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It’s not easy being…gifted. April 10, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son, societal commentary, teaching.
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6 comments

demotivational posters - IT'S NOT EASY BEING GREEN
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I was surprised at how many people misunderstood my post on Asperger’s.  However, I suppose it’s bound to happen when people go on a rant in print.  What I’d like you to do, if you felt I was being offensive to Aspies, is go back and read the post, substituting “gifted” for “Aspie”.  Or you could use the word ‘green’. I still feel pretty much the same way.  The point I was trying to make was that labels suck.

Nicoleandmaggie left a comment in yesterday’s post that said:

I agree with the above folks that diagnosis of syndromes is important for treating the negative aspects of those syndromes, and that’s as true for giftedness as it is for Aspergers as it is for PCOS.

I’m not convinced this is true.  I can homeschool a child who is gifted without ever having a clue they’re gifted while being able to keep them adequately challenged.  Likewise, I could probably do the same with an Aspie child (since people used to keep giving the older son that ‘armchair diagnosis’).  The problem is not the mental state of the child as much as the fact that we expect all children to sit in classrooms with other kids their age and function exactly the same way.  With both Asperger’s and giftedness, it’s amazing how those labels suddenly don’t become as important when in a workplace setting.

If you’ve ever hung out with physicists or engineers, the ones that stick out are NOT the socially clueless, nerdy, fixated types: it’s the ones who make decisions emotionally and adhere to societal norms.  Really, the place we need these labels is when we have such an artificially constructed environment that necessitates ‘normality’ and conformity.  Further, the teachers of these classrooms (especially in elementary) tend to be of the personality type that values social conformity over rationality or innovative thinking.  Giftedness is viewed as a threat to the social fabric, and I would guess that Aspies, with their nonconformity to societal values, are in the same boat as the gifted (and it’s twice as bad for those who are both).  All this, despite the fact that the ‘teacher lecturing to kids sitting quiescently in their desks’ method of teaching has been shown to be one of the least effective methods of communicating information.

In my own life as a student and as a parent, I’ve had a fair number of teachers who think that gifted kids don’t need to be challenged, they need to be brought down a notch.  And, as a parent, the looks I get from teachers when the subject of giftedness comes up is far worse than having to say there’s an IEP for educational autism in place.  (And what good are labels like exceptionally gifted when no one has a clue what they mean anyway?!)  Yet, as an adult, I have never had to even address most of the differences my kids display in unstructured environments.  When not in school, people learn to deal with those who are different or to try to avoid those who are so different that they can’t deal with them.  I am thoroughly convinced that the reason we need labels is not to help the kids but to help the teachers deal with kids they don’t understand or don’t like.  Which makes me wonder why we keep using this model where we stick kids in these situations that almost always result in a negative impact on their self-esteem.

I think there are two solutions to the problem, best when used together.  First, I think the role of teachers is all messed up.  Second, I think the whole classroom organization scheme is messed up, too.  The older boy attended a gifted school for two years where the premise was that each kid could work at an individual level toward their own specific educational goals.  The teachers in this scenario became facilitators.  It’s actually a lot like homeschooling, except there are more kids and some of the learning comes from interacting with those kids.  In this scenario, the teachers need to be educated about differences, keep an eye out for problems a kid may have, but they also have to understand the material they are teaching very well.  (Given elementary education training is more about classroom control than ensuring a very thorough understanding of the material, this changes the nature of how teachers would have to be educated.)  In this scenario, kids who had different needs were able to have those needs addressed without drawing undue attention to their differences.  It significantly reduced the amount of peer issues and, especially, bullying.  The interactions were organic, not forced.

A lot of the education was done through self-paced computer programs.  This meant one kid would get through five years of math in one year while another might struggle getting through a single year during that time.  But it didn’t matter…they could excel where they were able and allowed to take it more slowly when necessary.  And there was no judgement attached.

Creating this sort of classroom environment is probably somewhat more expensive than a regular classroom, but I’m not sure.  (How does the cost of textbooks and workbooks compare with computers and easily updated software?)  We’re so used to the notion that education means suffering, both through too fast or too slow academics as well as through social stigma for all our differences.  I don’t think people really are making an effort to correct these issues, which are often linked, because they are too stuck on the idea of doing things the way they always have been done.

This means we continue to need labels.  And I still think labels are stupid.

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I. Don’t. Have. Aspergers. April 8, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, older son, personal, societal commentary.
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14 comments

Today, I came across this post talking about expression of Asperger’s in women.

I have to admit that I’m understanding how my son felt in school.  When he was in 6th grade, the school decided to do an evaluation and said he was Aspie.  The whole thing was rather traumatizing for him.  He talked about how the school psychologist talked to him like he was a toddler, using small words in a loud voice.  It was very patronizing.  He started calling her the psychopath-ologist.  The next year, the ‘diagnosis’ followed him to the gifted school he attended.  I talked him into going along with it because there was help with social skills and things that he really did need some help with.  He said he was okay with getting the help.  However, he did keep insisting he wasn’t Aspie, and the teachers kept saying that his refusal to accept would make it hard for him to adjust.

Here’s the problem: he’s not Aspie.  When he was 4, this first came up.  I took him to out of town to two researchers who specialize in Asperger’s to have him examined.  Nope, not Aspie, they both said.  However, it’s obvious he’s probably gifted.  It was at this point that giftedness could probably be problematic in a normal classroom.

Given my history with the public schools as a child, this had never been a blip on my radar.  I constantly had problems, but very often I and my parents chalked this up to the fact that we were pretty much considered ‘poor white trash’.  Now I can look back and see how that perception along with my very visual approach to things confluenced to make school hell for me.

But as an adult, I keep seeing things about Aspergers.  And people keep saying my son is Aspie.  And I suspect people think I’m Aspie.  And I’m not.  I simply am not.  I am amazed at how many traits of Asperger’s are also present in the gifted, and given my experience with my son, I’m sure that there are a ton of kids out there who are being misdiagnosed as Aspie when, in reality, they’re perfectly normal…for gifted kids.

I know people who have kids who are Aspie, and I understand it’s hard to deal with.  However, I am getting really tired of this ‘medicalization’ of a gift or a personality type or whatever you want to call it.  The problem with calling gifted kids Aspies because they may show some of the same traits is that those labels become a capsule to describe the student.  So-and-so is an Aspie, and so every thing they do that seems off or quirky or different becomes a sign of their disability: there is something WRONG with them.  How many times do people look at these kids and say it’s a sign they’re brilliant?  In my experience, almost never.  By the time older son was finished with sixth grade, the fact that he had a college-level vocabulary was being used as a sign that he had a disability, and the psychopath-ologist was claiming he was actually hyperlexic.  His English teacher, who at the beginning of the year was saying she thought he was a very bright boy, suddenly said he didn’t seem gifted when asked by the psychologist.

I don’t have any issues with parents of Aspie kids, or even Aspies themselves.  However, I am really sick of how society seems to have taken a hold of this ‘diagnosis’ and turned it into a way to categorize anyone who is socially awkward, shy, or quirky.  For a lot of kids, all of their gifts and abilities are now being viewed as some sort of dysfunction that falls under the category of Aspie.

And it’s not just kids.  I’ve seen this and experienced it as an adult.  Maybe I tend to fixate on things, but I need to do that to solve difficult problems.  Maybe I feel things more strongly, but why is that a sign of Asperger’s instead of Dabrowski’s Excitabilities?  Why are all these things viewed as a problem rather than a sign of uniqueness and intelligence?  I know a lot of people view the label as a way to better understand those who are different, but it also seems like a way to write them and their gifts off as an oddity.

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