Being Sam

by Emily VR

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.

 

References

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.

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5 Lessons for Teachers and Parents from Adam Grant’s Originals [Infographic]

by Ben Koch

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!

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Your Rainforest Mind: A Parent’s Book Review

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.

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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.

The 8 Great Gripes of Gifted Parents

by Ben Koch and Emily VR

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.

***

Further Reading

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.

Web Resources

Hoagies Gifted Education Page – the website for everything gifted

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum – a wonderful resource for meeting all gifted needs

An Open Letter to My Children

by guest author Janet Schaefer

To my sons,

Your middle school is inviting parents to write you a letter upon starting 6th grade. You get to read it when you complete 8th grade. Just to be honest, I’ve been procrastinating since August. Remember our chat about putting things off because you want them to be perfect? Well, you might get that trait from me.

I’m just going to write the letter now, to both of you at once. This is probably neither the appropriate time nor forum to share personal motherly guidance with you. But you see, I have a newsletter deadline to meet. Years of waiting for the perfect idea have taught me to harness the dull rising panic in my gut and use it for last-minute inspiration. So today I’m writing you a letter because now’s my chance to tell you some things.

What it comes down to, I think, is that there’s no such thing as perfect. Don’t wait until the perfect time or place or feeling before doing something you need to do—do the best you can with what you’ve got right now. Remember when I blackmailed you into watching the movie Dead Poets Society? My advice to you: Carpe diem the heck out of life, because otherwise it’ll probably carpe you.

Speaking of Dead Poets Society, I’ve really been trying not to be like the dad who insisted that his kid study medicine and forbade him from performing in the theatre. But I can totally see where that dad was coming from. The kid had the “p-word”—potential. He had lots of potential and his dad would be darned if he was going to let him waste it. After all, the dad didn’t have the same opportunities when he was young. He’d dedicated himself to giving the kid everything he needed to be successful, which I guess to the dad meant going to Harvard and becoming a doctor.

So anyway, back to us. Ever since the days when you drooled all over my suit jacket, I’ve tried to bulldoze your way to success. I’ve been looking for the formula that will guide you to perfect success and happiness. But now I’m wondering if following someone else’s script might not be so great for you. What I’d like to do now is help you find your passion. But that’s hard. It’s so much harder than telling you what you need to do. And it takes me out of the writer/director’s seat, which is an immensely uncomfortable feeling.

I see other moms and dads who look like they’re naturals at producing great kids. Their kids are clean and dressed in clothes that match. I imagine they get straight As, truly want to compete in math tournaments, and have nice manners. They know exactly what they want to be when they grow up, care about sports, clean their rooms without being asked, and volunteer at soup kitchens.

I did not get that “good parent” mutation. What I did get, though, was the courage to admit that I don’t have all of the answers (yet) and a willingness to try something different that may help you. And I got some really great friends who aren’t afraid to confess that they’re searching for answers too. And more than anything, I got a huge love for you and all of the goofy, quirky, wonderful qualities that make you you.

As you get older I’ll give you more and more ownership of your path through life. I’ll look for ways to encourage the things that light a fire inside of you, while still requiring you to do the not-so-exciting stuff that gives you a strong foundation (hello, homework and music practice). It won’t be easy or perfect or even pretty, but I promise to give you the best I’ve got.

Don’t let anyone else write your story. Not even me! I hope that one day you’ll invite me to be your editor, though.

 

Janet Schaefer is the VP of Communications for the Frisco Gifted Association in Frisco, Texas.  Her letter first appeared in the FGA Newsletter in April, 2016. 

How Distance Running Prepared me for Parenting a Twice-Exceptional Child

Parent perspectives by Nikki C.

There was a time in my life when I couldn’t imagine anything would compare to the experience of running my first marathon.

At the starting line, I was confident and full of energy.  I was so happy that I had made it through training and that the big day had finally arrived!  My excitement did not last, though.   As the miles racked up, my energy faded.  Anxiety set in, and this turned into full-on fear and self-doubt.   I was digging for strength I wasn’t even sure I had (there might have been some tears and praying at this point).  Eventually, fierce determination kicked in, and I found my confidence.   By the time I crossed that finish line, I had come full circle, back to happiness and excitement.

Challenging, rewarding, and intense…  and what an emotional roller coaster!  I didn’t think anything could compete with those highs and lows, especially in a single morning.   Then, I became a mom – a mom of a remarkable child, who, among other things, is twice-exceptional (gifted with other special needs).   My life with him can involve all of the above emotions on any given day.  I happen to love roller coasters, and I am not complaining in any way. I am grateful, though, that before I became a parent of a 2e child, I learned some important lessons through distance running.

Lesson #1:  There is no such thing as the “best shoe”

Many new runners walk into specialty running stores, announce that they will be starting distance training, and ask for best shoe available.  These new runners soon learn that there is no such thing as the best shoe… at least not the best shoe.  Due to differences such as body mechanics, foot structure, and cushion preferences, each runner needs to find his or her own best shoe.  It might not be the one they hoped for – the one so many of their friends have, the brand they know, the price they expected, and so on – but with some work, they can find their best shoe.  More importantly, they will come to love their shoe, even if it was not what they expected.

The same is true for many aspects of raising a twice-exceptional child.  When you combine giftedness with a disability – not forgetting asynchronous development and overexcitabilities – it often takes some work to find your child’s “best shoe.”  An example: finding the best educational path for your child.  Before my son started school, I believed that public school was a given for us.  I went to public school, and it seemed to work well for most kids.  With my son, I quickly learned that this shoe did not fit well – it was like a supinator trying to do speed work in a motion control shoe (yes, only running geeks will understand that!).  In other words, the metaphorical shoe was holding my child back and was close to causing serious problems.  We found homeschool to be our “best shoe.”

Homeschooling led to another discovery: there is no best curriculum. Talking about curriculum with other homeschool parents is as much fun as talking about running shoes with other runners, but again, you have to find what’s best for your child. For a 2e child, a boxed curriculum is probably not going to work.  Finding my child’s best fit could be compared to the searches of runners who, even after finding their best shoes, still need custom orthotics, tricky customized lacing, and very specific socks to make everything function optimally.  Oh, and expect to have to buy new “shoes” more often than the recommended time frame.

Even basic parenting choices require finding our “best shoe.”  Most parents we know have some common rules: sitting with the family during mealtime, not jumping on the furniture, sleeping in your own bed… heck, sleeping, period.  When kids don’t abide by these rules, timeouts and sticker-chart rewards are common solutions.  I’ll just say that I am almost at the point (almost) where I can laugh at what a disaster those were for us.  We needed different rules and different methods to handle problems.  It makes my head spin to think of all the outside-the-box methods I have had to use, but it has been worth the effort.  Finding our “best shoes” has taken us from 5K to ultramarathon confidence (on some days, and metaphorically speaking, of course J).

Lesson #2:  Join a running group, and find your running buddies

When you’re a distance runner, you’ll log many solo miles, yet I found that joining a running group was also essential.  My ideal group includes runners with varied abilities and experience levels.  Seasoned runners, with their vast knowledge and experience, help newcomers.  Faster runners help slower runners improve performance.  New runners remind you how far you have come.   My favorite part of a running group, though, is the camaraderie.  Runners love to talk about running. They love to share stories – the good, the bad, the ugly. You learn fairly quickly that non-runners don’t necessarily want to hear all you have to say about running… and you have a lot you want to say about running! Runners can laugh and cry together about things others just don’t get.

The same has been true with parenting a 2e child.   My “running buddies” include special needs groups, gifted groups, twice-exceptional groups, and homeschool groups, local and online.  The things I’ve learned from experienced parents have been invaluable, and their guidance lowers my anxiety level.  It can also be immensely rewarding to see that not only does your work impact your child’s progress, but that you, too, can help parents new to “running.”

Parent groups also allow you to speak freely about topics you can’t discuss with those who aren’t “runners.”  Discussing issues related to your child’s disability and its perplexing parenting dilemmas can be overwhelming for some who live outside of that world.  Discussing your child’s giftedness and its challenges can be even harder.

So, find groups that are full of optimistic people.  Find your running buddies.  They can enable you and your child to run the best race you both possibly can.

Lesson #3: Remove the word “can’t” from your vocabulary

I’ll admit, I was a sucker for motivational running quotes when I first started.  For me, they provided inspiration comparable to listening to the theme from Rocky.  This one made the most difference for me:  “Running a marathon: how to single-handedly remove the word can’t from your vocabulary.”   In my first “training” run, I could barely make it ten minutes before I thought my lungs would never recover.  I didn’t say “can’t,” though.  I got over that hurdle, then got over the next one, over and over.  Soon after, I realized that I could apply this concept to many aspects of my life – and now, to parenting a 2e child.

When you are raising a twice-exceptional child, hearing the word “can’t” comes with the territory.  You might be trying to help your child through another public meltdown, or trying to persuade the school into testing your child for the gifted program even though he has a disability, or trying to assure your friend that you have not lost your mind when you pull your special needs child out of public school.  You might be trying to encourage your child to try something new despite their fear of mistakes.  You know your child better than anyone, you have more motivation than anyone, and you are making decisions based on the best interest of your child… so, guess what?   You can!  Removing the word “can’t” encourages perseverance, enhances endurance, and boosts confidence.  These things help when you need to take the road less traveled.

When your child needs you in their corner, it’s not an option to think “’I’m not strong enough” or “I can’t do this.”  After removing the word “can’t,” now you think, “how do I get strong enough?”  My son, along with giftedness, has an autism diagnosis and sensory processing disorder.  Some days are hard.  Some days being a mom to this child of mine wears me out.  At these times, I ask myself, “how do I get stronger?”  With your child as your inspiration and some help from your “running buddies,” you will find that strength.

Lesson #4:  You can’t effectively treat an injury until you know the source

There is one thing runners can be really bad at… handling injuries.  We ignore early warning signs, we slap a Band-Aid on a more serious issue, or we aren’t consistent with the recovery plan.  Since we want to get back on the road, we are often shortsighted.  Usually, running injuries that are ignored or masked do not get better on their own, and often they get much worse. After incurring several running injuries, I learned that many are preventable, and others can be remedied more easily if you figure out the source of the problem.  For example, if a runner starts experiencing a slight pain in the knee area, and if all she does is wear a knee sleeve, the problem will probably get worse and could require more drastic measures.  On the other hand, if at the first sign of knee pain, the runner learns about possible causes and gets to the root of the problem, the outcome can be much better.

Listening to my child’s signals and finding the root of challenges have been critical for us.  We have been blessed to have the assistance of several behavior therapists who reminded me that finding the root of a problem is always the best way to find a long-term solution.  Instead of feeling like I’m supposed to be a disciplinarian when my child does something that seems inappropriate, I become a detective.  For instance, through research, consultations, and evaluations, I learned that my son is a sensory seeker and he’s full of psychomotor overexcitabilities.  Occupational therapy and a better understanding of giftedness have worked miracles for us.  In a different setting, his behaviors could have been reprimanded, labeled as problematic and possibly misdiagnosed.

I want to be clear that I am not discouraging needed medication:  my concern is about viewing medication as a first step when the root of the problem has yet to be addressed.  A 2e child who is acting out in a classroom might be doing so because he’s not being appropriately challenged academically.  In this situation, investigating and working to find an academic fit appropriate for his ability could provide a constructive, long-term solution.  When a 2e child is acting out, it is also possible that he is trying to exert some control in an environment that feels out of control to him.  In my experience, sensory integration therapy could provide tools to cope with sensory overload that could benefit him for years to come.

Soon after we entered the autism world, I read this quote:  “If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.”   When we entered the gifted-identified world, I heard the same quote in reference to gifted children.  What should the quote be for our 2e kiddos? “If you have met one person who is 2e, you have met one person who is 2e… and you will continually encounter new aspects of that person. You better enjoy doing research, and you better find all your stamina, because knowing this individual will give you a complex, intense, thrilling, and awe-inducing ride that will change you in ways you never imagined.”

Sometimes all the research and possible parenting tools can get downright overwhelming. Many times, in a difficult situation with my child (especially those that happen in a crowded public area), I find myself not knowing what to say because my head is swimming with all the things I’ve learned.  What’s the right thing to do at this moment?  I don’t know!  I feel like everyone is staring at me and waiting for me to do the right thing…and I can’t think! When fear and self-doubt rear their ugly heads when I am trying to be a good parent to my 2e child, the lessons I learned during that first marathon come back to me. I need to find my strength, and when all else fails, I do this…  keep my head up and keep moving forward.

From one runner to another:  remember to enjoy the journey… and remember to breathe.

 

April16GHF

We are proud to include this post in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop!

7 Reasons to Team Up: Special Education and Gifted Needs

by Emily VR

Remember the saying, “there’s strength in numbers”?  When it comes to supporting both parents and schools, the expression holds true.  Whether your child has special needs or gifted differences, he or she may need accommodations and/or services in school.  Did you know that you can start a parent group or PTA Committee for ALL special needs and learning differences, including gifted needs?  You can also forge partnerships between existing parent support groups, even if they focus on very different types of needs.

Why should you consider advocating for both Special Education and gifted needs, and how will this benefit students with all kinds of learning differences, disabilities, and strengths?

  1. All kids with differences need understanding at school!  For special needs of all types, school accommodations and services exist for one purpose: to make it possible for our children to access an education and to learn at school.  Your child may have a 504 Plan or an IEP.  He or she may receive therapy or pull-out services for learning differences, or may need special equipment during the school day.  He or she may be in a gifted education pull-out program, or may be accelerated in a subject or full grade.  Each of these students requires services or adjustments in order to learn in the classroom, and to avoid the negative effects of unmet needs.  Raising awareness about differences and school needs can benefit students with all diagnoses.
  1. Precedent for partnership.  Special and gifted education partnerships are not a new idea: the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) was founded in 1922, and it is the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving the educational success of all individuals with disabilities, with gifted needs, and with both (gifted students with one or more disabilities are called “Twice-Exceptional,” or 2e).
  1. Educators need your support!  Whether your child receives services from specialists, therapists, aides, Resource teachers, and/or Special Education teachers, these individuals can be some of your child’s strongest advocates.  Unfortunately, although it’s not intentional, these special people may not receive the same PTA/PTO volunteer support and appreciation as regular classroom teachers (those things do matter!).  Joint efforts can help.  District departments for Special Education, Dyslexia, Counseling, and Gifted Education may need the support of parent groups in order to accomplish goals.  Positive partnerships can improve parent-school relationships and student services in numerous ways.  Including all special services in support and advocacy can strengthen a district for everyone.
  1. Combined groups can facilitate friendships.  Parent groups can host family events, either as fundraisers or casual gatherings, and these can allow children with special and gifted needs to form important friendships.  All students with differences can feel misunderstood by peers, and sometimes, can suffer social isolation.  Forming bonds with others who feel different can help a child feel less alone.
  1. Families with disabilities need your advocacy.  Differently-abled children can have a wide range of strengths and needs, but all of them deserve the chance to maximize their potential.  Special Education laws and funding do assist children with disabilities, but families and schools still need advocacy and support.  These parents are heroes, and they have incredible demands on their time and energy.  Combining efforts can expand the reach of their work.
  1. Twice-exceptional children need understanding.  The needs of 2e children can be complex, and in groups focused on individual diagnoses, parents may have trouble finding others who can identify.  Combined advocacy can provide 2e families with support, a voice, and better understanding from both educators and other families.
  1. Gifted needs are special needs.  When special and gifted education advocacy is combined, parents can help dispel myths about giftedness, and can reframe discussions about gifted education.  Too many parents and educators still equate giftedness with high achievement and view gifted accommodations as elitist.  When gifted education is included in joint advocacy efforts with Special Education, parents and educators may be able to see gifted needs through a more accurate lens.

Parent support groups for specific diagnoses are still important for emotional support and exchanging resources – but geographically, few families with identical needs may be near one another.  For your child’s diagnosis, there may not be enough local parents to effectively advocate and support your district.  It’s possible to have both individual and combined groups:  in the district where I live, parents belong to groups for specific needs – such as dyslexia and gifted needs – but we also have a combined PTA committee for Special and Gifted Education.  This committee includes every type of special need and learning difference, it’s one of several in local districts, and it’s working to make a positive difference.  If your local PTA isn’t open to something similar, don’t give up:  you can (and should) still establish partnerships between existing groups!

If you’re starting a new group, a number of resources can help:  for gifted groups, check out the below links and other posts in the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Blog Hop (below!).  Whether you start a group or collaborate with existing ones, remember these tips:

  • Stay positive in your advocacy
  • Adopt a team approach when working with educators
  • Advocate with integrity and respect
  • Work to see issues from multiple perspectives
  • Ask how you can help
  • Consider affiliating with state or national organizations, and/or advocating at the state/national level
  • Support the teachers and administrators in your district as well as your group’s parents.

Parenting a child with special needs or learning differences can be a lonely job.  Fortunately, in a parent group, you don’t have to be alone.  Special and gifted education partnerships don’t just benefit your own child:  they create a community, they help teachers and schools, and they can improve awareness and education for all children with differences.

AprilHoagies

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

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

Additional Resources

Council for Exceptional Children:  https://www.cec.sped.org/

Start a Special Education PTA:  https://www.pta.org/content.cfm?ItemNumber=2100  from National PTA (You can also create council or school PTA committees combining Special and Gifted Education advocacy.)

The below resources focus on gifted groups, though some advice can apply to groups for other diagnoses:

Starting a Gifted Parents’ Group: https://globalgtchatpoweredbytagt.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/starting-a-gifted-parents-group/  from Global #GTCHAT, Powered by TAGT (Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented)

How parent advocacy groups can make a difference:  http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10339.aspx  from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development

Forming a Parent Group: http://www.iagcgifted.org/committees/parent-affiliates/the-nuts-and-bolts-of-forming-a-parent-group.html  from the Illinois Association for Gifted Children

Starting and Sustaining a Parent Group to Support Gifted Children: http://www.nagc.org/sites/default/files/Parent%20CK/Starting%20and%20Sustaining%20a%20Parent%20Group.pdf  from the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC)

Establishing a Parent Support Group:  http://www.txgifted.org/establishing-psg  from the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT)

What Makes a Parent Group Successful:  http://www.txgifted.org/files/What-Makes-Parent-Groups-Successful.pdf  from the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT)

Parent Support Groups: https://pty.vanderbilt.edu/parents/parent-support-groups/  from Vanderbilt University – Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth

Recognizing Giftedness in Diverse Populations

by Emily VR

If you follow news about gifted education, you know that there is often a lack of diversity in GT programs, and that it is a dilemma nationwide.  A teacher friend recently voiced concerns about the absence of diversity in her GT courses, and she is far from alone.  The problem concerns researchers, educators, and parents of children in underrepresented populations.

This isn’t just an issue for families in those populations, however, or a problem just for educators.  If you have a child receiving gifted services, or if you have any involvement at all with gifted education or gifted advocacy, then this is your problem, too.

Let me explain.

First:  for children with gifted needs, gifted education is necessary.  Though definitions and identification methods can vary somewhat between experts, services for the gifted exist because of extensive research showing actual developmental differences in children at the extremes of ability testing.  Just as with other learning differences, gifted differences require ongoing adjustments and interventions for affected children to learn in traditional schools.  While some researchers focus on the talent development aspects of gifted education, from the perspective of many parents and psychologists – and teachers, as public schools continue to be underfunded – the real purpose of gifted services lies in the danger of not providing those services.  Failing to understand and accommodate gifted needs can put some students at risk of negative outcomes, including underachievement, social isolation, emotional challenges, and dropping out of school.

It is also necessary to prioritize diversity and quality education for all students.  Since the Civil Rights Movement, equal opportunity has been a leading priority in education law and policy, as it should be.   Unfortunately, past injustices have a continuing economic impact on families and communities, and in many areas, students in low-income households do not receive the school and/or home support they need to succeed.  It is important to note that segregation in education was still widespread within the lifetimes of many adults today, and educational testing has not always been used for ethical purposes.  Someone 65 years old today was 9 years old in 1960, when, six years after Brown v. Board of Education, African-American students in New Orleans were tested in an attempt to prevent them from attending white schools – and Ruby Bridges became the first African-American child to attend an all-white public elementary school in the American South.

In light of that history, it is not hard to understand the criticism of social justice advocates – particularly in parts of the country with struggling public schools – leveled at the absence of diversity in schools perceived as “elite,” with admission based on test scores.

Sadly, some of that criticism unfairly targets the very concept of gifted education, ignoring decades of research on the extreme, measurable differences and needs of students identified as gifted.*

We do know that CLED (culturally, linguistically, and/or economically diverse) populations are underrepresented in gifted identification – NOT because students from diverse backgrounds are less likely to have high ability needs, but because identification methods used in many districts and states need examination (Matthews & Shaunessy, 2008).  Concerns range from problems with referrals for gifted screenings (students from diverse populations are less likely to be referred) to the possibility of language and/or cultural bias in testing tools.  Undiagnosed learning disabilities can sometimes impact testing.  Poverty can impact student performance in numerous ways, including nutrition, overall health, and a parent’s ability to be involved in a child’s education.  Misdiagnosis is a concern for gifted students in general, because of their unique characteristics and reactions to a lack of challenge in school, but culturally diverse students are thought to be at an even higher risk of misdiagnosis (Beljan, 2011).  In some environments, without an understanding of diverse learners, signs of high-ability differences can be misinterpreted as symptoms of a disorder.  Improving identification is a difficult challenge, but if we fail – if educators and policymakers are unable to find and include more gifted students from diverse populations – these programs WILL appear elitist, and will remain vulnerable to attack by critics, whose energy and advocacy could be directed instead at improving education for all students in need.  Continued attacks may also reduce support for identification and necessary services – which impacts all gifted children.

At first, for some, discussing this might feel uncomfortable.  It should make us uncomfortable.  If we can get past the initial stigma of the “gifted” word, and if we can defend that advocacy, then we can admit that common screening practices are far from perfect, and that they need our immediate attention.  If we ignore this problem, we are failing the children – our children – most in need of help.

How can you advocate for recognition of giftedness in diverse populations, regardless of your own background?

1)           Learn about the problem.   Check out some of the resources below, do your own research, and consider connecting with the NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children), SENG (Supporting the Needs of the Gifted), and the gifted organization for your state.  Most website resources are free, as are the e-newsletters of some organizations.  Other organization newsletters require a nominal membership fee for parents, part of which helps to support efforts to address this very problem.

2)           Learn about solutions.   What is your district doing to identify gifted students from diverse populations?  Could your local parent group help support improvements?  Research on this issue is ongoing, but some current approaches include universal screenings (testing all students in a grade or grades, rather than relying solely on referrals), a talent pool program to identify candidates for further investigation, portfolio work/review, using multiple criteria for identification, using appropriate tests for English Language Learner (ELL) students, inviting parents to submit information for the screening or appeals process, and raising teacher awareness of the different manifestations of G/T characteristics in special populations.  My own family feels fortunate to live in a district using all of these.  A number of resources and publications discuss solutions, including the work of Dr. Joy Davis, an advocate for increasing access and equity in gifted education, and a board member of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC).

3)           Learn about G/T education in your state.   Local G/T policies are shaped by state law, if your state has G/T laws.  Learning about current laws and policies can help you better direct your questions and efforts to support improvement.

4)           Get involved.  What is your state G/T organization doing to support G/T students in CLED populations?  Does the group offer opportunities to help with their efforts?  An example:  the “Gifted Plus” Division of the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT) works to support special populations in G/T education.  You can also join efforts to support increased school funding, improved early childhood education, and the reduction of poverty and hunger – obstacles not only for some gifted students, but for ALL students facing barriers to achievement through education.  If your time and resources are limited, you can still help correct misconceptions and raise local awareness among parents and educators.   Check out the NAGC Myths about Gifted Students, and look for opportunities to reframe discussions about giftedness.  In the district where I live, educators deliberately use language indicating that students qualify for gifted services, rather than “getting in.”  Gifted accommodations are not a perk or an honor, but are designed to meet educational needs – and these needs are found in all cultures and populations.  Gifted services ensure that students with learning differences can learn in school.

Can you advocate for diversity in G/T education if your child homeschools or is in private school?  YES!  Gifted students in all educational settings benefit from continuing research and strategies used to support gifted education programs in public school.  Families forced to choose alternatives to public school can often relate to the struggles of unidentified gifted children needing services – and some children have no viable alternative to public education.  For the benefit of gifted children in all schooling situations, it is critical to support improvement in identification.

***

This post barely scratches the surface of several complex issues, and it is not intended to be comprehensive.  You don’t need an advanced degree to be part of the solution, however.  No matter what role you play in education, if you care about the future of students from diverse backgrounds, or about the future of gifted students – my hope is that you care about both – this matter deserves your attention and your action.

To answer the critics of gifted programs:  ignoring research on successful interventions is not an answer to the diversity dilemma.  If researchers discovered a failure to diagnose and serve all children with a learning difference – as they often do – they would not recommend taking successful accommodations away from other diagnosed students.  The same logic applies to gifted differences.  If children with advanced learning needs are arbitrarily held back, and if they are refused the opportunity to learn, the long-term harm is real and significant.  The answer:  we must do a better job of identifying students with these needs.

It is possible to be an advocate for social justice and equal opportunity in education and a supporter of services for children with learning differences and special needs – including gifted needs.  So, please, learn more, and consider getting involved in your district and in your state.  It matters for the future of gifted education.

It matters for the children who need services the most – and taking action is the right thing to do.

 

Sources and Further Reading

Beljan, P. (2011).  Misdiagnosis of culturally diverse students.  In J. A. Castellano and A. D. Frasier, Eds., Special populations in gifted education: understanding our most able students from diverse backgrounds.  Waco, Texas: Prufock Press, National Association for Gifted Children.

Biography.com.  The Ruby Bridges biography.  A&E Television Networks.  http://www.biography.com/people/ruby-bridges-475426

Brown, E. (2015).  How does a teacher’s race affect which students get to be identified as ‘gifted’?  The Washington Post, April 22, 2015.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2015/04/22/how-does-a-teachers-race-affect-which-students-get-to-be-identified-as-gifted/?tid=a_inl

Davis, J. L. (2010).  Bright, talented, and Black: a guide for families of African-American gifted learners.  Scottsdale, AZ:  Great Potential Press.

Matthews, M. S. (2009).  English language learner students and gifted identification.  Digest of Gifted Research.  Duke TIP.  https://tip.duke.edu/node/921

Matthews, M. S. and Shaunessy, E. (2008).  Culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse gifted students.  In F. A. Karnes and K. R. Stephens, Eds., Achieving excellence: educating the gifted and talented.  Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Pearson Prentice Hall.

National Association for Gifted Children [NAGC].  Myths about gifted students.  Accessed March 2016. https://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/myths-about-gifted-students

National Association for Gifted Children [NAGC].  Networks – Special Populations.  Accessed March 2016.  http://www.nagc.org/get-involved/nagc-networks-and-special-interest-groups/networks-special-populations

Nisen, M. (2015).  Tackling inequality in gifted-and-talented programs:  using testing to place students in the advanced-learning programs can actually help level the playing field.  The Atlantic.  Sept. 15, 2015.  http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/09/inequality-gifted-programs-schools-testing/405013/

Robinson, A., Shore, B. M., and Enersen, D. L. (2007).  Multiple criteria for identification.  In Best practices in gifted education.  Waco, Texas: Prufock Press, National Association for Gifted Children.

Robinson, A., Shore, B. M., and Enersen, D. L. (2007).  Developing Talents in Culturally Diverse Learners.  In Best practices in gifted education.  Waco, Texas: Prufock Press, National Association for Gifted Children.

Silverman, L. K. (2013).  What is giftedness?  In Giftedness 101: the Psych 101 series.  New York, NY: Springer Publishing company.

Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented.  Gifted Plus Division.  http://www.txgifted.org/gifted-plus-division

* Research and debate over nature vs. nurture and fixed vs. malleable intelligence are beyond the scope of this piece – but it is worth noting that several psychologists have studied early signs of gifted development, including characteristics thought to be present during a child’s first year.  For observations about early gifted development, see:

Ruf, D. L. (2009). 5 Levels of Gifted: School Issues and Educational Options. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Kearney, K. (2000).  Frequently asked questions about extreme intelligence in very young children.  Davidson Institute for Talent Development.   http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10162.aspx

Resources from the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum:

Gifted Cubed:  The Expanded Complexity of Race & Culture in Gifted and 2e Kids.  http://giftedhomeschoolers.org/ghf-press/gifted-cubed/

Gifted and Minorities:  Articles, Blogs, Organizations, Websites, and Books.  http://giftedhomeschoolers.org/resources/parent-and-professional-resources/articles/gifted-minorities/

 

We are proud to include this post in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop:

Recognizing Giftedness in Our Children and Ourselves.

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Not Returning This Gift: How the Gifted Label Unexpectedly Helped My Child…and Me

By Nikki C.

You know how some first-time parents like to read parenting books and BabyCenter e-mails, to get an idea of what to expect?  Yeah – I’m not one of those people.  When it came to my son, those sources were usually wrong.  Was it me, I wondered?  Was it them?  I didn’t know – but I knew something about our situation was different.

I knew that we weren’t having the typical early childhood experience, but at first, I was opposed to testing that might label my son.  I didn’t feel comfortable imposing predictions on a life that had only just begun.  Before my son turned three, however, I did a complete 180.  I needed to know what was going on – and if that meant a label, I was ready to give in.  We ended up with an autism diagnosis.  There were a lot of emotions tied to that diagnosis, but the important thing was that I now knew what we were dealing with so I could make informed decisions.

I jumped in feet first.  I read the books, joined the groups, signed up for the therapies, and even bought the t-shirts… so excited that we would finally fit in somewhere… but we didn’t.  I found myself feeling guilty at parent meetings.  We certainly had our own share of difficulties, but they weren’t really the same.  While my son did make some friends, we weren’t finding true peers.  Then, there was school.  Our local Special Education program was receiving rave reviews from other parents, but in our case, it wasn’t the right fit for my son.  He needed something different.

I always knew my son had unusual abilities for his age, but he is my only child, and I wasn’t completely aware just how unusual they were.  I did know that people generally do not love to hear someone talk about how bright they think their child is, so it didn’t come up very often.  I did mention it when advocating at his school, however.  Maybe he’s bored – he knows all the material – please challenge him – etc.   I was told that his advanced skills were just one of the quirks of autism, that he didn’t really understand what he was saying, or that it was just rote memory – that his abilities were what we call “parlor tricks.”

I finally realized that the time and energy I was investing in trying to make our school be a good fit for my son could be better spent elsewhere.  It was one of the scariest decisions I ever had to make, but we did it.  We left the special needs program, and we left public school.  My son was eager to learn, so we started homeschooling right away.  His skills were all over the place.  I had no idea what I was doing!  One fateful day at a special and gifted education resource fair, several people made very specific comments regarding my son’s intelligence, and they recommended that I investigate resources for gifted children.  I decided it was time for private testing.

That is how my son received an additional label:  gifted.

Giftedness, as defined by psychologists, refers to an IQ at the 98th percentile or above, and it comes along with a number of unique characteristics and different learning needs. Here is the definition of giftedness that best helped me to understand its impact on my son’s life:

“Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching, and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.” (emphasis added)

Silverman, L. (2007).  Asynchrony: A New Definition of Giftedness.  Digest of Gifted Research, Duke TIP.  https://tip.duke.edu/node/839

I knew we had found another piece of our puzzle! While test scores are part of it, now I understood that giftedness is so much more than just that. As it turned out, my son’s scores indicated significant high ability learning needs, and qualified him for help from the Davidson Young Scholars program.  I already knew that my son’s strengths enriched our lives with added awe and excitement, but I had no idea how much the label and knowledge that followed would change our lives for the better.

The gifted label validated what I already knew, and it gave me peace of mind.  After so many professionals had treated me like one of “those moms,” I no longer had to question whether I had done the right thing by pulling my son out of our school.  He needed an educational program which would build on his strengths while scaffolding in other areas.  In our case, the school could not recognize and support his strengths, so our departure was no longer a decision I needed to second guess.

The gifted label provided a new perspective. I feel lucky that early on, my son taught me that for every challenge involved with autism, if I kept my heart and mind open, I would find a joy to help balance our world.  Autism is part of who he is, and besides being the coolest and bravest person I know, he is more open to the joy in the world than anyone I have ever met. I wasn’t looking for a cure; I was looking for ways to help my child be the best version of himself and provide him tools to cope with living in a world that wasn’t always kind to him. I’m not going to lie: there have been some tough parenting moments. I had spent a lot of time trying to determine when challenging behaviors were due to autism and when they were simply due to my son’s age, since the best parenting approach is often not the same. Several behaviors weren’t explained by either, and I was at a loss of how to help my son with some of his challenges until I started learning about gifted children.  The gifted label didn’t remove the autism diagnosis, but I now had a more complete understanding of my son’s behavior and needs, and I had additional techniques to explore.  It turns out that many of my son’s characteristics were fairly common among gifted children: asynchrony, perfectionism, and overexcitabilities, to name a few.  My son was born with two diagnoses; knowing both of them has enabled me to meet more of his needs.

The gifted label opened doors to resources, information, and peers.  We gained access to in-person and online support groups and homeschool groups.  In these communities, I no longer had to edit what I wanted to say or ask about my child… and these parents had answers!  My son finally had peers with shared interests!  He still has trouble with social interactions, but these people understand him.  We now have a tribe, a home, a place we fit in.  While having unconditional love and support from our extended family has been our lifeblood, as a single mom to an only child, I can’t say enough about how vital these new communities are to our happiness.

Most unexpectedly, the gifted label resulted in my own personal growth.  While researching gifted traits to better understand my son, I first read about overexcitabilities, and I had one of the biggest “a-ha” moments of my life.  Having a better understanding of yourself and of things you questioned for decades can be a huge confidence booster… and you need confidence when you’re raising an outlier among outliers, and you frequently have to make outside-the-box decisions!

Both parenting a gifted child and being a gifted child can be challenging.  Some parents say that giftedness is not a gift at all.  I do not wish to downplay the struggles of any child or adult, and I recognize that gifted children face significant struggles in our schools and world.  For my son and for me, however, the gifted label has been a gift.  Maybe I am being naïve about what is yet to come, and maybe it is because my son is still so young.  Maybe it is because we homeschool, so we have sidestepped a lot of the common school problems.  Maybe after living with my son’s autism diagnosis, my perspective is different.

Whatever the case, when my son received the gifted label, once again, I read the books, joined the groups, and continued the therapies (though no t-shirts this time :-)) …and it worked!   This doesn’t mean that I use the gifted label in casual conversation, and it doesn’t mean that I use it yet with my son.  The validation of my son’s giftedness, however, has filled in a huge chunk of our puzzle… and it has helped to set us on a path I am excited about every day.  No matter what a child’s diagnosis, and no matter what a child’s areas of ability, every child deserves and needs to have support for their special needs and be allowed to soar in their areas of strength. Finding the best environment and tools to accomplish this takes research, advocacy and courage.  Parents, trust yourselves to recognize your child’s strengths and make the big decisions. You have the power to view each new day as an immensely rewarding challenge, and to bring more joy and hope into your lives.

 

We are proud to include this post in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop!

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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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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.