“I Must Have Cried 1000 Tears”

“I must have cried 1000 tears,” wrote Amanda Coley of her two year-old son Jack’s loving interaction with Snow White at Walt Disney World, this past November. Jack, you see, has autism and doesn’t speak words. But his love for a beautiful Disney character comes through loud and clear, happily captured on video by dad Chris Coley.

Jack finds it difficult to warm up to new people and was not at all getting into the swing of things during that family trip. As it would turn out, Jack would receive his diagnosis just two weeks after the family trip to Disney World. The diagnosis likely came as no surprise to Jack’s parents. Amanda and Chris Coley have three sons and Jack is the second of the three to be diagnosed with autism.

If you’ve been to Disneyland or Disney World, you know that these amusement parks-cum-resorts hire actors to play famous Disney characters and to chat up the visitors. Jack’s brother had been trying to get the boy to interact with the other characters the entire trip but each time, Jack would pull away.

Jack wanted no part of that. Until he saw Snow White.

Then it was love at first sight.

I Must Have Cried 1000 Tears

Amanda wrote,

He was having nothing to do with any of the characters on our Disney vacation in November. You see, he has autism and is non-verbal. He is on the shy side with people he does not know. THEN… he met Snow White. I must have cried 1000 tears watching his interaction with her. He was in love.

It’s pretty amazing to see this clip. There is so much eye contact going on between Jack and “Snow White,” though one of the hallmarks of autism is the difficulty in making prolonged eye contact with others. You have to wonder what sort of magic was going on here: what made this Snow White figure so approachable? Why was it so easy for Jack to make eye contact with her, even as he shied away from the other characters.

It’s not difficult to see why this clip went viral with over  500,000 views as of this writing. Something beautiful unfolds here for the viewer, something magical in the magic kingdom of Disney. What it is, we’re not really sure. But it’s clear the clip has not lost its appeal for Jack Coley, who can watch it all day.

It calms him, and he’ll sign to his mom the word for “more” so she’ll play it for him again.

Does this one minute and fourteen seconds of blissful love and peace signify hope for all those on the autism spectrum and their families? It’s impossible to say. But it’s a good bet that Amanda Coley has raised awareness of autism and of the painful journey Jack’s parents have ahead of them in sharing this clip. Amanda’s pronouncement, “I must have cried 1000 tears,” sums it up in a nutshell.

Here’s wishing the Coley family many more moments of joy in the years to come.

Spotting Gifted Students

Spotting gifted students in a large classroom is no big deal. Or so you might have thought. You simply apply the rule of Sesame Street: “One of these things is not like the others.” shutterstock_178688006

After all, gifted children are different from their peers. They’d have to stick out somehow. So sure, you’d think. You can spot ‘em a mile away. They’re the pocket protector-wearing first graders solving quadratic equations as their peers stumble over, “See Dick run.”

Well, yes and no. The gifted child may indeed stand out in the classroom. But often, it’s for all the wrong reasons.

spotting gifted studentsThink about it: a super-bright kid in a class of garden variety, average students. He’s going to be BORED. Terrifically bored. And so, he may just end up exhibiting behaviors most of us would deem negative. In fact, we might even assume the gifted child has a learning disability or perhaps even an intellectual disability. That was certainly the case with Jason Barnett, whose parents were urged to put him in special ed. classes.

His behavior was odd.

Now, most of us are aware there is something slightly “off” about geniuses. Still, we continue to see genius as a desirable attribute. Parents avidly watch for signs of giftedness in their children.

The upshot is we expect odd behavior from geniuses but only after some reflection. More likely, we expect a genius to be more clever than most, a cut above his peers. If you Google “signs of giftedness” you’re going to see all those special virtues you’d like to see in your kid. Less often, you’re going to learn about the darker side of giftedness which may be confused with disability.

Here are some of those signs—the ones you wouldn’t expect to see:

  • Easily distracted from topics and tasks
  • Impatient when not called on to answer questions
  • Often bored
  • A tendency to disrupt the classroom
  • Dislikes repetition and memorization
  • Finishes work quickly but is sloppy
  • Tries to get out of doing classroom activities aside from those he finds interesting
  • Leaves projects incomplete
  • Bites off more than he can chew and then shows signs of stress
  • Mouths off to authority figures
  • Overreacts to criticism
  • Finds it difficult to do teamwork
  • May overlook practical details such as correct spelling
  • Forgets to do homework
  • Is hypercritical of both himself and others
  • Will belabor a point
  • Expects perfection in himself and others
  • Carries jokes too far
  • Often the class clown
  • Perceived as the classroom “know it all”
  • Can be bossy during group projects

No. You wouldn’t have expected to see this list of the negative traits of giftedness. But when you read them, did you find yourself nodding your head a bit? You see it, don’t you?

The most important thing to keep in mind about giftedness is that it is exceptional, rare. It is every bit a minority statistic within a classroom as the intellectual disability or ADHD. Teachers and parents should be watching for exceptional (read “different”) behavior and keeping an open mind about what this behavior means.

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You want your child to be getting the most he can out of his time in the classroom. You want to give him the best possible chance to succeed, whether gifted or average. Let your child show the way to what he needs and be responsive to that.

Don’t be quick to interpret a negative behavior trait or in fact, any unusual classroom behavior. Instead, keep watching and noting the child’s behavior. Offer the child challenges to see how these are handled. Watch and wait until a clearer picture emerges. And absolutely consult with experts before pinning a label on a child: any label at all.