By Raina Hanna
OLIVE BRANCH, Ms. (AP) – When 8-year-old Brennan Haynes won first place in the lower grades physics division of the regional Mississippi Science and Engineering Fair, his teachers at Overpark Elementary in Olive Branch weren’t surprised.
The second-grader’s study of paper airplanes demonstrated an understanding of physics far above his grade level.
“What did surprise me was how well he presented his project to the judges,” said gifted education teacher Allison Hopkins.
Brennan is what DeSoto County Schools often refers to as “twice exceptional.” He has Asperger’s syndrome, which qualifies him for special educational considerations, and he qualifies for the gifted program based on an IQ score in the 90th percentile or above.
“A child with Asperger’s really doesn’t like to talk or socialize. So, it was really a big deal for him to sit for a long period of time, wait his turn and then get up in front of judges and explain his process and results,” Hopkins said.
Brennan presented his science fair project several times, first winning the second-grade contest at his school and thereby qualifying for the regional competition.
“I wanted to see what happens when paper planes of different designs fly, which one would go the farthest. My hypothesis was that the ‘Astro Tube’ would go the farthest. It has one very small wing but when it spins it acts as two wings,” Brennan said.
But it was the Classic Dart plane that traveled the greatest distance in all three rounds of testing 10 plane designs.
“I should have thought that. The Classic Dart was the most aerodynamic. The results for each plane were really close (consistent) each time I threw them. But I had my dad throw them too just to double check,” he said.
Brennan’s dad’s results, however, weren’t included in the project.
Bryant and Melissa Haynes have two children, Brennan and his fraternal twin Cian. According to their mother, the boys could not be more different socially. Cian shows no signs of autism, is very outgoing and easily makes friends.
“Brennan was diagnosed (with Asperger’s) the spring of the boys’ kindergarten year. There were signs – persisting lack of eye contact, blurting and fixations on subjects,” Melissa said.
Every child with Asperger’s is different and the school enacts plans tailored to the specific child, she said. To help Brennan, the school provides social skills therapy once a week and a specific place in his classroom where he can sit if he gets overwhelmed.
He also has scheduled break periods three times a week besides leaving his regular classroom for Spotlight, the gifted program.
Michelle Kinggard, who co-teaches Spotlight with Hopkins, said in general “twice exceptional” children really thrive in the Spotlight environment. This has been especially true for Brennan.
“He used to have to take breaks during Spotlight, but he doesn’t anymore. He still takes breaks in his regular classroom because it’s hard for him to sit still for that long. In Spotlight, we move around a lot more and there are different areas of the classroom for him to sit in,” Kinggard said.
Brennan is a straight A student. His mother said he especially likes projects because he loves the creative process. Besides the science fair win, Brennan won the second-grade level of this year’s school reading fair.
This was not only Brennan’s first science fair but the first for Overpark Elementary. Eleven students from the school moved on to the regional competition and presented their projects at the University of Mississippi in March.
Brennan was the only Overpark student to win a regional award. The regional competition is the highest in the state of Mississippi for the Brennan’s age group.