The Penny

Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.

[Sunday, March 27, 2011]

Mister Personality


One of the deaf high school students coordinated a deaf/hard of hearing ice skating trip, inviting the teachers, interpreters, and d/hh students throughout the county. It was surprisingly well-attended! There were two kids that the d/hh program head and I had targeted as really needing to attend: one because the parents need to see that talking and signing are not mutually exclusive; the other because the poor kid has no friends. He gets along great with everybody at school, but he's basically hidden away at home, playing video games and watching television. I think it's a combination of a cultural thing (acute embarrassment at disability) and being the only "kid" in the family--brothers are 17 and 18. He's 8.

Both of these kids came! I don't know how much success was had with the adorable little guy who desperately needs sign language (he has an unrepaired cleft palate and can't talk), because I was out on the ice with the 8-year-old. I was so happy that his oldest brother and his mother brought him. I think I've seen mom's face twice in the last two years. They are an overworked, poverty-level family--she doesn't have the luxury of taking off work to volunteer in the classroom or attend IEP meetings. But she is such a sweet person. Laynie got to chat with her a little, which I was happy about. She can see that sign language doesn't make you a bad person. Yeah, pretty much all of the elementary kids' families need this lesson. By middle school they start to accept the idea, and by high school they couldn't care less how their kid communicates as long as they will become a tax-paying citizen at some point.

So Laynie and my sister, Katie, who also signs, came to the little event. Katie hung with the teenagers or with me. I was kind of glued to little man, who at first was terrified, then clingy, then confident--but wouldn't let go of his stabilizer device. It was a metal, walker-looking thing that looks like this picture I found online:

But the kid was fast using that thing! As he began to get comfortable, he started chatting with the deaf students I passed, and with his interpreter, who was one of the few brave adults to get on the ice. I guess I should give little man a name. Let's go with Macarius.

Macarius is a great implant user, although he hasn't had them very long, just since he turned 7. But the noise level at the skating rink made it difficult for hearing people to communicate--you had to lean in to hear people. The hearing teachers were signing to each other to support speech (and of course to be polite). But luckily Macarius also signs, because the school district kind of put down its foot at not signing with a 6-year-old who knew five words.

He got quite the schooling in the basics of deaf cultural communication:
-Repeatedly signing someone's name sign does not get their attention.
-Vocalizing does not get their attention.
-Yeah, you have to wave your hand and get your little body in front of them so they'll see you.
-Just presenting your name sign is not enough. Everyone is going to ask you to fingerspell your name.
-And they're going to fingerspell their names. Get ready for normal speed fingerspelling, because they see an 8-year-old--they don't know you've only been signing for two years. And you learned from hearing. Sorry.
-If you want a turn in conversation, get those arms up when you see a pause. Nobody's going to say, "Macarius, what do you think?"
-"You have cochlear implants too!" is a conversation killer.
-Facial expressions will get you far.

Macarius had a bit of a crush on the d/hh program head's college-aged (I think) daughter. At one point, he told me to go on ahead, he was going to wait for her. Ouch! He loved racing with the college girl's hockey-player boyfriend.

He kept asking me HOW?? as I was skating.

Watching the deaf teenagers try to communicate with him was a rude awakening for me. He couldn't understand much of what they said. "Do you go to a school for the deaf or mainstream school?" Right, like he knows what mainstream means. I modeled answers for him to imitate when needed, and I think they thought he was dumb. Again, two years of learning language! He just doesn't know much. He did learn a new sign and English word while he was there: hockey.

Mom spent the first hour fretting at the sidelines, trying to get Macarius to wear his jacket over his fleece sweatshirt. Of course he was way too cool for that, and he told his mother that the heaviness of the coat would make him fall. (Same kid who argued that he doesn't like to do homework while the moon is out--could you tell?) It honestly is not cold at all when you're skating--I wore a light fleece and no gloves and was fine. Laynie had explained this to Macarius' mom using gestures, and she understood--but you can't keep a worried mom down. Finally I took pity on her and showed Macarius that I had on a tee shirt and fleece. "See? Two. You how many?" He immediately put on his coat. Mom thanked me profusely, nearly crying with relief.

During a Zamboni break (he watched the ice become smooth and said, "Oh, no, now I'm going to fall!"), I made him talk to the cleft palate kid. Just to show that the kids in our program talk. I fingerspelled the other kid's name, and Macarius spoke it aloud.. correctly. It's a weird name, but Macarius is my little phonics champ. Boo-yah. He tried to say hi and stuff. But the other kid was pretty boring for Macarius, since he doesn't communicate, so Macarius went off to stalk the college girl.

When Macarius' mom told him it was time to go (before everyone else was leaving), he was NOT a happy campter. But the Zamboni came out five minutes later and I called it a day, which mollified him. Mom and Brother were trying to get me to meet them at the rink again, because the child obviously had a great time, and they could see that he has a natural talent for skating. He could have ditched the stabilizer thing 30 minutes in.

I told them maybe I'd go skating with them again (how could I just outright say no?), and Macarius suggested tomorrow. Or March 31. Haha. I told him March 31 is a Thursday, and he has private AVT on Thursdays. Older brother suggested next Saturday. Oh, boy.

Another Listening Update


Wow, this is my 200th post. I thought I'd lose interest long before 200 posts.

Laynie has gone to auditory therapy twice now, and I got to go along on her second visit (it was while I was recovering from the kidney stone incident).

I like her therapist, Kristen. She is so positive, and she really "gets" deaf people. And did I say she is so positive?

Classic Kristen: "Mistakes are wonderful! I just love that you had the opportunity to listen to your choice and what I said and decide for yourself. Didn't that help you so much?"

I don't want you to get the wrong picture: she's not all valley, peppy, bubble-person positive. She's urban, hipster positive. Picture this: 50ish, haircut resembling the nasty (yet chic) queen on V, with chunky glasses and gold hoop earrings. She seriously cracks me up.

The positive vibe somehow communicates "I'm totally confident that you are going to succeed eventually, yet I'm pleasantly surprised by every little bit of progress along the way." That's just the antidote for a person who thinks slow means forever and forever means never.

They spent an hour doing two tasks--nice, slow pace. Laynie listened and repeated sounds and words. Yes, she can do it! Wowie! She can make her voice go higher and lower, louder and softer, matching what Kristen did (hiding her face behind a screen--no lipreading). She needed repetition, of course, because she is just learning. Laynie remembered three of the words she had done before: I/eye, be/bee, and shoe. Then she listened to sentences of about seven to eight words, with a group of five sentences as choices, and she pointed to the one that Kristen said. She did a great job with that, too, with not many repetitions. After doing each sentence several times, Kristen covered up the sentences and asked Laynie just to listen. She got the first one right away! She got the rest with just a few repetitions.

The tasks were standard issue auditory therapy, but I think having a good teacher makes all the difference in the world. I loved her approach and want to emulate her positive-even-through-difficulty attitude. And although none of the activities are things we haven't or couldn't do at home, just the fact that she has an appointment and drives to the clinic for the express purpose of working on listening skills makes a difference--she's very vocal after therapy sessions and comes home wanting to practice more.

Laynie has made a big leap by learning to repeat what she hears. The next step is realizing what she is saying, what the words she is repeating are. Remembering what the words sound like. Hearing the same words over and over is the key, which Kristen said as well. So Laynie chose ten words to learn this week: help, want, hungry, thirsty, food, computer, bed, store, clean, shower. She is doing a great job with them!

Laynie's favorite thing lately is whispering. I think it must have been about four years ago that I explained what whispering is (she sort of had an idea of what it was, but not exactly), but now that she's an implanted girl and can hear it, she loves it. Sometimes she'll whisper from across the room, probably to test my hearingness. It's funny to play with sound, right?

So the gist of the listening update is: Laynie is doing great, and I heart Kristen. So glad Laynie got the perfect therapist for her. Kristen feels like Laynie is just about to climb up to the next rung of the listening ladder: comprehension. That rung is spaced pretty far from the one below it. But she will do it. She's only had her implants (well, the first one) for two years, and the first year was a mess of mapping issues (struggling to get them programmed right). The audiologist said she'll take at least 5-7 years to reach her potential and might continue to improve long after that.

Speaking of the audiologist... I love him, but maybe she needs to switch. She was getting an eye blink with some sounds, which could mean too much stimulation overall or a problem with a certain electrode. It might mean that some electricity is learning the cochlea, where it's supposed to be, and stimulating the nearby facial nerve. The audiologist just globally decreased the power on both ears, which made things quieter, which she did not want. The problem is that it's hard to find an audiologist who knows how to program Laynie's brand. She has Med-El, which I guess you could say is kind of like the Apple of cochlear implant brands... think pre-iPod Apple. Okay, so it's more stable and user-friendly, and the quality might be higher... but it's not on most people's radar, and good luck finding programs for it. Med-El has a fantastic track record (no "oops we accidentally put out YET ANOTHER BAD IMPLANT that went down in a blaze of glory or maybe killed a few kids" like AB or paying off doctors like Cochlear), and the company has been wonderful with the few minor technical problems Laynie has had, but it sure is a pain to find an audiologist who can map it.

There's a fantastic audiologist at GBMC that a lot of deaf people go to, whom they bring their deaf children to.. but she only maps Cochlear and AB. Maybe she'd be willing to learn? I did hear of a good audiologist who maps Med-El, who is down at the University of Maryland. There's another guy at Hopkins who specializes in mapping adults, but it's kind of awkward to switch to someone in-house. And her current audiologist signs, which is a bonus--not fluently but enough to get by if I couldn't go with her. (Sure she could get an interpreter, but that's a crapshoot.) And of course I have to admit that Laynie is probably a very difficult patient to map, just because she doesn't know what things are supposed to sound like and can't provide very good feedback yet. Who's to say that the current audiologist didn't do the right thing by turning everything down? I'd like to see him spending more time with her and figuring out problems, though. I guess I'll just close this little digression by saying that I don't envy Laynie her decision of which audiologist.

And I'll close this whole post by reiterating that I'm so proud of Laynie for the work she is putting in. Oh, I forgot: the other day she recognized that her dad answered the phone not by his linguistic style but by his deeper voice. She is doing great!

[Thursday, March 24, 2011]

A Wee Pioneer


I had a fun new adventure! Yesterday morning, I woke up at 2:00 because of pain.. sort of generalized back pain and sciatic nerve pain down both legs. Too hazy with sleep to recognize exactly what I was feeling. I went to the bathroom, trying to decide if it was really back or abdominal pain. The two can be confusing in the middle of the night... or I'm pain-impaired. I went back to bed but couldn't sleep. At 2:30, I gave up, took some ibuprofen, and sat down at the computer to play a game.

My back/stomach started feeling better! But by then I was wide awake. I kept playing on the computer.

Around 4:00, the pain came back, as well as strong urges to use the bathroom. Oh brother. I had already taken 600 mg of ibuprofen. Whatever, I took 400 more. Ran a bath.. Lay flat on my back.. Tried sitting.. Walking.. I was not a happy camper. And then, around 4:30, someone stuck me in the back with a knife.

I mean, I couldn't see the knife, but it was definitely there, in the right side of my back. It surprised me. I tried the bath thing and kept running to the bathroom without much luck. I just assume everything is a bowel problem, because for me, it usually is.

The pain got better. It had been an 8 but went down to maybe a 5. About half an hour later, it hit again, this time worse. Tears sprang to my eyes. I emailed my home teacher (it wasn't even 5:30 am, so I didn't want to call) to ask for a blessing on his way to work.

The pain started coming in ever-more-frequent waves, going down to a 7 and up to a 9. For me, gallbladder pain is a 10, and it wasn't quite there. But it was bad!

Laynie woke up around 6:20 to find me cowering on the bathroom floor. She told me to CALL our home teacher. I texted him as I took more ibuprofen. He got back to me pretty quickly, and I got my blessing before 8:00. Ugh, it wasn't what I wanted. I fully expected to be healed, but no: "slowly subside," "due time," "trust medical system." Doctors? Not my cup of tea.

There are about a million hospitals within half an hour of here, and my home teacher said he liked GBMC when his wife gave birth there. I had a not-so-enjoyable experience at Johns Hopkins (waiting five hours in excruciating gallbladder pain before a doctor even laid eyes on me, leaving the next day without answers), so I didn't think I wanted to go there. Northwest, 10 minutes away? I wouldn't leave my car in the parking lot--probably come back to no radio or tires. I decided to give GBMC a try.

I got right in! Score! I went straight to triage, right back to the actual ER, and saw a doctor within 20 minutes. Oh, yeah. I was loving it, although the waves of pain (still 9 at worst, 7 at best) were coming every 10 minutes. But I thought the end was in sight. The doctor immediately ordered dilaudid and something for nausea. The nurse tried to get blood but I was too dehydrated--managed to start an IV at least. I really didn't care what they did, as long as I got pain medicine SOON. They ended up giving me two doses of dilaudid, because the first one didn't do anything.

The dilaudid helped for a little while, but it seemed to wear off within an hour. Then my pain was ranging 8-10. Yup, 10. It was actually worse than gallbladder pain, although it didn't have quite the staying power. At least it was coming in waves and not being continually excruciating.

They gave me more dilaudid. I guess it helped. I had a CT scan of my abdomen and chest. Abdomen for obvious reasons (the pain was in the right side of my back, sort of near my waist), chest because I had pain when the doctor pushed on the right side of it--different pain than the other one. And some test was elevated that could mean a pulmonary embolism. Again, I didn't really care what they did, as long as they made the pain go away, so I said fine, scan my whole body if you want. Radiation shmadiation.

After I got back from CT, my pain was back up at 10. Laynie flagged down the nurse, and she stopped at the door to say, "I'm obviously in the middle of something; you're going to have to wait." Aaaah! I was in agony. I answered email and gave instructions for an IEP meeting I was missing--tried to distract myself. Mostly I held Laynie's arm and cried. The nurse came back in a while with a percocet pill.

Later (by now it was after noon) the doctor came in to say that I had a kidney stone in my right ureter. Great. I sort of thought that was what it was. Despite not having a family history of it, I knew there was a wee pioneer blazing trails through my unsuspecting innards. What else is going to cause single-sided pain in that area? On with it, make the pain go away. I was thinking that they should just put you under general anesthesia to pass kidney stones...

The doctor ordered toradol (anti-inflammatory and pain med) and flomax (old men with prostate problems medicine--relaxes the urinary system or something, less spasming as the stone goes through). And more nausea medicine, because I was pukey by that time. Still had pain fluctuating between 8 and 10.

Well, something started to work.. or maybe it was the combination of everything: dilaudid, percocet, toradol, and flomax. Suddenly my pain was fluctuating between 6 and 7. Beautiful. They kicked me out. Gave me some funnel sieves to pee in and sent me on my way.

Around 2:30, Laynie drove me home. She hit the cement base of a pole trying to navigate the tight ER circle. Poor Laynie. I screamed when the impact happened and freaked her out. I couldn't really be mad though--I cracked her front bumper when her car was pretty new, failing to a short sign in the little road around UVSC. And sadly this impact was not the first damage to my less-than-9-month-old car. The roofers dropped a canister and dinged the hood. The bumper was abraded, but I don't care, because it's plastic and won't rust. Poor little Bug, though.

On the way home, I got this weird feeling. It's hard to describe. Definitely psychotic. My heart raced, heat rushed through my limbs, and I had the uncontrollable urge to hit myself in the face. So I did. I slapped the sides of my face, and I kept saying (signing), "Something is wrong, something is wrong." I didn't want to slap my face, so I wrung my hands, bumped my knuckles, finally clapped my hands. That was good--closer to normal. I just had to keep the rhythm. Bad trip? The feeling subsided within 15 minutes and didn't happen again.

That's why you don't do drugs, kids.

Well, my pain didn't go past maybe 8 the rest of the day. The worst was over. Well, not really--the worst was controlled by drugs. Laynie went out and got my percocet and flomax prescriptions filled. I was dizzy, getting nauseated every time I picked up my head. I tried to sleep but kept getting woken up by small noises. I passed the rest of the afternoon in a haze. I ate chicken soup broth and saltines for dinner. I traded emails with friends. I texted with my sister. I texted with my dad, who is a PA. I think he specializes in urology. He said it would stop hurting when the stone got to the bladder. The doctor had said that could take hours or days. One thing dad had said made me feel better: it wouldn't hurt coming out. I could now pee with confidence.

I fell asleep at 8:30, knocked out by the percs. I got up a few times during the night and took medicine, but I slept a lot. I woke up feeling better but hating the drug side effects more. Dizziness to the point of vertigo, which caused nausea. But there was no way I was taking a chance that the crazy pain would come back.

Around 11:00, I started passing sand flecked with dark stuff that I thought was blood. Now I don't think so. I think it was bits sheared off the stone, which passed around 12:30. Hooray! It was dark red, looked like little spheres stuck together. Dad was right: it did not hurt coming out. It was only 3 mm.

So now I have the little devil in a specimen cup, ready for my urology appointment on Tuesday. They will analyze it and let me know what kind of stone it is and what kinds of foods to avoid or vitamins to take or whatever.

If you are thinking about my previous blog post and scratching your head, yes, I passed the stone at 12:30 and got to work by 2:30 for a 3:00 meeting. Because I rock. And I'm crazy: I was soooo dizzy. Of course Laynie was my chauffeur.

My little inquisitive guy asked why he didn't have speech today. It's Thursday, after all, and Thursday is speech day! So life goes on.



You know how four-year-olds go through the "why" phase? Why is the sky blue? Why do we have fingernails? Right, so one of my first graders is in that stage of language development.

I got a chance to chat with him after school, keeping him distracted during a meeting with his parent. He is always fun to chat with, and today was just like every time I talk with him... except that the assistant principal was listening. I don't think she has ever talked with him (well, she doesn't sign, and you kind of need to in order to have an effective conversation with him), and she was floored by how "interactive" he is.

What is that dark stuff in your teeth and how did it get there? (fillings)

Why does hair turn gray?

Does that mean you're a grandma? (yes, directed to me--guess I'll have to flesh out his concept of "grandma" meaning mother's mother, not just gray-haired woman)

How do lava lamps work?

Will it be dark at 6:00?

Why don't french fries make you grow tall?

Older brother has a big computer--is that because it ate a lot?

Do hot dogs count as meat?

And he informed me that he cannot drive because he cannot see over the steering wheel. And that he doesn't want to turn 9 because he really likes the number 8.

He made an impassioned plea for doing homework on the bus (his bus ride is like 45 minutes) instead of at home. He gets grumpy doing homework because he doesn't want to do it when the moon is in the sky. The moon means it's night time. Night is for sleeping. He asked me to explain that to his father.

Related to our gray hair conversation, he told me that his mother dyes her hair and asked me how much hair dye costs. (He's really interested in how much things cost.) Like $25? I told him it's about $10 if you want to do it at home. But it's more like $100 if you go to the salon. Palms slapped against his cheeks, he exclaimed, "One hundred!" then whispered, wide-eyed, "Oh my god."

[Friday, March 4, 2011]

Who I Am


Somewhere out there is a little boy going through the evaluation process for special education. I'm not testing him, but a good friend of mine is. She's a special educator, and when she gave him the usual test for reading, writing, math, and content, she was just blown away by what this first grader could do. By what he understood. He enjoyed word play and interesting math problems. He was certainly the highest child she had ever tested, and then she told me that he had scored 141 on a nonverbal intelligence test that the school psychologist gave him. Apparently everyone in the special education system was blown away by this. I thought, That's cool. But personally, I'd be disappointed with that score.

Before you go thinking I'm a Snooty Sneech... well, don't jump to conclusions. I just didn't think 141 was that impressive. The day after this conversation, the special education team leader came into the room I share with the educator who tested the child. I was the only one there. As he dropped something on her desk, I commented, "I hear little Gary (made up name, of course) had a rough day today. Couldn't handle the change in the language arts schedule or something." He responded, "What else is new? By the way, did you hear about his IQ score?" He went on to point out, "Gary is as different from regular kids as your kids are, just in the opposite direction."

First off, I corrected his assumption that deaf kids have mental retardation. I mean, 141 is to 100 (exactly average) what 100 is to 59. That's MR, as it was called until last year when it changed to intellectual disability and everyone began pretending that they had never used the "r" word in their lives. But although "my kids" do not have terribly low IQs, they do have abysmally low language abilities. One scored right around 55-60 last year... so I know what 59 looks like, and it's LOW.

Although I was disgruntled at his casual dismissal of my students' intellect, the sped master got me thinking. Actually, he set my feet on a path I should have gone down long ago.

If Gary is that different from regular kids... no wonder he can't get along with them. I mean, he has emotional disabilities (crying in the coat closet, freaking out at changes in routine) that are over and above his giftedness, but even discounting that, what could he possibly have in common with regular kids? Think about it. How much do regular kids enjoy playing with intellectually disabled children? I can tell you from experience: not much. It takes some persuasion to get typical children to play with my students who have Down Syndrome or what have you. The intellectually disabled child doesn't understand what the peers are saying, doesn't get the games they play. Similarly, an intellectually gifted child wouldn't enjoy playing with regular kids who don't understand what he is saying and don't get the games he wants to play.

I borrowed a book from the library entitled When Gifted Kids Don't Have All the Answers. I did this partly because I was interested in the topic--but I'm interested in most topics. Well, really I was in the education section because I wanted to brush up on special education law, and I happened to spot this book, thinking, Maybe I can give [special educator friend] some ideas for writing Gary's IEP.

Reading this book, I saw myself on every page.

The book presented a list of 14 general characteristics of a gifted children, with the caveat that gifted children will demonstrate many but not all of the characteristics.

1. Shows superior reasoning powers and marked ability to handle ideas, can generalize readily from specific facts and can see subtle relationships; has outstanding problem-solving ability
2. Shows persistent intellectual curiosity; asks searching questions; shows exceptional interest in the nature of humankind and the universe
3. Has a wide range of interests, often of an intellectual kind; develops one or more interests to considerable depth
4. Is markedly superior in quality and quantity of written and/or spoken vocabulary; is interested in the subtleties of words and their uses
5. Reads avidly and absorbs books well beyond his or her years
6. Learns quickly and easily and retains what is learned; recalls important details, concepts and principles; comprehends readily
7. Shows insight into arithmetical problems that require careful reasoning and grasps mathematical concepts readily
8. Shows creative ability or imaginative expression in such things as music, art, dance, drama; shows sensitivity and finesse in rhythm, movement, and bodily control
9. Sustains concentration for lengthy periods and shows outstanding responsibility and independence in classroom work
10. Sets realistically high standards for self; is self-critical in evaluating and correcting his or her own efforts
11. Shows initiative and originality in intellectual work; shows flexibility in thinking and considers problems from a number of viewpoints
12. Observes keenly and is responsive to new ideas
13. Shows social poise and an ability to communicate with adults in a mature way
14. Gets excitement and pleasure from intellectual challenge; shows an alert and subtle sense of humor

The list was quite an eye-opener for me. Because the list IS me. (Mm, I don't know about #13--not sure if I had "social poise" as a child, but I know that I saw adults as equals.)

The funny thing is that I thought I was normal. I just thought other people were dumb when they didn't understand things as readily as I did.

In church I spent many years after high school working in Primary with the children. At some point I was called to teach Relief Society (women's class), which meant that I was now going to the adult Sunday School class every week, as well as to Relief Society. I found that I really liked Sunday School--the teacher was great. I also found that other people don't understand everything they read. They needed the teacher to explain what many of the passages meant. I'm not saying I automatically understand everything, just most of it. I didn't know that was special until I was in a class with other adults, but I still didn't think of myself as smart or gifted. I thought I was the normal one. And I thought maybe I had a gift specific to the scriptures. I assumed that other people had difficulty just with the scriptures--I've since learned that people have difficulty reading works of literature, technical reports, journal articles, instructions, etc.

At the beginning of last year, I had two parents who became VERY upset with me when they didn't understand some information I had given them regarding their children's speech difficulties and how to do the homework. I thought I had written very clear explanations and instructions. I really didn't understand why they didn't understand--and why that made them angry. That situation came to mind following my colleague's comment about a gifted person being as different from typical people as a mentally handicapped person is. If a typical person wrote an explanation that made sense to them, would a person with severe Down Syndrome understand it? I realized that I would need to "dumb down" my language if I were to write instructions in the future. It also occurred to me (ahem, number 1, generalizing readily) that I should simplify my language in reports and on IEPs. I don't mean using jargon--of course I know not to do that. But apparently my regular vocabulary or syntax or something can be difficult for people to understand.

I noticed in Utah that people often couldn't understand me. I consciously modified both my accent and my vocabulary, because communication is really the goal. That was probably good, because my success with communication dramatically increased following that decision, but maybe I regret it a tiny bit. I got out of the habit of using words that I like, because they allow me to express myself with more precision. I'm kind of torn, because there's no point in using words that people don't understand... but I like those words! I like all words.

I thought everyone could remember the phone numbers of all of their acquaintances. I thought everyone could remember conversations word for word. I thought everyone could remember what their teachers said in class.

I didn't study in high school. I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't know how. But I didn't need to, so I never learned. Actually, I thought I did know how; I thought that studying was what I did when I read over my Latin vocabulary words while dashing to class. When I got to college, I thought I was dumb, because I didn't get As on all of my tests without studying and without going to class all the time. I gave up and quit going to class altogether, which didn't do great things for my grades. I finally got a clue when I went back to school as a 25-year-old. I learned that I could get As by writing the information again and again until I had memorized it. This worked for any amount of material, even pages and pages of truncated phrases. I found that memorizing how many details went with a topic helped, because I could picture where in the list each phrase should go. My method worked well for me. That was good, because to me, a B is an embarrassing failure. Even an A- is a disappointment--alright, I'll admit it, I see an A- as failure. And I don't think I'm wrong: I just think As are normal. Using my "write it out" method, I got straight As for 2 1/2 years finishing my bachelor's and throughout my master's program.

That made me happy, but not because I thought it was a great achievement. It was more like relief at having avoided failure.

I wonder if you might read this and think I'm being egotistical. Even as I write all this, I feel like a fraud, like I'm really not smart and will be "found out." Being as insecure as I am, I naturally enjoyed the section of the book that delineated the many problems related to giftedness, including:
-being impatient
-having difficulty getting along with less able peers
-wanting to move on quickly to more challenging problems, despite what the rest of the class is doing
-getting bored (welcome to my world!)
-driving you crazy with questions
-feeling that everyday class work is trivial and meaningless
-seeming scattered and disorganized
-taking on too many projects at once
-resisting direction or interruption
-talking too much
-seeming pompous or conceited--a "show-off"
-playing word games that others don't understand or appreciate
-burying self in books and avoiding social interaction
-getting bored with the regular curriculum
-resisting assignments that don't present opportunities for new learning
-getting impatient with peers for being "slow"
-disliking drill and practice
-wandering off the subject
-having tunnel vision, hating to be interrupted
-being stubborn
-having difficulty working with others (um, they'll just mess it up)
-seeming bossy and disrespectful
-being unable to accept help
-setting unrealistically high goals
-being perfectionistic
-lacking tolerance for others' mistakes
-fearing failure
-avoiding taking risks or trying new things
-becoming depressed
-being a loner
-having difficulty focusing on or finishing assignments
-having trouble making decisions
-seeing too much
-resisting sameness and routine tasks
-taking things personally
-feeling powerless to solve the word's problems
-becoming fearful, anxious, and sad
-having trouble handling criticism or rejection

I saw myself in many of those negative characteristics, unfortunately. I also learned that I'm a classic underachiever: I don't believe what apparently I'm capable of. It's only since reading this book that I think I may really be capable.

When I shared the book and my thoughts with Laynie, she got a little upset and wondered how we can be friends when we're so different. The chasm seems unbridgeable.

I don't have an official IQ score to report. I know that I tested into some kind of gifted magnet school when I was 6, but my parents decided not to send me. Whenever I take online IQ tests, they results are around 150. I think they highest one was 162 and the lowest was 145 (some tests ceiling out at 145 though--three standard deviations about the mean). I guess I didn't realize the impact of scores like that until sped man made that comment about little Gary. If you took 10,000 kids his age, he'd be smarter than all of them. But people definitely don't understand what that means.

The child's evaluation team held a meeting in my room the other day to discuss how they're going to handle this very unique situation (how to qualify a child who is far above grade level for special ed, which he certainly seems to need), and the psychologist made the comment, "He's using all his energy thinking about algorithms or whatever, so he probably doesn't have any energy left to respond when people talk to him." That's not what being gifted is about. It doesn't take energy to think about "hard" things. You want to think about those things, you enjoy thinking about them--it's not a matter of diverting energy from other things. You can do many things at once. I used to get in trouble in grad school for doing the crossword puzzle or sudoku in a couple of classes, but I was absolutely following the lectures. Those classes were too easy. I didn't need to use my whole brain to process what the professors were saying. In fact, when I wasn't doing the crossword puzzle to keep me grounded (for lack of a better word), I'd be totally out of class mentally, thinking about other things--things that interested me. That happened a lot in high school. I remember practicing the Greek alphabet backwards when I was bored in high school classes. I had already memorized it forwards. I'd practice writing the beautiful Greek characters--the teachers probably thought I was taking notes. I'd also memorize the posters on the wall.. the periodic table, Latin noun declensions, characteristics of poetry, math formulas.. whatever was around. I cannot handle boredom.

I laughed at one list in the book. It was called "The Ten Commandments that Foster Elitism."
I. Thou shalt be told that boredom is part of life and that easy, redundant work must be tolerated.
II. Thou shalt often hear classmates express frustration because the test was hard... when thou thought it was easy. (Ever been accused of being a "curve-wrecker?" Yeah.)
III. Thou shalt procrastinate on long-term assignments until the day before they are due... and thou shalt turn them in and get A's.
IV. Thou shalt hear classmates ask questions of thy teacher that thy teacher answered clearly yesterday. (haha)
V. Thou shalt receive numerous telephone calls from classmates the night before a test asking how to solve a difficult problem.
VI. Thou shalt consistently get good grades without having to work or study hard.
VII. Thou shalt know the answer to every question the teacher asks... and can answer the questions no one else can. (FYI: this annoys teachers.)
VIII. Thou shalt have thyself, thy grades, and thy work held up, by thy teacher, as examples to be emulated.
IX. Thou shalt be chosen first by the team captain for spelling, math, and geography bees.
X. In short, thou shalt have ample opportunity to believe that aptitude is equated with human value and that if thou art smarter, thou art better.

Five and ten really hit me. I had people become "friends" with me just so that I would "study together." Free tutoring! It took a few times before the pattern became clear: hm, this person always wants to hang out before a test. Number ten... This was made quite clear to me by a person close to me. I don't want to hurt her feelings by saying too much about it, but this is something that still plagues me. I have to remind myself that being smart doesn't make you a better person, that God loves everyone. That everyone has a talent.

Speaking of talents, let me be clear: mine are from God. Of course. I know that God gave me musical talents so that I could be of service at church. And thinking in music helped me improve my auditory processing as a teenager. That's a whole other post. I probably don't recognize all my talents or what I'm here to do. Today, as I knelt to adjust Laynie's ski boots for the fifth time, I thought, I'm a pretty good friend. That made me happy, and I recognized it as a talent. I'm not sure why I have the intellect that I have. It often does not seem like a gift. Maybe it's a trial.

I don't tell people that I'm smart. I usually try to pretend that I'm just like everybody else. Sometimes I say that I forgot something when I really didn't, or that I don't know the procedure for something when I do. Last week, I told my friend, the teacher of the deaf that I work with, that I think I'm gifted. On many occasions she has asked me, "How do you know that?" or "How do you remember all that?" I will deflect with, "I just looked it up for another student," or something similar. Last week she started to say, "Wow, you are gifted." Every time I did something she considered unusual, she'd point it out. Like when the mainstream class voted on their favorite Dr. Seuss books (they were creating a bar graph) and I noticed that a little girl raised her hand twice--and I knew which book she had already chosen. I knew which books all of the special ed students had chosen. That didn't seem unusual to me. I just remember things. Now the teacher of the deaf is convinced that I have a photographic memory, which I do not. It's hard to explain. Things just go into my brain and stay. It's not like I see a picture of them. Most of the time. I guess sometimes I can see pages from textbooks when I need information. But usually I just think and the information is there.

I had another insight this week. I now understand why deaf adults feel connected to or possessive of young deaf children. Every day I want to pull Gary aside and talk to him, help him understand himself. He's my people. I feel a surprisingly strong kinship toward him. I want him to have a better experience than I had. Maybe I should just let the regular people take care of it--let them chisel the corners off him so that he fits into the hole.

I know how all this sounds. I don't mean to be a jerk. That's why I've kept it to myself for... oh, my entire life. Not only have I kept it to myself, I've kept it from myself.

I suppose I'm a little late getting on the path of self-discovery. But better late them never.

[Tuesday, March 1, 2011]

Saying Yes


So somebody from church (okay, it was the Bishop) asked me to accompany him for a trombone solo in sacrament meeting on March 13. That's in two weeks! Well, it was when he asked.. now less than two weeks. My mouth said, "Sure," which is what it always says.

He said he wanted to play "The Lord's Prayer." I said I wasn't really familiar with it. He said it has a lot of flats and is kind of hard at the end.

Yesterday, the Bishop emailed the music to me, and this is what he sent.

I'm actually fine with the five flats. I think well in flats for some reason. If you know music, you're probably thinking that it doesn't look so bad, and I thought the same thing. It says lento, which is 56-60 for the quarter note.. slow. But there are few quarter notes. It's all triples, which are three to a quarter note.. math.. 168-180! What killed me were the simultaneous arpeggios on the first two pages. And the jumps in the middle of the last page, where it's down-up-up and up-down-up so quickly, and with 4 or 5 notes in each chord.

The first few times through were pretty painful. Laynie thought I had lost all musical skill--she actually looked worried. She's only seen me play familiar pieces and regular church music; for example, the choir director also gave me a piece of music on Sunday, which I took home and played right through with nary a missed note. I explained to Laynie that the process I was going through with the music from the Bishop is normal, and I'll get better as I build muscle memory for that piece. I used to go through this process regularly in high school, when I did a lot of accompanying and when I was motivated to learn hard music. Just because you can't play something the first time you see it doesn't mean you can't play it. I'll learn it, but it's going to take a lot of work, a lot of time.

I don't know that I'll be so quick to say yes next time.

Oh, who am I kidding... Of course I will.

My inability to say no affects me at work, as well. Despite being busy with my own caseload, I can't help but say yes when others ask me to consult on their cases or observe a kid or whatever. Case in point: Today I went with one a resource SLP to visit an adorable little boy with hearing loss and cleft palate. The resource gal is a friend of mine, but I didn't know the SLP assigned to that elementary school, the one who was working with the child regularly.

As I listened to the child's speech and language errors, which were many, it was immediately apparent to me that the speech errors were mainly due to issues related to the cleft. Hearing loss seemed to be impacting his language to some degree, but the articulation errors were classic cleft palate speech. He reminded me of a couple of kids I worked with in the past.

Following a consult visit like this, it's customary to discuss observations/findings/recommendations with the SLP working with the child regularly. Typically they give lip service to agreeing with you, argue a few points, thank you for your time, and go back to doing what they were doing. Not so in this case.

She argued with everything we said. Not politely disagreeing but becoming quite agitated. The things she said were absolutely off the wall. All I could think was a. Is this person for real? and b. Why did she ask for help and then reject everything we said?

And there's more to the situation.. I'm not even going to get into it. Sometimes fighting for the best interests of a child involves fighting a powerful machine. And I HATE educational politics.

I don't know that I'll be so quick to say yes next time I'm asked to consult.

Ack. Yes I will.

I was going to close the post here, but I was just thinking about another time that I said yes. Last year, an SLP posted a question on the conference about two tough preschool articulation cases. I emailed some suggestions to her, which began a dialogue about how to work with a problem like the little boys'. It happened to be a specialty area of mine. At the next speech meeting (all the SLPs get together for instruction and once a month), she found me and somehow convinced me to come out to her school to see the boys for myself and give suggestions. As you might imagine, I wasn't difficult to convince.

I went out and had some suggestions. She didn't argue with a thing; she took notes! She thanked me profusely as I left and seemed quite genuine. I felt great that I had helped her and that the boys would make more progress now.

Months went by. This past fall (so probably six months later), she tracked me down at a speech meeting again to tell me how the boys were doing. One was doing great, and the other had made little progress. She understood what to do with him now, which was progress, but she still couldn't get him to say the sounds he needed to say next. Of course I agreed to go out and see him.

The first time I went out, this little guy was so shy that he wouldn't speak directly to me. The other SLP ran the session. The second time, I ran the session--I brought fun toys and games and was EXTRA fun and SUPER silly, and the little boy was willing to play me and try what I asked him to try. I was lucky, because I got him to say one of the target sounds. The other SLP, who was again taking notes, nearly cried. She had been working on that since the spring. He said it about a dozen times for me, and I passed the baton to her.

After that visit, she and I talked for a long time, about work and also about her personal life, some of the hardships she'd been through in the past few years. This time, we didn't part with a "thank you" and "oh no problem." We parted with a hug, as new friends.

Which goes to show that saying yes is a very good thing.