Some gifted people discover they have a second diagnosis which puts them into a different category - twice-exceptional, or 2e. On episode 14 of Mind Matters, Emily Kircher-Morris talks with Christen Leah, a college student who learned she was not only gifted, but was also diagnosed with Asperger’s, now part of a family of conditions known as ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder. About the guest - Christen Leah is a twice-exceptional college student. At the age of eighteen she sought out an Asperger's diagnosis after identifying similarities between herself and other females on the spectrum through online videos. She is currently pursuing a degree in Psychology, but also maintains an interest in visual arts and music. Some of her hobbies include community theatre, playing the violin, and binge-watching animated shows and movies. She aims to be an advocate for girls with ASD to hopefully overcome the stigma and under-diagnosis presently facing girls and women with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Host Emily Kircher-Morris has dual Masters degrees in Counseling and Education, and specializes in the area of giftedness throughout the lifespan. She founded the non-profit organization The Gifted Support Network, is the owner of Unlimited Potential Counseling & Education Center, and is the mother of three gifted children.
I'm a gifted kid and this podcast is about people like me. If you know someone like me share it with them so they can also feel like the center of the universe. By the way, it's expanding. You know, the universe. It's expanding.
Welcome to the mind. What do we really mean by genius matters? giftedness is so much more than an academically podcast. We tend to think of gifted as kids being good at everything across the board and exploration of giftedness, originals or nonconformists, creativity, people who not only have new ideas, intelligence are the people you want to bet on in childhood.
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Emily Kircher-Morris 0:45
Hey, everyone, welcome to Episode 14 of the mind matters podcast. I'm Emily chercheur Morris, and i'm really happy that you are joining us for this podcast. I hope you are enjoying listening to it and learning from it as much as we are enjoying making it for you. So today's episode has a bit of a different format. Instead of an interview with an expert in the field of gifted in high ability learners, we're actually talking to someone who will share her own life experience as a twice exceptional person. Kristin Leah is a college student and she has excellent insight into herself as a young woman who is both gifted and autistic. Her story will give you a glimpse into the world of neurodiversity, and the process that brought her to recognize the unique way that she is differently wired. Before we jump into our conversation with Kristen, just one quick reminder that we would love to connect with you on social media. We'd love to hear your feedback about possible future topics or questions that you have. And of course, by the way, if you haven't already shared our podcast with a friend or liked our Facebook page and Twitter feed, please go ahead and take a minute and do so you can find us on Facebook and Instagram at mind matters podcast and on Twitter. Our handle is at mind matters pod. Our talk with Kristin Leah up next. On a recent episode of mind matters. Acceleration is one of those things that I feel like a lot of people know about but not a lot of people know a lot about they're actually at least 20 different forms of acceleration early admission to kindergarten or first grade, certainly skipping a grade somewhere in the middle early entrance to college graduating from college early. But then there's also subject matter acceleration. What are some of the myths about acceleration that you'd like to dispel the idea that an accelerated student will be some type of a social misfit missing an opportunity to change someone's educational experience for the better leaves questions of what if let's really think that over not accelerating or not doing anything is a decision.
Unknown Speaker 2:43
That's Episode 11 available at mind matters podcast.com or wherever you get your podcasts. This is the mind matters podcast.
Unknown Speaker 2:54
For Kids, making that transition to the beginning of the school year can be really overwhelming.
Unknown Speaker 2:59
I am Kristin Leah, I'm a 19 year old college student and I'm twice exceptional.
Unknown Speaker 3:04
But for those who are gifted or in Christine's case, twice exceptional school is also where you begin to first understand that you're different
Unknown Speaker 3:12
when I started to be aware of the fact that I might be thinking differently than a lot of other people I can remember being younger, and a classmate telling me that the words that I used were too big. I was in the JET Program in third grade, I was actually only in it for part of the year until I missed a movie day in class. And then I decided to not be in that program. But even even without that program, there came a point where you could be in advanced classes in middle school and high school. And finally, in eighth grade, I got back into my school's gate program. High School has advanced classes, but they don't have anything targeted at helping you through with the more difficult aspects of being gifted. What would you identify as some of those difficult aspects of being gifted? People assume that if you are getting good grades in school, that it comes naturally to you. And the thing is, I recognize the fact that I have maybe a natural sense when it comes to like numbers and schoolwork. But the truth of the matter is that I'm good at memorizing things and learning how to teach myself stuff. But all of the information would still always be new. And when you're stressing out about doing things correctly and making sure that it's all perfect. It becomes really unnatural to try and still be successful with those kinds of things.
Unknown Speaker 4:47
Sometimes when people learn that they're gifted or a two week kid, it can change the way that they see themselves. Did that happen to you?
Unknown Speaker 4:54
I never really thought that it made me so different from other people. Like aside From the grades, I sort of just felt like I was like everyone else, I used to be a really shy kid to up until I got involved with like musicals in middle school and started playing the violin, I was finally able to come out of my shell a little bit, it took a while for me to realize that there really are things that are different about me the way that people view me, I really wish sometimes that I could just see myself through someone else's eyes. Because I'd say it wasn't until I was in high school, that I really recognized that what I was going through wasn't the same as a lot of my peers.
Unknown Speaker 5:35
So when you were in high school, and you started to recognize that, there were some things that were more difficult for you, whether it was academically or socially and emotionally, what were those things that came to your awareness,
Unknown Speaker 5:48
typically, the people that I was friends with, they had grades that were very similar to mine. And I sort of assumed that for them learning the information was much like it was for me, except I had classmates who could finish their homework at school every now and then, which never happened for me, I would go home. And I would take a break, because I would already be really stressed out about everything, then I would start on my homework, and I would get distracted, I would get up and I would go get something to eat. And by the time I finished my homework, it would be after midnight, and I'd have to get up at 5am to get ready for band practice. And for me, I just figured, however late I needed to stay up was how late I needed to stay up if I was going to get my homework finished. And I would also feel guilty if it was done in a way that I didn't feel like I challenged myself to get to the answer maybe like if I had answer keys for my math homework that would sort of explain how it is that you're solving the problem, I would feel compelled to try and solve it on my own before checking the answer key. And then once I checked the answer key, I had to make sure that everything was done the exact same way. And I would just labor over the assignments. And there came a point in time where I realized that I was struggling with school, even though my grades were good. It was incredibly difficult for me.
Unknown Speaker 7:20
What did other people like your parents or teachers say to you, when they saw what you were kind of putting yourself through during that time.
Unknown Speaker 7:29
I think for some people, they may not have seen it. My parents were very aware of it. And I know that my mom was always really concerned about me. It even took me a long time to adjust to the idea of going to counseling and admitting that I was just feeling exhausted all the time. I do remember a teacher taking me out into the hallway. In high school one day when I was getting overwhelmed in class. And just asking me whether or not I had to actually talk to someone about what I was going through.
Unknown Speaker 8:06
standards, services and resources available to get it into we kids vary from school to school, a great experience for one child might be very bumpy for another. And the ripple effect can last a long time
Unknown Speaker 8:17
High School was really rough. I was definitely ready for it to be over. But I started getting very anxious because I couldn't really pin down what it was that I wanted to do. You don't expect someone right out of high school to automatically know what it is that they want to do. But for me, there were so many things that I cared about, that I just couldn't pin it down. Finally, I decided that I would study Japanese and I wound up going to college for one week to study that. And it was too far of a drive because of my anxiety. And it was like a week after being diagnosed with Asperger's. And to come to that realization, and then try to go straight into this new part of my life. And still not really being over my anxiety or having the skills that I needed to cope with it. It was too much and I had to take a semester off. Of course then I wound up taking like four classes the next semester and I had a job at the time and I was involved in community theater and you know, there are times when I feel like I'll just get pushed into something that's going to make me move forward and and it's not easy, but it's what I need.
Unknown Speaker 9:47
The social aspect of giftedness or twice exceptionality is often complicated. shyness can be a challenge, but when it's overcome and people are allowed to see behind the curtain, there are benefits
Unknown Speaker 9:57
part of the fact that I was shy was just something that everyone sort of accepted. Like, it wasn't that uncommon for other people my age to keep to themselves or maybe just not be as comfortable in social situations. But the thing was, if I was around family, I could, you know, be myself. And if I was around my friends who were equally shy, it just seemed normal. And it's not like I would ever blame anyone for not picking up on it. Because I think for the most part, if you yourself haven't gone through that experience, how are you going to identify that and someone else? And how are teachers going to even teachers of gifted students? How are they going to pick up on the fact that you are going home and you're crying and you're awake, past midnight working on homework, when you come to school, and you look like any other student, and you participate, and you're trying to be happy? Because I'd say that I wasn't intentionally masking the way that I was feeling. But it got to a point where I recognize that if I were going to show up at school and be tired and act depressed, I was going to have trouble making friends. And so I couldn't really afford to let myself be sad, or to struggle around them. Because Because I would probably feel nervous myself to to become friends with someone who was struggling as much as I was, because if I couldn't help myself through my problems, how would I help them?
Unknown Speaker 11:28
One of the Hallmark characteristics of that Asperger's diagnosis is the struggle with social communication and social relationships. As you reflect back on your younger years, what are the things that you saw or see now that maybe you didn't realize at the time were outside of the norm,
Unknown Speaker 11:45
basically, every year of high school, I could say who my best friend was that year, but really, I would have a different group of friends every single year. And I would never connect with them on quite the level that I wanted to, even if there were people who I wanted to be friends with, it was always more like being acquaintances, or classmates, when you're shy, I don't think that it prevents you from making friends necessarily, because you find the other shy people, and you have your quiet conversations with them, and you eat lunch together. And that way, you're not alone at school or something. When I got to high school, though, I was in color guard and my freshman year, and that was, that was a big change. For me. Even though I was only in it for a year, it gave me the opportunity to have to put aside the way that I was feeling about myself and my maybe self consciousness. And at that point, when you're in a group that forces you to be around people, consistently, frequently, and have to depend on one another. It's the world's gonna keep on spinning, even if I mess up a bit in front of everyone.
Unknown Speaker 13:04
As you entered college, this all kind of came to a realization. Like throughout that summer, you were kind of anticipating college, you were glad to be done with high school, but you had this apprehension about beginning at university. And then this diagnosis came about. So how did that happen within that short window of time,
Unknown Speaker 13:24
towards the end of high school, I knew that there was something wrong. When I was a sophomore, I had quit Color Guard, I became very depressed one summer and wasn't coping with it well. And you know, after that summer after that period of time, where I was getting over, being away from everyone I had met in guard and trying to sort of start over things started to go back to what I would consider normal, you know, I was still struggling in school to get everything done. But I was relatively happy. But senior year, things started getting really bad again, because I put too much into my schedule. I took three AP classes, and I was in band an orchestra. And it was far too much for me. I couldn't keep up with it at all. And I was just breaking down all the time, like physically and emotionally trying to be involved with stuff because you think that being involved will help you make friends and get past some of it. But when everything else about is like tearing you down, it's not helpful. Did anyone start looking into a diagnosis at that point? There was a point where someone thought that I might have had ADHD and that could have been the reason why I was having trouble focusing on my schoolwork. I thought that was what the problem was. But that was really less to do with me not focusing and more to do with me being so anxious that I was trying to avoid the thing that was making me anxious.
Unknown Speaker 15:00
So that's when Kristin started doing some detective work of her own,
Unknown Speaker 15:04
I started looking stuff up on the internet. And I came across information about girls with Asperger's and the way that it presents differently. And, you know, I had seen some stuff about that before where I felt like I could connect to some people who had autism. But I always thought, even if I can relate to them, that isn't me, because they have these specific problems that I don't see in myself. So that must not be me. I wasn't expecting that I would fit into that category. And then trying to approach that subject and talk about it with someone else who never saw anything like that in you and maybe wasn't aware of that. It's scary. You don't want people to look at you like you're crazy. Getting an autism diagnosis can be a scary thing. It's a widely misunderstood condition. And there is definitely a stigma connected, it's something that scares people because they don't understand it. And when you actually adjust to the idea of it and see what all goes into it, it really isn't. I think as bad as a lot of people think it is, it's not like you have an illness or something, it's not necessarily something that you would want to try and get rid of, it's just a part of your personality and who you are. And you can't really change that, like I couldn't be myself and not have Asperger's, I wouldn't have the same personality. And without pulling up the information and showing people look at this checklist of things that that people have identified and others. Look at how I fall into these categories. If you can't do that, no one's going to get it, it's not going to click,
Unknown Speaker 16:41
were there any specific symptoms you researched when you were looking into this diagnosis,
Unknown Speaker 16:46
I guess it's more things that I stumbled across because I was already interested in psychology. And I would watch TED Talk videos sometimes just because, you know, I found them interesting, I like to hear about people who think differently than others. And I already knew about the giftedness side of my personality. So that was something that I could search. And I came across like videos of Temple Grandin and some other girls who were not quite like her, but still fell into the same category as her. They experienced the world. And it's very intense, and it's overwhelming. And I started seeing those things in myself. And I started thinking back to when I was younger. And I could pick up on things that I hadn't noticed before. Like, when I was in middle school, I got to this point where I started getting really anxious about germs, there was a play that I was in where you had to hold hands to do bows at the end. And I remember being so anxious about getting home to wash my hands and I had hand sanitizer on me all the time. And I just thought it was like a quirk or something. I didn't feel like I had an actual phobia because it wasn't really preventing me from going around and going about my daily life. But even though I sort of, I guess grew out of that or adjusted to it a little bit more, it was definitely something that other people weren't experiencing. And, and I'm not OCD, but there are different habits and tendencies that people have associated with that, that even though I knew I wasn't fitting into that category, there were enough things that it had to be something else.
Unknown Speaker 18:34
One of the things that you've had trouble with this driving, can you tell me a little bit more about that?
Unknown Speaker 18:39
What I came to realize is that there's a social aspect to driving that a lot of people don't pick up on, it would be simple if everybody drove according to the law and the way that you're supposed to drive. But that's not how that works. You know, there are always going to be people speeding or people not using their blinker or people who just do things their own way. And when you're not good at reading what's going on. And when you feel like other people around you might be watching you and thinking, Well, why are they driving that way? You get? You get afraid you feel like you're making mistakes, and you feel like you're in a social situation where you're doing something that doesn't fit in and people are going to judge you for it. And the thing is, it would be nice to be able to tell myself, Well, no, they're not. They're not judging me. They're just driving. If you've ever been in a car with someone who has been cut off, people definitely pick up on bad driving and will point it out and will express their opinions about it. My brother as soon as he could get his permit. He started driving and it came so naturally to him. And my brother and I are very different people. He is incredibly social. He has friends over at our house all the time. And even though we are very different when it comes to our mindsets. Normally I pick up on things very quickly. I'm a fast learner. But with driving, it took me forever to even be able to drive to and from school. I think that's what brought me to that awareness that, that there's a social aspect to it, because I had to think, what is it about my brother that makes this accessible to him in a way that it doesn't seem to be accessible to me.
Unknown Speaker 20:27
There's a stigma surrounding autism spectrum disorder or Asperger's. And often parents are concerned about labeling their child, especially if they're twice exceptional and have strengths that make their kids stand out. Labeling makes it real diagnosis makes it official,
Unknown Speaker 20:42
people are afraid, because they don't want to be treated differently. The truth is that if you don't address the fact that there's a problem, it's not going to go away just because you don't address it. I even found out after I was diagnosed, that my cousin and aunt had been thinking that I might have fit into that category for a long time. And they never said anything about it. And even now, I I almost feel like I can't say I have autism, because people already have an idea about what that is. And the thing is, maybe we should be trying to change what people think that is because people make assumptions and stereotypes. But the truth is that whether or not you call it Asperger's, or ASD, you're still going to have to explain it to people, people aren't really going to get it unless you can talk about it. Because maybe there'll be a point in time where I can say I have autism spectrum disorder, and people aren't going to stereotype you based on it. And you're going to have to meet a lot of people with ASD, before you realize that it's not going to look the same on everyone.
Unknown Speaker 21:54
Another trait often present and gifted or to people emotional intensity.
Unknown Speaker 21:59
It's something that I think a lot of people like me struggle with, because it's not really something that you can control when you're experiencing everything intensely. And you care so much about everything that you're involved with, I guess I just want other people like me to know that, if that's happening, it's not, it's not your fault. And you can't, you can't always control that. And if other people could see the way that you were seeing situations, if other people could experience life, the way you experienced it, I think that they would understand why it is that everything feels so intense. And why it is that you have to express yourself the way you do. So what's next for you? What I'm working towards is trying to be independent. It's It's not an easy thing for me to address a lot of the time because, I mean, I'm, I'm a college student, I'm not sure what I'm going to be doing with my life. Right now. It's just taking it a day at a time. long term goals can be very vague. And you know, I can say, Well, I want to get to the point where I own a house and I've graduated college and I'm in a job that makes me happy and I don't have to try and get to where I'm going to be eventually I just have to have hoped that I'll find my way along the journey.
Unknown Speaker 23:23
That's Kristen, Leah. More thoughts about labels diagnosis and self discovery in a minute.
Unknown Speaker 23:30
The mind matters podcast recognizes organizations who help gifted children thrive. One of these organizations is the National Association for gifted children and AGC supports those who enhance the growth and development of gifted and talented children through education advocacy, community building and research we invite you to visit giftedness knows no boundaries.org and join na GCS movement to see understand, teach and challenge gifted and talented children from all backgrounds.
Unknown Speaker 24:06
The educational and mental health worlds are overflowing with labels and acronyms. gt ADHD, ASD, LD, OCD, odd ga D. The list goes on and on. should parents pursue a diagnosis or avoid one? Should they tell their children about the diagnosis? What about telling the school? These are conversations I have every day with concerned parents who want to do the best for their children. I asked Kristen to share her story on this episode of the podcast because she is someone who is engaged in the relentless pursuit of knowing and understanding herself. She didn't shy away from a diagnosis. She has shrugged off any stigma surrounding it and leaned into who she recognizes herself to be accepting the unique pattern of Neurology that makes her who she is. It hasn't always been an easy path. But finally finding a level of understanding of what it is that makes her unique gives us strength and resilience to know she isn't alone. neurodiversity is the idea that each of us has a brain that is wired in a way that makes us who we are. Some of us are gifted, autistic, ADHD, dyslexic, whatever. Some of us may have different needs or different abilities and different struggles. But overall, when we recognize that we don't have to try to shove that square peg in the round hole, we can take a strength based approach to finding our place in the world. As a community, we must embrace neurodiversity labels included, and keep telling the world that a one size fits all approach just isn't good enough anymore. This is Emily kircher Morris. See you next time. Looking at a tree, remember how it started? was lost in a dream when the fire in my heart said an open Oh, oh. The feeling glow? Oh. Sounds Alright. I'm breaking man. Oh.
Unknown Speaker 26:58
Thanks for listening to the mind matters podcast with Emily kircher Morris. To learn more about us and our mission go to mind matters podcast.com if you'd like to show your support for mind matters, find us on Apple iTunes, Google Play stitcher or wherever you get your podcast subscribe and leave us a positive review started discussion and follow us on Twitter at mind matters pod or on Facebook at mind matters podcast. Mind matters is a production of Morris Creative Services.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai