Yesterday I was asked by a parent of a 2e child if there was such a thing as school trauma. This from a parent whose child reported that every day at school was a “living hell.”
Even if a 2e child manages to escape bullying (either direct physical, verbal, emotional or more subtle veiled threats), which is highly unlikely, as 2e children are bully magnets due to their differences (both the disabilities and the abilities), they still must spend their days in a classroom that is not designed to support their needs.
They often endue stultifying boredom, as nearly all of their time is wasted on going over material they already know; but often they are unable to demonstrate their knowledge because there are no accommodations for their disabilities. Most 2e children’s intellect allows them to compensate for their weaknesses, so they often look like an average or underachieving average child to their teachers and administrators. In many instances they are reprimanded for not turning in their homework, doing messy work, not following instructions, losing key pieces of their assignments, or not finishing their work. Most often these “failures” are due to fine motor skill issues, or executive functioning issues, disgraphia or discalcula, or a host of other undiagnosed disabilities.
In addition, their perfectionistic tendencies, their asynchronous development, and their ability to see through much of the administrative and bureaucratic nonsense that is part of our typical public schools, and you have a recipe for disengagement, underachievement, and drop out.
Add to that the sensory disfunction that many 2e children endure. Extreme sensitivity to their environment: the classroom or playground noise, visually overstimulating classrooms, sitting on hard chairs all day, overwhelming sensory input such as being jostled while standing in line, or the smell in the cafeteria. For 2e children, this overwhelming input shuts down everything else. They can’t function intellectually, emotionally, or socially because the sensory input is too extreme. Imagine being wedged into a hot, overcrowded, noisy, stinky, swaying subway train while your clothes are too tight and your feet hurt, and then being asked to put your best abilities forward on, say, a job interview, in that environment. That is what many of our 2e children feel like every day, all day.
There seem to be two main ways 2e children respond to this toxic environment, I call them the “exploders” and the “imploders.” The exploders are the major behavior problems in the classroom, the defiant kids, the class clowns, the kids who run away, the kids who flip out and throw something. The imploders are the ones who quietly check out and withdraw from all intellectual pursuits and social interactions. Both of these responses are equally dangerous. The exploders are often labeled as emotionally disturbed and treated accordingly. The imploders may become depressed and even suicidal. Both imploders and exploders are seen as difficult, damaged children and parents are blamed for their failure to raise children who will comply with the school rules.
On the flip side, 2e children are also disciplined for their strengths. For example, being told to refrain from answering questions about topics they know, because they are taking away other student’s opportunities to learn. Or being scolded for being disrespectful if they correct a teacher’s misinformation or incorrect instruction. Many 2e students are mocked by their peers for their knowledge and ostracized for being too smart.
We acknowledge that events in which an individual has been abused can cause emotional harm and even disorders such as post traumatic stress syndrome. Yet we have been turning a blind eye to the emotional, physical, and intellectual distress of the majority of our 2e students as they struggle through their days in a typical school environment. Is there such thing as school trauma? Yes, tragically, unequivocally, YES! And 2e children are paying the price for the ignorance about twice exceptionality and the bureaucratic disregard for their needs.