Reluctant Gifted Learners: Solving the Puzzle

by Emily VR

Parents and teachers of gifted students: if you are reading this post, you are probably looking for help.   Whether you teach in a classroom or at home, you have hoped to inspire your student(s), to foster a love of learning, and to help develop skills needed for future success.  The problem?

Your gifted student is producing disappointing work.  Crappy work.  Or at least, right now, mediocre work.

If you are new to gifted education, or if you thought “gifted” meant “kids who always make ‘A’ honor roll,” you may be confused.  (Hint: that’s not what gifted means.)  You’ve tried various strategies: introducing topics you find interesting yourself, providing challenging work if she earns it (by finishing her regular assignments with good grades first), focusing mainly on improving her areas of weakness, and giving her same-level activity menus, the same as the other students.  After all, you want to be fair.  Your campus offers extracurricular contests and awards.  Surely some of that should be inspiring her, right?  What’s wrong with this kid?

Unfortunately, these approaches won’t benefit the gifted students who need help the most, and in some cases, are almost guaranteed to make things worse.  What should you consider trying, then, as you teach this puzzle of a student?

(1)    Separate ability from achievement

For gifted underachievers, remember to examine evidence of their ability needs separately from their current achievement.  Though it seems counterintuitive, an underachieving gifted learner may actually need higher-level work in one or more areas of strength.  This can be especially true for students in certain special populations, including twice-exceptional students (gifted with one or more disability) or the exceptionally to profoundly gifted.  Just as it isn’t unfair to the class when one student needs disability accommodations, it isn’t unfair when we make necessary curriculum modifications to meet gifted instructional needs.  Gifted abilities involve different learning needs, and a student’s level of instruction should be based on need, not earned.

How, then, do you determine instructional needs for underachieving gifted students?  You can collect data from different sources, such as past and current school performance, the student’s parents, ability assessments, above-level achievement assessments, campus gifted specialists, pre-assessments, credit-by-exam testing, and documentation of any disabilities.  Consult with a gifted specialist and/or familiarize yourself with gifted curriculum recommendations to help determine when to consider using depth and complexity, a type of acceleration, or other modifications to meet needs.

(2)  Consider misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis in the gifted

For gifted children, the risk of being misdiagnosed with a disability is so significant, the nonprofit SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) educates parents and professionals through their Misdiagnosis Initiative.  One such scenario: unmet gifted needs can be misinterpreted as attention issues.  (Can any of us sit attentively through a year of content we already know?)  Asynchronous development, or uneven development across different areas, is listed in several sources as common in gifted children.  Unfortunately, gifted students can also be at risk of missed diagnosis: their abilities can compensate for and mask disabilities, resulting in invisible struggles, work avoidance, and underachievement.  For a thorough exploration of both situations, consult Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults (2nd edition) by Webb, Amend, Beljan, Webb, Kuzujanakis, Olenchak, and Goerss (2016).

For twice-exceptional students (gifted with one or more disabilities), some educators focus primarily on remediating areas of weakness, rather than accelerating and enriching areas of strength – yet experts recommend the opposite.  To maintain motivation and self-esteem, “the strongest emphasis has to be on developing the areas of strength” (Castellano & Frazier, 2011).

(3)  Learn the basics about giftedness

Would you set a broken arm without medical training, or repair a PC without knowing how it works?  If you are teaching a gifted-identified child, it is important to know the basics about gifted characteristics, needs, and recommendations.  Though some gifted education topics are still debated, best practices have been established based on decades of research.  Your district or state gifted organization may offer training, or you can explore resources through organizations such as the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), Gifted Homeschoolers Forum (GHF), Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page, Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG), and the Davidson Institute.

If teachers and parents are aware that high intellectual ability comes with specific characteristics and academic needs, that ability needs are not necessarily evident from current achievement, that ability level can vary significantly within the gifted-identified population, and that gifted-identified students require curriculum modifications in order to learn — they will be off to a good start.

(4)  Discover differentiation and acceleration

Effective differentiation requires more than a menu.  Are you familiar with content, product, and process differentiation, and do you know when each is helpful and needed?  Do you start units with pre-assessments, incorporate depth and complexity, and use student data to assign reading passages targeted to your gifted student’s comprehension level?  Are you familiar with the research on the benefits of acceleration, do you know when to consider different acceleration options, and are you willing to consider curriculum compacting, when appropriate?  If not, these topics offer exciting and important opportunities for professional growth as an educator.  Differentiation strategies that benefit most students – such as menus with on-level activities – are often insufficient for gifted students who need more challenge.  Effective differentiation may require adding to your toolbox of instructional strategies, and it may initially require help from instructional specialists or other educators.

An important point: children with above-level needs need different work, not more work.  (Gifted expert Lisa Van Gemert calls extra work “more-ferentiation,” or “differentiation’s evil imposter.”)  If we require students to trudge through inappropriately easy work each day before allowing work that helps them learn and grow, is it a surprise when some of them lose interest and motivation?

(5)  Individualize

Needs can vary significantly from student to student, especially for “special populations” in gifted education:  twice-exceptional, CLED (culturally, linguistically, or economically diverse), students facing gender obstacles/challenges, students in rural settings, or extreme gifted levels.  Gifted students have different ability and achievement levels, strengths, weaknesses, personality characteristics, and obstacles to achievement.   Because of these extreme differences, “students must be assessed and planned for on an individual basis” (Shore & Enerson, 2007).

When differentiating for gifted learners, teachers and parents may wish to ask:  am I targeting the evidence-based needs and interests of this specific student?  Or am I only prioritizing goals for the entire class (or my own preferences)?  See educator Ian Byrd’s post on narcissistic teaching for questions to help avoid this pitfall.

(6)  Consider possible stressors

According to many parents and educators, gifted children experience life more intensely.  A number of psychologists and educators who work with gifted children observe behaviors associated with overexcitabilities (OEs), or intensities, in this population.  Several OEs can cause distraction and distress in situations where other students seem unaffected.  Understanding social and emotional gifted characteristics can allow both teachers and parents to improve the learning environment and help students cope.

During group work or activities, do your gifted students or children have regular access to other children who understand and share their differences, or do they feel isolated and misunderstood?   Time with “intellectual peers” is considered important for both academic growth and social-emotional development.  Ability grouping provides this access in classrooms, and local gifted parent support groups can schedule events to foster friendships.  Gifted homeschoolers can connect through local gifted groups or organizations such as the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.  In schools with gifted services, including an affective curriculum can also give students an opportunity to learn coping skills in a safe environment.

A note about competitions: while some gifted children enjoy competing, “schools that support a competitive environment” can “promote antilearning cultures” and may have a detrimental effect on gifted children (Cross, 2016).  An “emphasis on competitiveness at the individual level can interfere with peer relationships and lead to rejection” of gifted students, but “[i]f competitions are unavoidable, having low stakes and distant competitors (i.e., at other schools)” can reduce stress (Cross, 2016).

Socioeconomic status is considered a strong predictor of academic achievement, and gifted students from low-SES households may need additional school support and require special considerations for identification (Matthews & Shaunessy, 2008).  Additional awareness and support for culturally diverse gifted students is necessary to prevent underidentification and to help mitigate the potential negative effects of social pressure for some populations (Matthews & Shaunessy, 2008).

(7)  Incorporate other talents and interests

Does your student seem motivated only by interests or abilities outside of school subjects?  If your un-academically-motivated student has a passion outside of school, differentiation based on student interests might increase motivation at her desk.  In his book Parenting Gifted Kids, author and educator Jim Delisle describes how he tapped into one underachiever’s entrepreneurial interests to differentiate the student’s lessons, resulting in improved student attitude and performance (Delisle, 2006).  Advancing Differentiation by Richard Cash explores several strategies for motivating learners: teachers can survey students and group them based on interests, can allow students to opt out of assigned work by substituting “passion projects” based on individual interests, can encourage students to help design lessons or projects, and can engage them in solving authentic problems and creating resources for other students (Cash, 2011).  Parents can search for extracurricular activities to spark motivation and increase self-esteem, especially during and after difficult school years – like a chess camp, robotics class, or hands-on enrichment classes that finally challenge a student and validate her problem-solving abilities.

In Ken Robinson’s book The Element, he explores the benefits of finding the “meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion” (Robinson, 2009).  As parents and educators, though we have an obligation to guide students through state-mandated concepts, if we want to encourage long-term success and help students find fulfilling careers, we should consider using strategies that respect both their abilities and their interests.

(8)  Preserve relationships

Parents of twice-exceptional children in particular will tell you: while it is important to set high, achievable expectations, excessive pressure on a student can damage both parent-child and parent-teacher relationships.  In discussing motivation and underachievement, psychologist James Webb emphasizes that “probably the single most powerful factor in motivation is the personal relationship” (Webb, 2007).  Webb advises “building upon the relationship,” connecting with the child, and helping the child to develop confidence and self-esteem (Webb, 2007).  As gifted students get older, if they show strengths in multiple areas (multipotentiality), it may help to choose between advanced opportunities to preserve time for their passions and their mental health (Taibbi, 2012).

In research on gifted high school dropouts, some researchers cite a negative attitude toward school and teachers as a contributing factor.  They found that a perceived “good teacher” is “the most positive element of school,” that fewer students dropped out when their teacher “was flexible, positive, and creative,” and in recommendations for prevention, note that “student and teacher relationships should be improved” (Renzulli & Park, 2002).

(9)  Explore motivation

When a child loses motivation for schoolwork, stress levels rise for everyone involved.  Underachievement frustrates teachers and parents, and it can feel like a tailspin to those who see a student’s underlying abilities.  Most of all, it can hurt a student’s self-esteem and future opportunities.  Causes can include a stressful classroom environment, inadequate work level challenge, a need for disability help, a fear of failure, mood disorders, social stress or pressure, language barriers, economic stress, or home stress (Whitney & Hirsch, 2007).  Some causes require special services and an awareness of specific challenges impacting special populations.

For gifted motivation in general, Carol Whitney and Gretchen Hirsch recommend considering the “Four C’s”: Challenge (is the work challenging enough?), Control (how much control does the student have over his/her learning?), Commitment (does the student feel a sense of belonging and importance, and does she know the value of activities?), and Compassion (is the child understood and supported by parents and teachers?).  In A Love for Learning, Motivation and the Gifted Child, the authors offer tips for educators and homeschoolers: setting high but achievable expectations, basing part of the curriculum on the child’s interests and learning style, focusing on “personal best” rather than competition, rewarding the process as well as the product, providing good feedback, staying flexible, providing hands-on and relevant explorations, continual assessment, and remembering self-care for teachers (applies to parents too!), to keep their own motivation fresh (Whitney & Hirsh, 2007).  Additional recommendations for the school environment include strategies such as “promoting belongingness to the class and school,” building “warm and supportive teacher-student relationships,” articulating the relevance of lessons, and pacing learning appropriately for gifted students (Liem & Chua, 2006).

* * *

If these approaches sound like trial and error, to some extent, they can be.  Once a strategy begins to work, some students can be moving targets: children grow and change, and adjustments may be needed.  Don’t give up hope, and don’t blame yourself for a student’s struggles: if underachievement were easy to prevent and fix, there would be no need for articles, chapters, and books on the subject.  If parents and educators learn what they can and they keep trying, their investment of time can lead to improvement and positive outcomes for gifted students.  (As always, please do not take my word alone – read further!  The below list offers a few places to start.)  In addition to teaching and nurturing these students, we can help them by continuing to listen to them, by learning from and about them, and by remembering to be flexible throughout their education.

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References and Further Reading

Assouline, S. G., Colangelo, N., VanTassel-Baska, J., and Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (Eds.) (2015).  A nation empowered: evidence trumps the excuses holding back America’s brightest students.  University of Iowa.

Byrd, Ian.  On grouping gifted students.  Web. http://www.byrdseed.com/on-grouping-gifted-students/

Cash, R. (2011).  Advancing differentiation: thinking and learning for the 21st century.  Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.

Castellano, J. A. and Frazier, A. D. (2011).  Special populations in gifted education: understanding our most able students from diverse backgrounds.  Waco: Prufrock Press.

Cross, J. R. (2016).  Gifted children and peer relationships.  In M. Neihart., S. I. Pfieffer, and T. L. Cross (Eds.), The social and emotional development of gifted children: what do we know?  Waco: Prufrock Press & NAGC.

Daniels, S. and Piechowski, M. M. (2009).  Living with intensity: understanding the sensitivity, excitability, and the emotional development of gifted children, adolescents, and adults.  Scottsdale: Great Potential Press.

Fiedler, E.D., Lange, R. D., and Winebrenner, S. (1993).  In search of reality: unraveling the myths about tracking, ability grouping, and the gifted.  Roeper Review, 16(1), 4-7.

Gross, M. U. M. (2000).  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.  http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/underserved.htm

Johnson, R. (2017).  The lunch bunch: affective curriculum for elementary gifted students.  Gifted Education Review, 1(4), 1-3.

Liem, G. A. and Chua, C. S. (2016).  Motivation in talent development of high-ability students: research trends, practical implications, and future directions.  In M. Neihart., S. I. Pfieffer, and T. L. Cross (Eds.), The social and emotional development of gifted children: what do we know?  Waco: Prufrock Press & NAGC.

Lind, S. (2001).  Overexcitability and the gifted.  The SENG Newsletter. 2001, 1(1) 3-6.  Retrieved from http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/overexcitability-and-the-gifted

Manning, S. and Besnoy, K. D. (2008). Special populations. In F. A. Karnes and K. R. Stephens (Eds.), Achieving excellence: Educating the gifted and talented. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

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.

Renzulli, J. S. and Park, S. (2002).  Giftedness and high school dropouts: personal, family, and school-related factors.   National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut.

Robinson, A., Shore, B. M., & Enerson, D L. (2007).  Best practices in gifted education: an evidence-based guide.  Waco: Prufrock Press & NAGC.

Taibbi, C. (2012). All AP? Not for me! Why gifted students shouldn’t take the highest level classes. Psychology Today. Web. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/gifted-ed-guru/201201/all-ap-not-mewhy-gifted-students-shouldnt-take-the-highest-level-classes

Tolan, S. S. (1996). Is it a Cheetah? Retrieved from http://www.stephanietolan.com/is_it_a_cheetah.htm

Tomlinson, C. A. and Allan, S. D. (2000).  Leadership for Differentiating Schools & Classrooms.  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

Whitney, C. S. and Hirsch, G. (2007).  A love for learning: motivation and the gifted child.  Scottsdale: Great Potential Press.

For parent groups in Texas:  if your group is interested in bringing after-school, weekend, or camp enrichment experiences to your area, to help gifted students meet one another outside of school, NuMinds Enrichment (founders of this blog) offers a variety of options.

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Our blog is proud to participate in Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hops!  For more posts, please visit the September 2017 GHF blog hop about Teaching a Reluctant Gifted Learner: Ways to Reach and Teach the Gifted.

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How an Umbrella Helped Me Become a Better Teacher

How an Umbrella Helped Me Become a Better Teacher… and Other Tips on Homeschooling a Gifted/2e Child

Parent perspectives by Nikki C.

Like many homeschooling parents of gifted kids, I was a reluctant, last-resort homeschooling mom. It was frightening to leave the familiarity of the public school system and disheartening to learn that other schools weren’t a good fit, either. Once the initial shock was over, however, homeschooling became so much more than just the best of the inadequate options I had thought it would be. It was exactly what my child needed to thrive, and we haven’t looked back since.

This does not mean that every day is filled with sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes we fall into ruts, but because of the inherent autonomy of homeschooling, it never has to stay that way. It’s up to me, and sometimes to my child, to fix it.

Our pitfalls sometimes come from smaller issues pertaining to curriculum or our environment, sometimes from larger issues that require professional help, or sometimes from my own personal issues.  Homeschoolers of gifted kids know that just because something works now, that doesn’t mean that it will work later. When my son and I fall into curricular ruts, I used to blame it on my choices, and I felt the urge to scrap it and start with something new. While this is best sometimes, I learned from my favorite teacher that working with a student’s learning style and making modifications to the environment and curriculum can go a long way.

My mom is a public school teacher and has spent most of the past 30 years teaching children with autism.  She teaches in a centralized structured classroom which has a low student to teacher ratio.   In her class, students receive a truly individualized education. Her dedication to her students has always inspired me, and from her experiences, I have learned some teaching gold.  Years ago, she was working with a student with autism and intellectual disability. She was certain that his abilities were higher than he had shown, but it was challenging for him to focus on their lessons. During a math lesson, my mom was attempting to get her student to engage with her, but every time she asked him a question, his response was “umbrella.” He was fixated on a golf umbrella that was just outside the classroom.

After this had gone on for a while, my mom went to the hallway, got the huge umbrella, opened it, sat down next to her student so that they were both under the umbrella, and said, “umbrella.” She then repeated the math question and he answered correctly. The rest of the lesson went on like this, under the umbrella, where her student was able to focus. An aide in the classroom took a picture of the two of them and shared it with the student’s mother. For Christmas, my mom received a present from her. It was a coffee mug with the picture of her and her student, working together under the umbrella.  On the other side of the mug, a quote from Rita Dunn read, “If the child is not learning the way you are teaching, then you must teach in the way the child learns.”

Having exposure to this style of teaching at an early age helped shaped me into the type of teacher my son needs.  There are numerous ways to personalize the curriculum and environment for homeschoolers (some strategies can work for teachers in traditional classrooms, too!). Of course, we can fine-tune these word problems so that we are comparing Rebel Troopers and Imperial Forces instead of bushels of apples and oranges. Sure, let’s get that huge crash pad, and my son can be upside down on it during read-alouds and discussions. We can work on handwriting in other creative ways at another time. Yes, let’s make a classroom filled with action figures and plushies, and my son can “teach” them to show his understanding of a topic instead of taking a test. In our first months of homeschooling, I didn’t understand why my son couldn’t hear the difference between short vowels and long vowels when he was seated next to me, but he could call them out perfectly when he was jumping in the middle of the room.  Later, I remembered my mom’s mug, and I knew this is what it meant.

When we are in a rut that goes beyond the scope of these smaller modifications, I take a step back to figure out why my child is struggling. Gifted kids are complex kids. Homeschooling one is not easy, and it may require much research when things aren’t going well.

Only a few months into homeschooling, I knew I needed outside help. My son is 2e, or twice-exceptional: gifted with other special needs.  At that point, he had already received an autism and sensory processing disorder diagnosis, but none of the evaluations even touched on the extent of his giftedness. I was struggling to homeschool him because his strengths and weaknesses were extreme. I found an educational diagnostician who had experience with 2e kids. The formal assessments, including IQ and achievement tests, proved to be priceless. This gave me the confidence to do more than modify curriculum.  We needed to move up a few levels… but only in some areas.  I learned how I could accommodate him in areas of weakness without holding him back in others. It would have taken me many painful months to figure this all out on my own.  Another instance when we needed outside help:  my son could read before he turned three years old, but as he was progressing into books with more words per page, he would get upset to the point of tears, saying he was too tired to read after a page or so.  I noticed other issues, too, but I did not know they were related to his reading until I saw parents in gifted groups discussing visual processing disorder.  I recognized many similarities.  After several months of research, I decided a formal evaluation was worthwhile, and sure enough, he was able to benefit from vision therapy. We are in the early stages, but only a few weeks into therapy, he is already starting to read independently again… without me asking him to!  I believe that the more information you have, the better. Yes, gifted kids are asynchronous, but if my gut is telling me there’s more to it than that, I seek professional help and get answers.

While I know that homeschooling is the best fit for my child, that doesn’t mean that I never feel pangs of guilt, worry, or even sadness when I consider the opportunity costs of the choice. When I start to fall into these emotional ruts, what works for me is to stop – just completely stop – and to remind myself of what I truly value, as well as to be grateful for what we do have, instead of worrying about what we do not have. For instance, if I start to worry about what my child will miss out on by not being part of a public school, I remind myself that for every positive aspect of public school that we gave up, we have gained multiple times more on the other side. So, while it’s true that my child isn’t getting to experience the neighborhood kids’ social bond of shared school spirit, he now has an amazing group of friends he met by hanging out at a science discovery center for hours every week during the school day.  Through a gifted homeschool group, he has met friends who he has more in common with, and we have extra time for therapy to support him when he wants help with social challenges.  Another example of an emotional rut involves the loss of my career. Sometimes I daydream about the satisfaction I received in my career: working with peers, career advances, continuing education, and the benefits of increased finances – such as travel and cool new “stuff.” These thoughts can be particularly hard to push aside since this is still the norm for most people in my life. When I was making the decision whether to homeschool or not, one concern was that I would miss my career too much and that I would no longer be marketable when I could return. While discussing pros and cons with my brother, he commented, “No one looks back on their life and regrets spending more time with their kids.” This was powerful to me: I second-guess many of my decisions, but I knew, without any doubts, that this statement would be a guiding truth for me. So, while I might not be booking a European vacation anytime soon, I have been given the gift of time, and I can’t think of anything more valuable to me than that.

Homeschooling my 2e child means that many aspects of my life are not remotely similar to many of my friends’ and family’s lives, or to what I had imagined for my own life. We fall into our fair share of ruts, but we don’t have to stay there if we remember to take ownership of this choice and know that we are in control. We must be flexible and creative and know when to ask for help. Most importantly, we must remember to put our energy into what we value most, and to express gratitude for our blessings.

Oh, and don’t forget your umbrella… you never know when you (or your student) might need it.  🙂

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Our blog is proud to participate in Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hops!  For more tips from other gifted homeschoolers, please visit the February 2017 GHF blog hop.

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.

 

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

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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Making Use of Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities

by Emily VR

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

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

Background

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

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

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

Spotting the Overexcitabilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting the OEs to Work!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Action Steps

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

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

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

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

What will we do to support them?

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

More Information:

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

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

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

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

OEs Blog Hop

 

Sources and Further Reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many thanks to Pia Ruda for her ideas and review.

10 Books to Nurture Your Gifted Child

In this vodcast from a series of parent talks by NuMinds, we give a working definition of bilbiotherapy and focus on its ability to support gifted needs.

Realizing there are infinite books and just as many issues able to be addressed through bibliotherapy, we chose to focus on 10 books. These books were selected for their abilities to support issues facing the gifted (Gifted Profiles, Social Emotional Needs, Mindset).

The presentation involves a little interactivity using the course handout. You can download the free handout at goo.gl/f3w31F