Spe­cial at­ten­tion

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FAMILY -

DEAR Mr Dad: There’s some­thing go­ing on with our nine-year-old son, but it’s hard to de­scribe. We know that he’s very smart – he reads at a high-school level, does the most amaz­ing math cal­cu­la­tions in his head, and is also a won­der­ful artist. But only at home. At school, his grades are hor­ri­ble, he gets into trou­ble a lot, is of­ten called an un­der­achiever, and has been di­ag­nosed with ADHD and other learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties. I al­ways thought that be­ing gifted and hav­ing learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties were mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. Is it pos­si­ble for some­one to have both? THE quick an­swer is an en­thu­si­as­tic Yes! In fact, your son sounds like what some peo­ple are now call­ing “twice-ex­cep­tional”.

And one of the big­gest risks he faces is that he won’t get the at­ten­tion he needs for ei­ther of his ex­cep­tional sides.

Twice ex­cep­tional (2e) kids of­ten fall through the cracks, say Diane Kennedy and Re­becca Banks, au­thors of Bright Not Bro­ken: Gifted Kids, ADHD, And Autism.

Ac­cord­ing to Banks and Kennedy, a 2e kid’s dis­abil­i­ties may make peo­ple over­look his gift­ed­ness by get­ting the adults in his life to fo­cus more on his short­com­ings than his tal­ents – in other words, to see him as a prob­lem that needs to be fixed. Par­ents need to ed­u­cate them­selves about dif­fer­ent ways of han­dling a child’s learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties and gifts.

At the same time, his in­tel­lec­tual gifts can mask his dis­abil­i­ties, mean­ing that he won’t get the help he needs to fully achieve his po­ten­tial. At the root of the prob­lem are the words we use to de­scribe chil­dren like your son: Deficit, dis­or­der, dis­abil­ity.

But nearly 20 years ago, ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist Bon­nie Cra­mond did a com­par­i­son of the ways peo­ple de­scribe the be­hav­iour of chil­dren, who might be la­belled as hav­ing a dis­abil­ity, with those who might be la­belled as highly creative.

Aside from the words, there wasn’t much dif­fer­ence. For ex­am­ple, the ADD child is “im­pul­sive,” while a creative child is “spon­ta­neous”.

An ADD child would be “hy­per­ac­tive”, but the creative one would be “high en­ergy”. One child is “inat­ten­tive”, while the other is “a creative thinker”. One is “op­po­si­tional”, the other is “ques­tion­ing au­thor­ity”. One is “un­able to fin­ish projects,” the other is “able to switch gears quickly” or “al­ways look­ing for new chal­lenges”. One “day­dreams”, the other “is lost in thought”.

So what can you do? To start with, re­mem­ber the old ex­pres­sion: When all you have is a ham­mer, ev­ery­thing looks like a nail. Peo­ple in spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion tend to fo­cus on dis­abil­i­ties. Peo­ple who work with gifted kids, fo­cus on gifts. You need to find some­one who will look at your son from all an­gles, some­one who can en­cour­age him to de­velop his tal­ents, while help­ing him work on min­imis­ing the neg­a­tive ef­fects – if any – of his “dis­abil­i­ties” on his life.

I’m say­ing “min­imise the ef­fects” be­cause your son doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily need to be “cured” – he may just need to find ac­tiv­i­ties (and later, a ca­reer) that make use of his gifts. Kids with Asperger’s, for ex­am­ple, of­ten ex­cel in math and sci­ence and might be happy as adults in en­gi­neer­ing, physics and ac­count­ing.

Kids with ADD of­ten do well in mu­sic, art, and sports and can be quite suc­cess­ful as emer­gency-room doc­tors, in­ven­tors, sales­peo­ple, or air traf­fic con­trollers.

It’s also very im­por­tant that you and your spouse ed­u­cate your­selves about the dif­fer­ent ways of think­ing about learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties and gifts.

In ad­di­tion to Kennedy and Banks’ book, I rec­om­mend The Power Of Neu­ro­di­ver­sity: Un­leash­ing The Ad­van­tages Of Your Dif­fer­ently Wired Brain, by Thomas Armstrong. I’ve in­ter­viewed all of these au­thors on my ra­dio show, Pos­i­tive Par­ent­ing. You can lis­ten to pod­casts at mrdad.com/ra­dio. — McclatchyTri­bune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices n Ar­min Brott is the au­thor of The Mil­i­tary Fa­ther: A Hands-on Guide For De­ployed Dads and The Ex­pec­tant Fa­ther: Facts, Tips, And Ad­vice For Dads-to-be. Readers may e-mail him at ar­min@askm­r­dad.com.

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