How To Save The Gifted Kids We’re Losing To Suicide
On Nov 1, 2015, the world changed.
Nov 1, 6:51pm
My heart has shattered
Into a thousand felted pieces
Sew me together again
That day, at approximately 4:45 pm decision was made that affected:
- A father
- A brother
- A sister
- 2 Grandfathers
- 2 Grandmothers
- 6 aunts
- 3 uncles
- 7 cousins
- 1 girlfriend who was on text
- 1 best friend who made the same decision 18 days later 500 miles away
- 6 teachers
- 30+ school staff
- 418 classmates
- 6825 community members
- Innumerable others
That decision was made by a 13-year-old boy. MY thirteen-year-old son:
Jamison Cole Jacobsen
The theory of 6 degrees of separation states “ at any time one person is only 6 people away from being connected to any other human…on this planet. Six Degrees of Separation means that YOU are linked by a string of 7 or fewer acquaintances to Beyonce, Gandhi, — the Queen of England.
It also means that Heath Ledger, Robin Williams, and the Las Vegas shooter are only six degrees of separation away from you and that they, like you, are linked to the decision my son made less than two years ago on a fall night, 25 days from today.
Jamison was an extraordinary child. From the moment his spirit touched the earth and he drew his first breath until he breathed his last he penetrated every moment with exuberance. Knowing Jamison was like touching fire. His love, joy and infectious laughter surrounded him as did his never-ending inquisitive questions and comments.
“Did you know cat-lovers make better partners because they are more emotionally connected?” as he sharpened his fingernails into a point.
“Mom, did you know that you should not travel closer than 10 feet to another moving vehicle?” as he read the driving manual for fun sitting in his car booster chair at five.
“No, I can’t cut my toenail, I’m working on a way to turn off my light from my bed.
Always pushing the limits, Jamison did everything at 150% and 200mph. He did first and thought about it later. His love to challenge pressed him to explore and experiment and his agility lent him the ability to press far ahead of his peers in many ways.
When he arrived at kindergarten I was told he was “different.” I didn’t know that adding numbers on license plates or reading from the car manuals was unusual. Nor was I aware a spiritual breakdown at the age 7 was out of the ordinary.
I didn’t know. No one ever really does.
My life has been marked by suicide:
- My grandmother’s
- My mother’s countless attempts
- My sister
- My brother-in-law
- My son
Is this unfortunate? Fortunate? The answer is both. The remaining question is who else will have to die for us to change? Will it be your daughter, your son, your nephew, your sister?
Shortly after the time, Jamison entered school, he was diagnosed with ADHD. So, I was told I had a gifted child with a 98% chance of disability.
This is what they call “Twice Exceptional,” – a talented child with a disability and these “2E” children turn into adults. In Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, this is called being a
There’s an extremely high correlation between IQ, abstract thinking, mental illness, and suicide.
The state and district in which we lived, did the best they could but lacked the funding needed to meet Jamison where he was at. What do you do with a child who can’t sit still but can ask you questions about the justice of life at seven and then argue intelligently with you about your answers?
What do we do with these creative, brilliant children who don’t fit anywhere?
At the last band concert, I attended for Jamison. I picked him out of the crowd in black pants that were too small, no socks and a ragged shirt. Instead of hanging around with the other students after the concert he put away every chair neatly stacking them on the rack.
I will not forget the day I ran out of gas two weeks before his death when he carried 3 gallons of gas for about ½ mile for me – while students at the high school across the way at in HS field taunted him. I got angry.
He said, “It’s okay Mom, they don’t know anything. I’m okay Mom.”
Second grade. That’s when the bullying began. Second grade. Why so young? What is it about these children that identify them as targets? Why are sensitive, creative children targeted? Is it because they care too much, is it because they’re too out there? Too different?
Sensitive children turn into adults with chemical dependency issues. We shun these people. Why do we think we are so different from one another?
What makes you or I think that WE are the definition of normal?
As it turns out, there are a set of characteristics these “gifted” children and individuals generally display.
There IS a difference between being bright and being gifted:
- One knows the book answers, the other asks the questions.
- One gets A’s, the other, most likely by 5th grade is struggling to keep up.
- Yet, these are children that know approximately 60% of all kindergarten material on the first day of class.
These kids express what is called OVER EXCITABILITIES — inborn intensities including a heightened ability to respond to stimuli. Essentially, these individuals experience life in 3d in a 2d world. Everything is important, everything.
They are labeled as:
- Overly Sensitive
- Highly Self Aware and aware of their environment
They often look like this:
- The Intellect
Curious, questioning, and sharp, a child with intellectual overexcitability asks the questions that flummox you, makes the connections that amaze you, and arrives at understandings that leave your curriculum in the dust. They will want to go deep into interesting topics, talk about theoretical concepts, and move faster through content than you can handle.
- The Imagination
Fueled by creativity, a love of stories and drawings, and fictional worlds, students with this overexcitability might daydream, doodle, or otherwise occupy their minds while a dull teacher drones on.
- The Senses
Despite the provocative name, we’re talking literally about the five senses here. Students with sensual overexcitability receive more input from their senses than expected. This could show up as a strong reaction to sounds, light, and textures, or tastes. This reaction could be positive, with a desire to continue experiencing a sensation, or negative, driving the student away from the stimulus.
- The Physical
Students with psychomotor overexcitability appear to simply have too much energy. It might manifest as fidgety behavior, rapid, excessive talking, and overactive physical behavior. It sounds an awful lot like ADHD, and might easily be misidentified as such.
- The Emotional
Tragedies, injustice, and reminders of mortality might trigger an unexpectedly emotional response from students who experience emotional overexcitability. As a teacher, it might appear that they are over-dramatic or seeking attention. However, these students simply feel emotions more intensely, whether joy or sadness. This sensitivity could show up as strong compassion, empathy, and care for others. In a word:
- The Intellect
At about 5 pm on Nov 1st, having viewed a YouTube video a levitation and texted a “girl” friend in his room. My son took a tether ball on a chain, that I had asked him to get rid of many times…wrapped it around the clothing bar in his closet stood on a plastic dresser two feet away from the living room where his family was watching a movie and gave into despair.
Despair at what?
Not belonging I imagine. Being different. Why? Because he was different and yet, he was the same as every single one of us. Given to impulsivity, in those moments as the dresser broke beneath his feet and he struggled, I imagine he changed his mind — but for my little boy, it was too late.
The guilt people feel when someone they love takes their life is unimaginable. The decisions they make carry on. Ripples. Grief brings with it inexpressible pain. Anger at the bullying, anger at God for allowing him to be different, anger at me for not knowing.
Jamison was in counseling during this time. He was attending weekly sessions with a licensed therapist. He was meeting with his school counselor. He was asked repeatedly if he was ok.
Why didn’t anyone know?
When he came to school on Halloween wearing a t-shirt he made bearing the words, “Life Hands You Lemons,” – handing out lemons — how do you know the next day he is going to stop living life altogether?
I don’t know the answer.
In the time since Jamison’s death, I’ve read mounds of information on mental illness, on bullying, on giftedness, on sensitivity.
Here is what I do know:
- These are the children that demand our attention.
- They are the kids who make us wonder
- They are the arguers
- The expressive
- The dramatic
- The emotional
- The artists
- They are different
- They question and they don’t understand why the world works the way it does and….because we don’t have the answers…
We ignore the questions.
Because like loaded sponges dripping from the weight of pulling in every bit of stimulus around, these people make us work:
They DEMAND more
These are the world-changers and we’re losing them…WHY? There are many, many reasons, I can’t claim to know. But what I do know I give to you. We are losing these students and people because:
- We lack love.
- We lack tolerance.
- We lack time.
- We lack acceptance.
We lose them because we TELL them to live in community but model independence and isolation. We exchange and celebrate personal achievement over the health of the whole. Just look at the division in our country today.
We tell them in 4th grade, “It’s time to grow up. “Work out your problems with your peers. Stop tattling.” We turn them away, then wonder we why they won’t, 24 months later they don’t or won’t share their deepest emotional hurts and embarrassments with us.
Our model is broken.
If I could change the entire structure of the educational system in America, I would. If it were worth the battle to start legislation if I thought laws would change these facts. I would dedicate the rest of my life to doing so. The reality is that legislation and administration can only do so much.
The basis of being for every single human reading this is this: we want to know and be known, we want acceptance, we want to belong.
Acceptance • Love • Value
These are taught through action, through modeling, through asking, through being involved. They are learned by seeing that adults care more about being present and knowing the child, by stressing their strengths and accepting their weaknesses, than making sure they line up and fit in a box. They are relayed by caring MORE about the person; the individual inside the body RATHER THAN forcing the body and mind to conform to something we can understand…into something we can manage, and ultimately control.
It’s not just needed by our young people, it’s what we as Americans need to do to continue existing. If we don’t change. If we don’t stop looking for the right answer and accept people as they are despite their differences. If we don’t allow and promote people’s strengths. If we don’t STOP reach out a hand we will all lose – and sooner than we might imagine.
Nov 3rd, 9:51pm
I would have written down
Every funny thing you said
Closed them in a book
Wrapped it in red thread
Bound you to my heart
Shut my ears to the noise
Paid attention instead
I wish I could change the world. I wish I could somehow be God. I wish I could wipe away my own tears, the tears of my son, they tears of Hailey’s family, Seth’s family, the tears recently shed at Freeman HS, the tears of these ripped pieces in the fabric of our society. I wish…
Instead, I will have to settle for the small message I do carry and hope that I reach six, who reach six, who reach six. In my lifetime, I would settle for this community of 16 square miles called Lakeland, learn and begin to show the world what LOVE really looks like.
It’s not just the right thing to do, it can be our only response:
Absolute truth and beautiful brutal honesty in your words. I hope you were heard. I for one am listening and as a teacher, I have met and interacted with kids who are like Jameson. I will carry your son’s story close to my heart and remember your words when I’m with exceptional kids.
Thank you for this story. You have reached 6. I am sure you have touched many lives and changed others as well. You have touched my life on so many levels. Thank you Daun for sharing your life, your story, and your son. It means the world to me. Thank you so much.
This is such a great way to express the paradox these kids face every day. I sit crying reading this story, not only for your loss, but my own worries for our kids, and memories of my own feelings during childhood. Thank you for sharing your story and I hope the 6 I reach will carry forward the message, and 6 more, and 6 more….
He was an exceptional human being. Thank you for this Daun. You are so loved and I am so thankful for Jameson’s life, and for these words you bravely speak.
My Dear Daun,
How much we want to touch the world of those who are hurting searching for a voice, for someone to hear. And as you so elegantly said, bussiness surrounds crowding us into corners of unresponsiveness. I am sorry for your loss and celebrating your voice. I prayed for you all during this time but feel that it was inadequate. Please know that I have heard your voice in this. Your response has informed me, your words have educated me, your heart has inspired me. Keep using your voice!
Teresa Plumb Homer
Thank you so much for sharing this. My deep condolences on your loss. I was struck by what you said about the education system. Yes, “The reality is that legislation and administration can only do so much,” and at the same time, I have long believed that if kindness and social skills were tested and measured alongside reading and math, then yes, schools would put sustained time into teaching SEL. The research on the effect of SEL is very heartening. We used to give marks on report cards for citizenship. It was seen as at the school’s job to teach values like honesty, integrity, consideration. I would like to see kids marked on items like, “reaches out to others and is inclusive.” I would like teachers at parent-teacher conferences to give low scores on those items as much attention as low scores on “solves problems using measurement.”
Elizabeth, thank you so much for your comment. I completely agree. There’s a fantastic resource that addresses how they are implementing this in Ireland. Here’s the link. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find it on the web anywhere at no charge but it can be rented on iTunes also.
I would love to hear more of your ideas. Thank you for being involved.