Author Chats: Diego Peña

Author Chats: Diego Peña

If you dreamed of being an author when you were little, chances are you didn't expect to write a book until you were grown. Those days are gone. The words, experiences, and insights of children are just as true and powerful as their adult counterparts. In today's publishing world, you can read books written by kids, like Diego. In Anatomy of Autism, you'll learn more from this 9-year-old non-verbal autistic writer than you've ever known about autism.

Tell us a little about you. Besides being an author, what else do you do?

I'm a young gentleman with autism who loves videos, music, rebellion, and comedy.

What books have you written?

I wrote the book, Anatomy of Autism, that is about my life with autism. I like to discuss real life and not pretend that I'm perfect. I think its important to know how different our experiences can be. I wrote this as a class project and now it's used to teach tolerance.

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

From Mom: Diego is twice-exceptional. He wrote his book from the point of view of a child who is both autistic and gifted.

Who is your favorite author?

My favorite author is Dr. Seuss because he is brilliant with words. His books make you want to learn to read.

Who is your ideal audience?

My ideal audience is anyone who is lost in the world of judgement. My hope is to bring new ideas to challenge common misconceptions about autism.

Author Chats: Raven Howell

Author Chats: Raven Howell

Children's poetry can be a small ship adrift in an endless sea of books for kids. It's a brave journey to be a poet writing for a small band of dedicated of readers who appreciate the form. Poetry is one of the few written works that can bring a sense of calm, comfort, belonging and wonder all in a few stanzas. Raven Howell writes children's poetry with an ear for the needs of readers with conditions like autism and ADHD. Her debut poetry book is Dozy Poems Cozy Days, a soothing collection for an anxious mind.

Tell us a little about you. Besides being an author, what else do you do?

I’m a full-time children’s author, writing mainly poetry and verse professionally for magazines and books for the past 25 years. The markets and the trends shift so much over the course of time, and it’s been fun to keep up with it all! I illustrate a bit also, and find drawing, coloring, and collage work a perfect addition and outlet for my creativity. It’s been fun to receive noteworthy reviews for the work on my animal art collage in my third book, Gibber, Animal Acrostics. I love artwork in general and particularly recently, have found so many talented illustrators that I enjoy following on social media.

I feel blessed being able to incorporate charity work with each one of my first three poetry picture books, donating proceeds from their sales to Autism Speaks, KaBoom! and the ASPCA and local animal shelters respectively.

What books have you written? Who is your ideal audience?

My debut book, Dozy Poems, Cozy Days, continues to have strong sales and is listed in the 2017 ALA Library Guide. The autistic and ADHD communities have been supportive of its message in delivering calm, ease, and focus. Dozy Poems was even voted “a top notch tool for ADD, ADHD and autism” a year after its release.

My second book, Spinning Circles: Action Poems, was written to inspire activity, exercise, family bond and creativity for both toddlers and their caretakers. I joined with non-profit organization, KaBoom! who create “play-spaces,” gardens and playgrounds for people of all classes and color across the nation – such a wonderful mission, and I’ve seen them create the most amazing “play spaces” from a desolate area of town – you wouldn’t believe your eyes! These beautiful parks are used now to get kids motivated to be outdoors and play and move their bodies.

My third poetry picture book is Gibber, Animal Acrostics. This fun and modern twist on an old poetry form, acrostics, was written to trigger any young reader, teen or adult imagination. A light-hearted book, here you can plunge into the mud with a pig, enjoy Christmas with a fox, and talk sense to a silly worm! A portion of the book’s proceeds is donated to the ASPCA and other animal shelters.

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

Poetry has many benefits to all children including those twice-exceptional, gifted, learning disordered or disabled. In reading or writing poems, a child learns to express him or herself, become more aware of their surroundings, they can find their voice, and start inquiring.

More specifically, through rhymes and poems, children understand that there are words similar in sound but with different meanings. They learn what a pattern is, and become capable of recognizing them. They understand, through patterns, what a sequence is. They have fun memorizing rhymes which is linked to audio and visual benefits. Both listening to someone reading rhymes, or reading on their own is advantageous. Memory, patterns, and sequences are also extremely helpful for approaching math and new languages.

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

That’s a tough one to answer because it’s like choosing your favorite child! Still, I may mention one of my poetry collections for children ages 7 and up, A Star Full of Sky, which will be releasing this fall through Daffydowndilly Press. It was a fun and challenging process writing this book since it had to be written in a certain format (formal metrical rhyme). Plus, a little trivia - all of the poems in that book were written literally outdoors, under the stars during the hours of twilight, midnight and dawn - a very magical time!

Who is your favorite author?

I enjoy John Irving and Sarah Addison Allen, but sticking with the poetry genre because there are far too many talented writers to mention, I simply adore and admire the children’s poems of Aileen Fisher, David McCord, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Charles Ghigna, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Valerie Worth….ha! Just to name a few!

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

 I’ve had to help with Attention Deficit Disorder in my family and a cousin’s beautiful child is autistic. It’s funny how some teachers of Special Needs students are so surprised and happy when I reach out to them for school visits, and I work in many of these wonderful classrooms with terrific students! Usually, the children are all developing on different levels and different methods work for them. Regardless, I keep them engaged with activities. For example, I’ll blow bubbles if I’m reading one of my poems about bubbles. Blowing bubbles can be a fun sensory experience, and also work on oral motor skills. What's more, as I point to the bubbles and exaggerate my own reaction it helps work on joint attention, an important area for many autistic children. Another activity special needs students enjoy is playing I Spy in connection with the poetry we are reading. For students with more severe processing issues, I often describe one of two objects and have the child choose the correct one.

What are you working on next?

Presently I’m busy with fantastic book projects I’m very excited about! I have two new books scheduled for release this year (Shimmer, Songs of Night/Spork Books and A Star Full of Sky/Daffydowndilly Press), plus two more picture books being released in 2018. My October book launch for Shimmer is going to be quite a celebratory party!

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.

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.