Advantages in DISadvantages—Does Our Culture Really Value "Normal"?

Image via Amber West WANA Commons

Image via Amber West WANA Commons

Last time, when we talked about Barnes & Noble, I mentioned a book by Malcolm Gladwell David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.  This is a really interesting book because Gladwell peels apart our common perceptions of what an advantage really is. Sometimes, that which others claim is undesirable really isn’t.

It is merely different.

Right now I am at a weird crossroads and admittedly I am a bit scared because I am deviating outside the “accepted.” For those who don’t know, my son The Spawn (Age 5) has had an interesting road. When he was two and a half, he had all four front teeth knocked up into the maxilla and had to have them surgically removed. Twenty thousand dollars in maxo-facial surgery later, we had a little bat.

This created some problems. Obviously, his speech suffered the most. His third word was dinosaur. Before the accident, I figured he’d be like I was and be speaking in full sentences before the age of three.


The best laid plans of mice and men and all. Anyway, his speech has obviously been delayed. Then, on top of this, he is incredibly analytical like his father.

When Spawn was a baby, we had a family friend living with us for a time. I’d discover advanced puzzles all over the house neatly solved and tucked away. I assumed she was picking up after Spawn (the toddler). Only later I discovered that he was solving them. Though they were meant for far older children, he solved them with ease.

Spawn writing his memoirs.

Spawn writing his memoirs.

He also plays XBox and can beat a game at the most advanced level in about two days. The same games it took his father and I weeks to unravel.

But good luck understanding him.

When he was barely four, he was “fired” from preschool because he liked zombies too much.

Teacher: We had an incident on the playground. Your son was pretending to be a zombie and it was freaking out the other kids.

Me: Was he biting them?

Teacher: No.

Me: Was he grabbing or touching them?

Teacher: No.

Me: Well then what exactly was he doing?

Teacher: Wandering around with a blank look and moaning.

Me: Sounds like every bureaucrat I ever met. What’s the problem?

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Anyway, he is supposed to go off to Kindergarden this year and I am going to homeschool because I feel our culture labels anyone who does not fit neatly into a standardized bell curve as “disabled” or “disadvantaged” or with a “disorder.” The reason I know this is that my own school years were hell because of this type of thinking.

Before we continue, know that these are MY opinions and MY beliefs from MY own experience. As I stare at my baby bat, all I can think of is the nightmare that school was for me.

Kristen was/is NOT Normal

Before it went BOOM!

Before it went BOOM!

Though I was gifted verbally, I was in trouble all the time. Seriously. ALL the time. I don’t even remember my third grade classroom. I remember the HALL. I had a terrible time paying attention to one thing at a time and sitting behind a desk.

Guess what? Thirty-five years later nothing has changed.

My mom was rather revolutionary in her parenting. She didn’t care if I did my homework hanging from the curtains wearing a tutu so long as I got it done. Results were all that mattered. Typically, I would spread all my books on my bed, play Tchaikovsky really loudly (over and over and, yes OVER), and do all my subjects at one time. I would do a math problem or two, then flip over to science, then color, then more math. I was most productive when I was doing a lot of things all at one time and I always made perfect scores.

I found that if a math problem was giving me a fit, that shifting subjects helped. I could do something right-brained (write an essay) and my subconscious would often sort out the answer to the math problem (a left-brained dilemma).

Then I would get to class. *head desk*

Kristen talks too much.

Kristen doesn’t use time wisely.

Kristen doesn’t pay attention.

Kristen Circa Third Grade

Kristen Circa Third Grade

I had to be moving in order to think. I still do. My brain doesn’t work as well if I’m still.

I asked “Why?” too much. In fifth grade, when the other kids were content to gulp down that no life could possibly exist in the Hadalpelagic Zone of the ocean because there was no sunlight for photosynthesis, I questioned

What if there are creatures that don’t need sunlight? Creatures that have some other source to convert into usable energy? If various combinations of salts can power a lightbulb, why couldn’t a living organism do something similar?

***Yes, I was ten at the time of this debate and ended up in the hall….yet again.

Imagine how vindicated I felt when years later, scientists discovered there were lifeforms that used volcanic vents and employed chemosynthesis to survive in such an extreme ecosystem (converting chemicals into usable energy).

I remember later in the fifth grade I got into an argument with the same teacher who gave me an F. She’d handed us a maze and the object (per the instructions) was to solve the maze. I began at the end and worked to the beginning and solved it in less than ten seconds (while the rest of the class had barely begun).

My teacher claimed that was cheating and failed me. I told her that the instructions never said which WAY I had to solve the maze, only to solve it.

Anyway, long story short, I am the reason for the current Texas truancy laws. My teachers were nothing short of cruel to me. Rare was the teacher who appreciated my energy. I was a high school drop out twice and labeled as a person with a learning disorder. I scored so low on my SATs they had to check me for a pulse.

A learning disorder.

So because my brain doesn’t work like everyone else’s I have a “disorder”?

Advantage in the “Dis”advantage

What was fascinating about Gladwell’s book, is he talks about the staggering percentage of successful “geniuses” who suffer from dyslexia. A recent study puts it at about a third and the list includes people like Richard Branson, the British billionaire entrepreneur, Charles Schwab (financial genius), Craig McCaw (cell phone pioneer), the founder of JetBlue David Neeleman, John Chambers the CEO of tech giant Cisco, etc. Einstein was a dyslexic, so was Walt Disney.

Y’all get the point.

Toss in ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s, etc. and I would venture to say that “normal” isn’t very “normal” among the extraordinary. What I find so perplexing is that it seems every parent wants a “child genius” but the second it looks like the kid might not be “normal” in come the meds and therapy.

Two hyper peas in a pod.

Two hyper peas in a pod.

Which leads me to ask: Are we medicating out the very genius we say we value? I know in my late 20s I conceded to meds to “control” my “disorder” and it was hell. All my creativity evaporated and I was lost. I fell into deep depression.

Finally, I just accepted I was Abby Normal and rolled with it. I left Corporate America because I simply did not do well sitting behind a desk. Instead of staying in a traditional job (where I was also in trouble ALL the time), I changed tactics and became an entrepreneur.

I am the person who wrote almost a half a million words in one year. I’ve written almost two million words in blogs alone. I run two businesses and blog and write and teach. I also am almost a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and I help teach the kid’s BJJ class three days a week (Mommy-Spawn time). Rumor has it, sometimes I even clean my house 😀 .

Yet, I appreciate that while my “Disability” comes with a number of advantages (high energy, high creativity) it has some downsides. I have to be extra careful to be more self-disciplined and finish what I start.

Anyway, when it comes to The Spawn, I hope to give him the same freedom to be uniquely HIM that my mom did for me. Frankly, had she not been so free with me at home, I probably would have grown up believing I was damaged (like the schools told me). Ergo my decision to homeschool.

What Does the Future Hold?

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 12.57.58 PM

This does make me think. The public education system was created in the Industrial Revolution to create educated workers for the future. But the system was educating future employees of a factory-model system. Now that factories have gone to China and Mexico, how wise is it to discount those who are nonlinear thinkers? How much advantage do we gain retraining them to think in “accepted” ways because it is easier?

We live in a multimedia society that demands multitasking. In fact, most jobs require that we do more than one thing at a time and that we be able to shift tasks quickly and easily. So what exactly do we gain by claiming something is wrong with a kid because he/she can’t focus for an hour or more on ONE thing?

And I am not saying there is anything “wrong” with “normal”, only that maybe it is idealized too much. Also, I more than resent being told I have a “disorder.”

Our culture is biased against introverts the same way. Because a kid isn’t super social and chatty and prefers to be alone, something is “wrong.” We encourage all this talking when the world would be a far better place of people did more listening. We idealize the extrovert at the expense of the introverts. Similarly, we idealize “normal” and anyone who is outside this model has a “disorder.”

Which is utterly ironic because the most valued innovators in human history were anything but NORMAL. In fact, I wonder if “normal” won’t go extinct in the next 20 years.

Before the advent of the printed word, humans had prodigious memories and learned orally and kinesthetically. Then, sure, once we ventured into a print paradigm and an industrial model, paying attention to ONE thing for long periods of time and thinking/learning linearly and via print were advantages.

But what about in a multimedia world?

Are we seeing a rise in learning “disabilities” or are we seeing evidence of the human brain’s amazing plasticity? That the brain is simply adapting to drastic social change?

We try to make kids “normal” but we VALUE those who are different. We also say we value creativity, but then label or medicate anyone who is different. Seems we are conflicted, to say the least.

Definitely food for thought.

What are your thoughts? Do you have a learning “disorder”? Does it bother you to be labeled in such a way simply for being different? Do you think our culture is Janus-faced? We “say” we want innovators but then we label them as something undesirable?

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  1. Great post which makes very good points. I used to doodle in school, and the teachers HATED it, thinking I wasn’t paying attention. Back then, girls were virtually never diagnosed with ADD, so I was lucky. My brother on the other hand did not escape unscathed. He was on a myriad of medications that did nothing, and incidentally, did not help him in class either. I always figured it was the teachers didn’t want to bother with anyone who steps out of the line, ever. Nowadays, I see it’s worse than ever, and it doesn’t matter what state you’re living in, either. They seem to do it all over.
    I wish you the best with homeschooling your child!

  2. SO hearing you! Bi-polar here and it’s only a disability if I define it as so. It’s a pain, yes, but the creativity and energy in the highs more than compensate for the “lump of shivering porridge on the sofa” of the downs. Well. for me they do. For my family less so. “Normal” plays well with society. But it never leaps forward; never slithers sideways round a problem; never takes a sledgehammer and batters the problem to a bloody death. Precious few writers qualify as “normal”.

  3. I doodled all the way through college! LOL. I remember a professor calling me out for not paying attention because I was drawing while she was lecturing (but it HELPED me remain focused). She was rather embarrassed when I repeated back everything she’d just said almost word for word. She left me alone after that 😀 .

    1. Hi Kristen: Wonderful column and thanks for “opening your kimono,” Ah, education. Or as I like to say, the dumbing down of the American education system. Years ago, working for a major American corporation, I had the opportunity to be part of an organization which ramped up what was called The Quality Process. We learned about customer/supplier relationships and how to uncover who the customer was. In the education system, no one has looked at who is the customer for what goes on in the classroom. We have all been taught that the school board is the customer. Wrong! The school board is the supplier and the teachers and students are the customers. The school board should be gathering customer requirements so that a quality product can be produced.
      Your last name may be Lamb but you are a lioness on the prowl for what’s wrong and trying to make it right.

  4. One of the main messages of my Vampire Syndrome Saga is that my protagonist Jack Wendell’s Down Syndrome is not only ‘not a disability’, but is also a super-ability. Too often, our culture rushes to define differently-abled as ‘disabled’, when the reality is that all conditions have advantages, if only we pay proper attention. Cunning and quick wit do not equal wisdom. Many I have known who have Down Syndrome are much wiser in their basic actions than those who are led astray by their over-intellectualizations. 😉

  5. I love the questions you raise. I was the first child with a mobility impairment to attend my small hometown school after the passage of the US law requiring free and appropriate education for all. The school district wanted to send me to a self-contained classroom with children with intellectual and learning disabilities even though I was reading and able to tell time at age 4. Then, when I tested as gifted and talented, they really struggled with what to do with me. Thankfully, I had parents who advocated for me to be mainstreamed (a new and novel concept in 1977) and teachers who recognized my talents. I’m glad The Spawn has you!

    1. I had the same type of issue: physically disabled but tested out as gifted and talented. My mother had to fight to keep me in normal classes rather than being sent to the special education room. I finished 8th in my class at graduation but had to have help walking and couldn’t participate in P.E. People just couldn’t seem to ‘get’ that physical and mental disabilities are NOT the same! Fortunately, we moved in 7th grade, and I got away from the school we where we were having such problems, and my new school didn’t care what was wrong physically; they were excited to have me.

  6. This blog was very encouraging because, like you, my daughter was labeled learning disabled and she went through almost the exact situations that you and your son did; so did one of her sons.. The schools in America are not geared for people who think outside the box, and maybe that is why other countries are surpassing us as far as education goes. Did you ever consider a Montessori school. These types of schools allow the children to advance at their own speed. They encourage genius. If you can’t locate one close to where you live, then do homeschooling, but get involved with museums who offer homeschooling online semesters for kids.

      • Laurajane on July 16, 2015 at 1:12 pm
      • Reply

      I have lived in several different countries, some of them the ones that supposedly “surpass” the US in education. It is not because we suppress creativity. Here in the US we at least have alternative schools and home-schooling available if traditional schools don’t work for your kid. The countries that supposedly excel are based on a totally different educational system that bases everything on the final test scores…not on work done in class or any projects or anything creative. They learn mostly by rote in a very rigid atmosphere. One country we lived in put kids in a certain “track” from elementary on, you could go down to a lower less academic “track” but never back up to a higher level. So if a child was ill or a late bloomer they were stuck in the track they were put in at about 4th grade. In the US you can blow off school until you are an adult and still go back to Jr. College and on to any other type of college you can make it into.
      The US educational system that we know as public school has a lot of challenges but we also have a growing number of alternatives that we need to treasure.

  7. I’m thankful I’m so old that I went through public school BEFORE the insistence on conformity made its way into our education theory/training. My teachers were interested in results, and if I could make 100 on a test despite the fact I spent the class hour staring out the window, daydreaming, that was fine with my teachers. My children were of the same stripe as me, and they didn’t fare so well in school. Homeschooling hadn’t even been thought of at that time (wish I’d thought of it and saved them the pain they endured…but then, they are very empathetic when others suffer, so it may have had one benefit, at least). Good for you, Kristen, for making this decision. Wish I’d been able to do that for my sons.

  8. I was the kid who solved puzzles way in advance of the level I was expected to be able to do. I tested really well, but I got bored in class. Every report I have from my childhood says something to the effect of, “Becky does really well, but she needs to learn to talk less in class. While she still manages to get her work done, her talkativeness keeps other kids from finishing their work.” But I did better when I talked through what I was doing. I was a super-confident child, but absent-minded and super-focused at times to the exclusion of all else. This often got me teased and frustrated both my teachers and my parents. I was also extra sensitive. My siblings picked on me a lot, because it was so easy to get me to cry. I wasn’t learning disabled; instead I was labeled as “gifted,” and my dad never stopped letting me know that I was not living up to his expectations. The emotions of others affected my emotions and large groups were okay for short periods of time, but after a while, I would feel overwhelmed and just shut down. In highschool, I played truant from class way more than I should have.

    My husband is dyslexic, but when he was in school, his teachers labeled him “stupid” and told his parents he was lazy and would never amount to anything. Now, he earns good money as an IT business relationship manager; he also loves to read (self-taught) and writes brilliant stories. He is gifted when it comes to art and photography too.

    I have a daughter who is very sensitive; she feels the emotions of others to the extent that she gets so stressed when her friends are arguing that she throws up. If someone around her is ill, she becomes ill too, not with their actual sickness – just with their symptoms. She’s incredibly empathic and it is causing her problems.

    One of my sons keeps getting teachers to rave about some of the work he does, especially when he writes poems; however, it is always coached in “when he chooses to join in.” Most of the time he is withdrawn and self-conscious and he has a hard time interacting with others. His school says he has trouble communicating with other kids, but sometimes he just sits in class and refuses to do whatever they are working on. I don’t need my kids to be labeled as anything; I just need to find what teaching styles will work best with them.

  9. Hey this post just made me feel good about myself! You know I write fiction and doodle in most of the classes ….n that never fails to annoy my teachers…The best part was when I got a 98% in my 10th grade examination n they were awestruck lol!
    And btw you n spawn both are simply geniuses ? ! And here u WILL BE regarded as the genius you are 🙂

  10. The public school system is not interested in educating your kids. It is designed to turn out cookie-cutter people who will get on their knees to authority and not think for themselves. As much as individuality is lauded, that’s the last thing TPTB want. Homeschooling the Spawn is the best decision you could have made. He won’t have an easy time in life, but he’ll certainly be more interesting and productive. 🙂

    • Angel Payne on July 13, 2015 at 11:29 am
    • Reply

    I love you for this post. LOVE. YOU.

  11. Reblogged this on The Official GburgJedi Blog and commented:
    As a perpetual “misfit” and an eternal “outcast”, I thoroughly enjoyed this post. It’s definitely worth the read! m/

  12. I am a linear thinker, excelling in math and science, so I loved school, even though an introvert. It fit perfectly into my way of thinking/analyzing/learning. Then came the children.
    My children (all adopted, and very different from me), taught me the importance of letting each child learn in the way that suits the child best, something your mom also seems to have understood. Basically, four children = four ways of doing things (education, discipline, motivation, you name it!). Now that I’ve adopted a fifth, I’ll learn yet another.
    While I don’t think I could home school my children (because I wanted them to continue to live), I give massive props to those who can and do. Often, those home schooled excel far beyond what is taught in the public schools, in part because it’s tailored to the child and not a formula. I did go so far as to interview all of their teachers, and had no problem switching around their schedules so they could get in with the ones who I believed fit that child’s personality best (far more important than their subject for the child’s happiness, and so learning experience). Although if you ask my children, they would tell you that I always sided with the teachers.

  13. You’ve raised some extremely valid points. I don’t have any ‘disabilities,’ but I can tell you from personal experience that it’s not easy being very smart. School mostly values B students, at least socially. Uh, not counting PE. Life would have been easier for me if I actually cared where the ball went. I liked dancing.

    On the other hand, if you can find a school that tolerates differences, there’s some value in learning to at least look like you fit in, in terms of it being a life skill that can come with positive rewards. Sometimes, it’s been helpful to just suck it up and play the game, in terms of social acceptance. There are fields where that’s a critical skill.

    As always, ‘right’ answers to complex problems are hard to come by. I hope you find the ones that allow your son to blossom. 🙂

  14. I think Spawn might get on well with my grandson, he is the ADHD ‘bouncing off the walls’ type and my brave daughter took both him, and his sister, out of school and now home-schools them. It has been hard to get used to them being here all of the time, for me, as well as for my daughter, but has made all the difference in the world for my grandson. During the school year, they attend a one day a week home-schoolers’ school which helps out with subjects that are tough to teach at home and also gives them needed social interaction. ‘A’ lives in his head so much that he doesn’t seem to feel the need for many friends but still interacts well. His frequent, and massive, tantrums have ended and it’s amazing to see how brilliant he is when he’s allowed to do the things he loves.

  15. As a teacher going on 8 years I have to agree. I try to be routine oriented but divide acitivites into 15 to 20 minute increments with my middle schoolers. I allow kids to stand and doodle. Because I was the kid who read and listened or drew while I listened. I can’t sit still and expect 12 year olds to be able to do so. Educators know what isn’t working but often are hands are tied as beaurocrats jump from one buzz word to next. Often contradictory (you need to differentiate but all kids need to do this in this exact way…uh…). I have seen students capable of amazing things and I have seen kids medicated like zombies. Yay for getting the work done, but where is the psersonality? Some are working to change the factory model school, but it is the minority and our students will be ill-prepared for an innovative workforce and lack people skills since all they know how to do is take standardized tests these days. I could go on, but I’ll end with saying I do the best I can in my classroom and try to let kids be kids and express creativity, not be robots. However, I have always said if I have kids of my own I will homeschool them. And I plan to hold myself to that. Good luck!

  16. Love, love, love this!!

    In my non-author life, I’m a teacher with a background in SpEd, and I applaud you.

    I hated what the education system did to my 3 children (all gifted academically but bored out of their minds) what I see it doing to kiddos today, and where standardized testing has failed them.

  17. Although there are MANY wonderful teachers out there, I worry our school systems are not set up to handle much variation. I used to teach, and dang…it is TOUGH to get it all done. Follow all the rules, check off all the boxes the state requires, handle kids ranging from special ed to gifted and talented within the same class, etc.. Then, you have kids with such challenging home environments that they often come to class hungry, without clean clothes, and almost always without supplies, not to mention a lack of support and love. I don’t think I did a very good job as a teacher, which is why I stopped teaching. However, I have to say…the way state education is set up makes it really hard for a teacher to be everything to everyone. Throw in standardized testing (shaking fist at sky) and there goes learning with a sense of joy and wonder. My hat is off to those teachers who are doing a great job, but my heart goes out to the teachers who are trying and struggling. I don’t think there’s an easy fix. And I completely agree that kids who excel creatively are often left out because they’re not “following the rules”. We have teachers who are FABULOUS with fast-thinking, unconventional students. Unfortunately, though, there are many teachers who just want those kids to sit down, be quiet, and leave them alone.

  18. Such a good post…I’m in a similar situation. With a super-smart son who doesn’t fit the mold. He was forced into that “Aspergers” label, for school to give him services. And now ASD…because supposedly Asperger was folded into that… But he knows nothing of labels. Now that he’s 10, I dread having to explain, once he learns the terms, society judges his uniqueness as a “disability”. How are we supposed to explain to a kid they are disordered? It’s not right at all. Smartest kid in class. Just different. It definitely stinks. I hope we don’t have to homeschool because he likes the social aspects of school–but I dread middle school years and hope we can find one where he will fit in…will take it as we go. Good luck to you both with homeschooling!

    • Kim Kouski on July 13, 2015 at 11:48 am
    • Reply

    YES!!!! YES, YES, YES, YES!! Kristen, you’ve just told my story. I too started from the end of the maze to the beginning, argued with teachers, was ‘bossy’, asked a lot of questions, I still do. I love questions and I was called retarded by teachers. LOL!! Now I”m living my life MY way. No more do I follow society rules. I could care less if I fit in. I love life and I’m living it!!

  19. There is no room for individuality in the public school system. It’s worse now than when I was supposed to send my kids to school. I couldn’t do it. My hubby spent endless hours in a dark closet under a piano in his early school days–he was finished with his work, filled his worksheet with doodles and was ready to talk to someone or move around. That landed him in the closet. I wasn’t about to let that happen to my firstborn who would have been bored to tears and my second born would have been labeled slow or behind or something equally appalling. So we did school at home. They went on to college and are productive members of society who can get along with people of all sorts because they weren’t segregated with classmates. I am so, so happy we chose the path we did. My only advice ever to any parent: go with your gut!! Best to you and your family.

  20. I agree our public school system is archaic and in need of revamping. However, I worked within the system for more than a decade and met some fine educators who strove to work with kids according to their unique learning styles. This is nearly impossible with the underfunding and overcrowding.
    Since I worked as a special education teaching assistant for seven of those years, I spent most of my time in small groups or one-on-one with disabled and disordered students. I treated them no different than any other kid. However, it took patience to constantly redirect attention and move through the assignments so they could “pass” their classes. I worked with middle school students and I LOVE them. I miss interacting with teenagers now that I’m writing full-time.
    I respect your decision to homeschool (my sister did the same with her three kids), but I would ask you not to discount the entire system. If Spawn has a communication disconnect (which is possible since you say his speech is behind), working with a therapist would help him immensely. They would also steer you toward resources that would put power in your home instruction.
    “Normal” is relative. I grew up with an alcoholic father. My normal looked different from the normal my husband had with his upper middle class, blue collar family. Don’t get hung up on words. Do what’s best for your family, just know there are resources available that can help you direct Spawn to reach his full potential – and still be able to relate to all the “normal” people around him.

  21. Okay, give me a minute…need to calm down…

    I don’t know where to begin or how to keep this short, but I’ll attempt both. Normal is overrated and in the natural human world doesn’t exist. Show me a society of normals and I’ll show you a society that’s stagnant. It’s a world of drivers who only know how to drive straight ahead in first gear. We’re “educating” the dynamic possibilities out of our children. I loved history when I was a child, but only because I read about it on my own. School was about memorizing dates. History is the greatest story, it’s the evolution of society, it’s OUR story, our shared story. And we teach dates. More important, we test and test dates. When I reached high school they said, “There aren’t any jobs in history; you’re going into business…next in line!”

    As our world becomes increasingly complex the possibilities also become, more than challenging, they become exciting, but we need people who are equal to the challenge. We need people who can think differently than normal, who aren’t afraid of new possibilities. As for Spawn, whether he helps explore Titan or sits around cutting shoe boxes into mouse homes, you owe him the freedom to explore his own possibilities and turn them loose for the betterment of himself and humanity. Smash him into a box and stifle his unconventionality and he’ll be reduced to mouse boxes. Instead, set him loose, let him think on Pluto tomorrow, and see what he can do!

    1. Love your point about ‘school’ history. I loathed all the dry dates and lists. Not a real person anywhere. Now it’s my favorite reading (and writing) subject.

      1. Thank you. I’m glad that you were able to move past the dry teachings to find what most interests you. Most don’t.

        1. The trouble may be when people think school is the only place where you learn things. In my opinion it’s not even nearly the most important.
          My grandmother taught me to read before I went to school (they have a fit here if you try that these days) and I never stopped.

  22. You’ve just reminded me of the values I started out with when I first had my little sprogs! Thank you!

  23. Reblogged this on Thoughts by Mello-Elo and commented:
    Sometimes we forget the value of being unique.

  24. I was a learning-disabled freak at school too. I made my teacher (a nun) curse, because it took months of extra help to teach me long division. This was while I was winning inter-school awards for writing stories. School systems are designed to fix problems, not to celebrate unusual gifts. My own children are both like me, ‘cross-over’ kids—gifted and learning disabled. The school system decided that they could only have one educational designation, and they chose learning disabled, shutting my bright kids out of advanced programs. My son read at high-school level in first grade, but he was put in the lowest level reading group, because that’s what fit his profile. He ended up angry, frustrated, and hated school. When the school wouldn’t listen, I did it myself—whatever therapies I could afford, whatever stimulation, classes, clubs, books, magazines, or museums my kids showed any interest in, I made sure they had access to. My son was recently accepted into a masters program that accepts only 25 students a year. My daughter, who didn’t speak until she was four, didn’t read until she was eight, and was put in Spec Ed classes for being ‘slow’, is now an honours history major with a 4.0 average. I agree, Kristen—when the system fails our children (or us), we have to do it ourselves. Still, the system is all too happy to take credit at the end when our ‘unique’ kids succeed. Me? My mother was ashamed of her ‘oddball’ daughter, belittled what successes I did have, micromanaged everything I did. Even now, when I’ve raised two great kids, published nine novels and counting, and my mother is long gone, I still, to this day, hear her voice in my head telling me how much of a disappointment I am.

  25. Excellent points Kristen! I have followed your blog and adventures with Spawn for a long while now because it reminds me of my youngest son and the struggles we both endured while he was in school. I’m so glad you are homeschooling your son. I wish I had done the same for mine. I was fortunate to go through school before the madness we have now, but my son wasn’t so lucky. We both are extremely creative, test high for ADD and have decided that ALL creative people most likely have the same test results. I think it’s inherent to creative thinking. So why do the school systems penalized students because of it? And why the need for medication? A book I read on becoming an entrepreneur stated that our school system is set up to train people for factory jobs – and I do believe that is true – so I agree with your assessment of the system. Like you, I dropped out of corporate America and started my own business – where I thrive – along with my writing. Oh – and my son (whose teachers told me he’d never set the world on fire) has a great job (computer work), is teaching himself Russian, how to compose and write orchestral music, and is setting up his own company for sound design. yeah. I wish you and Spawn the best. I think you’re heading in the right direction!

  26. I have experienced all the same problems in school (to a lesser degree) and firmly believe our whole education system is decades (possibly a century) overdue for a total revolution.

  27. I can’t even get started on all the ways the “normal” label has failed me and members of my family. And thoughts of school and preschool and the education system begin to enter my frame of reference, now that I’m a mom, so many things are changing for me. The way I view our political system. The ideas I have about what school should look like. And the goals I have for myself as a writer, mother, and wife. The LAST thing I need is a system that is built on box checking to tell me what’s right for me, my child, my family, and my goals! Amen to moms like you who are paying attention and letting your little learner blaze it with you!

  28. I chose homeschooling before we ever had kids. In fact, I remember discussing it with hubby on our wedding night. We didn’t know at the time that he would end up being the stay-home parent, while I would still end up doing the academic schooling, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.

    The child we eventually were able to adopt, a ‘healthy’ newborn, ended up being a very high needs child with a long laundry list of neurological differences, mood issues, dietary restrictions, etc. and I have been grateful many times that we had already decided to homeschool and I never had to deal with public school teachers/classrooms or agonize over the decision. We had lots of time to learn and prepare.

    With the help of professionals (psychologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, etc.) and tons of reading and research, we have completed the first eleven years of schooling. Grade 12 coming up! Kiddo has made huge strides academically, his brain has matured to the point that he can sit down and attend when necessary, and he is making better choices instead of just impulsively falling into things. We still have a ways to go, but we have overcome much, and I know that he won’t stop growing and learning at 18.

  29. I kept reading, waiting for the drugs comment to appear. If you were a boy back then, they’d have stuck you on drugs and kept you them, and I pity your son for what he will have to endure, EXCEPT that smart, vocal women like you and gladly a few others are speaking out. And, no, all teachers aren’t morons. Nobody’s saying that.

    I was one of those geniuses. Like school’s not had enough! I came from a very strict family – no hanging from the ceilings in our house. I was loved, and my mom worked through it – Daniel doesn’t pay attention, he’s a distraction, maybe he has a learning disability – and yes some teachers were convinced I was dyslexic. And yet mom would see me looking stuff up in Encyclopedia Brittainica and asking millions of questions about a zillion topics I’d read.

    I was saved by a few teachers who saw how bright I was, plain and simple, and by parents and an older sibling who stuck up for me when I was too small to do it for myself. I learned to sit still, keep my mouth shut, and do what I was told – in school. (You understood with amazing clarity what Superman’s Fortress of Solitude was really all about.) At the dinner table, I could hold my own in diverse conversations with the six or so OTHER geniuses who were my older siblings. (call us a real life Glass family). Sunday dinner conversations at our house were different than at other houses, my poor wife later found out.

    It was maybe second grade, but somewhere there came an IQ test and I scored off the charts and that was that. The teachers who couldn’t deal with me were sentenced to understand – by my mom – that they weren’t doing a good job. Behind closed doors, of course, and never with my knowledge. That’s how it was done back then. Present a united front.

    I sailed through college without opening a book. Grad school, too. Was invited to join Mensa (I did, just for the T-shirt – I stopped putting “Member of Mensa” on my resume when just about no interviewers knew what it was.) One time at work, a very kind boss said, “Other people can’t do this stuff like you can, Dan. They have to think about it and work for it.” I was pretty embarrassed! You’d have thought I’d have figured it all out by then.

    Years later, I see puzzles solved around the house, and a just-turned five year old kid who has been writing her own books for a year and a half now. It’s gonna be a fight, but I’m up for it.

    I’ve been there. Bring it.

    Behind the scenes, of course. Don’t want my kid thinking she’s all that, and the teachers need to run their classroom. But the invisible had will be guiding things, just like it was for me.

    She’ll be all right. So will your little man.

  30. You are an intelligent woman and I enjoy your opinions. When my grandson went to kindergarten, within the first couple of weeks the powers that be suggested he should be medicated. My daughter who was teaching preschool at the time told the teacher to forget it. He was 5 years old and she needed to learn to teach. He will be in second grade and still is not medicated, but still he doesn’t do well doing one thing longer than a few minutes. But he is a really smart kid.

    As for myself the “intelligent” rule makers told my mother I would never be able to take the curriculum to get into college and wanted me in the home-ec classes. Mom said. “She’ll be bored to death.” And I took business classes, and actually went to state for competition in them.

    Normal is anyone who doesn’t rock the boat.

    Kudos to your mother and mine who believe in rocking the boat.

    • anneparent on July 13, 2015 at 1:17 pm
    • Reply

    WOW! I have been struggling with this dilemma of raising an exceptional child, who the schools tried to label as unexceptional. We had him tested in the fifth grade after the schools wanted to test him for ADHD. My husband had a degree in education and suspected the schools were looking for excuses, so we took him to an outside testing area, which I recommend to all parents in this situation. The three psychologists who tested him gave us some extraordinary and a bit hard to handle news. They suspected his IQ to be over 200 and his ability to solve puzzles was off the chart. He would look at the most difficult puzzles they gave him (considered 12th grade level), reach for a piece and place it. His spatial concepts are amazing, his math skills exceptional. I homeschooled him for a year to try to see where he was academically. It was my way of finding out how to fight for him in a school system that couldn’t deal with him. He had some amazing and compassionate teachers and he had some that just wanted to write him off. Unfortunately for them and fortunately for my son, he had a mother who would go head to head with them. He hates to read, which hurts me as a writer, but he would do math all day long if allowed. Today, he is 36 years old and is an actuary, who actually can communicate well with others. According to him, this is an unusual combination. We encouraged him in athletics and music as he was growing up because, unlike the school system, we wanted a well-rounded young man. I’m very proud of him, but it was not an easy road. My advice for every mother of an exceptional child, whether down syndrome, Asperger’s, or genius, is to trust your instincts and fight for your child. The results are amazing. My son is a husband and father of two amazing little boys. HIs compassion for his children is beyond measure and I think this is due to the way my husband and I raised him. Love the exceptional things of your child, feel sorry for a school system that needs to label everyone in order to make them fit, and question anyone who wants to medicate him. It may make it easier for you in the short run, but let your caterpillar become the butterfly he or she was meant to be. The world will be a much better place for it.

    • Georgiana Marie Harding on July 13, 2015 at 1:20 pm
    • Reply

    Awesome post!

  31. This is a fantastic blog, Kristen, and you have given voice to things I have been thinking for years. Also, your school time activities sound an awful lot like mine. However, I had been so badly abused I didn’t dare misbehave in school, i.e. talking, passing notes, wandering around, etc. But, I did doodle a lot, daydreamed even more, and read so many novels inside my textbooks – the one habit I did get in trouble for – that I didn’t learn a thing. I got the idea, from my grades, my parents, and my classmates, that I was “retarded” (I know not politically correct, but that is what they called it in those days). Funny thing, when I got pregnant at 15 – my way of acting out I guess – the shrinks they sent me to tested me and my IQ was well in the genius level. Drugs aren’t the only way to try and normalize a child, abuse does a good job of it too. Unfortunately, it leaves scars, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Scars that drugs can’t heal and time doesn’t work real well ever. Whoever said that, lied.

  32. Reblogged this on Nancy Segovia and commented:
    Parents, please read, think and think some more

  33. Kristen,

    I too had an AWFUL time in school. I was fairly normal, if nerdy – I wore glasses and read constantly. I was teased mercilessly. It got to the point where the principle had to literally pull me out of my mother’s car one day, sobbing and refusing to go to school. The new focus on actually doing something about bullying is particularly meaningful to me.

    Fast forward 25 years. My kids go to the same exact elementary school. They’ve even had some of the same teachers, including my least favorite.

    But their experience has been COMPLETELY different from mine. They’ve enjoyed school. Teachers are very careful to stop bullying much more quickly now, and academic interventions like speech therapy and reading assistance are done early and sensitively. It’s really much better than it was when we were kids.

  34. As a 45 year old who didn’t get diagnosed with ADD until I was 38. I agree that I hate that it’s called a disorder. As a father I have to explain to my two girls, 12 and 10, that their similar diagnos is not a disorder but a creative gift that we have to learn how to manage during school.

    You’re absolutely right. I had a job not long ago where I was valued for my innovation and creativity, but they shook their heads at my struggles with paperwork and cumbersome internal protocols that often got in the way of mission success.

    Like you I struggled in school and I wonder if I would have at least had the diagnosis when I was young would my self esteem and confidence have been higher knowing that my brain just worked differently.

    The funny thing is that there are simple assists out there that help us wiggly kids if the schools can look past the,selves to use them. Like sitting on a yoga ball instead of a chair, using desks that have foot wiggle stirrups/pedals and standing desks. And little things like spinning rings that we adults and the kids can wear and aimlessly play with to help focus.

    I view my “disorder” as a a gift, especially now that I have begun writing. I can finally get some of those crazy thoughts and adventures out of my head and into a book, kinda like Dumbledore and the pensive.

    If you choose to send your little zombie to school I hope you find a wonderful teacher like we experienced with our kids. A woman who had not only some experience with ADD kids in her own home but the compassion and understanding to help us do what was right for our kids along the way.

    Good Luck,

  35. Such an interesting post and a wonderful range of comments!

  36. Thank you for writing this article, Kristen. There’s no doubt that you and your child are amazing people. Thank goodness you have each other for support and understanding.
    Me? Yup, I’m dyslexic.
    The label dyslexic sure kicks the stuffing out of being labeled slow, stupid, lazy, ineducable, ret… Well, you get the picture. And, yes, I have been called these things by others–children, adults, non-professionals and professionals.
    In fact, a social worker told my parents that they’d have to take care of me for the rest of my life.
    My parents didn’t believe him. They continued to believe in the soundness of my intellect. The trouble was I did. That was the problem. But it isn’t any longer. Now I know the truth.
    And occasionally I do need help (Doesn’t everyone?) And it’s so nice to say, “Yes, I can do this but not that. I have dyslexia.” Not only am I asking for help but I’m also advocating.

  37. “That the brain is simply adapting to drastic social change!”

    I have studied ancient cultures that were hugely successful, yet succumbed to some calamity, be it weather or plague. Advanced civilizations as far back as 10,000 years, on the edge of the ice age existed. For example: the Hindu Vedas has been passed along orally. Being the oldest religion in the world and perhaps the oldest writing. Unlike the Egyptian hieroglyphics, their enigmatic, complex written symbols have not been deciphered. The mental powers of men and women during those ancient times far surpassed anything known to humankind in present times when you come to understand the lore.Gods and demigods with avatars doing impossible things.Rising up into the heavens to rain down rays of fire destroying cites. Voltaire regarded Vedas to be exceptional, he remarked that:

    The Veda was the most precious gift for which the West had ever been indebted to the East.

    Western Culture likes to think it has all the answers, all the world’s norms. Our brains are infantile in potential.

  38. Much of what I wished to say has been said. I was that exceptional child who needed to do five things at once. With the help of our maid, I taught myself to read when I was four. I went to a school that accommodated me, thanks in large part to my 1st grade teacher, Mrs. Hill, who took one look at me and knew she had a problem. And she strong-armed almost everyone up the food chain to help. I spent 12 years at that school and have mostly wonderful memories. And, if I had to do it all over again with my son, I would be even more accommodating to his unique abilities than I was. My mother didn’t understand the unique aspects of having a gifted child and spent years trying to pound this square peg in a round hole, so I had her insecurities as a parent, although not nearly to her degree. The only important thing is to create an environment where your child can flourish in his uniqueness. The world will benefit.

  39. Ah. My tribe. I skipped so many grades that I was still beating boys up when everyone else was dating them. Near perfect scores on the English side of the SATs. But the math…I think they gave me points for filling in my name. Skipped my freshman year of college, yet had to take “Rocks for Jocks” to pass my science requirement. “Normal” is an insult!

  40. You know your child better than anyone, so only you know how your child needs to be educated. I homeschooled my oldest daughter. She’s the kid who has to bounce from one project to the next and does her work while singing at the top of her lungs. For whatever reason, this is the best way for her to learn. The public school system needs a serious overhaul. It isn’t just the “thinking outside the box” kids who are struggling. The “normal” kids are struggling too. It’s unrealistic to expect any young child to sit still for hours at a time. With recess times being cut in half or eliminated, it’s a wonder any child can make it through the day without having a meltdown. There are many different types of kids with many different learning styles. Unfortunately, with the current classroom setups, huge class sizes, and standardized tests, teachers don’t have the flexibility to teach the way they would like. Spawn is lucky to have a mom like you!

  41. My son was diagnosed with ADHD last year. As we were working with a psychologist to help us help him, I told her, “You know, this sounds awfully familiar. I think this applies to me as well.” We reviewed my history and what I struggle with on a day to day basis, and gee golly, yup, I fit the criteria as well. Honestly, putting a name to what goes on with my brain has been such a relief. I knew I was wired differently, but I kept thinking that I just needed to work harder or get more organized or…whatever. Now that I know that I’m naturally inclined to go “squirrel!” I can work with and around that tendency. My effectiveness at work has sky-rocketed, and honestly, I was doing well in the first place.

    What I’m questioning now is the designation “disorder.” Okay, so yeah, my brain can jump topics and interests like nobody’s business. But when I’m in hyperfocused-mode? Whoa. That tendency to follow the rabbit means that I make connections with the material I’m working with that end up giving me a deeper understanding than if I’d plowed through the normal routes. I graduated from nursing school with a 4.0 and am currently working on my Masters. So…disorder? Maybe. There definitely some challenges I face with the way I’m set up. But disability? Only inasmuch as I’m trying to navigate highways while propelled by rocket fuel.

    So with my kid, we’re not trying to change who he is, just give him the tools he needs to be successful with the materials he’s got to work with.

  42. I had a third grade teacher who stood in front of me and announced to the entire class that she had never seen someone who was so bad at math and that I would NEVER, repeat NEVER, be able to do a math word problem. And she was right. I shut down my math brain and said F.U. to math the rest of my life. I majored in journalism to be able to take science instead of math. I’ll never forget that day and the way that teacher treated me. I’m 56 years old now and still can’t forgive her. Teach your kid to be the best he can be with the tools he has. And to be happy. That’s all that matters!

    • artdogjan on July 13, 2015 at 3:22 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen, you are right on. I am a former public school art teacher, and the mother of an ADHD-diagnosed daughter, so I have seen both sides of the “school” picture.

    Both of my kids went through public school in a top-rated district, and if I had it to do over again (if I knew then what I know now) I’m not sure I wouldn’t home-school. Both are highly creative, high-energy, and . . . shall we say, resistant to authority (read that: critical thinkers). Both survived, but “unscathed” would not be accurate. More than a few students ended up in similar straits.

    Given your analysis of The Spawn’s situation, there is NO WAY I would recommend handing him over to the tender mercies of contemporary American schools. Look into “free schooling” techniques, get creative, and hold onto your hat. It will not be easy, but your young man could be destined for awesome things.

  43. I KNEW I liked you for a reason!! I too tried the meds (actually as recently as 4-5 years ago) and found that I couldn’t write….I had NO personality…..& I felt like a prisoner in my own body. It was HORRIBLE!! For the longest time I thought it was “just me”….that EVERYONE else that’s given this medication has had the desired result & I’m just the odd ball out. I feel a bit vindicated in this post!! Thank you for making me feel less out there & more like those that I consider my friends. 😀

  44. In my next life, will you be my mother…?

  45. This was such a fascinating post! It’s definitely something to keep in mind when raising my own kids. It sparked a conversation with my husband about his days as a young trouble-maker. I won’t share the details because they’re not mine to share, but I will say the school’s “suggestion” would have erased his crazy, creative, free spirit and the engineering world would’ve lost a great mind. My awesome husband is definitely not “normal” and that’s what I love about him because I am far from “normal” too.

  46. Kristen, as you said, our educational system developed along with the industrial age, and IMHO the primary function of k-12 is to turn out workers. College is better, unfortunately, we need to get ourselves and our children past the first years …. I think your decision to home school is excellent.
    Did you know that ‘south paws’ were considered to be disabled? If memory serves, Einstein was a ‘south paw’, and who is their right mind would label him disabled?!?
    Avoid medication if at all possible and trust your instincts.

    • jimcopeland on July 13, 2015 at 4:00 pm
    • Reply

    How in the world do you ever find the sink? I don’t care, I like your way of thinking. My wife sits at the TV, reads a book during, and can tell you everything that happened in the show. Me, I guess I am just an ole ground hog. I plod along, do my writing, until someone tells me I did wrong, then…I change it?
    I did enjoy your blog.
    James M. Copeland

  47. It’s telling how this post resonates with so many of us! My daughter has severe dyslexia, slow-processing speed and ADHD-inattentive-type – these are the labels we’ve been given so we can attempt to force the school to teach her the way she learns rather than the way they like to teach. But homeschooling is becoming a stronger possibility every day for us. We want our daughter to find her strengths and shine – not spend her years comparing herself to classmates who don’t think outside the box. My husband has dyslexia (undiagnosed until our daughter’s was) and has distinct memories of his struggles in school. I’ve even seen elements of the ADHD in myself now that I know what to look for but I was blessed to be homeschooled 6th grade up. I remember showing my mother the system I had made up to solve my math-problems and her worrying that it differed from the book’s way but she let me do it my way anyway. I always solved mazes backwards. And I’d do all my subjects for the year within 2 months so I could have the rest of the year to play and read (except math – that was the one subject she made me do daily, which was wise).

  48. I understand your decision. Years ago, I homeschooled my kids, and I have no regrets. In our over-crowded classrooms, teachers were spread too thin. Many children were falling between the cracks, some practically illiterate when they graduated from our local high school. There are more resources available these days, so you have a lot of options on how to deal with it all. Good luck. I wish you and Spawn the very best!

  49. I’m pretty sure that I got into teaching because I was passionate about learning… for the record, I hated school and didn’t fit in, and ended up getting by with the barest minimum on test scores because I stressed out and didn’t test well (which really explains the HDs in my postgraduate quals)… my own children have struggled to be part of the ‘factory’ and our youngest suffers so much from school anxiety that if I could do what you are doing I would! As a teacher, it has been my passion to try and cater for the ‘unusual’, and the best (and most exhausting) years of my career were when I had a G&T class who thought and learned ‘outside the box’ – and, no, they were not teacher pleasers!

    Go for it, Kirsten. Your boy will learn more from you in a week than from a standardised school in a year!

  50. I don’t want my name in your hat, I’m not a novelist. But I like your blog. My partner and my sister are both teachers (primary and secondary). They wouldn’t recognise for a minute what was going on in your or the Spawn’s classroom. There’s something wrong with the system and the way that your teachers are being trained. I’d be working on changing the system.
    Can I add that my nephew has Asperger’s. He’s in his teens now and doing quite well. He does go to school (although he asked to change it a couple of years ago and is now thriving). His parents have worked hard to get him to that point. It’s exhausting but rewarding I’ve been told, but can see for myself. It’s obvious that the Spawn is also in good hands.
    A complaint, Kristen. Do something about your comments box, please. I’d like to see my comment in the one glance to check for typos rather than have to scroll up and down. 🙂

  51. PS. I don’t agree that all parents want geniuses for children. They may want their children to do well and work to that end to help it happen, but what most of us want (and that’s also obvious from your post) is for our children to be happy.

  52. I love this and agree with so much of what you say, Kristen. Our society, at least, the brains behind public education, seems to be intent on homogenizing little people until they fit into one mold (if you’ve seen any sort of parenting magazines or emails, how often are there articles with titles like, “Toddler not doing XYZ? When to be concerned,” or “What behaviors are normal for your preschooler?”) “Normal” really isn’t a great goal and seeking out medication or therapy to ‘normalize’ a child or adult isn’t a great idea. ADHD, ADD, ASD, and a whole list of other behavioral problems are diagnoses that are handed out entirely too often in an effort to make kids who shouldn’t be stuck sitting in a class room for hours do just that.
    That being said, my oldest son has Sensory Processing Disorder. We agonized over the decision to put him in therapy for months. I knew before he was 2 that something was off. Not to say that he wasn’t ‘normal’ enough or that he had behavior issues from being under stimulated. There was genuinely something wrong- he was anxious to the point of melting down every day, certain textures and sounds sent him right over the edge into full on hysterics, and he would hurt himself in the process of these fits unless someone could hold him tightly enough and long enough to calm him. Even with all of that, every single day, I was afraid to put him in any sort of therapy or have an evaluation done. He was hard to handle, but he was special and unique and challenging in the best ways, along with the hard things. I was worried that putting him in therapy would squash all of the quirky things that made my son my son! The turning point for me came when he went to play group with a friend of mine. She had agreed to keep him while I went to an appointment and more little ones than expected ended up being there. When I got back, he had retreated from all the noise and chaos of a large room full of running, screaming kids by hiding in a crawl tunnel. When I found him, he had found a jump rope and was frantically wrapping it as tightly as he could get it around his forearm, then crying in frustration as he yanked it off to try and wrap it again, even more tightly. I’m tearing up just picturing his terrified, broken little face. He was around two and a half at that point.
    He had his evaluation and the therapist came back with the ‘diagnosis’ of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), with specific issues with auditory, vestibular, and multi-sensory processing. All of that to say that, though he was able to pick up information from those senses, that information got jumbled around so that his brain didn’t know the correct responses. The multi-sensory processing is just his brain not being able to handle more than one form of input at one time without a struggle- why he struggled so much in a room full of running, screaming children! Things moving quickly around him, lots of noise, a fairly open space and no way to settle it all down was a night mare for him!
    He has been in therapy for 2 years and he’s a different kid, but in an amazing way. He’s still a tightly wound little dude (he comes by that honestly, though, between my husband and I), but he can play in a group with no anxious melt downs or tears. He can handle loud noises. He enjoys sliding and swinging and playing in sand- all things he absolutely could not do before. He is still my quirky, bright, amazing, and challenging little boy, but he’s not constantly anxious or throwing himself into such awful fits that he has to be bodily restrained to keep from hurting himself.
    Would he have maybe grown out of his SPD and been fine without therapy? I have no idea. I wouldn’t trade the experience he’s had and the progress he’s made to find out, though. I agree that there are times when kids who just don’t fit in the box are regarded as ‘issues’ and labeled as ‘learning disabled’ when, in fact, they are bored and not being taught in a way that will help them to thrive. I still don’t know what we are going to do where school is concerned because I feel like he won’t ‘fit’ in a normal public school classroom. I’m fine with that. But I am very thankful for the therapy he’s had that has helped him learn ways to get through the day without being so anxious that he can hardly function.

    • pawsawhilefarm on July 13, 2015 at 7:27 pm
    • Reply

    Best of luck home schooling your son. I’m sure there will be difficult times, but I hope it also brings you closer in the end. When he grows up and realizes what you did for him, I’m sure he will be forever grateful. I didn’t have problems in school – I was one of the “normal” ones – but that is what makes it so hard for me to deal with some of the issues I have to today – bouncing from one task to another, being socially appropriate, etc, etc. I’m sure you will use your connections with such a variety of experienced people in so many fields that your son will have exposure to many alternatives children in regular school will not have. Enjoy the ride!

  53. My kids tease me that I started teaching when kids rode dinosaurs to school instead of school buses. It has been a long time ago, and I only taught for 6 years until my girls were born, but WAY back then, kids and teachers weren’t under so much pressure. I eventually taught 1st, 2nd, and 4th grades, and we had time for fun projects and interesting distractions. And not every kid was destined for college prep. It almost seems like the more pressure and higher expectations we put on education, the worse it gets. Not every kid is ever going to like school. Not every kid wants a career. Some only want a decent paying job. My kids and grandkids are out of high school, but it seems like some of the “old ways” might have been better. Our city had more trade schools, and businesses hired interns and trained them. I think our system now can do better than “fit the mold” education.

    • Diana Rising on July 13, 2015 at 9:51 pm
    • Reply

    Great post. I was just talking about how they medicate kids so much today. My friend has lived next door to a family for over 5 years, and there is never a problem when the 10 year old son visits her house to play with her granddaughter and his sister. The father of the boy, on the other hand, gets too frustrated to sit outside and watch the boy when he is playing. They medicate the boy during the school year, but stop in the summer–and my friend doesn’t see any problem with him. She actually wonders if the father is ok, because of his frustrations and other ways the father acts out.
    If our kids weren’t put in rooms full of 35 other kids and expected to sit still for hours, there were be less medication. Several times my daughter’s teachers wanted me to get her checked for some sort of problem. I knew she could hold still and be quiet–but the class was too boring. Also, she was very social and loved to talk–which is a good thing. Luckily, they never pushed too hard.

  54. I read an article recently that, after having dealt with the American Educational System ™ for sixteen or so years, the average student has a significant amount of un-learning to do, mostly of the habits for which they were rewarded during the previous sixteen years. Schools are less institutions of higher learning and more factories where kids are brainwashed and have their “rough edges” knocked off of them, so that the only place they fit in is on a production line or in an office doing the same sort of repetitive tasks. That might have worked a hundred years ago, but it doesn’t work today and probably didn’t work fifty-plus years ago when they stuck me into the system. And, while business leaders et al. say they like kids who think outside the box, what they really want is someone who can think outside the box BUT THEN take those ideas and stuff them into the box. They hardly know how to cope with answers that don’t fit the paradigm that “has always worked in the past,” so they force the person with the ideas to make the ideas conform to what they’re comfortable with. And they seem to have co-opted the public officials who have their own ideas for why they don’t want a bunch of nonconformists making their lives miserable. Crazy as Ayn Rand might have been, “Atlas Shrugged” is looking prophetic all of a sudden…

    You let your kid be as crazy as he wants.

  55. Great post, Kristen! I thoroughly dislike the word “normal” used for a youngster for it excludes both fast learners and slow learners. When I was in school we had crowded classrooms, a very structured day, and a school janitor that took no prisoners. When my kids started school there were classroom size limits, an assistant for every teacher, a professional gym teacher, a guidance counsellor, two librarians. Fast forward twenty or so years and classrooms are crowded again, no assistants, no gym teachers or counsellors, libraries without books, a janitor for every two or three schools, and the rare principal. School boards and education ministers seem concerned only with the bottom line and with the results – does the number of children who passed from one grade to the next meet the “norm?” If not, pass some more nyway.

    All the best for you and your son.

  56. Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
    “What was fascinating about Gladwell’s book, is he talks about the staggering percentage of successful “geniuses” who suffer from dyslexia. A recent study puts it at about a third and the list includes people like Richard Branson, the British billionaire entrepreneur, Charles Schwab (financial genius), Craig McCaw (cell phone pioneer), the founder of JetBlue David Neeleman, John Chambers the CEO of tech giant Cisco, etc. Einstein was a dyslexic, so was Walt Disney.” Read on….Kristen Lamb’s interesting take on being different.

  57. My disorder is called Contempt for Idiots in Charge of Things. It’s lucky for all involved that I don’t have kids–in school or anywhere else.

  58. Thank you for sharing. My son is a little like yours, and also entering K this fall. I am concerned about the labels he has already acquired and how that might affect his self image and confidence as he grows. You have given me much to think about and I really appreciate it.

  59. As a grandma of a brilliant, artistic grandson who happens to have Aspergers-thank you!!

    • Dave on July 14, 2015 at 9:22 am
    • Reply

    I once had a dentist who displayed a pin on his chest: Why be normal? Indeed, this is what so-called modern education has been doing for over a century now. “Teaching to the norm;” standardized tests; and the like, are ways the educational establishment attempts to prepare students for the rigors of modern life. As a former Montessori educator, I find this institutional approach to education counter-productive. True… there are certain basics every student can benefit from. The ability to read and compute are the bottom line in order for a person to be able to relate to, and use, information. However, learning styles vary,widely and the Montessori approach acknowledged this fact. Just because someone doesn’t focus on one task at a time does not mean they aren’t learning. They may not be inclined toward the particular subject matter, but they do have interests. The key is to help the student discover what those interests are and foster them. Zombies? Why not? They have to learn to read in order to learn more about them. I believe you get my point. Those that wish to design and/or engineer their own “zombie robots” need to know how to do the calculations to make that happen.
    One more point… I believe there is a tendency to over-diagnose. If someone does not behave or perform in predictable ways, our society wants to prescribe a solution for the anomaly instead of letting a person make their own adjustments in order to adapt to life’s demands. As long as we can function independently, and find some purpose in life, do we need the pharmaceutical industry to help us live? There may be a fine line between ‘different’ and psychotic, but that can usually be discerned; unless we are numbed-out on medication. Your points are a wake-up call for anyone who is open to seeing a better way for us to proceed with education… and life. Thank you for your post.

  60. From a creative teacher’s point of view, I’m also frustrated. I try to leave room for students to choose the order they do some assignments. We discuss and draw about a subject before we write about it. Some of my teacher friends think I’m wierd, but I don’t mind if students need to walk around the room, take a bathroom break, stand at their desk, or sit on the floor. As long as they get the work done and don’t bother others, it works for me. But one of the principals I had thought I had issues with classroom management because my room wasn’t quiet and students didn’t sit like zombies. In the new era of Common Core, there is more student discussion and inquiry opportunities. Perhaps the Dinosaur of Public Education can be turned around.

  61. Loved this. One of my favorite science fictions books (when I was a kid) was about the schools who penalized the thinkers. The gist of the story was the thinkers got kicked out of the schools and had to fear for their lives but they ended up being the ones who planned the stuff the factory people worked at. Someone has to be more than a factory worker.

  62. I was the type of kid school were made for, I learn best reading, I fear the judgment of authority figures so I behaved, I am a validation whore so I got good grades, and I was average enough that I never got picked on. But I wanted more for my kids so I home schooled them, my son did go to high school and my daughter started middle school, but both of them choose their schools and are so strong within themselves that I don’t worry. One thing I do like about AZ schools is we have free Charter schools which offer a variety of educational systems so parents and kids have more choices.
    I do agree however that while we value free out-of-the-box thinking in adults it is rare anyone is willing to put up with that in their kids.

    • The Arbiter on July 14, 2015 at 1:24 pm
    • Reply

    I am not sure there is a ‘normal.’ I did not have a learning disorder, but I always felt an outsider since junior high (now called Middle School-very dull name change). It was not until an adult that someone showed me a book on character and temperament types. I took the test and I was revealed as an INFJ. Those in the classification represent only 1% of the population. No wonder I felt an outsider, everyone else was different. If there is a normal then those are boring people. I think normal would be dull.

  63. I’m not sure what i have to say is any different than what anyone else has said. No offense to the 76 wonderful people who commented, but I didn’t read what you wrote. I will say, as a mother of two teenagers, two very different students, I think the public school system and their standardized tests and Common Core is sucking the creativity and innovation out of our students. Who will be the innovators if everyone is required to be the same? How boring. And what has stood the test of time except the arts? We all know who Michael Angelo is.

    I applaud your decision. if I had known then what i know now, I would’ve home schooled my kids too.

    1. LOL, I read all of them and I really do love all the input ((HUGS)).

  64. Reblogged this on Swamp Sass and commented:
    Reblogging at SwampSass

    I had a “special child”. She’s brilliant. One of the smartest folks I know. But she didn’t quite fit in the “normal” zone. I also have a cousin who is about to get a Ph. D. in Psychology… he said he wants to know where they keep “normal” people. They’re harder and harder to find.

    Good for you that you understand your son and have created a rich environment where he grow. My daughter doesn’t do things in a linear fashion. But she’s amazing!

    What’s the Einstein cartoon? If you judge every creature by its ability to climb a tree… fish, giraffes and countless others are “disabled”.

    Keep up the great work! Your blogs are always inspiring.

  65. I have a cousin who is getting his Ph. D. in Psychology right now. He has often asked, where do they keep all the “normal” people?

    I love that Einstein cartoon… Where they have some squirrel or something climbing a tree, meanwhile the giraffe, dog, and fish look on sadly. If we judge by one criteria, then the others who aren’t able to climb the tree are not “normal”. Poor fish!

    I have exceptional children. My daughter was diagnosed with MDB (Minimal Brain Dysfunction) when she was 6. She’s brilliant. She is not a linear thinker, but she is amazing. She also has some sort of non-verbal connection with people. I think it’s because she had so much trouble communicating for such a long time.

    It is amazing how many people have no idea how to think for themselves. The only attempt I can see that public schools made in that effort were the problems about the plane flying one direction for awhile and then another. The act of taking the facts you have and solving a problem with what you have or determining you don’t have enough information to solve it at all, are sadly non-existent for many people.

    The most important thing we can teach our children is to think for themselves. That involves determining strengths and weaknesses and deciding if we need those skills that are difficult for us or if we can work around them or learn them.

    I cannot sew. Just cannot do it. I did not learn how. If it hadn’t been for our neighbor who was a great seamstress and nice lady, I’d still be trying to get out of junior high “Home Ec”.

    I can promise you, I’ve never spent a moment worrying that I don’t have the ability to sew. I can do a lot of other things.

    Love your blog. Please keep posting these kinds of things for us.

  66. I don’t believe in “normal”; it’s against my religion 🙂 Seriously, since God creates everyone individually, “normal” is meaningless. There is no “standard issue” to adhere to or deviate from.

  67. Reblogged this on Mystery and Romance and commented:
    “Normal is nothing but a setting on your dryer.”

  68. I absolutely love this post. I just graduated from what would be considered a traditionally top-tier university, but entered as a freshman being freshly diagnosed with a neurological disability that affected what I believed were my “normal” cognitive abilities. I have gained such an appreciation for the difficulty that goes into learning for those with learning disabilities, especially for those who are in an environment that aim for normalcy/perfection. I completely understand and support the homeschooling — in retrospect, I don’t think I would even have the self-confidence to reach where I am today if I had to go through my college experience as a child!
    My grades and GPA are scattered all over the place and have no relation to difficulty, and I sense others like me may have the same trend; I did fairly well in classes with visuals (organic chemistry, all my labs, art), and not so well in theory based courses (philosophy & politics).
    I mentored a few fellow underclassmen with disabilities, and the most disheartening moments came from hearing others (with learning disabilities) feel their study habits were just not “up to par”, and were transferring out or giving up majors in consequence, when in reality, the school we were attending were just part of a traditional school system of thought that still hasn’t embraced out-of-the-box thinking and study styles (which they are going to regret, once their notable alum list starts to look a tad boring). I read Gladwell’s book last year and loved every bit of it. I wrote an article in my school magazine about embracing the imperfection, and I’ve been talking about it to everyone who will listen. I do think that, like many people have mentioned, its getting better and the stats are backing it up — hope for the future!

    • jaimesamms on July 14, 2015 at 10:15 pm
    • Reply

    We home schooled both our kids for the majority of their school years. I would not change that for the world. Good luck and have fun!

  69. I home schooled both my kids (now 30 and 26) for reasons very similar to those you cite in this excellent blog post. You and your son both sound as though you are very gifted intellectually and in multiple other ways, as are my children and many in my family. It makes for a challenge in educating a child that often most public schools and many private ones can’t handle. Thank you for sharing!

  70. I read this post when you first put it up, but never commented. But, it stayed with me.
    I just wanted to swing back to say how much I enjoyed it. As a mom of three young boys myself, I think women sometimes get pretty judgy of each other’s parenting skills… And it seems to me that you’re doing a great job, and should be told that.
    I also really enjoy your blog. 🙂

    1. Awww ((HUGS)) THANK YOU! Writers (and bloggers) REALLY appreciate comments like these. It keeps us going! 😀

  71. I can totally sympathise with you – I was always asking my teachers millions of questions but thankfully my school took the attitude that if you were asking questions, at least it meant you were paying attention! I teach further education in the UK (16-19 year olds) and we get all sorts of learning styles through the door. Luckily I teach graphic design and there’s about a million ways to teach art (the only type I can’t teach are the ones who are only there because they’re lazy and they thought it would be easy), but I really worry about the kids who don’t fit into a box. Just because they’re quiet doesn’t mean they’re a bad student, it just means they don’t rattle away like everyone else. I think ultimately you know your child better than anyone else, and more importantly you understand his needs, and I guess there’s nothing stopping you homeschooling him until he asks why he can’t go to school with the other kids.

  72. I love this post. My Girl is going to be 16(!!) in about two weeks. She has spent the entirety of her school time in public schools, just as I did.


    I wish that I go back in time and put her in a charter/Montessori/private/oh god anything, anything, ANYThing other than the public school system. The only thing that public school has taught my kiddo is that school (and therefore learning) is boring. Thank goodness for tabletop gaming and YA authors.Gaming taught her that mathematics (hello ThAC0 tables) can be useful and even fun.
    Then, I introduced her to a few of my favorite authors from my misspent yute (Lackey, Nix, Hambly) and her reading/comprehension skyrocketed.

    I agree with the poster above that teaching to a standardized test have pretty well ruined public education. One hopes that with the new generation – raised in social/multi-media, whose multitasking abilities are ingrained – that some changes will be implemented in how we educate our young’uns.

  73. I understand what you mean about introverts. My wife is a true introvert and only likes to hang out occasionally to please me. Her parents homeschooled her and she is just fine.

  74. If I am not doing at least 2 things at once I am asleep 🙂 My sons, particularly my youngest are exactly the same. I can really identify – except by some miracle neither I or my sons had the trouble in school you did. Spawn is luck to have you!

  75. This is brilliant, Kristen!

    We’ve been radically unschooling for almost six years now. No curriculum at all; but so much learning, on so many topics, that I can’t keep up with it all (especially with my son, almost 14. He’s prone to go to his room for most of the day, several days running, then come out with an impressive array of research or projects to talk about).

    It’s nearly 2am here as I type this. My daughter, just 11, was reading the comments above this while we snuggled. She started reading at 8; school would have labeled her as something, no doubt, and told her she needed extra help.

    She didn’t. She just needed time. Without a single lesson ever, she is now, 3 years later, able to read anything she likes. She especially loves field guides, Nancy Drew, National Geographic, American Girl, and Five Nights at Freddy’s and Inside Out fan fiction, which she often verbally critiques.

    Both of my kids would likely have been labeled as something or several somethings in a school setting. Here, though, they’re themselves, integral parts of our family unit.

    A few posters have said homeschooling is or will be hard. I haven’t found it to be. Challenging? Yes. Parenting is a challenge. Keeping up with two growing kids and their interests on one modest income is challenging. Four strong-willed people living in one small house is, too, and so are the times when we’re on different sleep/wake cycles, or want opposite things…because, in a home where parental desires aren’t law, negotiation can be just about constant.

    But we value judgement above obedience. We want kids who have loads of practice in making real decisions. Like what to do with their time; or whether to go to school, or how to earn and spend money.

    It’s much more immersive than sending them to school would be. Our lives are deeply intertwined; we’ve had to learn how to talk with and get along with one another in order to have peaceful coexistence. When they were younger, it took most of my time and energy, but, as they’ve gotten older, it’s less constant – more a matter of intersecting orbits. We move away, and together again, in different combinations throughout the day and the night. It’s like a dance of connection, then off to do our own things.

    I have a great deal of time, these days, to pursue my own passions (writing, Vulcans, t’ai chi, Vulcans….). The rest of the family has time for theirs, too.

    I ask the kids once in a while if they still want to homeschool, and remind them that they can give school a try if they ever want to. So far, I’ve always gotten a look like I suddenly turned into a Cyclops…

    We’re thriving and happy here. I have a feeling your family is, too….because, in the end, each of us IS who we are, and embracing that and learning to live with it is a far better use of our energy than fighting or trying to medicate it away, at least in my opinion.

    Your adventure is just beginning. Suit up, grab the weapons of your choice, and enjoy the journey!

  76. Reblogged this on shanjeniah and commented:
    This one goes straight into my “Reasons We Homeschool” file. Hooray for being as we are – especially when it’s NOT defined by some usually artificial concept of ‘normalcy’. Innovation does not come from treading the long-trodden paths, but from blazing new trails.

  77. Welcome to the Homeschool side. We’ve got cookies! 🙂 I can relate in some ways. In 5th grade I was first put into honors math because of my grades, but then I took too long to solve the problems and was put into the slow class. I went from the top to the bottom all because I took too long. It didn’t matter that I got all the problems right. I am a slow thinker but I think deeply. I’ve been called names because of this. I can’t win debates. Socially I’d rather write to someone than talk on the phone or in person. I just need more time to process things. But the quality of my thoughts are still good. I’ve spent a good bit of my life feeling stupid because I couldn’t keep up with others. I can’t wait to read about your homeschool journey. I was picked on bad all my school years. I love that I can homeschool my son and he never has to endure being picked on or a teacher trying to fit him into a box. He can read upside down if he wants. I love that. Rock on, Kristen! 🙂 God bless!

  78. I had the exact same school experience as a child. And I homeschooled all my children. And no, none of them are “normal.” We’ve got ADHD and autism in this family. And we are amazing.

    • Rachel Thompson on July 28, 2015 at 4:34 pm
    • Reply

    All cultures value conformity. Tribal ,AKA authoritarian psychology, pushes the herd together while the sheep herders use that commonality to their advantage. Most people, 80%, are sheep according to studies in anthropology and social psychology. The sheep herders are not in it for the flock’s sake, rather, for the most part, they are in it for control, power and money. This is how religions and political ideologies work. Independent thinkers are always considered outsiders and we are. We won’t drink the Koolaide. Anyone outside the social average, for whatever reason, be fat, gay, handicapped, ect,ect, are naturally suspicious too mainstream people, especially for religious and politically right people which represents the majority in this country. No matter how people see themselves, they are caught in the webs of life long indoctrination by social constructions. Only independent critical thinkers escape this trap. What is amazing about mob mentality is how people that should know better strive to buy into the mainstream, such as blacks or Indians adopting the white devil’s religion or gays getting married: in doing so they join their oppressors by accepting the previous generation’s abusers as now made legitimate.

  79. Great post. I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, especially as someone who was often bored and restless in classes. I much preferred studying things for myself than listening to a teacher. Somewhat ironically, I taught in a secondary school for a while and often thought about the very things you say, about how the kids are made to conform even if they aren’t suited to the system. I always tried to empathise, to vary activities and find opportunities for the kids to express their creativity. Not always easy when there are strong regulations in place about what you teach and how to teach it!
    We do tend to label people who are ‘different’ to the norm as having a disorder. That’s why I find the ‘social disability’ model quite interesting as a concept. It suggests that disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. Thus we need to remove the barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people.

  1. […] Source: Advantages in DISadvantages—Does Our Culture Really Value “Normal”? | Kristen Lamb’s Blo… […]

  2. […] Advantages in DISadvantages: Does Our Culture Really Value Normal? Kristen Lamb puts a very personal spin on the paradox of claiming to value innovators while attempting to fit all children into school-defined parameters of ‘normalcy’. If you’ve ever felt like you just didn’t fit in, please read this. If you feel your children don’t, please PLEASE read this! […]

  3. […] Advantage is DISadvantage– Does Our Culture Really Value “Normal”? […]

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