Greetings and Salutations Dear Marshmallow Peeps!
It is our Third Anniversary since Maki and I started our intrepid journey into the wild and wooly world of online publishing! It is hard to believe. I am ever so grateful to our team of contributors and to you, our readers.
But before I go on to this issue’s focus there is first some housekeeping to do. It is spring cleaning time after all. After keeping up with a year-round publication schedule for the past three years, we recently ran into an expected challenge surrounding my health. I will be going through a few procedures and treatments in the upcoming months and as a result, Maki and I will be publishing a “best of” issue for July | August while I recuperate and gear up for our back to school issue in late summer/ early fall. Hopefully you will be able to find some gems that you might have missed along the way. I hope you enjoy the upcoming summer reading! I look forward to doing some long overdue catch-up reading this summer as well.
Now, let’s get to this issue’s theme: The Gift. It is our ETM anniversary so why not talk about gifts! Everyone loves gifts, right? Maybe. When we take a moment to think about all that is implied in a gift, it is not such a straight forward thing. Gifts can be multi-faceted and complex. They may manifest in ways that are not so positive. Gifts can feel like burdens, which is most un-gift-like. Gifted kids and kids with learning and behavioral challenges share similar struggles and gifted children can also be behaviorally and learning challenged as a co-morbidity of sorts. As parents we often face challenges that we aren’t necessarily prepared for, try as we may to foresee the trouble spots lying in wait. These challenges take shape in many ways. Parents who have children with learning or behavioral differences are especially vulnerable to unexpected challenges as their children grow up. Try as we may to set up our children for success, the fates find a way to monkey with our carefully laid out plans and systems.
In early March, I heard a snippet of an interview with Dr. Thomas Boyce, pediatrician and head of the department of Developmental Medicine at UCSF, speaking about his most recent book, The Orchid and The Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive. The book is based on research Dr. Boyce conducts regarding children that parents, teachers and doctors might categorize as “sensitive.” According to his research findings, sensitive children are more biologically reactive than their peers, which makes it harder for them to deal with stressful situations. They have physical manifestations from emotional stress and there are some physiological differences that make them more sensitive than the majority of children.
Most children are quite resilient, they can thrive in many different situations and environments. This is not the case with sensitive children. The sensitive children, though many of them gifted or capable of remarkable things, can only thrive in very particular and supported environments. These children require more care and more mindful teaching and parenting. If they go unsupported, they have the worst outcomes while if they are supported, they have the best outcomes, often surpassing their more resilient peers. Resilient children seem to thrive, irrespective of their environments.
While Dr. Boyce was delivering a lecture of his findings, an audience member asked a question, likening the resilient children to “dandelions,” ready to thrive in any soil, while the sensitive children were “orchids,” often remarkable but far more vulnerable to their growing conditions. The metaphor stuck with Dr. Boyce and upon hearing him speak of it, it struck a chord with me.
I have been raising an orchid. She has many gifts, but she has more than an equal amount of difficulties that inhibit these gifts from manifesting their full potentials. When she was an infant, she would not sleep unless she was held and bounced in “just the right way” which often required some sustained act of contortion on my part. To sleep train her we waged a 6-month long battle of wills. When she was in preschool, she had so many sensory challenges, everything was too hot, too cold, too loud, textures were too weird and I couldn’t understand why the world seemed so acutely assaultive to her. Now I have come to understand that my daughter has visual/ spatial learning differences that create these pervasive life challenges. As a result of these differences, they inform who she is, how she sees the world and what she brings to it. Yet, alongside all the challenges, I have seen little sneak peeks of brilliance, fleeting, but definitely present.
This is what makes her gifts and challenges so frustrating for both she and I. She has to navigate the world funneled through a very specific lens which is very tough at times. I have the benefit of the adult perspective, which allows me to see who she could become, what could be her full potential and yet I have no idea how best to get her there. She is the perpetual square peg trying to fit in a round hole. As her parent, how do I try to make her world square-ier so she can be more in sync and in a better place to grow? Each new school year is a challenge because everything hinges on who she has as a teacher, the tolerance level of her classmates and the trending pedagogy “du jour.” Trying to provide constant and consistent support is extremely difficult, ironically ever-changing, and sometimes just impossible. As a result, she is often left to her own devices, which presents its own set of issues.
What I hang on to are the little breakthrough moments. The little successes that pop up here and there. I try to recognize those as much as possible and hope that maybe there will be enough mini-successes along the way to get her through childhood with her self-esteem intact. That is what we can do as adults, see our little orchids for what they are and try to see what conditions were in place that allowed for small steps forward to happen. Perhaps if we adults can mindfully support these sensitive orchids in order to provide them with enough fertile ground, they might be able to thrive and manifest their many gifts. Embracing and creating space for neurodiversity is the gift that we can give to our children and in turn they can manifest their gifts to the benefit of the greater community.
“Children are the breath of humanity’s future.” ~His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
Let’s make sure there is space for everyone to thrive!
A Great Big THANK YOU to my co-captain Maki, and our regular contributors Vinay Gaglani and Kelly Raine. You guys are THE BEST!!! Happy ETM Birthday to US!