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I walk the line June 24, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son.
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I’ve been watching the older son grappling with his courses for the past year.  He was taking courses through an independent study organization to finish up some credits he needs to enter college.  I didn’t feel comfortable with some of these (especially literature classes), so we decided to go this route.

In doing this, I’ve discovered that the older son has a deadly combination of issues: ADHD and perfectionism.  I didn’t quite understand how the two fed into each other, but I can definitely see it now.

The older son also had the disadvantage of not working in the classes with peers.  The first few he did were in print rather than online. He would struggle for days to complete a single assignment, and it didn’t make sense to me at first.

Another thing I found odd was how one of his teachers was initially very abrupt with him.  It didn’t take long before she had completely changed her tune and was being incredibly nice and encouraging, which I thought was odd.

The second set of classes have been online and part of the assignments involved discussing things in a forum, so the student could see what the other students had submitted.  This was an eye-opening experience for me.  It also helped me make sense of his teacher’s dramatic change in behavior.

After watching him and seeing what other students have submitted, I realized three things:

1 – He can easily and quickly finish things that are simple.

2 – When things appear to be more difficult and/or time-consuming, he has difficulty concentrating and finds himself unable to stay on task.

3 – Part of the reason things are difficult and/or time-consuming is because he has seriously high expectations for himself that are way beyond what is often required.

I’m not saying he doesn’t have ADHD, because he most certainly does.  We tried for years to forego medication.  One day, he came to me and said he couldn’t even concentrate on projects he wanted to do for fun, so we opted at that point to look at something to help.  (He does take meds, but it’s the lowest dose that’s effective.)

However, in homeschooling him, neither of us had a reference for what a ‘typical’ high schooler should be doing in his classes.  He would give me an assignment, and we would spend a lot of time revising it.  He worked very hard, but progress was slow.  In one or two cases, he would hand things in half done because of lack of time.

What surprised me is that even the items he handed in half done or that were rough drafts often came back with exceptional grades.  I remember one assignment full of rough drafts of short essays which he aced.  I couldn’t figure it out.

The problem is that both of us really expect a lot out of him, and I learned, after seeing work that other students were doing, that it was likely too much.  Far too much.  While he was going into a detailed analysis of similarities because characters from two different novels set in two completely different cultural and temporal reference frames, it appears his fellow students who likely are trying their hardest, are writing something much more simplistic.  They are being told to elaborate, and he’s being told to eschew obfuscation.

The thing that has me concerned is that college is around the corner, and I worry that he’s going to continue to hold himself to those standards, even when it is so obviously working against him.  He struggles with the idea that it’s better to just hand something in, even if incomplete (by his standards), than to turn it in late, though perfect.

A lot of perfectionists deal with this.  I have told him that it’s not a bad trait, but that he needs to save it for the things that are really important to him.  If he wants to write the Great American Novel that people will pore over and debate and analyze, that is the time to be a perfectionist.  If he’s handing in an assignment that fulfills the requirements laid out by the teacher, who likely will spend ten minutes skimming the entry, being a perfectionist is really not going to help.  He needs to learn to walk that line.  To some extent, we all do.

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Comments»

1. hivelordlusa - June 25, 2014

Hoo boy have I seen this over the past three years. Older Son and I have been friends for a while and from what I’ve seen during brainstorm sessions on his and my fun projects… I mean no offence to him of course, he’s a great person and friend, but he definitely has trouble with those personality traits.

For example, he’ll do fantastic work on a short-to-medium-length single chapter story, and it can be really deep and make you think or just generally be a good read. But for longer, multi-chapter stories, it takes him a while to get writing chunks of a chapter done to a standard he’s happy with, let alone the entire chapter. And in that time he usually ends up coming up with more ideas he can’t stop himself from working on, which doesn’t help the other stories/projects/etc.

He even felt bad recently about an email I sent him to look over at any time; he wasn’t able to give a look at it when I sent it, due to his homework and courses (something I took into account, so I wasn’t going to rush him), and he felt guilty enough about not being able to give it a detailed analysis that he ended up not talking to me at all for a few days.

I hope he’s able to get better at controlling these aspects, for his sake…

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mareserinitatis - June 25, 2014

He comes by the tendency honestly. To give you an idea, I wrote this three years ago: http://engineerblogs.org/2011/08/getting-started-is-hard-to-do/

It’s definitely a double edged sword because he can produce excellent work but it takes a long time. It’s hard to back down from doing what one is capable of and choosing to do “good enough.” As an adult, though, I think time becomes a serious enough constraint that we learn to accept it, usually begrudgingly.

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hivelordlusa - June 25, 2014

Indeed. As I said, when he puts out story chapters, they are very high quality, as are his drafts and brainstorming/worldbuilding ramblings. He’s very helpful for planning stories, and it’s fun to help him in return and see what he creates.

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