Twice Exceptional or Half Capable?

In high school, I laughed too loud and too long. Shushed a thousand times, I never realized how annoying I was until our French class videotaped a comic recital. When we re-watched it after school, my lusty guffaws drown out the players on stage. My whole body blushed. Adding to my mortification, our teacher, Ms. Lucia, commented, “And here is Lori laughing…”

She did not say this in a jovial manner, to ease my embarrassment. She sounded defeated, sad for me, as if my laughter was a sign of incurable illness or impending disaster.

This hurt. I thought Ms. Lucia enjoyed my good spirits. Afterall, I spent hours writing comical journals and assignments for class. Classmates encouraged my boisterous antics and skits. I longed to be her favorite!  But that honor went to another. Michelle. Plop a Tonya Harding haircut on Snow White, add mom jeans and a Peter Pan collar and you have Michelle. Starched and stalwart, her seriousness contrasted sharply with my over the top exuberance. If I sat next to her, she scooted her erasers and highlighters opposite me. (I was in the habit of transforming them into smiley faces mid-lesson). She stifled her discomfort but eventually,  I felt it–an electric current of stay away.

We did not begin as adversaries. French class meant the world to me and I liked Michelle. She worked hard for every quiz, test, and assignment. I, however, aced exams and sailed through lessons with barely a glance at the material.

Grasshopper in Snow
Winter at last.

Since routine classwork bored me, I created little narratives.  I never handed in six-sentence verb exercises or blasé paragraphs about the library. Instead, I illustrated three-page epics replete with new vocabulary and painstakingly researched grammar.  My teacher commended my stories, but since I took my time handing them in, I seldom got credit.

Michelle, however, was always on time. She completed assignments as instructed, in neat and precise handwriting. I worked, when and how it suited me. Below average grades on my late masterpieces didn’t matter because I enjoyed writing them. Michelle worked with daily determination for good grades. She was the ant, and I was the grasshopper, except winter never came.

My senior year showed me where I stood with Ms. Lucia. Without enough students for a French III class, the ambitious could petition to study an extra year under her guidance. Michelle was accepted, and I was not. When I made a fuss, Ms. Lucia handed me a book and told me to study on my own during a free period. Without support, I drifted away. Decades have passed, but her rejection still visits me. In dreams, I sit forever alone before an open textbook, sad, bored, and failing French III.

Twice-exceptional* students struggle with rote and repetitive class work. This grind is hard in a non-intellectual way. Results seem so distant that it feels like climbing an endless stairway to a pointless destination. Just sitting still was an effort for me, so I respected Michelle’s tenacity as she hauled herself up each long and boring step. I managed by completing projects with a flourish. Unfortunately, the world finds flourishes less valuable than deadlines, so I’ve failed plenty of courses. Every time, the recipe was the same–I mired myself in interesting tangents and details while neglecting routine assignments. Somehow, I skipped over skills that others had been building since kindergarten.

I’d like to change the past–but not to improve my grade. I want to go back for Michelle.  She never realized that I equated her between-class studiousness with my story-writing industriousness. We both worked hard for French and thus, were sisters. I tried my awkward best to be friendly, to make her smile, but somehow I managed to only alienate her further. The more I bumbled, the more anxious I became. Anxiety fueled future stupid and off-putting behavior, to my eternal chagrin. Friendship isn’t something Michelle owed me,  but if she understood that my behavior was neurological and not conceit or ridicule, my heart would be at ease.

Get Along Together

In retrospect, I wonder if Ms. Lucia was worthy of the affection I held for her. She could have spoken kindly to me about my unintended laugh track. She could have sat me further from the microphone. She could have paired me with Michelle instead of setting me adrift in an empty classroom.  Michelle and I could have collaborated and emerged twice as capable.  Come to think of it, Ms. Lucia’s every wince, sigh, and impatient gesture taught students like Michelle that I was somehow less-than.

Fortunately, the “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”educational philosophy of the 80s is vanishing.  Feeling less-than, unliked, and discarded can haunt students well beyond grade school. I am grateful my son’s school has a progressive and positive atmosphere.  When his neurology kicks into overdrive, his teachers support him and set a strong example of acceptance. As I write, he has found his own Michelle, and I cannot wait to see what they create together.

 

 

*My exceptionalities are autism and Tourette’s syndrome

The Inferno: Twice Exceptional Raising Twice Exceptional

The Inferno

The Dream

Six months ago, I dreamt I lived in a vast black basement and never slept.

My singular duty was to stoke an enormous and intensely hot furnace. I heaved mound after mound of dusty coal into the roaring inferno.  My back ached. My mouth burned with thirst. Yet, I shoveled on.

At intervals, I rested.  The sudden stillness dizzied me, as if I were falling asleep. Heat and light jarred me back to alertness.

I pondered the purpose of the inferno. Does it fuel a city? Power a massive factory? Or is this subterranean monster an entity of its own?

I waved away the thought. Work resumed in minutes. I needed a few moments of mindless relief.

I shoveled.  Unequivocally ravenous and implacable, the fire vaporized  fuel as quickly as I could provide it. I increased my pace. The walls of coal began creeping closer. I shoveled frantically to avoid being pushed into the flames.

I could not maintain this furious pace.

Should I make peace with my doom or continue to  shovel?

I woke up.

 

The First Interpretation

The struggle of fueling a voracious furnace resembles raising a twice exceptional child.

Forever vigilant, I juggle interventions for anxious, tourettic behavior. Today I dab balm on eyelids chapped from compulsive rubbing. Tomorrow I hide tomatoes and bananas under dishtowels.  Our home is a stage constantly reset to remove temptations. Everything is just so, to reduce spills, plumber bills and frustration.

Tyoma’s intelligence generates another kind of perpetual effort. Keeping pace with profound giftedness demands more than hiding scissors or stowing away hand soap.  Intellectual thirst requires mental fleetness, abundant creativity and cognitive endurance. Without stimulation, a gifted brain agonizes. Boredom triggers unedurable tension and restlessness.

I strive to support our son. Should my attentiveness wane, I fear I will be engulfed. Meltdowns,  intense emotions, and wild behavior disorient me. I fear I will fail him.

I secured these thoughts in a notebook. My legacy to Tyoma will not be an interminable online ode on how hard it is to raise him.

The Truth

A week ago,  I revisited my notebook. As I re-read my words, I realized the inferno dream was less about raising a twice exceptional child and more about my own struggle with twice exceptionality.

Long before Tyoma entered our world, I shoveled. I fed the fires of schools, university degrees, jobs and interpersonal relationships. I put forth enormous effort to maintain impossible standards.  At times, the furnace snuffled me in; blackening me into deep depressive spells.

No six year old holds me captive in a basement. I’ve always been here. And now I have company.

My dear, sweet, bright little boy grips a shovel in his hand. His furnace roars. I hope to teach him the finest shoveling techniques.  I hope to teach him to enjoy the radiance of his gifts without being gobbled up by his differences. Above all, I hope to teach him how to brush away the ashes and begin anew.

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Birthday Mom

Entertaining Others With #Autistic Gifts

joke3

Whisper the word “Shakespeare” in my dad’s ear. He transforms.  Bristly white eyebrows perk up. His 79 year-old eyes widen, brighten, and sparkle.  He speaks:

She should have died hereafter;

There would have been a time for such a word.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day…

Words pour out like water from a moon-sized pitcher.  You’d be adrift in a small sea if you did not interrupt him. Dad can quote poetry endlessly.

My father’s skill as an orator was overlooked until he enlisted in the Army. Stationed in Alaska during the Korean War, his encyclopedic recall of risqué limericks entertained lonely and bored fellow soldiers.

Dad’s Uncle Doc inspired his love for theater. Doc had a similarly profound memory. He made his living astounding vaudeville audiences with his wit and mnemonic feats.

joke2

A few weeks ago, Tyoma showed an interest in knock-knock jokes.  I remembered Dad and Uncle Doc. “Perhaps T can use his fantastic memory to dazzle his friends with jokes!”  I thought.  I imagined a circle of laughing six-year olds, holding their little bellies, relishing T’s talent. In a burst of enthusiasm, I carted home the local library’s collection of jokes and riddles.

It was not until Tyoma read jokes aloud to me that  I recalled my childhood romance with jokes.

In the third grade, I became the butt of jokes and teasing for being a “spazz.” After a particularly hard week at school, I came home to find Mom had raided our favorite used book store. Stacks of paperback joke books covered my bed. Cheap, faded, and stained, their sharp grassy smell permeated my room. I breathed in the scent and felt unburdened.

I dove into the books joyfully. Convulsive and tearful fits of laughter squeezed my sides all weekend. I have never been so painfully amused!  My favorite book, a psychedelic purple and orange elephant joke book, delighted me–absurdity at its finest.  I read and re-read the books.

joke4

It never occurred to me to share my jokes with my classmates.

Actually, the joke books were part of Mom’s secret plan. My school yard harassment was started by a popular boy who had taken a dislike to me.  His teasing infected the other students. After a weekend immersion in jokes, Mom made a suggestion.  I could take control of the teasing by telling my own jokes.  My jokes would amuse others without hurting anyone’s feelings.

I skipped to school fifteen minutes early. I told joke after joke.  Despite getting a few laughs, I had the sinking sensation that something was not right.  Only now, I realize my presentation was more Ringling Brothers than Robin Williams—my twitchy anxiety made me weird, not funny.

The bully boy listened in at the edge of the small group. He took note of my jokes. Later in the day, he retold the best ones in front of a larger, more appreciative audience. He told a joke and kids laughed. I told a joke and kids scuffed their feet.

I was annoyed that this boorish lout got accolades for my jokes. But, he never picked on me again and the other kids left me in peace. Mission accomplished. My love for joke books persisted, undaunted. I did learn, however, to keep my fascinations more private. Who wants to fuel an irritating peer’s glory or fret over unappreciative classmates?

joke1

Contemplating my experiences, I decided to let T’s love for jokes follow their own course. He might run a grade school vaudeville show or he might laugh for hours in his room. Either way, I’m taking a step back to let him find his place. Jokes are about feeling good.

Hello Kitty!

tyoma kitty
"I like cats because they are meow-sounded"

My five year old son has chosen his Halloween costume. He wants to be Hello Kitty.

This should be interesting.

Why does he want to be Hello Kitty? Because he is in love with this little girl:


The singing character is “Kitty,” Tyoma’s imaginary friend.

Tyoma wants to be Hello Kitty “because Kitty likes Hello Kitty and I want her to like my costume.”

In case it is confusing, the “Kitty” in the video is not Hello Kitty, although they are both Japanese.

Of course I’ve already bought him a Hello Kitty Hat:

Tomorrow I am off to find a white shirt and matching bottoms. Pictures to follow.

BTW, this is an awesome article  about one mom’s choice to let her son wear a “girl’s” costume.