The 8 Great Gripes of Gifted Parents

8-gripes

by Ben Koch and Emily VR

In one of our courses for parents of gifted students, we spend a session on “the 8 great gripes of gifted kids” as presented by Jim Delisle and Judy Galbraith in their landmark book, When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers.  These gripes, garnered straight from the unfiltered mouths of gifted kids themselves, are an excellent heuristic for parents to help children reframe many of the struggles they experience both in and out of school.

During class, however, we discovered that our parent group was also using these student gripes as a launching point, and was cruising along a heartfelt parallel track that could only be called, “The Great Gripes of Gifted Parents.”  It’s only fair, we thought – if gifted kids get the opportunity of a therapeutic clearing of the air, then parents of the gifted should, as well!

So, we asked our parents to formally gather their thoughts on their OWN gripes and submit them to us.  And because “8 great gripes” has such a nice alliterative ring to it, we condensed and consolidated the list to a total of 8. Just as the student list facilitates deeper, more meaningful discussion than a simple “list of complaints,” we hope that this list might serve as fodder for fruitful discussions and conversations around the unique challenges facing parents of the gifted today.

Tell us:  are your top “gripes” represented here?  Add your own in the comments!

1 – My Kid Isn’t Challenged in School

Unless your child attends a full-time gifted program or school, this is probably a familiar feeling!  Even in the best districts and best schools, parents of the gifted express frustration with “resistance from some teachers and schools… providing for the kids’ academic needs.”  They note that “teachers in elementary school (outside of the GT teacher) don’t give gifted kids enough time/work” at their level.  Sometimes the academic needs of gifted students can be tricky to pin down, and teachers of large, mixed-ability classes often have their hands full.  When gifted students are limited to “very easy” work, however, parents correctly observe that it becomes “difficult to instill any kind of study ethic” in students.

“Too much emphasis on ‘the test’ …leaves the brightest to flounder”

“My child doesn’t need extra work, he/she needs different work”

Initially, this might seem like a problem with a teacher, administrator, or school – but in reality, it’s a problem nationwide.  Some states have laws requiring GT programs and opportunities for academic acceleration, and some do not.  Myths and misconceptions persist about the abilities, characteristics, needs, and outcomes of students testing in the gifted range.  Schools struggle to juggle increasing state demands, large classes, and inadequate funding.

The best solutions address individual student needs, but meeting gifted needs generally requires a basic understanding of research and best practices.  If that is missing, parents can sometimes work with schools to raise awareness.  Consider joining or starting a parent support group, connect with advocacy organizations in your state/area, and check out some of the reading suggestions below.

2 – Teachers and Other Adults Just Don’t Understand My Kid

Betts and Neihart revolutionized our monochromatic view of giftedness with their research on the 6 gifted profiles in the 1980’s. Far from being a predictable, homogenous group, gifted students represent a diverse panoply of behaviors, personalities, and traits. While it may be an easier proposition for a teacher or other adult to “get” what Betts and Neihart classify as a Successful Type (extrinsically motivated, achievement-focused, pleaser), that Creative Type (divergent thinker, non-conformist) in their classroom, or at their child’s birthday party may come across as abrasive or eccentric. Several parents expressed frustration at being unable to control the perceptions of teachers and other adults have about their gifted child.

“Others may not ‘get’ my kids and get frustrated with them.”

“People view gifted education as elitist/exclusive instead of much needed differentiated instruction.”

“People think it’s super easy having a gifted child because they do so well in school.”

Being able to openly communicate and commiserate with other adults who DO understand your unique challenges is key. Strong parent-based gifted advocacy groups can be crucial. They generate opportunities for student interactions and parent networking throughout the year. Check with local gifted teachers, administrators, or parent organizations about gifted parent organizations in your area. Most are NOT exclusive to families who attend a specific school district and welcome homeschoolers and families from neighboring schools and districts.

3 – Help! It’s Hard Dealing with Gifted Intensity & Behavior at Home

Sensitive.  Extreme.  Overwhelming.  Intense.

Children with certain temperaments and personalities can exhibit these characteristics, but the words take on new meaning when it comes to gifted parenting.  Living with Intensity is a well-known book about emotional development in these children, and the title often describes the home life of many families.

“There is no winning an argument with a gifted child… they often make good points which negate your good points and then some.”

“…they are too much like you – overthinking, analytical, self-critical, perfectionistic, overly excitable, sensitive”

Gifted-identified children often exhibit one or more overexcitabilities, or intensities.  “Their minds and sometimes mouths don’t turn off even when your mind and ears are exhausted,” notes one parent.  “My child is just like me,” laments another.  They often struggle with global and existential worries, and can even suffer from existential depression.

Fortunately, there is hope:  a growing number of books and articles offer coping tips and techniques for helping children to manage and channel their intensity in positive directions (reading suggestions below).  Parent groups and classes can offer emotional support, validation, and advice on coping with specific situations.  Simply being aware of the prevalence of gifted intensity can make it more manageable; as one gifted parent noted, “knowledge is power.”

4 – Social Distortion: So Many Awkward Social Situations between My Kid and Other Kids, and Me and Other Parents!

The comments from parents in this gripe covered a wide range of issues related to social situations and communication. Although research has not shown gifted children to be any worse off in social adjustment than average children when in appropriate academic settings, the stereotype of the socially awkward “brainy” kid persists. More important than spouting research numbers, though, are the subjective experiences of students and parents. If gifted students do not have opportunities to interact with like-minded peers who share their passions, talents and abilities, the sense of “feeling different” or even lonely is likely to increase (Rimm, 2008). The solution? Give students the opportunity to interact with intellectual peers and give parents the opportunity to interact and empathize with parents in similar situations (see note on parent groups above).

“My child has no/few friends.”

“I’m embarrassed by my kids lack of normalcy in certain situations like the soccer team.”

Right here on The Fissure last March we published a post called Solutions to Sticky Social Situations which also begins to propose some practical approaches for students to approach different social scenarios successfully.

5 – Asynchronous Development: My Kid is 8 Going on 30!

Asynchronous development is a hallmark of giftedness. The National Association for Gifted Children describe it as “the mismatch between cognitive, emotional, and physical development of gifted individuals” and, in their official definition, highlight that “because asynchrony is so prominent in gifted children, some professionals believe asynchronous development rather than potential or ability, is the defining characteristic of giftedness” (See full NAGC definition).

“Hard to find appropriate reading material or appropriate any material- lack of resources.”

“I expect so much from them because I know their potential, but I forget they’re still just kids with their own developmental and social issues. And they’re not perfect. And they don’t have 42 years of perspective like I do, so it’s hard for them to see how things fit into the big picture.”

“Criteria for starting kindergarten early is more of a system of deterrents than a means of identifying kids who are ready.”

Our primary advice for parents is to nurture those areas of high ability, potential, or passion and remember to scaffold in areas that are not as accelerated. An example might be a 2nd grader excelling at 8th grade Math when given the opportunity to immerse with intellectual peers, but who needs a social buffer to remediate emotional outbursts when the going gets too tough. Remember it’s not always the case that social/emotional is lagging behind intellectual or academic abilities. In fact, research on overexcitabilities clearly shows us how a child can show advanced empathy and emotional processing without the vocabulary (verbal intelligence) to communicate it appropriately.

6 – What’s the Remedy? My Son/Daughter Has Caught Perfectionism!

The spread of Carol Dweck’s ideas on growth vs. fixed mindset over recent years has brought a renewed sense of the importance of focusing on the process of learning, rather than on products. When you see learning on a continuum, as an evolution of skills and knowledge moving toward more and more depth and complexity, there is no “done.” There is no final product to be judged as perfect or imperfect. That’s a growth mindset and shifting to THAT framework, in our opinion, is the best remedy for perfectionism over time.

“The kids get caught up in society’s obsession with quantitative measurement of learning (grades, percentages and GPAs) of their learning rather than qualitative measures.”

Delisle and Galbraith (2002) propose shifting students to “the pursuit of excellence” as an antidote to fixating on perfection. The mantra we’ve developed to remind teachers, parents, and ourselves to make this shift is: “Perfection is a product. Excellence is a PROCESS.”

7 – Struggles Squared: Does Twice-Exceptional Mean Twice the Challenge?

Though it may come as a surprise, children can be identified as gifted and can also have one or more disabilities.  Sometimes a child’s abilities can mask a disability, making it difficult to diagnose.

“My kid’s disability can’t get diagnosed by the school system because he’s so dang smart he appears average.”

Sometimes an undiagnosed disability can impact testing, and can delay identification of giftedness.  Gifted children with disabilities have two (or more) areas of difference and needs – which is why they’re called “twice-exceptional,” or 2e, for short.

In the best scenario for 2e students, both their gifted abilities and their disabilities are identified and supported.  Too much focus on a child’s areas of weakness can have a negative impact on self-esteem: for this reason, experts recommend focusing first on a child’s areas of strength (appropriate challenge), then supporting areas of weakness.  Unfortunately, these students can be tricky to diagnose and help!  Even once needs are identified, helping 2e students can feel overwhelming for both parents and educators.  Parent education, as well as support from other 2e parents, can help enormously.  To learn more, check out the articles available through the nonprofit SENG (Supporting the Needs of the Gifted), the 2e Newsletter, and some of the sources below.

8 – Time Keeps on Slipping… The School Day is So Inefficient for my Kid’s Needs

Gifted children often learn more rapidly than their age-peers – which can make the school day frustrating for both students and parents.

“The day is too long and inefficient — not enough learning/hour.”

“Too much sitting, and not enough play breaks… I think all of the kids – gifted or not – would benefit from a few short recesses.”

Educators:  make sure to communicate with parents about the ways your school accommodates rapid learners!  Sometimes parents may be unaware of curriculum modifications providing depth and higher-level thinking opportunities for gifted learners.  Some gifted students may benefit from a form of acceleration, and some can benefit from the pursuit of passion projects during extra school time.

Parents:  while you are engaged in positive advocacy for your child at school, in the meantime, to help maintain or recover motivation, you can provide enrichment opportunities outside of school.  Enrichment can take the form of after-school or weekend classes and events, online courses (formal or informal), school clubs, summer camps, mentorships in areas of interest, museums and travel, or just visits to the library… the possibilities are almost endless.  Current research supports increased physical activity during the school day, so the tide may be turning in favor of more recess and opportunities for movement.

Unfortunately, as you can see, there aren’t many quick fixes to gifted parenting challenges.  Fortunately, however, there are many other parents (and educators!) who care deeply about these children.  If you have difficulty connecting locally, it is easier than ever to find resources online – as you’ve done by reading this post!  If you have found it helpful, we invite you to follow our blog, to find us on Facebook, and to join a growing community of parents and educators who want to make a difference in education.

Remember – you are not alone.  Raising a gifted or twice-exceptional child may be one of the greatest challenges you’ve experienced, but it will also be one of the most rewarding.  Remember to celebrate and to enjoy the journey.

***

Further Reading

Nature, Needs, and Parenting the Gifted

Delisle, J. and Galbraith, J. (2002).  When gifted kids don’t have all the answers: how to meet their social and emotional needs.  Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

Daniels, S. and Piechowski, M. M., Eds. (2009).  Living with intensity.  Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Rimm, S. (2008).  Parenting gifted children.  In Karnes, F. A. and Stephens, K. R., Eds., Achieving excellence: educating the gifted and talented.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Webb, J. T., Gore, J. L., Amend, E. R., and DeVries, A. R. (2007).  A parent’s guide to gifted children.  Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Webb, J. T. (2013).  Searching for meaning: idealism, bright minds, disillusionment and hope.  Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.

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

Advocacy and Additional Needs

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

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

Delisle, J. R. (2014).  Dumbing down America: the war on our nation’s brightest young minds (and what we can do to fight back).  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Webb, J. T., Amend, E. R., Webb, N. E., Goerss, J., Beljan, P., & Olenchak, F. R. (2005).  Misdiagnosis and dual diagnoses of gifted children and adults.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Web Resources

Hoagies Gifted Education Page – the website for everything gifted

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

Solutions to Sticky Social Situations

Solutions

by Justin Vawter

Is everyone good at speaking except for me?!

There is a theory in social psychology known as attribution theory—simply put, if I see you laughing and smiling with your friends, I immediately categorize you as a happy person.  I don’t consider the complexity of your thoughts or emotions; I don’t consider the tears you shed yesterday as you put your dog to sleep; I don’t think about the rage you felt as that off-handed comment from your husband quickly careened into an argument; I don’t think any further than that one simple smile you’re showing right now which, in my quickness to categorize the world, tells me that you are a true-and-through, 100% happy person.

I’m intentionally being prickly to help show just how wrong our perceptions can be, and these are the perceptions of adults who should know better.  Imagine then how this attribution theory affects kids.  They slip up on their presentation and say fart instead of chart: “The whole class was making fun of me; they’re so mean.”  They go to PE and see a number of kids playing basketball—one kid in the class makes a shot, and that night you hear: “Everyone in PE is good at basketball but me.”  They struggle with the piano while their older brother can tickle the ivories; “It’s easy for Kevin, he’s a natural—I just can’t do it!”

Where attribution theory really throws us for a loop is with certain social skills.  The same way we see someone smiling and incorrectly conclude “100% Happy,” both kids and adults see others being able to socialize or speak in front of crowds, and immediately attribute that person’s skill to some fixed trait—“Meghana is just naturally good at conversation” or “Bryan is such a natural speaker.”  However, I bet the million-dollar word loquacious that Meghana and Bryan have A) some level of fear about speaking and, B) have had to practice in order to attain the level of comfort they are currently at.

Cracking the attribution cycle: The perception took practice

My goal for this article is to share a few straightforward strategies you and your kid can practice to help with certain social situations.  I wanted to share all the psychology “psytuff” about attribution theory first because we need to recognize that people are not naturally born great communicators.  This is a great starting point for a conversation with your son or daughter: “I know that Meghana is really good at speaking in class.  Do you think she ever gets nervous?” This begins to break open the false perception attribution theory gives us.  After some conversation, you can ask about the level of effort: “Do you think Meghana practiced for her presentation?  Do you think she’s spoken in front of people before?”  The key to this second part is acknowledging that skill comes with practice.  If your child is receptive to the idea that being an effective communicator is not an inherent trait and that anyone can practice it, then you’re ready for some practice drills.

Simple Techniques for Tough Situations

NOTE: If you skipped to this part of the article looking for the juice, you’re trying to sprint without warming up.  Take a minute to read the beginning paragraphs to know how to prime you and your child’s mind to be receptive to the following drills

If you’re working with a child, begin by clarifying that you will be role playing a tough social situation.  Just like a fire drill, you want to practice so that in the event of a real emergency, everyone knows what to do.  Clarify that if the child wants help on what to do/say or if he or she feels uncomfortable, they can always ask for a time out.

Scenario One: Defending Yourself Against Insults and Verbal Attacks

You’re walking home, and coming up the sidewalk is a group of kids a few years older than you.  They start in with the harassment:  “Hey, you.  Hey, stupid; I’m talking to you.  Yeah, you, stupid.”

First appropriate response: Say nothing. Remove yourself.

Why.  Let me start with a disclaimer that I absolutely do not want to raise a generation of passive wimps; however, there are times that insults and the people throwing them are simply not worth your time and attention.  Remember Pavlov’s dog?  He’s the one that started drooling at the ringing of a bell because a bell meant food was on the way.  Our brains are a little more complicated, but the same idea holds true.  We respond to that which is reinforced—both through positive and negative reinforcers.  Unfortunately, this means that no matter how you respond to the bullies, any response is still a response which in turn reinforces the bad behavior.  By even acknowledging your tormentors, you have essentially rung their bell—and they become hungry for your pain.  However, by showing zero emotion and removing yourself, you have taken the power out of the hands of your tormentor.

Second appropriate response: Find anyone to stand next to.

Why.  Maybe it’s our hunter instincts, but there is a discernible power in numbers. Move immediately towards anyone else.  If someone is across the street mowing their lawn, walk that direction.  If a kid is coming up the sidewalk, stand next to that kid whether you know him/her or not.  Something innate tells us not to attack a group, and for bullies it’s no different.  The research (Salmivalli et al., 1999) reveals the power dynamic, not between the bully and the bullied, but between the bully and the bystanders.  85% of the time, bullying takes place with bystanders present, and when a bystander intervenes, the bullying stops in under 10 seconds (Olweus, 2011).  Long story short, find someone…anyone…to stand next to.

Third appropriate response: Stop and explain the consequences.

Why:  Kids who bully are not exactly masters of awareness; they typically do not think through the long-term ramifications of their actions.  This is where you, the person being bullied, have the ability to bring your attacker’s brain from its heightened sense of confrontation back to the logical and rational processing center.  Your goal is to derail their negative train of thought with a firm “stop” and then provide a statement which requires processing.  Here’s how this might sound: “Please stop.  I don’t appreciate you calling me stupid.  If you won’t stop, I’ll have to tell my dad about this.”  You’ve interrupted the thought pattern with a firm “stop” and you’ve provided logical reasoning following by a choice which brings the brain back into a state of control.

Personal Note: I was initially skeptical of this technique.  While it measures up with the brain research of Dr. Dan Siegel (2012), it has that hokey sound—that “what-kid-in-the-real-world-would-say-this” kind of verbiage and sound.   To test this idea out, I had my two young daughters try it.  Here’s the actual transcript:

“K, please give me back my toy.”

“No.”

“K, please.”

“No.”

“K, I don’t appreciate you taking my toy, and if you can’t give it back, I’m going to tell Dad.”

To my surprise, the phrasing was natural for a seven-year-old.  However, I also do not want to train today’s youth to resort to tattling, which is why this is the third response in the series.  The point here is not to escalate the situation to telling on the other person, but instead diffuse it by making the bully think through the potential consequences.

Scenario Two: When Group Work Goes South

You’ve been assigned to a group of four to complete a project.  After only a few minutes, the group is arguing.  You don’t want a bad grade on the assignment, so either the group needs to learn how to work together or you’re going to be up late tonight doing everyone else’s work.

Appropriate response: Connect and Redirect

Why:  This technique again builds on the research of Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson in their book, The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind (2011)The concept of connect and redirect is presented as a way for parents to help their own children work through frustration by first connecting with the emotionally-driven right side of their child’s brain and then redirecting behavior by appealing to the logically-driven left side of their brain.

Although The Whole Brain Child was written with the parent-child relationship in mind, this technique is just as effective for someone working within a group.  For example, if you see the group is fighting, the first response is to acknowledge the emotional side.  This may sound like: “Guys, I know we’re all upset right now.  This is frustrating because we all have our own ideas on how to make this work.”  This simple acknowledgement diffuses the irrational behavior by calming the fight-or-flight amygdala and primes everyone in the group for more rational thought.  The redirect part is a simple shift back to the logical: “Of all the ideas, which one do we think will work the best?”  By connecting with the emotional side first and showing empathy, the group is ready to be redirected towards more logical tasks.  Without connecting first, the brain is simply not primed to make logical decision, resulting in a downward spiral of emotionally-charged responses.

Personal Note:  I first saw this technique being used in a Destination Imagination (DI) instant challenge.  If you’re familiar with DI, you know the heated discussions that often accompany an instant challenge.  If not, let me briefly explain.  In some of the DI instant challenges, a team is given a random assortment of supplies—like popsicle sticks and string—and tasked with building a bridge in 7 minutes.  It’s a high-pressure situation where emotions tend to flare up easily.  Everyone on the team seems to have their own idea of how to solve the challenge, and time simply won’t allow for repeated trial and error.  The best DI team I worked with had an unspoken leader who would continually use connect and redirect.  One minute into the challenge, and you would hear Jack say; “I know this is frustrating because all of these ideas might work, but we only have time for one.  Which one do you guys think is the best for us to use right now?”                   

Scenario Three: Peer Pressure

Your teacher had to step out of the room, and her candy dish is sitting on the desk.  “Hey, Justin, grab me a candy, quick.  Come on, just do it.”

Appropriate Response: Say “no” for I, you, and them

Why:  Quick side note: to be pragmatic means to be guided by objective practicality instead of theory.  Often being pragmatic is interpreted as being cold or aloof.  For example, if you told your wife: “With the current state of the market, I didn’t buy you anything for Valentine’s day because excess spending would only affect our family’s bottom line.”  This is a very pragmatic response that removes any feelings from the equation (the practicality can certainly be debated!).

When your child is faced with peer pressure, I’m not suggesting they get into a philosophical argument—you know what, don’t even mention the word pragmatism unless you want your kid to zone out and stop listening to you.  What I am advocating for is removing personal feelings from the no.  In the example of stealing candy, you could respond, “No, I don’t want to, it would be wrong.” However, that is a reason based on belief, and it only leads to more peer pressure—clearly the person asking you doesn’t believe it’s that wrong to take just one candy.    Instead, say no for I, you, and them by giving a quick reason why the decision is bad for yourself (I), for the person asking you (you), and for anyone affected (them).  I’ll try to give a few scenarios to show how this works:

“No. I don’t want to get caught; you don’t want to get in trouble; and the teacher had to pay for those candies.”

“No. I don’t want to be a cheater; you won’t learn anything by copying me; and the teacher won’t know who knows what if we have the same answers.”

“No. I don’t want to miss class; you need to be in class; and if the school finds out, they’ll call our parents.”

“No. I don’t want to smell like cigarettes; you don’t want to get addicted; and our parents would kill us if they found out.”

Clearly, the severity of peer pressure can range from simple mischief to more life-altering choices.  We do our best as parents to impart sound ethical device, but as Andrew Solomon points out in his book Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (2012), the reality is, our own children are on their individual journey of discovering what is right and wrong for themselves.  Help your child respond to peer pressure more effectively by taking their wavering moral compass out of the equation.  Doing what you believe to be right depending on the situation is called moral relativism; doing what is right regardless of the situation is called integrity.  Simply put: what is a reason I shouldn’t do it, you shouldn’t do it, and who else is affected.

Scenario Four: Advocating for Yourself

The teacher has handed back the project rubrics, and although you worked really hard and put forth your best effort, you got a B-.  Something seems off; perhaps the grade is wrong, but you don’t want to question the teacher and make her mad.

Acceptable Response: Really Feely Go!

Why:  Perception forms our individual realities.  You saw your best work while your teacher saw something sub-par.  As it stands, those two realities are in conflict with each other, which is why the first step for advocating for yourself is to share your reality.  For so many kids, it’s difficult to muster up the courage to face a teacher and willingly enter into an argument.  Don’t look at it as an argument or a conflict; instead, think: “My teacher has no idea what is really happening inside my head.”  Sharing your reality is less intimidating than entering into an argument::

“Ms. Grey?  I felt like I worked really hard on this paper.”

Immediately move into the next step which is sharing your feelings.  Again, your teacher doesn’t know what you’re thinking or how you’re feeling.  Are you trying to get a few extra points without any effort?  Are you saying her reality is wrong?  Instead, just share how you feel.

“I’m disappointed with the grade because I thought I had done better.”

Don’t leave it here either!  If you left it with how you feel, the conversation simply hangs there and your teacher’s only response is how he/she feels about your project.  Add the third part and end the Really, Feely, Go with what you want to do—where do we go from here.

“Can we go over the rubric together and see what I lost points on?”

Quite a few things are happening with this simple advocacy technique; the first is the ideas of shared reality.  You’re allowing someone else to see your perception.  The second is sharing your feelings which in turn activate our engrained sense of empathy (I would mention mirrored neurons here, but the research is so young).  Finally, by presenting an actionable “go” item, you’re providing something that your teacher can respond to instead of a dialog about feelings.  Really, Feely, Go is the most difficult technique and one that will take practice.  Imagine role playing scenarios now with your child, could you imagine his or her ability to advocate in 10 or 20 years?  If your son just sits with his B minus, he will just sit when he is passed up for a big promotion.  Here’s a sample of Really, Feely, Go applied to the business world:

“I felt I was the most qualified candidate for the position, but when I was passed up, I was confused.  Could you clarify why I wasn’t chosen?”

Closing: Anyone can speak well, including you.

We see other people who are smiling, leading, and advocating for themselves, and we think they’ve just got it—somehow they were born better communicators.  However, no one is born an effective communicator…in fact, we’re all born as babbling babies, it simply takes practice to get better at working through sticky social situations.  It’s crucial to recognize our ability to grow before we role play and practice.

My hope is that these techniques have provided some straightforward, linear solutions for working through some tough situations.  I’m certainly not saying that anything in life is linear, but these techniques provide a starting point from which to practice at home and begin a conversation.

References

Olweus, D. (2011). Bullying at school and later criminality: Findings from three Swedish community samples of mailes.  Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 21(2).  151-156.

Salmivalli, C., Kaukiaiemi, L., & Lagerspetz, K. (1999). Self-evaluated self-esteem, peer-evaluated self-esteem, and defensive egotism as predictors of adolescents’ participation in bullying situations.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25. 1268-1278.

Siegel, D., & Bryson, T.P. (2011).  The whole-brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind.  New York: Delacorte Press.  

Siegel, D., & Norton, W.W. (2012).  Pocket guide to interpersonal neurobiology: An interactive handbook of the mind.  W.W. Norton & Company.  Print.

Solomon, A. (2012) Far from the tree: Parents, children and the search for identity. 

 

Many thanks to the Frisco Gifted Association for their support of this post!

 

The Power of Special Connections: Gifted/Special Needs Friendships

the power of

by Emily VR

When you open books about gifted-identified students, you will usually find discussions about the social needs of gifted children.  Experts frequently discuss students’ need for friendships with other gifted students, with older intellectual peers, and with adults.

There is another relationship, however, which has been equally important to our family:  friendships with students who have special needs.  A few sources mention these connections, but I hope to see them explored further, both in G/T resources and school programs.

The first time our son learned about developmental differences, it was accidental.  At age three, while boarding an amusement park boat, he noticed a much older child who was visibly agitated about the ride.  The boy had special needs.  When we explained that the child’s brain worked differently, our son walked over and sat beside the boy.  Our son talked to the child, explaining why he didn’t need to be afraid of the ride, and continued to comfort the child until the ride ended.  (The ride staff noticed, and gave our son a note, to help him remember that day.)

One of our son’s preschool teachers gave him another opportunity.  A child in the classroom next door had been diagnosed with selective mutism – the child spoke at home, but could not speak at school.   The teacher asked our son if he would be the child’s buddy on the playground, when classes were combined.  Both children seemed to enjoy their time together, and our son took his responsibility seriously.  The teacher said that my son gave her reports: “‘I think we’re making progress,’” he told her.

During elementary school, our son has had multiple friends with differences.  One year, he came home distraught when he felt that a classmate’s needs were not understood.  He spoke up for a friend with special needs.  Outside of school, both of my sons enjoy time with their friends, including differently-abled friends.  At the beginning of one school year, one wonderful teacher sent home questionnaires about students; after learning about my son, she let me know when she saw him helping a classmate.

He came home happy.  He had helped his friend write a thank-you note.

As much as I love my son, and love that he makes these friendships, he isn’t alone in this respect.  We know of other relationships like these, and they can mean the world to gifted students.  Why?  Just like children, the reasons can be unique, but I see at least two themes.

The first:  I think the best friendships involve acceptance without judgment. Too often, children learn hard social lessons early.  Not all friends are loyal.  In efforts to fit in, classmates can succumb to cliques and gossip.  In our family’s experience, children who struggle with significant challenges can be more genuine and less judgmental in their affection toward others.

The second:  these groups of children can have a lot in common.  Like students with special needs, gifted students are often aware that they’re different from their age peers.  In same-age general education classrooms, depending on the type of disability, both groups may learn and/or think differently from classmates.  In order to learn, both often need curriculum or classroom modifications – and they can’t help it.  Both develop differently from average, in some way, and both may be learning to cope with unusually intense feelings.  Both may sense or perceive the world differently, and may process information differently.

Both know what it’s like to be misunderstood by classmates, and sometimes, even, by parents and teachers.

Readers familiar with G/T and Special Education policies may note that classroom grouping cannot ignore academic needs or accommodations.  Books on gifted students further note that students should not be used as tutors in lieu of appropriate level work (also, not all advanced students have the ability to teach).  Opportunities for friendships do not require group work, however.  My son was glad just to be seated near his friends with special needs.  Friendship opportunities can be provided outside of class or school, as well:  students in self-contained G/T and Special Education programs may enjoy combined enrichment and volunteer opportunities, either informally or as part of a school program.

As a parent, I cherish these memories, and they also have personal meaning.  My cousin had autism and significant developmental delays.  She was nonverbal, but she knew how to give hugs, and she could show love better than most of us.  Because of her, in high school and college, I researched autism and took Special Education coursework.  Following her unexpected death, a friend helped me find a place to volunteer through a nonprofit, monitoring care through visits to a state-run residential facility for disabled adults without families.

In school, it can be hard for differently-abled children to find friends.  Some children rarely receive invitations to outside events.  Not all children and adults understood and welcomed my cousin, though she was an incredible person.

As a parent or teacher, please consider making opportunities for friendships between students with differences – especially for young children.

When students with differences spend time together, it’s okay to be different.  

In learning about one another, children can gain perspective, and can see the world in new ways.   They can celebrate the unique strengths in each of us.

Our family loves all of our friends, and we love our friends with special needs.  My sons never met my cousin, and I want them to know and love children with different abilities.  I want them to feel proud of everything their cousin accomplished.

I hope that she would be proud of them, as well.

Further reading for children:  The Junkyard Wonders, by Patricia Polacco.  I learned about this book from one of our amazing G/T teachers – it is a true story about a class of students with special needs, about their connections, and about potential.  Our family loved it.   http://www.patriciapolacco.com/books/junkyard/index2.html

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