Monday, June 16, 2008

The road to learning about my twice exceptional child

It would have been useful to have known much more about gifted children, or even better, twice exceptional children before my older son started school. As it turns out, my son has ADHD, sensory integration dysfunction, and auditory processing disorders as well as being gifted. His inattentiveness is considerably greater when he is bored because of elementary learning material. He would also act out or not pay attention when he was running up against issues with his learning disabilities. Despite all of his issues, he continues to make huge leaps and bounds in the growth of his knowledge, far surpassing his peers on annual testing. It took a lot of effort to get there, however.

Children aren't able to verbally communicate why they don't like a topic. They know that they are being compelled to do something that doesn't feel right or that they don't like. Being taught in a way that is nonsensical to a child creates a lot of frustration and confusion. The child doesn't say, "The way you're explaining that doesn't make sense." They change their focus, don't pay attention, and try to find something to fill the space of whatever it is that makes them uncomfortable.

However, many teachers don't interpret their actions this way, and most parents do the same. The children's behavior is interpretted, in most cases, as an active avoidance or intentional misbehavior. The key differentiator between intentional misbehavior and that of a child who is frustrated with the learning process is if the behavior is far more prevalent in the classroom. However, when the child is frustrated enough, the behavior leaks into the home environment as well.

My son was reading Harry Potter books in first grade and spent hours playing with Legos. He would spend hours on mazes and puzzles. However, he would rush through is school work, doing a very sloppy job or simply not completing it due to boredom or lack of understanding. Because he was not completing his work, his teacher, who at the beginning of the year thought he was very bright, started saying that he wasn't gifted. His first year in school, my son went to several specialists because his teacher and school administrators would not accept that my son was gifted with ADHD. They were correct that there was more going on, but it wasn't autism, as they kept insisting.

The biggest problem, however, was that they simply refused to provide more challenging material to my son. Given he could and did concentrate on areas of interest, his first year in school would have gone much better if they had been willing to do what the doctor's recommended: provide more enriching learning material and make sure it is presented in a visual manner. Instead, they continued to insist that he was being adequately challenged and they were, in fact, presenting concepts in a visual manner.

By the middle of the first year, my son had shut down, and the teachers blamed him. He was soon diagnosed with opposition defiant disorder (ODD). It should be noted that ODD is almost always comorbid with some other type of attentional or learning disorder. Had I known that, I would have realized that what was happening was my son's frustration level had exceeded all of his coping abilities. I often think his teachers should have known this.

Instead, I began homeschooling, which was a very long journey of untangling all the knots that tied together his learning abilities and disabilities, his various disorders, and his self-esteem. Ultimately, we came to understand how he could learn, when he could and couldn't concentrate, and how to appropriately challenge him in his learning. Now, as a teenager, he is beginning to understand these things about himself and becoming an independent learner.

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