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, 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!

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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.

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Reflecting on “Narcissism and the Gifted Soul” by Heather Boorman (SENG Fall Mini-Conference Take-Aways)

In these two previous posts, I shared my thoughts on the various presentations at SENG‘s Fall Mini-Conference, held in October. However, I’ve saved one final talk – Heather Boorman‘s “Narcissism and the Gifted Soul” – for its own entry, given how powerfully it resonated with me, and how much I have to say on the topic.

For those unfamiliar with narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), I’ll begin this post by briefly citing the Mayo Clinic’s overview:

Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

A narcissistic personality disorder causes problems in many areas of life, such as relationships, work, school or financial affairs. People with narcissistic personality disorder may be generally unhappy and disappointed when they’re not given the special favors or admiration they believe they deserve. They may find their relationships unfulfilling, and others may not enjoy being around them.

The short story of my own involvement with clinical narcissism is that I was forced to learn about it when living with a young woman (a caretaker) whose personality-disordered problems spilled over into our entire household. As a post-partum gifted adult with three young kids in my house (including a newborn), I was especially vulnerable, and got hit hard by this individual. Once I finally figured out what was going on, I was able to take action to distance myself from her, and begin the long, slow process of healing – which included reflecting back on how often I’d allowed myself to be pulled into relationships like this in the past.

I’ve since read many books and articles on narcissism (including some core psychology textbooks), but I hadn’t ever made the connection between narcissism and gifted individuals – so I was duly intrigued when I saw the title of Boorman’s presentation listed in the SENG conference agenda.

Boorman began her presentation by providing her own brief definition of clinical narcissism (“exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of empathy”) and pointed out distinctions between  “overt” (done or shown openly) and “covert” (not openly acknowledged or displayed) narcissism, with the latter less easily identifiable but equally damaging.

Next, Boorman described the ideal “targets” of narcissists as having oh, so many of the traits commonly associated with gifted individuals (yikes!) – including empathy, integrity, compassion, strong moral principles, talent and intelligence, introspection, self-doubt, vulnerabilities from our past, vibrancy, sensitivity, loyalty, and tolerance.

Boorman briefly described the narcissist’s cycle of idealizing a “target” (in part by “mirroring” them and purporting to want to be “just like them”), then devaluing and discarding them once they no longer provide “narcissistic supply or fuel”.

Boorman pointed out that in the first phase of the “narcissistic abuse cycle” (Idealization), gifted individuals are particularly vulnerable as targets because we tend to feel different already and may have difficulty finding peers – so if someone comes along who wants to mirror us (i.e., be like us) and idealize us, this may seem, well, ideal!

Meanwhile, the Idealization phase tends to be fast-paced, which is perfectly suited for the gifted individual’s intensity and comfort with things moving quickly. Plus, a gifted person’s “imaginational intensity” aligns well with the narcissist’s tendency during the Idealization phase to create a fairy tale fantasy around how amazing (and special, and ideal!) you and your friendship/relationship are.

Finally, because gifted individuals are more likely to have imposter syndrome, a narcissist’s “love bombing” of their target with compliments during the Idealization phase can feel good (at least at first), 

In the Devaluing phase, highly self-critical gifted individuals are more likely to blame themselves for not being “perfect” (as defined in the eyes of the narcissist), and to take the criticisms lobbed at them personally (indeed, viscerally) given our heightened sensitivities and empathy.

And, because gifted individuals are used to being “too much”, we may more readily believe narcissists when they criticize and devalue (and eventually Discard) us: we are instantly ready to begin our own (very familiar) cycle of self-doubt and self-recrimination.

Despite all my own prior reading on narcissism, Boorman’s presentation at the SENG Mini-Conference was  a revelation to me in terms of pulling together the distinct spheres of personality disorders and giftedness. The stereotype of gifted individuals allowing their intelligence to “go to their heads” and develop into narcissistic (and/or sociopathic) tendencies is well-chronicled (as in the story of Leopold and Loeb, high-IQ teenagers who murdered a young boy in 1924 just to attempt to get away with the “perfect crime”; click here to read my review of a film based on this infamous case).

But gifted individuals as the target of narcissists? That was new and oh-so-valuable for me to consider. So many flashbulbs were going off in my head as I listened to Boorman’s talk – and thankfully, her discussion of what “gifted targets” can do to protect themselves all resonated with the path I’ve taken myself over the past years.

Among the many “protections” Boorman recommends taking against narcissists are the following (paraphrased, from my notes):

  • Go slow and be mindful with new relationships – especially ones that seem to be moving quickly
  • Have self-compassion
  • Listen to your body and your gut
  • Learn and practice emotional regulation tricks
  • Understand the role of past trauma in your current life
  • Find trusted “truth tellers”
  • Be mindful of how intensities play out for us as gifted individuals
  • Practice assertiveness

I’ll share more about the ways in which narcissism and other personality disorders have impacted my life as a gifted individual, but for now I simply want to extend my gratitude to SENG and Heather Boorman for offering this talk.

For anyone wanting to learn more about this topic, my top book recommendation would be Albert Bernstein’s Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry (2012), which covers not only narcissism but anti-social, histrionic, obsessive-compulsive and paranoid “vampires” who tend to drain the life-blood of emotionally vulnerable individuals. We (as a society) don’t tend to talk about personality disorders, but I’m a firm believer that we should.


  • Bernstein, A. (2012). Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry (2nd Edition). McGraw-Hill Publishers.

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Creativity, Trauma, and Processing Speed: SENG Mini-Conference Take-Aways, Part 2


As promised, I’m returning with Part 2 of my reflections from SENG’s Fall 2020 Mini-Conference. Videos of all recorded sessions were recently shared with participants, and I had a chance to catch up on the ones I missed.

Here are the sessions I’ll be sharing my thoughts on in this post:

  • Matt Zakreski’s “Fostering Creativity In and Outside of the Classroom”
  • Jamie Castellano’s “Educating Gifted Students with Trauma”
  • Sarah Ward’s “Practical Tips and Tricks to Increase Speed of Processing”

I will save my thoughts on Heather Boorman’s “Narcissism and the Gifted Soul” because I have enough to say on that topic to fill an entire post. 

Matt Zakreski – who openly identifies as a “former gifted kid” and attendee at John Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth – began his presentation on fostering creativity with definitions and key ideas from research. Creativity has been defined in various ways – from Michael Mumford’s notion that creativity “involves the production of novel, useful products”, to E. Paul Torrance’s position that creativity is “a process of becoming sensitive to problems” and then making and testing hypotheses to solve them, to James Averill’s description of Emotional Creativity (EC) as “a pattern of cognitive abilities and personality traits related to originality and appropriateness in emotional experience.”

Each of these definitions has its challenges and limitations, so Zakreski ultimately prefers looking at creativity as simply “the ability to create” and “the use of the imagination or original ideas” – rather than including qualifiers related to crafting something useful, solving problems, or exhibiting “appropriateness in emotional experience” (!) Zakreski noted that creativity has long been studied alongside intelligence – and given that gifted individuals are “naturally divergent thinkers” who “make connections and see relationships that others would not”, it makes sense to take a closer look.

I especially appreciated learning more about James Kauffman and Roland Beghetto’s notion of the “Four Cs” of creativity and how these may play out: mini-c “creativity” refers to “personal hacks” for learning (i.e., mnemonics and metaphors), while little-c “creativity” refers to everyday problem solving and “thinking outside the box”, pro-C “Creativity” refers to those who tap into their creativity as part of their profession, and Big-C “Creativity” refers to groundbreaking insights that transform the world. Of course, we hope that at least some gifted kids will ultimately land in the latter category, using their gifts for the betterment of humanity – but Zakreski pointed out that it’s important to honor and encourage all the “c”s, given that you never know where things may lead.

Jamie Castellano‘s presentation on “Educating Gifted Students with Trauma” was a no-holds-barred look at the significant traumas many gifted kids face – specifically ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences).  By sharing his personal experiences working with gifted kids and teens experiencing trauma, he demonstrated the additional layers of support and rapport needed when working with this unique group of students.

Castellano shared his newly developed “5 Minute Whole Gifted Child Assessment”, designed to help teachers quickly identify students who may be struggling with ACEs. The assessment asks teachers to rank each of their students on a scale of 1-10 on each the following ten criteria: self-understanding, emotional understanding (of self and others), social relationships, productivity, physical health, mental health (happiness), resiliency, cognitive growth, academic aptitude, and exhibition of advanced and complex learning.

An overall score of 80-100 indicates that the student is “in the green zone cognitively, academically, socially, AND emotionally” with “no major concerns manifest[ing] themselves.” An overall score of 60-79 indicates the student is “in the yellow zone either cognitively, academically, socially, OR emotionally”, and that there may be “a pattern of where the student is challenged… in one area”, thus indicating the need for intervention. Finally, an overall score of 0-59 indicates the student “is in the red zone” in one or more areas and needs not only interventions and monitoring of progress but additional support from the school’s multi-disciplinary team.

Castellano’s presentation offered an invaluable supplement to our emergent understanding of twice-exceptional kids: some students may be struggling not only with the challenges of giftedness coupled with a disability, but also significant distress from environmental factors (ACEs) such as poverty, divorce, violence in the home, etc. Castellano didn’t touch much on identification of gifted kids experiencing trauma, but it seems logical that they would be significantly under-designated for gifted services – thus compounding the situation. We clearly have a lot of work to do in this area, and Castellano rightly identifies this as a key and critical topic for future exploration in the gifted community. Given my volunteer work with incarcerated adults, I’m especially interested in learning more about how many (often undesignated) gifted kids eventually end up justice-involved, given a combination of their high intensity and intelligence combined with challenging life circumstances; I will return to this topic in a future post.

Sarah Ward‘s presentation on “Practical Tips and Tricks to Increase Speed of Processing” was creatively designed,  easy-to-follow, and offered a lot of new and useful information about executive functioning (EF). Since EF isn’t an area I struggle with myself, I’m always eager for any support I can get to “put myself in my kids’ shoes” – especially my 12-year-old daughter C., who is seriously struggling these days to keep up with online learning in middle school during the pandemic.

Early in her presentation, Ward shared a photo of a produce stall at a grocery store, and asked us to describe what we saw and how things seemed to be organized. From my perspective, I saw various types of colorful vegetables arranged in containers, with bell peppers (the prominent vegetable on display) further categorized into different colors (yellow, red, and green). Ward informed us that invariably – when she shows this photo to kids who struggle with executive functioning – they point out details in the photo (such as the “out of place” bell peppers) rather than the overall organizational schema.

Sure enough, when I showed the photo to my 12-year-old daughter C. and asked her “How are the peppers organized?” her immediate response was, “Badly”; she pointed to one red pepper that had fallen into the green pepper bin, and another which had fallen down into a yellow chili pepper bin. I had so instinctively looked for the overall categorization scheme in the setting that the “outliers” eluded me at first glance – but they IMMEDIATELY stood out to my daughter. So fascinating. 

Ward explained that ADHD could/should more accurately be referred to as Executive Function Development Disorder, given that kids with ADHD tend to experience asynchrony of about 3-3.5 years in their developmental timeline with regard to how far into the future they can anticipate and plan for.  For instance, kids in K-2nd grade (like my youngest daughter, I.) “should” be able to plan ahead for several hours, while kids in 3rd through 6th grade (like my son D.) “should” be able to plan ahead for 8-12 hours, and 6th-12th graders (like my 12-year-old daughter C.) “should” be able to plan ahead 2-3 days. These expectations make schooling challenging even for synchronously developing students – i.e., a high schooler who needs to plan ahead for an essay due in 3 weeks, who is really only thinking about the next few days – but it’s especially challenging for twice-exceptional kiddos.

So, what to do? Ward put forth a fascinating approach she referred to as Mimetic-Ideational Informational Processing (i.e., mental trial and error simulation). She began by explaining that Executive Functioning could be viewed as the following equation: non-verbal working memory + situational intelligence = mental dress rehearsal, or MIMEMake an image (what will it look like?), I (What will I look like?), M (How am I Moving?), Emotion (What will I feel like?).

Ward stressed numerous times that non-verbal working memory involves “visually holding information in your mind while mentally working with or updating it”, and pointed out that this is CRITICAL for managing anything that “unfolds over time”. She stressed that a checklist – even a visual checklist – doesn’t support kids in their non-verbal working memory because it’s a verbal working list. Checklists cue semantic recall, rather than episodic future memory.

Situational awareness refers to being able to “STOP and Read the Room” = that is, being aware of and navigating the space you’re entering into (what’s there? who’s there? what’s going on? what’s expected?), getting onto the timeline (what time of day is it? what’s happening at this moment?), being mindful of objects (where are critical objects located? what objects are NOT critical right now?), and reading the people in the room (what are they doing and saying with their voice and body language?).

My two biggest take-aways from Ward’s presentation were the ideas of 1) “block and box” (chunking a space or item out into discrete, labeled areas) and 2) taking a picture of the desired end result – such as a clean and organized bedroom – and using this as a “backward planning” guide (If… then) for success. If we can help kids literally picture where they want to be, they can engage in the MIME process and mentally rehearse (plan) the concrete series of steps they’ll need to take to get there. She emphasized the importance of gesturing while articulating this plan (“When we gesture, we’re pre-experiencing our plan”), which most definitely jives with recent research I’ve seen related to, just for instance, gesturing and memory.

I will report back on how these strategies work with my kiddos – and will share about one more SENG session (“Narcissism and the Gifted Soul”) in my next blog post.

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Support and Knowledge: SENG Mini-Conference Take-Aways

This weekend, SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) hosted its annual mini-conference – all online, of course, which made attendance even easier than usual. I liked the fact that there was an intriguing but limited array of discussions to attend (i.e., no need to make choices), and that I could miss certain sessions without too much regret or guilt given that all registrants will receive session recordings at a later date.

Whew. All boxes checked. It’s almost like SENG anticipates highly anxious, perfectionist individuals’ concerns and addresses them in advance. 

In this blog post, I’d like to share a few key take-aways from the sessions I did manage to attend “live” (in between caring for my kids and managing the inevitable array of needs that come up when five people are co-existing in one living space together).

I missed the opening remarks (by Mike Postma) and first session (by Jaime Castellano) because I failed to notice the small but important detail of all events occurring on Eastern Standard Time – whoops.

(Believe it or not, I actually appreciate making errors like this, since it helps me tap into authentic empathy for my overly busy adult students as well as my own kids, all of whom struggle with executive functioning challenges in some way.) 

I thus entered into the second presentation (on nurturing creativity, by Matt Zakreski) midway, and was too discombobulated to continue. I’ll revisit the recording later.

The biggest draw for me was Seth Perler‘s talk entitled “Imagine a New Normal That Addresses Executive Functioning Needs of the Gifted”. I first heard Seth on Debbie Reber’s Tilt Parenting podcast a couple of years ago and was struck by how relevant and useful his work is – but I was also instantly overwhelmed by how much work I still need to do to help set my kids up for independent success (and so… I set it mostly aside).

As I took notes during Seth’s SENG talk this weekend, I reflected back on all the (probably similar) notes I took when first listening to him on Tilt Parenting, and was reminded about the power of revisiting concepts in a cyclical fashion, after some time has gone by. My deep dive these past two years into the challenges gifted kids face has been truly overwhelming – especially since I have three of them, my husband also struggles with executive functioning issues, and I’m busy processing my own gifted childhood and adulthood. I’m constantly reminding myself to look at this journey as a marathon, not a sprint.

In terms of take-aways from Perler’s SENG talk, here are a few:

  • Put simply, “executive functioning” (which sounds super-fancy and complicated) simply means “how you get things done.” However, executive functioning is far from simple. It’s actually enormously complex, and involves many components that all need to be in place in order for things to be moving along smoothly – including but not limited to planning, time management, organization, prioritizing, decision making, details, transitions, self-starting, and follow-through. (No wonder I was and am overwhelmed! If these things don’t come “naturally” to a person, it’s a pretty big task to tackle them one by one.) 
  • As parents, we need to consider how to personalize and customize a study routine and environment for our child while addressing their preferences and brainstorming work-arounds. In other words, “best practice means differentiation.”
  • Speaking of best practice, Seth notes that “great teachers help students feel safe, seen, and engaged.” Amen to that.

After listening to Seth’s inspirational and compassionate talk, I decided it’s finally time to outsource this critical work to an Executive Functioning coach to ensure my 12-year-old C. (struggling in middle school) gets explicit help sooner rather than later. I’m trying to shift my thinking from:

“If only I were on-top-of-it-enough, I could help C. implement all these strategies!”


“Thank goodness there are professionals out there experienced in this work, who we can tap into as part of our extended learning and support community”.

The closing afternoon session – entitled “Perfect is Boring. Improv Comedy for Gifted People”, hosted by members of the Improv Therapy Group – was one I attended BECAUSE it was the only option on the menu, though I quickly realized how fun and informative it actually was.  I had to turn my video ON and actively participate (!), which was all part of helping audience members feel less self-conscious and more willing to take risks.

Despite my lifelong dislike of improv (“I’m not good at that! I can’t study for it! I will embarrass myself!”), I grew to actually enjoy all the activities we engaged in – especially as the facilitators explained how and why they were each valuable learning opportunities. (“Oh, I’m learning something? Cool! I can dig it, even if it’s uncomfortable.”)

Take-aways from this session include a much deeper understanding of how valuable (indeed, therapeutic) theatrical improvisation really is, given that:

  • Improv artists have to pretend to do things they’ve NEVER done.
  • Improv teaches you sometimes there are things you just can’t ever get right.
  • Improv teaches you to be okay with whatever’s being created by the group.
  • Improv allows you to turn a seemingly awful activity into something enjoyable.

The next morning I once again missed the two earliest SENG sessions – not just because of wanting to sleep in later than 7:00 a.m., but because I had to host a “live” (by Zoom) seminar for students in a class I’m teaching this quarter. When factoring in an additional one-on-one check-in with a student, and getting my youngest child settled into a playdate with her quarantine-bubble friend, I wasn’t ready to join the SENG Mini-Conference again until it was time for the session intriguingly entitled “Gifted & 2e Students: Now is Your Chance to Change the Rules”. Okay! That sounded really good to me.

This session was co-hosted by Jacqui Byrne and Lynne Henwood, both involved with an amazing set of private schools for 2E learners called FlexSchool, with campuses in New York and New Jersey. They argue that now is actually a perfect time to rethink “how we do schooling” given how much is already changing in the world, through no fault or volition of our own.

I took fewer notes overall during this session and was more just resonating and nodding along with the concepts, all of which made complete sense to me as an educator and someone who has repeatedly rejected (or at least strongly questioned) traditional schooling models myself. I want something like FlexSchool available for my kiddos!

One note I will share, though, is that I was struck by their emphasis on how 2E kids question their elders – they don’t automatically assume that because someone is older, they’re “right”. This is a complicated reality, since it goes against so many taboos – including the deep reverence for knowledge of elders in indigenous communities. There is enough to explore in the topic of gifted kids vis-à-vis elders that I’ve just realized I’ll need to designate a separate blog post to this – but for now, I will simply state that gifted kids tend to both question authority AND seek out guidance and friendship from and with older people without hesitation. I think this is a net benefit.

The final session of the SENG Mini-Conference had a twist: the slated presenter didn’t show up, so Mike Postma pulled up one of his many presentations on twice-exceptionality and talked us through some  of his key ideas. As far as I was concerned, this was an awesome opportunity, given I still have a ton of questions about the current state of neurodiversity – both in terms of what research is being done, and how it’s being perceived more broadly by stakeholder communities. His presentation gave me a lot to ponder; just a couple of take-aways include:

  • We are currently learning a LOT more about what’s going on in neurodiverse brains. It turns out we all have a “brain fingerprint” that identifies each one of us as uniquely us.
  • Mike’s approach to neurodiversity is to emphasize that it’s “who you are: not a condition, not a mal-adaptation, not a mind set, not a syndrome.” In a previous post about my 10 year old son D., I similarly noted the need to approach neurodiversity from a strengths-based perspective, so I appreciated having this reinforced.

(Interestingly, during the seminar I held earlier that morning with my own students – before I was able to rejoin the SENG conference – one of my participants, a doctoral student in Special Education, mentioned her frustration that her textbook for a course – published as recently as last year – still approaches the autism spectrum from a purely medicalized – and hence, pathology-oriented – perspective. Grrrrr.)

Back to the SENG Conference, I left feeling “full” and grateful. I tend to resist over-stuffing my hours with too many screen-based webinars and conferences, which are all over the place right now due to COVID; the sheer amount can feel overwhelming. However, there is a true value and joy in joining people “real time” (albeit virtually) to discuss important ideas – and SENG’s offerings are exactly the type  of support I need these days, as I’m figuring out both my own past as a gifted kid AND how to understand and support my three highly unique gifted kiddos.

It’s incredible to know that people at these conferences really do have each other’s backs – or at least, that’s how it seems to me. We’re all there because we understand how much it (can) hurt to be different, and we’re driven to express our diverse perspectives on challenging issues, working through them together.

Stay tuned for Part 2, once I watch the recorded sessions I missed… 

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