13 yo 8th grader in trouble at school

Linda - posted on 09/22/2009 ( 16 moms have responded )

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Our son is 13. He's extremely gifted (IQ test put him at 99.8 percentile). We have him in private school, and he's challenged academically - he's especially gifted in math, and he's moved ahead to pre-calculus already.

Developmentally, though - he has anxiety disorder, OCD, and lots of social problems. The school is small (10 kids per grade at most), and he doesn't fit in well.

He's just been suspended for 3 days -- the two biggest issues are

1) He tends to make sarcastic and demeaning comments to other kids - like "that's so easy, how come you can't figure it out?"

2) He invaded the space of a girl that has space issues by hovering over her, and he's been told that.

He's been socially isolated with this group since 6th grade -- but the girl mentioned is not one that picks on him.

What do we do? How do we respond? In a lot of ways, he's trying harder and doing better, or at least so we thought. Also, some of the deck is stacked against him -- the kids that he doesn't get along with tend to run to the teachers -- a lot --- with every little thing. He doesn't, in return. They want him to (which seems antithetical to what we've tried to teach him over the years).

Is the academic environment worth the social environment?

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Linda - posted on 10/06/2009

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We are going to visit a school this morning that is basically geared towards talented & gifted kids -- each one goes through curriculum at their own pace, and grades are not given -- just pre-&post tests until they achieve 90% mastery. Kind of like one-room-schoolhouse meets homeschooling. It may be a good fit for him, and he may fit in better socially, too.

Jillian - posted on 10/02/2009

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Hi Linda, just checking in to see how you're going. Sorry that your other school option doesn't seem suitable.



Re: homeschooling... I homeschooled two of my three. The oldest for about three years and my youngest for about two. They were very profitable years but it certainly takes commitment on your part.



It may be worth considering doing, just to get you through a difficult time, with the aim of re-integrating him into the school system after a couple of years. If you choose to explore this option, the upside is, because he'll probably cover the material more quickly than required, you get a lot of flexibility for scheduling other activities. My kids got a lot of theatre and sport into those years, without academic detriment.



I just want you to know that it can be done and work well but you do have to find ways to make up the social deficit. In my opinion, his karate and other social activities would become even more important. On the other hand, when you homeschool, he gets more opportunities to interact with adults and if they accept him/ deal with him well, it also can contribute positively to his maturity.



It's very demanding on you. It's hard to know how they're going compared to their peers but you can be a bit more led by him and focus on areas in the curriculum that interest him. Because you don't have to work with a whole class, you can go at his speed and will probably find, as we did, that you cover the material much faster than they do in school. That gives you more time to explore the topics from angles that interest him and in more depth.



It is also challenging for you because it's hard to get an objective measure of where he stands academically in relation to his peers. In our case, when the children returned to mainstream schooling, they were well ahead. My oldest went back just before the Leaving Certificate and came out in the top stream in every subject. The baby went back for the start of High School, this year. He also has gone straight to the top of the top stream.



Of course, every child is different and as I said in my other post, while I try to give my kids every reasonable academic chance, it was not my first priority. In our case, my middle guy was in a more conventional school setting right through. He is socially very well-adjusted but his academic results were poorer. However, as I stated before, he is making up that ground now, at nineteen.



It's not for everyone but some years ago, I read some research suggesting that, in the case of gifted kids, a judicious mix of homeschool and mainstream did produce the best results, academically. I feel that you are concerned/aware enough about his emotional challenges to make sure that he also gets a raft of opportunities for social interaction, so if you wanted to try it, maybe it could work for you. Anyway, keep us informed with what you're doing and good luck.

Tracy - posted on 10/01/2009

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Your son sounds an awful lot like my 13 year old daughter. She too is extremely intelligent and everything comes easy to her. She got perfect scores on all of her spelling last year and never even opened the book. She too is sarcastic to other children. It seems to be a method by which they protect themselves. It is easier for them to make themselves apart from the other students as opposed to the other students distancing themselves from your son. Much like it is easier to put yourself down before others do. It lets them feel like they have some kind of control over the situation.
It really isn't easy for them to feel different and have the other students feel that these children are different from them. The other kids will often feel resentful even the teachers can be standoffish. My daughter was in that position last year. It made for a very long year.
You might try asking him how he feels when the other kids bug him, then explain that they feel the same way when he is sarcastic or demeaning to them. Role playing in this area works well.

Good luck!

Linda - posted on 09/29/2009

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Kerry -

I know homeschooling is an option -- but I don't know that it helps him learn how to fit in and treat others socially.

Just hope we find that right school. :/

Linda - posted on 09/29/2009

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Lisa -

I did request that they move the suspension to academic days, but they refused. Of course, we found out about it on Monday, and I made the request on Tuesday, and they were set to leave Wednesday morning -unlikely at best that it would have changed that quickly. Besides, I think one of the precipitating factors was not wanting to deal with him/social problems on a 3 day field trip. Whether they care to admit that or not.

I agree that he has a very sarcastic sense of humor -- in fact, so do I! But I have the maturity and judgment to know when to use it, and when it's too far -- of course he hasn't developed that yet.

The description of the event with the girl with space issues -- is that 1) he knows her particular oddity in that regard, and 2) he came up behind her, put his hand on the back of the chair, and when she told him to move, he refused and told her to do so. However, I don't like how they've handled the whole situation (he has some kind of "contract" that he signed that he wouldn't go near her, ever -- to me, that's perpetual punishment and guaranteed to create anger and resentment -- it would if it was me!)

Relationships outside of the group -- he still has one friend he sees from when he was in public school -- and probably two others he could have, had we made the effort to keep in touch. In the public school, he basically had the three friends, and then was considered "odd" and "weird" by others, and there was some bullying issues his last year in public school also. As you say, his sense of humor often doesn't make sense to the average child, and his statements do get him looked at strangely!

...............

We went to the school yesterday we were considering. Although I think giving up some academic rigor for the social environment makes sense, they really do cater to kids with learning difficulties, and even their "top" group moves at an average pace, at best. After meeting with them, I think we're giving up too much ground to go that route.

*sigh*

Kerry - posted on 09/29/2009

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My oldest, who is now 20, when he was in school was very sarcastic and never fit in well with most of the kids from Jr high until High school, when we pulled him out and finished his schooling at home. The teachers would always comment that his joking and sarcasism were well above the maturity level of most 12, 13, 14 yr olds and that it makes the kids look at him or make fun of him. When he was in K he was suspended for wanting to touch/taste an angora sweater on a little girl and they accused him of biting.

My now 15 yr old daughter hated school with a passion from 1st grade on and learned that if she made herself throw up in class she could go home. The "i'm sick to my stomach" stopped working when i told the nurse to not call me. By the time she was in the 4th grade, after repeating the 3rd, we pulled her too. I even had a therapist tell me not to put her in high school (she was thinking about trying it) because the social divisions and cliches would just drive her nuts and sitting in a class room would not benefit her. I was told that she is extremely emotionally sensitive and, even now, I have to keep close tabs on her and she has issues taking any sort of class that involves others because after a few weeks the social nature of the class will get to her and she can't stand the "kids who are so immature."

Hope this helps to know you aren't alone out there and being emotionally sensitive seems to go hand in hand with being extremely gifted.

Lisa - posted on 09/28/2009

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Ok...I have been in this boat...and I have never liked when it rocked, so I am going to be frank and honest.
First and foremost I too, have a son, who is now a freshman in a public school system that offered g/t classes since 3rd grade. He has been in these classes the whole time. I have had to deal with suspensions too, but I never went quietly.
I think the worst thing that the school could have done is suspend him during a time that promoted team building. I think that you should insist that for the improvement of the class and your son's behavior, that they suspend the suspension until after the team building exercise.

1- Are the issues at hand so extreme that they merited suspension? (IMHO absolutely not...especially 3 days come on!)

2- How are any of these kids going to get along in the "real world" if they do not learn coping skills and tolerance? The girl with the space issues...did she warn him that he was encroaching her "space" at the time of the incident? Did the teacher"

3 - Our world is a sarcastic world now. That is the sense of humor that most highly intelligent people survive with...look at the influences, and add intelligence...

4- If he has been socially isolated with this group since 6th grade, how does he relate outside of the group? I was happy that my child (who never made friends easliy, because quite frankly he knew he was smarter than they were) had the opportunity to be in a public school with these "challenging" programs. Although most of the time he blew them out of the water...he is now taking all honors classes as a freshman...but passed his college entrance exams 2 years ago. We involved him in things that interested him...piano...computers...musicals...he is auditioning to be the school mascot next year...he now has a girlfriend...he really has blossomed, and it has been a priviledge to be a witness to that.

Also, up the road a bit, please understand that these kids while extremely "book smart" don't always use this gift. My son has two friends that are facing pregnancy during freshman year (in an upscale suburb), because they didn't use their heads. The young man involved thought it would never happen to him...he is in the g/t program, and the young girl while extremely book smart...is also a cheerleader and very "blonde" when it comes to common sense.

There are pros and cons to the academic vs. social environment question on both sides..so I guess you have to look at what he will benefit from more...in the long run. We opted for the social environment because our children will be in an academic environment for less than a third of their lives and will have to deal with all kinds of people for their entire life.

Good luck and feel free to contact me if you would like. As I see it we have to be our children's biggest cheerleaders and protectors...that is our job...schools today take the easiest way out to keep themselves from having to do the hard work that has been put before them many times. Keep the school in check...weather you are writing them a personal check as a private institution...or they are getting your tax dollars in a public institution, they are still paid employees of yours, and sometimes they need to be reminded as such.

Linda - posted on 09/28/2009

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Hi Karen -

Wow, thanks for your lengthy reply. Always helps to see different perspectives!

I agree that being in an unhappy environment - he can probably suck it up for only so long. If they are serious about expulsion and that's what they WANT to do, he's toast. If they will take improvement and not require perfection - then part of me says he grows and matures by having to muzzle some of his things he brings to the table, and learns how to get along in an environment that mimics real life to some extent.

Today, at 1:30, is my meeting with the other school I mentioned. If they really do have gifted kids who have various problems, he should be able to find peers to get along with, as well as an environment that is emotionally safe. And if he brings rudeness to the table, they should be able to deal with that in a proven way, or they wouldn't have the school they do. It comes down to if I can get him bumped a grade. I know he can handle the curriculum, I just have to convince them to give it a shot.

When we first went looking for private school, it's because we felt like he wasn't learning how to work hard or how to try -- everything came so easy academically. I say easy - but it's not like he put forth any great effort, and his 4th grade math teacher lectured him how he could go to any college and pursue any field he wanted, he had that fine of a mind, or he could end up living under a bridge, because he never learned how to apply himself. True words, indeed!

Anyway, the current school has been good for him academically. Maybe now we can move on to a school that can be both - academically suitable and emotionally safe.

As far as his anxieties - your advice makes sense, but understand his rises to the order of a mental illness and are decidedly not rational. Not that we don't try rational solutions and encouragement -- but smart or not smart doesn't enter into it. (Including an irrational fear of a bathtub drain, abduction by aliens, getting shot at while out). Unfortunately for him, there are relatively few "safe" places where he is genuinely fear-free. We keep working on it.

No, we're not sure what he wants to ultimately pursue as a career or in college yet.

Karen - posted on 09/26/2009

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Hi Linda-

My son will be 16 in a couple weeks. We have have had a lot of problems similiar to yours. While I cant say they are completely gone, there has been lots of progress.

First of all, try to see things from your son's perspective. Imagine you were told today that you failed 1st grade. You have to redo the whole year, as an adult. You might laugh, think its silly, wasteful, argue, maybe even yell.

When you finally except your fate, you might have a "lets just get it done attitude" and try to make the best of it. How long would that last? Maybe you could do it for a week, maybe a month. Then what? Wouldn't you think of the same things that your son is saying? Wouldn't you wonder why that girl is so stupid that she cant spell "cat" after so many tries? Wouldn't you be unbelievably frustrated with the pace and "stupid questions?" Would you have anything in common with these kids? What would you talk about, your husband or Sally's new Barbie? How would you communicate, on your level or hers? Your son faces this EVERY DAY!! Even worse, the school doesnt care because he wont behave!!! (mine was the master of constant minor infractions).

Now the first thing you might say, is maybe "I would think that, but I certainly wouldnt SAY it! I wouldn't hurt those kids feelings!" But he is a teenage boy. They do not have impulse control. Their brain doesnt think of consequences. This part has nothing to do with giftedness, except maybe makes it worse because "he's so smart, why doesnt he know better"?

And tattling! My son never would either. So when the final straw happens, the other kid has a recorded history on your child, and therefore he is the guily one! Again with the first graders!

I have made progress by:

1. Getting my son to see school as paying his dues, a rite of passage. Teach him to focus on the final reward. This may only work if he knows what he wants to be. Mine wants to be a doctor. I got him volunteering (huge confidence builder!!) at a hospital. He also is shadowing doctors and a nurse practioner. Additionally, we take him to continuing medical education seminars, let him take CPR, etc... You get the idea? The enthusiasm REALLY spreads to his school work AND school behavior. It matures him and makes him feel that he is really working towards his goal.He is exposed to things that are above him, which gifted kids thrive on.

2. Find a way that he can learn communicate with his immediate peers. We did that through sports. We MADE him do at least one team sport ALWAYS, year round (football,basketball,track, cross country, wrestling). He can pick it, but it had to be several times a week and he cant quit til the season was done). Think about those first graders. How would you bond with your "underlings"? He wasn't so good with many of these sports at first. Some times other kids were condescending to him (for a change). Sometimes they encouraged him when they noticed him doing better! But he eventually learned to be tolerant and even has become friends with some kids that weren't highly gifted.

Being in a private school (mine went to a gifted magnet) your son probably doesnt get bonding opportunities in the neighborhood with the kids he goes to school with. Just like the 1st graders again. If you had bonded with the little girl sitting next to you cause she's your close friend down the street's little girl...

As far as the anxiety, I talk with him about it. I ask "what's the worst that could happen?" For an example, "I dont want to drive I might get a flat". Then I say, you might, but if you are properly prepared, you will have checked the pressure. He says "but I can run over a nail". I say "well if you carried a spare and learned how to change the tire, it wouldnt be a big deal if it went flat". In other words, the gifted kids think. Sometimes way too much. Help him learn that if he sees the tire is low, didnt put air in or learn how to change it, it's partially his fault. Accepting this premise will make him understand that to a large extent, he has control over what happens to him. Instead of anxiety, ACT and control what you can (insert Lord's prayer if religious). If he can't return the volleyball, ask him if he thinks other people can do it by just magic?Tell him to just ACT: Let's get a volleyball and practice the hitting part at home, etc...Sometimes just the ACT of "learning to change the tire" distracts them and lets them move forward.

I have to say that I disagree to some extent with Jillian.
As far as accedemics, it's not the only issue of course. But it IS probably his main source of self esteem. Developing other social areas like you are with the karate is great and neccesary. But if your "gift" is your mind, it would be INSANE to not encourage it! Every child needs an appropriatly challenging enviorment. Every kid needs to learn how to develop good study/learning habits. How will they ever funtion in an intellegence based career?? Or will he be a stereotypical underachiever??? Mine didn't have to learn to work hard til last year, his sophmore. Better now then in college...If you cant get along with others, dont get me wrong, you wont get much in life. But your child is someone that can change the world! Leaderships, medical breakthroughs, alternative energies, are all products of the gifted!!!

You will take care of it. If something doesnt work, try something else. Have faith: move him through this, then there will be something new challenge waiting for you!

P.S. All middle schoolers are brats. Yours and mine included. High schoolers want to be cool by looking and acting mature. They will start faking it in Freshmen year and start actually becoming mature junior year.

Linda - posted on 09/26/2009

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We started karate last June, and he just advanced to orange belt. I agree, it's been great for him, and wish we'd been doing it longer!

He loves basketball, although health issues kept him out last year. He's also doing volleyball with the school.

I have a meeting with a school in Fort Worth. They accept average to above-average kids with learning differences (anything from dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, etc). They have full time counselors, peer sessions, social skills training. Maybe the academics isn't as advanced/accelerated where he is now, but maybe that shouldn't be the only focus, as you say.

The difficulty is they don't have an 8th grade spot. They are willing to meet with us and consider placement in 9th grade, since he is in an accelerated school right now, and basically doing what would be 9th grade work in our public school.

I don't know the right thing -- but I don't think his current school is it.

Thanks for sharing your story and perspective! You do look at things differently than I did, and I'm glad I was exposed to it -- because I think you are right -- the high IQ will always be there, the social development not so much. On the other hand, the reason we wanted him in a challenging environment, because when it all came easy, he wasn't learning how to work hard, and would seem to give up the minute he didn't instantly know something. So he has gotten some value out of being where he's been the last couple years.

Thanks!

Jillian - posted on 09/23/2009

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I wonder if there's a lot of focus on what isn't working and I'm looking for something in his life where it's just pleasure. Of course I don't know and perhaps you feel I'm on the wrong track but I would look for an activity that is just for fun. Where being late, or forgetting his equipment doesn't matter and never becomes an issue. Where performance is not too important. Something where he can't fail, even peripherally. Or at least, not in any way that matters.

Xbox can be fun and has its place but I'd be looking for an activity that has the potential to involve him in a larger universe of people. It's all too easy for a smart kid to withdraw and isolate himself as it is. Maybe something physical? One of my sons took up spearfishing and used to spend hours bushbashing on an old pushbike. The other one does karate and makes woodcarvings. Neither of them compete. They just do these things for pleasure.

My youngest son, who is extraordinarily gifted, also has Tourettes. He has had to learn how to negotiate relationships in spite of some very odd mannerisms. No-one except for his immediate family is aware he has ts. Most people who meet him just think he's a very unusual, or quirky little boy. My approach is to let him wade into relationships on his own terms. I actively look for situations into which I can place him where he gets to handle situations for himself. In his case, the karate and woodworking are ideal. They are external to school, so the school isn't involved in setting the parameters of what is, or is not, acceptable. No-one that matters to him cares whether he is good at them. He loves the activities and loses himself in them. Finally, they give him opportunities to practise interacting with other people and I let him succeed or fail on his own terms. I don't buy into this part of his life beyond being there to offer comfort and commiserations if it goes pear-shaped or to rejoice with him if it seems appropriate. I'm led by him. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but I realised early on that he would have to find his own, unique path with people.

This is a long term approach and doesn't yield results immediately. I am more particular about this side of my kids' lives than of their academic pursuits. I've found that high IQ people can always make up for a bit of academic deficit later in life if they want, but the social skills are more important to develop in childhood. They can rarely be fixed in adulthood.

With that philosophy in mind, I have given my children (all three were identified as gifted) reasonable educational opportunities but have really worked at their social development. My eldest son, just coasted through school and seemed to throw away every educational advantage he was offered. He virtually failed his HSC. However, he did develop excellent social skills. Just recently, at age nineteen, he realised that he has a passion for music. Now, almost overnight, he has mastered one musical instrument and is taking up another. He has started a tertiary course in sound production and engineering, and is scoring marks in the high 90s.

I hope there is something here that helps. Please ignore this if you don't feel it is relevant to your situation. Good luck and keep us informed on how things go.

Linda - posted on 09/23/2009

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Quoting Jillian:

Has he got any interests that really absorb him outside of academia? It doesn't have to be anything he excels at. Something free of anxiety he just enjoys for its own sake?


 



He enjoys spending time playing games on his computer, and he loved the xbox when he had one (we took it away last spring -- but he's working on earning it back).



 



He has an anxiety disorder, so I'm not sure anything is completely free of anxiety.  He recently joined a "math circle" being hosted at a local university - and he enjoyed the first meeting.  Was way over his head on the math, but found it exciting to discover math not immediately within his grasp (well, he said both depressing and exciting, but was being humorous).



 



I don't know.  I looked through the list of 12 signs he's gotten so far in 4 weeks of school -- 1 tardy (probably as much my fault as his -- AND only one in 4 weeks is STELLAR compared to last year); 1 not having a folder in music class (again STELLAR compared to last year, where he was always unprepared for class).  One not listening to the PE teacher when she said don't hang on the pool ropes -- he was doing a flip over the rope and didn't stop.  One calling classmates idiots (he says they were going to do something stupid while teacher was out of the room, he jumped himself up as "cop" which he shouldn't do, and then tactlessly called them idiots -- they reported it to the teacher when she got back.  Two talking/commenting during class when asked to stop, but one teacher made the comment "he needs to ignore being baited by classmates" so you know there was more to that story.  One - a girl called him gay, he called her gay back - while he responds better now, I don't really hold that against him too much.  That's the incident he got the isolated lunch for.  One issue with a student coming out of PE - some verbal back adn forth and perhaps pushing (not sure who pushed whom).  One hovering near a girl he's been told to stay away from, because she has space issues.



 



Anyway - the suspension starts today, as they head off to a 3 day team-building camp.  I think part of it - they probably didn't know who to bunk him with, and didn't want to deal with the problems that would have likely arisen during 3 days close confinement with the group. 



 



They do have an opinion of him that he instigates negative interaction with the kids he has problems with. 



 



I, as a parent, of course don't want to believe that completely.  However, I talked with his therapist yesterday, and he concurs that there isn't a lot of malicious in him.  I think it's more a passive aggressive type behavior if anything; hurts get stored up and that's how they come out.  Or, it's his callous unawareness of how his actions/statements affect others sometimes - that's part of that "pervasive development disorder" that he has a touch of - not autism or aspbergers, but shares some commonalities with those when it comes to social cues and empathy.  Not that he doesn't have to develop those abilities, but it's an area we have to work on, not something inborn.



 



As the therapist said, given some of his special needs, if they are expecting perfection, he will never be able to measure up for that.  But what we need to coach him is if he wants to stay there (and he does), he has to decide to play "smart" -- play to win the game, not act against his best interests because he's mad that it's "not fair" or whatever.  Makes sense to me.

Jillian - posted on 09/22/2009

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Has he got any interests that really absorb him outside of academia? It doesn't have to be anything he excels at. Something free of anxiety he just enjoys for its own sake?

Linda - posted on 09/22/2009

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Quoting Jillian:

Do you think he has low self-esteem?


 



Jillian --



 



He always has, even as a toddler.



 



On the other hand, even though he says he's stupid, I think he's quite aware of how smart he is, and sometimes holds that over others.

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