Author Chats: Lisa B. Diamond

AUTHOR CHATS: Lisa B. Diamond

Lisa B. Diamond is all of my favorite people wrapped up into one, forged-in-fire woman. Book-obsessed. Librarian. Kidlit author. Adult author. Planner of book events. Very diversified teacher. Also, willing to spend an hour on the phone with someone she'd never met (me). Throw any children's book question at her and she'll give you an answer plucked right from memory. Ask her a question about books for kids who don't like books and she's not a bit intimidated. It's like having your own card catalog and reading specialist.

Here's more about Lisa.
Tell us a little about you. Besides being an author, what else do you do?

I instruct engineers about writing and presentations at Kennesaw State University.  I run the Reading Bowl program with another teacher at my children's school.  I enjoy cooking, baking, and walking.  I am married and have two children and two dogs, all of whom keep me very busy.

What books have you written?

www.lisabdiamond.com (adult blog & adult books)
www.salemacademy.net (elementary school books)

Who is your ideal audience?

For my children's books, I write for elementary school readers.  For my romance and spy novels, I write for adults looking for a light entertaining read.

How do your books address the particular reading needs of Background Noise Books audiences? 

My children's books are enjoyed by readers of different levels.  They provide a new world of imagination for kindergartners through fifth graders. My children attend a school for the gifted. My books are in their school library and have been very popular with the students.

Which of the books you've written is your personal favorite?

All of them are my favorites.  I love whatever I am working on at this moment and time, creating the magical world the children will enter,  before I release the book to the public, and then I love seeing the impact the book will have on the students.

Who is your favorite author?

My favorite authors are the ones who spoke to what I needed to hear at a specific time in my life.  I love Madeleine L'Engle, Douglas Adams, Jean Kerr, Richard Bach, Patricia Wrede, E.D. Baker, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Anne McCaffrey (her dragon series), Dick Francis, Janet Evanovich, and P.G. Wodehouse.

Is there a child with special needs in your family or classroom? How do you help them with reading?

I have worked with students for whom reading is not the easiest. To help a child, or an adult, with reading, you first have to find something your student wishes to read.  Take it slowly, focus on the first few words or the first sentence to get your student engaged before you attempt to proceed.

What are you working on next?

I am currently trying to finish up The Salem Academy for Young Sorcerers, Book 9: Field Day, before I move on to The Salem Academy for Young Sorcerers, Book 10.  I also need to work on Star Light, Faerie Light, Book 2.  Both of these are elementary school fantasy series.  I also have a spy series I am working on for adults.

Memes are Just Mean

The first time I heard the word "meme" it came from a young colleague who, at Halloween, came as Nyan Cat. Silly me, I thought she was a rainbow. Afterwards, I made a vague connection in my head that a meme was an internet phenom that glorified absurdity.

Wow. Was I ever wrong.

I had no idea those little quips on my friends' Facebook feeds were anything more than fun. I'd seen a few that I passed by because they were rude. But when I saw *this* meme for the first time, I - along with tens of thousands of parents of gifted and twice-exceptional children - went nuclear.

The most obvious retort was uttered in unison around the globe: Our kids ARE that lonely kid in the cafeteria. The internet of parents, united in the cause of lonely kids in the cafeteria, responded with this:

Memes are the trumpet of cruel and ignorant hate speech passed off as a good laugh. There is no way to avoid them, politely respond to them, or protect your children from them. It's a big zero in the game of harmless insults. But memes are not benign. They spread unsubstantiated chatter that influences everything from school bathroom policies to public opinion and politics.

If you're the parent of a child with a disability, a learning disorder, gifted, or otherwise belonging to a class of outliers, you're ready to go to war. In a more diplomatic approach, I suggest we meet them all with educated replies.

For Example:
RESPONSE: Any 2nd grader knows the correct contraction is "I'm". Therefore, 2nd graders, some of whom may be autistic, are smarter than you.
oprah
RESPONSE: Yes, there are a lot of us (1 child in 68, to be exact, which we always are) but Oprah has too much class and sensitivity to award that status to idiots.
parenting
RESPONSE: Wrong again. Shitty parenting is the cause of ignorance, selfishness and hate speech. What's with the dodo bird?
Dyslexia
RESPONSE: How airgun lion. I mean unoriginal. We're way better at anagrams than you are.

RESPONSE: Childhood became a mental illness when beating and publicly demeaning a child for a disability resulted in severe depression, destroyed self-esteem and suicide.
NO SNARK RESPONSES: If retorts and snippy quips aren't your style, you can meet memes head on with de-escalation tactics, such as:
DEKYbCOXcAAWZtR
not your job
IMG_2371
Disability-Quotes-–-Disability-–-Disabled-–-People-with-Disabilities-Quote-Attacking-people-with-disabilities-is-the-lowest-display-of-power-I-can-think-of
And, my personal favorite:
IMG_1913

If none of the above are helpful, refer the offending party to any of the following success stories who have/had ADHD, Dyslexia and other learning disorders.

  • Justine Timberlake
  • Adam Levine
  • Jim Carrey
  • Keira Knightly
  • Robin Williams
  • Tom Cruise
  • Emma Watson
  • Steve Jobs
  • Glenn Beck
  • Steven Spielberg
  • Zooey Deschanel
  • Alyssa Milano
  • Bill Gates
  • Anthony Hopkins
  • Eva Longoria
  • Jay Leno
  • Joan Rivers
  • John Lennon
  • Henry Winkler
  • Avril Lavigne
  • Albert Einstein
  • Orlando Bloom
  • Steven Tyler
  • Cher
  • Bill Cosby
  • Keanu Reeves
  • Vince Vaughn
  • Elvis Presley
  • Michael Jordan
  • Liv Tyler
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Jack Nicholson
  • Whoopi Goldberg
  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Anderson Cooper
  • Ozzy Osbourne
  • Danny Glover
  • Nikola Tesla
  • Galileo Galilei

If they STILL don't get it, throw in this one:

What Your Disabled Child Has in Common with Charlie’s Angels

Charlie's_Angels_1977

I was a big fan of Charlie's Angels as a kid. It was my first real look at women doing things that men got to do. Never mind that they were kept on a tight leash by a narcissistic man who gave orders without looking them in the eyes. Never mind that a bumbling idiot was assigned to supervise. These women had guns. They knew jujitsu. They showed some skin in every episode. Charlie's Angels could be the most misogynistic popular TV series in the 70s that featured women as main characters.

I wasn't particularly bothered by any of this at the age of eight.

I was, however, bothered by the three perfect stereotypes that were cast into the show. A sun-kissed blonde beauty who was a bit of a ding-bat. A smoldering hot brunette who was assuredly an expensive date. Of course, there had to be a less sexy female who took on the role of the "smart" one. Every episode, I spent a lot of time thinking about which one I wanted to be. I finally decided I wanted to be the smart one and accept the consequences of being the less attractive police-academy trained detective.

How limiting. How unabashedly shameful.

Welcome to the next century, where children who are physically and mentally disabled, gifted and twice-exceptional, are labeled, stigmatized, disregarded and someone else's problem.

We haven't come far from the pop culture that slapped around women who didn't conform. These kids are targets of demeaning shush-shushing when they walk (or wheel) into the room. All made to work harder, fail more often and sit on the sidelines more than normal kids.

Like every disenfranchised population ever to fight for equality, our different kids are often denied opportunity, proper education and access to services that could vastly improve their quality of life.

But that's not all. It's the residual effect of repeated failure, distress and exclusion that grinds down their self-esteem and results in depression, drug abuse, self-hatred, even suicide. They're tossed into the category of kids who are broken. No matter what their disability or intelligence, they're a population with incredible gifts that aren't being realized.

Kids with exceptional needs and abilities - and their caregivers - are targets of discrimination the way that women, people of color, mentally ill, homeless and LGBTQ people are judged. Special education services in many schools are already on life support awaiting a decision on the education budget. Parents are panicking because this is a battle of the have and have-nots. As though education was a privilege, not a civil right. As though these parents and kids made a choice to be different.

There is a movement afoot. It's a long journey with small steps forward. Many battles are currently being waged and won due to the commitment of parents, educators and mental health professionals. Signs of change are showing in new schools created expressly to educate differently wired kids. States are making progress in funding more robust special ed programs.

Every social movement takes decades, centuries even, to enact real change that gives people the ability to live in the open without stigma. Change requires similarly-minded people and countless hours of advocacy to dissolve assumptions and budge the mental health system stubbornly rooted in the dark ages.

Blondes are ditsy. Brunettes are sexy. Smart women can't also be beautiful, plus they are dangerous. Let's keep them where they belong and never let them grow into who they really are.

Is this sounding familiar?

For every physically disabled child denied a fair and equal education, we lose an innovator.

For every gifted child forced to stay put when their brains are racing ahead, we lose the power of an unbridled brain.

For every mentally ill and learning disabled child driven into failure, we lose a life.

Stay the course. Work together. Raise an army. Be fearless and shameless in the fight for equal treatment and education of every single child.

Let the children speak for themselves. They're our path to a kinder world.

Susan Krause is author of BACKGROUND NOISE: A Novel About Twice-Exceptionality and mom to 3 extraordinary children with mental illnesses. She works to build awareness of the needs of gifted and disabled children through books that capture their true experience. Contact her at susan@backgroundnoisebooks.com or @2Ebooks.

BNB Facebook Group Reviews Books for 2E/Gifted Readers

A Facebook Group Devoted to Books for Kids with Special Needs

>> JOIN THE FB GROUP NOW

Kids who are gifted, twice-exceptional and disabled have unique needs for reading. Background Noise Books invites you to join a Facebook group for sharing and reviewing books appropriate for this selective audience. Where else could you get benefits like these?

Connect with others searching for appropriate reading for their 2E/gifted/disabled readers.

Book Suggestions Every Day We're always on the lookout for new titles)

Problem-Solving  Is this book right for my child? Any suggestions for kids who love armadillos? How can I get my child to stop reading?

Opinions We're not short on those

Chit chat and camaraderie You’re not alone in the quest for good and appropriate books.

New books  Authors share their books about gifted/2E/disabled kids.

No meanies allowed This is not an attack forum. This is judgement-free community. We talk about books.

Youth Novel Explores Parkour as Learning Tool for Twice-Exceptional Children

In a school full of surprises, 2E kids find unique ways to thrive.

June 13, 2017, Phoenix, Arizona - Few books of realistic fiction feature characters who are "twice-exceptional" (2E), which means both gifted and learning disabled. A new youth novel, BACKGROUND NOISE: A NOVEL ABOUT TWICE-EXCEPTIONALITY, is a story of kids struggling to learn despite their high intelligence, who learn to thrive in a specialized setting.

Author Susan Larsen Krause wrote BACKGROUND NOISE in response to frequent pleas from parents in Facebook communities asking for appropriate books for their gifted and 2E children. She also wanted to share the experience of her son before and after being identified as 2E in 7th grade, after he began to fail classes and became severely depressed and withdrawn.

"Parents of gifted and 2E kids are forever searching for books that capture the needs and interests of this unique group of readers. I wanted to write a story committed to portraying the real-life experiences and successes of these extraordinary kids, who are often discouraged and abandoned in the education system."

The main character, 12-year-old Jeremy, is misunderstood by everyone, even his own parents. After a fire destroys his home - a fire that Jeremy accidentally started - he is more depressed and isolated than ever. Everything he knows is gone, including his dad, who leaves the night of the fire. With his failures in tow, Jeremy starts over at a school for 2E children, where he has his first glance at kids who are like him. He is also introduced to the sport of Parkour, where his true potential begins to shine.

Jeremy experiences the frustration of being different in ways that deplete his confidence and reinforce stereotypes of kids with learning disorders. When given an opportunity to experience an educational environment customized to his strengths, Jeremy excels at Parkour and develops strategies and talents that turn him from a lost kid to a change-maker.

"This is a story of children who have extraordinary capabilities, yet are trapped inside their minds. They have begun circling down this funnel of failure because they are misunderstood in a world that doesn't think the way they think or teach how they learn. It's critical they find ways to manage their twice-exceptionality, communicate with others and build relationships. Some may be accessing their gifts for the first time," Krause said.

Krause is mom to two 2E boys. She moderates a Facebook group devoted to discussing and sharing books about and for gifted and twice-exceptional children. BACKGROUND NOISE: A NOVEL ABOUT TWICE-EXCEPTIONALITY is available at Amazon.com. Visit backgroundnoisebooks.com to follow her blog and find book recommendations for gifted/2E readers.

For review copies contact the author:
Susan Larsen Krause
susan@backgroundnoisebooks.com

What to Do if You Encounter My ADHD Teen

My 17-year-old ADHD-Inattentive son has recently returned from his summer job at a Boy Scout camp, where he lived a glorious eight weeks in the wilderness with other teens who didn’t care that he has a disability. Probably didn’t even notice. He would spend his entire life there, if he could.

Now, it’s a brand-new school year with the same old problems. There are new teachers to initiate into his world view (me). A new IEP to fret about (also me), and the anticipated plunge into hopelessness that happens around the end of second term (both of us). I meet every year with new hope, summoning all the energy I can to talk about him without sounding like that parent. If you are also that parent, you know what I go through.

I wish I could gather up everyone he will ever meet and explain that he is not the problem. He is a new hope with undeveloped talent. Stop telling me what his problem is and face yours. I’m happy to talk you through it.

But first, one more round of my lecture, ADHD for the Disbeliever. ADHD is real and isolating. It doesn't get better with age. No one grows out of it when they turn 18. They grow up, leave home, and try to survive in a world that doesn't believe in or understand who they are. They leave home with a greater risk of depression, anxiety and suicide than neurotypical kids. They leave home with their pockets full of failures and a moral compass that will be thoroughly tested. We are not making this up. Who has the time? We’re busy dealing with people who don’t understand it. End Lecture.

I've run out of time to fix the world that my son is leveling up to. Thoughtless and disbelieving people will grow impatient with him. He'll find his tribe somehow, like he did last summer. In case that isn't enough to steer him toward a meaningful adulthood, I am offering the following expert advice for those who may encounter my ADHD son.

  1. Make sure you have his attention as his face is mostly concealed by his long hair. You need to see at least two-thirds of one eye to confirm.
  2. Don't start any conversation with a question such as, "Hey, watchya doing?" Or "What's going on, bro?" There are far too many potential answers and he'll shut down like an overcharged battery.
  3. Offer a Dr. Pepper as you approach. Be aware he will feel obligated to repay your kindness tenfold.
  4. If you prefer to skip formalities, ask him what he thinks of any of the following: PewDiePie, the element Bismuth, 1970s heavy metal bands or V-sauce. Those are great icebreakers.
  5. Be patient if it takes him awhile to respond. Even though he might, don't stare or fidget.
  6. Be aware that you have just met an extraordinary person who can do his own laundry, fry eggs, cook spaghetti and microwave frozen potpies. Don't expect tidiness and organization. You're getting precision and thorough quality testing.
  7. Be aware that he's a visual-spatial learner, better known as "Can you write that down and tattoo it on my arm while explaining the significance with a video?”
  8. Be specific. Present information with a detailed explanation that removes any potential doubt or ruminating. For example, "Let's order pizza" should be stated as "Pizza is delicious. We both like pizza. They have the most delicious pizza at Domino's. Domino's delivers free unlike that place you like. We can order Dr. Pepper, too."
  9. Tell him a joke about physicists. Speak in puns. Sing or play guitar (air is fine). Do not skip this step. You're establishing credibility.
  10. Tell him his mom says to send her a signal that he’s okay. Email preferred to avoid friends hearing embarrassing sobbing on the other end of the line.

This advice is aimed primarily at adults, who are impatient, stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted (admit it.) But kids with learning disabilities are thriving alongside your kids who have morphed their world into one of astonishing tolerance. There’s a good chance your kids don’t really care about what makes my kid different. Grown-ups, hand over the keys to the new generation. You’ll see a wonderful thing happen when every single child, no matter who they are, is met with kindness and dignity.

Susan Krause is the author of BACKGROUND NOISE: A Novel About Twice-Exceptionality. She blogs about books for gifted and 2E kids at backgroundnoisebooks.com. 

Gifted Readers: You Didn’t Expect This To Be Simple, Did You?

Parents love having kids who read. They fly through books and come back for more. Read their favorites over and over. Want to write their own books. Parents thank the stars their kids love books and not video games. Lucky parents.

Load them up with all the books they can carry. Choose a few titles you loved when you were a kid. Tell them how important reading is. Then send their little tushies to bed with a story. See how easy it is to raise a gifted reader?

Parents of gifted readers are laughing about right now.

Gifted kids who love books are one of the most complex consumers of literature. It’s not just how much they read. Their preferences, comprehension, speed, memory, emotional response, perception and sensitivity are all part of the mix. They don’t just read at a higher level, their entire experience with books transcends what any author could hope for. The best authority on gifted readers are the parents and educators who try to keep up with them. Here’s a few ways they describe the characteristics of their young bibliophiles.

Language proficiency. Exceptional vocabulary and reading comprehension sets the stage for readers who consume books rapidly, retain what they read, and are able to switch up the topics and keep it all straight. Sounds great, right? Apply this to a 1st grader who reads at a 12th grade level. You run out of appropriate reading material before morning snack.

Complex Emotional Response. There is no magic formula to determine when a child will outgrow the strong emotional turmoil they feel when reading about loss, loneliness, unfairness, death and grief — all things that make up most of the literature in the universe. Many parents are attuned to this emotional over-excitability (OE). I love this suggestion, because it pulls the child into a new way experiencing a book:

“Anticipate the writer’s craft. If the main character is very worried at the end of chapter 3, it’s because the author wants you to be eager to find out what happens next, therefore the main character can’t possibly die in chapter 4, or we wouldn’t have anyone to tell the remaining hundred pages. So, do you think she’ll escape somehow? Yes. What are some possibilities? Friends could rescue her. Evil character could have a change of heart. She might rescue herself by sneaking out or making friends with the guards or another prisoner.”

Sensory experience. Kids with OEs have super-sensitivities that can include physical sensation and emotional intensity: two things built-in to every book experience. One mother explains that her son enjoys printed books more than audio books or electronic versions. The act of turning pages helps him cement the story in his brain.

Books beyond their years. One of the big struggles I often read about is finding age appropriate material. I’ve always been a fan of “at least they’re reading.” Whether it’s a comic book, greeting cards, road signs, cereal box labels (I have a nutrition label fanatic in my house). All reading leads to a path of understanding, so let them evolve into the readers they want to be.

And that whole “loves books and not video games” thing? Yeah, that’s not true. We might wish that a love of books supplants fascination with entertainment tech. The truth is that reading is one way of engaging in language and learning. Technology yields another aspect of making connections through learning. Our kids are great and figuring out how to make reading and technology work together.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” (James Baldwin, 1963)

This is For Every Mom Who Writes

Today I decided to write before I did anything else. This is out of my comfort zone.

Some days – no, every day – things get in the way. Distractions or fear of failure? I can do many things very well. Is writing one of them? There is dust on the television, fingerprints on the stainless steel, a dead fly on the mantle and I am trying not to care. So I can write.

It’s easy to make excuses for not writing. I tell myself these are all real. They are legitimate. I never sit idle. I never waste a moment. Even at stoplights I have to check my phone. Every. Single. Time. My brain wants resolve. It wants to work. It never wants to rest. But when it comes to writing, my brain nags me.

What? You have things to do. You have responsibilities. There is dust on the television. Fingerprints on the stainless steel. A dead fly on the mantle.

Every day I take care my children down to the tiny details. I live in their worlds more than I live in mine. The world of a 7-year-old boy: play and fantasy and boundless energy. The world of an 11-year-old girl: self-absorbed and self-aware. The 14-year-old man to be: leave me alone, pretend you’re not watching. But watch.

I haven’t showered. The laundry is on the hallway floor. The beds aren’t made. It’s a thousand splinters under my fingernails.

I make a list every day of my failure to write and my excuses when I don’t. I’m trying to hold onto hope. I’m trying to get out of the ditch, gain a foothold and believe in myself. I follow the authors I admire as they make their way to success.

Here’s why I’m still clawing my way out of the ditch. I don’t know what my strength is, but I do know what it isn’t.

I don’t have Carrie’s confidence.
I don’t have Charlene’s powerful presence.
I don’t have Jeannie’s sense of humor.
I don’t have Jennifer’s faith and patience.
I don’t have Tamera’s quiet resolve.
I don’t have Liz’s grace and wisdom.
I don’t have Ruth’s empathy and kindness.

That’s not to say any of them had a smooth path of no resistance. They’ve all fought through obstacles and made it to the other side. Every single one of them got traction on the slippery walls and found a handhold to pull themselves out. I’m waving goodbye and I’ll never see them again. Loving every minute of their happiness. Wishing I could earn my place in that horizon.

A dear friend recently said to me that she has always admired my courage. Is courage what I have? I’m not sure anymore what that means. Courage is not giving up, facing what frightens you, isn’t it? If that’s what I have no wonder my brain will not rest. Sleep, quiet, peace: They are gifts my brains shuts out. You can’t stop now. You have children. You have a husband. You haven’t showered. The laundry is on the hallway floor. The beds aren’t made. You have to earn this. You’re never going to earn it enough.

I want out from under the weight of my own brain. I want to love the things I love. I want to see courage as a tool and not stupidity. I want to send up a flare to say, please don’t forget about me. I’m bad at keeping in touch. I never ask for help when I need it (is that stupid courage, again?)

But I haven’t given up, not entirely.

Today I decided to write. Before I did anything else.

What’s That Twice-Exceptional Thing All About?

Why do you call your kid twice-exceptional? Isn’t being gifted once enough for you?

I’d love to answer this question for you.

It’s all about the words. The exclusionary, non-descriptive and scorn-inducing words that we use to describe kids who are “gifted” and who are gifted with “learning disabilities.” Underlying these are the other words we don’t want to speak: ADHD, OCD, ASD, anxiety, depression, Tourette’s, dyslexia – that’s a partial list of the disorders that can accompany giftedness.

The list is heartbreakingly vast.

We have no choice but use word like gifted, special needs and so on, for one reason: without a diagnosis that indicates one or more of these conditions, parents can’t get medication, treatment and appropriate services for their children. No gifted or advanced education. No OT services for spectrum disorders. No accommodations or special assistance for kids with dyslexia, ADHD, mental illness.

After all the agony parents have gone through to get a proper diagnosis, we’re stuck describing “what’s wrong” to the rest of the world using words that invite judgement and misunderstanding.

The word “gifted” is hard enough to explain. From family members to strangers, explaining how your kids are “2E” can be an awkward conversation. Twice-exceptionality is not widely known outside the clinicians, educators and parents who learned it from another parent.

In many cases gifted kids who have a learning disorder are never diagnosed and suffer a downward spiral of failure. Twice-exceptionality is difficult to detect. We never see it coming when they are little. We see clues we can’t interpret. We read articles and books that don’t fit. We watch our children draw away from other children. We observe them in behaviors that are not consistent with their ages.

Maybe a teacher or well-meaning relative hints there is something off about our kids. They are behavior problems. They’re demanding. Won’t sit still. Won’t participate. Bored. Disinterested. Lazy. Rude.

We know our kids aren’t any of these things.  The words we use don’t tell the whole story. That is the reason for little understanding or tolerance.

“Twice-exceptional” may not be perfect, but it’s the closest thing we have to say, “My kid is extraordinary because he is thriving and learning despite the challenges he faces.”

I don’t know who coined the term twice-exceptional, but, thank you. It is much kinder than the alternatives. It’s a step toward a new vernacular that will allow us to tell our stories the way we live them.