Sunday, June 9, 2013

Twice Exceptional

I know a lot of people hate labels, but it works for me when I can name things. Anyone looking at my education plans for my kids will notice a big dichotomy - my kids seem to do lots of things above grade level and also have a lot of therapy. The educational "label" for that is Twice Exceptional. All three of my kids are highly/profoundly gifted - they have IQ's in the roughly 98th percentile, but they also have learning disabilities. This is one reason a traditional education environment would never work for them.

There are many people that think IQ doesn't matter, and it doesn't when it comes to most adults. However, understanding that a child is "gifted" - a term I dislike, but a label that is helpful in understanding the educational needs of a child, answers a lot of questions. For instance, normal development requires a child to experience seven repetitions of information before they have acquired new information. For a gifted child, only one to two repetitions are needed. As you can see, this makes a traditional classroom setting torture for a gifted child. Yes, they really do "get it" after they heard it the first time. Imagine sitting in a meeting and having to listen to a speaker drone on and on and on about a topic you mastered four hours ago. Now, imagine having to go to the meeting eight hours a day, five days a week, 9 months out of the year - and then have to come back and do it again for a total of 12 years. At the same time, most teachers hate having truly gifted children in the classroom. Gifted children account for approximately 10% of the population, and only 3% of gifted children are profoundly gifted (about 10% are highly gifted). Who wants to do lesson planning for a child that already knows everything that is supposed to be learned in that grade level (as well as one to two grade levels beyond that) the first day of class? What are you going to do with this kid? What happens in many classrooms is those kids are used as unpaid teacher's aid, being assigned to help struggling students. This is unfair to everyone involved. First, students should be in school to learn and if a gifted child is not allowed to learn anything new, why should they be in school. Secondly, struggling students should be taught by a teacher, if a 7 year old could truly be an effective teacher in a 2nd grade classroom - what are all those colleges of education for? Some parents of gifted children choose grade skipping as an option, but this isn't always an ideal situation. With things like Common Core Curriculum, even what is taught 2 - 3 grade levels above a gifted child may already be mastered. Secondly, grade skipping can make a gifted child an easy target for bullies; they may understand the academic content, but don't have the life experience or "street smarts" to make it in a room with kids 2, 3, or more years above them. This is one of the reasons half of all profoundly gifted children are home schooled.

Another layer of gifted is that many gifted children also have learning disabilities. This is a situation I have never met a teacher that was trained to deal with. For instance, my eldest went to a private Kindergarten. He was grade skipped into Kindergarten (a one year grade skip) and was still labeled one of the better readers in the class. However, he was also dyslexic. How do you teach one of the best readers in the class how to read? Most teachers aren't trained to spot gifted guessers. My son could memorize an entire book page by page - ask him to read any page in the book and he did it flawless - by memory. Gifted dyslexics also read by "gist", once they figure out the overall theme and where the book is going, they pretty much have it covered. For instance, I am a gifted dyslexic and I can conquer a 300 page book in a matter of hours. I don't read word for word, I take in entire paragraphs - literally. I may read 5% of the words in a paragraph, but I can tell you exactly what the paragraph was about, answer questions about the concept, and even accurately teach the concept to others - just don't ask me about obscure details - like what the color of the main character's hat was. I am sure that information was in the text, but my brain never processed it. My eldest reads above grade level, but he is dyslexic and sense he doesn't qualify for services (because in most states you aren't diagnosed with dyslexia unless you read below grade level), we have to tackle the issue ourselves.

My kids, like many gifted children, also deal with sensory issues, labeled "sensory processing disorder". It isn't that their senses don't work, they just work overtime. This creates sensory overload to an extraordinary scale. For instance, my kids hear literally "off the charts", meaning their hearing is more sensitive than what most hearing tests can measure. Because they hear in levels confined to animals, not humans, in order to function they have learned to actively tune things out. Unfortunately, they can overcompensate and tune out too much information - causing them to miss when people are calling their name, or miss the nuance of phonics. So, what looks like a hearing problem is actual a hearing super ability that must be trained, not fixed. Profoundly gifted children learn through all their senses well beyond the baby stage. We understand babies learn vast amount of information through taste and touch, but most people switch to learning based on hearing and sight as they get older. Not profoundly gifted children, they continue to take in vast amounts of information through their senses. However, they are pushed into a world with a ton more sensory input than what a baby would be pushed in to. We know not to take babies some places because it would be "too much", what happens to a 7 year old that continues to take in and process through every sense, all the information around them? What happens tends to be sensory overload - with meltdowns most people consider "inappropriate" for their age. This is why gifted children tend to be misdiagnosed with things like ADD/ADHD. They melt down, a LOT, when they are overwhelmed. However, they can be overwhelmed in most environments because we live in a sensory rich environment. Take for instance a traditional school. Even though there are walls (sometimes) and doors separating classrooms - sensory rich gifted children can literally hear through those walls. How frustrating would it be to hear conversations going on not only in your classroom, but the classrooms on either side of you - in addition to not only hearing your teacher lecture, but the teachers on both sides of the classroom. You also smell everyone's lunch box in your class, perfume, shampoo, soap residue, scented lotion, and anything else with the faintest smell? Then there is touch - you feel your socks, the tag on the back of your neck, your shoes feel tight, your jeans feel stiff and itchy. Not to mention the touching that happens by accident, an innocent bump feels like a push, a friendly pat on the back feels like a punch - you never quite know if people are trying to hurt you on purpose or not. I won't go in to taste - but you get the idea. These children aren't "broken", in fact, this might be the way man was really intended to work - experiencing the world fully. If we all took in our surroundings with all of our senses, the world would be a much more calm, quiet, and gentle place. Most profoundly gifted children have food sensitivities to the poisons that have been introduced into our food supply - food coloring, HFCS, excessive gluten - their bodies know when they are being poisoned. If we were all that sensitive, Monsanto would never have been about to run rugged over our food supply.

2E children are often mislabeled simply because people are so afraid of the gifted label. Gifted is often identified by an IQ test, but that isn't the only way. However, it is clear gifted children, especially profoundly gifted children are different. A child 2 - 3 standard deviations above the "average" child is just as different than a child 2 - 3 standard deviations below. There is plenty of empathy for mentally challenged children - we create environments that take in account their needs; I have yet to see a "calm and quiet" area of a playground designed for profoundly gifted children.

I talk a lot about gifted children, mainly because most people don't. The is often the cry of "all children are gifted" - oh really? So do you also decline birthday party invitations because you know the lights, sounds, and smells will be too much for your child? Do you purchase thousands of dollars in books and other educational materials because your child learns at such a fast pace they go through entire grade levels within weeks (my 5 year old daughter finished an entire K and an entire 1st grade math program specifically for gifted children in 8 weeks - 2 years worth of math learned in 8 weeks time). Do you spend time cutting the tags off of clothing, schedule playdates one or two children at a time, worry about the emotional sensitivity? Oh yes, the emotional sensitivity. I didn't even start to discuss that one. The strong sense of justice, the wondering about the universe, the understanding of how deeply it hurts when people are cruel, the internalizing of pain, hurt, and despair that leads to much higher levels of depression and even suicide. I remember weeping bitterly at the story of a young, profoundly gifted black teenager in NY. She was such an amazing writer, her poems and stories were so absolutely deep and profound, she was wise beyond her years. But she was still just 14, she didn't yet have the life skills necessary to deal with the cruelty of the world - so she jumped. She jumped to her death by leaping from the 4th story of an abandoned building. Smart enough to know just how high to go to ensure she would die. That is the deep, dark secret of gifted children - they know. They know just how filled with lies much of the story they are taught. They understand what it means to "colonize" a country, the know what the Spanish did to the native inhabitants of the "New World", they know the Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in the rebel states, and most importantly - the know life isn't fair. They know life is never going to be fair. Many people home school their gifted children so we can teach them, in the most gentle environment possible, how to deal with an unfair world. How to find joy in pain, how to create your own happy, how to make the pain external instead of internal, how to hit a wall instead beating themselves up in their mind, how to kick a bully's ass instead of feeling like they themselves are less then worthy of dignity and respect. The world has no love for gifted children; well world - screw you!

Oh yea, back to 2E. My kids are 2E and Twice Exceptional is a great way to describe them. This means I must be twice exceptional in meeting their educational needs. Often joke about the meme of female = Iron Man. In many ways, it isn't a joke. I often do need the money, humor, and genius of Tony Stark to meet their needs. But, it's all good, because I am, in fact - Iron Man - (female; fe = iron, male = man)