Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Ten years later: What has changed; what remains the same in gifted education

When I launched this blog in January 2013, I never imagined it would last. Ten years ago, my youngest child was approaching high school graduation, and my involvement as co-chair of a gifted parents advocacy group was winding down. Yet, my interest in advocating for the gifted extended beyond my own experience with my children's education. I found that writing - through this blog and other platforms - provided an outlet for advocating, sharing information, and expressing my concerns. Rather than a personal blog or one describing my children's trajectory, Gifted Challenges became a vehicle for confronting misperceptions about giftedness, voicing my opinions, and disseminating and sometimes critiquing information found online. 

What has changed in ten years?

Over these past ten years, there has been some gradual progress in how the gifted are perceived and how gifted education is implemented. We have seen an explosion of awareness about neurodiversity, twice-exceptionalities, and the social/emotional needs of the gifted. Many in the field have championed the necessity of universal screening for giftedness, identifying gifted Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, inner city, and rural children who are often ignored, addressing the excellence gap, and acquiring accurate diagnoses of conditions such as autism, ADHD, or sensory processing disorders. Adults who previously doubted their own giftedness are learning to acknowledge their strengths and parents of the gifted are admitting to the stressors and worries so unique to their family dynamics. Given the variety of new platforms, such as webinars and podcasts that disseminate information and opinions directly to the consumer, it would seem that finally, more information is readily available regarding life as gifted.

Nevertheless, much remains the same in gifted world. Legal mandates safeguarding gifted education are non-existent in many US States. Even within those States where gifted accommodations are mandated, service delivery is often haphazard and limited. Antiquated views of flexible ability grouping, acceleration, or the social/emotional needs of gifted children persist. The G-word remains misunderstood; rather than acknowledging that "gifted" is a diagnostic label, the term is a projection screen for misinterpretation and stereotyping. Claims pronouncing that everyone is gifted or that giftedness is a choice, or that it is an elitist construct are the subject of endless online debates and discourse within just about every school community. Yet, this imperfect "gifted" label is what we have (and are stuck with) right now, and it is up to us as parents, educators, and other professionals to educate the public about this diagnostic term.

Of course, the world at large has confronted us with many disturbing events - with negative effects on our sensitive gifted children's well-being (and our own). The Pandemic has altered us in fundamental ways not even yet fully appreciated. Politics and social media have become divisive and inflammatory; our right to free speech is all too frequently co-opted with misinformation, lies, and hateful commentary. Gun violence is rampant in many impoverished neighborhoods and now surpasses motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death among children. Students routinely practice active shooter drills, with the disturbing awareness that mass shootings can happen anywhere. Books are banned. Threats related to climate change affect us all. And a culture of anti-intellectualism and anti-science has flourished. Anxiety, disenfranchisement, and a distorted embrace of rugged individualism (fueled by the anonymity of social media and supported by some public figures) have amplified pre-existing elements of bigotry, racism, antisemitism, genderphobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment.

Despite these challenges, there is cause for hope! 

Although we cannot fully shield our children and teens from widely disseminated information (sometimes hastening an unwelcome level of pseudo-maturity), their increased awareness of the world around them also engenders greater wisdom and maturity. This explosion in knowledge can be a positive influence if we guide them, answer their questions, and instill values that frame and support healthy attitudes.  Many young people possess an astounding level of optimism and wisdom as they combat social, political, and environmental challenges. Gifted children, in particular, have the potential to impact the future; their empathy, passion for social justice, and keen sense of logic can help transform the world as we know it. If we can supply them with an emotionally secure, socially supportive, and academically challenging childhood, our gifted children will flourish.

On a personal note

I don't usually broadcast my personal life in this blog, but will share a few of the changes I have experienced over the past ten years. I have witnessed my children's initial launch toward college - and then, their second launch as they pursued graduate education and engaging careers. I continue to work as a clinical psychologist, and now have options for providing telehealth in over 30 US States due to PSYPACT legislation. I have expanded my psychotherapy practice to include workshops for parents and schools, and consultation/coaching for adults and parents of gifted children. Although coaching is a bit more relaxed and straightforward than psychotherapy, my training and experience as a psychotherapist are still an essential part of this process. 

Creating and nurturing this blog has been an unanticipated joy. I have learned a lot, met some amazing fellow parents and colleagues in the gifted and twice-exceptional field, and honed my writing skills. I get to advocate for gifted kids and adults through this blog; what an incredible privilege and opportunity! It sounds pretty nerdy, but this sure has been a lot of fun! While I have written many articles (some unrelated to giftedness) and several book chapters, I feel quite excited about my new book, The Gifted Parenting Journey, which addresses the emotional lives of parents and provides tools and support as they navigate this complicated parenting process. Parents' needs and emotions have been ignored for much too long. In their search to support and educate their gifted or twice-exceptional children, parents often discount their own experiences. My hope is that this book will offer the validation and support parents of the gifted need - along with a vehicle for encouraging a deeper understanding of their motivations and emotions.

Thank you to all of my readers who have hung in there with me over the years! I am so grateful for your readership and especially appreciative that so many of you responded to the Gifted Parenting Survey I circulated online last year. Some findings from this survey are included in my book, but I am also working on analyzing the data more extensively. I also plan to offer more workshops for parents (if you are interested, send me an email and let me know!). If you have requests for blog post topics, please let me know as well. I wish you well as you traverse your own path as a gifted adult and/or the parent of a gifted child. We still have much work to do as we advocate for all gifted children, with the hope that they receive the intellectual stimulation and social/emotional engagement they desperately need. Please join me in that mission!

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