“I Made a Deal With My Procrastination!”

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My three kids — “Ivy” (8 years old), “Dillon” (11 years old), and “Chloe” (13 years old)* — have been back at school in-person now (with masks) since September, and it’s been an interesting journey settling back into a semblance of pre-pandemic life.

* I decided to give my kids pseudonyms since it’s weird and awkward to simply use an initial, but I don’t want to use their real names. 

A lot has changed since March of 2020, of course: Ivy is now in third grade rather than first; Dillon is in middle school, adjusting to having six teachers rather than one; and Chloe is a teenager starting high school (high school!) next year. I’m happy to report that, for the most part, they are doing well and staying reasonably on track. They all agree, without hesitation, that in-person schooling – as exhausting as it is – is infinitely better than what we lived through at home last year.

It’s been easier on me and my husband as well. While it’s taken a few months, I think we’re finally used to the lack of noise and hubbub around us as we proceed with our own work during the day. Since we’re both still primarily (or, in his case, entirely) working from home, The Parenting Juggle remains easier — though this is balanced out by how tired and weary everyone still is. By the end of the schoolday, my kids are done: they need whatever spare energy they can grab for ongoing recuperation.

I’ll focus the rest of this entry on how my oldest, “Chloe”, is doing. (I’ll return in later posts to talk about “Dillon” and “Ivy”.)

Chloe (knock-on-wood) seems to have come to an acceptance of her executive functioning challenges  – i.e., planning, staying organized, and procrastinating – and is working hard to find strategies to help herself stay successful. I named this post on her behalf because I was so tickled to hear her come and say to me a couple of months ago:

“Mom – I made a deal with my procrastination! I woke up earlier than usual this morning and thought to myself, ‘I have an extra half-an-hour of time that I don’t normally have. Why don’t I get my math homework done now so that it doesn’t interfere with my after-school relaxation time later?’ And, it worked! I got it done!”

Chloe was so pleased that this worked, and rightfully so. Helping my kids – and my husband – manage their executive functioning challenges has really highlighted for me how much behind-the-scenes work and negotiation goes on in terms of “getting things done.”  While many of us may not think much about it, we are all constantly making tiny choices about how we handle the details of our life: when we choose to do something (or not), and why; how much effort to put into something (and why); whether (and who) to ask for help; etc. It’s complex.

Last spring, I started taking Chloe to see an Executive Functioning (EF) Coach for an hour a week, in the hopes that this would help her build her own toolbox of strategies and meta-cognition around schoolwork. Chloe liked the coach, and things were going fine – but the coach seemed a little puzzled about how to best help her, since Chloe pretty quickly came to the following realizations about herself (I’m paraphrasing on her behalf):

  • “Sometimes I like the schoolwork I’m assigned, but mostly I don’t. Regardless, I have to get my schoolwork done or else I don’t get decent grades in school and I feel bad about myself, in addition to making my parents frustrated and sad, and having my personal electronics taken away until I catch up.”
  • “I really, really like the socialization aspect of schooling, and would rather put up with work assigned by teachers than homeschooling and doing my own projects (which would be way too lonely and unmotivating).”
  • “I prefer to get my work done during schooltime if at all possible, so that it’s out of the way by the time I get home – but if that can’t happen, I need to find ways to not procrastinate on finishing, which usually includes telling my parents.”

Based on these self-realizations, Chloe’s EF coach told me that she felt confident Chloe would be able to manage on her own (with our support) this year – but she told me I should feel free to reach out if any new challenges arose, since she’d developed rapport and a relationship with Chloe and could easily step in to help. Fair enough! I was happy to save the time and money on sessions, and willing to start fresh and see how Chloe did.

Sure enough, as I mentioned earlier, being back in person has made a world of difference for Chloe and her schooling motivation. Remote learning was, in her words, “not real school” – and while I would beg to differ, she’s entitled to her own feelings and opinions, and this remains her truth.

Chloe still struggles with anxiety (she had a panic attack at school a few weeks ago), but has learned over the years that the best thing to do is reach out for help – which she did that day, right away. She contacted the school counselor, who got her in touch with a school therapist specially hired for the year to support kids as they transition back after quarantine – and just knowing he’s there has helped Chloe to relax. Meanwhile, she asked me to please find her a new therapist of her own to talk so, and she’s now on the waitlist for two recommended people (it’s even more challenging than ever to find someone with space on their caseload these days).

As a young teenager, Chloe continues to care a lot about social justice issues, talking with passion about the need for inclusivity across multiple spheres. She’s interested in dying her hair, and we are looking into what this will cost and require to maintain. She wants a pair of chunky heel combat boots for Christmas, to start developing “her look”. Her favorite hobby is working on creative, unusual drawings she designs using an app called ibisPaint; she seems especially interested in crafting hybrid creatures that merge humans with mythical or real animals (the girl below is part wolf):

She is insistent that she doesn’t need to explain her aesthetic choices to anyone, and I fully agree.

Chloe joined Drama Club this year – behind the scenes only, since she’s still too anxious to be on stage, but loves helping out. We went to see a high school production of “Clue” last week and had a blast; I can totally see her being a “drama kid” and finding her peeps there.  We’ll see.

For now, I’m just grateful that Chloe has found methods for getting through school, for relaxing, for being creative, and for reaching out whenever she needs support – these are all major successes as far as I’m concerned.

School is (Almost) Here

“Did you know there are more decimal numbers between zero and one than there are positive whole numbers?”

Our 11-year-old son D. walked into our bedroom this morning sharing this very-interesting-fact – likely something he learned through a  YouTube video or a sub-Reddit. Since the pandemic began – when all our kids received their own personal laptop to be able to engage with remote schooling and survive many hours in isolation – he’s been exploring various nooks of what my geeky husband refers to as the “interwebs”.

Of course, there’s plenty Out There that we’re not happy about – at all. We quickly realized last year that we would have to pivot to teaching our kids media literacy skills sooner than we wanted to, to help them make sense of the onslaught of stimuli they would be exposed to on the internet. Like covid (sigh), none of that is going away anytime soon.

So, when D. came in wanting to share this interesting fact about numbers – just one among many he’s been contemplating – I felt a sense of gratitude and relief that he’s self-selecting complex learning in between playing plenty of Dragon Mania Legends, Minecraft, Dungeons and Dragons, and Adopt Me.

This happens to all be online, but when I pause to do “old school” activities with D. – like Marcy Cook Tile Math or word puzzles – he gets super caught up in those as well. (He is absolutely astonished how many words start with “con” – really and truly.)

Reading? Not so much. My husband has just now been realizing how D. “can’t sit still” and clearly struggles with settling down long enough to get deeply immersed in a book. We’re not sure what’s next on the ADHD-Inattentive front for him…

However, in my months (now years!) of exploring the world of giftedness, twice-exceptionality, and parenting 2e kids, I’ve learned that D.’s “profile” is oh-so-common – and, that’s helpful. I feel less alone, and grateful to know that thousands of other parents are also seeking (and crafting) solutions and guidance for how to help our quirky kids thrive in a school system not yet designed for them.

Speaking of school – it’s about to start, and options abound (well, sort of). But, as usual, none of them are perfect, and all of them involve compromises. The heady brew of a once-again-virulent pandemic (my two younger kids are still ineligible for a vaccination), social discord over best practices for surviving said-pandemic, and the fact that my neurodiverse son – about to start middle school – hasn’t engaged with in-person schooling for 17+ months mean I’m facing a set of challenges I can’t quite wrap my head around.

How do I strike the “right” balance of pushing my kid forward into slightly uncomfortable situations while scaffolding his very-real need for accommodations, both social and academic? Do we cough up money for an alternative (private) school – assuming one is available – that will better align with his learning style? Do we keep him home, studying remotely and at his own pace through our district’s “alternative learning experience”, at least until he’s vaccinated?  And if so, won’t that just make transitioning into “live” middle school even harder?

When will he have a chance to meet new kids and practice making some friends?

I sincerely don’t know.

Meanwhile, as I’ve reiterated many times on this blog, D. is just one of my three kids needing specialized support.  My older daughter, C., is about to turn 13 and will be continuing her weekly work with an executive functioning coach, which I hope (fingers crossed!!!) will make a significant difference for her sense of personal efficacy around schooling and “getting things done”. She’s most concerned right now with finding “her group”, transitioning back into some semblance of social normalcy as she navigates young teenagehood.

My younger daughter, I. (age 8),  will return to in-person schooling unvaccinated but masked; for her, this is a risk we need to take as we balance all considerations, most especially her critical need for live interaction with others. I. has resisted all attempts to practice her multiplication facts over the summer (strongly recommended by her 2nd grade teacher), and I take solace in the fact that my brilliant husband was the last in his class to memorize his, yet knows and understands far more about math then the majority of folks. I. is a cracker-jack trader on Adopt Me, and has shown us that when she’s passionate about something, she is truly all-in! It’s about finding and nurturing that passion.

I have many more topics to share and discuss on this blog, and am hoping to get back into a more regular routine once again after several months off.

In the meantime,  I’m sending plenty of positive vibes out to all of us parents as we navigate yet another new and interesting school year together.

Gifted Parents, Parenting Gifted: Self-Care

https://pixabay.com/photos/music-sheet-in-a-shadow-flute-piano-5117328/

There continues to be quite a bit written about the need for self-care when parenting – for good reason.

Speaking from personal experience, I know how easy it is to focus the majority of your energy on keeping your kids healthy and thriving, which can easily edge into little-to-no time left for your own needs and wants.

To a certain extent, this makes sense. When my kids were infants and toddlers, for instance, their needs from me were (appropriately) all-consuming. I got as much help as I could from others, and tried to expand my childcare “village” to a reasonable  extent (actually a necessity, since I was keeping my career going at the same time) – but I still always needed to be ready and available for them, which meant cutting out nearly all “non-essentials”.

(Notice I said nearly all; I decided to keep my film review site going, for instance, as a sanity-saver.) 

Over the years, as my kids have grown older, the question for me has become: how and when can I start easing back into more of the activities I used to enjoy before having kids? To be clear, I wouldn’t choose to go back to that era for anything; I was someone who knew I wanted kids from an early age, and was waiting eagerly to meet the right person and get started on a family. But eventually there were things I started to miss about my pre-kids life, back when I had a ton more time and energy to focus on taking care of my own needs.

In this post, I’ll talk about what it’s like to be a gifted adult practicing self-care while parenting gifted kids. It’s part of a tagged series I’m starting entitled “Gifted Parents, Parenting Gifted” (yes, I love palindromes and all kinds of word play; and yes, I know this isn’t exactly a palindrome, but, close enough).

To define self-care, I’ll use a phrase from the Very Well Family article linked above:

Taking care of your spiritual, physical, psychological, and social needs will help you feel your best so you can be the best parent you can be.

So – I’ll define “self-care” as “spiritual, physical, psychological, and social needs”, which seems to cover a pretty broad range. Also, just to clarify: when I use the term gifted parent, I am referring to a gifted adult who happens to be parenting – not simply a “parent of a gifted kid” (though there’s obviously huge overlap).

As I noted in my introduction, there is a LOT out there on the internet about self-care, and plenty on self-care specifically geared towards parents (with even more emerging during the pandemic). But, what are the unique self-care considerations for gifted adults who are parenting?

Of course, much if not all of the existing self-care advice – i.e., meditating, spending time in nature, listening to music, etc. – are good ideas for everyone to consider as part of their self-care menu. But I would posit there are a few additional needs for gifted parents to keep in mind as well. Below are my initial thoughts on the topic, which I’ll continue to reflect on and refine over time.

  1. In Searching for Meaning (2015), Jim Webb notes our need as gifted adults to make meaning in and of the world, and leave a lasting impact. He specifically suggests the following strategies (described in greater detail in his book, which I recommend): creating your own life script, becoming involved in causes, using bibliotherapy and journaling, maintaining a sense of humor, touching and feeling connected, developing authentic relationships, compartmentalizing, letting go, living in the present moment, learning optimism and resiliency, focusing on the continuity of generations, mentoring and teaching, and “rippling”. Several of these strategies actually relate very directly to parenting – i.e., “developing authentic relationships” (with our kids), “living in the present moment” (an invaluable parenting strategy), and “focusing on the continuity of generations” (definitely doing that by parenting!). Naming and acknowledging these strategies as inherent to our parenting can help to alleviate some of the existential angst felt by gifted parents, who may otherwise tend to relentlessly question if they’re “doing enough”.
  2. In Bright Adults (2015), Ellen Fiedler describes the following “significant needs and issues throughout the lifespan” of gifted adults: acceptance; meaningful connections; living with intensity (either intellectual, sensory, imaginational, and/or emotional); access to resources; relevant challenges; and finding meaning. Fiedler’s list reminds us that even as adults, we continue to live with various intensities of our own (while also dealing with those of our kids), and need access to resources and relevant challenges. Obviously, parenting itself could be viewed as the ultimate “relevant challenge”, and I know of many gifted adults who address it in exactly that way – i.e., it’s not just exhausting work (though it is that, too!) but also a fun project to dive into and learn from. The many podcasts and blogs out there on parenting (including this one!) are a testament to how fulfilling it can be to reflect on our parenting journey, share ideas with others, and maintain a stance of lifelong learning.
  3. Gifted parents, like gifted kids, benefit from finding like-minded peers to engage with. Joining a SENG parent group (which I now co-facilitate) was when I first made this a ha connection for myself. I was suddenly able to relate to other parents in a way that had eluded me for years; I could talk openly about the unique challenges I was seeing in my own kids, while never feeling the need to “dumb down” my thoughts or ideas. And, I found a few good friends! If a support group isn’t available near you, there are a number of private Facebook groups related specifically to parenting gifted kids, and/or you can sign up to hear about parenting seminars hosted by organizations such as SENG, NAGC, IEA, John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, and local gifted organizations in your area.
  4. Allow yourself to join in with your gifted kids’ interests and hobbies. If you’ve always wanted to learn to play an instrument, speak a language, or take art classes, now is an ideal chance to be inspired – by your kid! For instance, when my son first started learning the violin, it was literally painful for me to sit there watching and listening during his lesson while not joining in myself; so, I invested in an adult-sized violin and went to town. I ended up not having the time or stamina to continue for very long (I do have a rambling rainforest mind, after all . . . ), but it was extremely satisfying to at least scratch that lifelong itch and experience what violin playing was all about.
  5. Finally, an idea specifically mentioned in the linked article above on self-care strategies is to join a book club, which I would argue may be especially important for gifted parents. I plan to write a separate post about this in more detail, but for now I will share that in recent months I’ve joined two different book clubs (both online for the moment) and found them to be an awesome supplement to my “self-care regime”.  They are very much for me – a great excuse to carve out time for enjoyable reading but/and they also help me talk openly with my kids about the joys of prioritizing books and getting together with other people to discuss them. Win-win all around.

I’m excited to begin this exploration of what it means for gifted parents to be mindful of their self-care needs while engaging in the most (in)valuable long-term “project” of their lives: raising their kids.

What are some of your self-care tips for gifted parenting? 

If you would like to add a comment to this post, please send an email to: halfofthetruth.org@gmail.com and I will create an account for you. Thanks!

Second Booster: SENG Spring Mini-Conference Take-Aways (Part 2)

A true benefit of pandemic times, for me, has been the ability to attend conferences I otherwise wouldn’t have the time or energy for, given how exhausting it is to travel. (Traveling is amazing and wondrous, but also exhausting; that’s most definitely a topic for another blog post.) 

Not only have pretty much all conferences and presentations been virtual this year, but the majority have been recorded and thus available for viewing at a later time. It couldn’t get more convenient than that for busy working parents.

With that said, I’m here to share my take-aways from the remaining SENG Spring Mini-Conference sessions I attended after-the-fact – i.e., by accessing the recordings. As I mentioned in my last post, SENG tends to pull together some truly amazing speakers, and is a non-profit well worth joining and supporting.

The sessions I’ll be reporting on here are:

  • Dr. Ross Greene on “Collaborative & Proactive Solutions: Moving From Power and Control to Collaboration and Problem-Solving”
  • Julie Skolnick on “Managing Social Emotional Engagement, Effective Communication and Emotion Regulation During the Pandemic”
  • Debbie Reber on “Fostering Self-Knowledge and Personal Strengths in Your 2e Child”
  • Dr. Richard Cash on “Getting Out of the Quagmire: A Roadmap for Redirecting Underachievers and Selective Producers”
  • Dr. Susan Baum on “Gifts Come in Different Packages: It’s All About Style”

Whew. This is a lot, and each topic deserves its own post, but for now I will simply share key ideas and take-aways.


Dr. Ross Greene has been writing about and presenting on so-called “explosive” kids for decades; his books are all well worth reading.

Dr. Greene urges parents, educators, and others working with high-intensity kids to be open to the following paradigm shift: kids “act out” when they lack the skills to engage in what’s being asked of them, either by adults or themselves. If you can identify both what kids are being asked to do (i.e., the unsolved problem), and the skills they are lacking in order to do this (i.e., the lagging skills), then you can prioritize and target skills instruction.

Dr. Greene posits that he has never, ever in his lengthy career met a kid who genuinely prefers to not do well; rather, they’re simply lacking the skills to do so.

Skill areas that kids tend to be lagging in include the following:

  • executive functioning skills
  • language/communication skills
  • emotion regulation skills
  • cognitive flexibility skills
  • social skills

Dr. Greene recommends that caretakers begin by completing an ALSUP questionnaire (Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems) for a child, then prioritize the child’s problems based on safety, frequency, and gravity. (We can’t work on everything at once.)

At this point, we must consider which of the following plans to use:

Plan A is to simply to solve a problem unilaterally – i.e., use your adult hand to force the issue. If a child is putting herself or others in immediate danger, this is the obvious “plan” to choose.

Plan C is based on the idea that sometimes we have to set certain problems aside and acknowledge they’re not a top priority right now, which might mean coming up with an interim plan for these problems (i.e., temporarily suspending certain expectations for the child).

Dr. Greene’s Plan B for solving high-priority problems collaboratively consists of the following steps:

  1. Empathy: Gather information from the child in terms of what’s hard for them about meeting expectations. We need to shift away from making assumptions, and instead talk with our kids to hear their perspectives.
  2. Define Adult Concerns: Adults must identify the concerning behaviors they’re seeing in kids. Since the problems children face tend to be predictable, once we look for the patterns, we can be proactive rather than reactive.
  3. Invitation: Collaborate on a solution that is realistic and mutually satisfactory. Both these two conditions are critical for long-term success, given that if the child doesn’t agree, then you are looking at temporary “compliance” at best.

This process is obviously much easier said than done – however, Dr. Greene’s work is invaluable in terms of offering a sequential approach to solving situations with kids who are unable to thrive in mainstream spaces without adult intervention and support. It was good to hear from him “live”.


Julie Skolnick runs the website withunderstandingcomescalm.com, where she offers guidance to 2E kids and adults.

In her presentation for SENG on coping strategies during the pandemic, she began by pointing out the “great irony” of the fact that 2E kids often have a deep desire to connect, but also present with intensities that can be “too much” for many, leading to internal messaging that somehow their authentic selves are wrong.

Common struggles for 2E kids (do these sound familiar?)  include the need to be right; being too goal oriented; challenges with executive functioning; (dis)trust; being easily distractible; and living with one or more of Dabrowski’s “over-excitabilities” (psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational, and emotional).

Julie presented the “Skolnick Formula for Emotional Disregulation”™, in which she posited that:

  1. the giftedness characteristics of intellectual interests, existential considerations, asynchronous development, perfectionism, and overexcitabilities tend to lead to
  2.  anxiety, stress, frustration, and misunderstanding,  which then lead to
  3.  emotional dysregulation (manifesting as challenging behaviors), which elicits
  4.  reactions and responses from those around them . . .

. . . which then fuels the child’s anxiety, stress, and frustration. It can be a vicious cycle. Just as in Dr. Greene’s approach described above, Julie argues that we should learn to anticipate trigger moments for our kids and intervene proactively rather than reactively.

Julie reminded us that environment for 2E kids is critical – and yet the “triple P” environment we’ve been living with throughout the last year – pandemic, politics, and protests – has brought a heightened sense of discord, dystopia, and dismay for many 2E kids. Communication with teachers remains critically important, yet has also been more challenging than ever given the inherent limitations of learning through screens, such as tech issues; teacher distractions; household distractions (for the student); and the inability for teachers to manage or defuse issues one-on-one.

Julie’s number one message for audience members was to remember the importance of connection. Strategies she listed for enhancing connection include: being honest; leading with empathy; giving kids the benefit of the doubt; giving up the need to be ‘right’; giving kids a ‘piece of the pie’; shifting priorities; taking care of yourself; doing something for someone else; keeping a ‘gratitude attitude’; and starting each day anew.

The most tangible take-away for me from Julie’s talk was the metaphor of “letting go of a rope”: she asked everyone in the audience to pretend that we were tugging on a rope – tugging, tugging, tugging, tugging – and then . . .  we were asked to simply let go of the rope.  This, she explained, can be a useful way to approach communication challenges with our kids. Every now and then, we should simply let it go. Breathe. Pause. Give it a moment. Let go of the rope. We can return to it later.


Debbie Reber is a beloved staple of my parenting repertoire. After attending a SENG parent support group a couple of years ago, I binge-listened to Debbie’s TILT Parenting podcast series, and it was a game-changer in terms of getting me quickly up to speed on major players and concepts in the 2E world. Debbie’s son Asher (now 16) fits a similar profile to my son D., so her personal reflections feel especially pertinent.

In this talk for SENG, Debbie focused on promoting self-knowledge and personal strengths in our 2E kids, with the ultimate goal of raising kids who are curious and open to feedback. She began by discussing ways to (and whether or not to) bring up a child’s diagnoses with them, reminding us that if/when we do so, we should: begin with strengths; be honest; consider this part of an ongoing conversation with our kids; and ask questions.

Other hints in her talk included:

  • We should be mindful about using language that supports rather than shames our kids, and that validates and empathizes with their challenges.
  • We need to give our kids space, and remember that it’s perfectly fine (and usually preferable!) to debrief a challenge after the storm has passed.
  • When reflecting back on particularly “low” moments, we should get curious, connect, repair, and then forge ahead.

Finally, Debbie emphasized the need for us to develop our kids’ sense of agency, control, motivation, and self-direction. She is a huge fan of William Stixrud and Ned Johnson’s book The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives (2018), which I will eventually be reporting on for this blog.

In closing, Debbie reminded us to make self-discovery a priority as parents, too. Here’s to that!


Dr. Rick Cash’s presentation was geared towards helping teachers differentiate their instruction and personalize their connections with students in order to address issues of underachievement.

He discussed the difference between non-producers (students who refuse to do any work, though they often perform well on summative assessments) and selective producers (students who engage in work they feel personally motivated by). He reminded us that affect, behavior, and cognition all play a part in students’ performance, and offered the following roadmap for teachers to follow (comparable to a Gradual Release of Responsibility pedagogical approach):

  1. modeling while students observe (“I do, you watch”)
  2. asking students to “copy and do” (“I do, you help”)
  3. engaging students in guided practice (“You do, I help”)
  4. promoting independence and application in students (“You do, I watch”)

He further discussed different “learner orientations”, distinguishing between students with:

  • a mastery approach (kids who work hard to achieve their personal best)
  • mastery avoidance (kids who are comfortable with being “good enough”)
  • a performance approach (kids who compete to be better than others)
  • performance avoidance (kids who avoid “performing” at all)

Finally, Dr. Cash presented what he refers to as the RIC essentials: Reliable Relationships, Individual Importance, and Community Connections.

These are solid guidelines to follow in all walks of life, and especially essential in school.


Dr. Susan Baum’s presentation was a lovely end to a jam-packed conference. Dr. Baum is the Director of The 2e Center for Research and Professional Development at Bridges Academy in Southern California, and she brings infectious enthusiasm to the work she does.

She shared about four different “personality profiles” she’s developed, which help us to better understand ourselves and our kids. The profiles are:

  • practical managers
  • learned experts
  • creative problem solvers
  • people persons

She pointed out that we all have components of each of these in ourselves – and, critically, we are able to call up elements of them when/as needed. For instance, even those of us who are decidedly not “people persons” at heart can learn tools to manage being in groups on occasion, especially when necessary (i.e., for work). Meanwhile, those who normally function as “creative problem solvers” or “learned experts” can tap into practical management skills every now and then (albeit sometimes with necessary coaching and support).

Dr. Baum raced breezily through her slideshow (there was so much to share!), describing common characteristics of each of these personality profiles, what a “good day” looks like for someone fitting that profile, common needs and issues that come up, and keys to negotiation (focusing specifically on school age kids). She ended each “type” with an example of a photo of a real-life famous adult and their actual desk or workspace. Here’s a brief overview of the four types:

  • Practical managers are time keepers and organizers who operate in a concrete sequential fashion. They like to check things off of lists, and prefer days when life is predictable and there’s an agenda available. They thrive on structure, but may struggle with lack of flexibility, pessimism, and perfectionism. The ideal activities for these kids include tasks with specific directions that allow them to “show what they know” through charts, graphs, and fact sheets. Bill Gates fits this profile, and apparently has an exceptionally neat, uncluttered desk.
  • Learned experts are thinkers and logicians who operate in an abstract sequential fashion. They love to strategize, debate, discuss, read, and solve puzzles, and prefer days when life is somewhat predictable but there is plenty of time for diving deep into a topic. They thrive on intellectual stimulation with smart people, but may struggle with arrogance, sarcasm, and/or an overly argumentative nature. The ideal activities for these kids include research projects and being able to present their ideas through reports, editorials, debates, or political cartoons. Al Gore fits this profile, and apparently has a sprawling, jam-packed workspace with numerous paper piles and devices all over the place.
  • Creative problem solvers are inventors, adventurers, and risk takers. They likes to do things their own way, and a good day consists of having fun and not being constrained. They thrive on competition, risk, challenge, and choice, but may struggle with lack of ability to follow directions, not paying sufficient attention to details, overly high energy, and/or too much focus on thrill seeking. The ideal activities for these kids involve designing and creating something to show their knowledge in an open-ended way, often through multi-media platforms. They can and do work anywhere (including on the floor), and need to be able to to shift positions, take breaks, and move around. Steve Jobs was an example of a creative problem solver combined with a learned expert.
  • People persons are sensitive, emotional, and creative ambassadors and artists whose best days involve being appreciated, loved, and feeling special. They may get lonely, overly sensitive, and dramatic, work too hard to fit in, and have a tendency to be scattered and lose things. However, they make awesome leaders given how much they care about, understand, and can connect with others. The ideal activities for these kids are creative and artistic, feel personally relevant, and allow for small group or partner work. Their ideal work space is unique to them, while allowing them to be in earshot of family members. Bill Clinton is an example of a people person.

Wow – these personality profiles are an incredibly useful way to think about the strengths and differences among us. I consider myself primarily a “learned expert” (this blog probably gives ample evidence of that!) but I’m also a “people person” given that I love teaching, coaching, and getting to know interesting new people. Thankfully, I can also easily slip into being a “practical manager” as needed, though I find it exceedingly annoying that I’m the only one in my household who seems to have facility with this, since it’s tiring to manage everything – especially when I’d rather be off learning something new or making connections with others.

My husband and 12-year-old daughter C. are primarily “creative problem solvers” who routinely get lost in fantasy and exploration and don’t care if they’re surrounded by clutter; both are also “people persons” who care a lot about making connections in between their creative problem solving. My 11-year-old son D. is primarily a “learned expert” who LOVES lists, facts, and predictability, but he has plenty of “creative problem solver” in him as well. My 8-year-old daughter I. is primarily a “people person” with a passion for art, big emotions, a strong desire to connect, and a preference for working with others whenever possible, but also exhibits plenty of “creative problem solver” in her need to have flexibility and express her unique flair.

So – we’re a mixed household with diverse needs and preferences.


This blog post is beyond long enough, so I’ll end it here. I’m grateful to have so much new and interesting information to chew on (the learned expert in me is in heaven) – and I hope you’ve gained some new areas for exploration, too.

Happy learning!

Copyright © 2021 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.  

Boost in the Arm: SENG Spring Mini-Conference Take-Aways (Part 1)

During this period of spring bloom, mass vaccinations, and glimmers of hope for a more healthful year ahead, it was refreshing to take time to attend five of SENG’s Spring Mini Conference sessions last weekend.

SENG always gathers an exciting and impressive roster of experts across diverse fields related to gifted and 2E learners. Here are the sessions I managed to watch live (I will catch up on and report on the others once recordings are available):

  1. “Culturally Responsive Teaching in Gifted Education: Building Cultural Competence and Serving Diverse Populations” (Matthew Fugate, Wendy Behrens, Joy Lawson Davis, and Cecilia Boswell)
  2. “Being Bright, Talented, and Black in Today’s Schools” (Joy Lawson Davis, Adrienne Paul, and Theresa Newsom)
  3. “Where Do I Belong? A Tale of Identity and Reality” (Alonso Kelly)
  4. “Perfectionism: How to Stop Moving the Goalpost” (Matt Zakreski)
  5. “Exhausted: Energy and Wellness for the Twice-Exceptional Learner” (Marlo Payne Thurman)

The first two sessions listed above relate to the pressing issue of ensuring that gifted programs and services are equitably serving students across diverse cultural populations. To that end, Dr. Fugate and his colleagues have edited a much-needed book on culturally responsive teaching for gifted students (with the same title as their presentation), to be published by Prufrock Press in June. I’ll be reading this and reporting back with a Book Reflection blog post once it’s released. 

Meanwhile, the gifted community has been fortunate to tap into the extensive expertise of Dr. Joy Lawson Davis, one of the leading names in research on gifted education for diverse student populations, and a recent (2019) recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from SENG. Davis is the author of Bright, Talented, & Black: A Guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners (2010) and Gifted Children of Color Around the World: Diverse Needs, Exemplary Practices and Directions for the Future (2016). At this spring’s mini-conference, Dr. Davis presented with her daughter Adrienne Paul (a K-12 educator) and colleague Dr.  Theresa Newsom on supporting students who are bright, talented, and Black (BTB).  Topics covered in their session included the following:

  • Systemic issues impacting BTB students’ success in school: Black students are under-represented in gifted programs, over-represented in Special Education, and disproportionately impacted by biased disciplinary practices and policies in school. They are still most likely to be taught by white females, thus perpetuating a “cultural mismatch”.
  • The unique psychosocial challenges of being BTB: BTB students often face numerous additional challenges in school, which include overcoming damaging stereotypes, having their abilities repeatedly underestimated, and being considered defiant for engaging in self-advocacy (which may include needing to find teachers who they can trust to nurture their gifts).
  • Meeting BTB students’ curriculum and instruction needs: In addition to considering elements of culturally responsive teaching more broadly, the panelists discussed A.W. Boykin’s (1992) 9 Dimensions of an Afro-Cultural ethos,  which all teachers of BTB students should be familiar with: spirituality, harmony, movement, verve, affect, communication, expressive individualism, oral traditions, and a social time perspective.
  • Nurturing the math talent of BTB students: Some specific strategies named in this section include ensuring teachers know and understand Black students’ previous experiences with and thoughts on math; using a problem-based curriculum; highlighting Black mathematicians (past and current); and allowing individual verbal sense-making for validation.
  • Improving relationships with BTB students: These ideas include engaging with extended family and community members; having students share their cultural autobiographies; and providing safe affinity discussion spaces for sensitive conversations.

Related to the topic of BTB, Alonso Kelly – a SENG Board Member and a Strategic Leadership Partner and Executive Coach – gave a presentation entitled “Where Do I Belong? A Tale of Identity and Reality” which offered a welcome dive into his life as a gifted Black male in America. Alonso gave audience members an opportunity to reflect on the following scenarios (among others), emphasizing our need to expand our empathy and understanding for where others are coming from:

  • How would it feel to play Monopoly hundreds of times and never earn money or be able to buy property – then be asked what you think of the game?
  • If a public park posts a sign saying that no trash cans are provided and all trash must be personally carried out, whose fault is it when/if the ground is littered with trash? Does your perspective shift if you reflect on families who don’t read English, and/or those who didn’t arrive at the park in a personal vehicle?

Alonso highlighted key components of nurturing a psychologically safe space for challenging conversations (through accountability, courage, humility, and empowerment) and talked about thriving at the intersection of lived experience, learned experience, formal education, and emotional intelligence. By repeatedly referring to the SENG community as his “family”, he reminded us that connecting with others who “get” our giftedness can be an essential grounding tool as we navigate our way through the often complicated and challenging landscape of finding our path in life.

Dr. Matt Zakreski – who discussed nurturing creativity at last fall’s SENG mini-conference – gave a presentation entitled “Perfectionism: How to Stop Moving the Goalpost,” about the pitfalls of perfectionism and how to manage this oft-present characteristic of gifted individuals.  He proposed a distinction (actually a continuum) between healthy perfectionism – in which individuals challenge themselves and learn from failure – and maladaptive perfectionism (in which individuals set unrealistic goals, become obsessed, and/or avoid activities altogether).

One of his key take-aways was that “people who avoid failure also avoid success” – so, we need to support gifted kids in learning that failing is inevitable, and that to F.A.I.L. is to engage in “frequent attempts in learning”. The remainder of Matt’s presentation focused on specific therapeutic strategies to help kids address their maladaptive perfectionism, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, as well as specific things parents can do to support their kids, such as:

  • understanding that perfectionism isn’t rational and therefore is not easy to “just stop”;
  • being proactive and helping your kids plan ahead;
  • modeling emotion-focused language;
  • encouraging breaks;
  • encouraging empathy-based perspective taking;
  • not trying to “solve the problem” for your child; and
  • communicating with a child’s teacher and school.

[Speaking of perfectionism, at some point I will be sharing my thoughts on Lisa Van Gemert‘s book Perfectionism: A Practical Guide to Managing ‘Never Good Enough’ (2018), which offers additional invaluable guidance on this topic.]

Finally, Dr. Marlo Payne Thurman‘s presentation – entitled “Exhausted: Energy and Wellness for the Twice-Exceptional Learner” – was a no-brainer must-watch for me (and I didn’t think twice about the fact that I was starting to feel a little fatigued while watching it!). Marlo candidly discussed a traumatic brain injury she experienced years ago which kicked her own twice-exceptionality into gear, and made frequent connections between her own attempts to understand how her brain had changed to strategies we can use to help our kids “triage” their limited energy.

Marlo defined energy as finite slices of a pie, comprised of cognitive, emotional, and physical energy as well as a “reserve”, and pointed out that we can’t simply borrow from one source to fuel another. She reminded us that “the amount of cognitive capacity an individual has dictates the amount of sensory information that they can effectively take in,” and that “gifted individuals take in more sensory information and use more energy to process sensory input.” This simple equation was potent validation that there’s a reason (actually, many reasons) why gifted folks so often feel exhausted – including sheer sensory overwhelm (and/or under-aroused sensory seeking).

Marlo talked us through how fatigue can lead to “adrenal” activation – which leads to heightened sensory sensitivity, which leads to increased energy consumption and thus increased fatigue. BAM. There you have it. The vicious cycle of fatigue is real.

In her firehose of a presentation, Marlo presented much more information on her topic – including how to activate our reserve energy, the role our gut plays in health, and the downward spiral of stress leading from seemingly innocuous feelings like boredom and pessimism, to fear, depression, insecurity, and feelings of unworthiness and powerlessness.

The question is, what to do about all this? Marlo recommended getting a comprehensive assessment for our twice-exceptional kids – not just academically, but in terms of ocular and visual-motor skills, auditory processing, learning styles and strengths, language and communication skills, memory and sequencing, executive functioning, sensory preferences, and overall wellness, social skills, and behavior.

Whew! Listening to Marlo speak on these topics reminded me of my own first dive into the world of twice-exceptionality, when my to-do list for trying to understand the complexities of my three diverse kids (not to mention myself) felt endless.

Marlo ended her presentation with a series of “best tips” for parents:

  • Assess the level of stress
  • Teach breath control
  • Monitor and track sleep
  • Support nutritional needs
  • Find a bio-medical physician
  • Establish a sensory diet
  • Get a good assessment

Again, this is a lot – but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my journey into the vast world of giftedness and twice-exceptionality, it’s that patience is required.

As I’ve noted before, parenting is a marathon, not a sprint – so it’s critical for parents to honor that reality, pace ourselves, and celebrate small steps forward. However imperfect and incremental our interventions may be, we can gradually build individualized support systems for our kids that will allow them each to thrive in their own way. And yes, it’s fatiguing work – but well worth it.

Copyright © 2021 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.  

 

Book Reflections #7: Exceptional Talent

So much has been going on with pandemic parenting these days that I haven’t spent as much time exploring giftedness in adults – with one exception: reading Frans Corten’s delightful book Exceptional Talent: A Guide for the Gifted, The Inventors, and Other Birds of a Rare Feather (2021), recently translated into English from Dutch.*

Corten opens his book with the following quote:

“If you stick a bird in a cage, flying will become a disorder instead of a talent.”

This reminds me of the following oft-used cartoon in educational circles:

The Education System: “Now Climb That Tree” | The Marquette Educator

By “birds of a rare feather”, Corten is referring to people with exceptional talents – i.e.,  rainforest minded people, or gifted adults. Corten has spent years coaching such individuals, and shares his many insights and experiences in this beautifully illustrated text, clearly made with aesthetic appeal in mind.

Artwork from Exceptional Talent, p. 64

Corten open his book in Chapter 1 by explaining “Why This Guide?” (“to help exceptional talents find their way in their lives and work”), and sharing his own story with giftedness.

In Chapter 2 (“Exceptional Talent Does Not Flourish Of Its Own Accord”), Corten offers a valuable reminder of the reasons why gifted individuals almost always require additional support to thrive, despite widespread assumptions that “high intelligence in itself will make sure that the person finds their niche” (p. 14). On the contrary, Corten estimates that “the percentage of gifted people who are mental healthcare clients, who live on benefits or are homeless is substantially higher than the percentage in society” (p. 15) – a statistic I personally don’t doubt for a moment.

[As a brief side note, I grew up in a fringe spiritual group in which nearly all the adult members were likely gifted to some extent – and many did indeed struggle with mental health concerns, career issues, and/or ongoing financial or housing instability. In another post, I plan to write in more detail about the intriguing correlations I see between giftedness, spirituality, and life challenges.]  

Back to Corten’s book, he acknowledges that “exceptional talents have too few role models as examples” given that “the usual career pathways and tests don’t always work well” – something I’ve most definitely found to be true for myself, as well as for plenty of the rainforest-minded graduate students I’ve mentored over the years.

In Chapter 3, Corten concedes, “I can’t offer you a scientific definition of an exceptional talent. The essence is that your talent really belongs to the exceptions, leaving you to discover many things for yourself” (p. 18). He offers a useful chart on page 18 of how individuals with exceptional talent may perceive situations in their workplace, versus how their employers view them. To provide just a couple of examples:

  1. A workplace might feel that an employee has “many conflicts with management and authorities”, while the individual believes about herself, “I have a strongly developed sense of justice”.
  2. A workplace might characterize an employee as having “poor timing, in meetings for example” while the individual feels, “I’m constantly meeting resistance; it all goes so slowly.”

This chart reminds me of the ones provided by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen in her book The Gifted Adult (1999), in which she represents the two extremes (“collapsed” and “exaggerated”) of intensity, complexity, and drive as manifested in a variety of ways, while also providing a more “balanced” ideal for each. The ultimate goal of both authors is to encourage flourishing.

Corten points out that very often the “high flyers” of large organizations are flourishing; his book is not designed for them, but rather for those who exhibit the “typical characteristics” of exceptional talent:

  • heightened powers of observation
  • vulnerability
  • combinations of talents
  • uniquely innovative
  • a tendency to “think and speak too fast for other people to keep up, often without knowing” (p. 22).

He follows up on these ideas in Chapter 4 (entitled “A Large Gap”) by noting, “The essence of being exceptional is that you deviate greatly from the average” (p. 23). He reminds readers that it’s important not to assume “that people are deliberately thwarting you” but instead to keep in mind that most “people can’t see what you see, can’t easily make the connections you make, can’t think through the consequences of a decision as far ahead. You just go far too fast.”

This echoes the advice in Jim Webb’s book Searching for Meaning (2015), in which he writes: “Once you stop denying the differences that exist between yourself and others, you can appreciate your abilities. You also may find that you appreciate the uniqueness of others.” (p. 119).

I’m also reminded of the Giftedness Knows No Boundaries public awareness campaign put forth by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) in 2016, which emphasizes the key phrases “See Me, Know Me, Challenge Me, Teach Me”.  In order to meet the needs of gifted individuals of all ages, we must first see them – but a key difference is that with children, the onus and moral responsibility for this lies on the adults around them,  whereas gifted adults must learn to advocate for themselves. This is tricky business – especially for those who weren’t adequately supported in their younger years.

In Chapter 5, Corten advises us not to adapt, but rather to adjust, and reminds us once again that “the first step is realising that most other people don’t see” your exceptional talent, given that they “come from another world in terms of thinking and doing and that’s just how it is” (p. 35).

Corten recommends the following strategies: looking for soulmates; opening up; using expressive language; finding your way around social media; learning to ‘mix and match’; appreciating what you get; taking your feelings seriously; speaking in the first person; making your needs the starting point; being okay with mistakes; considering the correlation (if any) between money and worth; and creating “space and peace” for yourself.

There is a lot covered in this chapter, and it’s worth reading closely while taking notes. I personally have found solace in many of the ideas here, and also recognize a number of them from other readings I’ve done. For instance, the notion of learning to “mix and match” to create a fulfilling and viable career is discussed in Emilie Wapnick’s How To Be Everything: A Guide For Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up (2017), and is a direction I’ve ended up following for myself.

Meanwhile, making peace with – i.e., “finding your way around” – social media is invaluable advice; I was relieved to read Corten’s statement that he often hears his clients saying “I’m not interested in social media.” (Hear, hear!) And yet, as he points out, ignoring it completely comes at its own cost on numerous fronts. 

One more idea that stood out to me from Chapter 5 is Corten’s advice to “only commit yourself to matters which either bother you or from which you benefit” (p. 43). This directly addresses the challenge so many gifted individuals face in terms of genuine overwhelm by the countless injustices in the world, and how impossible it is to sufficiently address everything. You can’t. You must pick and choose, as Corten advises – and his metric makes sense as a way to realistically and meaningfully narrow down your scope. 

In Chapter 6 (“Your Career Path: Listening As You Go”), Corten draws upon his decades of experience as a career coach to offer “essentials for a gifted career”, which include responding to and reflecting upon the following four prompts:

  1. What is it I want?
  2. How do I truly make contact?
  3. What do I have to offer?
  4. What do I need?

Clearly, each of these questions is huge, and ideally would be done with support from a suitable counselor or coach. Corten discusses the critical concept of discovering your “core talents”, as well as the need to clearly distinguish between “burn out” and “bore out” in one’s workplace (pp. 52-54).  The list of examples provided on page 54 is an invaluable resource for those wanting insight into the unique challenges they’re facing at work – though it’s good to keep in mind, as Corten points out, that “something which forms a burn-out risk for one person may be an essential condition for achieving pleasure at work for another.”

One more key take-away from Chapter 6 is the permission Corten gives for us to “learn to carefully sense which moments or hours in the day are suited to which tasks, and act on that” (p. 58). His advice is: “Respond to your own rhythm and make things as easy as possible for yourself.” While I’ve actually been doing this for years, I’ve simultaneously felt residual guilt from a lifetime of earlier institutionalized indoctrination that humans must follow the timelines and rhythms set forth by “those in charge”. Not necessarily true by a long stretch – and certainly not the healthiest way to live, if you can help it.

In Chapter 7, Corten turns to more “Direction and Guidance”. He reassures us that “when gifted people and other exceptional talents find a trajectory that suits them, their personal and professional development can suddenly go really fast” (though he provides fair warning: finding that one “small thing” to pursue can take awhile). He advocates being open to the idea of a “higher self” in whatever fashion that takes, and finding a “balance between challenge and safety”, which he believes is “key to a successful approach”.

Corten concludes his book in Chapter 8 by offering five portraits of individuals he’s worked with over the years (two female and three male, ages ranging from 43 to 62 – thus all in either the Exploring or Navigating stages of their life, according to Fiedler [2015]). I saw much of myself and others I know in these portraits, and found myself highlighting certain quotes that specifically stood out to me, which I’ll share below:

  • Jantien (age 52): “I always wanted to work in a broader perspective and with strategic issues, but logically speaking that’s often not possible at a young age” (p. 74). Yes, exactly. I, too, have always wanted to skip straight to the interesting and complex challenges of life – whereas in reality, we can’t do everything at once, and must accept that some stages are indeed both linear and necessary. Later, Jantien adds, “The internet has helped me enormously. I can go to it with everything that’s happening in my head” (p. 76). What a wonderful way to put it! Despite the many challenges the internet has brought, I’m ultimately a huge fan – it’s been a true game-changer on so many levels.
  • Gustave (age 50) writes, “If I immerse myself in a subject, I keep going and associate everything with everything else until I understand the system behind it. That takes a lot of time, but not much effort” (p. 87). Here’s to the value of enjoyably immersive deep dives for gifted adults! Meanwhile, echoing my rainforest-minded husband, Gustave also writes, “I can apparently reach a level of knowledge which equals that of experts in associated subjects” (p. 88); this has happened repeatedly to my husband, who is often mistaken for a professional in areas which he simply has a (gifted) layperson’s interest in.
  • Irani (age 43) shares about her hypersensitivity (yep) and her desire to do “everything at once” (yep), while telling us that her clients “often say that they love the fact that I don’t judge. I do, by the way, but I can also quickly let go of such a judgment. My attitude in life is that I take things as they are” (p. 95). I respect and relate to this pragmatic approach to life, which is my preferred m.o. as well.
  • Finally, Willibrord (age 62) – a choir conductor and composer among numerous other skills and responsibilities – writes that, “As far as I’m concerned, God is in people. I see God as a kind of language, or platform for communication for all those subjects we do not understand or are unable to explain, and which matter in life. We started calling that God and that makes it possible to talk about them” (pp. 101-102). This perspective echoes that made by Corten in Chapter 7, and rings very true as a creative conceptualization of “why God exists”.

I strongly recommend Corten’s book to “birds of a rare feather” seeking affirmation and advice as they explore what their next steps may be, career-wise. It’s a valuable addition to the far-too-limited literature on conditions necessary for gifted adults to thrive – and as Corten writes, “All of society will benefit if we learn to interact better with exceptional talents” (p. 10).

To purchase a copy of this book, go to: www.exceptionaltalent.eu

Please note that shipping to the United States currently takes about six weeks from the Netherlands. 

Artwork from Exceptional Talent, p. 49

References

  • Corten, F. (2021). Exceptional talent: A guide for the gifted, the inventors and other birds of a rare feather. Werk en Waarde.
  • Jacobsen, M-E. (1999). The gifted adult: A revolutionary guide for liberating everyday genius. Random House Publishing.
  • Wapnick, E. (2017) How to be everything: A guide for those who (still) don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. HarperOne.
  • Webb, J.T. (2015). Searching for meaning: Idealism, bright minds, disillusionment, and hope. Great Potential Press.

NB 

* On the copyright page of his book, Corten writes:

Dear Publisher,

I published this first edition independently so that the world could see it. I’m now looking for a publisher who is willing to distribute a second edition worldwide. If you are interested, or know someone who might be, please get in touch with me.

Thank you, Frans Corten

publisher@exceptionaltalent.eu

Copyright © 2021 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.  

Executive Functioning Fatigue

Executive functioning refers to a “set of cognitive processes that are necessary for the cognitive control of behavior” – in other words, according to Executive Functioning Coach Seth Perler, “getting things done”.

I had vaguely heard about the importance of executive functioning as an elementary school teacher – but I got my degree in general education rather than special education or educational psychology, so it was never prominent, and I was never taught any strategies to help my students manage their own executive functioning skills.

Thankfully, I was formally reintroduced to the power and importance of executive functioning from my parenting hat, when I attended a SENG parent support group and started exploring twice-exceptionality. Executive functioning turns out to be a really, really big deal for most twice-exceptional kids – as in, crucial to their success, and nearly always a challenge.

Unfortunately, as “basic” as executive functioning is, it’s also incredibly complicated – much like reading. If reading “comes naturally” to you (like it did for me), then it doesn’t seem so hard – but if it doesn’t, and your kids or your students are struggling, then you suddenly realize how complex reading really is, and a whole world of research and intervention techniques await exploration.

Back to executive functioning, one of my favorite sayings is “things get done by doing them”: not by saying you’ll do them, not by hoping you’ll do them, and not by scheduling them to get done; only by actually doing them do they get done. I can’t count the number of times I’ve ended up saying this to various members of my household – myself included! – out of frustration, resignation, and/or compassion (hopefully plenty of the latter).

Indeed, everyone in my family struggles with executive functioning to one degree or another – including my husband. At 49 years old, he long ago learned to mask or overcome his deficits and proceed with the life he wanted (college, a solid career, marriage, kids) but his executive functioning challenges are still present, causing him – and me – occasional grief.

Meanwhile, none of my three twice-exceptional kids seem to have the straight-forward ability to simply “get their schoolwork done”. Because I was such a neurotic child myself – terrified of making mistakes and being less than “perfect” at school – it’s hard for me to relate to the type of giftedness my kids exhibit: plenty of complexity, intensity, and drive, but not necessarily directly related to their assigned work. I’m glad they don’t struggle with obsessive fears around not turning things in or getting perfect scores, but I also want them to develop a healthy sense of responsibility and agency.

How do I create the right balance, especially when each one of my kids is so different?

Well, first I need to ensure that their ability to “get things done” isn’t inhibited by the vast array of potential (often hidden) logistical challenges that might be getting in the way, including those related to:

  • planning
  • time management
  • organization
  • prioritizing
  • decision making
  • details
  • transitions
  • self-starting
  • follow-through

Whoa. This is a lot.

When you stop to think about it, it’s actually amazing that any of us gets anything done. How exactly do we learn to plan ahead, manage our time, organize our thoughts (and our things), prioritize tasks, make decisions (every second! every minute! every hour! every day!), pay attention to (the right) details, transition successfully from one task to another, and get started on something while following through on it to (sufficient) completion?

It turns out that I have my own set of internal rules and guidelines I seem to follow for “getting things done” – not always “perfectly” (there’s no such thing), and not without grief and distress, but well enough that I fool the world into thinking I have things pretty together.

I titled this post “Executive Functioning Fatigue” because, frankly, I’m fatigued by the number of executive functioning challenges that seem to get in the way of my kids’ schooling success each day. Interestingly (but not surprisingly), when I did an internet search for “twice exceptional” and “fatigue”, what came up was how tiring it is for kids to deal with their executive functioning challenges – but it’s tiring on parents, too, whether we’re helping our kids manage from home, and/or trying to navigate relationships with teachers and assignments from afar. I struggle with multiple choices every day in terms of how much and in what ways to help each of my kids (or not)which in itself is known to be fatiguing.

Here are just some of the challenges I’ve faced in recent weeks and months, with just one of my kids (my oldest, C., in middle school):

  • Do I insist on C. sitting next to me (or in view of me) while she’s engaging in her online learning, to ensure she’s “on task”? Or do I allow her to continue sitting comfortably in her bed (which she prefers)? (I have three kids to supervise, and my own work to get done, in addition to pretty significant challenges of my own with focusing while others are around me – so, this is far from a simple decision to make.)  
  • Do I follow up with C. each day about her assignments in each of her six classes? Each week? Do I trust her to know what’s due? (This has very often led us down a path of false assurance, but/and it’s exhausting each and every time I dive in to help her check. I inevitably end up dipping into my own energy bank, which leaves me depleted for other tasks.) 
  • Do I disengage and simply allow C. do the amount of work she “wants” to do, knowing that ultimately she’ll be fine in life no matter what, as long as we love and support her? (No; I can’t quite do this. We’re not unschooling. That requires a whole other game plan.)  
  • How often and in what way do I communicate with C.’s teachers? Do I subtly (or not so subtly) remind them about her 504 plan, and the explicit support she needs to be successful in school? (The quick answer is, yes. I force myself to get over my reluctance and start these conversations, and I do mention her 504 while also providing plenty of authentic thanks to her teachers for the hard work they do each day.)  

Meanwhile, I have plans in motion for C. to work with an executive functioning coach in the summer, once a spot opens up for her with a local clinic and she has the time to commit to this – and I’m grateful that executive functioning coaches are apparently more and more common at all levels of schooling these days (even college).

On my own end, I’m trying to acknowledge and empathize with my “executive functioning fatigue” – while ensuring I’m not just giving up or in denial. Specifically, I’m reaching out to parent-friends who can sympathize with that I’m going through; poking my head back into Seth Perler’s website; and getting ready to commit some more time to digesting and manifesting one executive functioning strategy at a time as a parent-coach, for each of my kids.

In other words, I’m focusing on getting things done – with plenty of humility for how hard this work really is, for all of us.

Copyright © 2021 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.  

Pandemic Schooling: One Year In

Episode 1: Check-In

We’re officially one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and life continues to throw interesting curve balls nearly each week.

My three twice-exceptional kids – daughter C. (12 years old), son D. (10 years old), and daughter I. (8 years old) – have all been learning from home by Zoom with their public school teachers since March of 2020, with a few months off during the summer to recharge.

Given the limited schooling options available during a global health crisis (there are no perfect solutions), I’ve made peace with certain aspects of the remote learning model offered by our district, while accepting that others aren’t “good enough” by any stretch – but nonetheless simply “are what they are” for now.

So, how are we all doing?

My younger two kids, D. and I., seem to be relatively okay. (More on them in a moment.)

C., however, is not. She has stated openly that she wants and needs to be around same-age peers and with her teachers in person. She repeatedly rejects remote learning as “not school”, and has begun taking out her frustrations in passive-aggressive ways. I can’t really blame her (what else can a person do when they literally feel powerless?) but it’s hard to work with.

After receiving a caring but alarming email last week from one of C.’s teachers that she wasn’t even opening up her assignments during synchronous class time (let alone turning them in), C. admitted to me that she feels angry. I told her that made complete sense. There is a heck of a lot to feel angry about these days, especially as a teen or pre-teen.

Online learning simply isn’t C.’s “thing” – and, this many months into pandemic schooling, I don’t anticipate that changing. It seems she will continue to put in just as much work as necessary to get by and keep us off her case – but, she’s not really buying it. (I should add that she doesn’t want to switch to homeschooling – I’ve offered that option numerous times.)

It would be hypocritical of me to blame C. too harshly, not least because 12 years old is when I first bowed out of formal schooling, too (albeit in a very different context). Some form of “school refusal” may be in our future with her, and I think I’d better buckle up for that surprisingly common gifted-kid ride.

Speaking of choice in schooling during COVID-19 . . .  This leads me to a quick story about how I’m doing with everything pandemic-schooling-related. 

Episode 2: Vertigo and Return to In-Person Schooling

Given our nation’s disastrous response to the pandemic last year – as well as our district superintendent’s stated commitment to making data-informed decisions – I assumed that we should expect our kids’ schooling to remain remote for the rest of the school-year. A lot of time and energy has been put into “doing online schooling well” in our district, and it’s abundantly clear how committed teachers are and have been to this process.

Despite recent guidance from the CDC on how to safely open schools, I figured it would take at least until summertime for us to reach appropriate levels of safety for this to occur – and that it would actually be a pedagogical and emotional error to mix things up for our kids at this late stage in the game anyway, now that they’re finally used to the routine of online learning.

However, a few weeks ago all parents in our district received a surprising email late one Friday afternoon from our superintendent  (not vetted or seen by teachers ahead of time – but that’s a whole other can of worms), detailing plans for gradual hybrid re-opening of schools for students in grades K-5 – within the next few weeks.

Zoing!!

This message felt completely out-of-the-blue, and threw me for a serious emotional loop. I didn’t quite know how to process it, so I simply “set it aside”, mentally-speaking.

Later that evening, however, I developed rapid-onset, extreme vertigo. When I tried to get up out of bed,  the world starting spinning around me. It was challenging even to get up and go to the bathroom. I went to sleep early that night, hoping and praying that by morning the vertigo would simply be gone, or at least lessened.

But, no. It was still there with a vengeance when I woke up on Saturday morning, and persisted throughout the day. I felt cautiously better by Sunday, incrementally better on Monday, and about the same on Tuesday – at which point I finally (randomly) made the time to talk with my younger sister, A. She and I were chatting away, and as soon as I shared about my vertigo (which hadn’t quite left – it was still lurking mildly in the corners, ready to pounce at any moment), we were busily trying to figure out its cause. Could it be:

We strongly suspected this third idea, though my husband pooh-poohed it, talking about materials safety data sheets, etc. Then suddenly I said to my sister:

“Oh yeah! There was something else that crazy day!”

(The Friday before my vertigo onset had been an unusually busy one, with virtual meetings taking me from talking with new colleagues in Turkey in the morning, to meeting with a formerly incarcerated student in the afternoon, to attending a spoken word performance as the final plenary session of a five-day online conference on providing higher education opportunities in prison in the late afternoon – all sandwiched in between making sure my kids were reasonably on track with their schoolwork, we were eating meals, and I was getting sufficient work-work done.)

However, as soon as I shared with A. about the email from our district, things started clicking.

A. teaches Kindergarten remotely in a large urban school district, has a medically fragile husband, and is caring for their highly gifted five-year-old daughter from home in their small condo. She “gets” the insanity of the choices we’ve all been asked to make for months now, both as a teacher and a parent – and commiserating with her about how freaky it felt to receive such unexpected news about our district’s pivot to in-person seemed to have a semi-miraculous effect on my brain. I could feel the last dredges of my vertigo fading away.

It seems that by talking openly with my sister, I was able to remind myself on a visceral level that I still – at least to some extent – have control over what happens with my kids and our household. I have the ability to choose whether they’ll go back to in-person schooling (or not)Like nearly everything these days, our decision will be a frustrating compromise – but the important thing is, we do have a say of some kind.

Episode 3: What Now? 

Another curveball was suddenly thrown into the mix a few days ago, when our governor issued a mandate that all schools be prepared to welcome all K-12 students back in-person, stat – as in, grades K-6 by April 5 and grades 7-12 by April 19.

Whoa.

A quick skim of an online community discussion forum for parents in our district served as a potent reminder of how widely we differ in what we believe to be best for our kids, all of whom are surely hurting in some way, small or big. Many families on this forum were crying tears of joy due to this new mandate. Going back in-person is a no-brainer for them – something they’ve been waiting for and wanting for months. I had no idea.

After careful deliberation, my younger kids have both decided to stick with remote learning for the rest of the schoolyear:

  • I. has taken to saying in recent weeks, “Raise your hand if you’re used to Zoom for school!” which is simultaneously sad and deeply heart-warming to hear. I.’s hard-working,  compassionate teacher has helped I. develop a tentative sense of security around what to expect each day during online schooling (and she loves it that I’m also there to help her as much as I can, in between work).
  • D.’s challenges as a neurodiverse kiddo are different – but he, too, prefers to stay at home for school, for two self-stated reasons: a) he can sleep in rather than getting up early to take the bus, and b) he doesn’t need to worry about others hearing or smelling bodily functions (!). (This latter reason was brought up my husband as a perk of working from home . . .  I will leave it at that.) I am still (always) concerned about ensuring D. develops friendships and relationships with peers – which he hasn’t, really, in his new online class – but sadly, I’m not at all confident that returning in-person right now would allow for this to happen, either.  I will need to continue exploring other options (i.e., interest groups) to help him out on that front.
  • My daughter C., however, may very well be going to school part-time in-person, in whatever fashion that looks like. We’ll leave it up to her, but if she’s comfortable taking that risk, we will support her. I sincerely believe she can manage the safety protocols, and might begin (fingers crossed) to feel some of the joy she used to have around middle school, rather than simply tolerating it.

In this stressful Russian roulette of pandemic schooling models (what’s the appropriate risk-benefit ratio, and how will we know?), it seems ideal if we can each choose what we believe is best for our own family and kids, within reasonable public health constraints and concern for everyone’s safety – especially given that the mental health toll on kids during this pandemic has been mind-boggling.

No, that’s not the right phrase – it’s not “mind-boggling” because it actually makes sense; let’s call it beyond-comprehension.  C. was already diagnosed prior to the pandemic with clinical anxiety, and has now also been visibly depressed, despondent, and listless for months. (Not all the time, and not to the point of serious concern – but it’s nonetheless deeply distressing to see unfolding.) As resilient as kids are – and thankfully, they really are – we (collectively) will be dealing with the fall-out effects of this pandemic for years to come. There are no perfect solutions by a long stretch.

So, even though the idea of C. returning part-time to in-person schooling freaks me out after so many months of trying to keep us all safely within our bubble, I’m willing to try a reasonable new option, for C.’s sake – if she wants to. It can probably be done.

We’ll just have to see how thing go.

NEXT DAY UPDATE: As of today, having talked through all options with C., she prefers to stay home for the rest of the year. Once again, we shall see . . .

I’ll return later with another post on more of the specific challenges C. has faced while navigating online learning, and some strategies I’ve been using to support her. 

Copyright © 2021 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution. 

Honoring Tommy Raskin

Image from: https://repraskin.medium.com/statement-of-congressman-jamie-raskin-and-sarah-bloom-raskin-on-the-remarkable-life-of-tommy-raskin-f93b0bb5d184

While following former President Trump’s second impeachment trial in recent weeks, I learned that the 25-year-old son of Impeachment Manager Senator Jamie Raskin passed away on New Year’s Eve. As Raskin told NPR about his son Tommy:

“Tommy was remarkable from the beginning. He had a photographic memory and, like some other kids in our family, knew all the presidents and vice presidents in order. But it wasn’t his mind that marked him as so extraordinary. It was his heart. The stories of his love and compassion are absolutely astounding.”

A remembrance written by Tommy’s parents is filled with evidence of giftedness across his life. Tommy’s actions were consistently geared towards helping others and making the world a better place. In high school, Tommy “began to follow his own piercing moral and intellectual insights looking for answers to problems of injustice, poverty and war.” He wrote precociously, eagerly performing his plays and poems “for audiences astounded by his precocious moral vision, utter authenticity of emotion, and beauty of expression.” He was an:

” . . . anti-war activist, a badass autodidact moral philosopher and progressive humanist libertarian, and a passionate vegan who composed imperishable, knock-your-socks-off poetry linking systematic animal cruelty and exploitation to militarism and war culture.”

Tommy was also deeply impacted by depression, eventually leading him to take his own life. He asked for forgiveness from his family in his farewell note.

Tommy’s many contributions to the world during the 25 years he was here are ample evidence that gifted souls care oh-so-deeply about their world, their fellow humans, and all of existence.  I will end by sharing just a few more words from the Raskins’ remembrance:

“Tommy Raskin had a perfect heart, a perfect soul, a riotously outrageous and relentless sense of humor, and a dazzling radiant mind. He began to be tortured later in his 20s by a blindingly painful and merciless ‘disease called depression’ . . .  a kind of relentless torture in the brain for him, and despite very fine doctors and a loving family and friendship network of hundreds who adored him beyond words and whom he adored too, the pain became overwhelming and unyielding and unbearable at last for our dear boy, this young man of surpassing promise to our broken world.”

I remain sincerely grateful to the Raskins for their willingness to share so openly about their gifted son’s triumphs and struggles. Their remembrance not only honors Tommy, but opens a pathway for the rest of us to engage in honest and challenging discussions with our kids and each other.

Thank you.

To read more about gifted young adults whose lives have ended far too soon, please see this post

Copyright © 2021 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.  

Book Reflections #6: Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students

“When you struggle, when you feel like you have failed… remember, there is no way you can fail… if you are continuously trying to help your child move in the direction of mastery and acceptance of [their] emotional intensity” (p. 197). 

In her book Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope With Explosive Feelings (2016), Christine Fonseca offers a powerful resource to parents and teachers seeking guidance on how to support gifted children through their emotional intensities.

In Part One (What is Really Means to Be Gifted), Fonseca defines emotional intensity as “strong and intense emotional reactions to various situations”, often characterized by “frequent wavering between happiness and anxiety” (p. 28). While emotional intensity can manifest as “explosive outbursts, crying jags, paralyzing anxiety, or fear”, it also shows up as “giddiness, highly frenetic energy, laughter, and general happiness.”

Fonseca points out that “another aspect of emotional intensity lies in a strong affective memory” – “not just the events of a situation, but the feelings associated with the event as well.” Indeed, “some of the negative aspects of emotional intensity . . . include excessive fear in seemingly normal situations, highly critical self-talk, extreme guilt and shame related to perceived imperfections, and the feeling of being out of control” (p. 29). These can have serious ramifications on a person’s life, and are a powerful reminder of why it’s so important to help kids learn to manage their strong emotions effectively. (I sure wish I’d had more of this support earlier on in my life . . . )

Fonseca also discusses temperament (introversion and extroversion), gender, and twice-exceptionality as variables that can impact how we manifest and deal with emotional intensity.

(What’s missing from this section is an emphasis on how cultural diversity and race can impact the ways in which gifted kids’ emotional intensity is expressed and perceived by others. Emotionally ‘explosive’ behavior by kids from communities of color, for instance, can place them especially at risk in school. I’ll be addressing other resources available on this topic in future posts.) 

In Part Two (Great Information, But Now What?) Fonseca turns to specific strategies for supporting emotionally intense kids, starting with Building a Solid Foundation (Ch. 6). This involves “creating a space that allows the child to develop the positive aspects of giftedness while also mediating the negative aspects” (p. 59). Steps include: 1) providing clear expectations and consequences for behavior, 2) setting appropriate boundaries, and 3) offering authentic opportunities for involvement in the household (or classroom). Fonseca recommends holding family (or classroom) meetings, doing regular household/classroom “inventories”, and maintaining continuous communication between school and home.

In Chapter 7, Fonseca directly addresses “Working With the Explosion”, noting that “explosions are not always aggressive outbursts of behavior” but instead can sometimes be “more passive, subtle expressions of protest” such as “anxious and sad behavior” (p. 79). (This is a really important and powerful distinction; it makes me wonder whether “explosive” is the most appropriate term to use, given that “implosive” seems equally relevant.) What these reactions have in common, however, is children expressing their (natural) desire for “power and control, or autonomy, in their lives”.

Fonseca points out that the best strategy for managing explosive outbursts is to prevent or defuse them by recognizing warning signs of escalation – including “an agitated tone of voice, a change in body language, or tears welling in the eyes” (p. 81) – and helping kids to recognize these in themselves. She suggests “developing an emotional language” to use with your child (working collaboratively to identify key phrases and words), and providing kids with a variety of techniques to calm their emotions.

During the crisis, Fonseca recommends disengaging “from the emotional aspect of the crisis”, ensuring “everyone is safe”, providing a “cooling off” period, and remembering that “some things are best ignored” (p. 96). After the crisis (during what Fonseca refers to as the “cleaning up” stage), it’s important to remember that “all explosions are teachable moments”, that we can “debrief and strategize” with our kids, and that consequences (either natural or contrived) should occur.

In Part Three (Being Your Child’s Coach: Specific Strategies), Fonseca walks us through various “explosive” scenarios with kids and helps us think about reframing our language. She discusses what it means to be a coach for our kids (including effective communication, effective facilitation, and being a source of inspiration), and then addresses a variety of different challenges related to Relationships, Performance, and Behavior.  Fonseca is compassionate and generous in naming the various ways we may be tempted to handle a situation with our child, while also providing and explaining reasonable alternatives to try next time. What her reframes all have in common is aiming towards the goal of helping “your child learn to master his own emotions” (p. 197).

Fonseca closes her book by reminding us:

“Raising gifted children is a difficult job. More often than not, we feel overwhelmed – both because of the intensity we are confronted with every day and our own guilt when we are unsuccessful in our dealings with our children” (p. 197).

This most definitely rings true. Each time I support one of my kids through an emotionally intense situation, I end up feeling completely drained myself, like I need the rest of the day to recover. With that said, this is obviously some of the most important work we can do with and for our kids – and knowing that our actions and words can help set them up for future success and autonomy makes the commitment more than worthwhile.

I’ll be returning to concepts from Fonseca’s book in future blog posts, relating them back to specific (challenging) moments from my own childhood as well as current parenting (and partnering!) scenarios. Stay tuned!

References:

Fonseca, C. (2016). Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope With Explosive Feelings (2nd Edition). Prufrock Press Inc.

Copyright © 2021 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.