Finding the Right Fit: A Real-life Example

November, 2016

In the lead article of this issue, Heidi Molback provided the framework for finding the right school fit. Here, parents describe their experiences finding that “right fit.”

The Situation

Our son transitioned from a private elementary school to an excellent private college preparatory middle school in our area. He started out the year adapting well socially and earning good grades; but after the holiday break, his behavior, social relationships, and level of happiness deteriorated quickly. We had noticed this pattern since preschool, with each year becoming more pronounced. He was seeing a therapist because of it, and we worked extensively with the faculty at his new school to try to make it work. Finally, in the spring, the head of the school told us it wasn’t a place where our son could thrive.

Although our son was able to finish out the school year, it was clear we needed to find another solution. The social and emotional pressure and anxiety he was experiencing caused him to withdraw and show signs of depression. We could see the brilliance within our child and what he was capable of achieving, but he wasn’t in an environment where he could reach his potential. We knew our son could learn and do anything he put his mind to, but we began to realize that he first needed to regain confidence and develop in the areas holding him back from success. We had to find the right environment for our son.  

Defining the Change Process

We researched schools in our area by looking online and talking to other parents. Our city has few non-traditional school options and even fewer resources for “super-smart kids with behavior issues.” (We had not even heard of the term twice-exceptional at that point). None of the options, including home-schooling, appeared to be a good fit for our son. Further, we felt we had to get this next move “right,” fearing that another failed attempt would irreparably undermine our son’s confidence and sense of self-worth.

My husband and I expanded our search to other day schools in our region and then the country, thinking desperately that one parent could live with our son during the week while he attended school, and we both would return home for weekends — a solution we now recognize as untenable. We ran across boarding schools in our search and actually discovered the school our son is now attending. Although it sounded perfect, we dismissed the school for two reasons: it was a boarding school, and it was located across the country. We weren’t ready for our oldest child to leave the nest before college!

During this time of research, several issues emerged that influenced our thinking about the type of school that would be best for our son. We learned that many 2e children tend not to be athletically inclined; consequently, many 2e schools do not place much emphasis on providing opportunities for physical activities and play. However, we knew that our son needed a physical outlet for some of his energy, and his mood and behavior improved when he exercised. Finding a school that didn’t focus exclusively on 2e children’s intellectual abilities, but instead built physical activity into the child’s day, became an important goal for us.

Another issue we recognized was how the challenges of 2e children were addressed in a prospective school. We felt intuitively that our son did not need drugs, and we had worked with his pediatrician to rule out any physiological causes of his behavior. We did not want him to be in an environment that promoted drugs as a therapy. Instead, we wanted an environment where he could develop natural coping mechanisms to deal with his intense emotions, a much more sustainable solution for our son, we believed.

The third issue was determining which was a higher priority for our son’s wellbeing: addressing his social and emotional challenges or focusing on academics and his intellectual capabilities. Education has always been extremely important to us as individuals and as parents, and we work very hard to provide our children with the best educational opportunities we can. We came to realize that with our 2e child (and, in fact, with our non-2e children), social and emotional development was at least as important as academics, if not more so. A highly educated adult who does not know how to work with others will likely face difficult challenges, and we did not want that for our son. We made finding a school that enabled the development of our son’s social and emotional health and stability a higher priority than finding one that focused primarily on college preparatory activities.

Executing the Change

Knowing that our son couldn’t return to his school or any like it, we felt a tremendous amount of pressure to find a solution before the next school year started. It was difficult to live with the uncertainty during this process. We continued to share our story with others, but did not gain any real traction until I reconnected with a former colleague I hadn’t seen or even spoken to in 15 years. While catching up on our lives, I described a little bit of what we were experiencing with our son. She thought our situation sounded similar to that of a friend of hers who was able to find a school for her own son with the help of an educational consultant that she highly recommended.

We contacted that consultant, who took us through a thorough process that enabled her to get to know our son and his needs. She was extremely reassuring; and we felt like, in some ways, she knew our son even better than we did because she had worked with so many 2e kids. She recommended a specialized boarding school — the same one we had found online — and we flew out for a visit.

We couldn’t ignore either the unusual and fortuitous circumstances that led us to the consultant or the huge smile on our son’s face at the end of the school visit. The universe seemed to be pointing us in the direction of the school, despite our resistance to having our son live so far away from us.

The Outcomes

Our son was, naturally, quite nervous about the prospect of changing schools, especially to a boarding school across the country. At the same time, we could see that he was relieved to be getting away from an environment that, to him, was toxic. We had kept reassuring our son that, together, we would find the right school for him, although until we began working with the consultant, we certainly didn’t feel confident of that. In fact, we had felt like we were in limbo. It was a stressful time, and our son felt the stress both of being in the wrong environment and of not knowing where he belonged. It was heartbreaking to see him wound up and directionless.

As the parents of a 2e child, we had, at times, felt quite exasperated. The demands of these children can put an enormous amount of pressure on the parents, siblings, and household. Added to that was the feeling that we were simply failing our son because he was so deeply unhappy and anxious. Although we had read numerous books and tried many parenting techniques to help him navigate life during this period of time, we felt wholly unsuccessful. It would’ve been easy to blame ourselves or each other for the challenges our son faced, but we learned over time that these challenges are the result of a combination of genetics and societal constraints facing 2e children.

Our Advice

We would encourage those facing similar challenges to talk to other parents, friends, and acquaintances, and share your story. There is a right school for your child. Keep your mind open to all possibilities.
We discovered that what our son needed was to be immersed in an environment with similar kids where he could work on social and emotional skills. Facing the real-life challenges of this environment with nurturing instruction proved much more effective for our son and our family than two years of therapy had been.  

Although it’s difficult for us (especially me) to have our son so far away, he is so much happier where he is. He is calmer, more peaceful, and more confident; and his relationships with us, with his siblings, and with his friends are immeasurably improved. His last letter home to us said, “School is really really really really super-duper fun. It is the best.” And that makes it all okay.

Another Family's Experience

A family in a western part of the U.S. has a daughter who, over the years, turned out to be quite multi-exceptional. Her mother calls her highly or profoundly gifted, but  she also was diagnosed with dyslexia early on, at around five years of age. By middle school, she had a 504 plan because the required schoolwork was starting to overwhelm her strengths.

As a 14-year-old sophomore in high school, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which led to difficulties at school, including anxiety attacks triggered by a heavy workload.  Because the high school required the young woman to take no less than five classes, she took a medical leave, after which the family tried what they hoped would be less stressful options:

  • An “alternative” high school, which could not support her strengths and which exposed her to the drug and behavior problems of some of the other students in the school
  • An online school, which “killed the fun of learning,” according to her mother, because the learning experience consisted of mostly reading, with no discussion.

The family contacted an educational consultant. “I feel like I’m asking for the impossible,” the mother thought of her requests. But the consultant was able to recommend a private college prep boarding school. The family visited, and remembers not being particularly impressed initially – perhaps by then feeling that “schools will tell you anything,” recalls the mother. But the school worked hard to meet the young woman’s needs, for example by playing on one of her strengths – an interest in chemistry – and arranging for her to be a teaching assistant in a lower-level chemistry class.

The mother remembers that the year “wasn’t all roses,” but that the family and school worked through the problems. The year at the boarding school served as the platform the young woman needed to go on to college, where she achieve a straight-A average.
The mother’s advice to other families searching for “the right fit”?

  • Be willing to be flexible.
  • Ask for what you need.
  • Use an educational consultant; there are many things you won’t have to explain to an experienced consultant, for example that your child with dyslexia can “fake it.”

2e Newsletter thanks these parents, who shall remain anonymous, for their contribution. See our website for another parent’s experiences with regard to “finding the right fit.”  

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