Living in Extracurricular Purgatory

When, all those years ago, we decided that homeschooling was the right choice for our deeply asynchronous children, I kind of hoped that this would mean an escape from age-based norms and expectations. We would be free to craft the curriculum and activities that ‘fit’ our kids without the limitations that came with the age-grade lockstep that is the traditional way schools organise learning.

Gosh was I naive.

Because, whether I like it or not, almost anything to do with children is organised based on these traditional age-grade levels. Finding places that ‘fit’ my kids and their very different needs has been like ground-hog day. Reliving the same situations over and over again, with only the surface details changing.  And each time feels like another walk through extracurricular purgatory. . .

Living in Extracurricular Purgatory, Picture via Pixabay. Desc. Image "Sad women on bench in tiled room." Text "Living in Extracurricular Purgatory"

Finding Extracurricular Activities is often Sisyphean

One of the first signs that our journey to find appropriate activities was going to be a tad Sisyphean was a conversation I had with a provider of gifted enrichment. My son, who is both profoundly gifted and twice-exceptional was interested in science extension. And that’s when I entered the world of ‘nope’. You see, even gifted services are sorted based on those darn age-grade norms. And the phone conversation I had with the nice, helpful lady went something like this:

“So, my son is doing X grade at the moment.”
“How old is he?” Puzzled, I answer. It is of course, for anyone who doesn’t understand the statistical rarity that is my son, a little unbelievable. . .

Nice Lady: “We prefer to put him with kids his age.”
Me:            “Oh. That is 5 grades below where he is currently learning . . .”
Nice Lady:  “We accelerate each year by at least 2 grades.”
Me:             “Um. . . he does have trouble concentrating on material that he has already learned, though. I’m not sure the younger group would work.”
Nice Lady:  “How about we trial him in the younger group and see how he handles it.”
Me:             “Oh, OK. Also, he does have social and sensory challenges, having Sensory Processing Disorder. . . ”
Nice Lady:  “Hmm. . .Well, maybe you can come back when his behaviour has matured.”

. . .Click . . .

It was an interesting benchmark.

Playing ‘Nice and Helpful’ Bingo

When you have a child that is really outside the norm, you meet a lot of  “nice and helpful” people out there. . . and these days, I like to play  “nice and  helpful bingo” to see how many interesting phrases they can pump out in a 5 minute conversation.

Phrases like “Emotional Maturity” and “Age Appropriate Curriculum” are two of my favourites. As are “We have children like him/her all the time,” and “We can handle it.”. But I also have a special fondness for “This program is for X grade.(Said with a slightly disapproving tone).”

Discrimination is Often Subtle

One of the things I quickly learned as a parent of a twice-exceptional child was that though discriminating based on disability was technically illegal, actual discrimination was a little more subtle. Because there is no law to protect a child against being discriminated against if they’re gifted . . . so my kids would often find themselves in situations that were completely inappropriate, that were organised (usually unintentionally) to be inappropriate, and which my children were bound to fail . . . such as asking a sensory sensitive child with social challenges to sit in a room full of loud children and quietly listen to material he already knows. (And he won’t mince words if he thinks the instructor is wasting his time . . . hello gifted with Autism.)

We Have Found Our Own Extracurricular Activities

Over the years, we have had to cross a great deal of ‘opportunities’ off our lists, and look for unusual ways of finding an appropriate fit – like free lectures at universities, or science / university open days. These are always interesting experiences – at our last, my son only managed to flummox at least half-a-dozen undergrads with questions.

When one week I’m listening to dire predictions from medicos on my child’s developmental abilities, and the next my (at the time) 8 year old is asking questions that make Kip Thorne pause, (yes, it really happened) I know that I’m not in the realm of “reasonable” or “age-appropriate”. And I might just spend an inordinate amount of time going grey, hiding in cupboards and occasionally curling into a ball and rocking backwards and forwards in sheer terror at the undiscovered country that looms ahead. I’m not admitting anything, by the way, I’m just saying.

The Problems Start From the First Phone Call

So, in our quest to find something – anything – for our kids to do that isn’t ‘bespoke’ (read: cobbled together with what we can manage), and that’s just kind of normal, we have had to look for extracurricular activities that focused on less intellectual pursuits.

And that’s when the fun starts again.

It usually begins with the first phone call. From bitter experience I knows that before I part with an arm and a leg worth of fees, we all have to see the location. It doesn’t matter how much our kids love a sport, if there’s a mirror, or a loud fan, or heaven-forbid, many lessons going on at once, we’re already close to the proverbial nope.

Even if the first hurdle is cleared, actually getting the kids to show up is a challenge. To paraphrase Cary Grant, “Anxiety runs in my family. It practically gallops. . . “.

Their Invisible Disabilities are Often Harder to Accommodate

Some days, simply arriving is a big deal. Then there is the lesson. There is always the lesson. And it’s mean’t to be fun, right? Having a patient and understanding instructor, who does not mind if, say, my youngest prefers to take small breaks, or just retreat for a bit is a blessing. Alas, a single harsh words and ‘poof!’, we have to wipe that activity off our list.

Sometimes, it can be hard for instructors to remember all the do’s and don’ts. Hell, it’s hard for me some days. But it’s nothing compared to what my kids have to face every time they walk out our front door and are faced with a world that is just not designed for them, and seems to have been perversely set up to cause them distress.

Interestingly, teachers are usually pretty good at handling my kids more visible disabilities, but the invisible ones? Oh heavens!

Again and again, my children have been put in no-win situations. Such as figuring out what an instructor is saying in a noisy room. Not an easy task for kids with auditory processing difficulties and concentration challenges. Then they’ll get the inevitable reprimand for not following instructions. It doesn’t seem to matter how many friendly chats about accommodations we have, (which are generally pretty simple: make sure my kids can see your face, and if possible, put them at the front of the class), this seems to be an inevitable part of even individual sports instruction.

And we’re back to square one. Again.

Most Places Suck. But Some are Magic

What I have learned, harsh step by harsh step, is that there are very few places that are willing to step outside of their own ideas on how to teach, and how kids learn. And even when they are, simply being nice and ‘giving it a go’ without spending at least a minimal amount of time learning what will work and what won’t, is a recipe for catastrophic and painful failure. The ideas on what kids ‘should’ be doing and how they ‘should’ behave has been hard-baked into our culture, and it is a brave person or organisation that tries to step outside those norms.

But they do exist. And when I find them I hold on for dear life. Those places are to be treasured. Whether it’s my son’s amazing coding class, specially set up for twice-exceptional kids, or a magnificent tutor, or a truly kind and thoughtful gym instructor, these people make our lives livable. They bring joy to the heart of this very, very tired mum. And for a few hours, I am no longer on that purgatorial quest, and I can let go of the Mad-Eye Moody-style ‘Constant Vigilance!‘ and can just be like all the other mums.

This post was part of the GHF Blog hop,
“Choosing Extracurricular Activities for Gifted Children with Overexcitabilities in Mind”.

12 Replies to “Living in Extracurricular Purgatory”

  1. I was looking forward to reading this as soon as I saw the title and it didn't disappoint. I just cannot imagine how hard it must be when your child is even more gifted than my 2e son and has even more severe special needs. Even so, I resonate with so much of what you say. Thank you, and I hear your pain!

  2. I love this so much. I have had so many of the same telephone conversations. You're right, though – it's the people who go out of their way to help and make our children feel valued that make the search worth it. Thanks for sharing. It helps to know I'm not alone.

  3. "One of the things I quickly learned as a parent of a twice-exceptional child was that though discriminating based on disability was technically illegal, actual discrimination was a little more subtle." <—- YES.

    I loved reading your story! I am loving how personal this hop is!

  4. I can't help wondering if the term "gifted" gets in the way of teachers' understanding of the need for accommodations. In the gifted educational community it has a well-understood definition, but that definition is at odds in practical ways with how "gifted" is used in other settings.

    What if the term "gifted" were dropped from the introductions and instead the kids' needs were introduced more directly, i.e. "my child has specific disabilities that require accommodation. These include…."

    In the employment world, we aren't supposed to ask about the underlying condition, we just need someone to tell us, "widen the cubicle" or "provide lower wattage lights." This protects confidentiality, alleviates speculation, and simplifies accommodation efforts.

    It doesn't address the unwillingness of some to look outside of age toward abilities, but might help in other situations….

  5. I loved this post! I so often feel guilted for not participating in more extracurriculars but this is exactly why I don't! It's so hard to find good fits and when I do I'm afraid to stray even slightly.

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