Tag Archives: gifted teens

Overexcitablity Inferno: leading gifted/2e kids to writing

As a writer, I thought that my children would burst from the womb thinking in haiku, stretching for writing implement, and begging for more time to write.  The Von Trapp family of the pen, perhaps. The five of us giddy and spinning.  Rolling along on clover fields, somewhere near Dover, and southeast of Shakespeare’s birthplace.  Writing, writing, writing…

The reality looked very different.  They loved storytelling but they hated the act of writing. Much of the angst was due to a volatile mixture of giftedness, overexcitabilities, and learning disabilities.  Dante Alighieri says it best in Inferno, “In the middle of the journey… I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost.”


When it came to helping my gifted and twice-exceptional (gifted and learning disabled) children with their writing, we were lost.  We were in a very dark woods.  There was no straight way.


My children fought grammar, tantrumed convention, monstered punctuation, and nearly died when asked to practice their handwriting.  Seriously.  Death.  Nine circles of horrible, burning death.

I didn’t want to be Virgil leading my little Dantes through inferno. I wanted Von Trapp.  I wanted the clover.  I wanted the sunshine, smiles, and joyful which come from successful writing.  I wanted that for my children, too.

I suspect there are other Virgils out there, leading little Dantes, and searching for some Von-Trappiness.

So let’s find it.

C.S. Lewis said, “You can make anything by writing.”  If my children knew that, really understood that writing could “make anything,” how could they not want to write?

Writing isn’t easy.  It isn’t innate (even when it is).  So when I noticed that many of my children’s issues and hindrances when writing could be matched with Dabrowski’s five overexcitabilities, I started mapping out the connections and my responses to them.

Below are the connections I made to overexcitabilities and the solutions which worked for my children.  I hope they help to turn some Virgils into Von Trapps; or better yet, into C.S. Lewises!

Psychomotor overexcitability.

Even the gifted child who does not typically present as having an intense surplus of energy seems to hit the psychomotor overexcitability mark just about the time they sit down with pencil in hand.   Suddenly, movement seems enticing and talking incessantly becomes top priority. Focus is next to impossible and it seems that nothing you do will quiet them down, help them sit still, or finish the job at hand. So, how did I conquer this impulsive, bouncing, barking, snapping, humming, groaning semblance of my child and get him to write? The answer: I didn’t.

That’s right… my first piece of advice for parents and teachers who ask how to get their reluctant writers to write happily is: don’t. As a writer I can tell you there is nothing more frustrating than having to write when I don’t want to.

I sense protest coming on, so let me say that when it comes to your child’s homework you must ask yourself what the worst case scenario could truly be.  What I would say is something like, “I can see that writing is difficult for you right now. Let’s go outside and play for thirty minutes and try again and if you still can’t get the words you want out on the paper, we’ll come back to it tomorrow.” And if they still can’t get it done then try other options: let them type it out or let them tell you the story and you write it (trust me, this won’t last forever, but it will excite them).

Keep trying and allow them to fail a few assignments. If their bodies can’t stop moving, it might mean that their minds can’t slow down either. If their hands get too tired, they will eventually build endurance. Once their fine motor skills, keyboarding, and their desire to write catches up with their mind, and once they realize writing isn’t a battle to stop their movement, the writing will come. Breathe.

Sensual overexcitability.

A child with a sensual overexcitability seems like a writing dream child. After all, they appreciate the beauty around them, melt at the perfect tasting food, tear up at the softness of a kitten’s fur, and feel a connection to art, music, and the entire world. It sounds like a recipe for writing success! But the parent of a child with sensual overexcitability knows that writing can be an overwhelming task on multiple levels: their inability to express in words the depth of their feelings, their intense connection to their writing which makes it difficult to follow rubrics and prompts, and their physical responses to external stimuli which often gets in the way of their work, all lead to a giant brick wall with STOP written on it.

Help them to define and then understand their own writing process. It can be difficult for gifted children, who feel so connected to the world, to approach writing from a structured and organized perspective without feeling like something is lost along the way. This is especially true for those with heightened awareness of their senses. When you force structure into their writing they may feel detached. This leads to distraction by environmental factors (the hum of the light, the dog barking next door, the birds chirping, the tag on their shirt, the light hitting their paper just so). Make the environment quiet, pleasing, and child-led. Allow them to define their process and then help them use it each time until it becomes easier.

Finally, and this is a big one, praise their effort! Nothing feels better for these kids than seeing someone connect with their writing at an emotional level.  This is as relevant for the emerging writer as it is for the intermediate and high school writer.

Intellectual overexcitability.

While this overexcitability is the most recognizable in a gifted child, it seems like it is also the least understood when it comes to writing and producing materials. A child who is intellectually overexcitable may appear distracted when he sits down to write. He may start discussing his paper more than he writes it; or, he may show a greater interest in a related topic and want to focus on that instead. He may become so intensely focused on one aspect of the assignment that he misses the big picture or doesn’t get it done. It would be no surprise to find a IO fighting the validity of an assignment altogether.  So many of these kids are excellent writers but decide early on that writing is a waste of time.

Be careful not focus on handwriting or structure. My kids often become perfectionists when they write and can overthink that to the point of missing the gestalt, the overall point of the exercise. Next, and this is a big one: learn keyboarding. Fast thinking, analytical thinking, and problem solving happen fast.  Typing will ultimately help them express themselves better and faster. Finally, allow the concentration and fixation even if it means they don’t get the assignment done. I always gave my son a small notepad to jot down his ideas and thoughts, his questions and comments, while he was working on another assignment. The process of thinking during writing, even if it’s not on topic, will help them find a little happiness in it; and even though they may not ever become writers, knowing that they can use writing to solve their big questions, present their findings, and change the world will be useful in college and beyond.

Imaginational overexcitability.

If all the raindrops were metaphors and idioms, oh what a rain it would be!! Standing outside with my mouth open wide…. Ah yes, the imaginational overexcitability. There is nothing my imaginational kids love more than a good story; that said, they fight like gladiators fighting lions or knights slaying dragons when it comes to working on their writing homework. As someone who can relate to imagination, I assumed that my children’s imaginations would translate into delightful tales and magical meandering stories. Much to my chagrin, the act of learning to write was not enough to create little authors and homework was still a chore.

My best advice for the parent struggling to get an imaginative child to write is to read to them or allow them to stop working and read for themselves. There is never a time when reading doesn’t spark a desire to be in the story and there is no better way to be in a story than to write it. If you ask them, I bet they have ideas while you/they read.  Have them write those down (or write it down for them).  The ideas will probably mirror the story they are reading.  Imitation is the first step!   Praise them for it, don’t try to make it “original.”

Also, it always helped to let my child choose where he wanted to write. Your child may prefer a lapboard, the patio table outside, or they may even being under a table. The act of pretending while writing might just be the ideal unrestricted system they need to produce.

And don’t forget to read! If I could write a book at the same time that I was reading a book…oh what a rain that would be!

Emotional overexcitability.

A difficult evening spent doing homework can be an emotional roller coaster for child and parent alike. In my house, I’ve seen inanimate homework objects fly, tear, crumble, sail, and dissolve right before my eyes. I’ve watched a backwards P cause a meltdown which cannot be described in words without causing even more distress in this world.

P, oh P, oh, oh E.  OE, indeed!

This overexcitability creates anxiety.  It breeds insecurity in my children as they compare their work to others.  They question what they are able to produce.  This overexcitability often comes on the heels of another one, the intensities begetting intensity, until the entire household is braced for the deluge.

Many writers have an emotional overexcitability.  It is this very thing that drives them to write.  It is what makes sharing so scary, pushing them into a lonely, quiet corner.

The most important way to help a child dealing with emotional overexcitability during a writing assignment is to take the focus off of achievement and place it on method. This is opposite from many of the situations above when I suggested encouraging writing by focusing on emotion because, at this moment, your child has that in spades.

I join my kids. This might mean helping them focus.  It could mean listening to what they have so far.  The next step is to give them one practical tip to move forward, such as make a tree map, create an outline, or go through and add one detail sentence to each paragraph. The final step is to sit there quietly and allow them to work next to you but not through you. I have found that eventually, if not that very session, they will ask you to move so they can get their work done. This is especially important in a classroom.  Good writing takes space.  It can be next to impossible when you are elbow to elbow, face to face, with friends.

Virgil, Von Trapp, and Lewis.

Gifted kids are funneling so much information at every moment. They are absorbing the world and determining their responses to it all of the time. Asking them to WRITE that response down can be overwhelming.

Writing asks us to give something of ourselves. Writing asks us to take an idea and expand on it using finite space, time, and structure. Writing asks us to open up our souls but to do so with formatting, rules, and guidelines. Writing is abstract and concrete all at once.

Lewis said writers can “make anything” when they write.

That’s true, Clive. But not when it comes to my children’s writing.  I can’t make my children write when they don’t want to.

Maybe they don’t want to write because the moon is in Neptune, the sun is in willows, the tide is in ceiling fans, or because all of this is nonsense.  Bottom line: they don’t want to.  And, sorry to say, I have no advice for Neptune, willows, and ceiling fans…

Wait, yes I do… write that down!

It is at moments like that one, when nothing makes sense, when words are warriors, when the kids have set up a fort with pencil projectiles and paper targets, that the best stories will be told.

Embrace that moment and “make anything.”


Irene Hila lives in Colorado with her husband and three children. She blogs and publishes under a pseudonym as an alternative voice for gifted and twice-exceptional children.  Her alter-ego earned her MA in Creative Writing and is completing her MFA in Creative Writing. She is currently working on a collection of poetry as well as two young adult novels. Her work has been published or will appear in 2e, University Press, and f(online). 



How Slow Can You Go? Trivia and the Gifted/2e Child

I have never enjoyed trivia.  Never.

And yet, at the slightest mention of trivia I feel a crazy competitive sweat break out in my soul.  Not only do I have to answer the trivia question, I must answer it correctly, and I must answer it first.

“I have the answer!!!!”  screams my sweaty soul in response to every question asked.

I don’t care if it is Jeopardy or Juicy-Juice juice boxes… if there is a trivia question involved, I am a poised Answer Puma ready to pounce.

There’s just one problem: all of this happens inside.  On the outside, it is usually about the time when Answer Puma thinks she is poised to pounce, when she truly believes the answer is coming, that

(I’m visualizing myself as the sleek black jungle cat, a Puma, meow, meow! Still I worry at the loss of my habitat.  Perhaps the recent positive-step initiatives for localized farming will lessen logging destruction.  Oh good.  If I were a Puma.  And there are so many names for Puma.  Their habitat range is so large and encompasses so many countries and continents.  I shouldn’t capitalize Puma, now that I think about it, but I suppose I’m using it as a title)

three people call out the answer to the question, the contest is over, and I have not yet answered.

“Wait! What just happened???” 


Now that is a question I can answer quickly: I have never enjoyed trivia.  Never.

So why do I focus all of my attention on trivia?  Why can’t I play trivia (and by play, I mean win, of course)?

The trivia me, the Answer Puma (if you will indulge, dear reader) reminds me of every gifted and twice-exceptional child I’ve ever met.  Why is it that kids who are so astonishingly amazing and have so much to offer the world expend so much of their energy and focus so much of their attention on the one thing, whatever it may be, which makes them feel less than someone else?

Have you ever witnessed a gifted and twice-exceptional child -perhaps your child- in a traditional classroom or on a traditional playground or on any given traditional afternoon?

I have.  It went like this:

“What can I do for you?” asks World.

“Please, please see my child,” pleads Parent.

So World looks at your child so that it can assign brilliance from what your child does and says.

“I don’t see it,” says World.

“No, you can’t look; you have to see!”

World points out what it needs to see the child do and say.  Parent points out the child who seeks brilliance from what he or she is unable to do and unable to say.

The World just shrugs.

Ah yes, the sticky wicket we face as parents of gifted and 2e children.  How can you possibly explain that the very thing which causes kicking, screaming, shutdown, turn up, and face down is the perfect example of how your child is gifted?  How can you explain that your sweet (kicking, screaming, shut down, turned up, faced down) child’s inability to do and say shows the very real need for accommodation in order to meet his social, emotional, and academic needs?

Back to trivia.  “I’d like Things I Hate for $800, Alex.”

When I was unable to talk, my parents tried speech therapy.  I remember the therapist very well: she chain-smoked and fed me peanut butter when I answered any question (right or wrong). I remember spending the entire session trying to get the peanut butter from my palette as she asked me question after question.

“Is this a tree or is this a tree?”

“Will you say tree?”

“Do you like trees?”

“Have you seen a tree?”

“Have you heard of a tree?”

“Does a tree make a sound if you run from my office and bang your head against it?”

I still hate peanut butter, but not as much as I hate trivia.

How can we help our gifted and 2e kids focus on their strengths?  Are the strengths simply too easy for our kids and so they seek out a challenge in their failures?

So there I was, Answer Puma, giving my friend the evil eye for saying, “Gene Wilder’s character is from Poland,” while I was still processing

(Wilder really does resemble my father.  He is Hungarian. Still, Poland is more common and Wilder is, himself, of Polish decent.  Wilder played a Rabbi in the role and it reminds me of Young Frankenstein and Igor’s hunch.  I hunch when I sit and my shoulders have been bothering me.  I’m hunched now.  The chair is too wooden.  My grandmother hunched.  She was from Hungary, not Poland)

“Wait, what was the question?” 

Running dialogues make answering questions quickly seem like a trivia game for some gifted kids (and for Answer Pumas).  And then there are the abstract questions.  As a parent, I ask abstract questions and expect quick answers daily.  I don’t mean to, but sometimes:

“Is that a good choice?”

“Do spoons belong in your pockets?”

“Do you need to keep all of the paper scraps?”

“Did you tell your sister the ocean was crying and dying because she accidentally put cardboard in the trashcan?”

I imagine, to children, all classrooms and all kitchen tables feel like trivia contests.

I wish someone had told me long ago that answers are answers.  They are not wrong just because they are not produced fast enough.  I wish someone had put an answer box under the question and said, “Drop in your answer whenever you are ready!”

Slow answers do not equate slow thinking. 

When the feeling of trivia is removed, Answer Pumas answer quite quickly.  Add back in competition and speed, and it still isn’t slow, I would explain it as roundabout, rotating, angled, encompassing, imaginative, and possibly digress-y.

If the World could see the beauty of the maze rather than the confusion of the turns, it might help them see our kids more clearly.

Comparing Gifted

Recently I had a conversation with an amazing group of parents trying their best to keep at bay this monster of a job we call Parenting-the-Gifted-and-2e-Child.

“We just want the teachers to see his giftedness for what it is,” one said.

“What if they do?” asked another.

“What if they don’t?” we all worried.

We compared their journeys to our own and to other children’s even though we knew we shouldn’t.

“Comparison is a path which leads to insecurity and unhappiness,” One concluded.

“All kids are different and so comparison is futile,” another added.

“But still,” we all worried.

Does comparing beget more comparison? Does any good come from comparing one child to another or from comparing our experiences to our children’s experiences? To compare is human; or so the saying (should) go.

This blog was born from comparing and conversing about the habits, needs, and experiences of my children against the norm. For me, learning disabilities hid my giftedness and giftedness hid my learning disabilities. When I was young, I would compare myself to images of giftedness; and each time I did, I found that I fell short. Dropping out of high school was the final proof that I was not at all, in any way, gifted.


I was not gifted. I was not gifted.  I was not gifted when compared to…?  That elusive end to the sentence. When compared to … to whom? To what? Rice noodles? Einstein? Border Collies? Sarah Johnson from two doors down? Integers? Lip gloss? Digital clocks? Gertrude Stein? Post it notes?  Random lists?

If we are going to compare, let’s get to the point. What exactly are we comparing ourselves against? Gifted kids were just “gifted kids.” Generic, shiny, fantastic, and perfect Gifted. Who can compare against that?? You see, therein lies the trouble with comparison: it is always against this strange and elusive norm. Normal gifted or normal normal. It is why we are encouraged not to compare our children to other children or compare their experiences to our own. Comparison has become a dirty word.

But I think we would serve our children well if we compared them; in fact, I think we are doing our amazing, fantastic, and whimsical wonders of overexcitability and asynchronistic-ity a disservice by not ever comparing them against one another.

We need to compare our children, swap notes, and consider what each gifted and twice-exceptional child is going through. We need to do this until we find enough similarities and differences that we can be sure that no child falls through cracks (and by cracks, I mean the gigantic vortex-y chasms that exist in both the identification and education of the gifted and twice-exceptional child).

Imagine if the world saw more than just a generic “Gifted Kid.”

I can imagine that world. It’s what I strive for with this blog. I am a high school dropout. It doesn’t matter how many degrees are accumulated after that fact; that fact remains. Let’s imagine I was in high school and could compare myself with the gifted dyslexic or the gifted underachiever. What if I had compared myself to a gifted high school dropout?  Yes, what if.

The face of gifted, the words of gifted, and the comparisons of gifted need to change if we are ever to completely serve our children’s needs and our own as their parents.

Compare the following statements and questions. They are all very real. Can you find similarities and/or differences? Can you find merit in the world hearing this gifted? Could comparing your child to their children help to motivate you?  Can you see a way we could help the community find their children’s place?

  • “My son doesn’t test well, but I know he is gifted…. I’m so frustrated!”
  • “My daughter was placed in a Special Education class to help the school handle her behavioral problems. She struggles with authority, but she reads Hawkins every night. What do I do?”
  • “My daughter writes at a 1st grade level, but she completes algebra assignments for fun. They put her in a gifted pull-out program but she doesn’t like the extra workload. How can I explain to the school that she needs a challenge but still needs remedial support?”
  • “All of my children are so emotional. They can barely make it through the day or to school in the morning, let alone a structured class or an accelerated program. Isn’t there anyone who understands?”
  • “I have never heard of a gifted program; besides, I’m an only parent and my kids need to go to the neighborhood school so they can take a bus.”
  • “My family and I are transient. My children get two of their meals a day from the school. I’m so afraid they won’t finish school or they’ll fall into the wrong crowd. They are so smart, I just wish they had the opportunities every other kid has.”
  • “I am dyslexic and I don’t know if my son is or not because it costs too much to test him. Children’s Hospital has a program with a 1-2 year wait, but they need a referral and the teachers don’t see any issues. I think he’s doing grade-level material because his giftedness is hiding the disability. What can I do?”
  • “My daughter just learned English and didn’t understand the test they gave her.”

Gifted looks different to and on everyone.  Gifted crosses all cultural and socioeconomic lines. Gifted is not one-size-fits-all. Gifted needs to be compared and we need to use the comparisons to start the larger conversation that all Gifted children, from all walks of life, with all abilities and disabilities, require specialized instruction and a place within the budget so that teachers, administrators, and lawmakers can meet each of our children’s unique  social, emotional, and academic needs.

“We have to do something,” said one.

“What if we do?” asked another.

“What if we don’t?” we all worried.

Play on Words: discover the poet in your gifted/2e child

Bang. Thud. Thump. Crack. Ono. Mato. Poeia.

Head. Hit. Wall. Hard. One-ah. Two-ah. three-ah.

Ah, the sounds of cranium meeting the gentle-energy, yellow wall after a mere fifteen minutes (who am I kidding? It was more like 34 seconds!) into a homework session with my child. On the agenda: writing.

How could I fail? How could she? How could we? How couldn’t we not? Ugh. Fragment much?

Are you, like me, shocked and awed that the yellow wall lovingly and painstakingly and researchedly painted wasn’t enough to promote happy learning? Have you finally done it? Have you messed up your child forever by not choosing the mathy, sciencey think-clearly-blue or empowering, earthy, go-for-it-green?

Perhaps, like me, you have a gifted or twice-exceptional child who loves to be expressive and extravagant with his or her word choices (at bedtime, hair-brush time, quiet time, and now) but can’t seem to focus on writing, can’t seem to complete a sentence, and can’t seem to breathe when the assignment calls for details in the form of words.

Egad! What to do?

Take a deep breath. Find your center. Let the gentle-energy yellow bring you back to your happy place.

At some point our children must learn to read and write, to use many good grammar, and to communicate, explicate, and punctuate. None of these can (or should) be avoided. As I said in my previous blog post, I will leave that to their wonderful teachers- my words like to PLAY!

Think of this series as recess. Think of verb use as retired rubber tires bolted to a chain, spinning four nearly-vomitus children to sheer glee. Think of writing prompts as the rules to a competitive game of foursquare: I’ll be the princess, you can be the king, but Sarah gets to be the kangaroo. Think of writing blocks as scraped knees: nothing serious, just a few crumbs of concrete that need to be brushed away (if you don’t look at the block, it won’t hurt as much).

So here we are, on the playground, and the first ball I’d like to throw in is POETRY.  How doth she expect us to wanteth to doeth thith… (too far… possibly too far).

At a writing workshop in 1994, Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks told a group of young writers that poetry is like wine, that it is meant to be sipped, meant to be savored, and meant to be shared; but if you drink too much at once, you will just get a headache and wake up with regrets. If poetry to an adult writer is like a gentle and fruity wine like Maison Roche de Bellene Savigny les Beaune 2011, then surely structured writing to a child is like fire-breathing and burn-your-throat Spirytus Polish Vodka 192 Proof. 

The only conclusion I can reach is that exposing our children to a long sit-down with poetry is akin to getting our dear children drunk- fall on the floor, fall in love, fall back out, and lean on a friend or two drunk. 

So why would I choose poetry as my first recess game, you ask?

Because poetry is full of rules, structure, and (shhh!) grammar, but it is also full of musicality, cadence, and rhythm. Poetry doesn’t say mop the floor, it says dump out a bucket of soapy water, strap sponges onto your feet and go for a skate.  It is true that all creative writing is flavored by poetic diction, but poetry just seems to reach children in a way that is inviting, invigorating, and yes, a little intoxicating.

Here are five poetry games and activities I came up with to cater to the various moods, abilities, and desires in my household.  All three of my children are gifted; but as you know, no two gifts are the same and no two gifted kids need the same thing.  I hope you find one or more which work for your kids. Give them a try and share your creations, your successes, or your failures in the comments section below.


Imitation is key when it comes to clever, capable, and go-get-‘em writing. I could fill space with the arguments for and against imitation as a form of learning poetry; but since this is for our kids (and for our sanity), I will leave the analysis, theory, and rhetoric to the experts. For me, as a twice-exceptional gifted child, reading was everything. All of the movements my mouth, my body, and my brain couldn’t make were transferred into the words I read. They waltzed, gallivanted, and galloped across the page. Without reading, I can say with absolute certainty, I would not have become a writer.

Read greeting cards, signs, menus, and captions. Read picture books, chapter books, any books, and every books. For this exercise read a ton of poetry. Get very drunk. You don’t have to read poetry to write poetry, but reading poetry to children helps to emphasize form. Whether or not they want to discuss the author’s reason for using a particular method (another plus!), gifted children seem crazily giddy when reading or listening to poetry. From a very early age many gifted kids will notice things such as assonance, word play, rhyme, onomatopoeia, alliteration, and metaphor. It doesn’t mean they can name it, recreate it, or analyze it, but they light up. I love lights.

Read to them, let them read to you, let them read alone, whatever it takes. Just READ.

Pick a word, any word (even orange, silver, month and bulb)

My oldest is twice exceptional and completely asynchronous. The spread between his processing speed and his next score is 40+ points (apple –> tree, you say?). Still, he was a voracious talker (why should it only apply to reading??) who had an impressive vocabulary by two and a half, memorized whole books we read to him, could play guitar and write a song at the same time by three years old, and he would, just for fun, change letters in words, say them backwards, rhyme them, or give them a rhythm. Yet, he was never a good reader, choosing instead to talk. Even now, in high school, the kid will talk his way out of reading every time.

When he was little I created a game and it has survived through the ages. We called it Pick a word, any word. The rules: my son would pick a word first (kids are always first, second, and third so that the game sticks before they give up!) and I had to rhyme it. Then I would pick a word (or not). It is simple, but it often became very challenging. Ask a gifted child to give you any word to rhyme… and the skies open up! But as his skill grew, so did the game: we added sentences. So what once was cat/sat and road/toad, for example, eventually became Once there was a little cat/Upon his bed he always sat and Looking out at the road/I worry for the green-eyed toad. When this type of word play became too easy, we would put together whole stories in that couplet style. Nothing made him happier than my writing out our collaborative creations and I can recall writing many road trip games on envelopes, scraps, and receipts.

Remember that every child is different. This game was fun for two of my three children. The middle child would burn this file if she saw this game included in my list.

Sonnets, Villanelles, and Sestinas, Oh My

Meters, feet, counting, structure, structure, STRUCTURE… my oldest goes running from all of these. He finds poetry stupid and makes no qualms about it (more on that fix later). My middle child loves rules, so for her a poem with a structure makes sense and is easier to stomach. This game is simple (and the most difficult). Take the time to look up poets, poetry, and some of the most eloquent forms of the art, and then sit down with your child and both of you try your hand at it.

Courtesy of Commons.Wikipedia

Right now I am in love with sestinas. I wrote my first sestina at twelve years old after reading Rudyard Kipling’s Sestina of the Tramp Royal. It wasn’t a keeper. But remember, this isn’t about becoming the next Dickenson. This game is about getting out of our rooms, getting out of our heads, and getting past our stuck points to explore everything lyrical and poetic.Only you know if this is appropriate for your child and age/grade has very little to do with poetic ability, so I won’t give it an age or grade range.

There are many ways to adapt this to all levels and styles. If your daughter is a processor, try a Haiku… if your son loves music, try a sonnet… if nothing sounds good, give an acrostic poem a spin.


After such rigorous word play it is time to go Braveheart on this thing. That’s right- free verse. If you dig, you will find rules, but there are no rules here. This is your bucket of words, your pouring of all things odd, great, and fantastic. This is when my youngest two look at me and say, “What are we supposed to do?” because they want rules and structure. And this is when I paint their faces blue and say, “No rules, girls, no rules! Only FREEDOM!”

I’m not saying it is easy. Free writing is one of the most difficult things you can ask your child to do. And if they don’t feel like free writing- don’t. You can’t write and create when you are forced to do so. That said, you can make choices to help them feel the groove. I like lapboards, unique writing spots (under a table, next to a tree, in a closet, whatever makes them smile), and colorful pens, pencils, or markers.   I always let them know they can share or not share; it is their choice. Some kids must share or they do not want to create and others are not able to create if they know they will have to share. That is okay. Let me repeat that thought- it is okay not to share. In fact, not sharing may bring out much more in the way of real, emotional writing.

This game is intentionally vague. I think it is important to sit and write without rules.  For those kids who are older and resist, this is when I bring up my child who decided he hated poetry and the five minutes I made him sit and watch Billy Collins read his poem The Lanyard.  Poetry is for everyone, by everyone, and it is so important to remind young adults that poetry is not mind death; that, my dear teenager, is Drama.

Lexicon (my new pet dragon)

I always loved the word Lexicon. My daughter said it sounded like the name of a dragon and it stuck. The Lexicon Dragon Game. It is relatively new in our house and it is a favorite for everyone. The rules: pick an article, a website, a book, a menu, an advertisement, a bill, a textbook, anything you have nearby, and pick out twenty (or more) words. Write the words in list style (numbered 1-20), underline them, or write them on a white board. Using these words, create a story verbally or in writing. There are no rules. You can use two or three of the words in one sentence and none in the next or one in each. Let your child guide their own piece. To start, make sure you choose a lexicon your child can read and understand or it won’t be as much fun; alternately, you can use something over-the-top difficult and foreign (figuratively or literally) for your child and giggle away.

For older kids, have them use one of their own pieces. Underlining the words that jump out at them will be an exercise which helps them write better and with more intention. This game is whimsical, interesting, funny, enlightening; and for our word-loving kids, it seriously feels like drinking, absorbing, and swimming in words.

We have expanded this game to classics, such as Homer and Shakespeare with fantastic results.  Choosing a lexicon from poetry begets poetry.

Are you excited to start writing poetry with your child? Are you feeling a bit sick and nauseous at the prospect? Both of these are normal and expected.  Sip each of these tips slowly. These tools are not meant to be implemented overnight and not every game will be a fit for every child.

Sharing the gift of poetry is about so much more than writing. It is about the love for and the appreciation of words. They will stumble away from poetry feeling lightheaded and woozy, spinning happily into their world, a world which is labeled, laid out, and loaded with more and more and more words.

So where should we spin next? Why, writing without punctuation, of course. (Yeah, she be crazy!)

Spinz, whooz, craz. Grab onto a base word, hold tight to a root, connect yourself to something synonymous with those things.  Words be spinning out of control ’round here.



“A Selection of poems by Billy Collins.” Fora TV. .City Arts & Lectures, San Francisco, Califonia (2008).  http://fora.tv/2008/04/07/A_Selection_of_Poems_by_Billy_Collins

Comma Comma Dot Dot Dot

alas there is nothing in this world as terrifying annoying and downright disturbing to my children and it seems all gifted children with whom I attempt to create words sentences paragraphs and in turn full essays than the art or the lesson or the torture that is punctuation and convention

“You use it wrong all the time!” My daughter is quick to point out now that she feels somewhat secure in her punctuatorious footing (it is not a word… but it should be).

That’s certainly true, Punctuatorious Daughter of Mine, I often throw (as I have now) all punctuation into the proverbial trash bin in exchange for ellipses and commas and odd placement and long, intentional lists and flow and meaning and fun. And, once she has a Master’s Degree in English she can do the same thing.

“You are not to call it poetic diction or creative parallel language until you can call it that without Google, m’dear.”

“Ugh,” she replies, “that is SOOO boring!”

“No, sweetheart, that is so boring. You can capitalize the word so in emails to me, but Oxford denounces it in proper writing.”

Seriously, now, why is it SOOO unbelievably difficult to teach punctuation and its uses to children whose writing and understanding of writing has far surpassed their ability to apply conventions and punctuation?

I asked myself this question today. I was handed punctuation bingo. It seemed easy… enough.

After a few hours in the classroom (where I built an elaborate shrine in my head to my youngest daughter’s teacher who literally wrangled spring-fevered clothed human-cats into small groups of actual functioning and growing entities), I have narrowed it down to five reasons my gifted children hate all things “practice, action, or system of inserting points or other small marks into texts, in order to aid interpretation, (divide) into sentences, clauses, etc., by means of such marks” (My Pal, Oxford English Dictionary, which recently added Shoop). Here it is:

  1. The need to edit punctuation implies imperfection.
  2. The need to edit at ALL implies imperfection.
  3. The need for perfection implies imperfection.
  4. I can’t remember number four.
  5. Please see numbers 1 through 3.

The children, my own included, from youngest to high school, all seem to think of editing and punctuation as some sort of slight against their writing, themselves, their abilities, and their minds. Further, the act of putting proper conventions in while they are writing seems to slow them down so much so to make them believe their content is flawed.

It’s as if little dragons live in semicolons and single-unit modifiers are bullies.  What to do? What to do?

First, place a fresh piece of fruit and some sandalwood incense at the altar for your child’s teacher. That helps. Next, see the above list and try to understand how bad it feels to write when you feel your punctuation is all wrong. I think I might dive into that a little more this month.  And finally, it’s okay.

Look, writing is hard for everyone. Could you sit down and get it all out, empty your minds, fill the page, and say what you want to say, all while following every convention you know? Of course not. (Fragment). Convention and punctuation is like the math of the English world and it has a place a proper place in your child’s writing your child’s learning and your child’s project but not in your child’s mind. (Run On).

Run on. Run on. Run on and on and on and on

the next time my child gets stuck on writing and punctuation and convention I’m going to have him or her sit down and write without any altogether and see what happens crazy right It might look crazy on the paper to see no pauses and places to rest but it’s so much more fun and besides didn’t you pause on your own in my first paragraph even though I didn’t tell you to

(Question Mark).

In Real Time.

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.

In theory.

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.

Little 6c

What is gifted and talented supposed to look like? What face is on the ideal lifetime of gifted contribution? Which pieces of the puzzle do learning disability, life circumstance, and opportunity support or hinder?

It is no secret that I made poor choices when I was younger and I’m sure many, and I do mean many, gifted adults would commiserate with me. They would shake their heads in wonder at some of the things that they have done. We would all wish for a gigantic broom and rug so that we could sweep, sweep, sweep some of those pesky little details underneath and out of truth.

As for me, most of my time was spent in the world of addiction. Addicts and I had a lot in common and there was comfort in their chemical-induced extremes. I never liked to do anything that took away my ability to retreat into my mind and I suppose that tiny fact saved my life.

Observer. That was the face behind which you’d find me. It was a great hiding place. No one thought to look for me there; and if they did, I’d see them coming.

I sat back and watched the beautiful and passionate people around me turn their passions and their ideas into spaces to fill with more drugs. I was their note taker. I was the person who wrote it all down in a brain not too damaged by addiction. I observed. But I did nothing.   That was my addiction, I suppose, an addiction to feeling like I could not say, I could not be, and I could not do. Observer, for me, was just as strong as their drug.

Now, I am out spreading the word.  The words we tell kids is that life is all about choices. We make good and bad choices all the time and our futures are driven by them. The Bad Kid fears that his or her choices make them bad people and the Good Kid fears that his or her choices are the hinge upon which their entire universe is balanced.

There is no need for hindsight. Let’s tell our gifted kids that their method of overthinking decisions is truth. That’s right; it is my belief that the truth is both and neither. Both choices are right, both choices are wrong, and neither choice is right, and neither choice is wrong. Choices are infinity-fold and the gifted teen knows this innately. They were born knowing it and they breathe it in daily. Telling a gifted teen to make that one and only good choice… telling them to choose right or left, right or wrong, good or bad… it can become an external struggle for the ages and an internal struggle from which they may never recover.

Infinity-fold choices.  No right.  No wrong.  All right.  All wrong.  This is what I would tell them.

As I said, I was knee deep in a group of addictions. I played the role of Observer. But there was a moment –a singular choice I made – which removed me from that scene indefinitely. It is a story, one of the million stories which stay with me, that seeps into my dreams like heroin finds its way into a former addict’s nightmares. I wonder, always wonder, what I would change if I could. There are so many moments to choose from.

This change would come first.

It was cold outside and I had moved back home with my mother. She and I had just fought over my refusal to take the GED. She desperately wanted me to go and take the test, she had set the appointment; and I, foolish daughter, was too scared to go.  I hid that fear behind refusal and apathy.  After all- who wants to take and fail the GED?

I ran to my friends for moral support.   Please tell me it’s okay to be, to say, to do nothing… and I received that support in spades.

We ended up at a friend of a friend of a friend’s apartment.  We sat around a card table smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. It wasn’t long before the hard stuff came out. I wasn’t in the mood to drink and I never did like the hard stuff.

As usual, I was well hidden in my role as Observer.

Late into the night I observed.  Leaning back, smiling where appropriate, smoking cigarette after cigarette, and secretly worrying about the GED.   I mean, really, how hard could it be? I had read the GRE study guide. Surely this had to be easier than the GRE? But what if there are bubbles to fill in…. what if there are –gulp- multiple choice math problems?

It was past midnight when I heard the sound.

It was quiet at first. My ears pushed through the hot, the smoke, the noise, and the lifeless conversation… it sounded like a kitten mewling. Was it trapped somewhere? Was it outside in the cold? Did it need help? As soon as I started to pinpoint the direction- it was gone. I tried to brush it off.

There it was again.

I stared at the door. Outside I knew there was a long hallway with ten similar doors.  I followed the sound with my ears, visualizing the hall, the dirty carpet, and each door. I tried to find the door behind which the sound was most intense.

The sound was constant now. It wasn’t a kitten.

From somewhere deep in the building it was howling. Like a train mournfully tearing across a wheat field covered in snow, muffled yet intense, and as keen as it was distant. The sound was as sad as it was driven by purpose.

Laughter pulled me from my thoughts. A girl I didn’t know was laughing. Too loudly.

She covered up the sounds I was so desperately trying to locate. Her head was pale and exposed by a recent buzz cut. She had left her bangs long and blonde with hot pink ends which covered one eye.   She had as many piercings as she had volume and both flashed too loudly for my senses. It was time to go.

I stood up just as she did. We looked across the table at one another.

“I’m going to head out.” I said and started towards the door without saying goodbye.

“Wait, I’ll go with you!” buzz girl said, grabbing her cigarette and bouncing towards the door.

We opened the door and the intensity of the noise hit me square in the chest. It was coming from the left. Buzz girl went left.  The exit was right.  I went left.

The noise from our party was nearly erased by the sound of wailing in the hallway. With only two lights, both encased in 1970s amber-colored glass, I could barely see; but I could hear. I could hear the cry, the scream, the whimper, the fear…

I could hear the baby.

Buzz girl stumbled back and forth, cigarette in her mouth, a ping pong ball on her way down a urine-soaked hallway to her innocent child. I walked steadily behind her.  My stomach grew heavy.  I could turn and run. I should. I was going in the wrong direction.

When she arrived at 6c she opened the door. It wasn’t locked.

Inside a small metal lamp offered the only light. Centered in the room was a dirty square playpen. A small child was sitting against the netting, too tired to stand any longer, wearing only a very full diaper. The acrid smell in the apartment was hard to mistake: a mixture of human waste, heroin, booze, and filth. The heat, which was regulated by the superintendent, was on full blast and made the small room an oven.

I stood in the doorway. I wasn’t sure what to do.

Buzz girl stumbled into the small studio kitchen, opened a dirty bottle, and filled it with water. She opened a cupboard and took out a bag of white sugar. Reaching into the bag, she closed her fist around as much sugar as it would hold. I watched as sugar fell through her fingers on its way to her other hand holding the bottle. She opened her hand and grains of sugar fell all over, some landing in the liquid, others landing on the counter, the floor, and her clothes.

She closed the lid, shook it twice, and looked over at me.  When she saw my quizzical look she just shrugged, “Milk is expensive. This baby gonna eat me out of house and home.”

She leaned over the playpen, her silver piercings catching the light, as she handed it to the baby who took it eagerly and fell over backwards in eagerness for that first useless sip.

Buzz girl hurried out of the apartment and shoved me out of the way of the door. She slammed it shut without locking it and leaned back. She looked at me as if to say, “There, we did it.”

She wiped the sugar off of her hands and headed back towards the party.

I stood there.

She opened the party door, the noise intensified, and then it was closed. I heard her annoying laughter once more.

I stood there.

The baby had quieted but I could hear small sobs. The door was unlocked.

I stood there.

At the far end of the hall an exit sign buzzed, on and off, the letters had broken so that it read E IT.

I stood there.

The sobbing finally stopped. I was certain the baby had fallen asleep.

I stood there.

I was so tired. So tired of not knowing who I was capable of becoming.  So tired of pretending.  So tired of watching it all go down.  But most of all, I was tired of who I was allowing myself to be.

I walked to the party door. I kept walking. I walked to the E IT sign. I kept walking.  That night I walked out of that hallway and into a new life. I walked into a life in which I was an active participant who needed to act worthy of the opportunities she had been given to achieve something.

It all sounds so majestic, but the fact remains- I never opened that door. I walked away and into my own life without opening the door and doing something. I observed.  I observed to my and an innocent life’s detriment.

What I would tell gifted teens and lost teens and young kids and all kids is that addiction, of any kind, does just that. It walks away when it shouldn’t. It is selfish, unkind, and unrelenting. Walking away from that apartment building was the best and worst decision I’ve ever had to make; and even now, twenty-five years later, I cry for Little 6c and wonder if anyone ever opened the door.

We can’t sweep it all under the rug. Gifted doesn’t look like me and gifted doesn’t look like you. Gifted doesn’t look like anything at all. It is not perfect and shiny, quiet and capable, beautiful and prepared. It is, just like all things, something from which we start; and from there, we can go in any number of directions. Infinity-fold. That’s the truth, that’s the dust, that’s the rug, and that’s the sound I was following.

Little 6c, I’m sorry I never opened your door. I should have. I could have. But I walked away instead. Ever the Observer. The best and worst decision I ever made. It’s what my gifted looks like; it’s what my gifted feels like; and that, dear readers, dear gifted teens, dear gifted adults, dear unidentified gifted child locked behind the proverbial door, is what my gifted sounds like when I close my eyes.