I want to share a story. It’s the story of two children and their school experiences.
Child A struggles. She wears a small leg brace on her left leg due to a bit of cerebral palsy. PE was hard for her, but with her teacher’s support, she learned to jump rope, to climb, to enjoy physical activity. She was often withdrawing in the classroom, running out of the room, looking for a place to hide. She even would lash out in crying fits that nobody could seem to calm. She got to go to “social skills” group with the counselors and they worked with her in a way that helped her so much. Eventually, she received a diagnosis of Asperger’s. That diagnosis immediately resulted in a big meeting, a room filled with school psychologists, teachers, and paperwork to document support. Her mom cried at the table at the way everyone came together to help her child. There was support. Sensory Breaks. 15 minutes to swing, to play with sensory tools. It helped her so much. Her struggles? They belonged to everyone and nobody was fighting for her learning alone. She thrived. She grew. She still struggled, but she had support. Support makes all the difference in the world.
Child B struggles. She learns differently. Her memory makes “facts” stick and she rapidly progresses. But her motor skills are lacking. Her handwriting is almost unreadable. Her math is 3 years above and her reading is 4 years above. These kind of “gaps” create real problems in the classroom. Eventually, her parents discovered that it she is gifted. That diagnosis was met with misunderstanding. She needed a higher level, to relieve her frustration. But, “it wouldn’t be fair for her to get different math,” it was often said. The sensory breaks? They would help with her overexcitabilities. She learned differently and needed tasks broken down so that her overly fast processing could allow her motor skills to catch up. But, people thought now, that since’s she’s “so smart, can’t she overcome the Aspergers.” People assumed, “She must just be spoiled.” Thoughts that were just wrong and misguided. She needed something different too. The meeting never came. There were no documents, no written plans, and no outpouring of sympathy and hugs. Her mom cried again. This time alone. Because nobody understood anymore. Even worse, they think saying your child is gifted is bragging. Even when THAT couldn’t be further from the truth. Her struggles? They continued.
That mom is me. Child A and Child B? They are the same child. I’ve cried tears at the amount of support and tears at the lack of understanding. There are parents in every school, in every town, in every place in America. People who feel lost, misunderstood. People who know what 2E, or Twice-Exceptional, truly means because they are living it, every day. They know very well the heartbreak of what it means for very few to understand.
This story is personal, but I will continue to share it. Because if I can help one administrator, one teacher, or one parent see that our failure to look past labels and understand needs is the most damaging thing we can do in education, then sharing is worth it. If even one of you who reads this, reaches out to a parent to ask how you can help? Then our journey has been worth it. It’s already worth it — our child is exactly who she is. Not defined by labels. Defined by spunk, spirit, wit, and a drive to improve and overcome. She is beyond capable, greatly loved, and has a happy spirit that notices sunsets, glowing lights, and beauty in things most of us don’t take time to notice. It is because of every person in her life that has looked past the labels to understand her. Be that person for someone else.