Saturday, June 1, 2019

The interface of anxiety, overthinking, and shame among gifted children and teens

Most gifted children quickly learn that they differ from their peers. Even if they are not openly rejected or bullied, many still feel isolated. The burdens of their outlier status, uncertainty about whether to mask their giftedness, and never quite feeling they belong  - all take their toll.

Gifted kids cannot just sit back, relax, and be themselves. They cannot expect to find friends wherever they go, or assume that school will be challenging, or trust that their teachers or coaches will understand and respect their differences. Their minds are working overtime as they size up each situation, decide how to act, and debate whether to display or hide their true nature.

Even though gifted people are no more susceptible to mental illness than anyone else, some gifted children and teens struggle with a tendency toward overthinking, worry, or cautious alertness. This tendency may develop despite the presence of a loving, supportive family, the absence of past trauma, a family history devoid of anxiety or depression, and a nervous system that is not necessarily "wired" to be hyper-responsive and reactive. It just goes with the giftedness territory.

Some gifted children seem to develop a finely tuned radar for the tempo and feel of the social world around them. This heightens their painful recognition of their differences, and the "burden" of expectations. They know they differ from their same-age peers, grasp information at a faster rate, crave intensity, depth, and intellectual challenge, and resign themselves to never fitting the norm.

Many gifted children hold high standards for themselves. While sometimes this is encouraged by family and teachers, more often it arises from an awareness of their own capabilities. They recognize their advantages in learning, and may assume academics should come easily. They may expect to always excel, and feel shame if they falter or receive a low grade on an exam. Some give up after a failure experience, and refuse to push themselves any further. Others may become anxious, driven and perfectionistic, focusing on success above all else. Achievement is seen as essential if they are to avoid feelings of shame.

What happens when gifted children and teens recognize their perceived flaws or differences?

While those rare few may shrug it off, most will at least ponder their predicament. Many more will respond with anxiety, overthinking, and shame. The self-awareness that accompanies giftedness is compounded by peer pressure, social media comparisons, adolescent hormones, and their own high expectations. Gifted children and teens judge any perceived ineptness harshly, and feel shame when they cannot effortlessly engage with others. They mull over past conversations, dissect minute details, and berate themselves for any misstep. They worry that they will be exposed as "ungifted" - impostors who cannot excel at every task, and are not smart after all. Shame pervades their sense of self.

Recognizing the shame cycle

Shame involves the belief that one is deeply flawed and that this flaw will be exposed to others. Brene Brown defines shame as: "the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging." Shame differs from guilt, which typically involves regret for past behaviors. Shame both results from and fuels overthinking and anxiety. Gifted children and teens caught in this vicious cycle remain entrenched in a seemingly endless battle against themselves.

Most children caught in the anxiety and shame cycle will block your efforts to challenge their beliefs. Words of reason and logic fall on deaf ears. Attempts to highlight their strengths (you are more mature than most of those kids, anyway) or put their distress in perspective (years from now, prom won't matter) or diffuse their perfectionistic drive (we love you no matter what your get on the exam) demonstrate your love and support, and may sink in to some extent. However, most gifted children and teens may respond with a typical, "You just don't get it!." The emotions they are experiencing in the moment are powerful and meaningful to them. You just cannot talk them out of their feelings.

How can you help?

Several approaches may ease the sting of anxiety and shame. Some basic tips include the following:

1. Create a shame-free environment at home, where differences are accepted, and emotions are never mocked or criticized.

2. Practice calming and mindfulness techniques with your child to encourage focusing on the present rather than worrying about the past or predicting the future. Calming techniques can include a range of deep breathing and deep muscle relaxation exercises, and many apps for this are available. Lessons in self-compassion can help gifted children appreciate and accept who they are, rather than harboring shame for not fitting the norm.

3. Plan for anxiety-producing situations, such as exams, and help your child develop strategies for coping with them. Tips for taming test anxiety can be found here.

4. When emotions run high, encourage your child to research the facts. Suggest taking on the role of a junior scientist, journalist or attorney, and seek out the data. For example, many overthinking traps, such as all-or-nothing thinking, assuming knowledge of what another person thinks, and imagining the worst possible outcome are common anxiety triggers. Encourage your child to uncover the truth rather than adhere to unproven assumptions that escalate fear.

5. Engage your child's active mind to identify calming strategies. Calming words or phrases can provide comfort during times of stress. Imagining a relaxing place, such as the beach or the country, can be centering. Music and art serve as expressive outlets and calming support. Imaginal rehearsal, where your child pictures successful mastery of an anxiety-provoking task, can ease the jitters ahead of time. This might include imagining the steps involved in a successful class presentation, asking a friend for a favor, or sitting calmly through an exam.

The strategies listed above take practice. Your child might benefit from the additional support of a licensed mental health professional, especially if you notice signs of clinical depression or disabling anxiety, such as hopelessness, sleep and appetite disturbance, self-harm, excessive mood swings, panic attacks, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, a sudden drop in grades or change in behavior. Anxiety and shame do not need to dampen your gifted child's experience. No child should have to suffer.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Blog Hop on Thoughts from the Mental Trenches, Thoughts from the Depths. To see more blogs, click on this link.

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Monday, May 6, 2019

What do psychologists do (and why would you go to see one)?

So, you have taken the leap and decided to see a therapist. Or your child might benefit from counseling. Either way, you are faced with a range of choices and decisions. What type of therapist should you see? What approach is best? How do you distinguish between the different mental health specialties, and why should it matter?

Information online may be even more confusing. Some therapists espouse amazing results. Testimonials from clients are not permitted by many licensing boards, yet are listed on some websites. Life coaches sometimes boast high rates of success, despite the absence of any licensing, certification, or regulatory board that monitors competence in coaching. And unfortunately, there are endless debates about what approach works best for different problems.

I often see questions and comments online that reflect understandable confusion about the differences between mental health professionals, particularly psychologists and psychiatrists. Psychological and intellectual testing are confusing as well, along with questions about who can administer and interpret evaluations. What exactly is involved in a gifted or ADHD evaluation? Are psychologists merely "testers," as some have labeled them?

Even more troubling, I recently stumbled across online comments  that characterized psychologists as less helpful than other mental health professionals. The author claimed that psychologists are more focused on psychopathology, and are less "strength-based" than members of other counseling professions.

Why is commentary like this a problem?

  • It is inaccurate and delivers misinformation to the public.
  • It contributes to unnecessary and arbitrary divisiveness among mental health specialties.
  • It creates divisions that have nothing to do with how therapy is implemented, or with the quality of services that are provided.
  • It perpetuates meaningless stereotypes about what "clinical" means, and when or how therapy is helpful.

I have worked as a clinical psychologist for over 30 years, and have had the privilege of collaborating with a range of mental health professionals. I have tremendous respect for the diversity of training and experience of psychotherapists in different fields. Since we all benefit from the variety of approaches, training and experience among mental health professionals, it is disheartening to witness divisiveness or stereotyping about different mental health professions in print or online.

In response to this confusion - and some misinformation out there - I felt prompted to write about the mental health specialty that I know best. And while any given psychologist is not necessarily a better psychotherapist or the right therapist for you, there is some basic information that needs clarification about the field:

1. Clinical psychologists have more years of training than any other mental health specialty. That's right - even more years of mental health training than psychiatrists. They receive a doctoral degree after approximately five or more years of post-graduate education and training, and then are required to earn post-doctoral hours before licensure. Much of their training involves supervised experienced within a range of internship settings. (Psychologists cannot prescribe medication, though, except for those with additional training who are granted prescription privileges within a few states in the U.S.)

2. Psychologists (including school psychologists and neuropsychologists) are the only mental health professionals with adequate training, and authorized by most states in the U.S., to administer and interpret intellectual and psychological testing. Along with psychiatrists, psychologists also are authorized to diagnose mental health disorders.

3. Psychologists receive training in research methods, and they use research-based strategies to inform their treatment decisions. Their research training helps them evaluate recent findings in the literature, and determine what is useful to include in their work.

Despite claims that psychologists are too "clinical," or too focused on psychopathology or "diagnosis," they still can be strength-based, compassionate, creative, and relational. These abilities are not mutually exclusive! In fact, training in diagnosis and the complexities of personality and psychological disorders is a good thing. Would you go to a primary care physician, a reading specialist, or even a car mechanic who was not trained to "diagnose" the problem? Understanding what causes distress informs treatment decisions. It does not detract from one's ability to empathize, relate and offer support in psychotherapy.

Does this mean you must see a psychologist for psychotherapy or parent coaching? Of course not! 

There are thousands of excellent, highly skilled psychotherapists who would be the right fit for you or your child. Make sure that any therapist you choose is licensed, has training and experience in the area which you are seeking to address in therapy, uses good boundaries (i.e., does not spend the session sharing his/her personal life with you), and is someone with whom you can achieve a good rapport. Coaching is an unlicensed and uncertified profession, so use even more caution with personal or parenting coaches.

If you need to find a psychotherapist, seek out referrals from respected sources, such as your physician, spiritual adviser (e.g., minister, rabbi, priest), or a school counselor. Trust your instincts. Get informed. Pay attention to what works for you. Don't just assume that your insurance company will provide a helpful referral. In fact, many therapists refuse to accept insurance because of meager reimbursement and possible breaches to confidentiality.

When you start therapy, come prepared to work hard and to collaborate with the therapist. Learn more about what to expect, and identify personal goals for yourself. You may feel uncomfortable at first, since speaking with a stranger can feel awkward, but give it a few sessions before making a decision. Of course, if you or your child feel extremely uncomfortable, or your gut instinct tells you that the therapist would not be a good fit for you or your child, then look elsewhere. All because your physician or neighbor recommended a particular therapist does not mean he or she is right for you.

In my opinion, a great match is a highly trained, experienced psychotherapist who is collaborative, empathetic, compassionate, curious about the human condition, and respectful of differences, individual values and boundaries. Your therapist is never going to be your friend; however, you must feel accepted, understood and valued. If you are seeking therapy for your child, find a therapist with child or adolescent training and experience, who engages easily with your child, and who readily includes you in the treatment. Although therapists guard children's privacy, helping you feel part of the therapy process and understanding how to better communicate with and help your child is essential. This might entail occasional or frequent meetings with you and the therapist, or meetings that include your child, or even the entire family.

Therapy is just a start. Ultimately, we all need to extend what we learn in therapy to the world at large. Improved self-esteem, communications skills, self-awareness, and the elimination of nagging symptoms can be a springboard for enhanced relationships with our children, family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues at work. It provides a unique opportunity for exploring long-standing concerns in greater depth and receiving useful, direct feedback. Therapy also encourages us to make healthy and meaningful decisions, enjoy the present moment, and feel better about ourselves.

The following are blog posts about psychotherapy for those who are gifted or who have gifted children:

When is it more than giftedness? A psychologist's perspective

A gifted person's guide to therapy

Five misconceptions about therapists

Gifted children and adults: When is therapy helpful?

Stress management toolbox: Nine tips for parents of gifted children

When does therapy benefit gifted adolescents?

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Is it all right to feel proud of your gifted child?

Parents of gifted children often struggle with disappointment, frustration and fears that extend beyond routine parenting dilemmas. They feel compelled to advocate at school, worry about their child's social connections, and fret over complexities of executive function and asynchronous development.

But what happens when parents feel proud of their gifted child?

Is it okay to feel pride when your gifted child shines... when he excels in school, wins an award, attains a stellar SAT score, or wows the audience with a musical performance? What about when she receives a scholarship, is accepted into her first choice college, or if she is recognized for humanitarian volunteer efforts?

How do you manage that swell of pride, the tears, that flush of astonishment when your child accomplishes something amazing? You feel like you might burst... yet, worry about whether to share your joy with others. Will you appear to be bragging? Is it fair to parents of struggling students? Are you just supposed to feel grateful that your child is gifted, and keep quiet about anything beyond that?

Many parents of gifted children feel compelled to squelch their enthusiasm. They apologize for any expressions of pride or downplay their children's successes with commentary about their drawbacks (yes, he won that award...but you should see his room!). Given widespread misconceptions about gifted children, media critiques, and unfair assumptions lobbed at their parents, it is unsurprising that some parents keep their child's accomplishments a well-guarded secret.

These are some questions many parents consider before sharing their gifted child's accomplishments with others:

Will it seem like bragging?

Fear of boasting and bragging is often the strongest deterrent to sharing your joy with others. It is hard to mention your child's accomplishments when he appears to outshine your friend's child, who tries just as hard - or even harder - to succeed. What do you say when your friend's child sings karaoke at the school talent show, but yours just won a concerto competition? How do you share that your child landed a prestigious merit scholarship when your friend's child struggled to graduate?

Some parents feel guilty if they display excitement over accomplishments that other parents would easily shout from the rooftops. Some don't even share certain information or achievements at all, as if their mere mention (e.g., the lead role in a play, admission to an elite college) were equivalent to bragging. Many parents learn to save their enthusiasm only for those who truly understand.

What will others think?

Along with fears of bragging, parents of gifted children often worry that others assume they are "tiger" parents who push, prep and "hothouse" their children. We all have witnessed parents who actually boast and brag, who are inappropriately demanding, who break the "rules" so their child will get ahead (e.g., the recent college cheating scandal), or view their child's talents as a means of fulfilling their own personal needs. Most parents of gifted children do not fit these stereotypes, and shudder to think that others might project these assumptions onto them.

Parents of gifted children certainly may care about their child's achievement and academic success; however, most stand back in puzzled wonderment as their child dives into interests and passions, with little input on their part. In fact, many parents struggle to keep up with their whirlwind children, seeking activities that maintain their interests. But people who have not walked in your shoes may not understand, and assume that giftedness stems from flashcards or prep classes or grit or growth mindset. You may need to accept that you cannot control what others think, and move on with just being there for your child.

What if my child exerts little effort?

Sometimes your gifted child might receive recognition or attain top grades without trying very hard. You want to support her accomplishments, yet it feels inauthentic to praise her for relatively effortless work. So you weigh your options. At least she turned in her assignments and didn't get in trouble for being bored in class. I don't want to be overly critical - after all, she brought home all A's. Is it okay to show enthusiasm when I know she didn't put in much effort? 

You know what your child is capable of, and struggle with mixed emotions over successes that seem big to other parents, but were relatively easy for your child. Many gifted children learn to tailor their efforts to only meet the school's expectations, rather than challenging themselves. Some become underachievers under-the-radar - experts at exerting minimal effort, and avoiding detection by the school because of their relatively good grades. Parents struggle with guilt and ambivalence about their reactions, and question when it is okay to feel good - or not - about their child's successes. Is it okay to be discerning and feel ambivalent when I know he is capable of so much more? Or can I just feel good about his accomplishments, even though he could have tried harder?

When did you feel proud?

When did you feel most proud of your gifted child? 

I know that I felt the most pride when my children accomplished something that was difficult for them, when they had to push themselves, and when they showed compassion, insight and creativity. Routine awards at school were nice, but often reflected the whims and preferences of the teacher. My children recognized the limited "value" of perfunctory trophies (everyone on the soccer team gets rewarded for just showing up!), and conversely, learned that truly meaningful accomplishments sometimes go unrecognized.  

Parents of both gifted and neurotypical children feel pride when their children excel. Sometimes it coincides with awards, honors and performances. Other times, it will catch you by surprise. Attempts at something new, a fear that was overcome, an act of kindness, an unexpected success - all evoke pride. Even though gifted children's accomplishments may come easily to them, and sometimes seem to outshine those of other children, their achievements deserve of your loving attention and recognition. And as parents, we are entitled to feel pride when our child succeeds, and share our joy with others who understand.

Please share in the comments section below how feelings of pride have affected you. Thanks.

For more blog posts related to being the parent of a gifted child, see the list below:

When your gifted child disappoints

Your child is gifted! Now what?

Welcome to gifted parenting: A checklist of emotions

Weathering rough times: The highs and lows of raising a gifted child

Guilty thoughts: What parents of gifted children really think

Fearless advocacy: A day in the life of a gifted child's parent

What hidden emotions complicate parenting a gifted child?

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Blog Hop on Parent Considerations. To see more blogs, click on this link.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Where do I belong? The gifted person's lament

Gifted children and teens face what seems like a daunting choice: conform or flounder.

Engaged, curious, and joyfully aware, young gifted children explore their world, expound upon what they discover, and push the limits with questions, intensity and passion. At some point, though, they realize that something is different about them. It might be their pace of learning, grasp of concepts, sensitivity, empathy, hyperfocus, or even their social immaturity. They hear adults comment about their abilities and differences, accompanied by frustration or astonishment or sometimes disbelief. But most importantly, these children realize that they differ from their peers and don't quite fit in. Something is amiss and they can't sort it out.

Young gifted children sometimes express their distress through complaints ("none of the kids like me") or actions (refusal to participate in social events). Some keep their unhappiness to themselves, and devise a strategy to navigate the social milieu. They might become "bossy," assuming they can force other kids to play with them and do what they want. Others resort to excessive compliance, refusing to assert their needs, and passively agreeing with their classmates' decisions. Some withdraw completely and prefer to play by themselves. Emotional outbursts, tears, aggression, or regressive behaviors are possible.

As gifted children transition into elementary school, some may develop the social radar and skills to find other bright or gifted peers who share similar interests, and form close friendships. Nevertheless, they remain quite aware of their differences, and start to appreciate the disadvantages of being the "smart kid" who has all the answers. Sometimes they may be ostracized completely or even bullied. Many schools inadvertently add to the problem by eliminating gifted classes, refusing to consider flexible ability grouping, or singling out gifted children to "tutor" struggling classmates or lead their peers in group projects. Twice exceptional or less mature asynchronous children may have the hardest time with peers.

Difficulties mount as gifted children enter middle school and high school, compounded by increasing social, hormonal, and academic pressures. Less mature gifted teens may feel baffled by the social pressures and become even more isolated. Others may "dumb themselves down" in an attempt to fit in. Boys often adopt a tough, hyper-masculine stance to distance themselves from the effeminate, nerdy male stereotypes portrayed in media and film. Girls may hide their talents completely, and believe that intelligence, especially in STEM fields, is unattractive.

Gifted pre-teens and teens also struggle with their ties to family and cultural values. They may question their family's political views, religious beliefs, and even beloved family traditions. Gifted teens are tenacious when confronting perceived injustice, and will challenge school policy if it seems unfair. And while they may feel empowered by independent thought, it can be equally disquieting to disengage from the comforting familiarity of their upbringing. Existential concerns and a sense of disconnection can arise, and may trigger anxiety and depression as teens search for meaning and a place to belong.

Most gifted teens and young adults eventually find a connection with like-minded peers and social/cultural groups that offer meaning and enrichment. This may take some time, and they need family and school support to help them weather any anxiety or depression that accompanies their development. Even as adults, many gifted people struggle to find the right fit, and may be acutely aware that they remain outside the norm of many social circles.

What can you do to ease the burden?

The journey to adulthood can be difficult, While certain roadblocks cannot be avoided (such as the bully next door, or a teacher who just does not understand giftedness), parents can ease the burden with the following:

1. Remain your loving, consistently available selves. You don't have to know all the answers. You can make mistakes. And you don't have to (nor should you) solve all of your child's problems for him. But your availability lets him know that regardless of what occurs, he can rely on you for support, will not feel shamed for his fears/behaviors/transgressions, and knows he will be loved even if he struggles.

2. Help your child understand giftedness. Despite some misguided claims that knowledge of one's gifted abilities will create anxiety or arrogance, an explanation of what these children already suspect is validating and helps them understand their differences. Many parents are worried about how to explain giftedness to their child, so avoid discussing it. But your child already recognizes that she learns more quickly, differs from her peers and views the world differently. A clear, no-frills explanation, that conveys the facts without implying that she is better than other children, will provide a context for what she already senses about herself. For more about how to share this information, see this link.

3. Encourage opportunities for interactions with like-minded peers. Ideally, this should occur in school. However, we know that many schools refuse to group gifted children together. Even if there are a few gifted students within each class, many gifted kids hide their abilities in an attempt to fit in, so there may be little chance for dialogue with like-minded peers. Advocate for flexible ability grouping and clustering if this is not already available. And if you hit roadblocks, explore options outside of school (many of which can be low cost) where your child can find peers with similar interests. This might include robotics, chess, art, music, performing arts, or volunteer work.

Gifted adults also need a place to belong

If you are a gifted adult, you face the freedom - and the challenge - of forging your own path. Some careers provide an opportunity to interface with other gifted individuals, but many do not. Finding connections with others who think like you do, can bond over similar interests, and share the same sensitivities may take time. You may never fit the norm; but with some effort and ingenuity, you can find like-minded peers and meaningful relationships without conforming or masking your true nature. It's not middle school any more! And hopefully you can learn to enjoy all of who you are, embrace your gifted self, and expect that others in your life will appreciate your uniqueness also.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Blog Hop on the power of belonging. To see more blogs, click on the following link.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

College admissions cheating scandal: Its impact on gifted and high ability students

"The system is rigged."

"Why even apply there?"

"Public school kids can't get a break."

These comments, along with outrage and disgust, followed yesterday's college admissions cheating scandal.

Wealthy, well-connected, and celebrity parents were charged with allegedly buying their child's entrance into select, elite colleges. This included bribing coaches, falsifying SAT's, and lying about qualifications. Students were accepted into prestigious colleges lacking the grades, scores, qualifications or sweat equity expected of "unconnected" applicants. Yet, their birthright - and the ethical lapses of their parents - guaranteed admission.

While not a complete surprise, this expose is a reminder that some parents will go to exceptional lengths to aid their child. Like a gross caricature of a helicopter parent, these parents bribed, lied and cheated to "help" their children achieve perceived markers of success. Unfortunately, elite colleges may have been viewed as stepping stones to money and prestige, rather than institutions of learning. Whether the student was a good fit mattered very little; lessons in integrity and honesty mattered even less.

Gifted and high ability students - those most likely to benefit from the stimulating academic environment offered at elite institutions - may be most disturbed by this glaring breach in ethics. These are the students who typically apply to elite colleges, wait patiently, and weather rejections - especially if they are not well-connected, or just not what a particular school wants. Most elite colleges readily acknowledge that many of the applicants they turn away would have excelled at their school - there just were not enough openings. So that valedictorian with high SAT scores and a brilliant essay is rejected because she is yet another high achieving student from New York or D.C. or

I have commented previously on the benefits of elite colleges for gifted students - challenging academics, a community of like-minded peers, exceptional need-based financial aid. I stand by that assertion, and hope that this expose may force them to finally clean house. Most have attracted wealthy donors and catered to wealthy legacy admissions in an effort to raise funds. And while these efforts build the financial aid coffers, preferential treatment toward much less qualified candidates needs to end.

Choose wisely when selecting a college. Consider academics (including programs or honors classes that support gifted learning needs), location, student body size, course of study available, extra-curriculars, the social scene, cost, financial aid, and job placement options. Investigate specific needs relevant to your unique situation, such as college counseling center waiting list, allergy-free cafeteria meals, or cost of off-campus housing. Elite colleges have much to offer, but there are thousands of other amazing colleges from which to choose. Explore those that best fit you or your child's needs.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Late blooming gifted children

One commonly held assumption about gifted children is that they achieve milestones well ahead of time. They scale their crib's walls before they can walk. They read at age two. They solve algebraic equations before they can tie their shoes. Astonishing reports of precocious talent set a high bar... and create the impression that all markers of giftedness emerge at an early age.

But some gifted children are late bloomers.

Although hardly a technical or diagnostic term, "late bloomers" characterizes gifted children who master intellectual, developmental or social/emotional milestones at later points in time than is expected. While they often demonstrate some early signs of giftedness - precocious speech, heightened sensitivities, or insatiable curiosity - sometimes nothing remarkably gifted may be apparent. In fact some gifted kids might even lag developmentally. They may be late talkers (such as Einstein), show little interest in reading, or prefer to play rather than engage in anything remotely academic.

Comments about late-blooming gifted children include the following:

He builds these amazing Lego structures and can focus on them for hours, but has no interest in reading. He seems pretty smart, but if he can't read before he starts kindergarten, I guess he can't be gifted.

She is very intense and talked early, and seems curious about so many things. She has little interest in playing with the other kids in preschool, though, and prefers to play by herself. She seems immature compared to the other kids, and we worry that she almost seems delayed. 

He spoke very little until he was 2 1/2. He seemed to listen intently and respond, but would not use his words. He talks a lot now that he is five, but not as fluently as some of his friends. But he seems to love math and science. He has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs, and does math problems in his head for fun. I worry, though, that he won't do well in kindergarten because he seems delayed with his speech and verbal skills. 

The children described above exhibited normal development, along with advanced abilities in certain areas. Their parents viewed this normal development, though, as delayed, either because it paled in comparison to their child's strengths, or did not match abilities seen among their child's peers. Giftedness was not their concern; they were worried instead about serious developmental delays, and even whether their child would be able to navigate grade-level classes. Such fears are typical among parents of late-blooming gifted children; the lack of a reference point and the wide disparity between abilities make it difficult to assess their child's potential. It may be hard to grasp that their child's pace and maturation is on a different course than what they see among neurotypical children (or learn from parenting manuals).

Who is the typical gifted late-bloomer?

Asynchronous development, where there may be a "mismatch" between abilities, is common among gifted late bloomers. Social maturity may unfold at a slower pace, while intellectual strengths surpass those of their classmates, affecting their ability to find like-minded peers. Other times, various skills and abilities may lag, such as fine motor or speech development. Twice-exceptional children exhibit various challenges and struggles or disabilities. Some of these can be overcome (such as speech or fine-motor deficits). Others may be lifelong (e.g., autism spectrum disorder or ADHD), although there is some controversy suggesting an overdiagnosis of these disorders. Like late-blooming neurotypical children, gifted late-bloomers just may need time to "blossom" and their "delays" may level out.

What should you do if your gifted child is a late bloomer?

1. Get educated and try to gain some perspective. Gather information about child development for neurotypical, twice-exceptional and straight-up gifted kids. Great resources online include NAGC, Hoagie's Gifted, Davidson Gifted, and TECA. Books about gifted children can be found through publishers such as Great Potential Press, Prufrock Press, and Free Spirit Publishing.

2. Find support - but remain selective about whom you ask for help. Family, friends, teachers, pediatricians, counselors, coaches, babysitters - all may have experience with neurotypical or even "normally progressing" gifted kids. However, many may misunderstand or misjudge gifted late bloomers. You may be flooded with suggestions and critique about everything from your parenting acumen to your three-year-old's career trajectory. Online gifted forums also present some dilemmas - sometimes participants can be quite supportive; other times, reading about highly advanced children can trigger your worst fears.

Use caution when seeking advice, and disregard information that is hurtful, counterproductive or just does not seem to fit for your child. Sometimes you can nod politely and escape the interaction. Other times, insensitive comments warrant a counterargument, and it is certainly appropriate to point out how your child differs from what the advice-giver might be implying. Find friends and educators/health care providers who "get" giftedness in all of its variations, quirkiness, and asynchrony.

3. Seek help for your child when needed. Sometimes early intervention is beneficial. Even though most "delays' will even out, some help along the way can reduce stress for your child and family. Speech, occupational, or physical therapy can be critical at an early age when deficits are present. Social skills training, or even simple guidance about how to handle social interactions can help your gifted child navigate confusing peer relations. Evaluations for disabilities or mental health difficulties are essential if your have questions or concerns - along with finding the right school, tutor, program, therapist, education specialist or treatment center.

4. Accept your child. Take a deep breath and appreciate your child's uniqueness, abilities, quirks, adorableness, and loving nature. Recognize that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. None of us progresses evenly through life - we all have peaks and valleys, and sometimes this includes developmental spurts and minor delays. Remember that the striking contrast between your gifted child's exceptionally advanced abilities and minor delays - or even normal development - can create anxiety when it may not be warranted.

Your gifted late bloomer's development should even out eventually. Remind yourself of this every day. If struggles persist, though, and your child's pediatrician, teacher, or a psychologist suspect a significant delay, pursue an evaluation with the appropriate professional. This might require the expertise of a school psychologist, neuropsychologist, reading specialist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, or other expert. The sooner you gain clarity about any deficits or areas that require support, the more quickly any delays or problems will resolve.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Special Populations. To see more blogs, click on the following link.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

When your gifted child disappoints

Despite volumes of self-help books on the market, there is no manual that can truly prepare you for the roller coaster ride of parenting. And nothing can insulate you when your child disappoints.

You face an additional array of challenges when your child is gifted, frequently weathered alone, since friends and extended family often don't understand why the heck you are worried. After all, your child is talented, quick as a whip, and is presumed to have innate advantages. Most don't realize that this path is often rocky, circuitous and overwhelming, filled with false starts, disappointments and fears.

When relationships falter

Sometimes your gifted child won't, or can't, or is oblivious to, or lacks the skills for, or is "morally opposed" to fitting in with peers. He might be great with younger kids and adults. She may complain about boredom with same-age peers, who can't converse at the same level. He might have given up on kids who don't share his interests or understand him. Events with extended family, field trips, and even play time with neighborhood children can descend into misunderstanding, arguments, and tears.

Introversion, asynchronous development, heightened sensitivity, and overthinking are just a few of the common threads that affect gifted peer relations. So, instead of fitting in, your child isolates, or sounds condescending, or appears shy, or seems immature. This complicates every interaction outside of home - from the classroom to summer activities. You question whether he is mature enough to try an extracurricular he longs to join, since he might lack the skills to navigate the social scene. And your heart breaks for her when she is excluded from birthday parties or sits home alone on prom night.

When achievement wanes

Perhaps your gifted child underachieves. She procrastinates, lacks planning and study skills, only cares about topics that interest her, or has lost respect for the school and her teachers. She may be torn between multiple interests, delves into only those topics that fascinate her, and refuses to invest effort into the tedious and demanding work required for college admission - or that would challenge her abilities.

Your child might be a stealth underachiever... aka, an underachiever under-the radar. Although seemingly successful at school, both you and your child are quite aware that he slacks off, cuts corners, and is not pushing himself. Yet, he performs well enough to achieve outward markers of success, so teachers leave him alone and accept his lackluster effort. You wonder how he will manage when eventually faced with truly demanding, challenging work, and grieve over wasted potential, lost years, and how much his teachers have underestimated him.

When you cringe with embarrassment

Gifted children can create quite a scene. Meltdowns in stores, at family gatherings, or movie theaters due to perceived unfairness, expectations to socialize (just this once!) or a lone scratchy collar tag (where are scissors when you need them!) can wear you down.

Sometimes the embarrassment stems from our own expectations. We want our child to be "normal." We adore his talents, passion and even his quirkiness. But the asynchrony, hyper-focus and rigidity can seem like too much at times. So when the other middle school kids show interest in their appearance and social trends, we worry about the lag in her development, and resent that we must beg her to take a shower. When he builds elaborate sand castles while the other kids play beach volleyball, we wish he would - could - relate and decide to join in.

Other times, we question our parenting acumen. After all, if she's so smart, how can she not know...(fill in the blank)? How can such a sensitive child rudely tell his teacher she's "not well informed" about politics?  After all the talks about manners, why won't she put the book down and respond politely when the nice sales clerk talks to her? And why can't I motivate him to complete homework assignments on time? As parents, we often blame ourselves when our child responds to his own inner compass, and believe that somehow we have failed.

When disappointment stems from outside influences

Many times, disappointment is triggered by outside circumstance, unrelated to your child's behavior. Schools that fail to deliver. Family and friends who misunderstand your child's asynchronous development, or criticize the gifted label ("all children are gifted in their own stop bragging"). Missed opportunities due to homeschooling or cyberschooling, since high school sports teams, marching band or even school dances may be off-limits or just too complicated to join. Even grade or subject acceleration has drawbacks when a child does not quite blend in with peers, or misses out on some of his grade's activities. Fitting square pegs into round holes requires compromise, frequent adjustments and sometimes, results in disappointment.

What can you do?

There is no easy-to-follow directive that will ease the sting of disappoint. And I am not going to offer simplistic self-help "remedies" that may fall flat and minimize your experience.  Accepting, accommodating, managing, and even embracing the ups and down draws upon all of your strengths. 

Only YOU know what works best for you and your family. But you can gain support and increased understanding through learning as much as possible about giftedness, child development, gifted education, and parenting skills. Seek support from friends and family who understand, teachers you respect, local and state-based gifted advocacy groups, and online forums, such as Hoagie's Gifted, GHF, and Davidson's. Support will help you cope, and also help you to keep your feelings separate from your child. And if you feel burdened by sadness and frustration, consider counseling with a licensed mental health professional who can help you move beyond the shadow of disappointment.

This blog post was part of GHF's blog hop on Myths, Misconceptions and Misunderstandings about Giftedness.

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

When injustice strikes: Guiding your gifted teen

Recent video of adolescent boys at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., laughing and mocking Native American elder and veteran Nathan Phillips, have evoked shock and disgust. Many wonder how these teens could show such disrespect. While the camera focused on one boy's face, others were shown laughing in the background.

Call it what you want - racism, ignorance, mob mentality, or teenage stupidity - it is still abhorrent to witness. It evokes historic memories of systemic mockery, bullying and shaming of ethnic, racial and religious groups. We are not too far past the pre-Civil Rights-era South, or 1930's Germany, or even #metoo awareness.

Social psychology reminds us that we often conform to the crowd, and even base our reactions on the behavior of those around us. Should we laugh? Panic? Assist that homeless person? Flee from a questionable looking individual? We look to others for cues.

And no one is more susceptible to peer pressure than adolescents, whose reputations rest on fitting in, appearing invulnerable, and yes, sometimes making fun of others. But joking with a friend about his new haircut is quite different from mocking his race, ethnicity, culture, religious affiliations or political beliefs. Other targets of bullying include differences in appearance, obesity, disabilities, lack of athletic talent, giftedness, gender differences, and refusal to conform to prevailing social norms.

So how did these boys at the Lincoln Memorial transition from typical adolescent pranks to the entitlement that engendered mocking an older adult? What empowered them to join together and embrace this attitude rather than merely allowing Nathan Phillips to continue on his path? Is it the school? Their parents? The prevailing political climate?

I would imagine that many of these boys' parents are feeling pretty awful right now, and school officials also are horrified. No one instructed them to behave in this manner.* Yet, the values of inclusion, diversity and respect do not appear to be ingrained in how these boys view their world.

I raised boys. And my boys did things I was not always proud of. Stupid things. Teenage things. All in the process of learning and growing up - like every other child. I made stupid mistakes also. I still do. But I can guarantee that my kids would not have participated in this mocking, shaming event that took place in D.C. Why not? They were fortunate to have experienced a neighborhood, community, school system and family where racial, ethnic, cultural, gender and religious diversity were the norm. Any conflict or bullying that took place within the schools typically involved personal insults, but almost never included racial/ethnic/religious slurs. It just was not part of this community's language.

Many of you with gifted children are aware of their heightened sensitivities, concerns with social justice and struggles to fit in with their peers. Although we don't know the specifics of what occurred at the Lincoln Memorial event, the interplay of confrontation between disparate groups is distressing. Please help your children continue to understand that remaining true to their sensitivities and recognizing the commonalities in all people will support their sense of fairness and justice. Remaining true to these values, especially on this Martin Luther King weekend, will engage their sense of purpose. Even if some of those around them are not so inclined.

*(Since writing this post, more information regarding the event has emerged, with conflicting viewpoints of what occurred. Out of respect for the students, who were apparently tormented by a hate group prior to the incident with Nathan Phillips, and who may have been startled and confused, I wanted to share this version of events.

The convergence of a black nationalist group, participants in a Native American rally, and students wearing MAGA hats at a pro-life rally may have resulted in more chaos than could be contained. And it was a distressing example of how confrontational behavior, presentation, and perception create impressions and influence viewpoints - for both members of a peer group who search for social cues, and for those of us affected by the media. If my original impressions of what occurred were wrong, I apologize for some of my written words about the students. However, the role of mob mentality, peer pressure, and the importance of encouraging a child's sense of fairness and justice still are relevant.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A day in the life of a gifted teen

Gifted teens experience the same hopes, dreams and struggles as neurotypical teens. But they often differ from same-aged peers and grapple with ambivalence about who they are, resulting in additional challenges. The following is a fictional account of a day in the life of a gifted teen.* 

Dragged myself out of bed after the third snooze alert.

Checked messages, instagram, snapchat. Nothing exciting.

Got dressed. Hated how I looked. Changed into something else. Obsessed over face and hair for twenty minutes. Grabbed a powerbar and my backpack.

Found a rare empty seat on the bus that I didn't have to share. Closed my eyes, put in my earbuds, and tried to drown out the laughing, arguing, trash talking. Stumbled off the bus and into High School Hell.

Head on desk during homeroom as overhead announcements blared. Met a friend on the way to first period. She mentioned a random party this weekend at some friend's house. Parents will be away. Suddenly feeling more awake, energized. Should I go? Should I tell my parents? I know they wouldn't let me go. What if I lied, went anyway, and they found out? Would I be too scared to go? What if I drank too much? What if I was afraid to drink and looked like a jerk? Maybe that boy I like will be there...

Spent the next three class periods thinking about said party. Easy classes that take little effort anyway. Teachers never notice how bored I am, so at least obsessing about the party gave me something to do.

Went to lunch. Sat with my uncool friends. Discussed upcoming party, chem exam, and auditions for the musical. Noticed that boy I like sitting with the cool kids.

Spent Latin class thinking about the musical. Should I audition? What if I fail? How would I recover from the shame of it? What if I make it? I know I have a good voice, but I don't want to stand out TOO much. Will being a theater kid seal my fate as a nerd... even more than taking AP classes and winning the science fair prize last year?

Spent seventh period in AP US History. Secretly like that class. Today was about women during World War II. Empowered women  Rosie the Riveter. Felt interested and awake. Yeah.

OMG! I accidentally bumped into HIM! I was going around a corner and there he was. We brushed elbows. He looked at me. We made eye contact. He nodded. I am in shock!

There is no way he will notice me again. This was a fluke. I should abandon all hope and just go back to the nerdy person that I am. Girls like me don't go to dances or cool parties. They go to prom with their friends. They don't get boyfriends. I just have to accept it.

I ditched the chess club after school. Felt too down. Sat in my room listening to music. Wrote a poem before launching into homework. Mom asked me if something was wrong and I ranted about the annoying teachers and piles of boring homework. Did not mention the boy or the party or my destiny as a nerd.

Fell asleep thinking about boys and song lyrics and Rosie the Riveter. Cat snuggled tightly against me.

*This is a fictional account of a day in the life of a gifted teen. It is not based on any specific individual or client.