With understanding comes calm

Observers of my son’s kindergarten class almost always said the same thing: “Why is the child who pays the least attention the one who knows all the answers?”

L to R: Julie, Dalia, Avi, Eric, and (front row) Eitan

Observers of my son’s kindergarten class almost always said the same thing: “Why is the child who pays the least attention the one who knows all the answers?”

At 5 years old, my son was the kindergartner walking around the room reading posters on the wall, sitting on the side with Legos during morning meetings, and reading during discussions. But when the teachers asked a question, he was the first to raise his hand with (or, more likely, blurt out) the answer. This was my springboard to learning about twice exceptionality or 2e — a profile that includes a diagnosis of gifted along with a learning disability or learning difference.

After a two-day neuropsychological assessment, my husband and I learned that our son was gifted and identified with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The gifted diagnosis was no surprise. Even during testing, our 5-year-old son answered questions in Hebrew — teaching the assessor as they moved through each task. Though I had heard of ADHD, I didn’t really know what it meant. Eight months pregnant with our third child, I felt an urgency to wrap my brain around this diagnosis and figure out what to do as soon as possible. A natural planner and problem solver, I would research, find the experts, and get a game plan.

I spent three years learning everything I could about ADHD. I met some great professionals, read a lot, took courses, attended conferences, and got certified in various skills —but the messages always had a glass-half-empty vibe. They told me that my son would get into trouble a lot. He might even drop out of school, smart as he was. I learned that he was statistically more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, drive recklessly, and even get a divorce. Having had our third child at that point, those postpartum and infant years were emotional. Then two happy coincidences happened.

First, at tae kwon do, my son met a friend, and unbeknownst to me, this child’s mother was in gifted education. After a few play dates, she said, “Julie, why are you ignoring your son’s giftedness?” Head tilt. I had no idea what she was talking about. He was in a dual-curriculum school, enriched at home, and involved in activities. My new friend dropped off several books, and I sat at my dining room table for hours poring over these texts. With each page turn, there was another aha moment. Suddenly I had a deeper understanding of my son, my other children, my husband, myself, and our families.

The second happy coincidence was when I attended a conference on learning differences. I learned about 2e Newsletter and about SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted). Afterward, I subscribed to the newsletter (which I now contribute to) and attended my first SENG conference. The SENG conference gave me a whole new perspective of my son. I also learned the true meaning of giftedness — that it is so much more than just “smart” and includes asynchronous development, perfectionism/anxiety, and intensity. Each session presented another positive reframe or strengths-based approach to this learning style and the concurrent abilities and challenges. At my second SENG conference, I became certified to facilitate parent support groups. But I wanted to do more.

Parenting these awesome children can be lonely … [people] can judge, make assumptions, and want to fit our children into a stereotypical box.

I remember my son coming home from elementary school and asking if he could lay in my bed while he told me all the awful things that happened to him at school that day. I remember listening. Acknowledging. Then reminding him of the amazing “super powers” he possesses and engaging him in a deep conversation about one of his many interests. In the end, he would skip out of my room, but I wondered whether I said the right things and what more I could do to preserve his self-esteem. Parenting these awesome children can be lonely: as hard as it is for parents to understand their child’s complicated profile, friends, family members, and educators can judge, make assumptions, and want to fit our children into a stereotypical box.

Parents have to get to the point of identifying strengths and shutting out the conventional reaction to their child being outgoing, frequently loud, often impulsive, hilariously funny, constantly chatty, sensitive, and out-of-the-box brilliant. I realized my journey evolved through: 1. understanding and learning about my son’s profile (no two 2e kids are the same); 2. developing strategies; and 3. collaboratively and effectively advocating.

I started my service, With Understanding Comes Calm, LLC (named after my mantra), to support parents of those I call “gifted and distractible” kids. I educate parents on the true meaning of giftedness and twice exceptionality. Learning differences can include anything from ADHD to dyslexia, dysgraphia, a language-based learning difference, anxiety, working memory deficits, and so much more. Once we understand these realms, we gain calm and can strategize. I bring parents unique, durable strategies to address where their child is tripping up, whether at school, home, on the field — wherever and in whatever way. Lastly, we discuss an implementation plan — how to achieve your child’s buy-in and how to collaborate and advocate for your child.

Through speaking at conferences and writing my monthly blog and online newsletter, “Gifted & Distractible,” word got around and adults began reaching out to me. These adults, often not formally diagnosed, read something I wrote or heard me speak and identified with what I discussed. So, I began taking on adult 2e clients to mentor them in succeeding in their personal and professional lives. Then schools started calling and asking if I could speak with faculty. I created a half-day workshop to do the same thing with educators as I do with parents and 2e adults. I teach about the profile, what they see and what to expect, how to address and implement strategies, and how to advocate on behalf of the child and themselves. I support clients all over the world — in person or via Skype.

I often hear, “It’s so good to talk to someone who truly gets it and appreciates my kid’s strengths.” Not only do I now know why my son looked like he wasn’t paying attention and knew all the answers, but now I know what to do about it. I know how to support parents of similar children and give strategies to educators so we can preserve these students’ self-esteem and they can participate meaningfully in the classroom.

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Julie F. Skolnick M.A., J.D.

Julie F. Skolnick M.A., J.D.

Julie Skolnick, M.A., J.D., is the Founder of With Understanding Comes Calm, LLC, through which she passionately guides parents of gifted and distractible children, mentors 2e adults, and collaborates with and advises educators and professionals on bringing out the best and raising self-confidence in their students and clients.

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