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.  

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.  

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.  

Ups and Downs and In-Betweens

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve taken a bit of a break from blogging here, simply given too much going on in the world – including our country’s ongoing (but waning, hopefully!) presidential election drama, rising COVID-19 case rates across the nation, and shorter days making it easy to feel like the earth is literally getting darker.

However, there is still so much to be mindful about and grateful for. In our family we are all healthy. We get to stay and work inside our home the majority of the time. We have jobs, shelter, food, and each other. We are privileged.

Which doesn’t mean that quarantine-life – going on 9 months now – isn’t continuing to cause disruptions and challenges for all of us. Like countless other individuals and families across the globe, we are to varying degrees fatigued, burnt out, and numb. Our “new normal” is still anything but “normal”.

My 12-year-old C., for instance, seems to have forgotten about the notion of showering or brushing her hair. We’re lucky if this happens once a week, with prompting.

My 10-year-old son D. still won’t turn on his video camera during Zoom classes, no matter how much his teachers (or I) beg and plead for him to turn the camera on quickly – even just a few seconds – so they can at least see what he looks like.

Meanwhile, my 7 year old “I” – turning 8 in two days – seems to be demonstrating just as many challenges with attention, organization, and overall executive functioning skills as her older siblings.

“I” is easily distractible. She’s not keeping track of the handful of materials she’s asked to have on hand for her daily work. Papers remain strewn across her bedroom floor (and under her bed) unless or until I ask her to please place them in their “home” (i.e., a folder or designated spot) – and she rarely remembers school appointments and class sessions without explicit and timely alarms and reminders, either from me or her personal electronic device.

Yesterday morning was a  potent example of how much scaffolding “I” still really needs to be successful.

Her teacher, Ms. L., had scheduled a “lunch bunch” online time for “I” to celebrate her birthday with a couple of classmates. However, since “I” hadn’t told me about this special opportunity – and neither had Ms. L. – I didn’t know it was happening.

I didn’t find out until I checked my text messages and saw a note from Ms. L., written 26 minutes earlier, informing me that “I” hadn’t logged on yet to her lunch bunch.

I immediately called out to “I”‘s bedroom to tell her about this, and she said, “Oh, it’s okay… I have a full hour, and only half an hour has gone by.” However, when she opened her computer to log on, the meeting had been been ended: without the guest of honor present, her teacher and classmates had made the obvious and rational choice to bail early.

“I” started sobbing uncontrollably, to the point where I needed to impose on Ms. L. by giving her a quick call to let her talk with “I” one-on-one. Ms. L. kept insisting it was “no problem” and that “I” would get a redo in January. Eventually “I” calmed down enough to send Ms. L. a message reminding her who she wanted to invite to her rescheduled lunch bunch in January.

What this all brought up for me, however, was resignation and sadness that even something as exciting as a special birthday lunch time had slipped through the cracks of “I”‘s consciousness and mental schedule.

It was also a little startling that she hadn’t been able to anticipate how not showing up right away (or even within the first 20 minutes!) of her specially planned meeting would have such unpleasant ramifications.

Thankfully, the rest of “I”‘s school day yesterday turned around and was positive. Ms. L. has a calming and restorative presence, and “I” was able to let go of her disappointment and frustration at herself.

While I was busy decompressing from the emotional impact of this experience (“My kid missed her birthday lunch bunch during quarantine!”), I was reminded about a session I watched by Sarah Ward during SENG’s Fall Mini-Conference, on executive functioning challenges,  in which Ward noted 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.”

This is exactly “I”‘s challenge. “I” is a twice-exceptional child with a formal diagnosis of giftedness and anxiety, but/and I’m fairly certain she would also qualify for a diagnosis of ADHD-inattentive at this point, just like her older siblings. All evidence is pointing in that direction, now that she’s older and expected to “do school” in a more formal fashion.

So, with this newly in mind, I decided to very consciously build a successfully scaffolded event for “I” into the next few hours of the afternoon, both to counteract the morning’s disappointment and to feel a renewed sense of personal agency as a parent.

After school, “I” was scheduled to participate in a remote Brownies (Girl Scouts) badge meeting in which she and the other girls in her troop were going to make pinch pots out of clay.  Rather than simply sending her to her meeting at 4:00, I talked with “I” in advance about what the session would involve, and showed her what was inside the bag of supplies that had been dropped off at our house by the parent volunteer running the session. We talked about what other supplies she might also need on hand (i.e., a flat board to work on), and made sure she had that near by.

Five minutes before the session was set to begin, I gave “I” a heads up to be ready to log onto her Zoom account, and then I went in and sat next to her while giving her the meeting number and password, staying right there until she was connected. I remained by her side until she was seen by the parent volunteer, and told her specifically, “I’ll be right in the room next door – will you be sure to come ask for help if you need it?” “I” agreed to this, and I left her happily at work, poking my head in her door briefly just a couple of times to check in.

When the meeting was over, “I” was so excited to show me her sparkly silver-and-white pinch pot – and later that evening, she proudly offered to teach both me and her brother how to make one, which we did.

I believe the pot-making event was a successful experience for “I” because her executive functioning needs had been anticipated and addressed. Simply telling “I” that she had a Brownie meeting at 4:00 and asking her to look into the bag of supplies she’d been given may have been sufficient for many kids her age – but not for “I”. She needed a little bit more preparation, prompting, boosting, and confirmation before launching on her own with her group.

Those of us parenting kids with executive functioning challenges know that they can most definitely be successful – but scaffolding is so critical in order to manage that slippery slope between accomplishment and frustrated tears.

While I can’t (and shouldn’t) be there all the time by my 2E kids, hovering or monitoring constantly, I can (and should, it seems) try to be available on the sidelines, as much as possible. Balancing this time-sucking reality with my own very-real need for plenty of personal time and space has been one of the biggest challenges of life during pandemic parenting.

Meanwhile, as usual, we’re just taking things one day at a time – and, as some friends wrote on their Pandemic Christmas card, “It’s fine. We’re fine. Everything is fine.”

It is.

Copyright © 2020 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution. 

The “Whack-A-Mole” of Parenting Three 2E Kids

https://live.staticflickr.com/3289/2651852001_36b5df8a0d_b.jpg (Creative Commons License)

Parenting three 2E kids – especially during a pandemic – is flat-out exhausting, given that they never (okay, rarely) “just do their work”.

The most visceral analogy that comes to mind is playing whack-a-mole:  as soon as I start feeling good about the progress I’ve made with helping one of my three kiddos get more confident and independent with their schooling (“Yes! They’re doing it on their own, without prompting!”), a new or lingering challenge will inevitably pop up with another.

(I don’t mean to refer to my kids’ struggles as pest-like critters needing to be pummeled into submission; this is just how it sometimes feels for me energy-wise, as their mom.)

This past week, for instance, I’ve toggled between the following concerns:

  • Realizing that my 12-year-old daughter C. will receive failing grades in several of her classes next week unless or until I: 1) go through each of her class assignment sites with her, one by one, to see what’s missing; 2) reach out to her teachers for support and understanding (please, be understanding!) that C. wants to do well but is stymied by the challenges of navigating online learning while dealing with pandemic-related anxiety and overwhelm; 3) help C. determine a plan of action for either doing (or re-doing) each missing assignment, and then ensuring that the oh-so-important “Submit” button is actually pressed and her teacher is notified by email of the late submission;
  • Seeing my 10-year-old son D. refuse to turn his video on during orchestra class this morning, then logging out early before coming to inform me he left because: 1) he had his (virtual) hand up for the entire session and his teacher didn’t see or acknowledge him; 2) when he tried speaking out loud, no one listened to him; 3) he already knows how to hold his violin bow; and 4) he wanted to eat his breakfast;
  • Knowing that nothing whatsoever in my 7-year-old daughter I.’s Seesaw Assignments folder will get done until I go in to look through it all with her, one at a time; that each assignment – especially anything involving writing – will involve a negotiation of some kind and a request to do it later; and that there will inevitably be insistent questioning about when she’ll have “done enough Seesaw assignments” that she can get back to her Minecraft world creation.

Okay, so that’s the current slate of rotating challenges with each of my kids. But, here are a few positives – there are always positives! – to balance things out:

  • Seeing the glow of pride on C.’s face when she sees a one-word comment from her art teacher that the “Shadings” assignment she submitted is “beautiful”; hearing the gratitude, relief, and excitement in C.’s voice when I read her an email from a teacher who’s written back to say they’re happy to meet with her one-on-one; sitting down with C. as she slowly works her way through overdue assignments and we watch a fascinating CNN 10 news clip together about underwater habitats with wi-fi;
  • Meeting last week with D.’s awesome team of educators to outline an IEP plan to support him with his socio-emotional learning and communication goals at school; hearing D. logging on without prompting to all his (non-orchestra) Zoom meetings throughout the day; seeing D. sitting up in bed during class time rather than lying wrapped up in a blanket;
  • Hearing I. having fun connecting and laughing with her new classmates during live Zoom sessions; listening to I. practicing her division facts confidently with a classmate; hearing I. proclaim proudly to her teacher how much she LOVES reading.

Although I’m perennially exhausted, I’m also grateful that the Whack-a-Mole of parenting during a pandemic at least allows for breaks. I’ll tackle the next critter as soon as it emerges – but for now, since I’ve gotten my own critical work-work done, I’m going to lie down and listen to a book-on-tape while playing Candy Crush. Self-care is the top order of the day.

Copyright © 2020 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution. 

 

 

Book Reflections #2: “If This is a Gift, Can I Send it Back?” by Jen Merrill

As my second Book Reflection blog post, I thought I would comment on If This is a Gift, Can I Send it Back? Surviving in the Land of the Gifted and Twice Exceptional (2012) – a delightfully humorous and insightful book by Jen Merrill, author of the Laughing at Chaos blog and interviewee about parenting self-care on the Mind Matters Podcast.

On the back of her book, Merrill asks us:

When is life like a prize fight, a garden, and a quiz show, all hurtling down the road on an office chair, wrapped in song?

Her response:

When you’re living in the land of the gifted and twice exceptional.

The enduring theme throughout Merrill’s book is brutal honesty about how hard parenting a 2E kid (each one “more unique than snowflakes”) can be. Yes, of course it’s also rewarding, invigorating, and often fun – but more than anything, Merrill argues, you’ll need to roll with the challenges each day, allow yourself a glass of wine before conking at night, and accept that parenting doesn’t look anything like what you planned it to be.

Actually, prior to becoming a parent, I don’t recall holding many preconceptions – but I CERTAINLY didn’t anticipate how bone-crushingly exhausting it would be. There’s simply no way to know the truth of Parental Exhaustion until you enter into those shoes for yourself. And with 2E kids, Even More So.

With that as my brief introduction, here are my take-aways from Merrill’s book:

Chapter 1: Connecting the Dots 

Citing a commencement speech by Steve Jobs, Merrill notes that sometimes you can’t make sense of your child’s journey until you’re looking backwards and “connecting the dots” (p. 2). I love this framing of life as the narrative we create for and about ourselves: it empowers us to search for key points that may have seemed like insurmountable challenges, but turn into critical milestones in retrospect.

I also appreciate Merrill’s coining of “adult-onset, child-induced ADHD” – such a perfect description of what happens to even the brightest (perhaps especially the brightest?) of new parents. After admitting that she’s “been entirely unable to concentrate on one thing for longer than a few minutes” since her oldest (2E) son was born, she adds:

It’s just, well, I miss my brain. We used to go for long walks through thoughts together. Double-dated with new ideas. We used to dive into activities and barely take time to come up for air. Now my brain is crashed out on the mental couch, drooling a little, while I perch anxiously, waiting to spring into action, my Mom Radar spinning wildly 24/7 (p. 7).

This was exactly how I felt when my kids were younger, and I was desperately reaching out for daily support and assistance in as many ways as possible. Now that my kids are older, I’ve learned to tame my brain enough not to be on super high alert, given that quiet no longer means something challenging or dangerous is about to happen – it simply (ha!) means parental guilt that I’m leaving them to their own devices (literally).

Finally, Merrill offers a list of things she wishes “the world knew about parenting 2e kids”, including:

We are not making up this stuff (p. 8).

(This reminds me of how gifted kids can sometimes be “gaslit” into disbelieving their own uniquely intense reality, as described by Linda Silverman. Apparently the same is true for parents of 2E kids.)

Sometimes we appear over-protective, while sometimes we seem neglectful (p. 9).

(Every day, in every way, I need to continue to practice the art of – as my husband would put it – “not giving a f***” what other people think about my parenting decisions. As a former people-pleaser-extraordinaire, this has been a monumental challenge – one I’m still working on.)

Not every 2e kid has the same issues. Every single one of these kids presents differently, and they are not in parenting magazines or books, mainstream blogs, or general societal acceptance (p. 10).

(This is a sobering reminder of how isolating it can be to look at “mainstream” parenting sources and not see our own experiences and realities reflected – hence, the need for support groups, blogs, podcasts, and books specifically for parents of 2E kids.)

Chapter 2: One Heck of a Ride 

In her second chapter, Merrill responds with brutal honesty to the quip “Must be nice to have a gifted child” with her own “must be nice” rejoinders:

Must be nice to have a child whose racing brain doesn’t keep her awake into the wee hours (p. 13).

(My 12-year-old C has “insomnia issues”, just like me. In addition to endlessly racing minds, we each have our own laundry list of hacks and supports needed to help us fall and stay asleep. I’ll write more about insomnia in another post.)

Must be nice to not have to worry about your child making and keeping friends (p. 13).

(My number one wish for my 10-year-old neurodiverse son D. is that he’ll finally make a new and trusted friend this year – not exactly easy during a pandemic.)

Must be nice to take your kid somewhere new and not worry about having to leave early because of over-stimulation (p. 14).

(Heck, I’ve always just assumed we won’t stay long! We aim for an hour, and anything beyond that is bonus.)

Also included in this chapter is a hypothetical letter written by Merrill to her child’s teacher (“You have too many students, not enough time, and there’s just no money to do anything different… Trust that I wouldn’t tell you how he learns unless I thought it would help you help him.”), and Merrill imagining what her own Gifted and Talented Conference opening speech might sound like (“Parents, you need to remember to take care of you.”)

Chapter 3: Taking the Leap 

Here, Merrill talks about “taking the leap” to homeschooling her 2E son. In a hilarious passage, she compares a series of statements said by a teacher to “what’s actually meant” and “what is heard” by the parent on the receiving end:

What is said: Your child refuses to participate in any class activities and will not put down a single word, even when given the words to write.

What is meant: Your kid is the most passive-aggressive ODD child I’ve ever known and I haven’t the slightest clue how to motivate him…

What is heard: Your parenting skills are just below those of a psychotic hamster. (p. 31)

I resonate with Merrill’s insecurities. Like her, I was formerly a classroom teacher, and well remember what it was like to feel frustrated and exhausted by “out of the box” kids who, quite simply, made my job a lot harder. Now, as a parent, I’m constantly walking a fine line of wanting to empathize with teachers while also advocating for what my kids need – and hoping I come across as just-the-right-mixture of humble-but-proactive-and-informed parent.  It’s tricky.

Chapter 4: Our Grand Homeschooling Adventure 

When discussing her experiences with homeschooling (only chosen as an option when her designated gifted kid was denied services at his new local school due to his twice-exceptionality), Merrill shares:

I am not a patient woman. I know this about myself and barely accept it. I walk fast, I talk fast, and I want to scream when my computer isn’t as caffeinated as I am (p. 36).

Hear, hear. My nickname as a kid was Speedy (no joke), and it remains insanely challenging to slow down enough to roll with the ride of parenting and accept imperfection on a daily basis. I may know (hypothetically) all the things I “could” be doing with my kids to optimize their learning experiences, but constantly have to settle for the reality of how much I actually get done – because ultimately, self-care trumps even the illusion of “parenting perfection”; nothing is more important.

Chapter 5: Living My Walter Mitty Fantasy 

In her final chapter – after singing the praises of Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004) as the ultimate cinematic representation of a gifted family (love that movie!) – Merrill notes that back in her pre-kid days, as a professional flutist, she was actually living her “Walter Mitty fantasy” – that is, her daydream of a perfect alternative life. Now, as a parent of a 2E kid, she vacillates between loving and hating the work she has cut out for herself:

I love homeschooling my son… I don’t miss the fights over homework, the breathtaking anxiety about his psyche, or the conferences with teachers about everything he was doing wrong and nothing about what he was doing right.

I hate homeschooling my son. It’s all on me. (pp. 55-56)

Yes, exactly. I’m thrilled that during this learning-at-home pandemic time, it’s actually not “all on me”: I get to do a mix of both, with my kids’ teachers determining their curriculum (for better and for worse – but mostly for better), and it “simply” being up to me to supervise them and make sure it all gets done.

Back when I first attended a SENG parent support group, our facilitator reminded us repeatedly that there’s never a perfect solution to our kids’ schooling needs – there’s only compromise and striving for the “best possible”.

That’s certainly been my own experience, with plenty of highs and lows over the years. So much depends on the grace, understanding, and flexibility of our kids’ teachers – and, like Merrill, I “stand with teachers” (p. 38) while also standing with students and parents.

I appreciate Merrill’s closing reminder in her book:

“If you decide to confide in others, you’ll discover you’re not alone” (p. 58).

Speaking of that, last night I participated in a webinar and support group for parents of gifted kids (hosted by the Institute for Educational Advancement), and got multiple dopamine hits from having my experiences and challenges validated again and again – ping, ping, ping.

I was reminded that the more we come together and share honestly – as Merrill does in this book – the happier (and less alone) we’ll be.

References

  • Merrill, J. (2012). If this is a gift, can I send it back? Surviving in the land of the gifted and twice exceptional. Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Press.

Copyright © 2020 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.  

Book Reflections #1: “Giftedness 101” by Linda Kreger Silverman

This is the first entry in what I hope will be an ongoing series of reflections on books related to giftedness and 2E learning.

After listening to a Mind Matters podcast interview with Linda Kreger Silverman – Episode 20, entitled “IQ Isn’t Everything: Reevaluating Evaluation” – I ordered and read Silverman’s Giftedness 101 (2013) by Springer Publishing.

This book is part of a series of “Psych 101” books, described on the back cover as “short, reader-friendly introductions to cutting-edge topics in psychology… for all students of psychology and anyone interested in the field”.

The chapter titles alone were enough to pull me in:

  1. Invisible Gifts
  2. What is Giftedness
  3. The Crusade to Vanquish Prejudice Against the Gifted
  4. Life at the Extremes
  5. The Psychology of Giftedness
  6. Comprehensive Assessment of Giftedness
  7. Optimal Development of the Gifted
  8. Where Do We Go From Here?

While I couldn’t help turning immediately to chapter 3 (what a tantalizing title!), I quickly realized I should start at the beginning and work my way through – which I did, in concentrated chunks over the last few days. I marked up pages like mad with my pencil, and will share a few of my thoughts – accompanied by quotes – from each chapter.

Chapter 1: Invisible Gifts

“Undetected ability is an immense loss to society; the pain borne by the individual is beyond measure” (p. 2).

Silverman’s poetic first chapter makes a case for the fact that giftedness is often hiding under the surface of the small percentage of individuals who stand out through their “eminence” – indeed, one of the most commonly used strategies to cope with giftedness is “invisibility”.

“Without being given the opportunity to soar, [gifted kids] disappear into daydreams. Thousands of extremely gifted children become so disillusioned that they drop out of school and insist on being homeschooled” (p. 6).

As the quotes selected above indicate, the consequences of not acknowledging and supporting gifted kids can be dire – both societally and individually.  Although my own giftedness was recognized at a fairly early age (through elementary school testing) – and I was placed in a weekly pull-out program – I didn’t receive counseling or other emotional support. I ended up developing a life-threatening eating disorder at the age of 12, and dropping out of school in the first semester of 7th grade. I only made it through morning classes in 9th and 10th grade before formally dropping out of K-12 schooling for good.

I insisted on being homeschooled – actually, on being an autodidact – and became obsessed with forming my own curricular path based on my unique passions and interests. This included several part-time jobs out in the “real world”, where I deeply appreciated the chance to interact with adults rather than teenagers. (My best friend was 20 years older than me.) I made it through my teenage years, just barely – but I sure wish I’d had more support earlier on.

Chapter 2: What is Giftedness? 

“Giftedness is a political football” (p. 20)

In this chapter, Silverman discusses the fascinating history of how we’ve chosen to define giftedness over the decades – and the ramifications this has had on both identification and services. While she notes that emphasis was previously placed on “eminence” (that is, gifted kids who “achieve their potential” in society), she points out how problematic this is on so many fronts.

Silverman prefers viewing giftedness as “asynchronous development”, with a focus on training “therapists and counselors who understand [gifted kids’] inner worlds and the role that giftedness plays in their identity development” (p. 49). She points out that while giftedness studies originated in psychology, they’ve drifted away towards the education realm (i.e., talent development) – and she posits that psychologists have a moral imperative to step back into the fray.

The quote I selected from this chapter stood out to me given my own professional journey in education, and how I’ve been forced to “take sides” one way or another given the political tides at play. I’m hopeful that once Marc Smolowitz’s documentary “The G Word” can finally be released, it will provoke a much-needed and overdue societal discussion about how to best meet diverse gifted kids’ needs.

Chapter 3: The Crusade to Vanquish Prejudice Against the Giftedness 

“Stereotyping the gifted is commonly accepted and, in the past, has mushroomed into scapegoating… and persecution” (p. 67).

In Chapter 3, Silverman provides additional historical context for giftedness – including wading into the decidedly unpleasant waters of Sir Francis Galton’s founding of eugenics (boooooooo!) while also covering the trajectory of work by Alfred Binet, Lewis Terman, and Leta Hollingworth (who coined the challenge of “the woman problem” in giftedness – i.e., being responsibility for child-bearing and caring while also nurturing one’s own gifts).

Silverman debunks numerous myths and stereotypes about gifted individuals – both old and new. Older myths include “Early ripe, early rot” and “giftedness is akin to madness”. Newer myths – still ever-present – include “all children are gifted”, “giftedness is just a manifestation of helicopter parenting”, “acceleration is socially harmful”, “gifted programs are elitist”, and “gifted kids can make it on their own”. A recent interview with my own parents reveals that they hold several of these beliefs, and that I would not have received any special services for my giftedness unless my school had provided them.

Chapter 4: Life at the Extremes

“The higher the individual’s IQ, the more intense the struggle for identity, meaning, and connection” (p. 87).

In this chapter, Silverman compares and contrasts the atypical developmental needs of kids at both ends of the intellectual spectrum. She argues that just like intellectual disability, giftedness should be seen as an “organizing principle” that would allow behaviors to be “perceived within the context of those with similar abilities, rather than viewing them as ‘aberrant’ in relation to those in the average range” (p. 93). She names such challenges of extreme giftedness as advanced vocabulary (which “hinders communication”), depression, loneliness, so-called “mania” (i.e., intense focus and enthusiasm), and “perfectionism” (actually a common character trait of giftedness, rather than a defect to be overcome).

Silverman discusses the various levels of giftedness, noting that “gifted educators have been so focused on the development of talented children (approximately 120 IQ and above) that they have not taken seriously the needs of children in the higher extremes of ability” (p. 101) – many of whom are “hidden” due to being homeschooled.

Finally, in this chapter Silverman discusses giftedness throughout the lifespan, beginning with the earliest potential indicators in infancy (including the high value of early identification – especially for kids who may not otherwise be given services to nurture their gifts), and giftedness in adults – which I’ve written about quite a bit already on this blog. (Naturally, much of this portion of the chapter is heavily underlined… )

Chapter 5: The Psychology of Giftedness

“It is time for a psychology of giftedness – time to recognize the developmental differences, personality traits, lifespan development, particular issues and struggles of the gifted, as well as the consequences of not being acceptable” (p. 121).

Silverman covers quite a few topics in chapter 5, including: feeling different (and what this means for “stages of friendship”); gifted kids’ quintessential adaptability (“Who would you like me to be today?”); the inner experience of being gifted; Dabrowski’s “theory of positive disintegration”; perfectionism (both healthy and unhealthy); and introversion.

So many ideas in this chapter resonated with me – perhaps most especially the idea that gifted kids “quickly learn what is expected of them and how to elicit the responses they desire from adults” (p. 129). This was enough the Story of My Childhood that I’ll devote a specific blog post to it later on, since it played a pivotal role in my eventual disintegration into an eating disorder and “failure to thrive”.  Briefly, I spent so many years being who others thought I was – or wanted me to be – or needed me to be – that I was unable to make it safely across the bridge of adolescence without crashing and burning numerous times.

In Silverman’s discussion about the “inner experience of giftedness”, countless ideas stood out; here are just a few, rat-a-tat:

“Excitement with new insights is dampened when there’s no one with whom to share them. Social exchange becomes a minefield when one is attuned to a symphony of nuance” (p. 131).

“It isn’t fun or funny to be laughed at for who you are. The dread of being ‘abnormal’ impels the gifted to lead a double life. They feign normalcy attempting to mask their vulnerability” (p. 132).

“Anti-intellectualism, under the guise of egalitarianism, is pervasive worldwide” (p. 132).

“The tall poppies syndrome is a social phenomenon of attacking those with exceptional ability” (p. 133).

“Benign neglect of the gifted is customary, with the rationale that they can take care of themselves and other students are in more need” (p. 133).

Yikes – and, yes!

Silverman undeniably has her pulse on the inner worlds of gifted kids – and how many challenges they face that most would consider insignificant. It’s tiring “feigning normalcy”, feeling unheard, trying not to “stand out”, and knowing that your needs are considered much less important than others’.

However, I really stood up and took notice during the next portion of this section, in which Silverman discusses various “personality characteristics” associated with gifted kids – and I saw my own challenging history in each one:

First:

“The gifted are gullible. Their first inclination is to be truthful, so they tend to believe nearly anything anyone tells them… Early humiliations leave deep scars…” (p. 134).

I was relentlessly bullied (by my so-called friends) in second grade, and will write about that in a separate post – but yes, the scars ran deep.

Second:

“When gifted individuals cannot find anyone who understands their reality, they begin to doubt their sanity” (p. 134).

Because others “do not observe, apprehend, feel, experience, or intuit in the same manner” as gifted kids, they may tend to feel “gaslit”.  So interesting. I hadn’t made that connection before, but it rings very true.

Third:

Gifted kids tend to have a “logical imperative”, leading to “imposter syndrome” because they:

“… compare their knowledge with all there is to be known about a subject” and “soon become aware that they’ve barely scratched the surface… The gifted often feel like they’ve just fooled everybody into thinking that they are smart, and at any moment they will be found out” (p. 135).

Ummm… Yes. Exactly. And, making things even worse:

“The gifted hate hypocrisy and they have uncanny perception, which often puts them at odds with bosses, co-workers, teachers, and parents who sport inauthentic facades” (p. 135).

I can’t stand in-authenticity!!!!  I’ve had to intellectualize and compartmentalize its social necessity in order to function. (FWIW, studying sociology and evolutionary psychology has been a godsend for this.)

Furthermore, Silverman notes:

“[Gifted kids] are paradoxical: self-assured and insecure, bold and timid, idealistic and practical, compassionate to others and unkind to themselves, mature and immature” (p. 135).

How is it that so many contradictions mutually co-exist? And yet, they do.

Moving on, Dabrowski’s work deserves its own blog post, especially given how much controversy there is in the “gifted world” around his concept of “overexcitabilities” or OEs. Perfectionism and introversion are also blog-worthy entries in their own right, so I’ll also pause on those for now.

Chapter 6: Comprehensive Assessment of Giftedness 

“IQ scores are never an end in themselves; they are simply tools to be used wisely in the hands of professionals who understand giftedness” (p. 190).

As someone completely unversed in psychometrics, I learned the most from – and feel most humbled by – this chapter. There is a LOT that goes into accurately assessing giftedness, and I finished this chapter with more questions than answers. This is clearly a growth area for me; in the meantime; I’m grateful for all the individuals who dedicate their lives to doing this important work, and doing it well.

Chapter 7: Optimal Development of the Gifted 

Silverman begins her penultimate chapter by emphasizing the need to stop “bashing” parents of gifted kids, instead focusing on the critical role they play in their children’s development – and pointing out that they need support (yes!).

She discusses how to foster an optimal home environment (primarily by being responsive to kids’ needs and interests) and the fact that giftedness tends to “run in families”. (Unfortunately, she seems to take genetic relatedness among all members for granted, which is far from always the case; or, if I’m misreading her, the importance of environmental influences rather than or in addition to heritability should be called out more explicitly.)

She also briefly covers elements of an “optimal school environment”, which among other things boils down to listening to what kids want and need – and then listening some more.

Chapter 8: Where Do We Go From Here? 

Silverman’s short closing chapter is a “call to work” for fledgling psychology students to join the fray of the giftedness sphere – which she acknowledges has “no truce in sight”. She reminds the reader:

“If the gifted and twice exceptional should become your passion… you will be paid in appreciation. Your work will be a wellspring of creativity. You’ll be outside the box anyway, eyed suspiciously by the system, so you might as well enjoy the freedom to access your creativity” (p. 232).

I appreciate that Silverman doesn’t sugarcoat the realistic challenges of working with and for gifted individuals. I’m writing this blog anonymously (for now) for a reason. I need more time to make peace with my passion for giftedness – which has always been there, but wasn’t allowed to blossom until I finally had kids of my own and needed to find ways to help them.

In closing, I recommend Giftedness 101 for anybody just stepping into this world, who wants a concise yet compassionate overview of where we’ve been, where we’re at, and where we should head.

As Silverman notes, there’s plenty of work left to do.

References:

  • Silverman, L. (2013). Giftedness 101. Springer Publishing.

Copyright © 2020 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.  

Neurodiversity: Embracing Cognitive Differences

Image retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Neurodiversity_Crowd_1.png

Neurodiversity is a term not yet widely used by society.

Broadly defined, it’s a stance providing “a viewpoint that brain differences are normal, rather than deficits” – but it tends to be used most often when referring to individuals on the autism spectrum, like my 10-year-old son D.

While not nearly as loaded, in some ways neurodiversity is just as iffy and tenuous a term as giftedness. Just as some say “we’re all gifted in our own way”, surely we all “view the world in a different way” – isn’t that the very nature of epistemology and subjectivity?

But the terms gifted and neurodiverse become much more useful when you consider that kids with these formal diagnoses, especially in combination, really do need extra, different support in order to be successful in school. An assignment that could appear straightforward and meaningful to 95% of the class, for instance, might legitimately strike the other 5% (i.e., the one twice-exceptional, neurodiverse kid out of 20) as nonsensical or pointless.

To that end, my gifted, neurodiverse son was asked to complete a poem called “Where I’m From” last week, as a creative way to express his origins and let his new 5th grade teacher get to know him a little better. Here is part of the template:

“I am from [specific ordinary item]

From [product name] and [product name]

I am from the [home description]

[adjective], [adjective], [sensory detail]”

etc.

I remember writing this type of poem about myself back in one of the first teacher education courses I took in college, and finding it a profoundly rewarding and insightful experience. I loved getting to think back viscerally to my upbringing,  sharing some of the unique sights and sounds and smells that infused my first-generation Norwegian-American household.

For my neurodiverse son, however, this assignment was perceived as painful and intrusive. He didn’t understand the point of simply filling in the blanks of “specific ordinary item” or “description of family tendency”. It could be that he’s too young to engage with this kind of metaphorical literary activity (I’m curious what his classmates came up with), but it’s more likely he was simply befuddled by the point of it all.

I should add that my son – as I pointed out in my last entryloves language and words. He wants to know the origin of phrases, adores puns, and notices things about words (in terms of roots and spelling) that others might easily miss. He admires and enjoys the silly poetry of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky.

So, how could I help D. make sense of the “Where I’m From” poetry assignment?

Or, perhaps more appropriately – how could I help his new teacher understand why this kind of activity is so challenging for him?

In a blog post for Scientific American entitled “Clearing Up Some Misconceptions About Neurodiversity” (2019), Aiyana Bailin reminds us that:

Autism and other neurological variations (learning disabilities, ADHD, etc.) may be disabilities, but they are not flaws. People with neurological differences are not broken or incomplete versions of normal people… Neurological variations are a vital part of humanity, as much as variations in size, shape, skin color and personality.

She adds:

When we talk about “not pathologizing autism,” we don’t mean “pretending autistic people don’t have impairments.” But we also don’t assume that neurological and behavioral differences are always problems. For example, there’s nothing inherently wrong with disliking social activities. Not wanting to socialize is different from wanting to participate and being unable to. Both are possibilities for autistic people. One requires acceptance, the other requires assistance.

So – does my son need assistance with writing a poem like “Where I’m From”, or acceptance from his teacher that this simply isn’t something that makes sense to him?

And can I – should I – teach him how to self-advocate on behalf of submitting work that meets the requirements in a different way? 

We got through that particular assignment by doing it together – or rather, I basically fed him ideas for each blank and “we” submitted it.

But – that’s not sustainable or appropriate. And when he was asked the next day to complete another writing assignment about his personal experiences in school (specifically related to online learning during the shutdown in spring), he flat-out refused.

I left him to do the work, and came back to see that he had written something along the lines of, “These questions are too personal. I don’t want to answer them. This is three sentences.” And that was it. (He had been asked to respond to five different sets of prompts, in 3-4 sentences each.)  

I tried engaging with him to see if I could figure out what was bothering him; I reminded him that his teacher was simply trying to learn more about him to help him have a better time with online schooling this year.

He wouldn’t budge.

He finally said to me, with a touch of emotion in his voice, “Mommy, you’re just asking me the same question in different ways. Those questions on the slides are too personal, and I don’t feel safe answering them.”

At that point, something in me shifted. He was right: I was asking him the same question again and again, in an attempt to help him build empathy for his teacher’s perspective. But D.’s perspective was important, too.

Neurodiverse kids can sometimes be perceived as “unemotional”, given how linear and factual they come across. However, this is far from true. My son feels very strong emotions – ones that sometimes bubble to the surface at surprising moments, demonstrating how he truly does see the world in unique, multi-faceted, and deeply felt ways.

Yesterday, for instance, while at my parents’ house, we were playing the game Apples to Apples, sitting at the edge of their garage to social-distance and trying to stay shaded in the fresh air.

(Apples to Apples, for those who haven’t played it, is a card game where players try to select a word-card from their hand that MOST matches a descriptor provided by the person who’s “on” for that round.)

The word at the center of the table during one particular round was hurt, and my son chose to put forth the card “deer hunting”. He then explained to me, “It HURTS the deer who’s being shot – but it also HURTS the person who’s doing the shooting.”

Yes, indeed. It often does. 

Another recent example:

Last night I was reading aloud to D. from our newest night-time novelHoles (1996) by Louis Sachar. A central feature of this complex, back-and-forth narrative (primarily taking place in current times at a juvenile detention facility) involves a white female schoolteacher in the 1880s falling in love with a black male onion seller, who is then nearly lynched (and does die) for the “crime” of kissing her. As I read this part aloud to D., he said with exasperation and frustration:

Racism… slavery! Fighting… war!

Then he contemplated what he’d just said (which is common for D. – he often provides an instant meta-commentary on his own speech). He said:

I just put one word and then a more extreme but related word after it. I’m not sure why…

I helped him understand that he was making analogies, and that they were entirely apt: one of the worst, most extreme outcomes of racism is slavery; one of the worst, most extreme outcomes of fighting is war.

He doesn’t understand the “point” of any of these existing, by the way. Why in the world do we fight? Why do we go to war? Why is stupid racism even a thing – at all? And how in the world could slavery have ever taken place?

The fact that neurodiverse individuals may be more inclined to voice such views openly and without hesitation is, in my opinion, ultimately a gift – but not one without problems. D. is very blunt, and doesn’t always understand when it’s “appropriate” to voice his opinion (or not). Sometimes he’s convinced he knows the “truth”, and is not able to see beyond his own definition.

Regarding complex issues such as systemic racism and violence, he’ll need to learn about the many factors that play into the existence of these realities – to help combat them, rather than simply dismissing them as ridiculously wrong.

With that said, I sense D. will bring an invaluable, pragmatic approach to the table. He is sensitive, caring, intelligent, and insightful – and if he can’t express those qualities in the “traditional” format of his assignments, we’ll have to work with him to find alternative means of expression.

Because he does have a lot to say, and many important contributions to make to the world. He just needs plenty of support in doing it well.

Copyright © 2020 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution. 

Anxiety, Stress, and Perfectionism – Oh My…

School has started and we’re very slowly getting into a new rhythm and routine around here.

Thankfully, my kids’ school district is prioritizing socio-emotional well-being and community building during these first few weeks of school, in addition to helping kids and their guardians become more familiarized with the online learning systems we’ll be using for the foreseeable future.

So far, I’m already seeing wonderful evidence of resilience, rigor, compassion, and flexibility on the part of everyone. (Thank you, teachers and administrators!)

… None of which takes away from the fact that we’re all a little bit more stressed these days here in our household. Our recent weeks of “uncamping” – that is, living life at a slower pace, exploring our interests, and (for me) getting this new blog started – have ended, though we’re still holding on to as much as we can.

Yesterday I had a lovely half-hour, one-on-one (online) conference with my 7-year-old’s teacher. We talked about I.’s strengths, challenges, sensitivities, dislike of online learning, passion for art, and much more. She listened, validated, took plenty of notes, and helped me feel like my daughter’s well-being really is one of her priorities amidst everything else going on.

In terms of academic content, I shared that I. may need some additional support in math, given that she’s shifting from an exclusively first-grade math curriculum (her first grade teacher didn’t differentiate for kids capable of more advanced content) to a fully third-grade math curriculum in her new accelerated-learning 2nd grade placement.

I.’s teacher mentioned (very non-judgmentally) that if we wanted to, we could work with I. on basic math facts and operations to help her feel more confident – which makes perfect sense, but put me into a mild panic nonetheless.

Her suggestion is not an un-doable feat by any means. I’m a former elementary school teacher and math coach, for goodness sake! I have a ton of resources available in our house to help my kids with whatever content areas they need support in, as well as access to a wealth of activities and games on the internet – not to mention our school district making math curriculum content from all grade levels available online to any student with a district ID.

So, why hadn’t I done anything all summer long to help I. get comfortable with the 2nd grade math she would be hopping over this year? This seems like such a no-brainer parenting checklist item, and yet… It ended up being a “no-brainer” of a different kind for me on terms of NOT ENTERING MY BRAIN ONCE I DISMISSED IT.

Memories of our relaxed summer suddenly rushed past me in backwards fast-motion as I reflected on the “controlled chaos” of spring quarter during COVID-19, when our kids were at home with us all the time, teachers everywhere were scrambling to adjust, and the entire world was reeling with stress over a global pandemic we were both terrified by and didn’t understand enough about. I was trying to oversee my three kids’ schoolwork while also doing my own teaching, and taking a daily Norwegian class I’d (foolishly?) signed up for.

As was the case for most parents, I’m sure, each day was differently exhausting – especially given that none of my kids were able to simply “sit and do their work” on their own. They all needed scaffolding of some kind – whether that related to making sense of rapidly shifting expectations, accessing online portals, learning how to set deadlines for themselves, or dealing with emotional meltdowns as they inevitably got kicked off of Zoom meetings, couldn’t be seen by their teachers, couldn’t use the chat box, couldn’t talk or communicate while their entire class was muted, etc., etc., etc.

When I thought back specifically to doing math work with I., I recalled how utterly tedious it was to sit with her and try to figure out whether her reluctance to do her worksheets was because she was unclear on what to do, didn’t feel like doing it at that particular moment in time, couldn’t figure out the solutions, and/or was “gaming” me in some way.

(Plus, I couldn’t personally relate to any of this. I was a “good” little worksheet-completer as a kid – I loved blasting through them!)

At any rate, we would sit on her floor and color math facts worksheets together (“Ooh, fun! A color-by-number worksheet!”), and I remember wondering why she was being so deliberate and slow rather than just getting the work done so she could get back to whatever else she wanted to do. She cared a lot more about color choices than the math. She also cared more about sitting and doing something “fun” with me than the math.

But her facility with the actual math facts? Well, that was trickier. Whenever I tried doing quick drills, she would instantly get overwhelmed and stressed. (“Mom! I don’t want to do this right now!”)

I tried tapping into her love of manipulating numbers in creative ways to show her how easy it is to, for instance, quickly calculate 13 minus 5. (“Well, if you take 3 away from 13, you have 10, and then you only have 2 more to take away, and that gets you down to 8.”) This made complete sense to her, and she definitely understood it – yet she still froze up at the idea of spitting out the answers, especially when timed.

“I can’t do it! I’m getting them wrong!”

I.’s anxiety and perfectionism seemed to be preventing her from practicing and learning from mistakes. Her older sister, who also deals with anxiety, was the same way at her age (and continues to struggle with that while doing higher-level math). Their brother – not so much. He’s a “facts geek” and takes great delight in spewing off answers. They’re all different (who knew?).

(As an anecdotal aside, my husband – a software engineer with a major in electrical engineering and an informal minor in economics – has told me he was the absolute LAST person in his third grade class to memorize his times tables. So strange – AND useful to my understanding of, and compassion for, I.) 

Back to last night and her teacher’s suggestion – I talked it all over with my husband (normally I leave him out of schooling issues – that’s a topic for another blog post), then decided to see what would happen if I did a quick review with I. of some core 2nd grade math ideas, just to see where she was at after the summer months.

The first question I asked her – “How many ones are there in 78?” – got a silly response:

“500!”.

“No, for real. How many ones are there in 78?”

“78!”

Umm…. Okay. Yes.

That’s actually true. There are 78 individual “ones” in 78.

I quickly reminded her about place value (“What’s place value? Oh, right, okay.”), messing up briefly myself as I explained there were 70 tens in 78.

(“Seven, not seventy!” my husband chimed in. “Whoops – yes, 7.”).

Then I revisited a similar question with I.: “How many ones are there in 68?”

No problem – there are 8 ones.

How many tens are there in 68?

“Sixty!”

Grin. This was the mistake I’d made, so she made it too.

“No really – how many?”

“Six.”

“Now, if I add a 5 here to the left, in the hundreds column, how many hundreds are there in 568?”

“Five.”

Etc. We kept going, and she seemed to have no problem going with the flow, up through a million.

“How about a billion?!?!?!?!” she asked at that point – so, we went that far.

Great. Fun. Place value seemed to be fine. I told her we would be doing more work the next day to review second grade math, and she seemed relieved to simply escape back to her room.

Meanwhile, in our bedroom (which is right next door to I.’s), my husband and I continued talking about core second grade math concepts, and what we needed to do to help I. quickly catch up. We may have sounded a little agitated, since we were in problem-solving mode – and like I said, I don’t normally involve my husband in detailed conversations around schooling (we both agree that’s my bailiwick), so I was treading in slightly uncomfortable water.

All of a sudden, in the midst of our “heated” conversation, I heard a troubling and loud thump next door.

I dropped the paper I was holding (a print out of core ideas from second grade math) and ran into her room to see what had happened. I. was lying on the floor on her back, with her eyes closed.

“I FELL OFF MY BUNK BED!” she screamed.

I quickly checked to make sure she seemed physically okay – which she was – but that was certainly an unpleasant surprise and jolt for her.

In the year+ she’s owned a bunk bed – always sleeping on the top – she has NEVER fallen off. Ever. Despite repeated warnings and concerns from us, and plenty of athletic gymnastics skirting close to and over the edge, she’s stayed focused and safe.

But last night, her equilibrium was apparently off – and it’s impossible not to associate this with the discussion she was hearing (and probably really distressed by) right next door.

To bring this story full circle, I reassured I. that everything was okay, that she could have some extra online gaming time that evening to get back into her virtual world and self-regulate (no, I didn’t explicitly use that term with her), and that she was going to be just fine with math during second grade. No worries.

For my part, I was reminded that kids ALWAYS pick up on our “panic” and concerns – or at least, mine do. I may think I’m hiding it, but I’m not. If I worry, they worry. If I’m stressed, they’re stressed.

I deliberately chose for us to have an “uncamping” summer because I wanted to maximize joy and peaceful vibes throughout the house.  My goal now is to gradually bring “formal schooling” back in without upsetting everyone’s  well-being.

Naturally, I’ll be reporting back.

Copyright © 2020 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution. 

“Overthinking” Parenting

Parenting is an interesting craft.

Like all hands-on skill-sets,  you can only read so much about it before you need to jump in and do it – at which point you instantly realize how ill-prepared you are.*

I wrote in my last blog post about how incredibly challenging it was on a sensory level to become a new parent. The physical discomfort of months of pregnancy – combined with the pain of childbirth, chronic sleep-deprivation, and an infant who constantly  threw up all her food – had me despairing over how little of this I’d actually read about or understood ahead of time.

It was supposed to all be relatively intuitive, but it didn’t feel that way. I knew that my over-active (read = “overly intellectualizing”) brain wasn’t helping me – but ragging on myself for this was equally unhelpful. As Paula Prober (2019) writes:

“Thinking has gotten a bad rap. If you do a lot of it, which you know you do, you’re called an overthinker, and that’s something you’re told you’re supposed to avoid” (p. 57).

Yep. Prober goes on to write:

“Too much thinking can become a problem… [but] it’s how your brain works… [For] you, it’s not overthinking. It’s just thinking. Or being. It’s curiosity. Analysis. Wondering. Creating… It’s you being you…” (p. 58).

I’m incredibly grateful for this vote of confidence, and hope all “over-thinking” RFM parents will read Prober’s words and stop guilt-tripping. (And I will now officially stop censuring myself for purchasing a sociology textbook on child-rearing practices around the world when my oldest daughter was only a few days old, as part of my desperate search for reassurance that it’s “normal” to want and need help during those challenging first weeks.)  

With all that said, it’s been interesting over the past 12+ years to reflect on how doing parenting intersects with reading and learning about parenting. As with so many aspects of life, they’re deeply intertwined: parenting doesn’t stop while you’re taking a “break” to talk to a friend or family member about a challenge you’re having with one of your kids, or while you’re reading a book on how to help siblings get along, or while you’re attending a class on using “love and logic” as a disciplinary approach.

When my kids were super-little, I recall reading a number of books and website articles on developmental stages. However, I was so overwhelmed by work and parenting my (eventually) three kids under five – even with plenty of support from my husband and mom and babysitters and preschool teachers – that I didn’t write down a lot of my kids’ milestones; I just checked to verify they were basically on track.

(I mention this because it turns out with twice-exceptional kids, it’s pretty important to know a lot of “when” moments with your little ones. A bunch of the paperwork you fill out for evaluations asks you when, for instance, they said their first word… or took their first step… You know, reasonable things parents should probably remember and keep track of. Whoops.) 

One book I do remember reading and really enjoying about their early years was Alison Gopnick’s The Philosophical Baby (2010).

But most of the books I’ve read on parenting have come later in their still-young lives (ages 12, 10, and 7), especially as I’ve explored what I now understand to be their twice-exceptionalism. It turns out they all have rainforest minds AND they live with anxiety, ADHD (inattentive type), and/or neurodiversity.

To that end, attending a SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) parent support group and reading the core text for this organization – A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children (2007) – was life-changing in terms of providing a space where I finally (FINALLY!) felt like I could safely open up not only about my kids, but my own experiences as a gifted child.

After this group ended, I got my three children formally evaluated by a neuropsychiatrist and continued looking for books and websites to support my learning-as-a-parent. Debbie Reber’s Tilt Parenting podcast was a godsend in terms of collating expertise from dozens of specialists in one convenient space, and I spent a full summer working my way through nearly all of her prior episodes. My shelves and Kindle library are now loaded with books on anxiety, ADHD, giftedness, neurodiversity, sensory processing disorder, and so much more. I haven’t read them all (yet) but just knowing they’re there makes a difference.

Given that one of my many goals with this blog is to eventually offer thoughts on various books related to parenting and/or giftedness, perhaps this will be my excuse to embrace my “overthinking” mind and geek out as I head over to my bookshelf…

Stay tuned.

* My experience with teaching went much the same way: I studied a ton, took many classes, did student-teaching, got certified, and yet – there was still nothing to compare with actually standing in front of my own classroom of 28 kids for the first time, with no other adults around. Who said I was qualified to do this, again? 

References:

  • Gopnick, A. (2010). The philosophical  baby: What children’s minds tell us about truth, love, and the meaning of life. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
  • Prober, P. (2019). Journey into your rainforest mind: A field guide for gifted adults and teens, book lovers, overthinkers, geeks, sensitives, brainiacs, intuitives, procrastinators, and perfectionists. Luminare Press.
  • Webb, J.T., & Gore, J. (2007). A parent’s guide to gifted children. Great Potential Press, Inc.

Copyright © 2020 by HalfoftheTruth.org. Please feel free to share with attribution.