Thursday, September 8, 2016

Another (and possibly the most important) reason to advocate for gifted kids

Why advocate for gifted kids when they already enter life with advantages?

They grasp information with lightening speed. They coast through school. They typically excel in their chosen careers.

OK, sure... many are overlooked, miserable in schools that refuse to challenge them, underachieving, bored, hiding their talents. Some are bullied, and at best, struggle with finding a peer group where they belong.

Faced with others' expectations, a myriad of career possibilities, and the chains of asynchronous development complicating social interactions, there are multiple pressures they must endure. Acutely aware of life's uncertainties, tormented over the world's injustices, teetering on the verge of existential depression, many fight anxiety, sadness and despair.

Despite their innate advantages, gifted kids can suffer as much as any others - even as much as at-risk kids, or kids with learning disabilities that make school a daily challenge. All of these children struggle; however the fewest resources are devoted to gifted children. Their intellectual hunger and social/emotional needs are an afterthought in the hierarchy of school funding and resources.

So here's another essential (and possibly the most important) reason to advocate for gifted kids...


They grow up. 


And these adults, like all of us, carry scars and wounds from childhood. Sometimes wounds can create emotional pain, defensive patterns that guard from further assault, or "neurotic" symptoms that limit the ability to fully embrace life's joys, function as partners in relationships, or contribute productively to the workforce. Gifted kids become gifted adults, and cart their childhood woes along with them. And they may land in my office, or the offices of other therapists who try to help them move past... the past.

As a psychologist, I believe there is perhaps no more important reason to insist on advocacy than the reality that gifted adults continue to suffer the effects of neglect and painful experiences from childhood. It doesn't just stop after high school.

And the absence of an appropriate education is a form of neglect. Gifted children may appear to thrive, given their typically good grades, but most are barely challenged. And many suffer emotional scars from social alienation or bullying, some of which might have been prevented if they had been permitted to share classes with like-minded peers (through acceleration or ability-based groups). Parents may have few resources or support with these high-octane kids, often worry about the appearance of bragging if they share concerns with others, and may not know how to advocate for their child's needs within the schools.

Certainly, psychological struggles among gifted adults are not entirely due to a deficient education. Mental health problems may be inherited and biologically based, or due to trauma, a troubling environment or a distressing family situation. It is well-recognized that a loving, caring parental relationship, with appropriate but non-hovering supervision, firm limits, and the absence of harsh punishment (e.g., name-calling, shaming, physical punishment of any kind), is critical.

But we cannot control all factors in our children's lives - we do the best we can. Let's eliminate one such factor that might contribute to our child's suffering, and to his or her future well-being. Let's advocate for a fair and appropriate education for our children and for the welfare of others as well. Get informed. Learn about the laws in your state and school district. Befriend your child's teacher. Know your rights as a parent. And remain attuned to your child's needs.

Let's ensure that our children thrive in school throughout their childhood - and that these years provide a springboard toward emotional well-being as they become
adults.

21 comments:

  1. This is an interesting point. I spend a lot of time worrying about my daughter and getting the curriculum she needs at school. I worry about college and career. I have not spent a lot of time worrying about her adjustment as an adult. I don't plan to worry more (lol) but this makes me even more determined to insist that she get the instruction she deserves. Thanks.

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    1. Anonymous, Thanks for your comments. I am glad that you feel even more empowered to advocate for her. Good luck.

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  2. As a gifted adult with gifted children this hit home in a very real way for me. I struggle with my past, I am the gifted child that fell through the cracks of a failing public educational system, this has made me so much more determined to make sure it doesn't happen to my children. I fight for them constantly.

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    1. Productlovin, What a wonderful legacy you give to your children - your thorough understanding of what they are facing and your dedication to advocate for them so that they get what they need. Thank you for sharing this.

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  3. Gail, I loved your post... I wish all teachers and administrators could read it! The wounds can be especially deep for children in special and misunderstood populations. Thank you for your work for the well-being of gifted children.

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  4. We had three gifted children and it was so difficult at times to keep them engaged. One of them was especially bullied and broke her Father's and my heart. She was so alone at times. she has grown up to be an astonishing young woman now, thank god. The other two are also just awesome human beings. It was so frustrating for us their parents to keep challenged. We kept them involved with a lot of outside activities such as clubs, dance, music lessons, art museums, etc. It can be done but we the parents were the difference I think. The public school system better get on the ball and make some dramatic changes to the curriculum for our brightest children or we might lose these children.
    A concerned parent.

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    1. Anonymous, Thank you for your comments. Yes, a lot falls on the parents, unfortunately. And a lot of what you provided was a great support - but does not entirely compensate for the hours lost during school. We all need to continue to advocate so gifted children don't continue to lose time in school.

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  5. Very well written and to the point. I think the problem is actually how many school districts identify "gifted" children using achievement scores and thus have a slew of children in their programs when what they are actually being populated with are very smart, high achieving kids. These are not necessarily gifted kids in the sense that you are describing here. They do not need the learning environment that truly gifted kids need. Parents of the children with IQ over 140 cannot even describe to those who are getting into these programs how vastly different the needs of their children are, without being ostracized and looked upon as bragging parents, as you allude to in your article. It's all very upsetting because the needs of these great minds are being overlooked.....

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    1. Momof5, You raise an important point. Some districts under pressure to have a gifted "program," as opposed to truly providing gifted "services," are left to populate these programs with a certain number of students - resulting in including high achievers who may be wonderful students, but do not necessarily learn in the same manner or have the same needs as gifted students.

      While it is still beneficial when gifted students are at least placed in ability grouped classes with high achievers (as opposed to classes with students having a widely diverse range of learning abilities), this is not gifted education. Thank you for your feedback.

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  6. Dear Gail Post (we share our last name, I am also a Dr. Post) thank you so much for giving me some ammunition to go to my parent-teacher meeting tomorrow. My daughter (8 yo) did not want to give her project presentation on the Dutch Chemist winning the Nobel Price that she prepared, because,and I quote ' the children in my class do not even know how to add 3 and 3, let alone what nano machines are, even if I explain this' . To which the teacher asked me: 'does it bother her so much that the children are not smart enough to understand this?' And you know what: Yes, it bothers her. A great deal. Because she feels misunderstood, and people think that she feels that she is better than them. And you know what, the opposite is true. she feels small compared to them. does not know what is expected of her, because there are so many options and solutions to the problems. And her teacher telling her: "you cannot be gifted, you are not even the smartest / fastest in this group!" certainly does nothing for her self-esteem. And I feel like I am 7 again, with my teacher telling me that I should go to a special school since I was too stupid to be in a regular school. I believed him, because I realised at a very young age that I knew nothing! I did send him an email when I got my PhD... but I never heard back. So tomorrow I am fighting for the right education of my daughter. And I hope that I will be met with understanding and support.

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    1. Hi Dr. Post :), I hope you get your daughter the services she needs and also the understanding she deserves. The lack of appreciation for her struggles and the comments she has received are appalling. Good luck and let us know how it goes. And thanks for your comments.

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  7. Most definitely I have carted my childhood struggles into adulthood. Only recently have I come to terms with that idea. Gifted means we see things with much more depth and that, in turn, brings additional challenges. No one has it easy in this world.

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    1. Atlas, Thanks for your feedback! So true!

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  8. Dr. Post,
    I am desperate to figure out what to do for my gifted, almost 13-yo. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    His disdain for school started in Gr. 4. He would lie on his bed and cry and cry saying that school was "like prison" and that he "never learned anything new". He started to show signs of depression though they seemed situational around school, though even then he would occasionally say "life is meaningless". The counsellor we were seeing that year suggested testing and that is how we found out about his high IQ, though we weren't really surprised. Despite several meetings with the school, very little changed over his 3 years there.

    At the beginning of Jr. High last year, we were feeling hopeful as the new school was willing to make any adjustments we thought might help. However, attending a Gr. 9 English class was socially hard for him as the classmates were still "immature and not interested in learning"like the Grade 7s. By June, he was frequently crying, talking about how meaningless life is and wanting to "disappear". He stopped attending school. It was too emotionally draining for our whole family to go through the ordeal of dragging him there.

    Over this past summer, he spent most of his time in the house, disengaged from friends and having lost interest in most of his passions (the big ones being reading and coding). It was utterly heartbreaking and scary to watch.

    So, in a desperate effort to improve his mental health, I moved with him to another province for this school year (we are from a small town and are now in a city). We enrolled him at a private school that seemed would be a great environment for him (small population, more freedom to work at his own speed, etc.). Well, he loves the city, but the school part is not going well. He is completely disengaged from learning, gets overwhelmed and says "I can't do it, I am not well enough to face this everyday, etc." He read To Kill a Mockingbird, but then refused to answer the assigned questions. It's been painful. As of this week, he has officially stopped attending.

    We are seeing a psychologist and have a referral sent to a paediatric psychiatrist. I am at a complete loss. On one hand, my husband and I are telling ourselves that the only thing that matters right now is his mental well-being and that I encourage him to do the things he enjoys and considers productive and meaningful: (animating, digital drawing, creating Minecraft role-plays, skyping on-line friends that he can relate to) in order to see him get some joy back in his life. We also get out for walks, trips to the library and museum and movies.

    I am so sad that my bright, inquisitive child has come to so fiercely distrust and hate formal education. I am a teacher, but not gifted myself and have a difficult time understanding how he sees things. Again, any advice, reading recommendations, etc. would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Rebecca

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    1. Rebecca, I am so sorry to hear about your son and your heartbreaking struggles with him. It sounds like you are on the right track in that he is getting some counseling and trying to sort out his depression. Once he is doing a little better, he may be able to face school again. I hope you can work with the schools to find ways that they could, perhaps, make the situation would manageable for him. Good luck.

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    2. Hi Rebecca,
      I really feel for you - what a harrowing experience for your entire family as you try to do the right thing for your son. It sounds so similar to what my 11 yo boy has been going through this year that I felt compelled to write to you, to encourage you and tell you that you are not alone. In our situation, we have decided to home school next year to just take a break from the school environment that is becoming so toxic for my son. He has visibly relaxed knowing that he will not have to deal with a system that does not fit him. It sounds like what you are doing in taking a more relaxed approach and building on your son's strengths and interests might be just the thing to bring him through this period and regain his motivation. I wish you all the best. Xx

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  9. I completely agree that atypical kids should have their needs met ... but could not disagree more strongly with this statement:

    "Despite their innate advantages, gifted kids can suffer as much as any others - even as much as at-risk kids, or kids with learning disabilities that make school a daily challenge. All of these children struggle; however the fewest resources are devoted to gifted children."

    While gifted struggles are real and I don't minimize them ... Kids with LD -- of average, above average & gifted intelligence -- suffer from crushing stigma and ignorance that doesn't even remotely compare to experiences in the gifted realm.

    The stigma and the lack of general awareness that accompanies LD is an extra nasty burden for kids and their families. While the value of gifted kids is unquestioned, kids with LD are regarded through a lens of ignorance. Parental concerns are dismissed with the same devastating attitude that Arne Duncan dismissed parent concerns about Common Core with his comment about ‘White suburban moms’ upset that Common Core shows their kids aren’t ‘brilliant’

    While most parents of gifted children that you meet can't WAIT to slip their child's status into any given conversation ... LD is conversation killer. And that fact carries over into conversations with leadership and with decision-makers when you try to advocate.

    I could also not disagree more about giftedness receiving the fewest resources ... Not in our district.

    Our district actively screens for giftedness (a standardized test w/o providing accommodations + teacher input + parent input) ... which, BTW, accounts for about 2% of the population (as opposed to up to 20% for dyslexia) ... and then they provide a magnet program (transportation included) of instruction tailored to their needs.

    There is no such action plan/safety net in place for the far larger number of students who will fail hard without ID and intervention. Twice-exceptional kids with dyslexia ... and the rest of the 20% ... are out of luck. They are lucky if they are ever correctly identified let alone served with anything like tailored instruction. We can only dream of that.

    When our kids' performance starts to reflect badly on state rankings and districts ... instead of applying resources to solve the problem ... 17 states now have laws requiring kids to fail harder by retaining them in 3rd grade without instituting early screenings in kindergarten or the science-based instruction that would give them a fighting chance in school and in life. Advocating for kids with LD is one long line of insults to injury and the deaf ears behind walls of misconceptions. No one misunderstands what it means to be "gifted."

    Unidentified, the gifted LD kids just wallow at a passing level of under-performance. And the ones who can't compensate well enough to pass are in for 12 years of an even rougher ride that changes their futures for the worse.

    I wish you the best of luck in your advocacy, but your comparison to LD and the suggestion that LD kids are getting something that is withheld from gifted children is misguided. Our children get plenty that is denied to others ... and I wouldn't wish any of it on anyone, let alone another child.

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    1. Unknown, I am sorry that you have had such a hard time with advocacy for LD issues. In my statement about struggles, I noted that gifted kids "can" suffer as much as others - not that this is always the situation in every district or with every child. It sounds like your district is somewhat different than most in focusing a lot on identifying gifted kids - something that is not true in many areas. And many states in the US have no requirements at all for providing gifted services.

      It sounds like you have encountered a difficult situation involving shame and stigma associated with LDs. This is so unfortunate and deserves as much advocacy and fight as anything else. While I disagree with your statement that most gifted parents can't wait to comment about their kids' gifted status (i.e., although this may be your experience, much has been written about how parents of gifted kids often feel they must hide their child's gifted abilities from others, and get criticized when they express it), I appreciate that this is what you have encountered. Gifted students traditionally have received less than 1% of most spec ed budgets for services. The needs of gifted and LD kids are different, but both need attention and advocacy. Neither group of children deserve to be miserable in school.

      Thank you for your comments and for drawing attention to this underserved population. Good luck with your advocacy efforts.

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  10. As the parent of a "gifted" child and one who was identified by the school as being "a slow learner", I struggled along with my children and their education in the late 70's through their graduation in the 90's. It was a very difficult time. Their were plenty of "programs" for the gifted students and my daughter benefited greatly ( or so I thought) from these programs. My son however, was not as fortunate and suffered in a wholly different way. He was placed in the "slow learners" group which had social stigma attached. He was unfairly classified and unfortunately he was deemed this by his teachers...he never had a chance. Being a small school he was unfairly judged and compared to his sister by his teachers. I know now that my daughter was also categorized and labeled as well. I do not believe in standardized testing. As Albert Einstein has said: "if you judge a fish on it's ability to climb trees, it would fail". I just wish something could be done that is less traumatizing for the student and parents as well. Too late in my or my children's case, but surely there is something out there for BOTH groups.

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    1. Anonymous, Thank you for sharing this. So sorry that your son had to experience stigma associated with his education. I agree that individualized learning is so important and that schools need to work to minimize any fall-out when working with any child who differs from the norm. I hope that your children are doing better now that they are adults.

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