Joseph’s desk and orange plastic-pebbled chair fit neatly inside the circle of masking tape, which was actually an icosagon of masking tape if anyone wanted to know (but nobody did). He concentrated on everything inside of it with his eyes and his body and his school-self, just like he was told to do, but he couldn’t wrap his mind around 3240 degrees, so of course that is where his mind went every day. He went to 3240, and 20, and 162, and Spirograph, and Wheel of Fortune™, and polygon, and feelinggone, and everything and anything not relevant. It didn’t take long for Joseph to despise shapes altogether; though he was never sure why.
In theory, this was Joseph’s special spot, his thinking tank, his Alaska cool down zone, his guaranteed smiley-face stamps on his daily behavior check-in sheet. In theory, this was everything Joseph needed to be a productive, happy, and contributing student.
But kids don’t function in theory, they don’t function in topology, and they certainly don’t function when isolated, called out, and symbolically quarantined. Joseph wasn’t a young man, he wasn’t happy, and he wasn’t productive. He was just a kid and that was all he wanted. That was not his theory, that was his Real. Kids function in Real Time.
In Real Time.
Ally is a social butterfly and she loves to tell stories to anyone and everyone who will listen. She doesn’t concern herself with truth or with consequence and she absolutely doesn’t concern herself with the impulse-control strategies she has posted in Velcro on the wall next to the white board and the poster of U.S. presidents. She knows all of the presidents by heart, along with their wives’ names, the year they were sworn into (and sometimes forced out of) office and she has memorized a few funny details about each one of them, if anyone would like to know (but nobody does). She can’t stop the flow of information that releases like a flood each time she arrives at school and since nobody wants to hear about presidents, she fills the flood waters with something else, something untrue, something damaging, or something disruptive. It didn’t take long for Ally to despise presidents altogether; though she was never sure why.
In Real Time.
Antwon is so quiet that he feels as though he must stay tightly shut just to keep out the noise which is so loud it hurts his eyes. He is proud of the high marks he brings home every day but he wonders why he doesn’t do better; and when the teacher asks him a question and he realizes that she has called him, that every head has turned, that eye is open, and that every expectation is upon him at that very moment, the feeling that he can’t, that he won’t, that he doesn’t is so strong he can do nothing at all. His friends, all of whom he likes so much, stare at him now wondering why he stays stupidly silent. He knows a lot about friendship, kindness, sharing, and love, and he’s eager to offer that to anyone who wants it (but nobody does). He could show them his hamster, Togart, so tame that it sits in his pocket while he reads and he would let them hold Toggie and show them how to be gentle with him and it would feel fantastic to share his best friend; but instead, he shrugs his shoulders and the teacher gives him one more chance. He shrugs again and instantly he friend’s hand shoots in the air because she is ready to answer the question he couldn’t. It doesn’t take long for Antwon to despise himself altogether; though he was never sure why.
In Real Time.
I hurt for the parents who have magnificent and amazing children who they want so badly to reach, to hold, to comfort, and to aid. I hurt for teachers who see these kids daily and are constrained by time, standards, and red tape. But mostly, I hurt for kids like these three and like so many others. I hurt with them and I feel their internal struggles and the intensity with which they feel their lives in Real Time.
Mental health is complicated and slippery and misunderstood, even more so when you toss giftedness and twice-exceptionality into the mix.
The latter implies some sort of ease for the child, some sort of extra comprehension with regards to their own mental health needs and control buttons. In theory, a child with heightened cognitive ability can read the texts and follow the dots towards control, towards happy, towards right. In theory.
But as I’ve said, kids don’t regulate and function within theory; in fact, nobody does.
All of us move about in Real Time, seeing icosagons, U.S. presidents, and friendships everywhere we look. Every night I go to bed and ask myself: What are my icosogans? What struggles are my children having and what strategies am I implementing that have begun to feel more like theory than reality? When did my child lose his love of presidents? Where are my child’s Toggie pals? Am I, as a parent, allowing their Real Time to be the best it can be?
I don’t have answers but I tell myself that we have to love those things again, both in ourselves and in our children. We need to get the help they need (and we need) because we know that cognitive ability does not equal some magical, heightened sense of their own mental health needs. And overall, we need to keep it real.
Of course, all of this is just a theory.