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before and after being identified as 2E in 7th grade, after he began to fail classes and became severely depressed and withdrawn.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.

What Do Gifted/2E Readers Want to Read?

Keeping up with the demands of gifted and 2E kids is more than a challenge. It's an ongoing endeavor that demands time and attention -- never ending attention for those who rip through series, speed read, implement their photographic memories and other feats of wonder.

There is no formula for supplying an endless stream of engaging books that will delight a gifted reader. They know what they like, but they also need help choosing their own reading material and broadening their preferences.

Gifted readers are different than other readers because of their ability master language and complex ideas at an early stage. Many learn to read earlier than usual. Some are self-taught readers. Other possess the ability to process complicated text and multiple plots and subplots. They can read four times more than their peers and are likely to become lifelong readers.

So, what do gifted readers want? Do they love an underdog? Dark horse? Complicated plots? Unlikely heroes? Historical figures, biographies and textbooks?

Yes. All of those and more. Here are a few ways to tap into an advanced reader's drive for reading while providing age appropriate and challenging material.

  1. Help your child find books they want to read. Play seek and find in the library, challenging their ability to try something new. Start with a list of books that others have recommended, browse through them with your child, and whittle it down to the top choices. As with adult literature, an engaging and vivid first paragraph is essential to hooking a reader, so read the first paragraphs out loud.
  2. Steer gifted readers toward books that accommodate their sensitivity. Search for the blogs of reviewers who are familiar with the danger zones for sensitive readers, such as authors, teachers and websites like www.commonsensemedia.org. Hyper-sensitive kiddos may react to any hint of unfairness, which is a tough concept to avoid in any category. For these gentle souls, try poets with instinctual kid-like prowess like Shel Silverstein (if you can find recordings of Silverstein reading his works, it's all the more fun.)  Many other children's poetry books languish on shelves, so put them to work interpreting, illustrating and retelling the stories in poetry.
  3. Look for characters who are unique and challenged in similar ways as your child. Connecting with a character is like making a new ally. When kids see realistic (not just fantasy or futuristic) representations of themselves, they can engage with the story on a different level. The characters don't have to be exactly like the gifted reader, for example, a story of a child learning to function despite difficult circumstances can embolden them. Books like Lynda Mullaly Hunt's FISH IN A TREE about a dyslexic character, is a safe read for most readers. The list of books about kids who are twice-exceptional isn't a long one, so consider oldies like Helen Keller's Teacher and Follow My Leader, which portray children adapting to disabling conditions with positive outcomes.
  4. Use book group materials to extend the reading experience. Many authors will supply discussion questions for teachers to help kids process and demonstrate comprehension. These are also tools that parents can use to help facilitate thoughtful exploration of a book at a deeper level. Kids can be challenged to put themselves in the shoes of the antagonist or a minor character. The author's own questions can refine a child's ability to connect with characters, evaluate motives and outcomes, and slow them down long enough to absorb and appreciate storytelling from different points of view.
  5. Encourage them to try something different. If your child has blown through all the age appropriate fiction you can find, try offering non-fiction that is above their reading level. Gifted kids yearn for ideas and information, so biography and non-fiction titles may be an option, especially for kids who find it difficult to read fiction. Sounds crazy? Some kids are drawn to books that explain complex ideas to feed their intellect and encourage innovative thinking. For example, I have a reading-avoidant gifted child in my family who only reads physics books (which can be quite entertaining depending on the physicist).

When in doubt, ask a teacher, librarian, special ed professional or other parents with kids like yours. Always screen a book for inappropriate or upsetting material. Providing different formats like e-readers and audio books is an experimental way to determine what works best. Don't be afraid to ask other parents. You never know who else is struggling with the same demands. Plus, books make great company and sharing them builds camaraderie. Who doesn't need a little more of that?

Susan Larsen Krause is the author of BACKGROUND NOISE: A NOVEL ABOUT TWICE-EXCEPTIONALITY. She writes and blogs about raising gifted and learning disabled kids. 

Believe the Signs Your ADHD Kid is Sending

 

When Alex was three years old and in daycare, I was pulled aside by the caregiver and told that he was not behaving in circle time. No surprise. He was always in motion and never sat in one place for long. She told me that they had a talk, then she shook her finger in his face and asked, "Now, what did I tell you?"
He hid his eyes, avoided looking at her, fidgeted with whatever filled his pockets that day and finally ducked for cover and whined to be picked up. She persisted. Now curious, I asked him myself what she had told him. He whimpered and clenched his fists and runched up his little face and hid on my shoulder. Finally hiding his eyes, he haltingly pushed out a mere five words that still trouble me.

Stay where you get put.

If your head is spinning around all the implied meanings of "stay where you get put" don't frustrate yourself. On the list of things to NEVER say to a gifted child with ADHD, that one ranks pretty close to the top.

While ADHD was suspected, Alex was far too young to get a definitive diagnosis. Preschool through 4th grade, he performed on average, had friends, played outside, just a normal 9-year old boy. I was occasionally pulled aside to be told something that he did that was original or unexpected or disallowed, or that he was "really smart." Then 5th grade hit. I'd been warned that it would be tougher now. But I never dreamed it would crush my kid to bits.

In 5th grade, my son had experienced enough failure to leave him discouraged. He became deeply depressed. And I completely missed it. I knew there were school issues, but I didn't see the signs that he was in despair. A birthday came and went, and he did not want a party. He became angry and non-communicative. He banged his head on the wall.

All the signs I missed.

I've spent the last eight years or so learning about the implications of ADHD and it's comorbid conditions. Then the gifted portion came into play, but didn't explain his uneven performance in a college prep school. He had a drastic decline that led to failing classes. There had to be something else wrong. What was I missing?

When I think back to that day at preschool, I realize that he was communicating with me, but not talking to me. He's now almost grown, and I've finally figured out that my son communicates best in gesture or action, not language.

The way he draws in a deep breath and blows it out again means This is hard for me and I don't want to talk about it.

Absolute silence and refusal to answer means I am really tired and can't think right now. This is augmented by hiding behind his long hair.

Rapid talking about things that interest him (and bewilder me) is a good sign that he's feeling positive. When he is feeling positive, he's the most alive and happy.

He enjoys learning about things that intrigue him. Those things are not essays and lab reports and textbooks that drag on forever. I've made the mistake many times of reminding him, during those rare moments of glee, that he has homework to do.

All along, Alex has told me what he feels, what he needs and how he operates. I missed the signs so many times. If I could do it all over again, I would watch him for clues. I would not scold for doing things off-key. I wouldn't nag about homework or cleaning his room. I would try harder to see the world as he sees it.

Stay where you get put.

It was never about staying put in circle time. It's about escaping the box (or brain) that entraps you. Every child needs to be heard and understood, no matter how they communicate. Don't miss the cues.