Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Most people would walk along
a path beside the river."

"Imagine you have to go along an Alpine river valley,” she said. “Most people would walk along a path beside the river. Not Leo. He’ll run up the first mountain and give you the view from there – and maybe across into the next valley, too. Then he’ll run down and up a mountain on the opposite side.  In no time, he’ll be exhausted – maybe he won’t reach the end.
But his journey will have been a damn sight more interesting than yours.
And he’ll know a lot more about that valley."
-Martin Buckley, 2013

A couple of days ago I read an article by a father named Martin Buckley called 
"My child is a genius – and it isn’t always easy."  I felt like I was reading an article I could have written about SC.  The resemblance to both Leo, and the parenting styles of Buckley, were uncanny to SC and I.  It has motivated me to write the post, which I have been holding back from, because maybe there is someone who will read it and feel comforted that they aren't alone, in the same way I was comforted by knowing Buckley and Leo exist.

First of all, I should point out that I personally don't like any of the terms that are used to describe gifted children because they are all alienating.  No matter which term you use, as a parent, as soon as you say "my child is gifted," you are also telling the world "my child is different," and no parent wants to have a child who might face challenges because of this.

Well, my child is gifted.  

For those who want the hard facts, we recently had SC tested (as we are starting kindergarten and wanted to know just where she was at so we can make the best educational decisions for her going forward) using the WPPSI-III and the WIAT-II.  The results came with a note from the examiner that SC's "inability to attend" made the results much lower than they should be, as did the fact that she refused to answer the "easy" questions (but did answer the more difficult ones).  This showed mostly on the WPPSI-III.  Without going into too much detail, on the WIAT-II, SC scored in the 99.8th percentile for Word Reading, and the 99.7th percentile for Math Reasoning.  Her age equivalents for these subtests are 6.8 years and 7 years, respectively.  She just turned 5.

In the article, Buckley wrote
"By the time Leo was four, it was sometimes hard to tell if he was wildly creative, or merely wild – unbounded, or lacking boundaries. "
Again, I felt like he was writing about us.  Having just lived through SC's fourth year, I would describe our frustration in this exact way.  Is she wildly creative, seeing the world through a different lens, or is she just wild?  Is she always questioning and asking why because her brain needs to understand, or is she just obstinate and defiant?  Buckley expounds that their experiences with Leo went similarly to our own daily experiences with SC. 
"Having it explained to him that he needed to sit in a given place, eat a given meal, follow a given routine, he would invariably ask, “Why?” And, often, he’d refuse. ...I learnt that a way to gain his cooperation was to weave a narrative around an action that made him want to become involved. And then his focus, his intensity of commitment, were remarkable and rewarding. But still exhausting."
AC laughs at my overly-detailed explanations of why SC should or should not do something, and how I give her very specific, truthful explanations to every question, but it is my only weapon against her mind deciding whether she should or should not.  She takes it all in, mulls it around, and then decides on her own.  One prominent example of this would be when SC was almost 4 years old, and we were struggling to get her to instinctively hold our hands when we crossed streets, the parking lot, etc.  She would just refuse, or pull away when we were walking.  She had decided she was big enough to walk on her own.  No matter how many times we explained how dangerous it could be, it wasn't until she saw on the local news a story about a young girl getting hit by a car in a parking lot that she decided to start holding hands, with no further pleading on my part needed.  She was able to see exactly what could happen if she went on her own, mulled it around in her head, and still actively grabs my hand now when we are walking near cars.  It isn't that she is afraid, either.  She has almost no fear of anything.  She just decided that being safe was a good choice for her in this situation.

Though AC goes along with my parenting style for SC, there have been times where outsiders (both extended family, as well as friends) have questioned us and the way we are doing things.  We have been told that we allow SC too much freedom, and it has been implied we are too lax in our discipline, regardless of the fact that every "suggestion" intended to guide her back toward compliance had been tried already and failed to bring about the result desired by these naysayers.  Buckley comments on the judgements of others, saying
"It was easy to feel isolated, because many parents and teachers judged that Leo had little parental formation, was allowed carte blanche.  The opposite was true. We worked daily, nightly, to impose routines. But Leo was reluctant to go along with anything just because he was asked to."
We do feel isolated most of the time; I, especially, since AC travels so much for work.  It is hard to find friends for me who understand I am doing the best I can with this bundle of energy and excitement God gave me, and it is hard to find friends for SC who are on her level intellectually.  She doesn't understand why her age-peers do many of the things they do, and when she tries to mimic them (to fit in), she overdoes it.  We have yet to find her intellectual peers, though she does well playing with the boys in the neighborhood who are a year or so older than she is.  However, we really don't get to see them that often.  Choosing to homeschool has isolated us even more, but at the moment that is the best choice for SC and where she is now.  She needs to be taught on the level she is at academically, and constantly stimulated intellectually, and in a public kindergarten, she probably won't get enough of that.  She is also in constant motion, and while at home she can do math in motion on the whiteboard, or lay on the floor to do reading, that is another thing that, if allowed in public kindergarten (and many or most students start acting this way), would cause utter chaos for the teacher in the classroom.

Many of the behaviors that SC exhibits that make her difficult to parent can be explained by a series of "overexcitabilities" that are common among gifted children.  A Polish psychiatrist named Kasimierz Dabrowski, who has specifically studied the intensity, excessive personalities and sensitivities of gifted children and adults, has grouped them together in his work, classifying them for the purpose of understanding.  If you want a good list of resources about Dabrowski's overexcitabilities, check out this page on the Hoagies' Gifted website.  However, I will list the classifications in brief, as summarized from the book Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults [MDDGCA], and how they relate to SC here.  
  • The first overexcitability is "intellectual," which encompasses the excessive curiosity, question asking, theoretical thinking and problem solving.  This is a desire to simply gain knowledge, and the search of truth and understanding.  In SC, this is most obvious in her constant "why."  She doesn't only question when she is given instructions, she questions everything.
  • The second overexcitability is "imaginational," which describes the complex imaginations, including pretend friends and their pretend worlds, but also the flair for the dramatic, daydreaming, and other visual creativities.  SC is less imaginative (though is very artistically creative), but she does have a fair amount of drama when she feels she needs to.
  • The third overexcitability is "emotional," which is where extreme emotions and feelings are grouped.  Children and adults with this overexcitability tend to over-sympathize with the problems of the world around them, and become very attached to people, places and things.  They are frequently accused of overreacting, and in children, they may continue to have tantrums past the age of three and get excessively angry over minor issues.  This is an overexcitability I understand, as it is one that I have as well, but that doesn't make it easier when SC starts stomping her feet or throwing her body around.  She even hit the wall the other day when sent to timeout.  However, she also is hugely compassionate, and even someone who seems upset will send her into a fit of sympathetic tears.
  • The fourth overexcitability is "psychomotor," which can be described as those who "love movement for its own sake, and they show a surplus of energy" (Webb, pg. 14).  This classification has SC written all over it, because one thing she doesn't do is stop moving.  Even in the car, strapped in, she is tapping her feet or doing something with her hands.  While some people who have this overexcitability may demonstrate it with a constant stream of chatter, SC simply is always in motion.  No matter how many physical activities we do in a day, she never tires out and is always ready for more.  Even when she was very small, she was on the go.
  • The fifth overexcitability is "sensual," which details the aspects of life that a body's senses handle (sight, smell, touch, hearing, taste) and these are children and adults are overly sensitive to many of them.  For example, things like tags in clothing or lines on socks, an aversion to food textures, a dislike of noise in the background, or even strong smells literally overwhelm them.  This is one area that SC does not seem to have the noticeable overexcitability, but I tend to think it might be the opposite.  She can become excessive in her touch with people.  With other children, hugging turns into tackling, playing tag into shoving, and someone usually ends up hurt or upset.  With AC and I, we quickly become the jungle gym to be climbed upon when seated, and even if we are just standing together in line she might smack my body or or bump me roughly. 

Eventually we may have further testing done with SC, as was recommended by the examiner, that may help us narrow down these overexcitabilities and help us figure out if there are any underlying learning differences.  However, we will probably wait a few years to see what she simply "matures" out of and what doesn't, as well as any learning problems we stumble upon while schooling.

The most important thing out of all this is that I don't want to change SC and the person God created her to be.  She is intensely inquisitive.  She likes to have fun, and loves really good music, animals and showing those she loves that she loves them.  She gets upset when others are upset, and tells jokes that make sense to no one else, and laughs hysterically.  She picks up on things she shouldn't understand, and makes the most adult comments about them, like the time she told me how to get rid of lice (which she heard about on NPR).  She likes to quote movies and books, and sometimes at the wrong times, but always with relevance.  I don't want to produce another sheep for the factory floor, conforming to the current demands of demands of our American society.  I know God means for her to be more than just a follower of men.  He gave her this mind and spirit for His reasons, and who am I to break that for the whims of social acceptance?  I do want her to understand that there are rules that she has to follow, and that there will be consequences in she breaks them.  However, many of the rules imposed in the early years of childhood are done so for the purpose of learning a "lesson" that can be applied later in life.  There are minimal natural consequences for leaving your toys on the floor, and if the consequence is those toys going in the trash/donation and the child is okay with that, who comes out ahead as the winner?  What lesson has then been imparted that can be applied to later?  So, I trust that in time, as things come up that must be adhered to, God will show SC the "why," either through me or another outlet.  For now, I am okay that SC asks "why" after every instruction, because for her, she needs to really know, to understand (just like in the example with holding hands).  And, even if it is difficult and exhausting raising a gifted child, I trust God that He will give me what I need to support SC in becoming the best version of her that she can be.  As James Webb puts it (pg. 81), "as parents, our task is to discover who our child is and to help the child find his own profession."  That should be the goal of every parent.

In the future, I am going to try to be a bit more vocal about SC's giftedness when I write, because I think it is important for others in the same situation to know they are not alone.  Also, if you have a gifted child and are struggling (or not), I would love to hear from you (either through the comments or privately contact me through email at proverbs2pursuit@gmail.com) because it is hard to be on an island.

Webb, James T., et. al. (2005). Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press, Inc.

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