Twice Exceptional

I guest blogged over at Military Special Needs Network!

Military Special Needs Network

And now for the other side of the ADHD coin: the “twice exceptional” population. This is a group of individuals who may have ADHD, learning disabilities such as dyslexia, and are also categorized as “gifted.” The author is right: these individuals seem to be a people without a country. They don’t quite fit in with the rest of our special needs families; they don’t quite fit in with the rest of the world. 

What are your thoughts?

86489068May I Introduce Myself?

My name is Susan and I’m a twice exceptional adult-gifted learned disabled or 2e who happens to be ADHD.  Yup, there’s my introduction.  My label.  My label is my introduction and I think that’s lame.

So let’s change the introduction and share a story.

A Story

Can you imagine the conversation a parent must have with their child; that conversation where it is explained to the child that they…

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Invisibility

I have an invisible disability.  I am not in a wheelchair, I never had an IEP, I was never eligible for a 504 Plan since they didn’t exist. I have an invisible disability. 

Stop and take a look at me, listen to my story, read my words, you would never know that I have a disability.

I have been made fun of, openly insulted, bullied, put down, excluded, and hurt by the words and actions of others.

I have an invisible disability and I am not dumb. I am a twice exceptional adult, 2e that is also ADHD.  What does that mean?  I am gifted learning disabled and ADHD. What it really means is that I am smart and creative.

Over this weekend, I dragged my family to Baltimore, MD for a conference.  What I thought would be a simple conference; turned into an opportunity that has me lit up like a Christmas tree.  Advocates, attorneys, educators, and leaders in the special needs community came together for the Council of Parent Advocates and Attorneys annual conference, #copaa2014.

I met a woman from the deaf community that taught me to sign a little.  I met a mom that started advocating for her child who now advocates for children in her community.  I met attorneys that have worked on cases that have forever changed special education laws.  I met the most inspiring and motivating people, and they didn’t judge me.

Ahhhh…that thing we don’t talk about in the special needs community.  Yup, there’s judgment within the community and I’m sure when people read this they will start to judge.  I don’t care.  We need to stop treating special needs like it’s a competitive sport, stop the judgment, and focus on what matters.

What matters to me?  It matters to me when a child is excluded for being in a wheelchair.  They shouldn’t be.  We have athletes competing at the Paralympics right now.  Not sure why there’s any exclusion when it comes to sports or any activity.

Education matters.  Children should not be put in learning environments that are restrictive, they should be encouraged to learn, not discouraged.  The job of the school system and the parent is to find a least restrictive environment for that student.  It’s all about teamwork.

Equal treatment matters.  The advocate from the deaf community was one of the most intelligent and interesting people.  I didn’t treat her any different than she treated me.  We were two women getting lunch.  Equal treatment matters.

Embrace the superpower of your disability.  I have written about this before because it’s true.  The disabled community is full of people that have a superpower.  I see children that have superhuman strength, a heart that embraces our world with hugs, an ability to make people laugh.  I know the value of our special needs community, do you?

I have an invisible disability.  Please do not dismiss me because my special needs aren’t like yours.  I have stood up again and again after being knocked down countless times.  I just grow stronger.  I just want to fight harder.  I will not forget the rest of my community, my special needs community when I stand up again to fight.

Allow me to work with you, we can stand up together, we can make a change together, and wouldn’t it be beautiful to watch.

Cathartic Confessions: My Love For My Human Ritalin

I’m just going to start writing.  I need to just type, or I’ll get distracted and forget to share this. 

My husband is home from another deployment to Afghanistan.  While he was gone, I was a mess.  Well, I felt like I was a mess.  I was a barely in control of my ADHD life.   Trying to balance fulltime parenthood, managing our home, starting my new career, and being halfway decent to me was so incredibly overwhelming.  I was mad my human Ritalin left and dumped all of this responsibility on me. 

Yes, he left purposefully because going to Afghanistan is soooooo much fun.  I just laughed at my ridiculousness.

So, I took control of my ADHD and got help.  I started working with a life coach, working out, eating better, and taking medication.  Something was off though.  I felt a little more centered, but I also felt like I was just going through the motions of my day. 

I missed my husband.  It was that simple.  Watching my son miss his father, disrupted sleep for months on end, and the constant little reminder that Jeremy was gone kept me distracted just enough. 

I had so many plans for writing, advocating, losing weight, the list seemed endless.  So little of that happened.  I feel like most days I was barely hanging on and that if I could just make through the day that would be enough of an accomplishment. 

I had my house super structured while he was gone so that I could function easier.  Now he’s home and that structure needs to change and I’m a little rattled.  As always Jeremy is patient with his incredibly ADHD wife and shows love and support. 

I am pretty sure I exerted all of my energy into maintaining our home that most everything else was a bonus when it happened. And that’s okay. I mean that too.  It really is okay. 

What I really need to share is how I feel about the man I love. 

Jeremy, there was not a day that went by that I didn’t think of you.  Anything I accomplished, found funny, every thought that pretty much popped into my head I wanted to share with you.  You were my first thought in the morning and my last thought at night.  I would long to see you sitting across the table from me so I could read to you my latest musings. 

I think to refer to you as my “human Ritalin” is incredibly unfair and stressful for you. I can only apologize. 

I can tell you this; the path that I started to get my ADHD back under control will not stop just because you are home.  In fact, I want to show to you, our son, and mostly me that I don’t need you to be my human Ritalin.  I want you and desire for you to be my husband because I am so in love with you. 

 

***Should this blog have been posted on Valentine’s Day?  Maybe.  I don’t think there is ever a time limit on when to tell your spouse that you love them.  Thank you!~Susan

What We Really Need

In my continuing struggle of honesty versus rudeness, I’ve decided to tackle something that I feel really needs to be written about.  I would like to bring to your attention the one thing military families need.  We need support.

What Do You Mean You Need Support? We Do Support You!

Yes, support is there, however it’s not really what we need.  So many Americans support the military and the military family, but something isn’t quite right.  I’m not sure I’m explaining myself very well. You know; before anyone gets upset, let me go back to the beginning.

Susan’s Beginning

On September 12, 2001 military recruiting offices across the Nation saw an influx of people wanting to enlist.  The day before, our country had been attacked and thousands were killed.  Terrorists had hurt us and our hearts were broken.  We helped each other and watched our sons and daughters promise to fight for our country.

Americans selflessly left their old life and headed into uncertain future that was full of promise and hope.  Never again would America be so badly hurt.  America’s military promised to protect and defend.  So far, our service-members have kept their promise.

Some Historical Tidbits: 

In February 1972 President Nixon, issued no draft orders and by 1973, our military became an All Volunteer Force.  For over 40 years, we have been an All Volunteer Military.  It’s volunteers that have been on continuous deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

On October 7, 2001 a US led bombing campaign and humanitarian drop started in Afghanistan.  By November, ground forces were in Afghanistan.  Our military has been supporting Operation Enduring Freedom since October 2001.

Operation Iraq Freedom commenced in March 2003 and ended with troop withdrawal in December 2011.

The percentage of Americans that are currently serving on Active Duty, National Guard, or Reserve status is less than one percent of the American population.  We have been at war for over a decade and less than one percent of America’s population is serving.

I need a moment to take in that realization again…Okay, I’m back.

So here is something a little more cheerful, go search for famous people that have served and the list will impress you.

So, What Is Support To You? 

Support is more than a thank you at the airport.

Support is more than a Budweiser parade for one soldier.

Support is more than a sticker that reads, “Support the Troops”.

Support is more than our elected officials blaming DoD budget issues on the cost of the service member and the family.  It’s those same elected officials and political appointees that want us to win at all costs.

Keeping Promises to Each Other By Providing Actual Support

The recent budget crises have shown me, that our government is not looking out for anyone.  The posturing and school yard bully behavior from the people we elected is atrocious.  Our DoD officials, and senior leadership is behaving just as badly, and who is caught in the middle of all of this behavior? The American public.

Department of Defense claims that personnel costs are out of control and that military benefits are to blame.  Yes, those pesky benefits like retirement and healthcare are the entire problem.  (This is the exact moment that a sarcasm font is needed.)  Yes, those promised benefits are the ENTIRE problem with the DoD budget.  It’s service member’s fault for going to war and needing help when they come home from another deployment.  All. Their. Fault.

This week the cost of living cuts to military retirement were repealed from the Ryan-Murray budget. What was the price?  Medicare.  Thanks Congress for adding into the divide between the military and civilian community.  That is NOT support and now another promise to another group of citizens has been broken.

We need to keep promises to each other.  What does that mean exactly?  We, the military, and we the American public, need to stand up for each other and say enough is enough.

Our military comes home to see their government placing blame on everyone but themselves.  They come home to broken promises.

The military is tired.  They are war-torn, their families are falling apart, they are hurting, and this military still stands up and asks the question, “Where do you need me next?”

No matter how many promises our government breaks to its citizens, we must promise to look out for each other.  We must stand together and demand more from Washington D.C. because this is only the beginning.  The military will now face a new battle. It’s a battle on the homefront, and we are not prepared.

So what do we really need?  We need you, standing right beside us because we will stand right beside you.

An Honest Discussion About Re-Integration

An Honest Discussion on Re-Integration

So, I have probably started this blog out about ten different ways today.  Not kidding.  I’ve typed something, started over, deleted, cut and paste, and then started all over again.  What I would really like is for me to just talk or write.  I would love to have a stream of consciousness pop into my brain, for my brain to put the thoughts together, and then for me to type out these thoughts.  That’s sort of happened, but I have found most of the thoughts to be mediocre at best.  How disappointing.  I’m actually frowning right now. 

So here goes my last attempt.  This is an honest discussion about re-integration and why it’s the WORST THING on the planet, I’m not sure if the plague was actually worse. 

Tell Me A Little About The Deployment Cycle.

Well, the deployment cycle consists of three stages and they are pre-deployment, deployment, and reunion/re-integration.  Typical behavior in the pre-deployment phase can be withdrawing from the family, anger, sadness, anticipation of loss, stress levels increase, and I know for me, I couldn’t stop trying to prepare for life without Jeremy.  I felt myself hyper-organizing and hyper-focusing. 

I tried so hard to make sure I had everything in order before Jeremy left so it would not be such a mess around the house after he was gone.  Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.  Having a house in order is easier than having your heart in order.  My heart was not prepared, even though this was not my first deployment. 

What Was The Most Difficult Part of the Deployment?

My three year old son was difficult to watch.  Jeremy left right before Ian’s third birthday.  Jeremy has missed all of Ian’s birthdays, and I was not ready to face another one alone.  I wasn’t prepared for us to say goodbye at the airport and for Ian to start experiencing night terrors immediately.  Ian’s nightmares started the night Jeremy deployed and lasted for weeks.  After Ian got over his nightmares, he then started wandering the house looking for me and needing reassurances that I wasn’t going to leave him.   

Since Ian wasn’t sleeping well, it meant that I wasn’t sleeping well.  The lack of sleep was hard on both of us.  I feel that his age is the entire reason why he struggled.  I saw a confident, happy child become anxious and worried.  Ian couldn’t convey his emotions and thoughts very well. When he would, it was heartbreaking. 

What Did You Do For Your Son?

I actively pursued family therapy because we needed it. I was not enough in Ian’s life, and I was running out ways to provide comfort.  I, too, was just as sad and lonely, but I could rationalize my feelings; a three year old can’t.  Little did I know getting help wouldn’t be as smooth as I had anticipated.  I called Military OneSource and had the virtual door slammed in my virtual face (that’s another blog, another story).  I was told to “just call TRICARE.”  TRICARE amazed me, and they were incredibly helpful.  Even as I cried to the customer service person, her compassion reassured me that I was doing right by my son. 

So What Is It about Re-Integration That You Don’t Like?

For me, it’s a loss of control.  I run a tight ship when Jeremy is gone.  I struggled to establish a routine, but Ian and I figured it out.  Well, now here comes change again.  It’s not the change that bothers me, it’s something else.  I see my son struggling again.  He’s nervous around his own father.  Ian doesn’t take Jeremy seriously as a parent and runs to me for everything.   

I think military spouses can find odd positives about a deployment.  I love running the house my way.   And I mean all aspects of running a home.  I love it.  I work/write from home, so keeping my home orderly is necessary.  My husband isn’t as orderly as I am. 

It’s getting used to each other’s habits again.  It’s worth it, but it’s hard at the same time.  The last thing any family wants is for those habits to be the distraction, but they can be.  Couples have to get used to each other again.  For example, I’ve decided to start a business and I’m on that path of doing so.  I wasn’t sure about my career path when my husband deployed and now I am. 

The family changes when the spouse is deployed.  Our lives kept on moving forward, our children grew, our home learned to function without Jeremy.  As mean or awful these words seem this is a raw truth. 

Do You Feel Your Family Will Get Through This?

Yes, I do.  I really love and like my husband.  He’s one of the funniest people I know, and laughing is fun.  Jeremy has the ability to make me laugh like no one else.  Hearing Ian exclaim with absolute joy, “I love you Daddy” warms my heart and soul.  Seeing Jeremy smile as I tell him my hopes and dreams just sends me flying.  I love being around the person that really gets who I am and what I am all about.  It’s my hope to give him that love and support as well. 

A thought keeps repeating in my head: just as you think “I can breathe again because my spouse is home” there’s a new battle.  This really is a battle; it’s a battle for my family.  We aren’t a family in crisis, but we could be.  I’ve decided to be pre-emptive.  I’m not going to let the military come between the man I love, the son we love, and the family that means the world to me. 

Some things in life are worth fighting for, and as I was telling my best friend one night, I will fight to the death for the person that accepts my “brand of crazy”.  However, I still think re-integration is the worst.  

What’s Your Superpower?

I’ve been reading book entitled David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.  Mr. Gladwell writes about the story and the meaning behind David and Goliath, and then provides examples of people who have had a “Goliath” to overcome.  One of the chapters is about children with dyslexic and the question that is asked of the reader is how you (the reader) wouldn’t wish dyslexia on your own child, would you?

As a child, I knew I learned differently.  I knew it when I was in second grade and I was struggling to sit still, to read, or to do anything in class.  I was an undiagnosed learning disabled child in a new school.  Of course it was a new school since my father was active duty Army and we moved frequently.  I hated second grade.  I hated third grade too.  The only thing I liked about school was my friends.

In fourth grade, I had a teacher that showed unbelievable patience and kindness and I started to love school again.  She didn’t expect me to do my schoolwork like the other kids.  We did things to my strengths.  That continued until I got into middle school and I received an official diagnosis.  I wanted to be ashamed, but at that moment, I was relieved.  It was nice to know that there wasn’t something wrong with me and that I could be taught to my learning style.

Sadly, that’s not how things tend to go.  I was at a military school overseas and my school was not prepared to educate a student with dyslexia who also happens to be gifted.  What?  Above intelligence with a learning disability?  You would have thought I was the only person in the world that was gifted dyslexic.  I graduated high school, went onto college in Norfolk, VA.  I later started working for the Department of the Air Force, moved overseas again, and fell in love with an Airman.

I decided to go back to school again and get my teaching degree.  I thought I knew what I wanted to do when I was living in VA, but I never could truly make up my mind.  Finally I figured it out.

When I first went to college the Americans with Disabilities Act passed a few years prior.  Suddenly colleges and universities across America were putting together disability services offices that would provide accommodations for their students. While attending school in VA, I was re-tested to confirm my disability, received assistance with my tuition, and was able to have accommodations for my classes.  The one thing I didn’t get was the career counseling that I needed as well as how to advocate for myself in the workplace.  For the first time, I was really ashamed.  I could not bring myself to share with my employers my disability.

My new college in Nebraska was a completely different experience.  Now ADA is part of our culture when it comes to schools and work places.  There are offices that exist solely for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.  It’s amazing to see.  The accommodations I received when getting my teaching certification were the same, but something was different.  I felt like I didn’t have to prove that I have dyslexia.

Back to the beginning with David and Goliath.  My “Goliath” has been accepting and talking about my dyslexia.  Now, I love being dyslexic. My brain works so differently from other people.  I see situations, problems, so completely different.  I always have the odd viewpoint that makes sense to people.  Our brains learn differently; therefore, we think differently.  It’s that difference that makes the dyslexic person so valuable.

If I could pass along any advice to a child with dyslexia, it’s this:  learn to embrace your difference.  Thinking and learning differently is a gift.  Be mindful of how you learn so you can tell people how to teach you.  Be active in your learning process.  It’s yours after all.

My dyslexia is my superpower and because of the wonderful qualities I’ve embraced, I have been recognized for my hardwork and dedication within the military community.   I am now an advocate for military children with special needs and was successful in helping legislation pass that would positively change the care that is provided to children with unique healthcare needs.  The possibilities that lie ahead are endless, and I can’t wait to see where my superpower takes me.

What’s Your Superpower?

I’ve been reading book entitled David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.  Mr. Gladwell writes about the story and the meaning behind David and Goliath, and then provides examples of people who have had a “Goliath” to overcome.  One of the chapters is about children with dyslexic and the question that is asked of the reader is how you (the reader) wouldn’t wish dyslexia on your own child, would you? 

As a child, I knew I learned differently.  I knew it when I was in second grade and I was struggling to sit still, to read, or to do anything in class.  I was an un-diagnosed learning disabled child in a new school.  Of course it was a new school since my father was active duty Army and we moved frequently.  I hated second grade.  I hated third grade too.  The only thing I liked about school was my friends. 

In fourth grade, I had a teacher that showed unbelievable patience and kindness and I started to love school again.  She didn’t expect me to do my schoolwork like the other kids.  We did things to my strengths.  That continued until I got into middle school and I received an official diagnosis.  I wanted to be ashamed, but at that moment, I was relieved.  It was nice to know that there wasn’t something wrong with me and that I could be taught to my learning style. 

Sadly, that’s not how things tend to go.  I was at a military school overseas and my school was not prepared to educate a student with dyslexia who also happens to be gifted.  What?  Above intelligence with a learning disability?  You would have thought I was the only person in the world that was gifted dyslexic.  I graduated high school, went onto college in Norfolk, VA.  I later started working for the Department of the Air Force, moved overseas again, and fell in love with an Airman. 

I decided to go back to school again and get my teaching degree.  I thought I knew what I wanted to do when I was living in VA, but I never could truly make up my mind.  Finally I figured it out. 

When I first when to college the Americans with Disabilities Act passed a few years prior.  Suddenly colleges and universities across America were putting together disability services offices that would provide accommodations for their students. While attending school in VA, I was re-tested to confirm my disability, received assistance with my tuition, and was able to have accommodations for my classes.  The one thing I didn’t get was the career counseling that I needed as well as how to advocate for myself in the workplace.  For the first time, I was really ashamed.  I could not bring myself to share with my employers my disability. 

My new college in Nebraska was a completely different experience.  Now ADA is part of our culture when it comes to schools and work places.  There are offices that exist solely for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.  It’s amazing to see.  The accommodations I received when getting my teaching certification were the same, but something was different.  I felt like I didn’t have to prove that I have dyslexia. 

Back to the beginning with David and Goliath.  My “Goliath” has been accepting and talking about my dyslexia.  Now, I love being dyslexic. My brain works so differently from other people.  I see situations, problems, so completely different.  I always have the odd viewpoint that makes sense to people.  Our brains learn differently; therefore, we think differently.  It’s that difference that makes the dyslexic person so valuable. 

If I could pass along any advice to a child with dyslexia, it’s this:  learn to embrace your difference.  Thinking and learning differently is a gift.  Be mindful of how you learn so you can tell people how to teach you.  Be active in your learning process.  It’s yours after all. 

My dyslexia is my superpower and because of the wonderful qualities I’ve embraced, I have been recognized for my hardwork and dedication within the military community.   I am now an advocate for military children with special needs and was successful in helping legislation pass that would positively change the care that is provided to children with unique healthcare needs.  The possibilities that lie ahead are endless, and I can’t wait to see where my superpower takes me.  

Cathartic Confessions: Part One

For months I have been writing this blog.  I start and then stop, I delete and then write; I have blog in my mind that I can’t get on paper.

For months I have been writing this blog.  For months, perhaps longer, I have been hiding.

Last year a good friend suggested to me that I write for Disability.gov.  I should tell my story about being a learning disabled/ADHD adult.  I cried off and on as I wrote that blog.  It was my announcement that I am not ashamed of who I am and what disability I have.

For the next few months, I felt pretty darn great about myself.  I made a confession, and didn’t hide from it.  I would openly talk to people about my disabilities and when they would ask what I was doing to help myself; I would just give a quizzical look.  I was doing nothing.

The Realization of Loss

As I am sitting on my sofa drinking hot tea on a dreary day, I am reflective at this moment.  I am starting to look back on the last few years and wondering when was the moment I lost my fight with my ADHD.  There has to be a moment, right?  That one single moment in my life where all hell broke loose and I couldn’t possibly recover, right?

No, there isn’t a moment.  It’s been a series of moments; a series of events that have derailed me slowly and I allowed the ADHD to take over.

I’ve been back to school, I’ve survived deployments, a child was born into our home that made it a better, happier home, and the list of moments goes on and on.  With each deployment, each TDY, and all the new projects and tasks I take on, my tether of control to my ADHD becomes weaker and weaker.

The Light Came On

Something happened a few months ago that got me thinking.  A question was posed to me asking me about my son’s disability.  Weird, my son doesn’t have a disability, I do.  In fact the only person in my house with a disability is me.  ME!!!  I’m the one with the disability.  That’s when I figured it out; people assume Ian has the disability and not me.

And let me write this out before people get upset.  I’m not saying there is anything wrong with raising a special needs child.  Nope, what I’m saying is I don’t like the assumption being made.  I fight for pediatric healthcare because of unique healthcare needs my son faced.  I fight for special needs children because I was one.

Yes, I was one.  I was a special needs child that couldn’t get an IEP because I was in gifted/AP classes so that meant, I couldn’t have a learning disability.  I didn’t realize that I couldn’t be smart and have LD/ADHD.  Was that discrimination or what?

My disability isn’t visible and since it isn’t; an assumption is made.  From that assumption I am transported back to a time in my life where I had to prove how “disabled” I actually am.  Do you know how frustrating that is?  If I say I have a learning disability and I’m ADHD, then I should be believed.

Life is hard enough, and raising children is tough work.  We should be building each other up; not tearing each other down.  We should accept each other for our abilities and disabilities.

Being disabled isn’t a competition.  Being disabled doesn’t mean that you or your child is the label.  Being disabled is just part of who I am and I like me.   I really do like me, but I don’t like my ADHD being in control of me.  I think it’s time I get some help, and I am.

This week, I started the process to get back on medication.  I was so nervous in the appointment; I couldn’t stop talking about the most ridiculous stuff.  I know that my son loves Thomas the Train, but I went on for ten minutes about the different trains.  Ugh…that was ridiculous.

Now I’m starting this process over again and while some of it’s frustrating, I know it’s worth it.  I think one of the best ways I can help myself is by sharing with others.  I will continue to write about this topic in a blog series titled “Cathartic Confessions”.  Please check back.

For more information about adult ADHD please check out: http://www.danarayburn.com/