On the surface, there appears to be a common correlation between very smart people and geeky pursuits. I cannot think of a single personal friend or acquaintance who shares my passion for geekery and is not at least above average in overall intelligence. I was tested and labeled as gifted when I was younger, as was my son’s father. It just stood to reason that our son Lukas would turn out smart and geeky as well, I suppose. Are we proud parents? You have no idea the depth of pride and love felt for this boy. But with the good, you must also take the bad.
Lukas is extremely smart. He is also very sensitive about it. If he doesn’t immediately know the answer to something or the right way to do things he reacts as most people would to something much more emotionally damaging. Every time. When he was younger it was quite manageable as people simply expect little boys to occasionally have temper tantrums or get mad for no reason. But as he grew older, the anger and pain became worse instead of better. He became more sensitive to any perceived slight and would lash out in anger each time. A tipping point was reached when Lukas entered the second grade. He began getting into serious trouble at school with multiple calls home each week about him pushing people away, throwing things, knocking things to the floor, and most frightening was when he’d yell that no one loved him, he was no good, why should he even be alive if he was no good? I can confirm that this is heartbreaking to see from any child of 7. When it is your own child it changes something in your soul.
He began lashing out more at home around this time. Our family was confused about what was happening with our sweet, happy boy. Up until this point, he’d occasionally swing to the angry side, but it was a rare and strange occurrence. Now it was becoming our new normal.
He no longer had his ready smile and a laugh that could infect the crankiest of adult humans. I started asking a lot of questions. After weeks of things escalating at school and at home, one of the conversations with his principal finally revealed the catalyst for this change. That day, Lukas had hit another child. Multiple times and very hard. When I picked him up early I spoke to the principal who said he had indicated he didn’t want to be alive several times, so we took him to an emergency mental health clinic.
To be honest, we didn’t get much out of that visit other than some serious fear over emergency mental health clinics and one little tidbit he let slip to the counselor who spoke with him. A little boy I shall call John (that is not the boy’s real name) had been torturing him at school for months. The lashing out toward others started when they would innocently tease him or get playful or even just giggle around him because he reflexively thought they were going to start the taunting and the hitting he had become used to and he wasn’t going to take it any longer.
John would position himself in lines directly next to Lukas and, as soon as all adult eyes were away, he’d start punching him in the back or whispering completely awful things to him. He once followed him into the bathroom and knocked him into a wall and started poking his chest and stomach hard over and over until someone came in. Horrible things happen like this to people every day. It isn’t right but it happens. What made me angry was that it had been going on so long and I hadn’t been told. Every time my son pushed someone or the few time he has actually hit someone I have asked that the parents of the other child are told and if they wished it I would sit down to talk to them. A parent needs to know. Why was I not afforded that same courtesy? Why did this go on for weeks when I could have been helping him sooner?
We called in more than a few favors to get him in to see a counselor with the local children’s hospital within weeks. Given how young he was, that mostly consisted of counseling me, and I would in turn work with him at home. After 8 sessions they had him examined by a psychologist. I wasn’t the least bit surprised to hear that my boy had ADHD since I have it myself. They also said he has severe anxiety as a result of the chaos that being a boy with ADHD and the pressure of the expectations that come with being a gifted child. Ok, I can see that. Then came the last bit. Depression. How does a 7-year-old boy get depression?! I still don’t have an answer to that, but I can tell you that now I see it. He’s a bit older now and I am able to see the tendencies to withdraw, to shy away from social interactions, and the sadness that can just about weigh him down so hard and heavy at times it is a wonder he can physically move.
For the rest of that school year and the next one, we spent time discussing emotions and controlling anger with Lukas. We developed coping strategies for him to use in the classroom when he found himself getting angry. We worked out a signal for him to use with his teachers and, once triggered, he was able to safely leave the room and go to a quiet spot in the office to read for a short time. We received daily reports from his teachers (and still ask for those even now that he is older) which enabled us to have informed conversations with him each evening. At night while getting ready for bed I would have Lukas share one thing that made him angry that day and we’d discuss how he handled it and how to handle it going forward. Then we’d discuss one thing that he regretted that day and discuss how to improve in that area in the future. We’d then end on a happy note and discuss one thing that made him happy or proud of himself that day.
All of the above helped him. We still, however, struggle with those moments when he doesn’t know he’s getting angry and it just happens. He does many coping strategies now without realizing he’s doing them. Mostly that is a good thing as it prevents him building to a meltdown, more often than not. But when it does not, those moments can be epic with tears and yelling and hitting his head in frustration. He’ll be quietly frustrated with things and then something will happen that seems to just set him off. This is where continuing that ability to let him leave the room and go to a safe space has been invaluable. We most recently added a weighted blanket to his bed and have noticed that he sleeps longer and more deeply now.
Lukas is at his absolute happiest when he’s either playing video games or watching videos about playing video games. Yet, for the longest time, I had succumbed to the rigid restriction of past times’ approach when trying to get better overall behavior out of him. If he yelled at someone at school that day, only 1 hour of screen time that night. If he did something more serious, no screen time. And so on. He became more withdrawn and quiet. More likely to snap at people when he was upset. Now, as long as he does his school work, does the few chores his mean troll of a mother makes him do, and is getting enough sleep, he’s ok to do what he pleases with his “spare time.” And I think we’re both the happier for that.