When learning differences interfere with learning experiences

troubled-child-young-boy-standing-in-cornerDear GHF,

My head is about to explode. My son is gifted, very sensitive, and talks incessantly. I enrolled him in a computer summer camp. Turns out, the teacher is very strict about behavior, and my son just can’t stop talking during “work time.” I understand that his constant talking means that his brain is turned on and he is engaged, but the teacher is worried he’s distracting the other kids. I’ve explained that he doesn’t mean any harm and asked her to remind him respectfully, but she insists he’s doing it on purpose and her comments to him are pretty harsh. He really enjoys the class material, but he’s hurt by the way he is being treated. I can’t go around constantly handing out brochures explaining his disabilities. What can I do?

~Head Exploding

Dear Head Exploding,

We’re sorry you and your son are going through this. People can be very judgmental about behavior that doesn’t conform, and compassion isn’t always their first reaction. Neurological or physiological differences such as ADD, processing difficulties, autism spectrum disorders, hearing impairment, and other challenges are not always obvious, which is why we call them “invisible disabilities.”

While the teacher has a point about your son’s talking being potentially disruptive, it’s not unreasonable to ask her to simply tap his shoulder or remind him nicely that it’s work time when he forgets. It’s more effort for her, but a little patience goes a long way. As with any class, one of the teacher’s goals should be to help them practice and develop their emerging social skills.

Many people simply cannot get past the idea that “misbehaving” children are intentionally disruptive. In some circumstances, you can simply disregard what other people believe, but you can’t in this case as it’s critical to your child’s camp experience.

Here are some things you can do:

Find support. It’s easier to deal with obstacles when you know you are not the only one facing them. Other parents of children with invisible disabilities are confronted by the same frustrations. Commiseration and shared ideas can be validating, giving you the confidence and tools to speak up.

Educate the people around you. You don’t have to hand out brochures to everyone, but sometimes a well-placed article or a link in an email can be helpful. You can also find ways to casually impart bits of information into a conversation.

Don’t be afraid to speak up. Do it not because it might make a difference (although it might), but because your child needs to see you standing up for him and he needs a model of how to stand up for himself.

Check out Writing Your Own Script: A Parent’s Role in the Gifted Child’s Social Development by Corin Goodwin and Mika Gustavson. You’ll find lots of helpful tips addressing just this kind of situation.

Finally, you could approach the program director and ask for assistance. If that isn’t effective, you and your son will have to sit down and make a decision about what to do. He can stay in the class (if he can conform to the rules and he’s allowed to continue), or he can withdraw. Neither is an ideal solution, but bringing him into the process will help him understand what has happened and why it’s not all his fault. Just think of the learning experience!

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