When Gifted Becomes 2e

It’s amazing how sometimes everything can change, but stay exactly the same. I know…that doesn’t make sense at all when said by itself, but let me explain a little bit.

Our story starts back when Asher was a baby. Right around when he was starting to eat solid foods. We tried various new foods with him like bananas, blueberries, apples, applesauce, etc. Anything we put in his mouth resulted in gagging and, most times, vomit. Cheerios and Puffs always went down with no problem so at one point I cut bananas into the tiniest little pieces to fit in the hole of the Cheerios. He nibbled around the outside of the Cheerio and left the bananas on the plate…a baby, probably 7 or 8 months old, was stubborn enough to figure this out. He finally got used to bananas, but still had issues with other foods and gagging. I figured it was just something he’d grow out of. Five years later, we still have a super picky eater.

Also as a baby, Asher hated it when I would rub his back. When I was little, my mom would rub my back to relax me and put me to sleep so I thought Asher would enjoy the same thing. When I’d start rubbing, he would arch his back and try to move his back away from my hands. I figured it may have been too light so I applied more pressure and tried massage instead. Same result. Again, I thought oh well. Just one of his quirks.

Fast forward a few years and Asher was about 3. We were in the car driving down country roads and came across a dead skunk in the road. The smell was so bad my eyes were watering and I could almost taste it. I made a comment to Asher about how awful that smell was and he was completely oblivious.

“Huh?” he asked me.

“Doesn’t that smell bother you?”

“What smell?”

“You didn’t smell that?”

“No. My smeller doesn’t work.”

I was completely confused. I thought “Well maybe he just doesn’t know how to smell things. Although I thought that was kind of instinctual.” So one day I tried testing it. I hid some common things that he would know the smell of in a bucket and covered it. I put a jar of play-doh in. He couldn’t recognize it. I tried a jar of peanut butter. He peeked and saw what it was. Finally I took him to the grocery store pharmacy. They sell essential oils. I took some very basic ones like peppermint, orange, lemon, etc. and wrapped my whole hand around it so he couldn’t read it. He couldn’t guess what they are so he finally reminded me that his smeller doesn’t work. I never really gave up trying to get him to smell things.

Other little things kept throwing red flags at us. He hates being dirty. He complains about buttons on his shirts, about his pants being too baggy and getting in his way. He complains that he doesn’t like his weighted blanket because of the “little beads in it.” He can feel every little bead. He complains about getting his nails trimmed. He says it hurts. He hates getting his hair wet  and rinsed in the bathtub/shower and will not open his eyes afterward until I have wiped them with a towel. He absolutely hates being tickled and will sometimes freak out if someone touches him when he doesn’t expect it. He still does not enjoy back rubs or massages. He will push your hands away.  He is scared of thunder and lightning. He will cover his ears and close his eyes as tight as he can. Or if he’s in bed he will bury his face in his pillow and cover his ears. This worries me that he will suffocate himself before he lets himself see the lightning. Loud noises scare him. He does not enjoy crowded, dark, noisy, chaotic places. He get so anxious he nearly makes himself sick.

He has anxious tics. He picks at his nails (maybe he does that so I won’t trim them?), he licks his lips raw, he rolls his shirt around his fingers and balls the bottom of it up into a crumpled mess, he paces, he talks non-stop. One can tell when he’s had too much as he can not be settled.

We have purchased a few things for him and put together what we call the “calming corner.” He has various fidgets, silly putty, squeeze balls, lights, handheld games, miniature toys, books, etc. He also got a Harkla swing for Christmas. It hangs from the ceiling and just kind of wraps around him and blocks out the outside world. We also bought him a trampoline for the back yard that he will jump on for hours at a time.

We had already begun making accommodations for him at home to help these issues he was having, but as his doctor appointment neared, I wanted to bring up some of these quirks to his doctor.

In a last minute effort, on the way to the doctor’s office we got behind a truck that was burning oil really bad. I asked Asher, “are you smelling anything right now?” He said no, that he wasn’t. I knew I HAD to bring it up to his doctor.

I started with the picky eating. The doctor replied that sometimes kids are just like that and they grow out of it eventually. She suggested offering new foods and implementing a “one bite rule” where he has to try at least one bite of everything. So I brought up the clothes and weighted blanket thing. She listened. I brought up the sense of smell (or lack thereof) and she suggested that occupational therapy may not be a bad idea. She referred us to an occupational therapist and they are supposed to contact me in the next couple of weeks. We’ll see how it goes as with our current insurance situation, we cannot afford much other than routine well-child visits. We are working on changing that though (hopefully sooner than later!). That’s a whole different story which I don’t have time to write and you wouldn’t really enjoy reading.

Anyway, when we got our discharge papers from the doctor’s office I saw the official diagnosis. “Plan of treatment: Specialist: Sensory Integration Dysfunction.” This is another way of saying Sensory Processing Disorder. My intuition/suspicions were correct. My boy has Sensory Processing Disorder, which basically means his brain doesn’t know how to properly react to the information or stimuli that come to him through his senses. Just like that, my gifted boy became my 2e boy.

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2e is a term used meaning twice-exceptional. Twice-exceptional refers to a gifted person that also has a secondary “disability.” This could come in the form of a sensory processing disorder, autism, learning disabilities like ADD or ADHD, ODD, dyslexia, etc. The only reason there is a special name for it is because sometimes the two can offset each other and cause the gifted child to slip through the cracks because the secondary disability made it difficult to recognize the giftedness or vice versa. These kids must learn how to cope with being gifted and the various things that are thrown at them with their second diagnosis.

So, at the beginning of this blog I mentioned how things can change, but stay exactly the same. When I said that, I meant that we knew already that Asher had struggles with sensory processing and we had already started accommodating for it but now, all of a sudden, we have an official diagnosis and that makes it different and much more real. We went from gifted to 2e. We have no intentions of treating Asher any different because of this diagnosis, but things will change in that we can obtain further resources to help him cope in new ways that will be beneficial to him. Can’t wait to see where this takes us.

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Auto shops, and superheroes, and “Asherkwondo” (Oh my!)

This is the first of a series of blogs I’m going to do about the 5 overexcitabilities that affect Asher every single day. Maybe it’s just because it’s been a long winter cooped up in the house (and we’re still waiting for those warm, sunny days), but it seems like Asher’s OE’s have been on full blast lately. All of them! It’s sometimes hard for me to remember that this is who he is and he can’t just stop. There are two that have been most obvious lately; psychomotor and imaginational. I will talk about imaginational first.

It was about a year ago that I first started to realize there was something different about the way Asher plays. He had tons of toys. Toy boxes were overflowing in our house. Toys scattered across the floor. Toys downstairs. Toys upstairs. Toys everywhere! However, he barely touched any of them.

If you’ve read my earlier blogs you know we went to Florida last spring and surprised Asher with a trip to Disney. We packed toys for Asher to play with, but by day 3 out of the 4 we were down there (the day after we went to Disney), I noticed that Asher hadn’t touched them. Instead, he was running around the condo pretending to work at Disney. He would pretend that he was scanning people’s wristbands to get into the FastPass lines. He pretended to work the admission booth and sell admission tickets. He also pretended that he worked at the condos we were staying in. He would close the bedroom doors and then pretend to come unlock them to show imaginary people to their condos. I realized he lives in an imaginary world with imaginary people and imaginary places.

A couple months later he dreamed up this automotive shop that he owns. He named it Anderson Working Shop and he is able to tell us every single little detail about the place and keep it consistent. He will tell you who works there, where it is located (though they open new locations every now and then…but the original location is still running strong), what cars come in, what services they offer, the price of those services, and what loaner cars they offer. He dreamed up a logo for the shop and a slogan. With my help, he had a shirt made with the logo and slogan on it. This shop has remained consistent for 9 months now and he even had an Anderson Working Shop birthday party at my husband’s shop. So now we are the proud owners of a large Anderson Working Shop banner that hangs in our garage. Anderson Working Shop is literally a topic of discussion with Asher on a daily basis. No exaggeration. Brandon will come home from work and Asher will ask him, “Do you know what cars came into my shop today?” and he always has a different car that came in and he’ll tell him what was wrong and how they fixed it. His imaginary friend, Liam, who works with him at the shop is always up to something and we get to hear about everything Liam does, from going to the dentist to buying a car because he crashed his other one.

He pretends all kinds of things. He pretends that he is an actual employee of several places. He pretends to drive our cars. He pretends he is in a band with his preschool friends (Yes, he still remembers most of his friends from his preschool class when he was 2 years old). He pretends he is a superhero that fights off the bad guys.  He will experience something in the real world and have to come home and pretend he is doing the same thing. For example, today he got to go see a real McLaren, a Corvette, and an old Trans Am. They were all covered by car covers when we first saw them and when we were done they covered them back up. Asher came home and had to figure out how to make car covers for his toy cars.

I would love to get inside his brain sometime to figure out exactly what he’s thinking as he pretends these things. His entire day is made up of pretending something. All kids pretend, but his pretending goes deeper to the point where he can’t differentiate between his pretend world and reality. This is where problems arise.

For example, most of you know that Asher participates in taekwondo. He loves it! He’s not too bad at it either, for a little guy. However, also if you know Asher you know he has a major creative side to him. He loves to make up his own “pretend/creative” taekwondo forms. This was really exciting and fun for me to watch at first because some of the things he did actually looked pretty cool. He would take moves that he has learned and put them together to make up a new form. Unfortunately, his “creativity” has now taken him to making up his own moves as well. These don’t always look as good. Now his creative forms are almost completely made up of his own “make-believe” taekwondo moves that don’t always make a lot of sense. I have begun to call these his “Asherkwondo” moves. This morning in class he was having a hard time doing the moves that he was told to do because he would tell his instructor, “Well here’s how I do this move.” Beep beep, back the truck up buddy! Let’s separate our make-believe world from the real world here and learn our moves correctly. He has trouble getting his mind out of his pretend world and into the real world. I’m all for him pretending to be a famous martial artist, or black belt, or a competitor in creative forms, or whatever he’s pretending, but when it comes to class we have to listen to our instructor and learn and do our best.

It is quite entertaining to watch him after class when he must have his “pretend friends” class where he becomes the instructor of his imaginary class. He normally sets up an obstacle course and then sits down and tells all of his “friends” when to go through the course. This morning he got out some mats and a balance beam and taught his pretend friends to walk across the balance beam with it on top of the mats. Then he went to hang out with his instructor and told her that they were all doing what they were supposed to do so he didn’t need to watch them. He will also ask her to fill in for him and teach his pretend friends class when he has to go. She’s so good about playing along with him and also about keeping his mind on track when it needs to be during class.

Tonight Asher and Brandon went out to help a friend and they got home after bedtime. They got home and I got Asher ready for bed. He finally crawled into bed about 45 minutes later than normal. I kissed his forehead, turned out the light, and walked to the door and said “good night.” He says “Good night. But do you know what time Liam wakes up? He wakes up at 4:30 in the morning. There’s always a “Good night, but…” and it is always followed by some information from his make-believe world. Tonight I had to tell him it’s late and he needs to just go to sleep. At least he understands the concept of time (mostly) and I was able to tell him “Look how late it is.” and he agreed that it was late and he needed to get to sleep. I don’t always get away that easily.

These were just a few examples of how Asher lives in a make-believe world and how it can also interfere with his normal, everyday “real-life” routine. All of the overexcitabilities seem to have good things and bad things about them, but the biggest thing parents must remember is that you can’t snap them out of it. I’ll admit there have been times I’ve asked Asher to stop and come back to the real world, but the look he gives me tells me that he just doesn’t understand what I’m asking of him. It’s just a part of him and he can’t just shake it off.

Here is Superhero Asher in his superhero pose.

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If you take a gifted kid to the dentist…

I haven’t forgotten about this blog. I realize that it has been since November that I have posted anything, but the holiday season just gets away from you and we all (me especially) suffer from some awful form of seasonal depression around winter time that leaves us feeling pretty grumpy and worn out. Anyway, it’s not that there’s nothing to post. It’s just hard to put it in words sometimes.

Today’s topic…the dentist. I’ll be brutally honest. We are really bad at doing the dentist appointment thing around our house. I haven’t been to the dentist for any routine care since I had braces back in early high school. Anxiety. Bad gag reflex. Not a fun time. But my husband and I both had broken teeth that needed to be addressed. Long story short, husband went in to get his broken tooth yanked which has led all 3 of us to visit the dentist.

Now Asher has been to the dentist before. One time. We took him for his first dentist appointment when he was 2. He doesn’t remember it. When Brandon went to get his broken tooth pulled a few weeks ago, Asher knew he had an appointment soon so he was curious. Brandon came home with a numb mouth, talked funny, was unable to eat normally, and was sore for a few days. This convinced Asher that if he went to the dentist he would have to get shots in his mouth that made all of that happen to him. We reassured him that he was just going to get his teeth cleaned and absolutely nothing would hurt him. But we’re dealing with Asher here. He was a little unsure.

We were able to get him excited about going to the dentist when we told him that there was a treasure chest there that he would get to pick from when he was done. He talked about that treasure chest for a week before his appointment. He wondered what was in it. Would he get to pick anything he wanted? Could he pick out something for his friend or could he only pick one thing? That treasure chest took his mind off of what was actually going to happen to him when the dentist looked at his teeth.

So today was the day that he finally got to have his appointment. I made sure to reassure him beforehand that nothing was going to hurt and he wasn’t getting any shots. He would just need to open his mouth really wide and only talk to the dentist if his fingers aren’t in his mouth. Asher had watched me at my appointment 2 days ago and he was very quiet and I could almost see the anxiety in his eyes, so I guess I was expecting that same quiet, nervous boy for his appointment. I was wrong.

They called Asher back and told him that he would be going to the same room that Mommy was in a few days ago. He told them that he wondered if he would be and he was right. He goes in and sits down in the chair and says “So when are we taking this thing for a ride? You said we would see how high it can go and I’m ready.” This starts the giggles and smiles from the dental assistant. So they see how high the chair will go and then start in on all the tools. They showed him each tool they would be using and let him touch everything to see that it’s not going to hurt him. Asher wasn’t going to settle for just touching things. He had to hold them. He wanted to turn them on and off and see how they worked. He asked how she turns the drill on so she showed him it was a pedal for her foot. She showed him how she could squirt water or air with this tool and then if she squirted water in the cup, this suction tool which she called “Mr. Thirsty” would suck it all up. Asher kept reaching his hand out to take the tools from her instead of just touching them to see how they felt. Finally she asked him to put his hands on his belly and she was going to get started.

She started positioning the light over him and shined it on his legs so he would see that it’s a bright light to help them see in his mouth. He replies “I do NOT like bright lights in my eyes.” They are always prepared for things like this I suppose so she offered him some sunglasses to wear when she had the light on. We were in business and he felt like a cool dude. Now to get to work.

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First thing she had to do was count his teeth. She asked him how many teeth he thinks he has. He says “ummm…maybe about 20.” She kind of grinned and said “Ok well let’s see” and began counting his top teeth… there were 10. He got all excited. “TEN!! Yes! That means if there’s 10 on the bottom too then I was right! 20! Because 10+10 is 20!” Ok really…was it just a good guess or did he actually know he had 20 teeth? We may never know.

Next they talked about brushing. She asked him how many times a day he brushes his teeth. “Welllll…..twice. Yeah, twice because we brush once in the morning after breakfast and then again right before bedtime.” She then told him that she was going to use this tool on him that was like a toothbrush and it would clean his teeth. She asked him if he would want mint, bubblegum, or strawberry flavor. He picked mint. She says “Really? I thought you would pick bubblegum.” He answers, ” Well I like bubblegum too, but I want mint because I like my mint toothpaste.” She begins polishing his teeth and he says “Mmmmm!” As she worked her way around his mouth I guess her head got in the way of his tv watching so he started trying to move his head to see the tv. She asked him if she was in his way and joked that he should be able to just look right through her head. He then told her that he could try using his “night vision.” But it only works at night. She asked him if she turned the lights off if it would make his night vision work and he thought about it for a minute and says no…it was still too bright.

He then enjoyed rinsing, swishing, and using “Mr. Thirsty” to clear all the water from his mouth. I told the assistant that we’re lucky he’s not just swallowing the water because he usually just swallows his toothpaste at home even though I ask him to spit it out. She said that he must like using the suction to get it out. He then asks if he could have a “Mr. Thirtsy” at home. I said I didn’t know where we could get one. He then tells us that “Maybe this one will stretch all the way to our house and we could borrow this one.” He basically had everyone cracking up by this point.

So she finishes up and the dentist comes in to check him out. You can tell the assistant had already informed him about Asher. He comes in and asks him,

“So how old are you Asher?”
“I’m 5.”
“And how many teeth do you have?”
“20.”
“Are you sure.”
“Yep. I’m sure.”
“Well can I just look in there to double check?”
“Yep. You can, but I already told you. There’s 20.”
“Well, I believe you. But I kinda have to count again. That’s my job.”
“Ok.”
Dentist counts his teeth again. “Well you’re right. There’s 20.”
“Yeah. I know. I told you!”

Sad news is that the dentist told me he sees braces in our future because of the way his jaw sits when he bites down. He says he will need some help with that in the future. (Yay.)

Good news is that Asher has no cavities and his teeth look really good and especially shiny now.

He got to go home with a new Lightning McQueen toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss. And yes, he got to choose something out of the treasure chest. Of course, he chose a wind up mouth that walked. He calls it his chomper.

He has already informed me that he can’t wait to go back in 6 months so he can choose from the treasure chest again.

And I thought he would be nervous….

When things get overwhelming…

The name of my blog is “The Gift of Gifted.” When I started this blog and I was trying to think of a name for it, I thought of The Gift of Gifted right away and then tried to think of other ideas as well. Nothing else seemed to fit so I kept coming back to it. Being gifted really is a gift from God. There’s no way around it.

Imagine how you feel when you are given a gift. This may not be something you’ve asked for, but it was a really thoughtful gift that someone gave you. It was perfect for you and this person picked it out just for you. This gift is really useful and you can do a lot of things with it, if you learn how to use it properly. You can see where this is going…this is just like being gifted with giftedness.

However, there is one problem. You want to use this gift properly, but you open up the box and it is in pieces. You dig through all the pieces to try to find the instructions, but they’re missing. You don’t know how to put it together, so you start trying to put random pieces together to see what fits and what doesn’t. You become frustrated and overwhelmed with all these little pieces that need to be put together. No one else is going to get it put together for you so you keep at it until finally it all comes together.

Sometimes life with a gifted child is frustrating. It gets overwhelming. There are so many needs that are different and that require so much of your attention and you feel like you’re doing great with one need, but then other needs pop up and it all begins to add up and you end up buried in a pile of needs and emotions and you don’t know where to begin to dig yourself out.

As Asher gets older and bigger, he is also getting more intelligent. This is all great. However, we are noticing more “issues” (for lack of a better term) are starting to come up. He is still faced with overexcitabilities that he has to cope with. Mostly the psychomotor OE that we are still trying to harness. Summer is over now and we have considerably less time and ability to play outside. Outside has always been his outlet for energy. He was able to ride his bike, run around, jump on his trampoline, swing, pretend to drive cars, etc. When he is forced inside all he has are his drums. Luckily he plays them several times a day. He also goes to taekwondo class 3 times a week now so he has that as well. Unfortunately these things just don’t seem to be enough and he is wiggling around like he has ants in his pants.

A couple weeks ago Asher woke me up asking me if I could come lay with him in his bed because it was still a long time before he could get up and he was bored. It was 6:02 am and we always let him get up around 7. I told him that I was trying to sleep and he just needed to close his eyes and go back to sleep. A few minutes later he asked again so, since I wasn’t getting more sleep anyway,  I went in to lay with him. I got under his covers with him and snuggled up and told him to go to sleep. That’s when I noticed his body wasn’t going to let him go to sleep. He was awake, so his body wanted to move…it needed to move. His feet were fidgety, he kept rubbing his eyes, yawning, he’d roll around in bed and change positions a lot. I wrapped my arms around his and held him in an effort to calm his body, but his little body just wouldn’t give up. It was no use. I really felt bad for him because it was like he was actually really tired and wanted to go to sleep, but he was literally unable to lay still. He didn’t have the ability.

This started me thinking about getting him a weighted blanket (which we did get thanks to my mom who made him one) to see if it helped him calm his body enough to sleep better and longer….which also got me thinking about his sensory issues. I’ve always known they were there, but at what point do sensual overexcitabilities become full blown sensory processing disorder? Asher has always had issues with textures of food, so much that he gags and sometimes vomits when he tries new foods. He sometimes overreacts to a light touch. He tells me he doesn’t like being tickled. As a baby he would arch his back and try to get away if I rubbed his back to try to put him to sleep. He hates getting his nails trimmed. Suddenly he complains about taking a bath. He doesn’t like loud noises unless he’s the one making them (and he makes plenty of loud noises, for sure!). Finally, just tonight he told me he wanted to wear a different shirt to bed because he didn’t like the tag in the one he was wearing. Oh boy.

Those are the heightened senses, but there’s also the senses that I feel he is under-responsive to. His sense of smell is almost non-existent. I noticed this awhile ago when we drove by a dead skunk in the road and the smell was so intense I could taste it. When I audibly complained about it to Asher he had no clue what I was talking about. He told me he didn’t smell anything. This was later confirmed when I asked him about different smells and he’d tell me his “smeller doesn’t work.”

And that’s just the sensory part of it all. We are having serious issues with listening and doing as he is told without arguing about it. Gifted kids are really good at giving you a list of reasons why they can’t do that right now when you ask them to do something.
-“Asher, clean up your toys please so we can get ready for bed.”
-“But I can’t clean up my cars until I finish pretending to fix the transmission on this Camaro.”
-“Asher…now.”
-“The Camaro can’t drive until it’s transmission is fixed. I can’t put it away because it can’t drive yet.”
-“Pick it up and walk it over to the car box please.”
-“Maybe I’ll leave it out and I can finish it when I come back downstairs.”
-“We asked you to put it away. Now put it away.”
-“But..I want to play with it in the morning!”
-“5…4…3..2.. ”
-*heavy sigh and runs to put it away.* He knows when we count we mean business and there will be a consequence if we get to 1.

We are working on following directions immediately, but when you have a stubborn, strong-willed child this takes time.

We have been working so hard at trying to identify and cope with all these issues that another issue showed up today and practically slapped me in the face. It hurt. It stung. I realized that I have failed to teach him something. Something important. We have always taught Asher to say thank you when he is given something or someone does something for him. He knows that it is good manners to do so, but we have failed to explain why this is important.

Long story short, I spent the entire morning and half of the afternoon focusing all of my attention on Asher. We played Legos, we did school, we ate lunch together, we watched YouTube videos, we played drums and piano, and finally we went back to the Legos. This was not enough for him. He literally told me that it wasn’t enough and I needed to play with him more when I tried to take a break for myself. He also went as far as to say that the garage I built for him (out of what Lego pieces were left after building a Lego set this morning) was horrible and looked bad and weird. Needless to say I took that garage that I built and tossed it back into the Lego box so that it broke into pieces. He got that message and we had a long talk about how we need to be thankful for what we are given and what people do for us because they are using their time to be nice to us. They don’t have to do it, but they do it to the best of their ability. I’m just glad that it was my feelings he hurt with his words and we were able to (hopefully) fix it before he took it out of the house. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard some of the words that came out of his mouth and I felt like somewhere I had gone wrong in my parenting. What a perfect time of year to get to teach him about thankfulness though.

Like the Lego garage that was broken into pieces, and the gift of giftedness, there are so many pieces of Asher’s life that still need put together. There will be good times and bad times and I know this isn’t the last time that I will feel overwhelmed with the task that God has given me to raise this boy.  My only wish is to raise him to be a kind, respectable, successful man in whatever he chooses to be. My job as his parent is to help him put all these pieces together to the best of my ability, but it is him who must take that finished gift and use it to its full potential.

At the end of the day, Asher is still my little gift from God. He is that thoughtful gift that I was given to put all the pieces together and I will forever love and treasure that gift.

Our musically gifted child

When I was really young, I had a favorite song. “Red, Red Wine” by UB40. Not sure why it was that song. I just enjoyed the sound of it. I had no idea what I was singing about, but I just sang along whenever I heard it. Music wasn’t huge in my life at that point, but I was aware of it and it made me, like everyone else, feel good.

Around the age of 10 I started playing the violin. I was in orchestra in 5th grade and was taught the basics of playing the violin. It wasn’t until I was 13 that something sparked in me.

My brother had a friend across the street at our lake house that had a drum set. I tagged along one time and I got to play it. I had no idea what I was doing, but I immediately fell in love. After that, I would do anything to play the drums. Of course, my brother didn’t want me tagging along with him and his friend, so it was a constant battle to get over there and play. I can’t remember exactly what he told me, but it was something along the lines of, you’ll never play the drums. Drums are for boys and you’re a girl. That sounded like a challenge to me! Luckily, the parents were super nice people and told me I could come over and play anytime. They’d go out of town and give me the key to their house and I would not only take their dog out for a walk, but afterward I’d get to play those drums until my heart was content.

But my heart wasn’t content. I needed drums of my own. I began asking my parents for a drum set. You can guess the answer I got. I bugged them daily for years until they finally agreed to let me rent a set from our local music store. They sounded awful…and they sat right in the middle of my bedroom…but they were my drums and I loved it for the 9 weeks that I got to have them. Nevertheless, it sparked a love of music in me and I began teaching myself any instrument I could get my hands on. I still played violin and over time I also learned guitar, piano, bass, harmonica, and a little bit of trumpet. Any chance I got to play around with an instrument, I took it. I spent study halls in high school in the practice rooms on the piano, or a friend’s french horn, bassoon, saxophone, or just playing my violin to try and get better. I gained knowledge of music theory. I was in orchestra, choir, music theory, piano, dance, and music composition classes. The fire was burning in me.

 

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One of my favorite photos….yes, they’re all me.

To conclude this little story, though I could go into greater detail and make it much longer, I finally bought my own drum set in college and never looked back. Drums remain my main instrument and I love every chance I get to play. I’ve played shows, hundreds of worship sets, retreats, awards shows, revivals, and I practice at home any chance I get.

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All that to say, I was the pregnant lady with the headphones on my belly. I had no clue if it worked, but I was going to try. I wanted my baby to hear music before he even entered the world. I could only pray that he would even kind of enjoy music as much as I did. Well it worked.

I have videos of Asher as a baby, probably 6 months old with a toy that played a short little song when a certain button was pushed. Every time that song came on, he’d raise his hand, touch his thumb to his pointer and middle fingers, and move his arm side to side like he was conducting. His head would tilt to the side a little and his eyes would close. I’m not certain if he was imitating something he’d seen me do or if he was truly feeling the music. I remember it almost bringing tears to my eyes watching him as he did it repeatedly, each time that song came on. He’s a musical baby!

As soon as he was able to sit up, I’d sit him on my lap, put drum sticks in his hand, and let him drum on my drum set. Nothing good came out of it, but he never complained about it. Finally one day at around 18 months old, during our prayer time before bed, he would ask God to bring him some “brums.” We couldn’t really understand any other word he was saying but then we’d hear “brrrums.” Christmas was coming.

He prayed for “brums” every single night for 4 months until he finally got some “brums” for Christmas. It was just a little toy drum set, but it was all he needed…for now. We told him that they were from Jesus because he had prayed for them so much. All his other gifts were from Santa. But those drums? Those were from Jesus.

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Christmas morning with his new “brums”

Little did we know, those drums really were a gift from God. They ended up being Asher’s GIFT. If there weren’t so many books and movies already called “The Gift” I would write this story into a book and that’d be what I call it. I’m not saying he sat down at those drums for the first time and hammered out a drum solo Neil Peart style, but the passion was there from day 1. He got those drums just before he turned 2 and by the time he was 3 he had found the beat. He was playing basic beats and becoming more and more creative with them by the day. He had also gotten bored with his toy drums and had moved on to playing on my drums all the time.

We decided it was time for an upgrade. We sold his toy drums and got him a Ludwig Jr set. This set is the real thing, but for young people. He was so excited about them! We started making videos of his playing and posting them on YouTube to have a comparison of how far he comes over the years. He has already come a loooooong way. It is amazing!

He enjoys playing worship songs that he hears me play and his own original songs that he makes up. It’s been more recently that I noticed he was making up his own beats and playing them consistently every time, and then adding his own original lyrics as well. We have recorded one of them and we will be recording more in the near future.

I prayed for a child that liked music. I got a child that is a musician. A child with a passion for music. At 4 he is playing drums, writing his own music, listening to music, and is constantly singing something. He also has a violin that he has shown interest in learning, he is interested in the piano and guitar,  and he is slowly starting to show knowledge of reading music. There’s no telling where he will be in 5 or 10 years. It’s not going to take long though.

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How do I know this is truly something he enjoys? That’s easy. He asks me if he can go play drums. Daily. Several times a day. Not a day goes by that he isn’t playing drums. If he’s not on his drums, he’s singing something or tapping something on whatever surface he can find. If he didn’t enjoy it, I would be the one asking him to go practice. Drums are his thing, just like his mommy! My goal is to encourage that and make it easy for him to chase his dreams. At least easier than it was for me.

I have read and heard several parents talking about how there’s no way they would allow drums in their house. They talk about the headache it would cause and how they would need earplugs. I always wonder about that. Am I just weird because it doesn’t bother me? Maybe it’s because I’m a drummer too. Maybe it’s because my child showed potential from the beginning. I don’t know. All I do know is that my son has a gift, and I’m glad that he was given permission to find it.

 

Sleep and the gifted child

I always hesitate to write this one because there are people who struggle with sleep daily with their children or with young infants.  I know it can always be much worse, so I have erred on the side of caution about this one. However, with Asher, sleep is such a weird topic. He sleeps well, but he also doesn’t sleep well.

When Asher came home from the hospital as a newborn, we had a bassinet in our bedroom that had been passed through my dad’s side of the family for many, many years. Pretty much every Thomas family baby has slept in this bassinet, so I was excited that Asher got to be a part of it too. We planned for him to sleep in it in our room for awhile. At least until we got settled into a routine. Little did we know, Asher had other plans from day 1.

We put Asher in the bassinet asleep and we got into bed to go to sleep as well. Twenty minutes later, he was awake crying. Got him settled down and back to sleep…twenty minutes again and he was awake. Every 20 minutes he was awake. He was not feeling the bassinet. Luckily my mother-in-law was staying with us so she was able to take him until he had to eat again so we could get a couple hours of sleep. She took him to his room and put him in his crib. He slept a full 2 hours and only woke up because it was time to eat. We’re still not sure if it was that he liked the mattress better in the crib, or the extra space, or just that he’d rather be alone to sleep, but from then on he slept in his crib.

He slept “through the night” by time he was 6 weeks old. By through the night, I mean the baby definition of “through the night” which is 5 hours. This was great, we thought. He’s a pro sleeper. We were wrong.

Now that he’s a little older, he sleeps all night 99% of the time. I know what you’re thinking…”That’s awesome! What’s the problem here?” Well he sleeps, but he doesn’t sleep well. His little mind never shuts off, so even when he enters a deep sleep he starts dreaming. As far as we can tell, his dreams are very vivid and full of energy, adventure, and movement. He tosses and turns, he snores, he moves his arms and legs, he sits up in bed, he talks, and on the rare occasion he walks around. I remember one night (when he was probably 2 years old), for example, he got up and ran in circles around his room and then slammed himself into the wall. He then got back up, laid back down in his bed and went back to “sleep” (though he was actually “asleep” the whole time). Just last night he apparently sat up around 1 am, turned his lamp on, then laid down and slept with his light on all night. I did not wake up for this, but my husband went in and turned his light back off when he got up for work. When we asked him what he was doing, he said “Uhhh, I don’t know…I think I was looking for Raon (his lion stuffed animal) or something and I couldn’t find him so I turned my light on.” This morning Raon still laid down at the foot of the bed, so he never managed to find him.

I usually go in to his room to check on him before I go to bed. Most of this is because I’m still the paranoid mom checking to see if he’s breathing. But a lot of it is also to straighten his covers or cover him back up, turn him right side up in his bed again (he ends up with his feet at his pillow quite often), or to tell him to lay back down if he happens to be sitting up. He’s just so restless.

Even through all of this restlessness, he still only gets about 10 hours of sleep on a good night. That is the bare minimum suggested for kids his age. Most 4-year-olds are recommended to sleep around 12 hours a night. Asher falls asleep around 8:30-8:45 at night and wakes up sometime between 6 and 6:45 in the morning. This morning, after his 1 a.m. adventures in stuffed animal hunting. I caught him awake at 5:30, and then awake for good at 6:25 a.m.

Even though he doesn’t sleep well or enough, he manages to function well throughout the day. He has his moments where he zones out or yawns or even gets a little grumpy, but most of the time you wouldn’t even know that he doesn’t sleep well. I guess this is because they say some gifted children can function on less sleep than other kids their age. It’s just so hard for them to sleep because of how fast their brains go and they can’t turn them off. I’ve read stories about other gifted children who don’t go to sleep until the wee hours of the morning and then they function on 4 or 5 hours of sleep. Like I said at the beginning, we could have it so much worse, but it’s still enough to cause concern.

We are tired. I have gotten used to the dark circles under my eyes. Yes, I need more sleep, but at the same time I look forward to the quiet time after he goes to bed (see this post about his overexcitabilities). Quiet time normally wins and I’m normally up too late for my 6:30(ish) wake-up call, but that’s on me. I look forward to, but I also dread that first day he sleeps in. I will be awake, checking on him, hoping he’s not coming down with something until I get used to the idea that he sleeps in. Then I’ll get some sleep. If not, well there’s always when he heads off to college.

 

The Lonely Kid in the Cafeteria

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Can we talk about this meme that has been making the rounds for quite awhile now? I’m sure you’ve seen it…the one about how we need to care less about how academically gifted our child is and more about whether they sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria. Yeah…this one right here…
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There is so much wrong with this meme. The first time I saw it, I read it and I thought “well…yeah.” But then I thought about it more. It’s not easy to offend me, but this just rubbed me the wrong way.

First of all, no one chooses for a child to be gifted. Most of us do not care if our child is academically gifted or not, but that’s the card we were dealt. Children who are truly gifted are born that way. It’s not taught. I think the biggest problem in the meme is the use of the word “gifted.” Taking what I just said about how a child is born gifted and has no control over how gifted they are, let’s replace that word “gifted.” Let’s replace it with something else that someone is born with and can’t control….like autism, for example. So…”We need to care less about whether our children are autistic and more about whether they sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria.”  Huh? I think that would raise some eyebrows, don’t you? It’s comparing apples to oranges. It doesn’t make sense!

Next, did anyone stop to think that maybe the gifted children ARE the lonely kids in the cafeteria? We all know that they are different than their peers. We also know that being different usually is not widely accepted in a school setting. Gifted kids are usually among the bullied and picked on. They struggle to make friends. They just might be the kids that are sitting alone in the lunchroom or playing alone at recess.

The other problem I have with this meme is what it implies. It kind of suggests that gifted kids are not kind. Why can’t a child be gifted AND sit with the lonely kid? I don’t think anyone is waking up in the morning and saying “Today I’m going to be gifted, so I won’t have time for any of those sad, lonely kids.”

Obviously, as a parent of a gifted child, I am not spending my days telling Asher that because he’s gifted he’s better than everyone else. That because he’s gifted he doesn’t have to be kind to others. Do I care that he’s gifted? Yes. I have to care that he is because I have to provide for his different needs. It would be wrong of me not to care.  But I would definitely love him the same if he wasn’t. Do I care if he’s kind to everyone he meets? Absolutely I do! I teach kindness daily! But should I care less about his giftedness because I want him to be kind? That’s like asking if I should stop worrying about changing the oil in my car because I want it to look pretty. It just doesn’t make sense!

Instead I think the meme should simply state “No matter who your child is, or what cards they’ve been dealt in life, we should care that they are kind to everyone.” The end.

An introvert raising an extroverted child

Let me let you all in on a little secret….I am an introvert.

Ok, fine. For those that know me you know this is no secret. I am a socially anxious introvert. I can’t hide my introversion. I can’t just put it away for awhile while I go hang out with a group of people. It’s always with me. I enjoy being alone. I prefer quiet. I’m always wondering what people think of me (and yes…I care). I prefer to just listen. Not to talk. I have a very small group of close friends. I’d rather hang out at home with my family than go out to a party. Oh and talking on the phone? Forget about it!

You know, I believe God has a great sense of humor. He gave me a child. A beautiful, amazing child. He knew His plans for me to be a stay-at-home mom. He knew I would be with this child all day, every day, as I homeschool him (I did not plan to homeschool, but God knew I would long before I did). He knew I would be in charge of making sure he has chances for socializing. But the funniest thing of all….He gave me an extremely extroverted child.

Since before Asher could talk he was talking to people. Yes, you read that right! I taught him to communicate with me through sign language before he could talk. He knew how to sign things like more, thank you, please, potty, mom, dad, sorry, milk, eat, etc. I read that this was a great way for babies to communicate and it helped cut down on tantrums due to being able to express his needs despite a lack of vocabulary. Apparently it also helps extroverted babies become social with everyone they came in contact with even at a very young age.

Though the cutest thing was, when you sign “thank you” your hand goes up to your chin and extends outward toward the other person. However, Asher would put his hand to his lips and extend outward, so everyone thought he was blowing them a kiss. This got a little awkward from time to time. Not to mention when he would sign “dad” to random men in the grocery store.

Anyway, the point is, Asher thrives on talking to people. I can see the difference in him when he has had some social time versus when he hasn’t. His eyes light up, he has a little extra spring in his step, and he smiles so much more. He doesn’t discriminate either. He will chat with babies, kids his own age, older kids, adults, senior citizens, pets, himself….I’m sure if he came across an alien he would want to know how it’s day has been. He will talk anyone’s arm off too.

Then there’s me. When I’m chatting with people I often find myself searching for words. I can’t find them. I want to respond, but I don’t know what to say. I usually can only mutter “yeah”, or “oh no.” I become uncomfortable and I feel like I’m being judged by my lack of words. When I think I have something to add I start to stutter, to slur my words, to get tongue-tied. Then I just want to run and hide. After a conversation with someone I am usually mentally exhausted and need to replay the conversation in my head to make sure it went ok.

So where Asher really gets a pick-me-up from chatting with people, I’m the opposite. However, I know I must persist. He needs to be social with whoever will allow him to be. So I can’t put my introversion away, but I can pretend that I did. For him.

Through him (and also a more extroverted husband), I have come out of my shell a great deal since he came around, but I still find myself keeping that shell around just in case I need to crawl back inside. I do still feel more comfortable in that shell, but I am capable of coming out for a little bit to stretch my legs….and my limits.

So…if Asher starts talking to you and I join him but don’t add much, if anything, to the conversation, please know I’m not being stuck up, I’m not mad at you, I’m not trying to be rude, I’m just listening. I’m enjoying allowing my extroverted child to thrive on something he needs to be happy.  He really doesn’t know a stranger and, though that can be a little unsettling at times, I admire that about him.

 

Young, Gifted, and Misunderstood

I recently saw the movie Gifted. Great movie, by the way! I smiled, laughed, cried, got angry, and cried some more. Though the main character wasn’t the exact match of my son, it was still great to see a movie that could raise a little bit of awareness about giftedness and help people understand it a little better. Though I enjoyed the whole movie, there was one line that was spoken by the main character that stood out to me. It has been in the back of my mind for weeks and I’ve wanted to write a blog about it. I’ve started it several times only to delete it all because the words just weren’t coming to me, but now…now I think I’ve got it.

The line that stuck out was when Mary (the main character) was participating in show and tell in school. She was showing the class her cat. If you haven’t seen the movie, you’ll need to know that her cat only has one eye. She explained to the class that her cat only has one eye, but she didn’t know how it happened and then she said this…
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I don’t think that line was supposed to be a big secret, hidden meaning because of the close up of her teacher’s face after she said it, but it definitely hit home in this house. Our son is no stranger to being misunderstood and it’s not an uncommon thing among gifted children.

Asher is only 4 and homeschooled, so the things that he is misunderstood about are a little different than other gifted kids. A lot of misunderstandings happen in the school setting among teachers, peers, administrators, and other parents. Asher’s misunderstandings happen at home, with peers his age, and around town.

A gifted child can sometimes take a person by surprise. Especially when they are young. Our son is tiny in physical size. When people look at him, they see a little toddler. However, wait until he starts talking to you and watch out! I don’t know how many times I’m asked how old he is in a single trip to the grocery store, but it’s a lot. People just can’t understand how a boy that small can make that many words come out of his mouth in that short of a timeframe….and they usually make quite a bit of sense! Asher is also quite proud to tell people that he is in first grade. People find it very hard to believe that a 4-year-old is in first grade so they usually ask me about it, like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

I also get the people that will ask me questions about him when he’s right next to me, like he’s unable to answer questions about himself. I usually will just repeat their question to him for him to answer. “How old are you Asher? Tell them how old you are.”

Recently we were at an event and there was a lady at a booth handing out samples in envelopes and handed me one. Asher immediately grabbed it from my hand and began looking at the words on the front of the envelope to see what it was. The lady looked at him and said, in a very condescending tone, “You can’t read!” Asher just looked up at her with almost a glare. I tried to sound as nice as I could as I gently told her that yes he could read and that he reads at a 3rd grade level. I didn’t stick around to hear her response. I know people don’t mean any harm by comments like these because they actually think that a child of his age would not know how to read, but sometimes it just bothers me. It’s comments like those that make children like Asher ask questions. “Why doesn’t that lady think I can read? Am I not good enough at reading? Am I not supposed to be reading?  Why aren’t I like other kids my age? What’s wrong with me?” I know for a fact we have heard Asher tell us that he will only be able to do some things when he reaches a certain age (“I’ll learn to tie my shoes when I’m 5.” “I’ll be able to make my own sandwich for lunch when I’m 7.”) In his mind, he has set limits on when someone is supposed to be able to do things and no earlier and I feel like comments like these are what puts these ideas in his brain…and it’s unfortunate.

One of the biggest things that Asher is misunderstood about is his personality. I’ve heard numerous people tell me, in these exact words, that “he’s just not like other kids.” He’s just different. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is. Asher has a hyper maturity about him. If it weren’t for his psychomotor overexcitability I think he would be seen as extremely mature for his age, but he just has so much energy that it’s hard for others to see his maturity. He has never been one to throw a huge tantrum about anything. He isn’t the kind of kid to refuse to eat his dinner because he wanted the orange plate and you gave him the blue one. He enjoys having conversations with adults. His understanding of how life works is unique for his age.

His favorite thing in the world is being able to “work” at various places when he is able. This has recently caused others to misunderstand him as people don’t get why a young child is behind the cash register and they don’t think he should be there. (Yeah, he probably shouldn’t be there, but it’s just what he thrives on. No one is making him do it. He literally cannot wait to get the opportunity.  I would describe his happiest moments as the ones where he is helping customers while he is “working”.)

Asher’s other happiest moments are when he is allowed to be a leader in something.  Unfortunately this can come across as bossiness to some people who don’t know him and his intentions. He is always pretending something and when he is given the opportunity to lead, he begins to pretend to be the “teacher” or the one in charge and can be known to just completely take over like he’s the boss. To a person who doesn’t understand this, he can be seen as trying to step on toes or take control. Then the mindset becomes, “You are just a little kid. Who do you think you are?” Really, at that moment, he is literally pretending to be the adult.

I really think Asher would rather be an adult. You always hear talk about kids saying they never want to grow up, but I think Asher is the opposite. He cannot wait to grow up.  Everything he seems to want to do in life are things that he is not “allowed” to do until he is older. He wants a job, he wants to drive a car, he wants to run a business, he wants to be on the worship team at church, he wants to be in charge, he wants to have grown up conversations, he wants to be allowed to do whatever he wants without having to ask first. When these are the things a 4-year-old wants in life, it’s easy to see how he can be misunderstood. As the parent, it’s heartbreaking and I don’t know how to fix it for him. People would tell me to “let him be a kid,” but sometimes I’m the one begging him to “just be a kid.” However, since he doesn’t want to just do kid things, I am always looking for ways to allow him to be “older” in his little tiny body. After all, the Bible does say “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12). 

He may be hard to understand, but it is my job as his parent to build him up to be self-confident and to reach his full potential. It has to be so hard to be a much older person in personality living in a preschooler’s body. I can only imagine the things he could do if he was able to reach his goals sooner than later. He may change the world one day…when he looks to others like he’s old enough.

Back to school- Advice for teachers of gifted children

It’s the end of July and, though it seems early, kids are headed back to school very soon. This is an exciting time for some with eagerness to see their friends, wondering who is in class with them, meeting teachers, and getting new school supplies and clothes. For some gifted children, this time can bring up feelings of fear and anxiety. Will I make new friends this year? Will the other kids in class accept me for who I am? Will my teacher understand me? Will I be forced to sit through another year “learning” things I already know? Will I like school this year? Here is a guide for teachers of gifted children to help make their school year as good as it can be.

~Every gifted child is different. Take some time to get to know them. Talk to them. Talk to their parents. See what makes them thrive, what they enjoy, what topics interest them. Also learn what makes them nervous, what overwhelms them, what makes them shut down, what can you do to help.

~Watch for bullying. Gifted children are prone to being bullied because of how different they are. They are perceived as the “know-it-alls,” “weirdos,” “teacher’s pet,” “suck ups,” you name it, they’ve probably been called it. Watch for a change in their behavior.  A bullied student will go from being confident in themselves and their abilities to slacking on purpose so that they aren’t seen as the “smart ones” anymore. They will pretend not to know the answers. They will stop asking questions they are curious about. They will purposefully miss problems on their math test so their grade lowers and they don’t appear as gifted as they are. It’s a slippery slope and once they’re on it, it’s hard to bring them back to their full potential.

~Statistically, a gifted child comes into a school year already knowing at least 50% of what will be taught in the coming year. Imagine having to sit through roughly 4 and a half months “relearning” things you’ve already known for years. I know I would become a grumpy mess and would probably cause a behavior problem. Boredom is an epidemic among gifted kids in schools. The only way to fix this is to stop classifying them by only their chronological age and put them in classes that meet their intellectual age. You may say “well…he’s not mature enough to be in class with the older kids.” Or “I don’t see him performing at the level of the older kids, so I don’t think he could keep up.” Try it…you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back.

~Some gifted children love being leaders. Use that to their advantage. If they know how to do something, let them teach it to the class if they want to. Let them help a friend if they’re struggling with a concept. Give them a special job in the classroom. Let them help you plan a lesson or dedicate who is in what small group. Some really enjoy feeling important or like they are in charge of something. However, only do this if they have shown interest in leadership. Some would rather not.

~Accommodate their overexcitabilities. Seat them in an area of the room where they can stand, rock, bounce, or fidget while they do their work without being a distraction to others.  Provide a calming/quiet corner. Take occasional brain breaks, like music and movement time, restroom breaks, a few minutes of free reading time, etc. Try not to punish them for things they can’t control.

~Don’t give busy work. If a student finishes their work long before others in the class, do not burden them with more of the same thing. They finished quickly because they get it. It’s mastered. Let them move on to something else that interests them. Let them research something on the computer, or read something in a book, or let them complete a job for you that you need done.

~Above everything else, if you have a student that is classified as gifted you must know that they didn’t choose this for themselves. Their parents didn’t choose it either. Though some think “gifted” can be acquired by drilling with flashcards, nonstop activity books, and constant quizzing, that does not give them a gifted child. It gives them a bright child who knows a lot about certain subjects. There is so much more to being “gifted” that can’t be drilled into their heads.

Don’t be afraid to step outside of the box and try something different. Educating a gifted child can be a challenge, but it is also a privilege. Every day is a chance for both of you (teacher and student) to learn something new. Have a great year!