Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Best gifted education articles of 2016

So... 2016 has been a rough year. But on the bright side, there have been some great articles associated with gifted education. Here are some of my favorite thought-provoking reads from the past year, with a few snippets from each of them included below:

To help students learn, engage the emotions

"Great teachers understand that the best, most durable learning happens when content sparks interest, when it is relevant to a child's life, and when the students form an emotional bond with either the subject at hand or the teacher in front of them."

New analysis finds two measures boost K-12 academic achievement

"This latest study highlights the gap between empirical support for ability grouping and acceleration and the lack of policy support for implementing these techniques in the schools..."

A nation at risk: How gifted low-income kids are left behind

"It's hard to develop talent properly if you don't identify it early. A key part of the problem is that gifted low-income students are not being identified systematically."

How people learn to become resilient

"One of the central elements of resilience, Bonanno has found, is perception: Do you conceptualize an event as traumatic, or as an opportunity to learn and grow?"

The best-kept secret in gifted education: Above-level testing

"The secret of above-level testing is really not much of a secret. It's used extensively at universities that have centers for gifted education. Unfortunately, it's not used much by schools. This secret is hiding in plain sight!"

Beyond the 10,000-hour rule: Experts disagree on the value of practice

"It's just not scientifically defensible at this point to say that training history does or could explain all the variation [in talent]..."

How to raise a genius: Lessons from a 45-year study of super-smart children

"The research emphasizes the importance of nurturing precocious children, at a time when the prevailing focus in the United States and other countries is on improving the performance of struggling students..."

Grit is the buzzword among parents today. But are we focusing on the wrong thing?

"...our collective emphasis on grit is causing us to overlook other critical skills, and that oversight is having real consequences for our children."

America's report card: We're still ignoring low-income high-achievers

"The 'excellence gap,' then, is really two gaps. First, it means not enough high-achievers to assure the nation's long-term economic competitiveness, security, and cultural vitality. Second, it means not nearly enough disadvantaged kids reaching that level, suggesting not even a modicum of equal opportunity."

Rethinking intelligence: How does imagination measure up?

"An individual's goals within the learning classroom and excitement about a topic affect how he or she pursues learning, none of which is captured on IQ tests."

Why do fewer black students get identified as gifted?

"Whether the strategy is universal screening or better training of teachers to recognize giftedness among all students or another approach, our research suggests that school districts need to get serious about making sure that gifted services are accessible to all students who need them."

Should I grade-skip my gifted child?

"When gifted students who grade-skipped were compared to similarly gifted students who did not grade-skip, the grade-skipped students came out ahead in all academic categories."

Getting restless at the head of the class

"Every classroom has a few overachievers who perform above their grade level and don't feel challenged by the status quo. A new report suggests they are surprisingly common - in some cases, nearly half of all students in a given grade."

Our misguided effort to close the achievement gap is creating a new inequality: The 'play' gap 

"And now, in a misguided effort to close the achievement gap, we are creating a new kind of inequality...We are planting the seeds of disengagement for the young children we want to see succeed and stay in school."

Thanks to all of you for following this blog. Wishing you all a wonderful New Year!


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

For the gifted community in the election aftermath

For my readers:

I have been writing this blog for almost four years now, and so appreciate that you come to visit. Blogging has been a meaningful and inspiring journey for me. And I hope that I contribute to shedding some light on the plight of the gifted.

It has been difficult for me to write about gifted children recently, given the turmoil and aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. Everything else seems to pale in comparison. And like most of you, I have been profoundly affected by it. But this blog is not a forum for me to share my personal political views, and I don't want to offend others who may hold a different perspective

Yet I am also aware that gifted people - both children and adults - view the world with a degree of depth and complexity that informs their opinions. Despite the option to choose third party candidates, the US election essentially comes down to a battle between two candidates - forcing each voter to pare down their expectations, synthesize an abundance of conflicting information, and come to terms with what matters most.

How do gifted people make these decisions? I have not come across any research on this, but I suspect that voting decisions are weighed with the same depth of thought and complexity as any decision of importance. All variables are entered into the equation. Gifted people are not typically "single issue" voters. They don't pick a candidate because he/she will "get my job back," or "improve my town." They consider judgment, temperament, skill, experience, past behaviors, and campaign speeches - as well as party affiliation, policies, and promises.

A great many gifted people are despondent about the election results. A recent blog post describes how gifted people may be reacting intensively to the election, and offers helpful suggestions for how to adjust and direct one's energies. There have been articles about helping young children cope, and even for couples who disagree about their voting decisions. It will take resilience, courage, and yes, that "gifted" complexity, creativity, and depth to weather the road ahead.

And let's not forget that some gifted people will be pleased with the election results. I suspect that those gifted Trump supporters were not single issue voters, but also considered all of the issues and felt that those outweighed the alternative, despite some of the racist, homophobic rhetoric, for example, that emerged during his campaign.

My wish is that this community of gifted adults, parents of gifted children, and teachers, counselors or advocates for the gifted can come together and help ourselves and others move forward through this uncertain time. Let's do what we can to manage our own stress, comfort and reassure our children, use self-care, develop compassion for others' perspectives, learn from this experience, and channel our passion for fairness and justice into becoming more active community members.

Wishing you peace,


Monday, October 24, 2016

Boredom, school, and the gifted child: Challenging its inevitability

Do you remember boredom?

Watching the classroom clock. Staring out the window. Doodling until all space in the margins disappeared. Wondering, yet again, why does this have to be so damned boring?!

Life in a typical classroom. No one ever promised fun and games, but the amount of time spent waiting, daydreaming, and battling boredom is even greater for gifted children. In the recesses of their memory, most gifted children recall the joy of learning, their innate curiosity, the spark of discovery when learning was neither slow nor tedious. But that experience may seem far removed from life in mixed ability classrooms tailored to the needs of the average or at-risk student.

What must change?

1. Recognition that gifted children are different. 

First, schools must acknowledge that gifted children are truly different from the norm and need advanced, intensive and accelerated instruction. Gifted children are not just smart; they learn and relate to the world differently. They grasp material more quickly, with greater depth and complexity, and require fewer repetitions to master a concept. Many are emotionally intense, have a heightened sense of fairness and social justice, and ponder existential mysteries at a young age. Those displaying asynchronous development often struggle socially, as their maturity may lag behind their intellect. Without an appreciation of these differences, schools enable gifted students' boredom by failing to address their learning needs.

2. Provision of appropriate services

Unfortunately, even when these differences are acknowledged, many school districts fall short of providing the academic services gifted children require. Whether a function of financial, political or philosophical priorities, gifted students are treated like every other child; they are offered the same education in the same format in the same classrooms. While seemingly fair and equitable, this deprives them of an appropriate education, and essentially ensures that vast periods of down time will fill their day.

3. Elimination of misconceptions and misunderstanding

Misconceptions about giftedness are commonplace, and those who have not lived with, counseled or taught a gifted child may hold false assumptions. Many view them with suspicion - as studious nerds, oddballs who don't quite fit in, sporting helicopter parents orchestrating their achievements. Let's set the record straight: gifted children are not hot-housed products of upscale parents; no amount of instruction or practice  can instill the cognitive complexity and depth of thinking they possess. They are a widely diverse group, in terms of intellectual range, social/emotional needs, and socioeconomic backgrounds. These children warrant a school environment that dispels misconceptions and prejudice, and grants them an opportunity for engaged learning.

4. Adoption of legal provisions everywhere

It is astonishing that so few states in the U.S. offer legal protection for gifted students. Here in Pennsylvania, a legal mandate (although without funding) exists for the purpose of identification and provision of gifted services. While this does not guarantee an ideal education, it gives families leverage to fight for their child's rights. As a consultant, I have spoken with families from other states across the country where these rights are non-existent. Families are completely on their own, and must rely on the willingness of a given school district to help their child. (See NAGC for a list of services in each state.) No children should be denied their legal right to a fair and appropriate education and left to languish in slow-paced classrooms just because of where they reside.

How can we eliminate boredom from the classroom?

Advocacy, advocacy, advocacy. Change can occur through the following: individual advocacy for your child within the school; participation in parent groups; support for systemic changes in provision of gifted services; and public advocacy for district, state and national policy changes regarding funding, legal rights, and provision of services.

Since reform takes time, you still need to help your child adapt. Some specific ideas for helping your child manage boredom in the classroom can be found here.  And keep in mind that most teachers are dedicated and caring, and don't want to be reminded that their students are bored. So use care when speaking with your child's teacher. But if you want to eliminate the boredom and stagnation that affect gifted children, as well as many advanced students, more involvement is necessary.

Become knowledgeable.

Get involved.

Don't let boredom overshadow your child's or any other child's education.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

What is so threatening about academic acceleration?

If a simple, proven and cost-effective option could help gifted children receive the academic services they need, wouldn't most schools rush to offer it?

Not necessarily.

Despite readily available alternatives, too many gifted children battle boredom every single day. They wait while others catch up, endure instruction offered at a snail's pace, and coast through class assignments. They read, doodle, daydream, and play on their phones. They cause trouble by talking to peers, fidgeting, and asking too many questions. They don't learn study skills, avoid taking academic risks, and may become underachievers.

Academic acceleration: A proven alternative

We know that the trend toward differentiated instruction and the elimination of ability grouping has deprived gifted students of a challenging learning environment in many classrooms. Yet one simple and cost-effective option is academic acceleration. Full-grade, or even single subject acceleration, not only enhances gifted students' education, but alleviates some of the burden teachers face trying to differentiate instruction. Early entrance into kindergarten, dual-enrollment in college classes, and online programming are other forms of acceleration. And most research (see references below) has documented the benefits of acceleration, and refuted the widely held belief that it is socially or emotionally harmful. Gifted children who accelerate thrive both academically and socially.

Yet when parents or a brave teacher suggest acceleration, they are often met with resistance. We can't do that. It wouldn't be fair to the other kids. Your child might not fit in. He/she would miss out on important curriculum. And so on...

There is something threatening about academic acceleration.

When a child with a learning disability or another challenge is evaluated, most schools go to great lengths to find accommodations. Why is there such resistance to addressing the needs of a gifted child? Here are some possible reasons:

1. There will be chaos!

Far removed from the one-room schoolhouse, there are strict rules today for assignment to specific grades and classes. Age cut-off dates for kindergarten vary from state to state, and sometimes town to town, and children are expected to fulfill specific curricular requirements based on their year in school. Once parents or teachers "break" these rules, fear of chaos ensues. 

2. Curriculum reigns supreme

School policy often requires that teachers adhere to the curriculum. Each chapter and section must be covered - learning be damned! If a child accelerates, he misses out on some of that material. Yet, we know that much of what is taught, especially in elementary school, is not necessarily crucial information that won't be assimilated at a later time. When gifted children bypass some of the curriculum rather than languishing in classrooms unsuited to their learning needs, they may be more likely to maintain their intrinsic interest in learning. As Peter DeWitt recently noted:

"When we are too concerned about covering curriculum, instead of seeing students as individuals with strengths and weaknesses, we are more at risk of putting them in a box instead of thinking outside of it. And one group of our students that need our best thinking are students who may no longer need to be in our classrooms at all, and those are the students who need to be accelerated."

3. It is elitist

If a child is permitted to enter kindergarten early or accelerate to another grade, school administrators often fear a backlash of criticism from district parents claiming elitism. Acceleration is viewed by some as a special privilege or a badge of honor, resulting in anger and defensiveness. School officials are left to explain that acceleration is critical and necessary for a particular child's educational needs; it is not a reward for good behavior or excellent grades. This can be tiresome. Administrators need to pick their battles...and this may not be a cause they wish to champion.

4. Who are these gifted you speak of?

Some school districts or teachers lack training or even basic knowledge about gifted children. They may not fully grasp the extent to which these students learn with more depth and intensity, and grasp material at a much quicker pace. They may equate ability with grades and achievement and refuse to consider the underachieving gifted or gifted students who act out due to boredom. They may hold stereotypical images of what a gifted child looks like, and overlook children who don't fit the mold. They may assume that gifted children's needs can be met reasonably well in a regular classroom and that differentiated instruction is sufficient. Some may even believe that gifted students' needs can be sacrificed for the overall good, and that resources should be tailored to struggling or average students.

5. What makes them so special?

Teachers are people just like everyone else. Despite their training, they carry their personal beliefs, emotional impressions from childhood, and unconscious prejudices along with them. Some may have had negative experiences with gifted children in the past. Some may not understand giftedness and may hold negative stereotypes about gifted children or their families. Some may have endured uncomfortable interactions with parents who have pressured them to provide special accommodations. These resentments may color their professional judgment when decisions regarding acceleration are needed, and result in withholding what is perceived as special treatment.

How academic acceleration can help gifted children

Academic acceleration is not the right answer for every gifted child; but it always should be an available option. With research showing that up to 45% of students in upper elementary grades perform at least one year above their grade level, it appears that many students - not just the gifted - are receiving an education lacking sufficient challenge. A 45-year follow-up study of gifted children found that those who skipped a grade were 60% more likely to earn a Ph.D. or have a patent than those who did not accelerate, and twice as likely to have a Ph.D. in a STEM field. And recent meta-analytic findings from studies of academic acceleration confirmed its benefits - both academically and socially. Researchers Steenburgen-Hu and Moon concluded that:

"...accelerated students tend to outperform students who are not accelerated in their performance on standardized achievement tests, college grades, degrees obtained, status of universities or colleges attended, and career status. Accelerants equal or surpass non-accelerants in self-concept, self-esteem, self-confidence, social relationships, participation in extracurricular activities, and life satisfaction."

It is time to put the false assumptions and misconceptions to rest. Acceleration can enhance learning, and has a positive impact on long-term achievement and social and emotional well-being. If your school district is unaware of the benefits of acceleration, you might consider sharing information from NAGC, SENGtip.Duke or from the articles listed below. Any child who might benefit from academic acceleration deserves this powerful and well-researched opportunity.


Assouline, S., Colangelo, N. & VanTassel-Baska, J. (2015) A nation empowered: Evidence trumps the excuses holding back America's brightest students (Vol.1). Iowa City: University of Iowa, Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development.

Colangelo, N., Assouline, S., Marron, M., Castellano, J., Clinkenbeard, P., Rogers, C., Calvert, E., Malek, R. & Smith, D. (2010). Guidelines for developing an academic acceleration policy. National work group on acceleration. Journal of Advanced Academics, 21, 180-203.

Lee, S., Olszewski-Kubilius, P. & Thomson, D. (2012). Academically gifted students perceived interpersonal competence and peer relationships. Gifted Child Quarterly, 56, 90-104.

Lee, S., Olszerski, Kubilius, P., & Paternel, G. (2014). The efficacy of academic acceleration for gifted minority students. Gifted Child Quarterly, 54, 189-208.

Lubinski, D., Webb, R., Morelock, M., & Benbow, C. (2001). Top 1 in 10,000: A 10-Year follow-up of profoundly gifted. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 720.

Missett, T., Brunner, M, Callahan, C., Moon, T., & Azana, A. (2014). Exploring teacher beliefs and use of acceleration, ability grouping, and formative assessment. Journal of the Education of the Gifted., 37, 245-268.

Park, G., Lubinski, D., & Benbow, C. (2013). When less is more: Effects of grade skipping on adult STEM productivity among mathematically precocious adolescents. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105, 176-198.

Steenbergen-Hu, S. & Moon, S. (2011). The effects of acceleration on high-ability learners: A meta-analysis. Gifted Child Quarterly, 55, 39-53.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Acceleration. To see more blogs, click on the following link:  http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_acceleration_2.htm

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

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Parents of young musicians: Finding community and support

We all have seen band parents, moms who shepherd children to countless music lessons, seemingly tough guy dads who tear up shamelessly at their child's solo performance.

But parenting a musically gifted child can be an isolating experience.

Many parents insist that their children try music lessons, given the documented social/emotional and academic benefits of music instruction. Most kids quit at some point, though, unless they truly find their passion in music. Those who stick with it are usually talented; music comes easily and is joyful, challenging, and meaningful. Practicing still might be a drag, but participating in ensembles, bands, orchestras, choirs and other joint ventures adds to the fun. Solo performances and auditions frazzle nerves, but reap a sense of accomplishment and are powerful learning experiences.

What is it like for parents whose children truly excel in music? In addition to navigating their own reactions and personal anxiety about their child's talents, they often become immersed in the musical experience. They know the music. They know when their child is off-key, playing a poorly phrased passage, or forgets a memorized section during a performance. They weather their child's aspirations and rejections. The power of their child's passionate performance swells in their hearts.

And like parents of intellectually gifted children, they often hide their reactions. They don't want to appear to boast or brag. They don't want to complain too much (after all, their child might be the best musician in the school - their concerns about how little their child practices might seem insignificant in comparison). Worries about performances or conservatory auditions seem esoteric when other parents are concerned about SATs or just getting their kids to complete homework. And parents who are not raising musically talented children may hold misconceptions similar to those often projected onto parents of intellectually gifted children.

How can parents of these talented children find a sense of belonging and community?

Parents of musicians thrive when they find other parents who understand their situation. This provides emotional support, a sense of community, but also helps with parenting decisions unique to their situation. Should I push my child to practice more? Should he go to a music camp? How does majoring in music at a liberal arts college compare with attending a conservatory? Should I worry about her ability to support herself as an adult musician? 

It may take some effort, but actively seeking out parents online or within your child's music organizations can be a life changer. While you wait for your child at his lesson, speak with the other parents in the waiting room. When you sit through choir or jazz band rehearsals, reach out to other parents. See if any of these venues offer parent meetings or workshops. For example, Philadelphia Sinfonia, an elite youth orchestra, offers a workshop where parents of Sinfonia alumni provide advice and support regarding applying to conservatories and colleges. Similar options may be available in your community.

Parents of musically gifted children can feel isolated. But when they seek out like-minded parents, they will have found a community where they can share their joys, uncertainty and disappointments with others who will truly understand.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Page blog hop on Community. To see more blogs, click on the following link: https://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_community.htm

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Back to school tips for gifted teens, middle schoolers, and their parents

Got a gifted teen? Need some tips about helping them through middle school or high school? With school starting soon, I thought I would compile some of my posts about gifted adolescents. I hope they help!

Getting through school

Back to school blues: Why gifted teens dread returning to school
Some gifted teens look forward to starting back to school. But many do not. Many are filled with anxiety, foreboding and dread. At best, they may anticipate another year of boredom and disappointment. At worst, they are consumed with fears about academic performance or social isolation. Read more...

Public High School survival guide for gifted students
Most public schools scramble to meet the educational needs of gifted children. What also must be considered is the social milieu and if it will foster confident and well-adjusted students, or suppress and inhibit their drive to learn. Can a public high school offer the enrichment, variety of experiences, and enough like-minded peers to provide a safe haven for gifted adolescents? Read more...

Caught in the middle: How to help gifted children survive the middle school years
Just when life seemed manageable, middle school-aged children face confusion and uncertainty. Social demands, hormonal changes, and a burgeoning sense of independence challenge the self that once was. New worlds unfold, and the old rules from elementary school don't work any more. Neither child nor adult, they must discover who they are and how to define themselves. Read more...

Difficult passage: Gifted girls in middle school
Something happens between elementary and high school that dampens the spirit for far too many gifted girls. Middle school is difficult for most children, and certainly creates challenges for gifted students. But gifted girls face social, academic and developmental hurdles that can reduce their burning drive to smoldering ashes. Read more...

There is life after high school - even for gifted teens
The trajectory from an unremarkable early education to an enriching experience in college is common for many gifted individuals. Discouraged high school students need to remind themselves that opportunities await them after graduation. Read more...

Academic Struggles

What causes gifted underachievement?
Although some gifted children lose interest in academics early on, most underachieving gifted students don't start to disengage from learning until middle school and high school. At that point in their development, there is a perfect storm. Read more...

Ten reasons why your gifted child procrastinates
Before you nag your child one more time, rush out and buy yet another self-help book, or hit your head against the wall, you may first want to sort out the reasons for the procrastination. Usually there are one or more contributing factors, and if you sort these out, you may be better prepared to tackle the problem. Read more...

Strategic practice (it's not how much, but how)
Those who approached learning strategically with an emphasis on ensuring that they would not repeat their mistakes received consistently higher ratings. What seems clear is that how we practice is essential. Read more...

Social and emotional adjustment

Tips for taming test anxiety (because even gifted kids get anxious)
Many gifted children, adolescents and college students suffer from disabling test anxiety that affects performance, achievement and self-esteem. Test anxiety pops up at the most inopportune times, and can be completely unexpected, an occasional nuisance, or a chronic obstacle. Its origins may be simple or complex, and whether you are a sufferer or the parent of one, you can learn how to overcome this burden. Read more...

Different than the rest: Social challenges of gifted adolescents
While some gifted teens appear oblivious to social cues, seemingly immersed in intellectual or artistic pursuits, many more are acutely aware of social interactions. They stand back, observe, and develop elaborate theories about the cliques, peer exchanges and social drama unfolding before them. Those who are bystanders may hesitate before venturing into the fray, or remain tied to small groups of like-minded peers. Even seemingly disengaged gifted teens may be more aware of the social climate than their behavior suggests. Read more...

Is your gifted teen socially isolated?
Gifted teens, in particular, may struggle to fit in and find their niche; they may withdraw after years of feeling different from peers, unable to find friends who truly understand them. It can be heartbreaking to watch your child stay home night after night - even if you don't have to worry about parties and alcohol. Read more...

Tips for helping your socially isolated teen
While spending time alone may not necessarily signal a problem, such as when an introverted child is immersed in a creative project or when there are few like-minded peers available, sometimes withdrawal can be cause for concern. When time alone is excessive, reflects a sudden change in behavior, is a symptom of distress or an emotional/behavioral problem, involves an internet "addiction," or reflects a chronic pattern of social avoidance or interpersonal difficulties, parents may need to get involved. Read more...

Why do smart girls develop eating disorders?
 If there is a genetic/biochemical predisposition to develop an eating disorder, along with life event triggers, these "gifted" traits may get channeled into obsessive thoughts about food and a drive to achieve an unrealistic weight. Read more...

When does therapy benefit gifted adolescents?
Therapists can help teens manage the social and emotional "baggage" often associated with giftedness. Common characteristics such as introversion, oversensitivity, asynchronous development, and attunement to moral injustice can make adolescence even more trying. Other examples include social anxiety, perfectionism, harsh expectations of self and others, underachievement, family demands, sibling conflicts, unresolved distress related to bullying or peer rejection, shame associated with failed accomplishments, and ambivalence about career goals.

Planning for college

Ten essential tips to help your gifted teen plan for college
With all of the competition, uncertainty and financial risk involved, gifted children need as much advice and support as any other child. And sometimes the stakes are even higher, given the potential for merit scholarships, and the importance of finding a college community of like-minded peers. But without sound advice, many miss out on opportunities that could give them an advantage. Read more...

Five tips gifted students need to consider when choosing a college
Students and parents know from personal experience that the quality of education in elementary and high school varies. Teachers, peers, educational materials, and expectations can be vastly different from one class to another, and certainly from one school to another. Why would this differ for college? When gifted teens go to mainstream colleges, they may feel adrift, fail to find a niche of like-minded peers, and never receive the education they need. Read more...

Wishing everyone a productive, meaningful, fun, and stress-free school year!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Understanding the gifted from a unique perspective: An interview

With the release of "Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-being of Gifted Adults and Youth," author Paula Prober has agreed to an interview about her new book.

Available now on Amazon, this engaging read uses the metaphor of a rainforest mind to offer a unique perspective on giftedness. It also provides useful tips to help gifted individuals and families weather the emotional ups and downs associated with being gifted. Learn more about the book below:

Gail: What messages and understanding about Rainforest Minds (RFMs) do you most hope readers will take away from this book?

Paula: I hope that readers will gain a greater understanding of their rainforest minds, and find tools that they can use that will move them toward more self-acceptance, self-confidence and to a life of authenticity, meaning and purpose.

Gail: You have a very comprehensive history - as a teacher, a gifted education teacher and a psychotherapist. How does this combination of experiences inform your understanding of RFMs and gifted individuals?

Paula: My first experience with gifted children was in the schools when I was in my mid-twenties. Over those years, I worked with students in grades 1-8 and I got to see their academic frustrations and needs along with their social-emotional struggles. I saw how important  it was for them to interact with each other and to work at their own pace on projects that interested them. I loved the work because the kids were such sensitive, empathetic, and eager learners when the educational setting was flexible and intellectually stimulating.
Now, as a psychotherapist, I counsel gifted adults and consult with parents. My years with the kids has given me a foundation of understanding so that I can identify giftedness fairly readily, help clients sort through their gifted traits and understand how giftedness affected their experiences in childhood, both at home and at school. If they're dealing with anxiety or depression, for example, I'm able to help them determine the roots of the symptoms, as they learn how the rainforest-minded traits influenced their life. Then they can differentiate that from dysfunctional family issues or trauma. We stop pathologizing giftedness!

Gail: You write about various traits seen amont RFMs that tend to create impediments - oversensitivity, perfectionism, existential depression, loneliness, for example. Does any one particular trait stand out to you as the most difficult barrier these individuals face?

Paula: I don't think there's one that stands out because there are so many variables. That said, I do see loneliness as an issue quite often. The sensitivities, intensities, perfectionism, etc. can all be addressed within the person. But finding friends and partners requires circumstances and situations often beyond one's control. So perhaps, that's the most difficult barrier.

Gail: You convey a general impression that many gifted people and RFMs often have difficulty recognizing and understanding their giftedness. What do you recommend to help them appreciate more about who they are?

Paula: Gifted folks often know how much they don't know, link giftedness to high achievement and care deeply about justice and fairness. So they tend not to recognize and to minimize their abilities. They often don't realize that sensitivity, empathy, and perfectionism are indications of rainforest minds.
They may not know that acknowledging giftedness isn't about competition or proving their worth, but is a way to understand their struggles and then find their particular path(s) in life. I recommend books (Jacobsen's The Gifted Adult and my book), blogs (yours and mine!), and online groups (Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, Hoagiesgifted.org, Intergifted.com). And many other resources depending on the individual.

Gail: At the end of each chapter in your book, you offer ideas and advice for embracing one's giftedness and finding solutions to improve a sense of well-being. How does someone know when they need to move beyond these suggestions and seek professional help?

Paula: Here are some signs one needs to seek professional help: frequent bouts of anxiety that feel out of control and frightening, repeated over-reactions to your child's emotional intensity or boundary testing, frequent periods of overwhelm with an inability to self-soothe, rage responses to minor events, serious depression, patterns of unhealthy and/or abusive relationships with friends and partners, frequent feelings of unworthiness or self-hatred, a history of serious childhood abuse or trauma.

Gail: Do you have any additional thoughts that you would like to share?

Here are some related links:
Description of my book: https://rainforestmind.wordpress.com/your-rainforest-mind-the-book/
Webinar on gifted adults: https://rainforestmind.wordpress.com/webinar/
What therapists need to know about rainforest-minded clients: https://rainforestmnd.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/psychotherapy-and-gifted-clients/
How to find a psychotherapist: https://rainforestmind.wordpress.com/2015/08/27/how-to-find-a-psychotherapist-who-loves-your-rainforest-mind/
Website about social and emotional issues among the gifted: Sengifted.org        

Monday, August 8, 2016

Tips for helping your socially isolated gifted teen

We know that social isolation can have a negative impact on teens, affecting their quality of life, and increasing the risk for depression and even suicide. We also know that gifted teens, in particular, may face isolation at times, as they wrestle with interpersonal challenges in a peer culture where they struggle to fit in.

How can you help your socially isolated teen?

In Part I of this series, "Is your gifted teen socially isolated?" some of the causes of social isolation were outlined. While spending time alone may not necessarily signal a problem, such as when an introverted child is immersed in a creative project or when there are few like-minded peers available, sometimes withdrawal can be cause for concern. When time alone is excessive, reflects a sudden change in behavior, is a symptom of distress or an emotional/behavioral problem, involves an internet "addiction," or reflects a chronic pattern of social avoidance or interpersonal difficulties, parents may need to get involved.

What should you do?

As a parent, you need to gather information and sort out whether time spent alone is harmless, a behavior that prevents your child from enjoying her teen years to their fullest, or is a symptom of something even more troubling. The first step involves speaking openly with your child, despite any resistance you might encounter. You know your child best, so identify the ideal time and place where she might be most receptive to communicating. An additional challenge can involve finding words that won't set your child into a tailspin of defensiveness. The following are some suggestions for expressing your concerns:

  • Initial questions (opening questions that are least likely to evoke defensiveness):
"I see you're not going over Jake's house any more, or going to any parties. Is that OK with you?"
"You've been sleeping a lot lately. Are you feeling OK, or is it just hard to get out of bed sometimes?"
"I know you were pretty upset last week when you were overlooked for that award. Lots of times, things like that linger and bother people for a while. I wonder if that might be bothering you - and if it is, maybe we could come up with ideas for not letting it be so bothersome any more." 

What if this doesn't work? 

If these basic openings don't get you very far, and your teen just shrugs or responds with monosyllables, you may need to press further. Of course, it is always ideal to use "I" statements, to try to keep your anxiety to yourself, and to withhold judgments about your teen or his friends' behaviors.

  • More specific questions (examples):
"I see that you have been spending a lot more time in your room than you used to, and I am just checking in to make sure you are OK and that there isn't something going on that is upsetting you. I know you might not want to talk about it, but as your parent, I love you and am always there to talk if you need to." 
"I couldn't help but overhear you crying in your room. It is almost impossible to ignore you when you are that upset, so I want to check in with you. Please let me know how I can help you sort out whatever is bothering you."
"I realize that going to big events like dances have been kind of hard for you. Feeling uncomfortable and anxious feels awful, I know... but missing out is no fun either. There are ways around this. Please let me help you figure out what might help make these events easier for you."

And if that still doesn't work... 

If you still get very little feedback, or if your child's behavior warrants more serious attention, you may need to assert yourself even more strongly.

  • The most assertive questions (examples):
"I know you don't like it when I ask about your social life, but I am concerned about how little time you're spending with friends. You used to like to see them, and now you never go out. It is very unlike you to stay home all the time and I can't help but think that something is going on or that something is bothering you. If there is something upsetting you, please let me know. I love you and am here to help you sort out whatever is going on"
"I am concerned that you aren't eating much lately and seem to be up half of the night. You have been looking unhappy, and I know you haven't wanted to talk about it, but I can't overlook the fact that something is wrong. We need to figure out what is bothering you and come up with ideas that might help." 
"When you say things like 'nothing matters much to me anymore' it really concerns me. I know you might roll your eyes, but as your parent, I just have to ask you: have you ever thought that you wanted to hurt yourself or didn't want to live? If that ever crossed your mind, you need to tell me. There are a lot of things that you can keep private, but keeping those kinds of thoughts to yourself is not an option."

If your teen still refuses to talk to you, it may be time to insist that she speak with another trusted adult, such as her pediatrician, spiritual leader, a trusted family friend, close relative, or even a coach or music teacher. Sometimes another adult may be able to get her talking and convince her to speak with you.

The next step

Gathering information from your child, even if it is accompanied by initial resistance or conflict, will give you an idea about the scope of the problem. As long as it does not reflect an emotional or behavioral problem (e.g., depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm) which requires professional help, you can start to guide your child toward finding a solution.

1. Exploring new ideas

Ask your teen to identify as many reasons as possible for the problem. Brainstorming is an important tool for recognizing a range of available possibilities and for curtailing any tendency to quickly form conclusions without evaluating all of the facts. For example, your child may assume that a friend is not speaking to him because he doesn't like him any more. You might ask your child to write a list of at least ten other reasons why his friend could be avoiding him. Even if most of the reasons seem far-fetched, it will help your child shake loose some of the rigid beliefs and preconceived notions that perpetuate his assumptions.

2. Identifying strategies

Once your teen has brainstormed a list of reasons for the problem, help her identify strategies for managing the situation. These can include changing the situation or removing the offending agent (e.g., switching out of a class that is causing distress), taking action (e.g., telling her friend what is upsetting her), or changing her attitude (e.g., recognizing how her insecurity or self-doubt contribute to negative expectations about herself). Encourage her to sort out the benefits and drawbacks of each strategy and to come up with a plan of action, along with a back-up plan.

3. Encouraging autonomy when possible

Offer to help - but encourage your child's autonomy. Invite him to make his own decisions every step of the way - even when this is hard for you. Ask if you can offer your opinions and ideas; however, if he comes up with a solution you think will be harmful, let him know your reservations - even if he doesn't want to hear it. Using "I" statements helps with any suggestions you might offer (e.g., "I have found that pushing myself to go to things I don't like helps me overcome my fear. What do you think about that strategy for you?"). Sharing your own experiences can be helpful at times (e.g., I was shy when I was your age, too), but long drawn-out stories might be met with eye-rolling. And be straightforward about any decisions that would directly affect him, such as speaking to his teacher. Otherwise, he might feel blindsided and start to lose trust.

 4. Working behind the scenes.

As much as encouraging autonomy is important, you are still the adult and have the insight and access to information your child lacks. It may be up to you to find additional resources for your child or initiate changes. If her school is an unrelenting problem, with few available options for academic enrichment or contact with like-minded peers, it may fall on you to search for another educational environment (assuming this is financially possible). If she cannot find a peer group at school, you may need to research extra-curricular activities that will spark her interest and passion. Summer camps, such as SIG and CTY provide a safe place for gifted children to convene, and specialty camps based on interests ranging from coding to music to robotics can be a much-needed refuge for these children. Financial aid and scholarships are sometimes available.

5. Finding support 

Sometimes brainstorming, changing the situation, and devising even the most creative plans aren't enough. Sometimes your gifted teen might need therapeutic support. While this is most apparent when there is an emotional or behavioral component to the isolation, it can also help your teen cope with the vicissitudes of gifted overexcitabilities and oversensitivities, all of which can complicate life for these amazing kids. Shyness, social anxiety, asynchronous development, an acute awareness of social injustice, feeling different from peers - all of these can take their toll. Gifted adolescents benefit from the support, guidance and input of licensed mental health professionals experienced with giftedness, who can help them embrace their strengths, accept who they are, and find solutions that will address their isolation.

What strategies have helped your child?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Is your gifted teen socially isolated?

Parents typically worry about their socially active teens - out with friends, going to parties, running off to do who knows what.

But what happens when your child seems socially isolated or withdrawn?

Gifted teens, in particular, may struggle to fit in and find their niche; they may withdraw after years of feeling different from peers, unable to find friends who truly understand them. It can be heartbreaking to watch your child stay home night after night - even if you don't have to worry about parties and alcohol.

We know that social isolation can have negative effects for teens. It can impact their quality of life, result in feelings of sadness, emptiness, and low self-esteem, and is associated with an increased risk for depression and even suicide.

What can you do?

The first step is determining whether your teen's time alone is cause for concern. Gifted adolescent behavior can be mislabeled or misdiagnosed, and your child's time alone may not necessarily reflect a problem. Several examples include the following:

  • Your teen might be an introvert who prefers time alone to recharge, immerse himself in creative ideas, or engage in solo activities. A high proportion of gifted people have been identified as introverts, so it is possible your child might be one. 

  • Your child is adapting to the reality that she has few friends who share her view of the world. She may feel different from her peers, and has accepted that until she graduates, she would rather entertain herself than conform to her peer group's expectations. Also, if asynchronous development is an aspect of her giftedness, her social skills and interests may not correspond with those of students her age.

  • Your teen could be engrossed in a sudden new interest that sparks his imagination and excitement. If he seems enthused, energized and can barely come up for air, it might be a temporary immersion in a new passion where he is in a state of creative "flow." As long as he still takes some time for friends and family, the intensity may fade and he should eventually find more balance in his activities.

Sometimes, though, spending time alone can signal a problem, especially if it is:

  • excessive (your child rarely spends time with family or any friends). Even introverts need to socialize. Refusing to socialize much at all or abstaining from almost every social event can be a sign that your child is feeling distressed, or at the very least, lonely and isolated.

  • a sudden change in behavior (a highly or even moderately social child suddenly withdraws). Any dramatic shift in behavior can signal emotional distress, an upsetting fall-out with friends, or feelings of guilt or shame related to some real or perceived misdeed.

  • accompanied by other signs of distress (depression, anxiety, panic attacks, an increase in angry outbursts, a change in sleeping or eating patterns, self-destructive behaviors, eating disorders or substance abuse). These symptoms need to be taken seriously and often require some supportive treatment.

  • a symptom of a long-standing, problematic pattern that causes your child to withdraw (such as excessive shyness, social anxiety, low self-esteem or poor body image, trauma resulting from previous incidents of bullying, or interpersonal difficulties due to feeling like an outlier from peers, asynchronous development, or even an autism spectrum disorder). Even if these behaviors are long-standing, they can contribute to further distress and isolation and often warrant some form of intervention or treatment.

  • a reflection of what might be considered an internet "addiction,"  (where your teen seems excessively preoccupied with screen time, prefers video/computer activities to time with friends, and/or forms online relationships through games that become his primary source of support). Most teens are attached to their phones, but when the above listed signs are present, it can signal a problem.

If your teen seems socially isolated, what is the next step?

It is critical to identify the severity of the problem and potential for long-term consequences. A temporary reaction to conflict with a close friend is quite different from clinical depression. First, see if you can help your child put the problems in perspective, brainstorm ideas that might remedy the situation (such as finding more options for meeting like-minded peers), or come up with a plan to remove the offending agent (such as dropping a class or reducing screen time). If a distressing situation seems like it may persist - anything from despair over classes that cannot meet her needs to mental health symptoms - action is needed. Speaking directly with school counselors or seeking therapeutic support with a licensed mental health professional can be essential. More specifics about how you can help your socially isolated teen will follow in Part II of this series.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education page blog hop on Social Issues. To see more blogs, click on the following link: http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_social_issues.htm

Monday, July 18, 2016

What schools could learn from chess

Chess is the great equalizer. Learning and mastering chess takes ability, drive, passion, curiosity, and hard work. Chess teaches humility, patience, concentration and an open mind about people from all walks of life. It guarantees moments of defeat and teaches how to rebound from failure.

And schools could learn a lot from how it's done.

Chess tournaments group opponents based on their "rating," which is calculated from previous wins and losses. Gender, race, language fluency, or age have no bearing. Five-year-olds compete against 50-year-olds. It doesn't matter how long you have practiced the game, how old you are or where you have gone to school. Yes, you can find clubs for young children; however, real-world tournaments focus on the game, not on assumptions about inherent differences based on age or other characteristics.

A few things kids learn from chess tournaments:

  • Chess players hone their powers of concentration and focus. There is no room for distraction. They delay gratification for the benefit of long-term goals. During tournaments, they sit for long hours in uncomfortable chairs, learn to ignore that fidgety person sitting next to them, and grab a snack between games. The same distractions present in classrooms (cell phones, computers, the interesting person across the room) are just as tempting - but they learn to resist.

  • Players also develop restraint and humility. Winners don't do a victory dance in the end-zone. They politely smile and shake their opponent's hand at the end of a game. Even five-year-olds try to restrain themselves from shrieking when they win. They learn from their mistakes, see their "failures" as learning opportunities, and shrug off discouragement. They know it's just a game, even if they are rewarded with powerful life lessons.

  • Ability, talent and passion only go so far. Dedicated chess players devote hours and hours to studying moves, strategies, and plays that masters have performed. They practice with real-life opponents, coaches, and even players online. They catch games whenever they can. They quickly realize that they will reach a cap to their skills unless they study and practice. No amount of talent will propel them further.

Chess isn't for everyone. Even though it is a relatively low-cost activity, boosts academic achievement and cognitive abilities, and has shown benefits in inner city schools, it certainly won't interest everyone. Schools provide a valuable service when they offer chess classes or clubs to their students. But not every student will be drawn to chess - any more than creative writing or woodshop.

What schools can learn from chess is more than just the educational benefits it provides; it is how the framework, process, and incidental effects of the game itself can be translated into the classroom.

Some important lessons that schools could learn from chess:

1. The recognition that both ability and dedicated practice are essential challenges the grit-talent dichotomy that is raging in some education circles. This unnecessary division among educators pits the role of innate ability against so-called grit and resilience. Chess quickly dispels this false distinction.

2. Competition in chess is fun - but also steeped in a drive toward long-range goals. Winning is a stepping stone to a higher rating and a new level of competition in the next tournament - not an end goal. This is quite different from the finality of most grades, projects and presentations children are accustomed to in school. It also differs from some schools' attempts to devise artificial venues for competition, such as "field days" where half of the school competes against one another. Competition and education devoid of meaning provide few lasting benefits.

3. Most students shun academic risk-taking to avoid any chance of failing. Much has been written about the benefits accrued from failure experiences.  A recent article summed this up:
"Failure, and its close cousin, regret, teach foresight, problem-solving and (hopefully) better restraint next time. Failure also teaches us compassion and empathy, because it humbles us and knocks the smugness out of us. Best of all, it teaches resilience, which is surely the best trait any parent can foster in a child."
If schools could use failure as an opportunity for learning and personal growth (especially throughout grades K-8 when letter grades have no impact on college admissions), it could create a culture that is less risk-averse, less shame-based, and more focused on achieving meaningful and individualized progress. 

4. Schools could start to group children based on ability, regardless of age. Rigid policies about kindergarten entrance dates, refusal to accelerate gifted students, and fears about intermingling students of different ages need to be reevaluated in light of what occurs in chess tournaments. Recognizing that children develop at different rates and a willingness to accommodate this will go a long way toward eliminating boredom at school for many children.

What might work in schools

In an effort to develop innovative programming to help children of all abilities - from at-risk students to those who are gifted - schools could learn some lessons from chess. Although chess participants tend to be self-selecting, they still comprise people from a range of cultural and economic backgrounds, and include people of all ages who exhibit varied strengths and weaknesses. Schools might consider that what works at chess tournaments - meaningful competition, respectful engagement, grouping individuals based on ability rather than age, and using failure as a springboard for further growth - could work in schools as well.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Labels stick: The harmful impact of mislabeling children

In recent times, diagnosing ourselves and others has become commonplace. How often have you heard someone randomly labeled as "bipolar" just because of mood swings? Or presumed to have ADHD if they keep losing their keys?

What is it about labels that make them so inherently appealing? Why do we throw out psychiatric terms, make pronouncements about someone's functioning, and offer lay diagnoses without background knowledge or training?

But it feels good...

It can be reassuring to summarize symptoms, to wrap up information in a neat package, to proclaim that we have an answer. It feels good to think we have figured it all out. The problem is... this just might minimize, devalue, and inaccurately pigeonhole someone - and cause immeasurable harm. Especially when it comes from an authority figure.

What happens in school...

Children can be difficult. They try our patience. They drive teachers crazy. Whether due to frustration, ignorance, or genuine concern, children receive labels from those who lack the training or certification to diagnose them. Popular diagnoses come and go - oppositional-defiant, ADHD, "on the spectrum..." When children raise trouble, the problem is simplified if it is reduced to a disorder to be treated, rather than a behavior to be managed in the classroom.

Mental health diagnoses exist for a reason - to convey specific and presumably accurate information, carefully chosen by professionals trained and licensed to make these determinations. But when words are tossed about carelessly, the long-term damage of such labeling is rarely considered. Many teachers or other professionals who casually mention diagnostic terms to parents may not appreciate how these words become imprinted in parents' hearts and minds - even long after such diagnoses may have been discounted.

Case example 1: 
A parent of Jonah,* a 6-y/o gifted boy, was pulled aside by his first grade teacher. She shared her concerns that he was well-behaved, but often preferred to play by himself, building lego castles, drawing, even writing elaborate stories. While she marveled at his academic strengths, and claimed that he interacted well when he was "forced" to socialize, she wondered if he might have some Asperger's traits, and suggested that the parent keep an eye out for this. 
Gifted children are often misdiagnosed. After speaking with the parent, I was able to reassure her that his behaviors sounded typical for a gifted child, and that his teacher was not in a position to diagnose him.

Case example 2: 
Derek,* at age 7, was in occupational therapy due to fine motor skill deficits. He was pulled out of class once a week with several other students, one of whom was a close friend. The pull-out was a fun experience, and he and his friend had a great time together. At an IEP meeting, the occupational therapist suggested to the parents that he might have ADHD because he seemed so active and distractible, despite no other corroborating evidence of ADHD behavior in any other settings. 
This occupational therapist could not appreciate two rambunctious seven-year-old boys having fun together. Unable to contain their energy, he assumed that there must be a problem. So he interjected his opinion, which was both unfounded, and quite distressing to the parents. After reassurance from the child's teacher, pediatrician, and school psychologist, the parents were able to relax and realize that the therapist was off-base in his claims. But years later, they still worried and wondered if they were missing something, ever alert to concerns about a problem that did not exist.

The problem with labels 

Labels follow children throughout school, even when they are not verified. Rumors of oppositional traits, for example, may be passed from teacher to teacher, affecting expectations about the child each year in school. Parents may feel devastated to learn of potential problems that do not actually exist. Even when a child's behavior, learning problems or psychological functioning warrant a diagnosis from a trained professional, there are sensitive and useful methods for sharing that information with the family. No child (or adult) is their diagnosis; it is critical to support recognition of the whole children with all of his or her strengths, abilities, quirks, struggles and uniqueness.

The language we use matters. Let's be careful with how we label others. We teach our children to refrain from name-calling and bullying. We teach them to be culturally sensitive. We also need to model restraint when it comes to labeling and diagnosing the behaviors of others.

* Names have been changed for reasons of confidentiality