Technically speaking, I am profoundly gifted. My IQ is several standard deviations, not just above the norm, but beyond the “gifted” cut-off as well. I am also autistic, falling under the category of high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome and including anxiety and sensory sensitivities. Together, these diagnoses make me twice-exceptional – gifted and learning “disabled.” I was completely lacking theory of mind. I turned to violence to express myself. I had an abusive biological father who turned my brother and I against each other and left us with PTSD. These factors all made me a very challenging child.
I was homeschooled from age five onwards. We had a very extensive homeschool “curriculum” consisting of many outside classes and visits to educational locations. But I struggled personally with depression, coming to terms with my biological parents’ separation and my own differences. When I started college, my then-best friend asked me, “why don’t you stay at your own level?” (My response? “This is my level.”) Early on, I got better grades than many of my classmates, despite being young enough that many of them could have been my parents or grandparents. Later, I struggled to communicate my knowledge in a comprehensible manner. I had trouble making friends. I talked too much in class. I couldn’t clean my room without getting overwhelmed. I monologued about my passions and missed – not ignored, but failed to recognize – signals that other people weren’t interested or wanted a turn to talk. I got lost in my own little world.
Left to my own devices, I am not sure I would be here today. But I wasn’t left alone. I was taught that hitting my brother wasn’t okay, because it hurt him. I learned to recognize signs of disinterest. I was talked through my tantrums and held when I was distressed. I had good study habits explained to me, and was coached through them. I am still coached in making friends and handling complex social interactions. I was able to talk through my papers and review their quality with someone. My neurological differences were explained to me. I was provided with a community of like-minded people online, and resources to understand myself better. I had someone to smooth out the teen years and help me stop fighting with my brother. I was even driven an hour each way almost every day of the school year so I could attend college before I could get a driver’s license.
Parents out there, listen to me for a minute. Talk to your children. Listen to their concerns. Explain your actions to them. Help them with their problems. Understand that however trivial or ridiculous their concerns seem to you, these fears are terrifying to your children. Let them know what is going on, the big stuff and the small things. Go beyond punishment to help your child truly understand why their behavior is wrong. Don’t force your kids to do everything, but make sure they’re doing something. Above all, remember: You know your child better than anyone else. If you disagree with someone’s recommendations for their education, then your opinion trumps theirs. Trust yourself.
Although she had her own supports, there is one person who did all of this for me. I honestly do not know how she did it, especially as a single parent for much of that time. Whether she is sitting me down in my room to talk about why what I said was so mean or inappropriate, or breaking down the assignment so I can write a better paper, or explaining what someone else meant, or reassuring me that I can make a difference, or sobbing on my shoulder at graduation telling me how proud she is of me, I can’t imagine getting this far without her. That incredible woman is my real gift.
Today, January 6th, is her birthday, and this post is dedicated to her.
I love you.