How an Umbrella Helped Me Become a Better Teacher

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How an Umbrella Helped Me Become a Better Teacher… and Other Tips on Homeschooling a Gifted/2e Child

Parent perspectives by Nikki C.

Like many homeschooling parents of gifted kids, I was a reluctant, last-resort homeschooling mom. It was frightening to leave the familiarity of the public school system and disheartening to learn that other schools weren’t a good fit, either. Once the initial shock was over, however, homeschooling became so much more than just the best of the inadequate options I had thought it would be. It was exactly what my child needed to thrive, and we haven’t looked back since.

This does not mean that every day is filled with sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes we fall into ruts, but because of the inherent autonomy of homeschooling, it never has to stay that way. It’s up to me, and sometimes to my child, to fix it.

Our pitfalls sometimes come from smaller issues pertaining to curriculum or our environment, sometimes from larger issues that require professional help, or sometimes from my own personal issues.  Homeschoolers of gifted kids know that just because something works now, that doesn’t mean that it will work later. When my son and I fall into curricular ruts, I used to blame it on my choices, and I felt the urge to scrap it and start with something new. While this is best sometimes, I learned from my favorite teacher that working with a student’s learning style and making modifications to the environment and curriculum can go a long way.

My mom is a public school teacher and has spent most of the past 30 years teaching children with autism.  She teaches in a centralized structured classroom which has a low student to teacher ratio.   In her class, students receive a truly individualized education. Her dedication to her students has always inspired me, and from her experiences, I have learned some teaching gold.  Years ago, she was working with a student with autism and intellectual disability. She was certain that his abilities were higher than he had shown, but it was challenging for him to focus on their lessons. During a math lesson, my mom was attempting to get her student to engage with her, but every time she asked him a question, his response was “umbrella.” He was fixated on a golf umbrella that was just outside the classroom.

After this had gone on for a while, my mom went to the hallway, got the huge umbrella, opened it, sat down next to her student so that they were both under the umbrella, and said, “umbrella.” She then repeated the math question and he answered correctly. The rest of the lesson went on like this, under the umbrella, where her student was able to focus. An aide in the classroom took a picture of the two of them and shared it with the student’s mother. For Christmas, my mom received a present from her. It was a coffee mug with the picture of her and her student, working together under the umbrella.  On the other side of the mug, a quote from Rita Dunn read, “If the child is not learning the way you are teaching, then you must teach in the way the child learns.”

Having exposure to this style of teaching at an early age helped shaped me into the type of teacher my son needs.  There are numerous ways to personalize the curriculum and environment for homeschoolers (some strategies can work for teachers in traditional classrooms, too!). Of course, we can fine-tune these word problems so that we are comparing Rebel Troopers and Imperial Forces instead of bushels of apples and oranges. Sure, let’s get that huge crash pad, and my son can be upside down on it during read-alouds and discussions. We can work on handwriting in other creative ways at another time. Yes, let’s make a classroom filled with action figures and plushies, and my son can “teach” them to show his understanding of a topic instead of taking a test. In our first months of homeschooling, I didn’t understand why my son couldn’t hear the difference between short vowels and long vowels when he was seated next to me, but he could call them out perfectly when he was jumping in the middle of the room.  Later, I remembered my mom’s mug, and I knew this is what it meant.

When we are in a rut that goes beyond the scope of these smaller modifications, I take a step back to figure out why my child is struggling. Gifted kids are complex kids. Homeschooling one is not easy, and it may require much research when things aren’t going well.

Only a few months into homeschooling, I knew I needed outside help. My son is 2e, or twice-exceptional: gifted with other special needs.  At that point, he had already received an autism and sensory processing disorder diagnosis, but none of the evaluations even touched on the extent of his giftedness. I was struggling to homeschool him because his strengths and weaknesses were extreme. I found an educational diagnostician who had experience with 2e kids. The formal assessments, including IQ and achievement tests, proved to be priceless. This gave me the confidence to do more than modify curriculum.  We needed to move up a few levels… but only in some areas.  I learned how I could accommodate him in areas of weakness without holding him back in others. It would have taken me many painful months to figure this all out on my own.  Another instance when we needed outside help:  my son could read before he turned three years old, but as he was progressing into books with more words per page, he would get upset to the point of tears, saying he was too tired to read after a page or so.  I noticed other issues, too, but I did not know they were related to his reading until I saw parents in gifted groups discussing visual processing disorder.  I recognized many similarities.  After several months of research, I decided a formal evaluation was worthwhile, and sure enough, he was able to benefit from vision therapy. We are in the early stages, but only a few weeks into therapy, he is already starting to read independently again… without me asking him to!  I believe that the more information you have, the better. Yes, gifted kids are asynchronous, but if my gut is telling me there’s more to it than that, I seek professional help and get answers.

While I know that homeschooling is the best fit for my child, that doesn’t mean that I never feel pangs of guilt, worry, or even sadness when I consider the opportunity costs of the choice. When I start to fall into these emotional ruts, what works for me is to stop – just completely stop – and to remind myself of what I truly value, as well as to be grateful for what we do have, instead of worrying about what we do not have. For instance, if I start to worry about what my child will miss out on by not being part of a public school, I remind myself that for every positive aspect of public school that we gave up, we have gained multiple times more on the other side. So, while it’s true that my child isn’t getting to experience the neighborhood kids’ social bond of shared school spirit, he now has an amazing group of friends he met by hanging out at a science discovery center for hours every week during the school day.  Through a gifted homeschool group, he has met friends who he has more in common with, and we have extra time for therapy to support him when he wants help with social challenges.  Another example of an emotional rut involves the loss of my career. Sometimes I daydream about the satisfaction I received in my career: working with peers, career advances, continuing education, and the benefits of increased finances – such as travel and cool new “stuff.” These thoughts can be particularly hard to push aside since this is still the norm for most people in my life. When I was making the decision whether to homeschool or not, one concern was that I would miss my career too much and that I would no longer be marketable when I could return. While discussing pros and cons with my brother, he commented, “No one looks back on their life and regrets spending more time with their kids.” This was powerful to me: I second-guess many of my decisions, but I knew, without any doubts, that this statement would be a guiding truth for me. So, while I might not be booking a European vacation anytime soon, I have been given the gift of time, and I can’t think of anything more valuable to me than that.

Homeschooling my 2e child means that many aspects of my life are not remotely similar to many of my friends’ and family’s lives, or to what I had imagined for my own life. We fall into our fair share of ruts, but we don’t have to stay there if we remember to take ownership of this choice and know that we are in control. We must be flexible and creative and know when to ask for help. Most importantly, we must remember to put our energy into what we value most, and to express gratitude for our blessings.

Oh, and don’t forget your umbrella… you never know when you (or your student) might need it.  🙂

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Our blog is proud to participate in Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hops!  For more tips from other gifted homeschoolers, please visit the February 2017 GHF blog hop.

How Distance Running Prepared me for Parenting a Twice-Exceptional Child

How Distance Running Prepared me for Parenting a Twice-Exceptional Child

Parent perspectives by Nikki C.

There was a time in my life when I couldn’t imagine anything would compare to the experience of running my first marathon.

At the starting line, I was confident and full of energy.  I was so happy that I had made it through training and that the big day had finally arrived!  My excitement did not last, though.   As the miles racked up, my energy faded.  Anxiety set in, and this turned into full-on fear and self-doubt.   I was digging for strength I wasn’t even sure I had (there might have been some tears and praying at this point).  Eventually, fierce determination kicked in, and I found my confidence.   By the time I crossed that finish line, I had come full circle, back to happiness and excitement.

Challenging, rewarding, and intense…  and what an emotional roller coaster!  I didn’t think anything could compete with those highs and lows, especially in a single morning.   Then, I became a mom – a mom of a remarkable child, who, among other things, is twice-exceptional (gifted with other special needs).   My life with him can involve all of the above emotions on any given day.  I happen to love roller coasters, and I am not complaining in any way. I am grateful, though, that before I became a parent of a 2e child, I learned some important lessons through distance running.

Lesson #1:  There is no such thing as the “best shoe”

Many new runners walk into specialty running stores, announce that they will be starting distance training, and ask for best shoe available.  These new runners soon learn that there is no such thing as the best shoe… at least not the best shoe.  Due to differences such as body mechanics, foot structure, and cushion preferences, each runner needs to find his or her own best shoe.  It might not be the one they hoped for – the one so many of their friends have, the brand they know, the price they expected, and so on – but with some work, they can find their best shoe.  More importantly, they will come to love their shoe, even if it was not what they expected.

The same is true for many aspects of raising a twice-exceptional child.  When you combine giftedness with a disability – not forgetting asynchronous development and overexcitabilities – it often takes some work to find your child’s “best shoe.”  An example: finding the best educational path for your child.  Before my son started school, I believed that public school was a given for us.  I went to public school, and it seemed to work well for most kids.  With my son, I quickly learned that this shoe did not fit well – it was like a supinator trying to do speed work in a motion control shoe (yes, only running geeks will understand that!).  In other words, the metaphorical shoe was holding my child back and was close to causing serious problems.  We found homeschool to be our “best shoe.”

Homeschooling led to another discovery: there is no best curriculum. Talking about curriculum with other homeschool parents is as much fun as talking about running shoes with other runners, but again, you have to find what’s best for your child. For a 2e child, a boxed curriculum is probably not going to work.  Finding my child’s best fit could be compared to the searches of runners who, even after finding their best shoes, still need custom orthotics, tricky customized lacing, and very specific socks to make everything function optimally.  Oh, and expect to have to buy new “shoes” more often than the recommended time frame.

Even basic parenting choices require finding our “best shoe.”  Most parents we know have some common rules: sitting with the family during mealtime, not jumping on the furniture, sleeping in your own bed… heck, sleeping, period.  When kids don’t abide by these rules, timeouts and sticker-chart rewards are common solutions.  I’ll just say that I am almost at the point (almost) where I can laugh at what a disaster those were for us.  We needed different rules and different methods to handle problems.  It makes my head spin to think of all the outside-the-box methods I have had to use, but it has been worth the effort.  Finding our “best shoes” has taken us from 5K to ultramarathon confidence (on some days, and metaphorically speaking, of course J).

Lesson #2:  Join a running group, and find your running buddies

When you’re a distance runner, you’ll log many solo miles, yet I found that joining a running group was also essential.  My ideal group includes runners with varied abilities and experience levels.  Seasoned runners, with their vast knowledge and experience, help newcomers.  Faster runners help slower runners improve performance.  New runners remind you how far you have come.   My favorite part of a running group, though, is the camaraderie.  Runners love to talk about running. They love to share stories – the good, the bad, the ugly. You learn fairly quickly that non-runners don’t necessarily want to hear all you have to say about running… and you have a lot you want to say about running! Runners can laugh and cry together about things others just don’t get.

The same has been true with parenting a 2e child.   My “running buddies” include special needs groups, gifted groups, twice-exceptional groups, and homeschool groups, local and online.  The things I’ve learned from experienced parents have been invaluable, and their guidance lowers my anxiety level.  It can also be immensely rewarding to see that not only does your work impact your child’s progress, but that you, too, can help parents new to “running.”

Parent groups also allow you to speak freely about topics you can’t discuss with those who aren’t “runners.”  Discussing issues related to your child’s disability and its perplexing parenting dilemmas can be overwhelming for some who live outside of that world.  Discussing your child’s giftedness and its challenges can be even harder.

So, find groups that are full of optimistic people.  Find your running buddies.  They can enable you and your child to run the best race you both possibly can.

Lesson #3: Remove the word “can’t” from your vocabulary

I’ll admit, I was a sucker for motivational running quotes when I first started.  For me, they provided inspiration comparable to listening to the theme from Rocky.  This one made the most difference for me:  “Running a marathon: how to single-handedly remove the word can’t from your vocabulary.”   In my first “training” run, I could barely make it ten minutes before I thought my lungs would never recover.  I didn’t say “can’t,” though.  I got over that hurdle, then got over the next one, over and over.  Soon after, I realized that I could apply this concept to many aspects of my life – and now, to parenting a 2e child.

When you are raising a twice-exceptional child, hearing the word “can’t” comes with the territory.  You might be trying to help your child through another public meltdown, or trying to persuade the school into testing your child for the gifted program even though he has a disability, or trying to assure your friend that you have not lost your mind when you pull your special needs child out of public school.  You might be trying to encourage your child to try something new despite their fear of mistakes.  You know your child better than anyone, you have more motivation than anyone, and you are making decisions based on the best interest of your child… so, guess what?   You can!  Removing the word “can’t” encourages perseverance, enhances endurance, and boosts confidence.  These things help when you need to take the road less traveled.

When your child needs you in their corner, it’s not an option to think “’I’m not strong enough” or “I can’t do this.”  After removing the word “can’t,” now you think, “how do I get strong enough?”  My son, along with giftedness, has an autism diagnosis and sensory processing disorder.  Some days are hard.  Some days being a mom to this child of mine wears me out.  At these times, I ask myself, “how do I get stronger?”  With your child as your inspiration and some help from your “running buddies,” you will find that strength.

Lesson #4:  You can’t effectively treat an injury until you know the source

There is one thing runners can be really bad at… handling injuries.  We ignore early warning signs, we slap a Band-Aid on a more serious issue, or we aren’t consistent with the recovery plan.  Since we want to get back on the road, we are often shortsighted.  Usually, running injuries that are ignored or masked do not get better on their own, and often they get much worse. After incurring several running injuries, I learned that many are preventable, and others can be remedied more easily if you figure out the source of the problem.  For example, if a runner starts experiencing a slight pain in the knee area, and if all she does is wear a knee sleeve, the problem will probably get worse and could require more drastic measures.  On the other hand, if at the first sign of knee pain, the runner learns about possible causes and gets to the root of the problem, the outcome can be much better.

Listening to my child’s signals and finding the root of challenges have been critical for us.  We have been blessed to have the assistance of several behavior therapists who reminded me that finding the root of a problem is always the best way to find a long-term solution.  Instead of feeling like I’m supposed to be a disciplinarian when my child does something that seems inappropriate, I become a detective.  For instance, through research, consultations, and evaluations, I learned that my son is a sensory seeker and he’s full of psychomotor overexcitabilities.  Occupational therapy and a better understanding of giftedness have worked miracles for us.  In a different setting, his behaviors could have been reprimanded, labeled as problematic and possibly misdiagnosed.

I want to be clear that I am not discouraging needed medication:  my concern is about viewing medication as a first step when the root of the problem has yet to be addressed.  A 2e child who is acting out in a classroom might be doing so because he’s not being appropriately challenged academically.  In this situation, investigating and working to find an academic fit appropriate for his ability could provide a constructive, long-term solution.  When a 2e child is acting out, it is also possible that he is trying to exert some control in an environment that feels out of control to him.  In my experience, sensory integration therapy could provide tools to cope with sensory overload that could benefit him for years to come.

Soon after we entered the autism world, I read this quote:  “If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.”   When we entered the gifted-identified world, I heard the same quote in reference to gifted children.  What should the quote be for our 2e kiddos? “If you have met one person who is 2e, you have met one person who is 2e… and you will continually encounter new aspects of that person. You better enjoy doing research, and you better find all your stamina, because knowing this individual will give you a complex, intense, thrilling, and awe-inducing ride that will change you in ways you never imagined.”

Sometimes all the research and possible parenting tools can get downright overwhelming. Many times, in a difficult situation with my child (especially those that happen in a crowded public area), I find myself not knowing what to say because my head is swimming with all the things I’ve learned.  What’s the right thing to do at this moment?  I don’t know!  I feel like everyone is staring at me and waiting for me to do the right thing…and I can’t think! When fear and self-doubt rear their ugly heads when I am trying to be a good parent to my 2e child, the lessons I learned during that first marathon come back to me. I need to find my strength, and when all else fails, I do this…  keep my head up and keep moving forward.

From one runner to another:  remember to enjoy the journey… and remember to breathe.

 

April16GHF

We are proud to include this post in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop!

7 Reasons to Team Up: Special Education and Gifted Needs

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by Emily VR

Remember the saying, “there’s strength in numbers”?  When it comes to supporting both parents and schools, the expression holds true.  Whether your child has special needs or gifted differences, he or she may need accommodations and/or services in school.  Did you know that you can start a parent group or PTA Committee for ALL special needs and learning differences, including gifted needs?  You can also forge partnerships between existing parent support groups, even if they focus on very different types of needs.

Why should you consider advocating for both Special Education and gifted needs, and how will this benefit students with all kinds of learning differences, disabilities, and strengths?

  1. All kids with differences need understanding at school!  For special needs of all types, school accommodations and services exist for one purpose: to make it possible for our children to access an education and to learn at school.  Your child may have a 504 Plan or an IEP.  He or she may receive therapy or pull-out services for learning differences, or may need special equipment during the school day.  He or she may be in a gifted education pull-out program, or may be accelerated in a subject or full grade.  Each of these students requires services or adjustments in order to learn in the classroom, and to avoid the negative effects of unmet needs.  Raising awareness about differences and school needs can benefit students with all diagnoses.
  1. Precedent for partnership.  Special and gifted education partnerships are not a new idea: the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) was founded in 1922, and it is the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving the educational success of all individuals with disabilities, with gifted needs, and with both (gifted students with one or more disabilities are called “Twice-Exceptional,” or 2e).
  1. Educators need your support!  Whether your child receives services from specialists, therapists, aides, Resource teachers, and/or Special Education teachers, these individuals can be some of your child’s strongest advocates.  Unfortunately, although it’s not intentional, these special people may not receive the same PTA/PTO volunteer support and appreciation as regular classroom teachers (those things do matter!).  Joint efforts can help.  District departments for Special Education, Dyslexia, Counseling, and Gifted Education may need the support of parent groups in order to accomplish goals.  Positive partnerships can improve parent-school relationships and student services in numerous ways.  Including all special services in support and advocacy can strengthen a district for everyone.
  1. Combined groups can facilitate friendships.  Parent groups can host family events, either as fundraisers or casual gatherings, and these can allow children with special and gifted needs to form important friendships.  All students with differences can feel misunderstood by peers, and sometimes, can suffer social isolation.  Forming bonds with others who feel different can help a child feel less alone.
  1. Families with disabilities need your advocacy.  Differently-abled children can have a wide range of strengths and needs, but all of them deserve the chance to maximize their potential.  Special Education laws and funding do assist children with disabilities, but families and schools still need advocacy and support.  These parents are heroes, and they have incredible demands on their time and energy.  Combining efforts can expand the reach of their work.
  1. Twice-exceptional children need understanding.  The needs of 2e children can be complex, and in groups focused on individual diagnoses, parents may have trouble finding others who can identify.  Combined advocacy can provide 2e families with support, a voice, and better understanding from both educators and other families.
  1. Gifted needs are special needs.  When special and gifted education advocacy is combined, parents can help dispel myths about giftedness, and can reframe discussions about gifted education.  Too many parents and educators still equate giftedness with high achievement and view gifted accommodations as elitist.  When gifted education is included in joint advocacy efforts with Special Education, parents and educators may be able to see gifted needs through a more accurate lens.

Parent support groups for specific diagnoses are still important for emotional support and exchanging resources – but geographically, few families with identical needs may be near one another.  For your child’s diagnosis, there may not be enough local parents to effectively advocate and support your district.  It’s possible to have both individual and combined groups:  in the district where I live, parents belong to groups for specific needs – such as dyslexia and gifted needs – but we also have a combined PTA committee for Special and Gifted Education.  This committee includes every type of special need and learning difference, it’s one of several in local districts, and it’s working to make a positive difference.  If your local PTA isn’t open to something similar, don’t give up:  you can (and should) still establish partnerships between existing groups!

If you’re starting a new group, a number of resources can help:  for gifted groups, check out the below links and other posts in the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Blog Hop (below!).  Whether you start a group or collaborate with existing ones, remember these tips:

  • Stay positive in your advocacy
  • Adopt a team approach when working with educators
  • Advocate with integrity and respect
  • Work to see issues from multiple perspectives
  • Ask how you can help
  • Consider affiliating with state or national organizations, and/or advocating at the state/national level
  • Support the teachers and administrators in your district as well as your group’s parents.

Parenting a child with special needs or learning differences can be a lonely job.  Fortunately, in a parent group, you don’t have to be alone.  Special and gifted education partnerships don’t just benefit your own child:  they create a community, they help teachers and schools, and they can improve awareness and education for all children with differences.

AprilHoagies

We are proud this post is part of the April Blog Hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

Blog Hop graphic by Pamela S Ryan – click above for more Blog Hop posts!

Additional Resources

Council for Exceptional Children:  https://www.cec.sped.org/

Start a Special Education PTA:  https://www.pta.org/content.cfm?ItemNumber=2100  from National PTA (You can also create council or school PTA committees combining Special and Gifted Education advocacy.)

The below resources focus on gifted groups, though some advice can apply to groups for other diagnoses:

Starting a Gifted Parents’ Group: https://globalgtchatpoweredbytagt.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/starting-a-gifted-parents-group/  from Global #GTCHAT, Powered by TAGT (Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented)

How parent advocacy groups can make a difference:  http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10339.aspx  from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development

Forming a Parent Group: http://www.iagcgifted.org/committees/parent-affiliates/the-nuts-and-bolts-of-forming-a-parent-group.html  from the Illinois Association for Gifted Children

Starting and Sustaining a Parent Group to Support Gifted Children: http://www.nagc.org/sites/default/files/Parent%20CK/Starting%20and%20Sustaining%20a%20Parent%20Group.pdf  from the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC)

Establishing a Parent Support Group:  http://www.txgifted.org/establishing-psg  from the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT)

What Makes a Parent Group Successful:  http://www.txgifted.org/files/What-Makes-Parent-Groups-Successful.pdf  from the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT)

Parent Support Groups: https://pty.vanderbilt.edu/parents/parent-support-groups/  from Vanderbilt University – Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth