A couple weeks ago, I was having a conversation with my friend Pamela Price about my childhood experiences with being different. Pamela, author of How to Work and Homeschool, is also an incredible parent and homeschooler for a gifted child, so I always value her insights. (In fact, I am really excited about her upcoming GHF Press book about bullying and twice-exceptional (2e) kids. And I love her article introducing some of the themes of the new book: “Gifted, Bullied, Resilient: A Brief Guide for Smart Families”).
For those of you who are new to the concept, 2e means that an individual is characterized by giftedness in addition to another aspect of neurodiversity, like dyslexia or Asperger’s. Personally, I identify as 2e, so I was thrilled to have the privilege of picking Pamela’s brain about some of my personal experiences.
I told her about being placed in a self-contained gifted class in third grade and how some of my eccentricities became increasingly noticeable about that same year.
For example, I didn’t always know what words to use to describe my experience. In hindsight I may have had indigestion, but what I said in class was “I feel fat.” Everybody laughed; this was not about body image, this was about a somatic sensation that I didn’t have enough body awareness or communication skills to express.
In fifth grade, a classmate led a chorus “In unison, 1,2,3… Shut up Bob.” Perhaps I had been perseverating?
Another classmate threw my “Sacred Staples” out the school bus window; for that, only my existence was the prompt. I wrote something I valued, folded it and sealed it with 17 staples. My active imagination made me think that the metal would help the spirit of my words endure.
Looking back, I see so many missed opportunities to be understood. Some of this was likely social feedback, delivered without mastery. I lifted weights and ran hundreds of miles, so being athletic helped me socially.
Later, in my adult years, I learned about levels of giftedness and Asperger’s.
Q: How can we help kiddos with asynchronous development gain social skills while respecting their dignity and intensities?
Pamela: I think that we have to give kids words. You used “perseverating.” That’s a big word but it’s also a precise one, a word that helps us sum up how some of us get “stuck.” I’m not an Aspie, but I definitely perseverate, most likely because of my mild OCD and anxiety.
Words that we teach help our children become more articulate, more capable of expressing feelings while validating their experiences. I think as we begin to better understand intensities, overexcitabilities and even some sensory issues, we’re building a system of words that can empower our kids.
Q: In fourth grade by myself during recess, I was rubbing a big chunk of ice clockwise on a sidewalk. A fifth grader asked what I was doing, and I responded, “Smoothing out the surface.” He repeated that phrase to me a few times over the next year. Was I quoted or bullied or both? No matter what, at least he noticed something. He let me know that he existed, and perhaps I was in my own world.
Is it useful, and if so, how can age-mates better include those that are in their own world?
Pamela: Regarding “Smoothing out the surface,” what was the context of the repeated reference? Was it acknowledging the curiosity and wisdom? Or was it to degrade you?
Again, I think words help. I also think adults who are more articulate about interpersonal communication and who work with young people to better understand their own actions–as opposed to only ever shaming errors–are key.
Q: How can parents encourage positive social interactions?
Pamela: Parents can encourage positive social interactions by better recognizing that they have a responsibility to scaffold relationships. We still believe that the silos between our worlds and those of our children are necessary, I fear. The reality is that neither micro-managing helicopter parents nor completely hands-off parents are ideal. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. The best of us try to apply scaffolding surgically to each child.
It sounds like something from “Leave it to Beaver,” but by welcoming a friend or friends to the home, providing some nutritious snacks, and demonstrating a willingness to connect and nurture connections in an unobtrusive manner can go a long way to building a social network. My own mother used to host several girls after our weekly Girl Scouts meeting. (Our house was an easier pick up point for parents than our troop leader’s place.)
Anyway, I learned from her how to host and welcome people. She also got a better idea of the kids in my class, what their personalities were like. A couple of those kids became regulars at our home, and one family we remained close to for many years until the girl and I drifted apart naturally at adolescence. (She was a vivacious cheerleader; I, a bookish thespian. We went into separate worlds.) Still, even though we are no longer close, I recall fondly holidays and other special occasions shared together. And all of that happened, honestly, because of the hospitality my mother extended.
In our own home, I make a point to host at least one child a week, and I regularly provide snacks for neighbor children. There is something about sharing a few morsels that engenders community among most humans after the age of 6 or 7. Parents, too, need to remember that volume (as in size, not noise level) isn’t as important as quality. That applies to the number of extracurricular activities as well as the size and scope of one’s social circle.
Wow, thank you so much, Pamela! I can’t wait to read your new book.