If you read this blog at all, you might notice that I have a less-than-enthusiastic attitude about the medical profession. That’s quite simple to explain: the system is difficult (impossible!) to navigate, it’s excruciating trying to search for a diagnosis, and I frequently know more about our medical diagnosis than the doctors we speak with. Sure, doctors know a lot, but I find that often they don’t know much about things outside of their “kit” of diagnosis.
So it didn’t really surprise me when we encountered yet another issue with our doctor. Annoyed me, angered me, depressed me – but not surprised me. Because I’ve come to expect this from doctors and nurses.
I wrote a few articles back about figuring out that the Engineer is having issues differentiating sounds. Being the prompt, worried mom that I am, I got started with the evaluation process by making an appointment with his pediatrician. Because referrals. Bleh.
This pediatrician knows us fairly well. We’ve been seeing him since the Engineer started having issues because he specializes in ADHD and ASD kiddos. He generally listens to what I have to say and takes me seriously. I consider him to be on our team.
For whatever reason, going to the office triggers the Engineer into absolute craziness. I’m assuming there’s some anxiety in there mixed with pure boredom, sensory issues, and frustration. My kids have zilch patience. Waiting to see the doctor is always a recipe for disaster. I HATE those medical instruments hung on the wall because the kids just can’t help themselves – they have to touch everything. Which means I have to be mean mommy and keep them away from the stuff.
On this visit, the Engineer was really having a hard time. If you didn’t know him you might assume that he was a basket case – he certainly acted crazy. The staff actually assumed we were there for a behavioral assessment until I heard and corrected them. When I say it was a bad visit, I don’t think you can fully grasp how bad unless you saw it. I needed superhuman patience and brutal consistency just to make it through the string of crisis after crisis. It was bad!
As I sat on the floor restraining the toddler from attacking me (because I wouldn’t let him play with the “fun” stuff and he got frustrated) the doctor looked at me, concerned with the Engineer’s display, and stated “he’s delayed in school, right?”
I did a double-take and said “no, he’s advanced.” The doctor clearly didn’t believe me, so I added “he’s doing algebra.” The doctor turned to the Engineer (who is completely out of it anyway) and asks him this convoluted algebra problem that I couldn’t solve without paper and pencil. And a calculator, because I’m math challenged. The Engineer stared at him blankly.
I was still wrestling the toddler, but I managed to say “he’s six! He hasn’t memorized the multiplication tables yet!” I think I got the closest thing to an eye-roll from his doctor that I’ve seen from a medical professional yet.
Why did the Engineer have to prove his giftedness? A pop quiz? How unprofessional is that anyway? If the doctor truly has concerns, ask me more questions. I’ll share the results from assessment tests just like I did with the Engineer’s specialists. I’ll explain – in detail – what he’s studying, learning, and asking. And if the doctor is lucky, the Engineer won’t turn a laser-focus on him and demand detailed answers about how the stethoscope works, how the paper rolls are attached to the table, and what the oxygen tank in the corner was designed for. Because those are questions I got to answer even BEFORE the doctor walked in the room.
When I told this story in a homeschool group, another mom shared her similar-but-worse story. When seeing a new doctor about her son’s already diagnosed and managed medical needs, he refused to continue treatment and told them “well, if you insist on teaching him at home, maybe you can try teaching him to act normal.” When she questioned his experience with 2e patients, he said that 2e wasn’t a factor in behavioral or mental health issues, it was just about how smart a kid is. Clearly, this doctor had no clue what gifted or twice exceptional was, and it hindered his ability to work with his patient.
The whole point of this meandering anecdotal story was to point out that we have a very real problem. Our children – and gifted/2e adults – struggle with finding medical professionals who understand them. They struggle even to find one who knows what 2e or gifted means, but even then they may hold unacceptable stereotypes about giftedness. Put bluntly, doctors don’t understand gifted and twice exceptional. At all.
And that’s a problem, because many gifted and 2e students come to the doctors for issues related to giftedness. How can you correctly diagnose a medical condition if you’re completely clueless about your patient? You can’t. Not correctly, anyway. In my inexpert opinion there are many gifted and 2e students out there with labels that don’t fit because medical professionals don’t understand them.
I’m all for labels. But they have to be the RIGHT labels or they’re useless. Worse than useless: they’re actively harmful. Heather Boorman over at The Fringy Bit wrote up an awesome article about this exact same subject that deserves to be read in its own right. She has a much more expert view of things because she is a medical professional who specializes in gifted kids (she does remote conferences, just saying!)
I love what Heather Boorman says in the article, and this bit resonated with me in a huge way:
“Behavior is not a disorder. Behavior is communication.”
Heather Boorman, The Tyranny of Pathologizing Our Kids
Instead of seeing the Engineer at his worst in the office and trying to analyze why, the doctor jumped straight to tests, medications, specialists: whatever he could think of to “fix” the problem. He never once thought “hey, maybe waiting 30 minutes to see the doctor caused this,” or “I wonder if the lighting or the room is triggering this.” He completely ignored the root cause and focused on the symptoms. And … newsflash … within 2 minutes of getting outside and into the car, the Engineer was back to normal. His behavior was telling us something and none of us heard him!
We desperately need our doctors to get a clue. We need all doctors to understand and identify gifted symptoms instead of pathologizing them. Sure, we need them to look for real medical issues, but they need to understand how giftedness works before they can start searching for answers.
Luckily, I have a partial solution to this problem. If all of us – every single one of us – does one little thing it will help the entire community of gifted. Gifted Homeschoolers Forum produced some helpful brochures for exactly this situation, and you can print them out for free to take to your doctor. There’s one for giftedness and twice exceptional to give to doctors, and there are others to give to teachers about giftedness or giftedness cubed (with the added component of race, because so many minority children are overlooked despite their giftedness.)
So print out a few brochures and hand them to the staff. Give them to the doctors. Odds are they’re entirely clueless about giftedness and twice exceptionality, and you might help them understand something they didn’t even know existed. Best of all, maybe the next time they encounter a gifted child, they’ll think twice and remember the brochures before they slap on a diagnosis.
It’s not part of your job as a parent to educate the world, but it will help your child in the long run. And that helps us all, right?