by Ben Koch
Dear Parents: You aren’t alone.
Among families with learning disabilities, gifted needs, or other special needs, it seems nearly everyone has had a no-good, very bad year. Sometimes more than one year.
Perhaps your child was excluded by peers, or perhaps he or she just had trouble making friends. Perhaps he or she has a disability, and at the time, no one knew. Perhaps symptoms were misinterpreted as bad behavior, and everyone was frustrated. Perhaps there was unkind treatment by other children, or, though rare, by an educator. If your child is identified as gifted, especially in a special population, perhaps his characteristics and needs were misinterpreted and/or not considered in his/her work level. Perhaps her degree of need was discovered because of underachievement, perfectionism, anxiety, or negative behavior. Perhaps your child has a diagnosis that isn’t well understood, or you discover disagreement between experts. Perhaps it’s difficult for educators and specialists to keep up with changing research on your child’s diagnosis.
Perhaps your voice, as a parent, was not heard.
A bad school year is hard on a child’s entire family. Unlike the routine bumps in the book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, a hard school year can have a lasting impact on a child, and sometimes, on parents. From my experience connecting with parents and assisting with parent workshops, below are some parent-to-parent thoughts to consider.
Don’t Be Afraid to Get Professional Help
If a child shows signs of possible depression or anxiety, do not hesitate to get help. If a child’s arm looks broken, parents get X-rays; if a child seems to have a mental health need, please talk to a professional. Though parents worry about misdiagnosis, and in the case of gifted children, intensity can be mistaken for other diagnoses – if your child’s happiness and quality of life are decreasing, or if you see other warning signs of depression, don’t wait. In teens, professionals say that signs can be easy to miss, and it’s a good idea in general to learn about the social and emotional wellness of children and teens.
If parents experience anxiety themselves, they should not be embarrassed to get help, either. Dealing with a child’s special needs and school advocacy are incredibly stressful experiences for anyone. Some counselors and psychologists have experience in advising and counseling parents of children with special needs, including gifted needs. For gifted needs, Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, Hoagies Gifted Education Page, and SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) each maintains a list of mental health professionals. Additional counselors and psychologists with expertise in your family’s specific challenges may be available in your area.
Connect With Other Parents… and Children
Numerous online and local groups support families with all types of special needs and learning differences. While reaching out can be frightening, other parents can be wonderful sources of tips and resources targeted to your child’s specific challenges and interests. Some online communities offer closed discussion groups for increased privacy, and many communities offer local support groups for a variety of special needs.
Your child, too, may benefit from connecting with others who share his or her experiences. Consider checking locally for museum or movie theater events for special needs, such as “sensory-friendly” days or screenings. For children with high-ability needs, local enrichment courses may offer a chance to meet intellectual peers and explore their areas of passion (one mission of the teachers who founded NuMinds Enrichment and this blog).
Prepare for Positive Advocacy
Beware of using the word “fight” in connection with school needs! Solutions to school challenges require listening, learning, positive communication, and collaboration. Learn what you can about your child’s diagnosis and specific needs, and seek additional evaluations if you feel they are warranted. Share your child’s story with future teachers, and search for advice about positive advocacy. If you find yourself facing a roadblock, the book Getting to Yes offers negotiation guidance that prioritizes preserving relationships (critical in schools) and may help in addressing everyone’s concerns.
Make Friends With and Support Teachers
A wise teacher friend once said: “remember, nobody goes into teaching for the fabulous pay.” Educators have stressful jobs, and bad years can result from miscommunication or factors outside their knowledge or control. The vast majority of educators work long, hard hours, love children, and dedicate their lives to doing the best they can to teach every single student in their classes. They worry about their students at night and on weekends, and for years after their students leave their classes. Once a parent makes a connection with even one teacher who truly understands their child, that teacher can be one of the most important advocates in a child’s education. Learn about the challenges facing teachers, work to help them, and let them know how much you appreciate their care for your child.
Consider Educational Options
Public schools should (and for children with disabilities, must by law) provide access to a free, appropriate public education. In some cases, however, parents may find another option to be best in the short or long term for their specific child. While public schools should provide appropriate level learning and follow evidence-based practices for gifted children, not all states have gifted education laws. Parents considering homeschooling for gifted and twice-exceptional reasons can check out the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum for an online community and other great resources. (GHF resources can be helpful for anyone with gifted and 2e needs, and the site is not limited to homeschoolers!)
Take Lemons, Make Lemonade
The experiences of parents and children can drive lasting, positive change to help others, and activism can help with both existential stress and situational stress. Consider getting involved with a nonprofit dedicated to your child’s needs. Your child may even wish to help make things better for other children like himself/herself, or may discover a passion for helping people suffering from greater trauma, such as refugees.
Look for a Silver Lining
Though it is little comfort right after a traumatic year, in the long run, difficult years can result in better understanding of a child’s needs. Challenges in school can lead to diagnoses and knowledge about modifications and accommodations that can make future years – including a child’s high school, college, and career experiences – far easier.
A “no-good year” can also provide an opportunity to help children and teens overcome absolute, all-or-nothing thinking. While some memories may seem irredeemable, recalling positive experiences from the same year may help provide perspective. Remember the P.E. teacher who went out of her way to say something positive, or that one classmate who watched out for your child? Even in times of fear and disaster, as Mr. Rogers wisely advised, looking for the helpers can help us maintain hope.
Focus on Joy
You may see it in her face after encouragement from a summer camp counselor, or when she gets a hug from next year’s school or enrichment teacher, who will love her. You may hear it when he sees mountains for the first time, builds a sand castle on the beach, or visits a museum exhibit about his passion. You may decide to create it with a mom-and-me (or dad-and-me) date or with a camping trip. Seeking opportunities to experience joy can help with healing, not only for your child, but for your family.
Hang in there, take care of yourself, and give your child a big hug. We’re all in this together. Kids are resilient, and your child has the best possible advocate in his or her corner: you.
When a child or parent first enters your classroom after a hard year, they may be carrying baggage. Negative experiences at school can be terrifying for both children and parents. In difficult situations, please try to see things from the perspectives of students and their parents. Please seek advice from a school specialist if a situation is confusing, or if it upsets the student or parents. If you find yourself frustrated with a student, please search for causes and solutions rather than blaming the student or dismissing a parent’s concerns. Yes, we all know some parents are easier than others, but they can bring information needed for their children to succeed. Take a deep breath, be patient, try to learn more, and seek help. Remember: each parent trusts you with the most important person in his or her universe, and a single teacher can make the greatest positive difference in the life of a vulnerable child. Please be that teacher.
Thank you for all you do.
Disclaimer: This post is not medical advice. As noted above, please seek professional guidance regarding any mental health or behavioral concerns.
There’s an unspoken truism most of us adults have internalized that goes something like this: “If only I were more organized with my time, more focused on my goals, and more disciplined with my tasks, I’d finally achieve X.” Around New Year’s each year, this guilt-infused mantra is the fuel for many a well-intentioned resolution involving elaborate new systems of organization and task management. In Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, Tim Harford turns this assumption on its head. In his book, Hartford probes people, organizations and events which demonstrate how embracing disorder, uncertainty, and messiness can be the catalyst for amazing achievements and unforeseen breakthroughs.
Although geared toward leaders, innovators, and thinkers in the world-at-large, I found the book full of insights for parents, teachers and edupreneurs as we guide and nurture our students. Here I choose 3 binary tensions highlighted by Harford and connect them directly to issues relevant to our interactions with learners.
We often assume great successes are the result of sustained, laser-like focus on a problem. As Harford points out, however, “distractible brains can also be seen as brains that have an innate tendency to make … useful random leaps” (p 17) which lead to creative or innovative breakthroughs. And there is research to back up a correlation between distractibility and higher creativity. Harford cites a Harvard study in which researchers measured the ability of students to filter out unwanted stimulus. The weak filter students scored higher on all kinds of creative measures (p 17).
What we infer from this study reaffirms my own observations regarding the “6 Gifted Profiles,” as delineated by George Betts and Maureen Niehart (1988). “Type 2” profile students, The Creatives, are often perceived as uncouth, distracted, and associative thinkers with a lower threshold for sustained focus. Could it be they are simply selective consumers, choosing to follow the trail of deep, non-obvious connections being triggered by their learning environment? A Creative’s penchant to process the world holistically makes her more distractible, but indeed makes her predisposed to draw fantastic insights from apparently disparate information. Teachers: have you ever felt you’ve been suckered into a tangent by a Creative student making an elaborate observation, only to find that somehow, it winds right back to the topic, which is now afforded a new level of depth and complexity?
When a group or team needs to accomplish a major task, it makes sense for them to bunker down, remove all infringements of the outside world, and one-pointedly push through, right? Maybe not. Harford highlights the distinction between “bonding social capital” and “bridging social capital.” On a team wired for bonding social capital, you seek to “Minimize disruptions, distractions, obstacles; identify what you have to do; focus your energies on doing it as effectively as possible” (p 39). So what could be missing? As it turns out, the sparks of inspiration that can come from interactions across groups and teams–known as bridging social capital–may be what allow the team to make the leap from good to great. Harford cites examples in the world of collaborative mathematicians and in the video game industry, where “a great computer game is like a great mathematics paper. It requires bridging: the clever combination of disparate ideas” (p 41).
The benefits of sparking exchanges outside of a student’s usual, closed, tight-knit group is one reason why my company, NuMinds Enrichment, designs all our programs as mixed-age learning experiences. I still remember our first summer camp several years ago when I walked into a classroom to find a 1st grader and 8th grader co-presenting on a project. Think the benefits go only one way? Think again. We find the older students are just as likely to benefit from the sparks generated by the “disparate ideas,” genuine curiosity, and the beginner’s mind exhibited by younger students.
When you need a project management certification to keep a grip on a child’s weekly schedule, you know we live in an an era of hyper-managed and overscheduled students. Parents feel compelled to leave nothing to chance, and this desire to control outcomes has crept into the classroom in the form of perfectionism and anxiety.
What if, by not occasionally relinquishing control, we are missing out on surprising creative results and rich, unforeseen experiences? Harford cites numerous extraordinary examples of history-making moments that were the result of moments of improvisation, from MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech to the ground-breaking “Kind of Blue” album by Miles Davis.
But examples need not be extraordinary to be revealing. That very first week of NuMinds summer camp, we had planned an elaborate, musical, technology-infused series of morning assemblies. It was part of our morning “shock and awe” plan to get campers excited for a day of passion-based learning (it’s summer, after all, and they often need a little help). We rolled into the venue the weekend before to get set up, and, major obstacles: no projector, malfunctioning microphone system, and no way to send music through the speakers. Plan B. Wait, there was no plan B! This situation forced us into an improvisational state of mind and, lo and behold, being forced to go low tech and intimate with our morning assemblies ended up defining the spirit of Camp Pursuit. Sure, we’ve got mics and flashy visuals now, but to this day, the “fireside chats,” puppet shows, and acoustic sing-alongs we developed that first week–because a messy situation forced our hand–are integral pieces of the Camp Pursuit experience.
Harford cites three clear benefits of an improvisational approach to managing a project (p 98):
In other words, when compared to meticulous and calculated planning, embracing or even seeking a little messiness will not only drive improvisation but can take less time, cost less, and by its very nature will be more responsive to uncertainties.
But, let’s face it: millions of students in the U.S. and around the world, including refugees whose lives have been torn asunder by world conflicts, don’t have the luxury of worrying about over-planned and scripted lives. For them, improvisation isn’t an experiment, it’s survival. Perhaps there is much we can learn from their resilience about coping with a disordered world.
It’s hard to imagine a “messier” situation than poverty, but we can take heart that even in circumstances like this, curiosity, persistence and incredible improvisation can propel education. If we can appreciate and learn from this Indian school under a freeway, perhaps we can all find ways to improvise heartfelt teaching and learning, even when the promise and principle of our public education system seems under assault. Not to excuse that students or teachers or our very own public schools should ever be asked to perform miracles with lack of resources, funding, and support, but the innovative resilience we develop while continuing the fight for fairness, justice, and equity will only increase our effectiveness as we move closer to those ideals.
Harford highlights many more tensions we can utilize to explore our notions of learning and productivity, including groupthink vs. cognitive diversity, hard vs. soft spaces, the paradox of automation, “neats vs. scruffs,” and organized play vs. informal play. In an era of uncertainty and flux, if we can reconsider our ingrained assumptions and attachments to order, structure and predictability, we may find “messiness” a valuable impulse.
Harford, Tim. Messy: the power of disorder to transform our lives. New York: Riverhead , 2016. Print.
Like many homeschooling parents of gifted kids, I was a reluctant, last-resort homeschooling mom. It was frightening to leave the familiarity of the public school system and disheartening to learn that other schools weren’t a good fit, either. Once the initial shock was over, however, homeschooling became so much more than just the best of the inadequate options I had thought it would be. It was exactly what my child needed to thrive, and we haven’t looked back since.
This does not mean that every day is filled with sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes we fall into ruts, but because of the inherent autonomy of homeschooling, it never has to stay that way. It’s up to me, and sometimes to my child, to fix it.
Our pitfalls sometimes come from smaller issues pertaining to curriculum or our environment, sometimes from larger issues that require professional help, or sometimes from my own personal issues. Homeschoolers of gifted kids know that just because something works now, that doesn’t mean that it will work later. When my son and I fall into curricular ruts, I used to blame it on my choices, and I felt the urge to scrap it and start with something new. While this is best sometimes, I learned from my favorite teacher that working with a student’s learning style and making modifications to the environment and curriculum can go a long way.
My mom is a public school teacher and has spent most of the past 30 years teaching children with autism. She teaches in a centralized structured classroom which has a low student to teacher ratio. In her class, students receive a truly individualized education. Her dedication to her students has always inspired me, and from her experiences, I have learned some teaching gold. Years ago, she was working with a student with autism and intellectual disability. She was certain that his abilities were higher than he had shown, but it was challenging for him to focus on their lessons. During a math lesson, my mom was attempting to get her student to engage with her, but every time she asked him a question, his response was “umbrella.” He was fixated on a golf umbrella that was just outside the classroom.
After this had gone on for a while, my mom went to the hallway, got the huge umbrella, opened it, sat down next to her student so that they were both under the umbrella, and said, “umbrella.” She then repeated the math question and he answered correctly. The rest of the lesson went on like this, under the umbrella, where her student was able to focus. An aide in the classroom took a picture of the two of them and shared it with the student’s mother. For Christmas, my mom received a present from her. It was a coffee mug with the picture of her and her student, working together under the umbrella. On the other side of the mug, a quote from Rita Dunn read, “If the child is not learning the way you are teaching, then you must teach in the way the child learns.”
Having exposure to this style of teaching at an early age helped shaped me into the type of teacher my son needs. There are numerous ways to personalize the curriculum and environment for homeschoolers (some strategies can work for teachers in traditional classrooms, too!). Of course, we can fine-tune these word problems so that we are comparing Rebel Troopers and Imperial Forces instead of bushels of apples and oranges. Sure, let’s get that huge crash pad, and my son can be upside down on it during read-alouds and discussions. We can work on handwriting in other creative ways at another time. Yes, let’s make a classroom filled with action figures and plushies, and my son can “teach” them to show his understanding of a topic instead of taking a test. In our first months of homeschooling, I didn’t understand why my son couldn’t hear the difference between short vowels and long vowels when he was seated next to me, but he could call them out perfectly when he was jumping in the middle of the room. Later, I remembered my mom’s mug, and I knew this is what it meant.
When we are in a rut that goes beyond the scope of these smaller modifications, I take a step back to figure out why my child is struggling. Gifted kids are complex kids. Homeschooling one is not easy, and it may require much research when things aren’t going well.
Only a few months into homeschooling, I knew I needed outside help. My son is 2e, or twice-exceptional: gifted with other special needs. At that point, he had already received an autism and sensory processing disorder diagnosis, but none of the evaluations even touched on the extent of his giftedness. I was struggling to homeschool him because his strengths and weaknesses were extreme. I found an educational diagnostician who had experience with 2e kids. The formal assessments, including IQ and achievement tests, proved to be priceless. This gave me the confidence to do more than modify curriculum. We needed to move up a few levels… but only in some areas. I learned how I could accommodate him in areas of weakness without holding him back in others. It would have taken me many painful months to figure this all out on my own. Another instance when we needed outside help: my son could read before he turned three years old, but as he was progressing into books with more words per page, he would get upset to the point of tears, saying he was too tired to read after a page or so. I noticed other issues, too, but I did not know they were related to his reading until I saw parents in gifted groups discussing visual processing disorder. I recognized many similarities. After several months of research, I decided a formal evaluation was worthwhile, and sure enough, he was able to benefit from vision therapy. We are in the early stages, but only a few weeks into therapy, he is already starting to read independently again… without me asking him to! I believe that the more information you have, the better. Yes, gifted kids are asynchronous, but if my gut is telling me there’s more to it than that, I seek professional help and get answers.
While I know that homeschooling is the best fit for my child, that doesn’t mean that I never feel pangs of guilt, worry, or even sadness when I consider the opportunity costs of the choice. When I start to fall into these emotional ruts, what works for me is to stop – just completely stop – and to remind myself of what I truly value, as well as to be grateful for what we do have, instead of worrying about what we do not have. For instance, if I start to worry about what my child will miss out on by not being part of a public school, I remind myself that for every positive aspect of public school that we gave up, we have gained multiple times more on the other side. So, while it’s true that my child isn’t getting to experience the neighborhood kids’ social bond of shared school spirit, he now has an amazing group of friends he met by hanging out at a science discovery center for hours every week during the school day. Through a gifted homeschool group, he has met friends who he has more in common with, and we have extra time for therapy to support him when he wants help with social challenges. Another example of an emotional rut involves the loss of my career. Sometimes I daydream about the satisfaction I received in my career: working with peers, career advances, continuing education, and the benefits of increased finances – such as travel and cool new “stuff.” These thoughts can be particularly hard to push aside since this is still the norm for most people in my life. When I was making the decision whether to homeschool or not, one concern was that I would miss my career too much and that I would no longer be marketable when I could return. While discussing pros and cons with my brother, he commented, “No one looks back on their life and regrets spending more time with their kids.” This was powerful to me: I second-guess many of my decisions, but I knew, without any doubts, that this statement would be a guiding truth for me. So, while I might not be booking a European vacation anytime soon, I have been given the gift of time, and I can’t think of anything more valuable to me than that.
Homeschooling my 2e child means that many aspects of my life are not remotely similar to many of my friends’ and family’s lives, or to what I had imagined for my own life. We fall into our fair share of ruts, but we don’t have to stay there if we remember to take ownership of this choice and know that we are in control. We must be flexible and creative and know when to ask for help. Most importantly, we must remember to put our energy into what we value most, and to express gratitude for our blessings.
Oh, and don’t forget your umbrella… you never know when you (or your student) might need it. 🙂
Our blog is proud to participate in Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hops! For more tips from other gifted homeschoolers, please visit the February 2017 GHF blog hop.
I am a believer in public school. Growing up, I attended public school from K – 12. During law school, I explored the history of educational inequality in the United States, including segregation, desegregation, the risks of tracking, and inadequate school funding. I believe that each of us has a civic and moral responsibility to support and fund public schools, and that we must actively defend the right of every child to access a free public education. I believe in diversity in education, and in the critical importance of equal educational opportunity for all populations.
As you can imagine, when I had children, I planned for them to attend public school. When my older son entered first grade, however, we faced a situation not uncommon for children identified by psychologists as gifted: without significant adjustments, the curriculum did not fit his development. For him to learn in school, we needed help from our district’s gifted specialists.
When a few family friends learned of his learning levels, some made well-intended comments:
“Public school won’t meet his needs.”
“Public schools have limited resources. They can’t help kids like him.”
While this may be the temporary reality in some cases, and especially in states without gifted education laws, I would argue that these statements are offensive: many parents of children “like him” cannot afford alternatives.
As parents and educators, we must work to shift perspectives.
The decision to pull advanced children from public school is common, particularly in areas with inadequately funded schools. Resigning ourselves to this practice, however, would reveal a terrible bias: if we fail to hold public schools responsible for meeting advanced learning needs, we assume that (a) children from low-income backgrounds cannot be advanced learners, or (b) advanced learners from low-income backgrounds somehow have less right to learn than students with average academic development. Experts know that intellectually advanced children are present in culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse populations. We need increased research to improve methods of identifying giftedness in underrepresented populations, but in the meantime, we can already identify children in families unable to afford alternatives to public school.
If we permit public education to remain underfunded, and if we excuse schools from serving high-ability students, where does this leave gifted children from diverse backgrounds?
For students with any learning difference, flexible strategies and continued monitoring are often needed. Luckily for my children, our state has gifted education laws, an advocacy organization for educators and parents, and state recommendations for serving gifted children in diverse populations. We are lucky to live in a district with dedicated gifted specialists and administrators who work hard to identify and meet gifted needs in all populations. Not all families are so fortunate.
Unfortunately, some education advocates have criticized gifted programs as elitist, unfairly blaming the concept of gifted education for disparities in school quality. While any strategy can be misapplied or misused, research supports the need for gifted education: just as children with learning challenges require different interventions, depending on their difference from the norm, children with extreme, advanced differences need curriculum modifications. As much as we wish it were simpler, schoolwide approaches, in isolation, may not succeed with some learning differences. Students with extreme differences – including the ‘gifted’ – exist at all income levels.
To succeed in our commitment to equity and the needs of all students, education advocates must find common ground. As educators, parents, researchers and lawmakers, we must advocate for improvement in public education as a whole, and we must increase efforts to better identify students with learning differences in diverse populations. At the same time, we have a duty to advocate for programs, professional development training, and interventions needed for students with all types of special needs and differences – including gifted needs.
by Emily VR, written as a guest post for WeAreGifted2, the blog of Joy Lawson Davis, Ed.D. Many thanks to Dr. Davis for permission to repost. Dr. Davis currently serves on the NAGC Board of Directors and is the published author of several chapters and three books, including her most recent book, Gifted Children Around the World: Diverse Needs, Exemplary Practices and Directions for the Future.
This post has been added to the Hoagies Gifted Education Page Blog Hop for March, 2017. The Fissure Blog is proud to participate in blog hops from Hoagies! For additional posts about Educational Options, please click on the below image (credit Pamela S. Ryan).
In June, filmmaker Ken Burns delivered a powerful commencement address at Stanford University. Among other words of advice, he urged graduates to serve their country, to “insist that we support science and the arts,” and to be active in solving challenges facing our nation. After the presidential election, one Stanford graduate wrote Burns to confess regret about her initial negative reaction to his speech, and to ask his advice on moving forward post-election.
Burns told the Washington Post that it took “a while to write her back.” After the election, he said, he felt like “Frodo in Mordor.” (For those not familiar with The Lord of the Rings, in the last half of the trilogy, Frodo and his companion, Sam, struggle through enemy territory on a near-hopeless mission to save Middle Earth.)
In your role in education, have you ever felt like Frodo in Mordor?
Perhaps you are the only educator or parent trying to follow best practices for a specific student, or the only person advocating to save, start, or improve a district program. You may be a teacher, a parent, a school administrator, a lawmaker, or an advocate for public education. You may feel hopeless in your struggle for adequate funding. You may feel terrified as you fight against proposals and budget cuts that could strip away any real chance of a decent education for students in low-income neighborhoods, or for students with certain special needs and learning differences.
How do you cope with seemingly impossible challenges in the field of education?
Burns responded with advice that can help in many situations, regardless of political beliefs or affiliation, whenever we feel overwhelmed and hopeless. He encouraged the writer to seek engagement and to start with “awareness and commitment.” He said: “go forward. Engage. Don’t despair. Find likeminded people — not from your social circle, but everywhere.”
In other words: look for others who feel like Frodo in Mordor, and become Sam.
In Tolkien’s trilogy, Sam is not always treated with respect, including by Frodo. Being Sam is not a glamorous job, and Sam is not praised in any minstrel’s song. Readers don’t often see Sam as the hero of the story – yet more than once, the fate of all Middle Earth rests in his hands.
Sam never seeks glory or recognition, and throughout the tale, he follows his convictions. It is Sam who chooses to trust and befriend Tom Bombadil and Faramir, saving the quest. In their most difficult moments, Frodo and Sam face impossible challenges alone – yet they go forward, and they find unexpected allies. They support one another, and ultimately, they prevail. Sam does what is needed to further the mission. He always helps, he works harder than anyone, he keeps going, and he creates the companionship he and Frodo need to survive. At times, Frodo despairs, but Sam does not give up – and in his loyalty, honesty, creativity, bravery, and determination, Sam discovers that he is stronger than anyone realized.
Not all of us have the resources or connections to be the warrior-king Aragorn – at least, not in every situation, or not yet – but all of us can be Sam, at any time.
At first, you may not see like-minded educators or parents in your neighborhood, in your class, or even in your school district. They exist. Keep looking until you find them. You can collaborate with those who face different challenges but who share your values and ultimate goals. If you search, you may find that reputable organizations are already working to overcome the obstacles you now face. (Please note that if you are unable to move past despair even with support, professionals and organizations such as NAMI are eager to help – and please feel no shame in being one of the 1 in 5 adults who needs mental health support in any given year.)
Children, too, can face isolation, heartbreaking challenges, and anxiety about the future – and as adults, we struggle to help them cope. While professional help or therapy is sometimes needed, some adult coping strategies also work for children. To help existential depression at any age, Psychologist James Webb recommends: “getting involved in causes they believe in is the best remedy to combat feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and questions of life meaning” (Webb, 2013).
Do you know a student who feels alone in her struggles, her worries about the world, her commitment to honesty and truth, or her search for support? Sam Gamgee might be the literary hero he or she needs to meet.
It is not an easy time to be an educator or a parent. In our current post-truth reality, as we fight for science, struggle to find reliable news, and weather new attacks on the public education we desperately need for global survival, we need one another.
Whatever role you play in education, small or large, please continue to engage. Follow the advice of Burns, Webb, and countless others, and do not give up. For the sake of our children, do not become resigned.
When you need help, reach out. You are not alone. We may be in Mordor, but hope is not lost.
We can all be Sam.
Webb, James T. (2013). Searching for meaning: idealism, bright minds, disillusionment and hope. Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.
Stanford University News (2016). Prepared text of the 2016 Stanford Commencement address by Ken Burns. http://news.stanford.edu/2016/06/12/prepared-text-2016-stanford-commencement-address-ken-burns/
“Post-truth.” The Oxford English Dictionary, OED Online. Oxford University Press, Dec. 16, 2016. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/post-truth
Rosenberg, Alyssa (2016). A student asked Ken Burns what to do in Trump’s America. He gave her this advice. The Washington Post, Dec. 15, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2016/12/15/a-student-asked-ken-burns-what-to-do-in-trumps-america-he-gave-her-this-advice/
For an excellent post about discussing climate change with children, please see the EcoScienceGirl blog.
Thank you to Laurie Stein for bringing NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) to the attention of parents and professionals in the DFW area.
Adam Grant’s book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World is a fascinating exploration of the often counter-intuitive principles and practices that drive the world-changers among us. It provides a rich trove of insights for those in business and industry seeking an innovative edge, as well as those in the arts and sciences looking for breakthroughs or pathways toward new paradigms.
As an educator who works with FUTURE world-changers across all industries, I read it with a slightly different filter. I asked myself, “What from this chapter could I tell a teacher at next week’s training or a parent at my next workshop that could help shape tomorrow’s originals?”
In all honesty, my first list was way too long for an infographic. Choosing these 5 concepts feels like a betrayal to the dozen or so I left out, but my hope is they’ll be surprising and impactful enough to prompt you to read it yourself!
Book Review: Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, by Paula Prober, M.Ed. and licensed counselor.
Review by Emily VR
Raising any school-age child inevitably brings back parents’ own school memories – both positive and negative. For children identified with learning differences and special needs, parents may recall having the same diagnoses, or they may discover missed diagnoses in themselves. Either way, parenting a child with differences can raise questions and trigger self-reflection.
When a child is identified as “gifted,” and when parents begin to understand their child’s academic and social-emotional needs, they can experience a variety of conflicting emotions. They may feel curious, apprehensive, skeptical, or excited about their child’s potential. They may feel helpless, frustrated, or even angry when they realize how few states and districts follow research-based best practices in gifted education. When parents look back on their own education and their career choices, or if they recognize gifted characteristics in themselves, they may feel validated – or they may experience sorrow, regret, or loneliness.
For adults and teenagers who want to understand and better cope with unusual sensitivity and ability, Paula Prober’s new book is a welcome guide and companion. Paula is a licensed counselor with a background in education, and she writes a popular blog (Your Rainforest Mind) for gifted and sensitive adults and youth. Her book is a wealth of information, compassion, and helpful advice.
The book is organized by areas of gifted characteristics and challenges, and it provides a road map for the journey of self-discovery traveled by gifted youth and adults. For those of us who love evidence and want to dig deeper, each chapter is grounded in research with quotes and footnotes. Readers may see themselves in many of the counseling stories (used with permission, names changed), and each chapter ends with a section of coping strategies, advice, and resources. Readers who feel uncomfortable with the term “gifted” (as many of us do) can find relief and reassurance in the metaphor of the title; rainforest minds, or RFMs, are used in lieu of “gifted” throughout the text, and can refer to both intellectually and creatively gifted minds with high sensitivity and intensity. Paula explains that though “all ecosystems are beautiful and make valuable contributions to the whole, rain forests are particularly complex: multi-layered, highly sensitive, colorful, intense, creative, fragile, overwhelming, and misunderstood… the rain forest is not a better ecosystem, just more complicated. It also makes an essential contribution to the planet when allowed to be itself, rather than when cut down and turned into something it is not.”
Those familiar with gifted education will find important topics covered in a fresh, new light: perfectionism, multipotentiality, intensity, the need for intellectual peers, existential depression, impostor syndrome, and asynchronous development are included. Yet Paula’s book does not read like a research guide, but rather as a series of warm and personal sessions with a compassionate counselor and mentor. She offers an understanding of both gifted strengths and weaknesses, and she discusses them with empathy, without negative judgment, and with solutions that can improve daily life, increase happiness, and offer hope.
Whether you are starting on the “what is giftedness?” journey, advocating for a gifted child in school, homeschooling your child, or just looking for help in coping with life’s challenges, Paula’s guide gives wisdom and assistance to readers. Not all parents have access to local counselors familiar with the emotional issues faced by their families, but it is comforting to know that Paula and her book are here for parents, and can serve as companions on our parenting journey.
Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth is available through Amazon, and is published by GHF Press, a Division of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum. To learn more about Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, please visit http://giftedhomeschoolers.org/.
p.s. To educators of the gifted: let’s face it, communicating with intense gifted parents can be a challenge, especially if they have strong emotions from past years, aren’t yet familiar with research on gifted children, or lack self-awareness. This book may be a welcome recommendation for them, and it could help improve parent-school communication while improving parents’ quality of life. (If you are new to gifted education, it may help you better understand the emotional needs of your students, as well!) In the meantime, please have patience with gifted parents, and please listen to them. Their insight is often needed for their child’s success, and they have a tough job… as Paula understands.
In one of our courses for parents of gifted students, we spend a session on “the 8 great gripes of gifted kids” as presented by Jim Delisle and Judy Galbraith in their landmark book, When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers. These gripes, garnered straight from the unfiltered mouths of gifted kids themselves, are an excellent heuristic for parents to help children reframe many of the struggles they experience both in and out of school.
During class, however, we discovered that our parent group was also using these student gripes as a launching point, and was cruising along a heartfelt parallel track that could only be called, “The Great Gripes of Gifted Parents.” It’s only fair, we thought – if gifted kids get the opportunity of a therapeutic clearing of the air, then parents of the gifted should, as well!
So, we asked our parents to formally gather their thoughts on their OWN gripes and submit them to us. And because “8 great gripes” has such a nice alliterative ring to it, we condensed and consolidated the list to a total of 8. Just as the student list facilitates deeper, more meaningful discussion than a simple “list of complaints,” we hope that this list might serve as fodder for fruitful discussions and conversations around the unique challenges facing parents of the gifted today.
Tell us: are your top “gripes” represented here? Add your own in the comments!
1 – My Kid Isn’t Challenged in School
Unless your child attends a full-time gifted program or school, this is probably a familiar feeling! Even in the best districts and best schools, parents of the gifted express frustration with “resistance from some teachers and schools… providing for the kids’ academic needs.” They note that “teachers in elementary school (outside of the GT teacher) don’t give gifted kids enough time/work” at their level. Sometimes the academic needs of gifted students can be tricky to pin down, and teachers of large, mixed-ability classes often have their hands full. When gifted students are limited to “very easy” work, however, parents correctly observe that it becomes “difficult to instill any kind of study ethic” in students.
“Too much emphasis on ‘the test’ …leaves the brightest to flounder”
“My child doesn’t need extra work, he/she needs different work”
Initially, this might seem like a problem with a teacher, administrator, or school – but in reality, it’s a problem nationwide. Some states have laws requiring GT programs and opportunities for academic acceleration, and some do not. Myths and misconceptions persist about the abilities, characteristics, needs, and outcomes of students testing in the gifted range. Schools struggle to juggle increasing state demands, large classes, and inadequate funding.
The best solutions address individual student needs, but meeting gifted needs generally requires a basic understanding of research and best practices. If that is missing, parents can sometimes work with schools to raise awareness. Consider joining or starting a parent support group, connect with advocacy organizations in your state/area, and check out some of the reading suggestions below.
2 – Teachers and Other Adults Just Don’t Understand My Kid
Betts and Neihart revolutionized our monochromatic view of giftedness with their research on the 6 gifted profiles in the 1980’s. Far from being a predictable, homogenous group, gifted students represent a diverse panoply of behaviors, personalities, and traits. While it may be an easier proposition for a teacher or other adult to “get” what Betts and Neihart classify as a Successful Type (extrinsically motivated, achievement-focused, pleaser), that Creative Type (divergent thinker, non-conformist) in their classroom, or at their child’s birthday party may come across as abrasive or eccentric. Several parents expressed frustration at being unable to control the perceptions of teachers and other adults have about their gifted child.
“Others may not ‘get’ my kids and get frustrated with them.”
“People view gifted education as elitist/exclusive instead of much needed differentiated instruction.”
“People think it’s super easy having a gifted child because they do so well in school.”
Being able to openly communicate and commiserate with other adults who DO understand your unique challenges is key. Strong parent-based gifted advocacy groups can be crucial. They generate opportunities for student interactions and parent networking throughout the year. Check with local gifted teachers, administrators, or parent organizations about gifted parent organizations in your area. Most are NOT exclusive to families who attend a specific school district and welcome homeschoolers and families from neighboring schools and districts.
3 – Help! It’s Hard Dealing with Gifted Intensity & Behavior at Home
Sensitive. Extreme. Overwhelming. Intense.
Children with certain temperaments and personalities can exhibit these characteristics, but the words take on new meaning when it comes to gifted parenting. Living with Intensity is a well-known book about emotional development in these children, and the title often describes the home life of many families.
“There is no winning an argument with a gifted child… they often make good points which negate your good points and then some.”
“…they are too much like you – overthinking, analytical, self-critical, perfectionistic, overly excitable, sensitive”
Gifted-identified children often exhibit one or more overexcitabilities, or intensities. “Their minds and sometimes mouths don’t turn off even when your mind and ears are exhausted,” notes one parent. “My child is just like me,” laments another. They often struggle with global and existential worries, and can even suffer from existential depression.
Fortunately, there is hope: a growing number of books and articles offer coping tips and techniques for helping children to manage and channel their intensity in positive directions (reading suggestions below). Parent groups and classes can offer emotional support, validation, and advice on coping with specific situations. Simply being aware of the prevalence of gifted intensity can make it more manageable; as one gifted parent noted, “knowledge is power.”
4 – Social Distortion: So Many Awkward Social Situations between My Kid and Other Kids, and Me and Other Parents!
The comments from parents in this gripe covered a wide range of issues related to social situations and communication. Although research has not shown gifted children to be any worse off in social adjustment than average children when in appropriate academic settings, the stereotype of the socially awkward “brainy” kid persists. More important than spouting research numbers, though, are the subjective experiences of students and parents. If gifted students do not have opportunities to interact with like-minded peers who share their passions, talents and abilities, the sense of “feeling different” or even lonely is likely to increase (Rimm, 2008). The solution? Give students the opportunity to interact with intellectual peers and give parents the opportunity to interact and empathize with parents in similar situations (see note on parent groups above).
“My child has no/few friends.”
“I’m embarrassed by my kids lack of normalcy in certain situations like the soccer team.”
Right here on The Fissure last March we published a post called Solutions to Sticky Social Situations which also begins to propose some practical approaches for students to approach different social scenarios successfully.
5 – Asynchronous Development: My Kid is 8 Going on 30!
Asynchronous development is a hallmark of giftedness. The National Association for Gifted Children describe it as “the mismatch between cognitive, emotional, and physical development of gifted individuals” and, in their official definition, highlight that “because asynchrony is so prominent in gifted children, some professionals believe asynchronous development rather than potential or ability, is the defining characteristic of giftedness” (See full NAGC definition).
“Hard to find appropriate reading material or appropriate any material- lack of resources.”
“I expect so much from them because I know their potential, but I forget they’re still just kids with their own developmental and social issues. And they’re not perfect. And they don’t have 42 years of perspective like I do, so it’s hard for them to see how things fit into the big picture.”
“Criteria for starting kindergarten early is more of a system of deterrents than a means of identifying kids who are ready.”
Our primary advice for parents is to nurture those areas of high ability, potential, or passion and remember to scaffold in areas that are not as accelerated. An example might be a 2nd grader excelling at 8th grade Math when given the opportunity to immerse with intellectual peers, but who needs a social buffer to remediate emotional outbursts when the going gets too tough. Remember it’s not always the case that social/emotional is lagging behind intellectual or academic abilities. In fact, research on overexcitabilities clearly shows us how a child can show advanced empathy and emotional processing without the vocabulary (verbal intelligence) to communicate it appropriately.
6 – What’s the Remedy? My Son/Daughter Has Caught Perfectionism!
The spread of Carol Dweck’s ideas on growth vs. fixed mindset over recent years has brought a renewed sense of the importance of focusing on the process of learning, rather than on products. When you see learning on a continuum, as an evolution of skills and knowledge moving toward more and more depth and complexity, there is no “done.” There is no final product to be judged as perfect or imperfect. That’s a growth mindset and shifting to THAT framework, in our opinion, is the best remedy for perfectionism over time.
“The kids get caught up in society’s obsession with quantitative measurement of learning (grades, percentages and GPAs) of their learning rather than qualitative measures.”
Delisle and Galbraith (2002) propose shifting students to “the pursuit of excellence” as an antidote to fixating on perfection. The mantra we’ve developed to remind teachers, parents, and ourselves to make this shift is: “Perfection is a product. Excellence is a PROCESS.”
7 – Struggles Squared: Does Twice-Exceptional Mean Twice the Challenge?
Though it may come as a surprise, children can be identified as gifted and can also have one or more disabilities. Sometimes a child’s abilities can mask a disability, making it difficult to diagnose.
“My kid’s disability can’t get diagnosed by the school system because he’s so dang smart he appears average.”
Sometimes an undiagnosed disability can impact testing, and can delay identification of giftedness. Gifted children with disabilities have two (or more) areas of difference and needs – which is why they’re called “twice-exceptional,” or 2e, for short.
In the best scenario for 2e students, both their gifted abilities and their disabilities are identified and supported. Too much focus on a child’s areas of weakness can have a negative impact on self-esteem: for this reason, experts recommend focusing first on a child’s areas of strength (appropriate challenge), then supporting areas of weakness. Unfortunately, these students can be tricky to diagnose and help! Even once needs are identified, helping 2e students can feel overwhelming for both parents and educators. Parent education, as well as support from other 2e parents, can help enormously. To learn more, check out the articles available through the nonprofit SENG (Supporting the Needs of the Gifted), the 2e Newsletter, and some of the sources below.
8 – Time Keeps on Slipping… The School Day is So Inefficient for my Kid’s Needs
Gifted children often learn more rapidly than their age-peers – which can make the school day frustrating for both students and parents.
“The day is too long and inefficient — not enough learning/hour.”
“Too much sitting, and not enough play breaks… I think all of the kids – gifted or not – would benefit from a few short recesses.”
Educators: make sure to communicate with parents about the ways your school accommodates rapid learners! Sometimes parents may be unaware of curriculum modifications providing depth and higher-level thinking opportunities for gifted learners. Some gifted students may benefit from a form of acceleration, and some can benefit from the pursuit of passion projects during extra school time.
Parents: while you are engaged in positive advocacy for your child at school, in the meantime, to help maintain or recover motivation, you can provide enrichment opportunities outside of school. Enrichment can take the form of after-school or weekend classes and events, online courses (formal or informal), school clubs, summer camps, mentorships in areas of interest, museums and travel, or just visits to the library… the possibilities are almost endless. Current research supports increased physical activity during the school day, so the tide may be turning in favor of more recess and opportunities for movement.
Unfortunately, as you can see, there aren’t many quick fixes to gifted parenting challenges. Fortunately, however, there are many other parents (and educators!) who care deeply about these children. If you have difficulty connecting locally, it is easier than ever to find resources online – as you’ve done by reading this post! If you have found it helpful, we invite you to follow our blog, to find us on Facebook, and to join a growing community of parents and educators who want to make a difference in education.
Remember – you are not alone. Raising a gifted or twice-exceptional child may be one of the greatest challenges you’ve experienced, but it will also be one of the most rewarding. Remember to celebrate and to enjoy the journey.
Nature, Needs, and Parenting the Gifted
Delisle, J. and Galbraith, J. (2002). When gifted kids don’t have all the answers: how to meet their social and emotional needs. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.
Daniels, S. and Piechowski, M. M., Eds. (2009). Living with intensity. Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.
Rimm, S. (2008). Parenting gifted children. In Karnes, F. A. and Stephens, K. R., Eds., Achieving excellence: educating the gifted and talented. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Webb, J. T., Gore, J. L., Amend, E. R., and DeVries, A. R. (2007). A parent’s guide to gifted children. Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.
Webb, J. T. (2013). Searching for meaning: idealism, bright minds, disillusionment and hope. Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.
Whitney, C.S. and Hirsch, G. (2007). A love for learning: motivation and the gifted child. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.
Advocacy and Additional Needs
Assouline, S. G., Colangelo, N., VanTassel-Baska, J., and Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (2015). A nation empowered: evidence trumps the excuses holding back America’s brightest students. Iowa City: Belin-Blank Center, University of Iowa.
Castellano, J. A. and Frasier, A. D., Eds. (2011). Special populations in gifted education: understanding our most able students from diverse backgrounds. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
Delisle, J. R. (2014). Dumbing down America: the war on our nation’s brightest young minds (and what we can do to fight back). Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
Webb, J. T., Amend, E. R., Webb, N. E., Goerss, J., Beljan, P., & Olenchak, F. R. (2005). Misdiagnosis and dual diagnoses of gifted children and adults. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.
Hoagies Gifted Education Page – the website for everything gifted
Gifted Homeschoolers Forum – a wonderful resource for meeting all gifted needs
All men have a denial gene when it comes to aging and their ability to play sports. It’s a complex chromosome that activates somewhere in a man’s late 20s and then takes full control of the prefrontal medial cortex by his late 30s. You can observe this phenomenon every weekend, as men with knee braces, back supports, and talcum-powdered loins take to the field or court to “put the smack down” (a stagnated phrase left over from a time when the man’s physical prowess allowed him the mobility of said smack).
I have this gene. That’s why, this summer, I signed up for mixed-aged martial arts at the Lone Eagle Fighting Arts dojo. Here I am, with my entry-level white belt, surrounded by a group of kids who are all two feet shorter and at least two belt degrees higher than me. Fortunately, there were other adults who looked just as awkward as me, and we all lumbered through the steps together.
This is mixed age. This is community. This is what your gifted child needs–a group of like-minded individuals brought together based on interest and ability.
It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth lesson that I lost sight of the age gap. Perhaps my denial gene kicked in, but there I am kicking a practice dummy, giving both my daughters high fives, and taking advice from a 12-year-old girl with a green hair band that matches her karate belt. This is mixed age. This is community. This is what your gifted child needs—a group of like-minded individuals brought together based on interest and ability.
In 1993, Miraca Gross published her study where she looked at the social isolation of gifted children, concluding that when gifted children were accelerated to be with intellectual peers, the isolation disappears and the students are able to form warm and supportive relationships with older classmates. As adults, we have all experienced this phenomenon. For example, colleges do not make your age a prerequisite for attending class. I know this first-hand because I’m in the same program as Noel Jett, the eighteen-year-old doctoral candidate at the University of North Texas (DeLeon, 2015). Why then, to quote Sir Ken Robinson, is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are…their ‘date of manufacture?’” (2010).
And Sir Ken wasn’t simply being tongue-and-check; the very same study from Gross (1993) has some chilling evidence: “In almost every case, the parents of [intellectually gifted] children retained in the regular classroom with age peers, report that their student’s drive to achieve, the delight in intellectual exploration, and the joyful seeking after new knowledge, which characterized their children in the early years, seriously diminished or disappeared completely” (pg 8).
Whether it’s at the dojo or school, you need to find ways to get your intellectually gifted child with like-minded peers. In the school context, this takes the form of subject acceleration (where the subject matter is streamlined) and grade acceleration (where Timmy completely skips 3rd grade).
Perhaps the same denial gene that tells me to high kick with no regard for tomorrow’s aching muscle is also responsible for perpetuating an inadequate system in the face of research and reason.
Be warned, all ye’ brave parents, while acceleration is well-researched as an effective intervention for precocious youth, you generally won’t win any friends at your school. Other parents will misconstrue your advocacy as elitism; administrators will baulk at paperwork and adjustments to the master schedule; and the teacher, who is tasked with challenging every student, will take personal offense to being told that her class simply isn’t challenging your son or daughter. Perhaps the same denial gene that tells me to high kick with no regard for tomorrow’s aching muscle is also responsible for perpetuating an inadequate system in the face of research and reason. “What? He doesn’t need to advance grade levels. He’ll be fine after he ‘levels out’.”
After you’ve come to terms with these obstacles and have still mustered up the courage to move forward, start by learning the vocabulary and approach. One resource is this publication out of NSW; it’s straightforward and helpful. http://www.curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/policies/gats/assets/pdf/polimp.pdf
Quick side note: I would love to know the experience and suggested resources of my readers who have attempted (successfully or not) to advocate for acceleration. Your stories help me to build a trove of anecdotes when I work with schools.
The take away is that there are ways to find like-minded peers inside and outside of the classroom. I joined a mixed-aged martial arts class because of my over-active denial gene; however, I have become invested in the process. When I’m there, I’m surrounded by other students who are training with equal gusto, regardless of their age. Imagine some bizzaro world where every 40-year-old in the neighborhood is required by law to show up to karate at 7pm. I’m not saying that I’d be the best, but I guarantee I would be one of the few who are eager to learn the sport. This is your kid in class. She’s looking around and wondering why the others don’t want to do more math problems or read for fun. It’s up to you to seek out and advocate for ways where your child can be surrounded by like-minded peers and community.
DeLeon, J. (2015, June 12). Studying gifted young people. The North Texan. Retreived from http://northtexan.unt.edu/node/5704
Gross, M.U.M (1993). Exceptionally gifted children. (Print) London: Routledge.
Gross, M.U.M. (2000). Exceptionally and profoundly gifted students: An Underserved population. Understanding our Gifted. Winter 2000.
Robinson, K. (2010). Changing education paradigms. Video. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms
Justin is a teacher, gifted specialist, curriculum writer, and fledging practitioner of karate. He is best known for his creation of mixed-age programs and professional development in the field of gifted education. You can find learn more about him here.