And Then There Were 2Es

zebra-stripesA year and a half ago I swore that what was causing DC’s patient and highly capable first grade teacher exasperation was the fact that she was in charge of a room full of six-year-olds. DC was an exceptional six-year-old in every sense of the word: exuberant, excitable, full of mischief, overflowing with affection, immersed in all things boy and crushing on equally adorable six-year-old girls (he brings home phone numbers and asks me to arrange play dates).

Now multiply that times ten and you have the classroom menace. Many times when I met other parents for the first time, I would hear, “Oh, David. He’s so smart.”

I know now that “so smart” was parent-code for “get your kid under control, he’s disrupting my kid.” I was warned this would happen. But I just wasn’t ready to go through THAT again. I needed some time to catch my breath. Please. I’m just not up to THAT right now. THAT being the years previously spent getting older brother Alex sorted out after his diagnosis as a twice-exceptional with ADHD, OCD and anxiety. About two years ago, things started catching with Alex and I got a much needed breather. Got married to K. Got a new job. A new house. We seriously have an entire new life. It’s AWESOME.

So I somehow thought that at age 8, with all the signs pointing in that wayward direction, DC was due for a psych evaluation to determine the nature of his extra-everything. Extra excitability. Over emotional. Over talkative. Inexhaustible (me: envious!)  Over achieving (seriously, why is that bad?) He is popular, has lots of friends and is well-liked at school – even the parents who refer to him as “the smart one” do so without malice.

Academically, unlike his older bro, DC excels at all his subjects. He exhibits restlessness even when he is given extra work to do. Messy handwriting. Impatience with others. His delightful 2nd grade teacher groups him with a handful of others of his ilk. She never once complained but advised me that she supplies much challenge to keep him busy. When she wrote her teacher evaluation for the school psychologist it was so revealing that I felt like I needed to send her for a spa day to apologize.

DC visited the same school psychologist group that evaluated big bro Alex. Before she had even tallied the scores she told me he had done exceptionally well and was most likely gifted. He was also most likely ADHD. When the report came it was official.  I still wonder how statistically possible, that I would have two of three children diagnosed with learning differences and gifts that place them in the unlikely category of 2E?

DC, however is a completely different 2E animal than his brother. Where Alex struggled to keep up, DC struggles to slow down. Their giftedness comes in two totally different functions: Alex is non-verbal, DC is mathematical. Just like no two zebras have the same stripes. And just like two zebras who are alike but not really alike at all, my 2E boys have a long road ahead of learning in a world where expectations shift in the direction of someplace called “Normal.” Whatever that means.

NORMAL is a junction town in Arizona. I’ve been by. It’s not a destination. It’s a desolate landscape and not much happens there.

Exceptionality? Now THAT’s the place to be. Follow us as we figure out how to teach our second 2E kid how to learn in a world that favors average. Don’t just be the zebra. Be the stripes.

Never Give Up! Except When Surrender is the Appropriate Response

nevergiveupI’m not one to go chirping about “blessings in disguise.” I’m more the “watching for the other shoe dropping” type. Six weeks into it, I’ve declared the 2013-14 school year is going down in our family as The Year of Unconditional Surrenders.

No, we haven’t sold our belongings and become roving musical gypsies, although the suggestion was on the table. We didn’t convert to radical veganism although I deeply admire the conviction of my radical vegan friends. We still have three living, breathing, nearly inexhaustible children under our roof and K has not divorced me yet (4 months married).

We survived the complete upending our our lives when suddenly 1) it was the first day of school at NEW schools with all the angst and uncertainly therein, 2) our hot water line broke underneath the house, and 3)  I was laid off from my job. All of these things brought equal torment and anathema to our lives.

What we did not so completely survive was the rapid collapse of the will and health of a tween daughter when her dreams of the perfect school adventure were smashed to crumbs. For the last several years, B has been known as “the easy one.” Never had to prompt her to do homework. She read and studied and sang in public and had a glorious attitude about school. She made friends easily, got good grades, practiced diplomacy and when that failed, got decently in trouble for defending herself and her girlfriends when accosted by a force more powerful than herself (4th grade boys) but definitely not tougher.

So what brought this little go-getter down? She got sick. Not once, not twice, but three times in the first month of school. It’s week six of school and she has logged 10 days absent. The best I can get out of doctors is “She needs to eat better” and oh, let’s pipe some more blood out of that arm and test it ninety-two times. Exhausted, distressed and completely disoriented with her new surroundings, poor B begged for a way out.

At first, I scolded. We aren’t a family of quitters. We don’t just stop because the work gets hard. Her response was to hide the teachers notes from me about the failing grades and the missed assignments. Stomach aches, not eating, sleeping for 12+ hours began to look more like stress than illness. Finally, I dragged her back to the pediatrician, who confirmed yet another strep infection and gently suggested that we slow things down for B.

Tomorrow B starts at the public elementary school, not a bad one by any means, but not the college prep school she had set her sights on. My friend Tracee weighed in with concerns about her own gifted 5th grader, who was also getting to the point where stress and failed expectations transform a happy little girl into anything but a kid. Depression, hopelessness, anxiety, loss and despair. What a gift, eh?

Tracee said, that’s just no way for a kid to be.

We get enough of that in adulthood, and sometimes, quitting what makes you miserable is the only path out of the darkness. All you grown ups out there, I bet you know exactly what I mean.

Never give up your right to be happy

Do we overreact to ADHD? To evaluate or not to evaluate

IMG_0895Second week of school and, right on schedule, things got weird.

Alex started at a new school and while it’s going very well, he immediately began to lobby the special ed coordinator to change his electives from Spanish to Mandarin and from band to PE. Why? He doesn’t KNOW Spanish. And there’s no violin in band. I’m not sure the school is sympathetic.

Today, nearing the end of week two, both Alex and his sister are home sick, so the homework is piling up.

But possibly the most distressing development of the new school year is Alex’s little brother, first-grader D.C.

For years now, I always meet my children’s teachers ahead of time to have the opportunity to give them a heads’ up that goes something like this: “You’re in for a challenge with A, B or D.C. He/She is smart, manipulative and also very headstrong. You’ll find the easiest way to deal with him/her is (insert suggested strategy here).” Mostly they ignore my advice, and, sure enough, by week two, I’m getting notes, emails and less-than-pleased greetings from the new teacher.

Like Mrs. B, D.C.’s teacher, who was delightful and receptive when I first spoke to her on Monday, but looked deflated and exhausted on Friday. She gently suggested D.C. might need evaluation.

D.C. is extremely bright. He doesn’t struggle with learning the way Alex did at his age, which threw me off completely. It appears his impulsive behavior is only getting in the way of the other kids’ learning, while he’s tracking along just fine. Alex thinks that his own ADHD qualifies him to spot this in others. So he’s been telling D.C. that he’s a crazy little monkey boy because he has ADHD. I’ve held the position that the only thing D.C. suffers from is being six years old. But other adults are now pushing back on my hypothesis.

Which means that all the explaining I do about Alex can’t be repeated for D.C. I gotta come up with a whole new dialogue to talk about this kid. And consider going through the dreaded evaluation process again. The reason Alex initially was evaluated, in kindergarten, was because he was not learning, depressed and struggling to cope. D.C. is none of these. Is it right to have D.C. evaluated because the ones struggling to cope are the people around him? D.C. comes home from school smiling, singing and loving everyone to pieces. Sure, he tires us all out, but does that deserve evaluation and possibly medication?  I feel like running back to the behavioral psych is overreacting out of fear that everyone is going to talk smack about D.C. and hate being around him because, yes, he is exhausting.

On the other hand, waiting too long might throw him into Alex’s boat, where so many years have gone by without full understanding or recognition of the disorder that the damage to his self esteem is done.  I don’t want another 13-year-old adrift in a dark sea of adolescent depression.

What would you do? Evaluate or let it ride?

Forward Tumbling Down the Hall That’s How We Roll

Team Tempest, the guys at the helm of the Tempest Freerunning Academy, took us to dinner last night at Universal Studios City Walk. Just as we approached them a small child and his father, camera ready, intercepted us and drew Shane Daniels (300: Rise of An Empire, just back from 3 months of stunt work on a set in Louisiana) off the Forest Gump Bench for a photo. They knew him as an American Ninja Warriors star athlete. Actually, most of the team members held the title of American Ninja Warrior, and a Tempest coach, David “Flip” Rodriguez, had just recently soared through a qualifying round in Miami.

Getting the jitters, and psyched up, about dinner with the team.

Getting the jitters, and psyched up, about dinner with the team.

You could start to feel a bit intimidated by all this prowess if you were a 13-year-old kid. On the drive to dinner, Alex admitted he was nervous. By the time we sat down, the guys had him loosened up and Alex even did a lazy vault right there in the restaurant – just a warmup for the antics to come.

For Alex, the night capped off three days of confidence-building that couldn’t have been better timed. (It was also the one-year anniversary of his Uncle John’s death from ALS.) Throughout the night they chatted him up, indulged him in virgin pina coladas, table tricks and a standing back flip (Frosti, whom Alex referred to as the “godfather of parkour.”) The waiter arrived with ice cream sundaes for Paul Diddy Darnell’s birthday, and one for Alex, “Because Alex is cool,” then timed them in a race to finish. And if you see Bryan “the stache” Orosco around, ask him how Alex got $50 out of him.

For me the best part of the night was hearing the guys tell their stories, how they got from Point A to Point B. Just like traversing the gym from one side to the other – which a freerunner can easily do without ever touching the floor – all of their stories were about making a journey.

Paul founded Tempest on a belief that you can do what you love and what elevates you (in every way imaginable) and enriches others. But he didn’t do it without a safety net. He got his 4-year degree, then went on to make Tempest a team of world-class athletes doing something very few people outside the sport even knew WAS a sport.

Frosti, credited with kickstarting the culture and practice of parkour and also as the youngest contestant to appear on Survivor, started in his own backyard. No training, no technique and a lot of crash landings.

Ryan, Alex’s photographer and an aspiring filmmaker, talked about finally feeling at ease about being the guy who sometimes liked to forgo a night out with friends and read a good book (he’d just read Quiet by Susan Cain, the manifesto for introverts that I blogged about in March.https://educatingalexander.wordpress.com/2013/03/ ). Ryan’s most recent flim credit is After Earth.

And, Smoothie, the child of North Vietnamese parents who immigrated to the US when he was 13, told me about going back to his homeland and starting an impromptu freerunning class for the village kids. He upset the elders, who believed he was teaching them how to jump fences and commit thievery. And he implanted a very Western idea in the minds of about 30 Vietnamese children: You can love what you do and do what you love.

IMG_0984I know there were more stories at the other end of the table that I didn’t get to hear. And, out there in the world of parkour, are more untold stories of how an emerging sport began to connect the dots for youth around the world.

As a parent there is absolutely nothing that compares to seeing people treat my kid with respect and elevating his self-worth. Fame and antics aside, these guys gave Alex what he needed and what I couldn’t give him.

Motivation. Goals. Inspiration. And the biggest smiles I have ever seen on his face.

The Tempest Freerunning Academy Adventure Begins!

IMG_0917We are in L.A. for Alex’s long-awaited summer camp week at Tempest Freerunning Academy! The first day was a photo shoot and a private training session with a couple of the guys who you know and recognize. You just don’t know that you know them.

Tempest’s founder, Paul “Diddy” Darnell (L) stunt doubled for Henry Cavill – that’s right, the latest Superman in Man of Steel, and he’s got the baby blues to prove it. He also doubled Robert Pattinson in the TwilightSeries, and a lengthy filmography that includes “Battleship,” “Captain America” and “Like Water for Elephants.”

Victor “Showtime” Lopez (R) also got in on the fun – he’s got some impressive titles such as “After Earth,” “G.I. Joe,” “Bourne Legacy” and “Battleship.”

And many more…we met spectacular athletes today, and hope to meet even more as the week goes on. These guys are the real thing: the stunt man behind the actor is the guy that does the truly scary stuff (moms, look away) for REAL. They’re the ones who bring the magic. In more ways than just film.

Enters Alex, a skinny 13 year old kid with braces and his mom & stepdad following him around with camera phones.

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It’s hard to tell when Alex is excited. Mostly because several factors have to come together for him to register a truly genuine emotional response. 1) He has to be awake. The entire trip from Phoenix to LA he slept pretty much every time we stopped moving for three minutes or more.  2) He must be paying attention. When he wasn’t sleeping he was engrossed in his phone. I’m not sure he even glanced out the aircraft window once. 3) He needs to feel relaxed. He resisted and protested every time I snapped a picture and blocked my attempts to make videos. So I have a lot of video of his hand in front of his face and the back of his head.

But, as you will see, things began to change very quickly.

It wasn’t until we actually got out of the car in front of Tempest Freerunning Academy in Chatsworth, CA that Alex realized he was actually here. He wasn’t just excited – he was nervous. Alex isn’t used to being the center of attention–well, not THAT kind of attention. He was also worried, because the ADHD meds take his appetite away and make him tired (falling asleep all the time) and he knows he needs a lot of energy to get through this week. At lunch he lobbied to drop the meds. (We agreed to this change for a trial on the first day of camp, so we’ll see how that goes.)

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View from Barbie’s Dream House

The academy is an extraordinary place – every inch is sculpted to maximize an athlete’s ability to use his surroundings as a springboard. And, as Ryan, one of the trainers and Alex’s photographer put it, “You are relying on your body for your work.” So adapting to the environment around you is paramount. There is not easy way to get from point A to point B in the academy. The coach’s lounge – also known as Barbie’s Dream House – is settled at the topmost corner of the gym with access points being a firehouse pole, or, for the lazy, a treehouse ladder.

I’m dying to write more…but we gotta run get this kid ready for the first full day of camp…so more to come!

But I’ll leave you with this:

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Into the Wilderness We Go

door wildernessI’m working on this idea of trying to go through an entire day thinking the way Alex thinks. Kind of a twist on walk a mile in another person’s shoes, only applied to the brain. I definitely have days where my thoughts are clouded, I can’t seem to remember anything, and I’m just uninterested in the tasks I have to do. But usually that is all cured by a good meal and sleep.

Alex had some make-up work to complete for school over the summer, and to assist with this and ensure he had enough support since I am at work all day, I signed him up for homework help at a local, well-known tutoring center. This is not mere pocket change – private tutors are $55+ hr. in our area, so I had some pretty high expectations.

I was concerned when the tutor took the attitude that “I know how to work with kids like Alex” without even glancing at the six page questionnaire I completed, the psych eval and grade report that I brought to bring her up to speed. She was going to be spending 2 hours a day for the next 4 days with him. Worth, I believe, a ten minute review of a student’s history. Instead, it all went into a file and I was shooed away.

After the first session, Alex got in the car and declared, “I don’t like [this tutoring place].” The reason? The tutor didn’t listen to him, either He knew what he had to do. He understood the material. He needed help devising strategies to get the stuff in his brain out of there in outline form. For Alex this is like following a trail of breadcrumbs through the forest. At any point the trail can go askew and lead him off track. Finding his way back sometimes means starting the journey all over again.

 As far as I can tell, she prompted him to stay on task, explained the meaning of gerund and participial phrase, and helped him map out a daily study schedule with breaks for stretching and snacks. Oh, and tell me that he did good, he just needs to focus better. 

I know I can be a helicopter parent, but damn, I have earned that right to HOVER after all we have been through. No one is going to tell me to walk away and let them deal with Alex without hearing my carefully researched and documented history and understanding of his needs. Especially when I am PAYING you to listen.

So, I want to spend a day inside my 2E kid’s brain. In the past three days, he’s gotten maybe 20% of the work he has to do completed. And spent more time fretting over what he hasn’t completed than he has actually working at it.

After talking to three different people at this particular learning center about Alex and explaining his condition and needs, I determined that many people THINK they know what ADHD is about. They THINK they understand a kid with gifted abilities. But until you can swap your brain with Alex’s brain, you have to rely on me to give you some inclination of what goes on in there. I’m the best guide that you have into the unmapped wilderness that is twice-exceptional-ability. I may be mostly feeling my way through the dark but I know where the corners and the tripping hazards are.

Just about everyday I am disappointed in something, which is my own deflated souffle of an attitude that I have to deal with. I carry high expectations into everything and I’ve learned to quickly adjust those expectations when it comes to Alex. But I’m not adjusting them for the people who’s job it is to educate him. Epic fail.

*End Rant*

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

After nearly seven weeks (known as “the honeymoon” to me and K.) Alex & siblings returned home from visiting and traveling with their dad.

daft

This signals the end of my annual purge of exasperation, frustration, worry and headbanging. We had little to no contact with Alex while he was gone and when I did it was brief, uninformative and a little aggravating. You know, kind of like talking to a kid through his locked bedroom door.

It’s day three of his return and I am feeling pretty good about his attitude, demeanor, cooperativeness. Maybe he needed the break as much as I did? So far, although he would barely speak to me over the past seven weeks, he’s been conversational and chatty, sharing iFunny clips and greeting me in the morning with quips like, “Did you know that there are no cockroaches in Sweden?”

He cheerfully accompanied us to the gym, helped his little brother set up a computer, vacuumed his room, and got himself settled into his new “loft” bedroom at K.’s house where we moved over the summer.

Once he realized that the loft actually has no door to slam and lock, he immediately began engineering solutions to construct a door that would keep everyone out of his newly acquired space.

So,  Alex is back, but, it appears, a slightly improved model. We are carefully watching this creature who is hibernating with his Xbox, emerging occasionally for food and the fulfillment of other biological functions, as we creep toward the Big Day.

I’m a little uncomfortable with how well things are going. Ya know?