Updated: May 11
Twice-exceptional students have few forums to express their lived educational experiences. REEL is pleased to launch “Living and Learning 2e,” a new blog series dedicated to giving twice exceptional children, teens, and young adults a place to share their voices.
Mike M. is our third guest blogger. He attended Palo Alto Unified School District for elementary and middle schools. In addition to his eloquence and imagination, Mike loves games such as Guitar Hero and Final Fantasy VI. He’s an avid Magic the Gathering player. He also loves making music through singing, drums, keyboard, bass guitar, and music production with Ableton and Sound Cloud. Diagnosed with ADHD and dysgraphia in elementary school, Mike welcomed the opportunity to reflect on his experience as a twice-exceptional learner before launching into high school - especially in this Covid-19 era.
What has it felt like to be both exceptionally bright and experience ADHD and dysgraphia?
So many terms and buzzwords get thrown around me. I suppose that I’ve never felt like I have a disability because I don’t know what it’s like to have “ability” - who I am just feels normal to me because I don’t know what it’s like to not have these problems. I’ve known that I learn differently from other people for a long time and I’ve accepted that. I’m not going to beat up myself for it.
I’ve been downplaying the brightness aspect of my personality for a few years now because it’s oppressively anti-social to be a “know it all” and, if I don’t understand something, it’s a complete blow to my identity. I prefer to not talk about how smart I am or how much I can do. I’ve erased all of that from my identity - it just came off as being a huge jerk. I really don’t want to communicate “I’m so cool, I can do so much” as part of who I am. If I’m meeting someone, I don’t want to talk about what I can do because it feels like I’m trying to paint myself as God of everything instead of a human being. When talking now, I’m more of a passive observer; before, a lot of who I was and what I talked about alienated people and made them not want to be around me.
I’m very comfortable talking about ADHD and dysgraphia, but I don’t want to make them part of my personality because they don’t add anything to who I am. They’re just things about me. I’m willing to mention it, but I don’t feel obligated to say it. It’s not a personality trait. Just putting it up at the forefront makes it sound like I’m grasping at straws for who I am as a person. When I first learned about my ADHD and dysgraphia, I wore them like a badge of honor. I thought I was cool and had these things that made it harder for me, that I was working harder than everyone else; I know now that wasn’t true.
What is your interior experience like that others might not know about?
I feel like I’m not being true to myself because I’ve been eliminating elements of my idea of myself because I don’t want me being smart or me having disabilities to be part of who I am in any way possible. I’d rather just ignore them. I know that’s not being true to myself but at the same time I don’t feel like being true to myself is the right option. When I’m alone, I can be myself. I don’t feel like I’m putting on a mask because I have become the mask in this weird sense. My desire to not let these things control me has forced them to not control me.
I experience a general sense of frustration with most things. It’s hard to line up specifics that make things challenging for me. It’s not like one thing, it’s a series of multiple isolated examples that just add up into something. Something that’s incredibly clear to other people on the instruction sheet doesn’t make sense to me and it takes me reading it 10 times to figure out what it means. It was great going from having to hand write everything to using a computer, but in a weird way it just made me feel less understood. It made me feel like people weren’t trying to help me as a person, but rather some idealized version of me. When I switched to using the computer, people would think all of these problems would be fixed. But I still have trouble reading instructions and not understanding exactly what teachers want. Just because I have the ability to type, all of the other problems weren’t magically fixed. Things just aren’t designed for me.
But, the world shouldn’t have to adapt to my weird inner ideas of what’s right. So I kind of gave up on forcing things to work for me. It’s a lot better and easier if I adapt to the world. I am missing some things, but the doors that open for me are very valuable and I’m willing to miss those things.
Who was the teacher who really understood you and helped you learn the best?
Honestly, my 3rd grade teacher. It wasn’t anything specific that she did. It’s just that, for everyone, her teaching style was incredibly kind and understanding. She really took the time to figure out what made each student tick.
In middle school, my 7th grade science teacher really took the time to be sure that everyone was understood and got the help they needed to learn. For my learning style, it’s helpful when things are clear and put out in front of me; then, I can understand easily. So, the best teachers are the ones who communicate clearly and make sure I understand what I need to be doing.
The key is that both of these teachers did what I needed for everyone in the class and that was what was so nice about them. They weren’t just trying to be sure I would be satisfied but that everyone would be satisfied. When it’s just me, I feel like I’m being singled out and even if the intent is to be helpful, it doesn’t always feel like that. In a weird way, it feels forced, like they were told to help rather than something they wanted to do. With my 3rd and 7th grade teachers, learning just felt natural.
What advice do you have for parents and teachers working with learners like you?
Honestly, for everyone, I feel just be patient and understand. Not a lot of special accommodations are needed as much as being patient and letting me take things at my own pace. If that happened, no other accommodations would be needed. For teachers, please just make sure I’m understanding things by checking in with me every so often, after a lecture, but don’t make it oppressive. Step by step instructions are really helpful, too.
What are you looking forward to in the future?
I’m taking things one day at a time. I’m not looking forward to anything now, it’s such weird times, it’s just going to disappoint me. I look forward to eating lunch—little things like that. If there’s a chance something might disappoint me, I don’t look forward to it. I just take things one step at a time.
Thinking about a younger student, like myself at seven years old, I would just hope that things would be easier for him and for others. For that seven year old, I hope they get the help they need. Be patient. If they don’t understand, then help them.