The Catch-22 of Gifted Underachievement

by Emily VR

Imagine you’re a school counselor, and you have parents sitting in your office.  They say their child isn’t being challenged in school.   They ask you to arrange higher level differentiation, enrichment, or subject acceleration.

At home, they say, the child shows ability far above her grade level.  Prior testing identified her for gifted services.  You agree to investigate options, and you speak to the child’s teacher… who shows you the child’s work.  It’s full of careless errors, some of it is incomplete, and the child’s grades have dropped this year.  In the teacher’s opinion, the child should not try challenging work until she gets her act together.  In the past, the child produced above-level work; now, she daydreams, distracts classmates, and occasionally, even corrects the teacher.  The teacher agrees the child is bright, but feels the child should work harder on behavior and grade-level work.

What do you do?

If you haven’t received training in gifted education, the teacher’s perspective might make perfect sense.

If you’re familiar with the characteristics and outcomes of gifted students, the situation may ring a warning bell.  You see a student who might qualify as gifted, who has likely lost motivation, and who, if the situation continues, could be considered at-risk for a negative academic outcome.  You want to help, but you face a problem:  now that the student is underachieving, she is no longer producing work which allows easy assessment of content mastery.  You don’t know what material she already knows, and you don’t have classroom evidence showing that a higher level placement is likely to be successful.

This is the catch-22 of gifted underachievers.

A “catch-22” is defined as “a dilemma from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.”  The term was introduced by Joseph Heller’s World War II novel of the same title: in the book, the main character, Yossarian, desperately wants to stop flying bombardier missions.  He discovers that under a fictional military policy, a bombardier can be grounded for being “crazy” – but the bombardier must first request to be grounded, and since the desire to avoid death during missions indicates sanity, the request can never be granted (Heller, 1955).

Students suffering from a loss of motivation may find themselves trapped by policies which require them to excel before they can be challenged, though challenging work may be necessary to motivate them to excel.  Educators bound by state testing requirements can feel equally helpless.  School factors have been studied as a cause of underachievement in gifted children (Webb, 2007), in children assessed as highly to profoundly gifted (Gross, 2000), in creative-type gifted children (Betts & Niehart, 1988), and in twice-exceptional children (gifted with a disability).   Insufficient challenge in the classroom can lead to problem behaviors in gifted students (Webb, 2005).  Even when a child has been identified with gifted needs, our counselor is still faced with schoolwork which does not reveal the mastery needed to skip material and immediately tackle higher level content.

All is not hopeless:  with training and/or aid from a gifted specialist, underachieving gifted students can get help.  How?

1)  Look for other forms of achievement.

If a child is believed to need acceleration, information other than grades may help in decisions.  While students are considered better candidates for a grade skip if they are “already motivated to perform well in school,” according to the manual for the Iowa Acceleration Scale, “[t]eam members responsible for making an acceleration decision for a student must take into account not only how motivated the student is at school, but also how motivated that student is in other learning situations.  Parents or guardians are good sources of information about the learning activities that their children have been involved with outside of school” (Assouline et al., 2009).  A gifted child who is currently underperforming may still show higher subject level needs through an achievement test, such as the WIAT.  Tests used for credit by examination can also be useful in determining readiness for full-grade or subject acceleration.  Scores indicating readiness to accelerate may range from 80% to 90%, depending on state or local rules.

2)  Try other interventions.

When acceleration is not a current option, other interventions may help gifted students.  Unit pre-testing and curriculum compacting can be implemented without skipping grades (Reis & Renzulli, 2005).  These strategies allow a student to pursue either higher-level work or projects of interest instead of grade-level work; requiring students to complete grade-level work first is rarely successful (extra work is unlikely to motivate).  Successful strategies may differ depending on a gifted student’s personality and strengths.

Training or assistance from a specialist may be necessary to provide teachers with a nuanced understanding of challenges faced by gifted students, and to help implement in-classroom solutions.

3)  Collect objective data; seek expert advice.

To reach the best possible solutions during negotiations, the authors of the bestselling book Getting to Yes recommend using objective criteria (Fisher and Ury, 1991).  Information such as testing reports and work samples in a child’s areas of strength or interest, when considered with research on gifted learners, may help facilitate next steps.  If a specialist, teacher, or administrator has training in gifted education, he or she may be able to assist with problem-solving.

4)  Practice listening and empathy.

School challenges are frustrating for parents, educators, and the students themselves.  Parents and educators may find common ground by seeking to understand the situation from other perspectives.  Fisher and Ury recommend that negotiators “focus on interests, not positions.”  If parents and educators can share and listen to the concerns behind others’ positions, better communication can facilitate better problem solving.

5)  Learn about gifted motivation.

According to A Love for Learning, a number of factors can impact motivation, including a lack of school challenge (the “turn-off effect”), learning disabilities, and physical, emotional, or social factors (Whitney & Hirsch, 2007).  A child’s social or classroom environment, perfectionism and fear, asynchronous development, and rapport with his/her teacher can all impact the desire to achieve.

6)  Don’t try to oversimplify.

There’s a reason educators pursue graduate degrees specializing in gifted education!  Like other special needs, gifted needs can be complex.  A student may need a dedicated, open-minded team of educators and parents to problem-solve and find a successful solution.

In some cases, parents and educators may need to dig even deeper.  Creative-type gifted learners often have strong interests outside school, and these can sometimes be brought into the classroom.  Underachievement is not uncommon in students evaluated as exceptionally to profoundly gifted, and acceleration is cited as reversing underachievement in this population (Gross, 2000).  Undiagnosed learning or attention disorders can also cause school difficulties: a gifted child with another special need is known as twice-exceptional, or 2e (Webb et al., 2005).   Further complicating matters, some typical gifted characteristics look like symptoms of other conditions, creating a possible increased risk of misdiagnosis.  When evaluating a child for possible disabilities, parents may wish to seek a practitioner familiar with research on children identified as gifted (Webb et al., 2007).

7)  Don’t write off public school.

In some situations, especially in states without gifted education laws, parents may be forced to consider alternatives to public school.  A number of states have gifted education requirements and laws permitting acceleration, however, for good reason:  as with students with other special needs, gifted children can suffer harm if adjustments are not made for extreme learning differences.  Students with gifted needs exist in all populations, and not all families of gifted children can afford other alternatives.  Many public schools do work hard to meet the learning difference needs of all students.  In some states, gifted children qualify for an IEP (Individualized Education Program), just as children served by Special Education.

8)  Don’t give up on a student.

If a single approach worked in every situation, fewer books would be published in the field!  Fortunately, in addition to learning about differentiation, enrichment, and independent projects, educators can access research on twenty types of gifted interventions through A Nation Deceived and A Nation Empowered, available through the Belin-Blank Center at the University of Iowa.

Contrary to myth, many gifted children will not be fine on their own (NAGC).  According to the research of George Betts and Maureen Neihart, gifted students with certain problem behaviors “may be ‘at risk’ as eventual dropouts for drug addiction or delinquent behavior if appropriate interventions are not made by junior high” (Betts & Neihart, 1988).  Betts and Neihart offer specific recommendations for challenging/creative and “at-risk” students.  To prevent gifted dropouts, researchers have noted the importance of improving student-teacher relationships, as well as students’ attitudes toward school and teachers; one researcher found that fewer students drop out when their teacher is “flexible, positive and creative” (Renzulli & Park, 2002).

 

Unfortunately, there is no magic motivation wand.  Finding solutions may take some teamwork – but both research and personal stories show it can happen.  Returning to our school counselor:  if she consults the school’s gifted specialist, has attended gifted training, or investigates material provided by parents, she is less likely to miss potentially critical information.  Prepared now with a more complete picture, the child’s team can explore to find causes, to make a plan, and to inspire the child.

Are there strategies you’ve found successful with your students or your child?  Please share your comments below!  We would love to hear them.

 

We are proud this post is part of the Other Achievement Blog Hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

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Blog Hop graphic by Pamela S Ryan – click above for more Blog Hop posts!

Sources and Further Reading

Assouline, S., Colangelo, N., Lupkowski-Shoplik, A., Lipscomb, J., and Forstadt., L.  The Iowa Acceleration Scale: A Guide for Whole-Grade Acceleration K-8.  Manual.  Scottsdale: Great Potential Press, 2009.

Betts, G. and Neihart, M.  Profiles of the Gifted and Talented.  Davidson Institute for Talent Development. Reprinted from Gifted Child Quarterly, National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) 1988.  Web.  Jan. 2016. http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10114.aspx

Delisle, J. R.  Parenting Gifted Kids: Tips for Raising Happy and Successful Children.  Waco:  Prufrock Press, 2006.

Fisher, R. and Ury, W.  Getting to Yes.  New York: Penguin Group, 2011.

Gross, M. U. M.  Exceptionally and Profoundly Gifted Students:  An Underserved Population (section on “Reversing Underachievement”).  Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page; originally published in Understanding Our Gifted, Winter 2000.  Web.  Jan. 2016.  http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/underserved.htm

National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC).  Gifted by State.  Web.  Jan. 2016.  https://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/gifted-state

National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC).  Myths about Gifted Children.  Web.  Jan. 2016.  https://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/myths-about-gifted-students

Reis, S. M. and Renzulli, J. S.  Curriculum Compacting: An Easy Start to Differentiating for the High-Ability Learner.  Waco: Prufrock Press, 2005.

Renzulli, J.S. and Park, S.  Giftedness and High School Dropouts: Personal, Family, and School-related Factors.  University of Connecticut.  The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, Dec. 2002.

State Acceleration Policy: State List.  Acceleration Institute, Belin-Blank Center, College of Education, University of Iowa.  Web.  Jan. 2016. http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/Resources/Policy/By_State/State_List.aspx

Webb, J. T., Amend, E. R., Webb, N. E., Goerss, J., Beljan, P., & Olenchak, F. R.  Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press, Inc., 2005.

Webb, J. T., Amend, E. R., Webb, N. E., Goerss, J., Beljan, P., & Olenchak, F. R.  Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children.  Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted.  Web.  Jan. 2016.  http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/misdiagnosis-and-dual-diagnosis-of-gifted-children

Webb, J. T., Gore, J. L., Amend, E. R., and DeVries, A. R.  A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press, 2007.

Whitney, C.S. and Hirsch, G.  A Love for Learning: Motivation and the Gifted Child.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press, 2007.

Heller, Joseph.  Catch-22.  Laurel: New York, 1955, 1961 (p. 40).

“Catch-22.”  Def.  The Oxford American College Dictionary.  2002.  Print.

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Enriching Holiday Gatherings with Intergenerational Interviews

Parent tips and teacher ideas below!

by Emily VR

At holiday gatherings somewhere, perhaps, young children converse quietly with adults and behave just as their parents hoped.  If you’re like the rest of us, you may be looking for ideas to keep your kids from mayhem (or from disappearing with a book) while visiting with extended family.

One solution?  Try connecting children with their older relatives for family interviews.

This fall, a nonprofit group called StoryCorps launched the “Great Thanksgiving Listen” to engage older children in documenting the stories of their grandparents or elders.  Students age 13 and older are eligible to participate, and they can record and upload family interviews to the Library of Congress through a free app.

The “Listen” is designed for high school students, but children can conduct interviews, too – and they don’t need a national project to try it! With guidance from parents or teachers, even young students can learn more about a loved one.  Winter holidays can provide unique opportunities for conversations, and interviews can be conducted at almost any gathering, by children at almost any school age, on a wide range of topics, and with any recording device.  If extended family is far away, phone interviews can be recorded, and a call can warm the holiday of an older relative.

Teachers:  what role can you play, and how might this benefit your students?  Here are some tips from a teacher on including interview assignments in your lesson plans:

  • Language Arts:  One of the exciting challenges of a first-person interview is determining how to present and archive the interview data.  Having to process this raw data into a coherent narrative, for example, is the essence of journalistic storymaking.  One idea might be to have your students study how top periodical sources present interviews, and to use these as a model for a “class magazine” of historical interviews.
  • History:  Interviewing a family elder can help a child understand the social and historical context in which life events occurred.  Unlike a textbook, which provides only a broad, academic take on history, an interview adds a layer of personal experience which can bring history to life, especially when the child sees his own ancestor/family embedded in it.
  • STEM:  Learning how a family member problem-solved and dealt with life’s vicissitudes is a wonderful opportunity to compare and contrast the technology available at the time, the scientific understanding which framed the events, and perhaps even “primitive” medical treatments which played a role.
  • Multimedia:  Students may choose to combine the raw data gathered in the interview with family photos and videos to create a multimedia product showing an event or period in history.
  • Common Core Standards:  The process of designing, conducting and archiving an interview touches on numerous Speaking and Listening standards in the Common Core English Language Arts: http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/SL/introduction/

Parents:  if your child hasn’t been assigned an interview at school, you can make the project into a home enrichment activity.  Our test subjects were eager participants, but if your children aren’t, interviews could be part of a scavenger hunt, game, or project in an area of interest.  Interviews can be formal or informal, and you can tailor length and format to your family.  Here are some general tips:

Preparation

Consider recording the interview:  this can allow your child to better focus on listening.  Notes (if needed) can be taken later, from the recording.  Digital recorders can produce high quality recordings, but a phone app can serve the purpose just as well and costs less.

Locate a comfortable spot with minimal background noise and few distractions.  Consider testing your recording device where it will be used; for some devices, an A/C or heater fan (seemingly quiet at the time) can make recordings hard to understand.  Help your child learn how the device works (a lost or inaudible recording can be upsetting), or for a young child, you may wish to operate the device yourself.  Find out if the subject should speak into the device or if the phone/microphone can be placed nearby.  Videos can be wonderful to have, but they may make some subjects more self-conscious than an audio recording.

Interview questions

The StoryCorps Teacher Toolkit and other resources (below) offer question suggestions and advice.  Successful questions can depend on the child’s level of understanding, wording, and the subject’s feelings about the interview and topic.  Some subjects may enjoy opportunities for broad, subjective responses, and others may feel more comfortable with narrower questions.  From the below sources, our favorite questions include:

  • Please tell me about your parents.
  • Please tell me about a teacher or other adult who impacted your life while you were growing up.
  • What did you do during the summers when you were growing up?
  • When you were younger, what did you imagine your job would be?
  • What are your most vivid memories of school?
  • Please share some important lessons you’ve learned in life.
  • Of the family members you have known or heard about, who do you think lived the most interesting life, and why?
  • Please tell me about an accomplishment you are proud of or a challenge you overcame.
  • Do you remember songs you sang as a child, or songs you sang to your children when they were young? Could you sing one for me now?  (A five-year-old asked this question during a Thanksgiving interview, and his great-grandmother sang him a song in a language she learned when young and remembered beautifully.)

Teachers and parents can also guide students in selecting or brainstorming questions related to the child’s area of study.

Tips for a positive experience

  • Allow the child/student to select the interview questions (within reason). If he or she can ask about areas of interest and curiosity, the conversation can be more meaningful for everyone.
  • Remember age-appropriate expectations for interview length: generally, a 10-year-old can handle a longer conversation than a 5-year-old.  Consider taking breaks, especially for younger children –though they may maintain more interest than you expect!
  • Consider helping younger children craft questions likely to elicit shorter answers – the experience can be more relaxed if the child stays engaged throughout the answer.
  • When your child selects questions, if you spot sensitive or controversial topics, you may wish to provide guidance in making adjustments.  If you know of topics likely to trigger a negative or painful reaction, help your child avoid them.  On the other hand, if your subject may wish to discuss hardships he or she faced, such as inequality before or after the Civil Rights Movement, you could share your child’s questions with the interviewee in advance.
  • Consider preparing children to go “off script” when appropriate – they (or you) may wish to ask follow-up questions about interesting or meaningful stories.
  • If your loved one is coping with memory loss, consider preparing your child to ask about subjects or time periods you think the interviewee can remember.  Prepare your child to be able to move on to the next question if needed.
  • Consider taking a photo of your child with his or her loved one following the interview!

Follow up

Young children may need parent help during interviews and in transferring recordings.  If sensitive or politically charged topics arise unexpectedly, parents can offer perspective and context afterward, and children may be inspired to conduct further research.

When finished, your child will have a recording to save and will take away additional benefits.  Few things make history lessons as effective as seeing events through the eyes of people who witnessed them.   Building relationships with older relatives can benefit your child in a number of ways, including the opportunity to explore family traditions (Webb, J. et al, 2007).  Your child may remember time spent with older relatives when he or she reaches the same age — and in the present, your child can help older loved ones to feel valued, to leave a personal legacy, and to relive their memories.  If your child creates a presentation or product from the interview, it can bring joy to the interviewee and become an invaluable piece of family history for future years.

StoryCorps operates year round.  In addition to preserving history, its website shares another mission:  to “provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives.”  According to StoryCorps, sharing and listening can remind us of our shared humanity, can build connections, and can teach the value of listening.  The project aims to weave a message into the fabric of our culture:  everyone’s story matters.

For us, that message resonates this holiday season.  With a little help, younger children and students can learn to listen to life stories, as well – and they might benefit the most from the experience.

Sending warm wishes for connections and peace, from our families to yours.

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Many thanks to Ben Koch for the above teacher tips and expertise.

We are proud this post is part of the Surviving the Holidays Blog Hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

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Blog Hop graphic by Pamela S Ryan – click above for more Blog Hop posts!

 

Resources and Further Reading

Apps for recording in-person interviews:

Outside StoryCorps, we tried out five separate apps (with kids!).  Below are our initial impressions.  Different environments may yield different results, and we recommend testing any app or recording device in your location.

  • iTalk: Our favorite:  easy to record, users can choose recording quality, shorter audio files were easily transferred to a computer by e-mail, and both the recording quality and volume seemed the best from our sessions.  The interviewee’s voice sounded crisp and clear. Longer files cannot be e-mailed, and require an extra step to transfer (dropbox, iPhone transfer).  We did not edit sound files for any of the apps used.
  • Audio Memos, and the iPhone (included) “Voice Memos” app: These tied for second favorite.   Audio Memo playback sounded a bit muffled, and when held from the same distance as iTalk, the interviewee’s voice did not sound as clear in these.  The interviews were still easy to understand, and easy to e-mail to a computer.
  • Super Note: Our recording sounds clear when played back within the app, but we haven’t yet had success opening the file on a computer outside of iTunes.
  • Audio Note: Audio Note allows the user to type notes while either recording or playing back, and the files were easy to transfer.  When our (unedited) recording was played back on a computer, however, at least from this recording environment, our Audio Note file seemed to have the lowest volume and sound quality.

Additional apps and reviews can be found online, along with programs for preserving phone interviews.  To record by phone, we recommend checking applicable laws and getting permission from everyone on the call.

StoryCorps and the Great Thanksgiving Listen:

Teacher resources:

Interview tips and questions:

Intergenerational Relationship Benefits:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncharted Territory: Early Milestones and Educational Planning

by Emily VR

When parents watch developmental milestones, they usually think about delays.  If a baby seems to be on track, or even hits milestones early, parents breathe a sigh of relief.  One less thing to worry about… right?

Imagine, for a moment, that parenting books carried the following warning:

If your child reaches milestones significantly ahead of schedule, contact your pediatrician for a referral.  Some early milestones may be normal, but they may also be signs of a condition known as “giftedness,” which can cause educational and emotional challenges if not addressed.  If identified early, accommodations may increase chances of optimal development, and may decrease risks of negative outcomes.    

How might our views of education change?

Not all experts agree on how to define or measure giftedness, but a number of psychologists have studied early signs of advanced development.  In Deborah Ruf’s book, 5 Levels of Gifted, characteristics are provided for each level, including some signs thought to be present shortly after birth.  For example, before school entry, children in levels two and three were found to demonstrate strong memories, advanced vocabulary, and comprehension significantly ahead of typically developing children (Ruf, D. L., 2009).  There is disagreement on the reliability of IQ testing in preschoolers and in diverse populations, but in general, most experts in the field seem to agree that children later identified as gifted demonstrate early signs of advanced, rapid development.  Unfortunately, according to child development theories still taught when many classroom teachers received their degrees, toddlers and preschoolers were said to be incapable of grasping some of the advanced concepts now known to be demonstrated by gifted children — and few if any exceptions were noted (example: Berk, L. E., 1989).

Today, for those parents who notice early differences and know what to research, no shortage of material exists. Risks from the fictional warning above are cited in numerous sources. Still, this information does not always reach mainstream books or training for the people on the front lines, often unaware of what they are missing: the majority of parents and teachers.

What happens when young children with unusually advanced cognitive development enter school?  Teachers without support and training can have a difficult time keeping these students busy and learning. Some gifted education experts, in fact, consider young gifted children to be a special population needing identification and assistance (Karnes, F. A. & Stephens, K. R., 2008). Meanwhile, parents coping with unusual development and intensity (another characteristic of giftedness) may have already searched frantically through child developmental books, such as this resource (otherwise excellent!), without answers:

AAP Book
  one of the author’s oft-used reference books 

To further complicate matters, gifted-identified children often exhibit asynchronous development:  the same 6-year-old who likes division and reads 4th grade chapter books may struggle with writing.  She may also wear out her parents with typical 6-year-old behavior.  In school, many gifted children do not thrive when faced with lessons a year or more below their level.  At best, they may fail to develop skills needed for future challenges – at worst, they can disengage and develop negative coping strategies, confusing parents and teachers.

Awareness of potential ability/curriculum mismatch can better prepare parents and teachers to find solutions.  In states where gifted services can vary significantly between districts or schools, early awareness can help parents make better informed school choices.  Since advanced development exists in all populations, and since care must be taken to avoid missed identification in diverse populations, all teachers of young children need awareness to identify needs.

In states with large classes and inadequate school funding, educators must triage.  Federal requirements help protect students with identified disabilities, but students with advanced, asynchronous development receive few to no accommodations in some states.  Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated that contrary to popular myth, these students will not “be fine” on their own, and without intervention, face increased risks during their teen years.

The needs of children with all learning differences must be taken seriously.  Just as we must provide an environment in which children with disabilities can learn, we need better access to information about preventing typical problems faced by young children with advanced development.  Twice-exceptional children have both advanced development and an area of disability, and they suffer when either area is overlooked.

From a parenting perspective, whether a child is exhibiting advanced development or developmental delays, identifying and supporting a child’s unique strengths is critical for self-esteem and motivation.

Looking beyond IQ:  how might early identification of additional abilities benefit parents and teachers of all children?  Psychologist Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences includes strengths in a wide range of areas:  linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist, and existential (Karnes & Stephens, 2008).  Parents may discover and develop some talents without having heard of Gardner – and most experts agree that preschool children need play more than anything else – but when children do enter school, better awareness of strengths can help educators keep students engaged.

Children with advanced development are found in all populations, and public school is the only option for many families.  For all children to receive a free, appropriate public education, we must embrace differences which can be identified before school entry.  To avoid gaps in meeting needs, parents and teachers must know what to watch for, which strategies should be used, what might go wrong, and where to get help.  Information about both strengths and needs can be used in supporting and developing the individual abilities of all students, regardless of academic aptitude.

If we can better equip parents and teachers, we can better identify learning differences in all students. When we see the world through the eyes of students — including students with differences — we can better reach and inspire all children.

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We are proud this post is part of the Ages and Stages Blog Hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

Blog Hop graphic by Pamela S Ryan – click above for more Blog Hop posts!

Author note:  This discussion is not in any way intended to make light of struggles faced by parents of children with special needs, the experiences of parents investigating milestone delays, or the continuing need for improvement in services for children with disabilities.  My hope is that increasing numbers of advocates for gifted education will include Special Education and learning disabilities in their efforts. Working together, I believe we can improve the education of all children with differences.

Sources and Further Reading

The nonprofit SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) offers publications and brochures designed to raise awareness about advanced development needs.  Several are free for download or order, and can be provided to pediatricians or schools:  http://sengifted.org/resources/seng-publications

Farmer, D. (1996).  Parenting Gifted Preschoolers.  Agustega Information Services:  Davidson Institute for Talent Development.  Retrieved from http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10106.aspx

Francis A. Karnes Center for Gifted Studies (2015).  Gifted Preschooler.  Retrieved from  https://www.usm.edu/karnes-gifted/gifted-preschooler

Gardner, H. (2011).  Multiple Intelligences (web). Retrieved from http://howardgardner.com/multiple-intelligences/  

Karnes, F. A. and Stephens, K. R. (2008).  Achieving Excellence: Educating the Gifted and Talented. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson.

Neville, C. S., Piechowsky, M. and Tolan, S.  (2013). Off the Charts: Asynchrony and the Gifted Child.  Unionville: New York.

Renzulli, J. S. (2002).  Giftedness and High School Dropouts:  Personal, Family, and School-related Factors.  The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented: University of Connecticut.  Retrieved from http://www.gifted.uconn.edu/nrcgt/reports/rm02168/rm02168.pdf

Ruf, D. L. (2009).  5 Levels of Gifted.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Ruf, D. L. (2009).  Preschool Behaviors in Gifted Children.  Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented.  Retrieved from http://mcgt.net/preschool-behaviors-in-gifted-children

Shelov, S. P. and Altmann, T. R. (2009).  Caring For Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, Fifth Edition.  American Academy of Pediatrics: Bantam Books.

Berk, L. E. (1989).  Child Development, Fourth Edition.  Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

The Oxygen Mask: Gifted and 2e Parenting

by Emily VR

Despite decades of research and advocacy, misconceptions about gifted students persist. Among the myths listed by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), this one may be the most damaging: “gifted students don’t need help; they’ll do fine on their own.”

The same myth could be used to describe parents of gifted children.

Fortunately, help is available. A number of organizations and university programs offer parenting resources. The nonprofit SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) was founded after the suicide of a gifted teenager, and it works to support families and raise awareness about gifted differences and needs.  Several states require gifted programs or accommodations for gifted-identified students. A few states require IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) for gifted students – just as for students served by Special Education. A number of gifted parenting books offer advice for home and school, and local enrichment options are often available. For families living in areas without gifted programs, online resources continue to expand for gifted homeschooling and enrichment.

Even with help, meeting the needs of a student with differences can be complicated and exhausting – especially if your student is twice-exceptional (gifted with other special needs), is highly to profoundly gifted, or belongs to another special population. In many ways, gifted parenting is similar to coping with other learning differences. It often requires school advocacy. It requires learning about a label and recommendations, and about how characteristics manifest in your individual child. It may require keeping up with research, and searching for outside resources, evaluations, and/or therapy. It can involve misconceptions and assumptions, and you may feel isolated. It requires educating others about your child’s differences and needs – year after year. It requires – well, dealing with your child. On a daily basis.

When encouraging parents to practice self-care, experts sometimes use the example of an oxygen mask. In airplanes, flight attendants tell parents to put on their own oxygen masks before helping their children. Just as children are more likely to survive a plane emergency with conscious parents, children are better equipped to handle life’s challenges when parents take care of themselves emotionally. Dr. Ann Dunnewold, psychologist and author of several parenting books, uses the metaphor of a pitcher of liquid, or of an emotional bank account. When parents constantly give of themselves emotionally, if they never pause to replenish, they eventually run on empty.

For parents of children with special needs, self-care often seems like an impossibility.  There is always more for a parent to do – more to research, more recommendations to follow, more interventions to try. Yet carving out time to care for your own needs isn’t a selfish act: it can recharge the energy you need for your children. It can make you more efficient and effective.

It can make you a better parent.

So, when you have a gifted or twice-exceptional child, where can you find your oxygen mask?

• Seek support from other gifted parents. If your area doesn’t have a local parent group for gifted families, you can ask if a group for special needs will embrace gifted parents.  You can also begin a group.  SENG offers local and online parent support groups, and a number of gifted organizations offer discussion forums.

• Take a day or weekend for yourself, if you are able.  In her book Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Lunch Box, Dr. Ann Dunnewold notes that Maya Angelou recommended getting away for a day, regularly, to put one’s life in perspective.

• Take care of your physical and mental health.  Several sources offer advice on finding practitioners experienced with gifted children and adults.  In A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, for example, Dr. James Webb’s chapter on “Finding Professional Help” offers tips which can apply to both gifted children and adults.

• Cut yourself some slack.  Perfectionism can take a toll on both parents and children. Dr. Dunnewold suggests a paradigm shift. Instead of trying to be “perfect,” you can focus on being “perfectly good,” on being yourself, and on accepting your human limitations (more tips in June Cleaver).

• Pursue your passions!  Sir Ken Robinson’s book The Element explores the potential of finding where talents and personal passions intersect, and the journey of seeking fulfillment.

• Protect free time. A rush-free parenting approach may ease stress and allow for unstructured time and creative pursuits.

• Nurture your needs through books!  Bibliotherapy can be effective for both gifted children and adults.

• Learn about your own intensities. A growing number of articles and books address issues facing gifted adults.

• Seek friends who support you.  Some parents, sadly, engage in “mommy wars” and relational aggression, which is similar to childhood bullying.  As noted by Dr. Dunnewold, parenting is not a contest, and you do not need to tolerate this behavior. You can find parent friends who appreciate you and your children for who you are.

• Frustrated with gifted education? Help make it better.  Many educators of gifted children wish they could do more for their students, and they need parent support. Groups and individual parents can volunteer to help teachers, schools, and state or national nonprofit groups.  They can advocate at the district and state level. Getting involved may help some parents cope with feeling powerless, and can make positive change after a difficult experience or year.

Parents facing your same challenges may be few in your area – but they are out there, looking for support. You are not alone.  Not every strategy works for everyone, but we can all find our oxygen masks. Whatever yours may be, remember to use it, to breathe, and to include yourself in your daily care.

If we want our children to take good care of themselves, and to seek help when they need it, we must lead by example.  In the meantime, our self-care helps our children: it gives them happier, more fulfilled parents.

Hoagies Help

We are proud this post is part of the How and When to Ask for Help Blog Hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

Blog Hop graphic by Pamela S Ryan – click above for more Blog Hop posts!

Resources:

November 2014 Hoagies’ Blog Hop on Gifted Self-Care:
http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_gifted_self_care.htm

Myths about Gifted Students, National Association for Gifted Children:
http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/myths-about-gifted-students

Gifted Education by State, National Association for Gifted Children:
http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/gifted-state

Your True North: A Course on Sir Ken Robinson’s Finding Your Element, by NuMinds Enrichment: http://numien.com/online-courses/

Books by Ann Dunnewold:
Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Lunchbox: Cut Yourself Some Slack (and Still Raise Great Kids) in the Age of Extreme Parenting (2007).
The Motherhood Club: Help, Hope, and Inspiration for New Mothers from New Mothers (2002), with Shirley Washington.

SENG Model Parent Support Groups:
http://sengifted.org/programs/seng-model-parent-groups

SENG’s 25th Anniversary Conference: Reflections on SENG’s History by James T. Webb
http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/sengs-25th-anniversary-conference-reflections-on-sengs-history

Finding the Right Mental Health Provider for Your Gifted/Talented Child, by Tiombe-Bisa Kendrick:
http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/finding-the-right-mental-health-provider-for-your-giftedtalented-child

Tips for Selecting the Right Counselor or Therapist For Your Gifted Child, by James T. Webb: http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/tips-for-selecting-the-right-counselor-or-therapist-for-your-gifted-child

Can you hear the flowers sing? Issues for gifted adults, by Deirdre Lovecky
Retrieved from Davidson Institute for Talent Development:
http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10229.aspx

Review of Searching for Meaning by James Webb:
https://thefissureblog.com/category/books-and-movies/

Making Use of Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities

by Emily VR

Most gifted kids have them.  They can confuse parents, teachers, and doctors.  They may increase with the level of giftedness.  If you have a gifted student, this long word is probably part of your daily life.

What are the Overexcitabilities (OEs), and what do they look like in children?  More importantly – what should we do about them?

Background

The OEs were identified by Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902-1980), a Polish psychologist and psychiatrist with a Master’s degree in Education.  At the highest of his five levels of human development, individuals choose to work for the benefit of humanity.  According to Dabrowski, inner suffering is necessary for advanced development – and certain people exhibit heightened sensitivities, or Overexcitabilities, which predispose them to this suffering.

Although Dabrowski was interested in gifted development, his theory is not limited to the gifted.  Another psychologist, Michael Piechowski, collaborated with Dabrowski and applied the OEs to the gifted population.  Several psychologists and educators have since added to scholarship on the subject.

The OEs are not a clinical diagnosis – you can’t go to the doctor for a test or OE treatment plan (as much as parents wish they could).  Some psychologists and books do offer inventories for identifying OEs, however, and they can be a helpful framework for understanding and coping with sensitivities common to gifted students.

Spotting the Overexcitabilities

A child may exhibit one, two, or more OEs in varying degrees.  What does this look like?

Psychomotor:  These kids have more energy than others their age!  They seem always “on the go.”  They may fidget, have nervous habits or rapid speech, and/or act impulsively.  They need extra opportunities for movement, and may benefit from relaxation techniques.

Sensual/Sensory:  Sensory input can be overwhelming and distracting for these children.  They may seek or avoid stimuli, and they may have extreme reactions, especially to sound or touch.  On the positive side, they often experience increased aesthetic appreciation (art, poetry, music).

Intellectual:  These children love to experiment!  They seem to have unending curiosity.  They often worry about fairness and injustice, and they learn exhaustively about their passions.  They benefit from the freedom to pursue interests, and from interaction with intellectual peers (not necessarily age peers).

Imaginational:  Especially when young, these children may have imaginary friends or worlds which feel real.  They may embellish without intending to be inaccurate.  They often daydream, and may have difficulty “tuning in” during structured curriculum.  They benefit from opportunities for divergent thinking, creativity, and imagination!

Emotional:   Children with this OE have deep sensitivities, are often acutely aware of their feelings, and may internalize experiences.  Their intense emotions can manifest in extreme and complex ways.  They can seem to overreact, or may hold in school stress until they reach their home or parents’ car.  The impact of emotional experiences (both positive and negative) can last for years.

Putting the OEs to Work!

Other than confirming what we knew about gifted children, what practical uses do the OEs have for parents and teachers?  Here are five ways they can help:

Improved LearningOEs can make it hard for children to learn in the classroom.  When teachers (and students themselves) are aware of causes, they can explore solutions.  For example, children exhibiting the psychomotor OE may need extra movement during the day, and children with the sensory OE may need seating away from sensory distractions, or a calm place to refocus.

Prevention of MisdiagnosisMany OE characteristics look like other conditions (ADHD, autism, SPD, etc.), though it is also possible for a gifted child to have additional diagnoses (twice-exceptional).  Misdiagnosis in gifted children is a concern for a number of psychologists, and the nonprofit SENG (Supporting the Needs of the Gifted) works to raise awareness through the Misdiagnosis Initiative.  For more information on differential diagnosis in the gifted population, see Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults (2005).

Improved Student/Teacher/Parent RelationshipsUnderstanding a student’s behavior can increase empathy and improve communication.  When a child with OEs constantly asks questions or corrects a teacher (intellectual OE), seems to overreact (emotional OE), or seems off task (multiple OEs), adults without an understanding of gifted sensitivities may misinterpret characteristics, and may employ behavior control techniques designed for different causes.  Recommendations for coping with OEs can differ from other types of parenting and teaching wisdom.  If gifted children feel criticized for intensities they cannot change, misunderstandings can harm both self-esteem and relationships.

When student OEs are handled with empathy and compassion, children can learn to better cope, celebrate their sensitivities as strengths, and channel intensities toward positive behaviors.  A number of resources (below) share classroom and parenting coping tips.

Mental Health AssistanceKnowledge about OEs can increase success when counseling gifted children, adolescents, and adults (Daniels & Piechowski, 2009).  Understanding a patient’s inner experience is thought to be important both for differential diagnosis and therapeutic planning.  Children and adolescents with gifted intensities can be at risk for mood disorders such as anxiety and depression; when adults are aware of OEs, they can provide more complete information to counselors or psychologists.

Awareness of a child’s intensity may also help identify early signs that a child needs help coping.  The nonprofit SENG was founded in response to the suicide of a gifted teen.  Gifted intensities can impact children in numerous settings: when gifted children are targeted by bullying, the victimization has a greater negative impact and likelihood of emotional harm (Medaris, 2006). Educational fit can also have an impact on the mental health of gifted children and adolescents (Neihart, 1999).

Gifted Identification:  Many psychologists and educators find that the OEs occur more frequently in gifted children than in the general population, and may increase with the level of giftedness.  Some researchers believe the OEs hold promise for future identification of giftedness, particularly in populations in which giftedness can be difficult to identify through testing.  In the meantime, if teachers are aware of the likelihood of intensity in gifted students, the OEs may be helpful informally in making additional referrals for evaluation for gifted services.

Action Steps

According to psychologists, the OEs cannot be turned off like a light: they affect children throughout the day and across the lifespan, in nearly every area of their lives.  If the OEs occur more frequently and intensely in the gifted – as many psychologists, educators, and parents agree they do – this information seems critical for adults to have.

How can we increase understanding of emotional needs in the gifted?

  • Parent/Advocacy Groups:  Learn about resources available through SENG! Include the OEs in recommended reading for parent and teacher members, and consider inviting speakers to present about the emotional needs of the gifted.
  • Parents:  Take advantage of free parent materials online (such as the vodcast below!).  Connect with local parent groups, and offer your support to schools.
  • Administrators:  Include the OEs in training for the teachers of gifted students, particularly in classrooms where students spend the most time. (Some schools already do this!)
  • Teachers:  For a wide range of classroom tips, consider exploring additional resources on the OEs (below). Information you learn about gifted students will support their healthy emotional development, and can change lives.  Parents will thank you from the bottom of their hearts!

If we learn about the emotional characteristics of these students, we can help students accept the OEs as part of who they are, better manage their feelings, and feel better about themselves.  When children have a chance at better outcomes, our entire society benefits.  After all, if Dabrowski was right, our students with Overexcitabilities have the drive and potential to solve our world’s problems.

What will we do to support them?

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Note:  Several sources provide greater detail on each of the OEs.  For more examples, check out Living with Intensity by Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski (2009) and the resources below.

More Information:

NuMinds Enrichment offers Professional Development exploring the Overexcitabilities in more depth, classroom coping tips, and other gifted teaching strategies.  For details on NuMinds professional development for teachers, visit http://numien.com/professional-development/

For a free NuMinds vodcast for parents on the Social-Emotional Puzzle and Overexcitabilities, see below:

We are proud this post is part of the Gifted 101 blog hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

(Blog Hop graphic by Pamela S Ryan – click below for more Blog Hop posts!)

OEs Blog Hop

 

Sources and Further Reading:

Bouchard, Lorraine L.  An Instrument for the Measure of Dabrowskian Overexcitabilities to Identify Gifted Elementary Students.  Gifted Child Quarterly 48.4 (Fall 2004):  339-350.

Daniels, Susan and Michael M. Piechowski.  Living With Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and the Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press, Inc., 2009.

Lind, Sharon.  Overexcitability and the Gifted.  The SENG Newsletter, 2001, 1(1) 3-6.  SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted).  Web.  Aug. 2015.  < https://sengifted.org/archives/articles/overexcitability-and-the-gifted >

Medaris, Kim.  Study:  Gifted children especially vulnerable to effects of bullying.  Purdue University, April 6, 2006.  Web.  Aug. 2015.  < http://www.purdue.edu/uns/html4ever/2006/060406.Peterson.bullies.html >

Neihart, Maureen. The Impact of Giftedness on Psychological Well-Being. Roeper Review, Sept. 1999 22(1). Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted.  Web.  Aug. 2015.  < http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/the-impact-of-giftedness-on-psychological-well-being >

Renzulli, Joseph S.  Giftedness and High School Dropouts:  Personal, Family, and School-related Factors.  The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, December 2002.  The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut.  Web.  Aug 2015.  < http://www.gifted.uconn.edu/nrcgt/reports/rm02168/rm02168.pdf >

Rinn, Anne N.  Overexcitabilities and the Gifted Child.  Digest of Gifted Research, September 24, 2009.  Duke Talent Identification Program.  Web.  Aug. 2015.  < http://tip.duke.edu/node/922 >

SENG Misdiagnosis Initative:  http://sengifted.org/programs/seng-misdiagnosis-initiative

Silverman, Linda Kreger.  Giftedness 101.  New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2013.

Webb, James T., et al. Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press, Inc., 2005.

Many thanks to Pia Ruda for her ideas and review.