Informed by books such as Differently Wired: A Parent’s Guide to Raising an Atypical Child with Confidence and Hope by Deborah Reber

This is a statement of gratitude and love, and a call for action for learning what is often difficult. My focus is to say thank you to my granddaughter and our family for helping me to continue my commitment to all human beings to fully learn from differences and embrace the possibilities we together must create. I know now that my intellectual training, my life experiences, and my love had not prepared me for what I needed to learn. I am exploring what it takes to be helpful to a child who is “differently wired” without all the assumptions of any past wisdom. I adore my amazing grandchildren and their parents, and I want them to live in a world that is open to who they really are. This is a complex wish for change. 

Since the birth of my grandchildren, I have looked into their eyes and watched their behaviors to fully learn. I love being a grandparent, and I truly thought I could impart some wisdom. But despite all the love that I have, I know that I do not have enough strategies to help create the best environment for my “differently wired” granddaughter without a full “tilt” in my behavior as well as a commitment to learning and change. I know it will take a village to raise my grandchildren and create possibilities for the diversity of all children. We will learn from our newest members what we must do to change. I am committed to helping change the systems that box in many children with expectations that provide little room for true hope and learning.

In the beginning, my children applauded and shared the milestones, interests, strengths, and challenges that emerged in the lives of their children. We noticed our granddaughter did not seem to enjoy all activities and adventures. She learned to read early and was involved in imaginative play. Some moments were extremely hard for her. Her mathematical understanding amazed us. Everyone commented on how “bright” she was. The songs she wrote, almost effortlessly, revealed her emotional depth. She initially eagerly engaged in school. She talked enthusiastically about friends and activities. Her teachers reported few problems and enjoyed watching her learn and create. 

As time progressed, her facial expressions, actions, and the words of her teachers showed that she was not really thriving. She was complex. Her outbursts and her resistance to some activities intensified. No matter what approach her parents and her teachers took, she was clearly not happy, and nothing was making a lasting difference.

Our family sought expertise from medical and educational experts. Our granddaughter was formally evaluated. We discussed the trends and patterns we saw, what we learned, and what we didn’t understand. We set goals, modified our behavior, changed her environment, yet saw little difference. Our research and her evaluation converged on her having very high intelligence coupled with difficulties in executive functioning. She is twice exceptional (2e), both gifted and challenged. It is difficult to get her the right support, and she regularly feels frustrated and restless. She is anxious, often depressed, lacks self-esteem, and displays emotional dysregulation. 

I now move to the bigger principles reflected in the title: differences, possibilities, and learning.   What if our granddaughter could use her understanding of the world and her insights to tell us what was going on in her thoughts? She could help us, her caregivers, and develop her own self-advocacy skills. We would not punish her for being herself, nor would we allow others to stigmatize her for her disability. We are all trying to model a culture of self-discovery in our family to guide her. We are all learning a better way of welcoming these differences and seeing the richness of our interactions. We are all trying to be advocates and be responsible for providing a safe space for her and for all human beings. We are all trying to be present with “what is.” We are all truly learning from her. We are all trying to be kinder, humbler, and more open to examining our own assumptions and biases.

As I look broadly at the themes of the current times, I hear groups screaming to be heard. I see pain on the faces of many who have been ignored and punished for who they are. I know that the environment is threatened by our lack of attention to its needs. I feel a growing energy for recognizing basic truths. I see the richness of our family work as an opportunity to help change educational and social systems for many more children – and many more people. I see the need to look at differences as an opportunity for growth and for engaging in relationships with the heart of our full humanity. What I am learning at this point in my life is not only how to be a grandmother, but more generally how to be a person who is examining assumptions.

As Deborah Reber, author of Differently Wired states, “it’s time to say no to trying to fit square-peg kids into round holes, and yes to raising them from a place of acceptance and joy.”  I hope our world will join in the adventure of creating a safe space for all our children. I hope the possibilities, the differences, the learning, and the changes will be an adventure worthy of the next generation. I hope that we can be brave, bold, kind, courageous, fierce, strong, determined, inspiring, and, ultimately, loved by the children we serve. I hope we can “tilt” and, as Deborah Reber suggests, question everything we ever thought we knew about parenting and parent from a place of possibility instead of fear. n

Sue Mackler is a grandmother, a Quechee part-time resident, and a member of the Quechee Club’s DE&I Council.