Dogs and ponies and unicorns

So I went to this thing. (Truly, I am a master storyteller, no? Silver-tongued and imbued with the wisdom of the ages!) It was a meet-n-greet for elementary school parents get to chat a bit with our local middle school’s staff, and I went.

I felt a little bit like a spy, because of course I already know the principal and the staff; my daughter’s been at this school for nearly two years, already. And normally I’m the last person to attend any meeting that isn’t compulsory, but it occurred to me that when they had this when Chickadee was in 5th grade, I sent Otto for some reason (I can’t remember, now, but I’m thinking maybe one of the kids was sick and I wanted to stay home). I’d never been to this particular event. So I figured I’d go.

Because I’m me, I spent 15% of the event goggling at the information being presented and 85% of it musing to myself that the middle school administrators in that room probably already sort of consider me a pain in the ass, and right now they’re only dealing with my neurotypical star student. Just IMAGINE how much they are going to love me if Monkey goes there! JUST BUNCHES, I am certain.

Let me be absolutely clear: I think all of our public schools here are fighting an uphill battle and I applaud all of their efforts, plus I think the education my kids are receiving—and, by and large, the care they’ve been shown by teachers and administrators—is excellent in spite of the many challenges inherent in our schools. I have never made any bones about our district being a severely challenged one, but I truly believe that they’re making a lot of lemonade out of lemons over there. Also, I really dig our middle school principal. A lot.

That said, the dog and pony show they put on for the parents was pretty impressive. It accentuated the positives and minimized the negatives, and in a couple of places even produced answers to direct questions which I think may have been… ummm… just a tad bit fanciful. (Someone asked for the average class size, for example, and was told it’s about 20 students. Let’s just say I would really love it if that was true.) (Though, okay, in their defense: I think there are some self-contained classes with something like a 4:1 student/teacher ratio, so if you average it out… that might TECHNICALLY be true.)

I tried very, very hard not to get my panties in a wad over the fact that the coordinator of the gifted program talked extensively about how the school is so pleased to be serving students via the collaborative model, which means that “the gifted students are being served right alongside the students on IEPs!” (The first time she said it, I thought to myself, “Does she not realize that there are sometimes gifted students who are ALSO on IEPs?” And the second time—stated even more enthusiastically, then—I thought, “Wow, it’s almost like those kids on IEPs are PRACTICALLY HUMAN, or something!”) And I realize that this is my own personal hang-up talking, I do. But this is also someone with whom I deal on a regular basis, who thinks my daughter can walk on water, and it will quite simply break my heart if she doesn’t similarly adore Monkey.

[Sidebar: Do you know there’s an accepted term for kids like Monkey who have simultaneous special needs and intellectual giftedness? It’s twice exceptional, which is a good and valid and demonstrative label, but which also makes me want to punch myself in the face, HARD, whenever I say it out loud. “My precious snookums is TWICE EXCEPTIONAL, don’t you know, darling.” Basically I believe it labels the kid as twice as complicated and the parent as four times as annoying. Perhaps such a pronouncement should come with a mandatory round of tequila shots for everyone involved.]

There was some other stuff that either caused my eyebrows to shoot towards the ceiling or an involuntary guffaw to escape my lips. I looked around at the parents who have yet to experience this school and I thought that most of them are in for a rude awakening, though not all of it is bad. A lot of it will be better than they suspect. But some of what they were told that night was maybe just a nice fairy tale.

Afterward, I approached the guidance team to introduce myself. I mentioned that I have a student there already, but that because I have a rising 6th grader [holy crap I have a rising 6th grader] with special needs, I wanted to talk to them about how we start planning for that. They, of course, deferred to the special ed coordinator (who had left the session earlier), but then one of them asked me who my daughter is. I answered, and there was a polite smile and a nod. I burst out laughing.

“You don’t have any idea who she is, right?” I said. The counselor froze up a little. “It’s okay,” I reassured, “there’s no reason you would.”

“She’s not a frequent flier,” it was acknowledged. “So if we’ve met, I’m not sure I remember.”

“You probably haven’t met,” I said. A pause, then. “Um, if my son comes in next year? I think we’re all going to be getting very well-acquainted.” This was met by chuckles, and so I plowed ahead to ask them how many students with Asperger’s they have at the school, currently. Looks were exchanged.

“Oh, lots,” said one.

“Sure,” agreed the other. “Maybe, I don’t know, at least a dozen?” The tone of voice suggested that this number had been pulled directly out of the speaker’s ass.

“And do any of them have instructional support in the classroom?”

“Oh, I’m sure they do…” ventured one, looking at the other for confirmation. Oy. I decided to spare us all further discomfort; I thanked them for their time and went on my way.

I was waylaid on my way out by a couple of parents who know Chickadee is already at the middle school and who wanted to ask me some questions. I suspect one or both of them will withdraw from this district—either move, or choose to go to private school—rather than send their kids to the middle school. I offered as many reassurances as I could; because, honestly, there’s a lot about the school that we think is fantastic. I pointed out that at the recent regional science fair, more kids won from our district than any other… and the neighboring county with the “great” schools only had one 1st place finisher. (Meanwhile, Chickadee and three of her friends placed 1st in their categories, and that’s just winners from her grade.) One fellow mom told me that she had it on good authority that colleges look at your high school’s overall rank when considering admission, and staying in-district could be a problem later, when headed to college, for that reason. I responded that stand-out students at crappy schools still look better than average students at average schools, but I don’t think she believed me.

We haven’t made any definite decisions (though I did go ahead and buy the polos), but sitting there and beholding the gap between the presentation and the reality didn’t do a lot to soothe my fears.

Though, of course, I guess I shall plow ahead for my twice exceptional snookums and see what we can do. Here, have some tequila.


  1. Karen R.

    My district doesn’t even use “average class size”. Instead, they talk about student-staff ratios. And because staff covers every adult in the building, from maintenance to the specialists who come in one morning a week, they get a number that is a far cry from the 40+ students in a classroom that is common. Even the self-contained classrooms have up to 25 students in them — which is why my daughter ended up spending most of her school career in private placements.

    Good luck with whatever you decide on for Monkey.

    And congratulations to Chickadee!

  2. parodie

    Mmmm, tequilla. That’s exactly what I need to make my afternoon more interesting. :)

  3. Jen

    I have a VERY 2e snookums. In fact, if you look hard enough, I’m sure his picture is somewhere as THIS IS WHAT 2E LOOKS LIKE. ;) He’s a very intense kid, very complex, and his 4th grade teacher admitted at his recent conference that “public school just isn’t set up for kids like this.” Refreshing honesty, but I adore this teacher and he’s doing wonderful things with A this year. 2e is so difficult because schools recognize the deficits and challenges before they will recognize the advances, and even with all that, A doesn’t have an IEP because his challenges “don’t affect his school performance.” Riiiiight….
    Sigh. So I get where you’re coming from here. A isn’t Aspie, though I have wondered in the dark days if he might be; already have an SPD diagnosis.
    And someday, after I win the lottery and have money to burn, I’m running a vineyard. Twice-Exceptional Wines. Discounts on barrels for moms of 2e kids. Medicinal purpose and all.
    Hang in there hon. Good luck.

  4. Midj

    Struggling to help my sister who only got her son ADHD diagnosed at 13 (latest is possible Oppositional Defiant Disorder?!?) and is in way over her head. Your blog helps me help her stay a little saner. I can understand her struggles with instituting plans and dealing with administration so much better with your explanations of what it’s like. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Sharon

    We are approaching middle school in the not too distant future and the talk is always about how bad the middle school is. Bad how, I’m not sure. In general, the age group makes things a bit difficult, but still. Anyway, I try to stay away from the school talk when possible because I feel like it’s always negative. Recently I ran into a mother I know from the elementary school whose daughter just started middle school this year. She told me that she couldn’t be more pleased with this school. Their daughter is involved, being challenged in class and she has made some new friends. So nice to hear something positive. Today much of the talk surrounding us is about how education is failing. That is true in some circumstances, and should be addressed, but I think there is a lot of good going on also. I think going in with the right attitude makes a difference. Sounds like you keep an open mind and try to see the good.

  6. elz

    Twice exceptional? Why, that makes you at least four times exceptional…or something. You know what they don’t tell you in the OB’s office? How hard this school thing is. How hard the whole parenting gig is. How different your kids will be from each other. And how you will be prepared to do whatever it takes to make their lives easier.

    I hope Monkey gets lots of use out of those polos next year. Fingers crossed.

  7. MomQueenBee

    My four 2Es were a combination of gifted and speech therapy, which meant that those precocious thought processes were masked by an inability to say the letter “L,” or “TH,” or whatever. At one point we were carrying seven IEPs. We considered deducting the special ed coordinator on our taxes as a dependent.

  8. Megan

    Ugh. I had to send my kids to the very middle school that shattered my self esteem and made pretty much every day a struggle – horrible, horrible thing to have to do. I went there because my mother believed that ‘good’ kids should go to bad schools as a way of introducing kids to other ideas and ways of thinking – maybe a kind of literacy-inoculation. I won’t even go into how patronizing this is, what stays with me more is my husband’s reaction when she suggested we should do the same with our kids. “But, but these children need to have the chance to be around kids who DO care about learning!” “Yes, possibly,” he said, “but I don’t see why I should sacrifice my kids to do so.”

    Hmmmm…. not sure where that story was going actually! I suppose I’m torn because I believe strongly that diversity is important, and that ‘bad’ schools will not get better without strong, committed parents being willing to step up to the challenge. However, I also believe that my first responsibility is to my own kids and doing what is best for them.

    It sounds as though you have a school that allows you to do both, and your willingness to do the battles and take the stands and make the effort is enormously inspiring!

  9. Tenessa

    Only if it’s Patron.

    I have discovered that only twice exceptional teachers are able to deal appropriately and effect positive change in my Aspie. For some reason the idea that a child can be difficult and uncooperative (refusing to write more than he deems necessary and refusing to show his work, chirping and grunting in response to direct questions, etc) but also advanced and beyond his grade level are not synonymous. People (read not me) seem to think that it’s one or the other.

    Luckily, his third grade teacher is so far beyond exceptional there aren’t words to describe her, nor to express my gratitude to her, and she had her work cut out for her. Due to a very complex set of reasons, I am pulling both of my kids from public schools and will be homeschooling them next year.

    I feel like I fight and fight and fight. Have meeting after conference after meeting, and still, it’s a crap-shoot whether or not my son gets what he needs. I’m through hoping that I win the teacher lottery.

    Congrats on Chickadee’s win at the Science Fair! Good luck in the adventure that is the public school system. Oh, and @Jen (#3 comment), I’ll take a case of that wine.

  10. The Mommy Therapy

    I so dread having to deal with public school administration, particularly for my third child. I forsee lots of shots of tequila for all of his “individuality.”

  11. Kim

    Speaking from very limited anecdotal evidence here, but… I taught at a very small rural school, so small that our socially awkward kids were, well, ostracized is too strong a word. But when there are only 14 kids in your grade level, and everyone has known each other since they were 4, eventually kids stop wanting to give the awkward ones more chances. It was hard going, keeping everyone included, and the idea of middle school made us adults cringe for our SA (some diagnosed, most IEP’d) students.
    But on the whole, middle school has been fantastic for those kids, at least the ones I still catch wind of. In a larger population, they have found friends and thrived. They’ve done well with the different model of academic support. In the bigger mix, they’ve been allowed to be “normal”. For these kids, middle school has been the best part of their educational lives.

  12. Lori

    Hi Mir,

    I am a long time reader and first time commenter. My daughter has just received the diagnosis of Aspie for my beautiful Granddaughter. I hope and pray that this road can be traveled with the grace, humor and iron will that you display!

    Thanks for sharing, it give me hope.

  13. Sharon

    You’re smart to do your research, get answers to your questions, and then get a definite plan in writing before you sashay forth into the land of middle school with Monkey. Then be prepared to fight the whole way. My very bright first son has a learning disability that wasn’t identified until fourth grade. It took a lot of work on my part to get him what he needed at first and then a terrific special ed teacher took it from there in fifth grade. The three middle school years were a constant battle due to scheduling issues that never seemed to end. He had summer tutoring, at the district’s expense, because the school could not meet his needs during the school year. Then he got into high school and things improved again, in part due to a scheduled study hall every single day for four years and in part because again he benefited from the services of an exceptional special ed teacher. Middle school is tough in many ways and for many reasons. I wish you and Monkey all the best.

  14. RuthWells

    Yes please to the tequila.

  15. dad

    I need help! I was straining my brain attempting determine the link between this post and your typical”love thursday” column when I realized it was only wednesday.

    Your writing and insight never seem to amaze me. I agree. You are four times exceptional… and that’s a big help.

  16. Ani

    In seriousness, wouldn’t the sugar-coating of the gritty reality end up biting them back when they appeal for more taxpayer support after they get hit with funding cuts?!?! “Why do you need more money, you SAID class size was 20!”

    Seems like a non-strategic plan of action.

  17. Heather

    Oh, Mir, I do not envy you this road, but I am so glad that Monkey has you in his corner. You really are raising some exceptional kids, be it twice or thrice or whatever word comes next, you are the very best mama for them, and they the best possible children for you. Sending good thoughts in your general direction <3

  18. Tracy B

    I’m with Dad on this. I could have swore today was Thursday. I guess I’m needing some love. Tequilla will do for now! Thanks!

  19. 12tequilas

    I think I will take you up on that tequila offer. Ahem.

  20. Katie in MA

    We should ease up on the tequila – I just spilled sugar all over the counter at work. And possibly the floor. Ahem. How extra-special does that make *me*?

  21. Kate M

    LOL – I have a twice exceptional son too and feel the same way about that description. Tequila is good!

  22. Mamadragon

    I have heard of some school districts in my province where children are not “allowed” to be twice exceptional. They can be gifted or they can have an IEP for other needs, but not both. Considering THAT alternative, I will take the gag-inducing 2E term, thankyouverymuch. But I’ll take the tequila shot too.

  23. Chuck

    Mas tequila! And good luck with making your decision.

  24. Sassy Apple

    Hey! If parents get to drink tequila, middle school teachers get some too!!! We’re the ones with all of them……together…….in one room.

    PS I could use a case of air freshener as well

  25. Karen

    Isn’t that special. Twicely so!

    Really, I’m kinda laughing at the thought process and analogy that must have gone into that meeting where someone, and then the committee.. agreed that Twice Exceptional was the way to go when “labeling” a gifted and yet challenged student.

  26. Another Dawn

    Tequila shots. How I wish I’d thought of that when my younger daughter was going through middle school. And high school. It would have helped immensely.

  27. Liza

    Twice Exceptional? That phrase does sound grimly euphemistic, doesn’t it?

    As someone above said, Monkey is lucky to have you for his Mom. Good luck figuring out how to help him navigate the next phase.

  28. Cindy

    Are we ever going to get to see your babies? I know its safety and all, but, well, I’ve see the back of their heads and their tennis shoes.

    You are an amazing parent.

  29. Kati

    @Ani – schools are funded based on the butts in the seats now, so the “soft-sell” approach is necessary. Budget cuts are made by folks who have never been in a public school since they left as students (assuming they ever went to a public school), so we that work at the school cannot control nor worry about that stuff. For example, our governor here in Florida is well aware of how many children live in the state, but this is not stopping him from proposing a $600-700/child cut in school funding, thus the scramble for as many students as one school can fit into their classrooms.

  30. Brigitte

    Maybe we need DRUGS, ponies and unicorns . .

  31. Ani

    @Kati–I agree, state legislatures seem to think there are hidden buckets of money in school janitor closets or something. But I was more thinking of local levies, which is a frequently-invoked strategy in thse parts. And many fail, because residents who don’t have their children in school don’t “see” the need. I would think advertising 20:1 ratios would not help illustrate the reality to those voters.

    I am in Ohio, we are on pins and needles to see what comes down from the governor on March 15. I’m also a non-union state employee so I’m waiting to see how much more money I get to send off to the insurance company for the pleasure of fighting all their claim denials. Yay, me. :-)

  32. Ani

    While we’re at it, pass the tequila. It’s not just for breakfast anymore… :-)

  33. Carolyn

    Tequila – yes!

  34. Jessica

    I appreciate your balanced view on things, Mir. When I was in college for my English ed degree, we had to take a class called “The Education of Exceptional Persons.” We spent all of, oh, five minutes on gifted students (where my interest was), because “They usually don’t speak out as much for assistance.” Really? Then how can we help those “exceptional persons” when they do speak out? I think that more gifted students should have IEPs in place to get the education they need instead of leftovers (and that especially goes for the 2e students, since I think their giftedness gets passed over even more than that of neurotypical students).

  35. Nancy

    Tequila should be mandatory at each and every IEP meeting!

  36. erin

    I actually saw you at the regional science fair (my baby (13yo) brother was there, his project was the one with the balance bracelets, if you got to see a lot of them), but I was too shy to say hello. Congratulations to Chickadee on her award, and I just wanted to say, Monkey reading a book for the whole award ceremony? That was totally adorable and totally me when I was younger.

    Glad that things seem better, and good luck to all of you whatever route you end up taking for middle school!

  37. Daisy

    Twice Exceptional? I’m trying to figure out what my son should be called. I just call him Amigo, of course. He’s blind, has Asperger’s, and has some amazing talents that are common to many kiddos with Asperger’s.

    Middle school, for us, was the best of times and the worst of times. I hope for you and Monkey that it’s only the best.

  38. Michelle

    So glad to know that I’m not the only one who wants to stab themselves in the eye when they describe their son as twice-exceptional. I feel I have to give a disclaimer every time I say it. It’s ends up this way too long awkward speech brillantly pointing out to all that I wouldn’t be the exceptional one once let alone twice.

    My oldest is a 4th grader with ADHD, SPD, Disgraphic with vision convergence issues thrown in for good measure and an WISC IV score of 126 (take out processing speed and working memory and his score is much higher). All the giftedness does is mask the disability – so I have a bored average student with focus issues. And a school that is strapped for resources telling me he’s going to be fine – sorry if I don’t believe them. I read your story with a sense of recognition. Thanks for sharing.

  39. Tarrant

    Ooo boy has conferences next week, that twice exceptional thing could be fun to trot out as these are conferences involving teacher (who will predictably gush about boy and then tell us he is going to fail the class) ex (who will be in his element-sort of) and me….

    BTW-you are right about the college admission according to my ex who says *fancy pants hoity toity school* that is all the rage has a lower ivy league acceptance rate than non-fancy pants oh please could we get a graduation rate of over 50%? school that our kids attend.

  40. Lori in MN

    To #12, the other Lori, thank you for sharing your sweet comment… I also get so much inspriration from reading this blog. And now I realize that I should share it with my mom, another loving, caring grandmother who would love the way Mir writes (I’ve often thought it’s like a great book that never ends) and might better understand some of what we’ve been going through.

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