keeping of a 2e Kid. (Drumroll please!)

Allow them to find an interest and help them develop it.
And I don’t mean, only allow a highbrow interest like playing the violin for the Performing Arts Center (although that’s cool, too). I mean, ANY interest. Too often these kids tune out of life in general because it’s so frustrating/tedious/challenging/annoying/boring/painful. I know Naturalist had by the tender age of 9. So what I’m saying is, if they perk up when a video game in mentioned, then encourage that. Play along with them. Help them see that there are things in life that are interesting/fun/worthwhile. Don’t pick an interest for them…they get that all day long in school to ill effect. I mean, watch them and see what they are interested in. Chances are they may not even know, so you’ll have to pay attention! And no matter if you find it worthwhile or not, do them a favor and encourage it. Chances are that if they are passionate about it, they will do whatever it takes to excel…and that feeling of being confident and capable with a skill, whether as a violin prodigy or a video game whiz, is worth it’s weight in gold.

We love Devils Tower

Hello, confidence!

Find mentors.
The best thing I ever did for Naturalist was find a woman, 2e herself, who was also a reading specialist. At a time when Naturalist hated books and reading, Miriam Darnell was able to reach out, help her not feel so alone, and offer suggestions on how to do things her own way instead of telling her how she was ‘supposed’ to do things. Within 6 months, Naturalist was reading at least 4 grade levels higher than when she started. It was a remarkable transformation, and highlighted the importance of finding the right kind of people for my kids to relate to and emulate. I am constantly keeping my eyes and ears open for interesting people who share my kids interests or have a passion for something that my kids may struggle with. Then, I have those people over for dinner and/or set them up as tutors. This more personal connection goes a long way towards inspiring my kids, rather than the dull, bland, boring and frustrating remediation that is often offered to help a 2e kid ‘catch up’.

Cleaning a cannon.

Mentors in the art of 1800 warfare.

Trust your child.
This is a hard one, especially in this society of “adults know best”, and especially if they are in school and you can compare their performances with other kids. I remember the sinking feeling I had whenever I’d walk into the Kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade room. All the kids would have their work on the walls…papers with tidy printing and careful drawings. And then I’d see Naturalist’s papers…scrawled, illegible scribbles with what appeared to be poorly thought out illustrations that were abandoned before completion. But the truth is, no one has more capability than these Out of the Box thinkers. It may take them a while to find their own path, but once they do…watch out. Place your trust in your child and stop worrying about if they’ll ever spell correctly/perform well on tests/go to college/sleep a full night/get good grades. Rather than stressing over how to get them to perform to someone else’s ideas of a standardized course (*ahem* NCLB *ahem*), support them in finding their own path through life. They will shine like no other!

even more deeeep thoughts.

Sign at the Olympic Training Center.

Encourage meaningful friendships with other kids

OK, so, I used to leverage good behavior with having friends over. Which often meant that no friends could come over, because OOTBT tend to be….stubborn. Willful. Prone to tantrums. Emotional. Contrary. But you know what? You can either let them have their friendships now, for free, or pay for their counseling later. Finding good friends is often difficult for OOTBT. Naturalist told me that in 3rd grade, everyone laughed at her, even her friends. She said, “I knew it was just a matter of time before my best friends agreed that I was stupid and laughed at me, too.” [insert mom tears here] Friendships are developed through mutual interests and experiences. It was hard for Naturalist, with her focus on the animal world, to connect with any other girls who were running around teasing boys and being 9. I can’t tell you how many friends came over wanting to talk about other classmates while all Naturalist wanted to do was talk about snails and go clean up a nearby stream. If you notice your kid doesn’t have many (or any) friends, work to find some. Join after school programs, sign them up for extracurricular classes/sports, host a game night with similar kids, or whatever you can to be a matchmaker. It’s not unlike finding a good mentor. Friendships are another teather to keep OOTBT feeling connected and not alone. I’ll take away dessert, I’ll take away games and computer time, but I never take away friendship time anymore. Not with so much at stake.

Get a Pet
I dragged my feet with this one, but now that we have Frito Bandito, I wish we would have gotten her sooner. Even Naturalist said to me one day, “I love having Frito around. I know she doesn’t care if I can’t do some things. She’ll never laugh at me. She just loves me. I think that’s why I love nature so much–I can be myself and feel good around it.” [insert more mom tears here]. There’s a successful program around here where they take service dogs into a library and welcome kids to come in with a book, sit beside the dogs, and read to them. Those kids also know that the dogs won’t judge them, or stop them when they make a mistake. It’s a rare thing to feel so unconditionally loved. The pet doesn’t have to be a big commitment like a dog or cat, even a goldfish in the room or some kind of toad hoping around in a cage. Some other living thing to connect to.

Hello, gals!

Worry less about academic stuff, more about finding situations where they thrive.
I read an interview with Michael Phelps mom, and she was talking about getting him through High School with the crazy swimming schedule he had. Basically, her attitude was, “My son is getting more education from living his life and experiencing all these different situations, so please just let him come here, do a basic amount of work, but get off his back about academic stuff. Make sure he can do the important things–the 3 R’s, for instance–and leave the rest up to him.” I think this applies equally well to an OOTBT. Their creative, gifted side will make sure they learn and know everything they need to. Their learning differences will ensure that they need to study things that are relevant and important to their lives. In a school full of negative associations, they need to find somewhere with positive feedback. Do they love science? Volunteer at a museum or Zoo. Animals? Volunteer at a shelter. Athletic? Join a runing club or sign them up for triathlons. Naturalist has climbed 3 14’ers with plans on climbing 14 total by the time she’s 14. School will often say that kids need to do certain things to develop patience, willpower, focus, and drive. Not my kids. My kids learned all of that in the ‘real world’, where how and what they did really mattered to them. When kids can accomplish things that matter to them, it instills a feeling and confidence more powerful than good grades (which oftentimes never come to OOTBT, even when they work doubly hard than everyone else).

Hiking Grays Peak
14,270 feet, on top of the world.

Other resources:
Suicide Among Gifted Adolescents: How to Prevent It (the title is scary, but this article has fantastic ways that the school and parents can help support an at risk kid. So whether you think you know of someone who is at risk or not, it’s worth a look.)

Anything by John Holt (To work out the trust issues with OOTBT)

Some rather sobering statistics about kids with LD. Sad, but true. Although, I do take issues with their statement that once a kid is behind, they’ll always be behind. But other than that, it’s an eye opening read.

The Creative Mind Phenomenon A great example of advocating for the child.

Out of the Box Thinkers Group on Yahoo, where all the cool parents go to find out how to support and encourage their out of the box learner.