The Eternal Orange

I had my first IQ test in first grade. I was identified as a student who might qualify for and benefit from the gifted program, and IQ is the strongest determining factor.

I remember all sorts of puzzling questions. Now, I love puzzles. But they have to have a purpose, so it may be far more accurate to say that I love to solve problems. A few months ago, I was in the hospital and had to use my own feeding pump (when you use specialized products, you have your own suitcase full of supplies to go inpatient). I didn’t have a pole clamp, so I had my IV pole as well as my usual heavy backpack. I was really pretty sick, and it was hard to maneuver both to the bathroom. I ended up devising a very successful pole holder out of a hospital tissue box, cut tubing, and medical tape. Just call me Medical MacGuyver.

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(Blue pump in the middle is adhered to the pole with a tissue box, tubing, and tape.)

But, see, mind games are not my thing, and, in fact, I largely refuse to engage. Sudoku, crossword puzzles, video games… Ack. I HATE video games and I have only ever even touched Mario Kart because I can’t lose! Being timed or knowing I can die is completely overwhelming to me. I prefer time and space for infinite iterations of creativity.

So, IQ tests, at their core, mean that I am not showing my best, at least in some of the subtests that involve timers and pointless generating of ideas. I’ve been fully, officially tested a few times, and my scores have shifted somewhat. I see absolutely NO value in IQ tests. None. I know of kids who tested in the bottom 0.4 percentile at age three, who now, at age six, read beyond grade level. I have a very good friend who tests in the moderate ID range. She used the word “impudent” in conversation recently, and I had to go look it up. She is smart in every way I can think of, from creative thinking and problem solving to compassion and caring. She’s also smart enough to know that number is useful only in that it gets her much-needed support services.

The education and psychology communities are coming around to recognize this whole idea of 2E or twice exceptional… Kids who are both gifted and disabled. My little sister, now 13, has ADHD and a significant learning disability with writing, but her IQ is around 140. Though it’s still a huge struggle and her cyber school still fails to support her well, it is at least recognized that she is a 2E kid. When I was young, this concept didn’t exist. They sure got the gifted part, as my test scores were pretty impressive, but they didn’t even support me well in the gifted aspect of things. I had a weekly pullout that was a wonderful experience in elementary in middle school, but otherwise, I sat in the classroom like every other kid. In third grade, when I asked for more challenging work, the teacher said I wasn’t doing the work they gave me now and should not be given more. I was bored! No matter.

And I was disorganized. And I was sometimes rude. And I lacked social skills. And I was day-dreamy. And I was incredibly attached to routine and overly “sensitive.” And i spent too much time at the nurse and missed too much school, which I can now easily tell you was due to the overstimulation. But the answer to all of this was that I was “smart enough to know better.” I had a high IQ number, so I was not allowed to have legitimate struggles. Perhaps worse is that kids who have low numbers are not permitted to have true strengths.

In that first IQ test, the man was holding up white cards with slightly rounded edges, each with a photo. My job was to say what was missing in the photo. He held up a halved orange. I sat. I looked. I waited, and I finally said that the other half of the orange was missing. He kept encouraging me to find another answer, and I… I just couldn’t.

Here’s the thing. I had (and to a lesser degree still do) severe oral aversions. I have never held an orange longer than the time it took to hand it to someone if it had dropped. I’ve never peeled one or taken it apart, and I have surely never eaten one. How in the word would I have any idea about the details of what is inside an orange?

I was a 2E kid. My disability, my autism, had limited my life experience in this case. My intelligence and creativity clashed with my limitations in being familiar with that orange. But no one recognized my struggles all through school and most of undergrad, so instead of supporting me, I was most often blamed for not trying hard enough. In this case, how much trying is required to call up knowledge of an experience you’ve never had? If I held up a picture of half a gugledeebump and asked you what was missing, you wouldn’t have the slightest clue, either, having never taken one apart before,

I’m glad the whole concept of 2E is taking off, but I say that with caution. It’s the same caution, the same paradox of the idea of labels in general. On one hand, being autistic means that my experience in life and of this world is radically different from that of the majority. But, on the other, it is crucial to remember that the top-most category to which I belong is the one you and I share, the one that brings us together, first…. The human category. Because we are first people and then people of a certain neurology, we share a basic humanity that binds us. And so, when I hear an intense focus on the radical difference in front autistic experience, a little voice in my mind pops up to say but, but, but we are not so very different! And yet, when I hear a strong crusade for “everyone is a little bit autistic!” I cringe, because I know how much an NT doesn’t understand our brains and our experiences. It’s a paradox, and it isn’t one we have to rectify and simplify into a neat little package. It’s messy and complex and perfectly okay to be that way.

2E kids are also at once very, very unique and need to be taught in a wholly different way… And yet they are kids like any other kid. Doesn’t every kid in the world have some really strong areas and some areas in which he either requires extra help, more time, or a totally different approach? In a way, every kid is twice exceptional. And so every kid needs to be encouraged to spread those wings and sore on those passions while he learns to navigate around and through his struggles, learning to ask for help when needed, learning to use different strategies and technology for support, learning not to judge his value on those things alone or any one thing alone. To be 2E is to be human.

But when we see a 7-year-old girl who can read Tolkein but screams and cowers in the gym every single day, talks out of turn more than she talks in turn, and has the organizational skills of a kitty on catnip (and maybe a single-minded preference for one single and very specific subject)… When she flies through the test ceiling on the verbal part of the IQ test but misses one of the first questions when the tester holds up half an orange…. Maybe someone, anyone in that child’s life should pause to wonder…

Because those traits won’t change over time. If anything, they grow ever stronger. Case in point? The 7-year-old who didn’t know what was wrong with the orange is now a 27-year-old who still has no idea, despite a few late nights on Google to try to figure out the answer to a single question on the WISC edition used circa 1993.

It still haunts me. And I’ve still never eaten an orange.

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