There is one thing that the applicants to Just Right Academy have in common: they are intense children. Life with them can be like living on a roller coaster—exhilarating, stomach-churning, excruciating, inspiring, troubling, dramatic, exhausting, tumultuous—but never boring. These kids are children who often have sensory issues because they either need intense sensory stimulation or find that stimulation overwhelming. They might be loud and active, or quietly engrossed in a project for hours, unable to transition to the next activity without a meltdown. They don’t have interests or hobbies, they have passions, often serial passions, burning through a subject until a new one presents itself. They can be wildly happy or raging and angry. They often want things done their way. They aren’t very flexible and there is little margin for error. Parenting such a child is an exhausting venture.
Schools are not set up for intense children. In classrooms, children need to sit quietly and complete their work. At recess, they need to play nicely. Rules need to be followed. Tests must be given. It is exhausting work being an intense child, and when he returns home after school, there is homework to do. If he has managed to keep it together during the day, this is when the fireworks begin. Intense children cannot adapt to most school situations, which is why so many parents end up homeschooling them.
Intense children are our specialty. We believe these kids can go on to do great things if their educational environment can adapt to them. This doesn’t mean they can run around wild, doing their own thing. What it does mean is that they are accepted for who they are. We know they need a much higher level of positive reinforcement, even for mundane things, because they will seek out negative attention rather than have none at all. It means that there is structure and predictability so they know what to expect. It means they get to move and play and learn in the way they learn best. There must be clear boundaries and a limited number of choices. And they must be taught balance, whether it’s destressing to music or yoga or learning how to control anger.
Intense children are who they are and cannot be successfully changed into a different kind of person. They shouldn’t be stifled, but they can and should be channeled. And I, for one, am looking forward to the challenge.