We Tried Normal — Twice Exceptional (2e) Family Stories
Dr. Melanie Hayes

Ritualizing Mental Suffering in Our Schools

I am encouraged by how clearly you are able to articulate the mental anguish of 2e parents and children.

I have found the anguish of which you speak is endemic to ALL children. The difference between children who suffer unmanageable anxiety in school and those who can reasonably manage in school, based on my 35 years of observing as a childcare giver, parent, and teacher, is this. The children who survive general ed. are able to adapt to and cope with the mental assaults they suffer every school day.

The mental assaults are no worse or better for any population of students. Some students have brains plastic enough to adapt to them.

ALL children are mentally assaulted because our psychological theories of personality, behavior, and emotions are non-evidenced based, inaccurate, and biologically disastrous.

The job of each individual brain, regardless of its strengths and deficits, has one main continuous job to do. Each brain constantly and continuously in a never ending cycle collects information, interprets it, and makes predictions for what to do next based upon its interpretations. Any problems a child has must have a link to this process.

Instead of catering our teaching methods to the interpretation/prediction cycle, we focus our methods on behavior management. Behaviors are involuntary responses to what and how the brain is interpreting and predicting at any given moment. Behaviors are private, personal, and highly protected by the brain. Hyper focusing on student behaviors is destabilizing and someday will be seen as a violation of human rights.

We treat anxiety as if it strikes the unlucky ‘overly anxious’ brands of human children. But the brain goes into fight or flight every time it cannot accurately predict what to do next, when it perceives a prediction violation, or it perceives wrongness of any kind. The brain has a hair trigger response to any potential wrongness it perceives in any part of its own unique interpretation/prediction processes.

Not getting how hair trigger the brain is and how quickly and often it cues for fight or flight when it perceives wrongness or confusion, I am convinced, is the reason 1 in 4 to 5 children and adults suffer mental illness each year.

The exceptional population shows their distress in the moment. It takes years, sometimes decades, for mental distress to show up in the rest of the population.

My premise is we are getting things wrong for all kids and we need to adopt a biologically accurate theory of the brain for developing brain healthy teaching methods. The starting point of this theory would be each brain interprets information and forms predictions for what to do next in ways it is cognitively and physically able to interpret and then manage that information.

If we could start with this premise, we could create functional teaching methods instead of ritualizing mental suffering in our classrooms. We could stop revolving our classroom management techniques around student behaviors and start revolving them around student information management capacities. The brain is an information manager, not a behavioral choice maker.