by Ben Koch
A guest post by Paula Prober, LPC
Beth* came to see me for counseling when she was 16. Unlike many teens who might be reluctant to seek counseling, she asked her mother to find her a therapist. She knew she was in trouble. When her mom contacted me, she said that Beth used to be energetic, motivated, athletic and a high achiever in school. When she was nine, she planned her future: running for President of the United States. Lately, she’d become depressed and lethargic. Her grades were dropping. Life had become pointless. What happened?
Beth told me that she was lonely. Her one friend, Maddie, was unreliable, using Beth as her counselor but never reciprocating. Beth said that kids her age weren’t interested in politics or philosophy. They weren’t asking existential questions. And, for Beth, finding a boyfriend always ended up in disappointment. The boys would accuse her of over-thinking or of being too serious. School was disappointing as well. In one instance, she said that she’d read 1984 in English class and spent hours analyzing the implications of the book and rewriting her essays. Her classmates dismissed the book. It was “stupid.”
Beth was a worrier. She was searching for meaning in her life and in the world at large. She questioned everything: the importance of grades, whether college would be worth the money, her “laziness,” internet censorship, GMOs, how she would find a meaningful career, the “enormity of the universe,” how to deal with climate change and on and on.
And yet, Beth didn’t know that she was gifted. Even though she scored well on tests, she didn’t see herself as particularly smart. She hadn’t been identified as gifted in school. She didn’t see that her problems were related to her rainforest mind.
So, I explained it to her.
I told her that she fit the profile to a tee: Extreme curiosity, constant questioning, intense sensitivity, loneliness, unusual empathy, perfectionism, intuition, passion for learning, multiple interests and abilities, anxiety and existential depression. Yep. Rainforest mind.
It took a while to convince her. She said that she was “average” and didn’t want to seem critical of others or ungrateful. But eventually, she believed me. She wasn’t a freak or lazy or a misfit. She was gifted. And now that she knew who she was and what to look for, she could find intellectual peers and look for people and organizations that also wanted to change the world. She could accept that these rainforest-y traits were positive qualities. She could research many career paths and build a life that mattered.
And, perhaps, she’d decide to run for President after all.
We are excited to share this guest post from the blog of Paula Prober, Your Rainforest Mind. Paula is a licensed counselor and consultant in Eugene, Oregon, and she specializes in counseling gifted adults and youth. The post is adapted from her new book: Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, available now through Amazon.
Image courtesy of Magnus Lindvall, Unsplash, CC.
* names used are fictional.
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.
We are proud to include this post in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop!
The rise of Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)—and its ability to see our brain’s activity in real time—holds unlimited potential for scientists and researchers. Martin Lindstrom, in his book Buyology, even discusses the current research and implications of neural imaging in market research. For example, do choosy moms really choose Jif peanut butter, and if so, what subconscious processes are driving their purchasing decisions?
As an educational researcher, I love daydreaming about using fMRI to better understand how humans think, learn, and build new knowledge. Imagine if Piaget had access to one of these machines! What happens on a subconscious level as students are engaged? Is blood flow increased to various areas of the brain, which allows for heightened neuro-receptivity? Why do some kids “get” the material while others are left dumbfounded?
However, the prefix “sub” means below/hidden/beneath, and many of us would prefer for our subconscious to remain right where it is—hidden and beneath the visible surface. I admit, I learned a lot in my junior high history class, but that was because I had a huge crush on my teacher. If she could have run a real-time fMRI brain scan on me…well, either she’d be really flattered or I’d be expelled. Either way, let’s leave that pubescent fascination out of my report card, thank you. This example highlights just one example of why we may or may not want to go poking around in the subconscious.
As advocates of neural imaging increase, the opponents of so-called “brain probing” gather together to voice their concerns—and no, the majority do not consist of junior high boys. The argument goes like this: if we know what makes the subconscious work, what keeps us from manipulating reality to control the subconscious? It’s a slippery slope, but a valid ethical conundrum. It should be noted that valid ethical conundrums typically accompany major scientific discoveries and anomaly shifts.
This is an incredible topic, and it’s fun to look at both sides of the implication coin. However, I am neither smart enough nor well-versed enough to provide a definitive answer about the use (or misuse) or fMRI. Instead, I prefer to keep my contributions to daydreams and silent reveries. As my contribution to this discussion, I offer the following narrative piece as a simple “what if.” What would school be like if students were required to wear actual “Thinking Caps®”—a network of lighted diodes that visibly register their brain’s activity? No more daydreaming, but instead, complete and regulated engagement.
It’s 11 minutes after the bell as Yuri slides through the door and into his seat. Teach looks, but just jots it down and moves on. Yuri is closed to being finished—everyone knows it.
He unloads his bag and puts his school items in place: bun-board, isoscope, wax frog figurine—the usual. Yuri places the Thinking Cap® on his head and presses his table’s on switch. After the initial wince as the cap fires to life, he’s ready. Sucking in a deep breath of air, Yuri expels a low, droll tone between puffed cheeks, and slowly deflates into his seat.
The diodes on Yuri’s cap fade in the front, flicker, and with decaying pulses, shift into a dull, throbbing light at the base of his skull. Just two minutes and already he isn’t paying attention.
Now, we all knew, you didn’t bother Yuri for those first few minutes. You didn’t ask where he was or why he was late. But Yuri was close to being finished, and Teach wouldn’t miss an opportunity like this.
Right on cue, just like every time Yuri’s lights fade to the back, Teach begins to move to the far side of the room, skirting the windowsill, making her way methodically towards Yuri. As she moves, closing in on a daydreaming Yuri, Thinking Caps® about the room begin flickering blue and red. Excited orange taints the stream of engaged green. No one is listening to the lecture; we want to know what’s going to happen to Yuri. Sensing the change in color, Teach turns her attention and gaze back to the class:
“As we do in the proper order. Right, children?”
We murmur “Yes, ma’am,” and the oranges and blues are gone, replaced by green lights of the Thinking Caps®. Teach glances around at the engaged learners, satisfied. She continues to close in on Yuri.
I focus forward, desperately putting my full attention to the lesson splayed on my bun-board. I can see the green reflection in the screen, letting me know that my mind is in the right place.
But what’s going on? What’s going to happen?
Teach is still moving. I turn to look back at Yuri and jump in my seat—there’s Teach less than three feet away and moving my direction. I must have flicked a frightened yellow, because she places a firm, but calm hand on my desk before moving past.
Her smell. The smell of dust, decay, and cold, dead smoke strike me, and I’m sure my helmet is an array of colors. It doesn’t matter though; she’s passed, and is now close enough to Yuri’s desk not to mind a flicker amidst the fading greens around the room.
I turn to look back, and there’s Yuri—the front of his Thinking Cap® still a faint maroon, while the back of his head beams whites and purples. His colors are so bright they splay the back wall of the room like a floating orb. Rarely does a Thinking Cap® glow as bright as Yuri’s; too bad it was always on the wrong side.
“Yuri!” A yellow band of light beams from his head, jumping in scattered directions. Greens grapple with white: a sensory overload.
“Pay attention!” All of Yuri’s lights dance yellow, then blue, and then…instead of settling on green where they should, they suddenly go out. Black. Pissed-off black, we call it. Teach notices, and the color purple carpets the white walls of the entire classroom; no one is engaged in the lesson—we’re all thinking of the possibilities. Teach freezes—processing the boy before him.
“Yuri! How dare you think as such? In my class? In my school?” Teach presses Yuri’s desk off. Another wince as the magnetics release their hold. “You are dismissed.”
Yuri stuffs his backpack and walks out of the room. He would leave school, and we wouldn’t see him until the following day. There would be no after-hours playtime for Yuri. No socialtime. No development trainings. Yuri is done for the day, and would return tomorrow for much of the same, until he either learns to stay engaged on the lesson instead of his dreams, or gives up entirely.
Easily, the most successful course I’ve developed over the last few years is one called Mathacadabra: The Magic of Math*. In it, students trace the mythological magic square from ancient China to Ben Franklin, use Fibonacci and the Golden Ratio to see if they’d have cut it as an Olympian supermodel in ancient Greece, test their common-sense view of reality with topology and the Moebius strip, and learn all order of mental math agilities, including an exploration of the “memory palace” method espoused by both Sherlock Holmes and U.S. memory champion Ron White. Bear with me…this post is not a bragfest on my curriculum writing skills. Rather, I’m hoping my passion and enthusiasm for this Math-based content is coming across clearly, because I need to contrast it with its stark opposite: my past self.
Were there a magic thread I could trace back through time, perhaps I could identify that moment, or at least a cascade of micro-moments, when I broke from Math and began to identify it–at least subconsciously–in the same life category as “Novocaine shots into my gums” and “soggy green beans.” As a young boy with the “gifted” label and some of the learning opportunities that entailed, I had consistent opportunities to embrace Math, to see beyond its facade of empty numerals and operations. But somewhere along the way, I’d failed to connect Math to my already voracious curiosity about things like the composition of the rings of Saturn, the concept of infinity, the physics of black holes, or even my obsession with LEGO construction and fascination with breaking new speed records on my Big Wheel.
“I’m not a math person.” As Mindset author Carol Dweck has highlighted, this phrasing and self-conceptualization can become a misguided badge of honor. But it isn’t only struggling students who create such a shield to protect themselves from the perceived slings and arrows of the most taken-for-granted of our core subjects. Over the years, I’ve seen that our brightest students are just as likely to see math as the dark cloud of their school day, to be endured like a perfectly timed and predictable bout of bad weather.
For me, that disconnect persisted well into adulthood, driving me as deep into the refuge of the humanities as possible, where I pleaded for sanctuary from the cold, heartless reach of Math at the feet of Keats, and Steinbeck and an entire lineage of poets and philosophers who seemed to share my seething resentment for the dark art of repetition and red-marked worksheets. Instead of seeing Math as a layer to my understanding of the world, I’d come to associate it with a tedious attention to a circular system of numerals and symbols with no real connection to things beyond its oppressive logic. I wish I could say that revolutions in Math education have identified, diagnosed and bridged this chasm, but I’m afraid this Math disconnect is prevalent and will continue for many otherwise highly curious and bright young students. The problem, in essence, is that rather than embracing the origin of curiosity in the arts and humanities, most Math curriculum takes the pretentious stand that it legitimately exists in isolation of the arts, as a final and authoritative anchor of STEM. If you don’t want to lose more students like me to the S.S.M.H.E.M (Secret Society of Math-Hating English Majors), here’s what we must do: broaden our conceptualization of “Math” to include, and in fact begin from, the intersection of the world and our sense of wonderment about it.
This approach to Math, which I call “Connections Over Corrections” for its ability to incite curiosity and deepen our appreciation of an interconnected universe of beings, objects, and ideas, has a couple simple premises:
Allow Math to arise organically in an environment of open, passion-based inquiry, not in isolation:
Drill and kill approaches to math create a false, insular understanding that mastering math for math’s sake is some kind of academic achievement. Math mastery is an achievement only when used as a tool for more holistic goals: solving an engineering problem, coordinating angles and lines in a wall-sized mural, calculating imperceptible light shifts in the hunt for exoplanets. Don’t worry, no one is denying there’s a basic foundation of math concepts and skills to be grasped and even mastered–heck, there’s even a place for flash cards! But when the next skill to be learned and mastered arises organically out of the problem at hand, CONNECTION is inevitable, and a long-term grasp of why that skill is important is encouraged.
Emphasize Math as yet another LANGUAGE with which to understand phenomena, not a “pure” reductionist explanation stipped of all mystery:
The Math of my childhood classroom, especially in secondary school, came across as the antithesis to my unnatural passion for poetry. If someone had shown me the interaction between Math and Poetry (“Hey, let’s try a Fibonacci sonnet!”), perhaps that would have provided an opening just wide enough to let Math back in.
While developing a growth mindset can play a huge role in encouraging and re-engaging “lost” or reluctant mathematicians, I argue there is a more powerful (and much more challenging) approach. Let’s leave space in our curriculum for organic connections to reinforce curiosity and drive problem solving, and allow wonderment – raw, childlike amazement with the universe – be the fuel that energizes, and ultimately reignites, our learning of math.
We are proud this post is part of the March Math Blog Hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!
Blog Hop graphic by Pamela S Ryan – click above for more Blog Hop posts!
*Mathacadabra: The Magic of Math course title and syllabus are the intellectual property of NuMinds Enrichment.
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!
by Ben Koch
In my role as an enrichment specialist (one of many hats I wear as Co-Founder of NuMinds), I’m often called upon to help guide the mind of a brilliant but scattered student who just might solve the enigma of unified field theory, crank out a cure for cancer, or even crack the Beale Cipher by breakfast if only he could manage some of the basics of self-management and organization to extract some of that gold from a scattered, overwhelmed mind. Ironically, even with the power of 10 personal assistants at their fingertips, most digital natives have not even begun to tap the organizing power of smart technology in order to declutter their minds and open up space for creative productivity.
Instead, it seems us GenXers (OK, with some help from Millennials) who straddle the paper and digital ages have best learned to transfer the productivity tools of an earlier era into the reign of the smart phone. This is just a philosophical side note, but could it be that productivity apps are easier for paper natives to connect with because the analogs are meaningful? For example, the concept of the “To Do” list presupposes its paper and pencil forebearer. When you don’t have that concept to transfer into its digital equivalent, why WOULD it be intuitive? This is not a lamentation, just a recognition that new, more indigenous forms will emerge from the tech era.
But in the meantime…when I am coaching students in getting a grip on organization in order to increase productivity and performance, one of my first steps is to see what type of tech intervention from currently available apps might be effective and appropriate. Each of the apps below is a piece of the toolkit. Some stick and are life-changers, some just eat up precious megabytes that could be holding pics. Either way, they’re free, at your fingertips, and worth a try. The technical literacy of your child/student will determine how well each app will fly. Oh, and nothing is stopping YOU from taking it up a notch either. Yes, this list is just the tip of the iceberg. How could one guy possibly capture all the productivity apps in one blog post? My filter here is these are ALL apps I use personally and can confidently recommend to students in the appropriate circumstances. I strongly encourage other recommendations and insights in the comments. (For those REALLY wanting to crank up productivity, see the list of apps used by “4-Hour Work Week” author Tim Ferris.)
I feel compelled to add a note of counterbalance here. Lest I give the impression that I believe “success” is a desperate search for shortcuts and lifehacks enabled by technology, I want to emphasize the importance of simple, long-term determination and the satisfaction that often comes from taking the long road. Nowhere is this better articulated than by ultra-athlete Rich Roll in his admonition to invest in the journey. But if a few apps at your fingertips can clear distractions from that long road, they just might be invaluable travel companions.
by Emily VR
When your kids worry about the meaning of life, what do you do?
We all ask ourselves existential questions at some point. When those questions come from my kids, sometimes I’m prepared. Sometimes I’m not.
“But how do we know for sure that the universe and heaven go on forever? Everything has an end.”
I try to give reassurance. We talk about science and faith. Unfortunately, sometimes, religion and science aren’t enough. Sometimes, the unknowns can cause sadness: real, palpable, sleepless worry. A hug and kiss don’t always make things better.
“Why did kids have to die in the earthquake?”
Some questions don’t have answers.
Thinking back on these conversations, I can see the faces of my sons, vulnerable, waiting. Their eyes are windows. At some point, between now and the end of adolescence, I know those windows will develop protective shutters – at least temporarily. Right now, their private thoughts still come out at bedtime, and those windows are wide open.
“I don’t understand why we are alive. I mean, what is the point of the world, and of people existing?”
As a parent, how do you reassure your child, while he or she still looks to you for answers? Can we help our kids build resilience?
A new book offers support, and it’s become one of my favorites: Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope, by James Webb. Dr. Webb is a psychologist and expert on gifted children, and co-founded the nonprofit SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) following the suicide of a gifted youth. Psychologists find that bright youths ask difficult questions early in their lives, and often struggle with perfectionism and disillusionment. Searching for Meaning isn’t specifically for parents, but it gives reassurance to anyone who can identify with these worries.
The book begins with the roots of idealism – both nature and nurture – and discusses challenges faced by idealists, internal and external. Webb provides an overview of gifted characteristics, since those individuals are often at higher risk, and he then delves into difficulties faced by idealists. Depression is discussed in a frank, compassionate manner. Throughout the book, Webb provides statistics and definitions in addition to the feelings of experiencing these challenges.
Webb also explores existential concerns through multiple lenses. Existential theories, religious beliefs, and psychological theories are covered, and references are given for research, allowing curious readers to explore further. In particular, the Theory of Positive Disintegration, by Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski, gives readers encouragement: according to Dabrowski, grappling with disillusionment is the first step toward heightened development, though questions may continue throughout the life span.
Unhealthy coping mechanisms are covered with compassion and honesty, and Webb provides healthier alternatives. Readers can discover methods to find happiness and hope: cultivating positive relationships, evaluating goals and values, becoming involved with causes, spirituality, humor, life scripting, and bibliotherapy, among others. I found the solutions respectful, and flexible enough to incorporate spiritual beliefs, though no religion is promoted. The book embraces the unique needs of each reader: Webb states, “The examples I’ve presented… are only suggestions; each individual must find what works best for him- or herself.”
The overall text seems best suited for adults and older adolescents, but in my family, I found the chapter on “Healthier Coping Styles” perfect for reading with my older son. In an attempt to answer one of my 9-year-old’s questions, I pulled down this book. It became a nightly ritual.
“Mom, can we read more of that book together? The one about ways to deal with my stress?”
Webb uses the acronym HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) to describe triggers for negativity and stress, and it’s been helpful in our house. We’ve increased “hug time” (feeling connected), we make conscious efforts to think positively and plan for the future, and we talk about how it’s okay to think and feel the way we do. We’ve read and re-read passages, and we discuss how we can use them in our lives.
For my part, I realized that one of Webb’s coping strategies is how I best handle stress: I work with causes to find solutions. In this, I see myself in my sons: at ages 4 and 9, in their own ways, I see them driven to right wrongs, to speak up for truth, and to help those who suffer. Earlier this year, our church devoted several weeks to a similar theme, titled “Follow Your Heartbreak.” Our pastor explained that to find your passion, you can think about what breaks your heart about the world. This seems to be how our family was meant to live our lives.
Webb’s book gives idealists both encouragement and motivation, and I believe it can help us lead happier lives. I can’t protect my sons against all doubt and pain, but I’m glad for a resource in letting them know that it’s okay to question. I want to show them that there is nothing wrong in asking for help, when they suffer. That they can find peace, especially in pursuing their drive to never, ever stop trying to make the world better. That as long as I’m alive, I will be here for them, doing the same.
Just like my children, I’ll be searching for meaning, and for hope.
Dr. Webb’s book can be found through Great Potential Press or online booksellers: