What Do We Mean When We Talk About “Gifted”

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Our Day School program focuses on the learning needs of twice-exceptional elementary school students. Twice exceptional students are students who have demonstrated intellectual giftedness alongside a learning challenge such as ADHD, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Depression, Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Mild Autism Spectrum Disorders, etc. Overall, these children fall underneath the umbrella term of “gifted,” a word that is often maligned, confused, or debated within our community as well as society at large.

Because of a prevalent misunderstanding about what giftedness is some people do not see the need for increased attention or support of these children. Recently, Dr. Joanna Haase and Sharon Duncan, two experts in the field, gave an excellent presentation at our school that helped define the term as well as unravel its many mysteries. Below, I offer a recap of the information gleaned from their talk in hopes to help others understand the term so that we can continue to provide these children the support they need to become fully functioning and self-realized people.

Duncan and Haase mentioned that giftedness is not the same as “eminent, achieving or successful.” There are gifted students who fall in what they call the “sweet spot” gifted range who are every teacher’s delight with their enthusiasm, motivation and desire to learn but this is not the majority. Giftedness is not what one does or achieves. In fact, giftedness involves a neuropsychological makeup that often causes children to experience the world in an entirely different way than their classmates.

Duncan and Haase pointed out that if you look at the “normal” scale of human development, you can see that gifted children fall just as far away from the “norm” as a child with an intellectual disability. Their physical, emotional, social and intellectual experiences with the world are very different and can create intense difficulties that are misdiagnosed, overlooked, misunderstood or hidden. This is a population that needs to be approached with the same thought, care and sensitivity as their peers on the opposite side of the bell curve.

Some examples of what it can feel like to be gifted are as follows:

  • Imagine your most anxious moment and magnify that by 10. Now feel that way most of the time and focus on your school day expectations.
  • Imagine you are called “smart” because you have shown you know a lot of information. Now imagine being unable to communicate what you know fast enough in writing or verbally to keep pace with teachers and classmates. Now imagine being called lazy or defiant because of it.
  • Imagine if all of the lights and sounds around you were highly increased in volume and you needed to focus on a single person lecturing four hours a day.
  • Imagine someone playfully swatting you at recess and having it feel as though they punched you full force. Imagine reacting to the pain and being called a baby or a troublemaker.
  • Imagine if you had to move in order to learn. Now imagine sitting still for five hours a day to comply with the rules.
  • Imagine having the intellectual capacity of a 25-year-old with the maturity of an 8 year old. Now go find a friend to play with at recess.
  • Imagine having so many people call you “smart” that you think that is all there is to you. Now imagine not knowing the answer to a question or how to do something. Now you are nothing. Our children live in fear of failure.
  • Imagine if you had any of these things going on and you were labeled instantly as autistic, lazy, oppositional defiant, ADHD, emotionally disturbed, behavior problem – and you were in trouble all of the time. Sometimes these labels do apply – but very often, they do not.

Frequently we see a gifted child who is either intense, has another underlying challenge, or both. Regardless of the label and the information that these children are able to hold in their minds, they are special needs children who need their intellectual, physical, social and emotional needs met in different ways and they absolutely need to be in learning environments where they are not misunderstood or worse yet punished for behaviors that are beyond their control, that are related to their neuropsychological makeup and that they themselves don’t yet understand.

Many people do not realize that the likelihood of the existence of learning and social/emotional challenges increases with higher intellectual capacity (IQ). In fact, there are a tremendous amount of very gifted children with vast potential who experience difficulties that get in the way of their ability to effectively progress due to intensities associated with their neuropsychological makeup.

A special focus on this group of students is important because during these crucial developmental years when they are expected to become more independent and take greater responsibility for managing multiple facets of their daily academic and personal life, they will often experience excessive disproportionate stress and exhibit resulting declines in their motivation, self-perception, self-esteem, self-directness and intrinsic desire to engage in learning. Further, the ability of twice exceptional students to often “mask” their learning disabilities through compensation can cause them to fall farther behind each year in their reading and writing skill sets. This results in underachievement and, often, unhealthy coping strategies that lead to a negative life trajectory for these youth who hold vast positive potential.

That is meaningful for each student’s personal potential and because this population of students has a tremendous amount to offer if they are understood, supported and provided the opportunity to shape a better future. The complex needs of these students require the involvement of educators and other professionals who have the expertise needed to identify needs and tailor the instruction and social/emotional support necessary to meet them. Presently, all educational support resources are designed to meet the needs of students who require either full remediation, or are high achieving. There are no resources provided for students who have advanced intellectual ability alongside a special need. We are the only program in Orange County that provides this type of support, and one of only a few that exist in the country.

The conversation about the needs of gifted and twice exceptional children needs to change.

 

 

 

 

 

Student Halloween Costume Poll

We polled our students and this is their list of the best costumes for Halloween 2015. Of course, we notice there is a plethora of options from Minecraft….

toddler-leprechaun-costume

Leprechaun

Old Lady

Hot dog

Mermaid

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Frankenstein

God/ Goddess

Curly (pig)

Red morph suit

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Skeleton

Robot

Panda

Fox

Lucy

Lucy (from Peanuts)

Narnia Lucy

Ronald McDonald

Wolf

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Donkey Kong

Skylander

Fairy

Witherskeleton

Wither

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Ghast

King Ghidora

Enderman

Villager

Kevin

Steve

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Creeper

Zombie Pigman

Hero Brine

Girl Here Brine

A Tribute to Our Trailblazers – Reflections from our Director Dr. Lisa Reid

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As an educator of gifted children, I am continually inspired and awestruck by boundless displays of excellence from both a personal and cognitive perspective. The completely unexpected and challenging nature of the children I have the honor to work with is what makes me love my job and want be the best I can be within it.

The old adage of surrounding yourself with excellence if you want to be excellent yourself certainly rings true within our walls. To some, it may seem surprising that the excellence we reference is the excellence that exists not only within the professionals at our site, but also within our young blossoming students.

As an educational therapist and seasoned teacher, I have come to know that one of the most important factors in my ability to effectively guide a student’s learning is context. I need to be able to consider all of the factors that shape my students’ points of view, and put myself in their shoes. I need to meet them where they are.

In addition, within our program we take a team approach toward learning. We realize that the most important member of that team and the person who has the most influence over their progress, is the student themselves. That said, any child who is a part of our program has made the decision to enroll and to be part of a group of people who are working to create the best future possible for them.

My decision to become an educator was largely driven by the fact that I had teachers and educational environments that made tremendous influences in the trajectory of my life and in the way I perceived myself. As an adult, I can reflect and realize that many factors that I did not understand, or even like, during the course of my childhood made the huge difference in who I am, what I can do and what I can offer others today.

Standing with that reflective wisdom and considering my students in their context and in their shoes, I am forced to wonder if I would have had the courage to make the decision to start anew as our inaugural RDS trailblazers have this year. Our team of adults, teachers and professionals can agree with a resounding “Yes!” that this is an exciting and positive move, but our students, without a doubt, have had to make some big decisions this past year, and they have done so with wisdom beyond their years.

Each of our students knows that they were accepted to RDS because they have something very special to offer the world and they deserve to have that nurtured so that they can allow it to grow, and ultimately shine. We know that these youngsters are our change makers. That they are taking the brave course of action toward that future, when they had the option to settle for the familiar, to become all that they can be is commendable.

It is with sincere respect and joy that I congratulate our inaugural class of RDS trailblazers for their courage, wisdom, and excellence during this start to the new school year! Together, with us, they are creating new pathways toward learning and the future not only for themselves, but also for the students and families who are following in their footsteps.

We are so proud of our RDS students and look forward to seeing an excellent year as they explore their vast potential!

The Importance of Self Regulation – Reflections by Our Director Dr. Lisa Reid

Elementary school age children

Self-regulation (the way which students’ independent thoughts, feelings and behaviors are utilized toward realizing goals) not only impacts students social/emotional well being, but their academic achievement as well. It is essential that this aspect of child development be fostered because it is only after students become able to self-regulate and control the outcome of their performance that successful academic independence will occur.

Fostering the development of self-regulation within students involves helping them to take responsibility and become actively involved in their learning process. Doing so allows for them to develop an understanding of the relationship between their progress and their process. The cognitive ability of children to self-regulate, and their tendency to do so, changes over time within the adolescent years. This is to be expected given that self-regulation largely relies upon interrelated cognitive and affective elements that are in a crucial stage of development from both a biological and social/emotional perspective. It is during this stage that students’ long-term attitudes toward learning and toward themselves are shaped.

It is expected and accepted that young children will have automatic affective (emotional) responses toward things that they like as well as things that are non-preferred, or uncomfortable. With youngsters, there is minimal self-awareness, or sense of personal control toward circumstances. That is acceptable during the early stages of life, but as children develop into young adults and are expected to begin to manage multiple facets of their life independently, it becomes essential for them to increase self-awareness and actively regulate their affective responses. This is not to say that children should not express their emotions. Rather, by developing awareness and understanding of their emotions as well as healthy responses to them, students become able to take the risks necessary to progress socially, emotionally and academically. If development is asynchronous, or if for some reason student development in these areas is thrown off track then challenging issues can arise. Young adulthood is a fragile time, especially if there are special needs present, but with a caring and thoughtful approach, all students can be guided to a path of confident and gratifying learning.

Essential components of self-regulation include locus of control and motivation. Locus of control describes a person’s belief that there are factors that control the events and outcomes that occur in their life. Depending on circumstances, this individual belief can range from an internal locus of control (I determine the outcome of situations) to an external locus of control (My situation is determined by factors that are beyond my control). Student’s perception of control is directly related to their academic achievement and their motivation is impacted by whether or not they recognize a causal relationship between their behavior and the result of that behavior. Research has been conducted to investigate student’s perception of the cause of their success or failure at different grade levels. Within this research, a significant positive relationship between student perceived control and achievement was found. Interestingly, this was found to be the case more so with fifth grade students than with sixth grade students. This is perhaps because by the time students are in sixth grade; they have become more aware that intrinsic factors impact their learning. Sadly, at this stage, many students most often express a desire to change a behavior not to improve their progress or learning but instead in response to a fear of failure or appearing incapable.

It seems logical that as students mature, they become more aware of their ability to self-regulate. However, although students may become aware of self-regulation strategies during their developmental years, they often do not recognize the correlation between the impact of their use on their progress. In addition, although they may be aware of these strategies, student’s belief in themselves, and the way in which their attitudes toward learning have been shaped over time may leave them increasingly less inclined to utilize them. Additional research has demonstrated that in seventh grade, students were less apt to use regulatory strategies in spite of their awareness of them, and that there were more frequent displays of behavioral challenges when compared to their younger peers. Decreased interest in content and the perception that it was not valuable to their future were also increasingly apparent. These results are highly consistent with reports by developmental researchers, which show that students often will exhibit declines in their self-directedness and intrinsic desire to engage in learning during the early middle school years. This decline may be due to the fact that students are not equipped with the skills necessary to reflect upon their progress and adjust their learning strategies, and thus, may not feel as though they are in control of their learning process.

As students progress through their upper elementary and middle school years and become more aware of the impact of their own actions, the importance of self-efficacy enters the equation. Students may know what is expected of them and they may, in fact, have the knowledge and skills necessary to meet those expectations. However, if they do not believe that they are able, or they have an obstacle in the way, they will not be motivated to try. This is a critical juncture at which we often start to see students described with comments such as “not working to potential” or even, “lazy”. Other displays include avoidant behavior that can appear as fooling around, or even straight defiance. What is unfortunate is that these frequently misconstrued actions change the focus from the students as learners to the students as underachievers or disruptions. In response, teachers and parents often unknowingly bypass the root of the behavior and transition into a “Power” role that directly impacts student’s perception of their potential as a self-directed learner. In turn, the student’s motivation to utilize self-regulatory behaviors in order attempt to make progress can decline or cease all together.

In situations where this turns into a pattern of events, the trajectory for the child’s positive self-perception and successful academic progress can be drastically impacted. For that reason, it is essential that educators take the time to investigate underachievement and challenging behavior as their looks may be deceiving. The appearance of underachievement and challenging behavior is a sign that there is a discrepancy between what the child is being asked to do and what they are able to do. When we see that sign, it is the responsibility of the adult to consider what needs are not being met. Sometimes issues are as simple as a child not understanding directions, or feeling bored, while other issues can be more complex such as lacking self-efficacy or inaccurate self-perception, a problem at home or with friends, an avoidance of writing due to dysgraphia, or what we often see with our students, a masked learning disability, or stealth dyslexia.

Creating a safe place and line of communication where these issues can be uncovered is highly important. Further, explicit expectations, clear feedback, meaningful and relevant work and scaffolding of skills are essential so that students can take small risks and establish their confidence without feeling the need to escape through incompletion or acting out. In order for students to establish motivation toward self-regulation, they must have a belief that they are able and that there is a causal relationship between their behavior and their performance. If control, efficacy, interest and purpose are not present, students will not be motivated to engage themselves. This is particularly true for populations of students who are not interested in external praise or reward.

Back to School Checklist

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The twice-exceptional child is no different than any other child when it comes to the nerves associated with back to school season. The thought of a new school year with new academic and social challenges is daunting to everyone. But there are helpful ways that parents can prep their children for an easier transition by following some of the tips in our checklist below:

  1. Visit your child’s school if possible and do a “walk through” of what to expect during the course of the day with your child.
  1. Make sure that you are punctual each morning when delivering your child to school (arriving late really stresses them out all day long).
  1. If your child likes to listen to music to focus, help them preload music playlists onto their smartphones and provide a headset that is a good fit.
  1. Get your child into a consistent bedtime routine before the start of the year.
  1. Practice smart sleep hygiene so that students are rested and ready to go in the morning. Discontinue technology use at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
  1. Practice positive thinking by listing three things that you are looking forward to on the way to school with your child.
  1. If your child is gifted or 2e, prepare a letter to their teacher introducing them and outlining things that they can do to help your child have a successful start to the year (you will be surprised how many are grateful to receive this). Ask your child what they would like their teacher to know about them.
  1. If your child uses technology at school, set them up for success by making regularly used options like Word, PowerPoint, etc. ready to go on the home computer.
  1. Talk through how it is going to be to meet new friends on the first day of school. If appropriate, role-play some scenarios and think ahead about some conversation starters that your child might use.
  1. Create a fun, casual “vision board” with your child. Have them think about the (achievable) things that they would like to see happen for themselves during the course of the school year.
  1. If your child has trouble focusing suggest they not be seated in the front row but in the second row or another seat where they cannot only see the teacher, but other students as well. It is helpful for them to be able to look to their peers for visual cues if they’ve missed something due to lack of engagement.

Lessons From the Past: Reflections by Our Director Dr. Lisa Reid

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Albert Einstein

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“Human beings cannot live below their level of capacity without disturbance. You may call it a matter of conscience; for conscience is the instinct of self-preservation applied to the mind.”

– Toward a Psychology of Art: Collected EssaysBy Rudolf Arnheim

During an interview with one of my prospective students last month, I asked him to tell me about his favorite subject in school. “History!” he exclaimed. I followed up, and asked him to tell me why history was his favorite. The response from this insightful 8-year-old was, “Because I think it is interesting to see when we have learned from the past, and all of the times that we have not.” This wisdom is certainly something to consider as we realize that much of what works for our gifted learners is something that can be uncovered, rather than discovered.

In his book, Einstein: His Life and Universe, Walter Isaacson referred to Albert Einstein as “The patron saint of distracted school kids everywhere.” A few years ago, in a Los Angeles Times article, he went on to explain how many traits of the young Einstein in academia, like his being a slow reader, have caused much speculation over the years about how one of our world’s most famous brainiacs may have struggled with a developmental disorder. Of course, those of us in the land of twice-exceptional children find this conclusion perfectly natural.

Einstein struggled in school like many gifted kids. From an early age, he was quite frustrated by the rigid discipline imposed upon him and throughout the course of his speckled educational career, his rejection of what he came to expect from “school” as an institution grew. Later in life he stated, “The worst thing seems for a school principally to work with methods of fear, force and artificial authority. Such treatment destroys the healthy feelings, the integrity and self-confidence of the pupils. All that it produces is a servile helot.” Perhaps the only positive result from the majority of Einstein’s formal educational career was the development of a sense of skepticism and the willingness to challenge existing notions.

While most people are aware that Einstein had a troubled early educational career, many people do not know that he did, in fact, have a school experience toward which he felt fondly. This took place at Aurau where the school instructional philosophy was based on the teachings of educational reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi who felt it was important to appreciate the “inner dignity” of each child.

Pestalozzi began his quest to improve education out of a concern for the social conditions that existed during the late 1700’s and he strived to establish equal opportunity through education. He believed that the resources necessary when obtaining an education were within the reach of every individual, as they exist in the natural world, which surrounds all of us. His philosophy supported achievement of balance in life and a belief that individuals should focus on their minds, bodies and souls equally and with regards to instruction.

In the classroom, Pestalozzi promoted hands-on activities and experimentation, along with keen observation and reflection. He opposed methodical lessons and a focus on “correctness,” which had been traditional in curriculum. Overall, he firmly believed that children should be free to learn through experience, both socially and through their activities. He believed that the acceptance of children and their individual natures encourages self-confidence, allowing them to feel secure enough to explore and develop their own education and ideas about the world. Similar to Montessori in some ways, his goal was to develop a learning process in which students make observations, reason independently and arrive at their own conclusions based on personal experiences, both cognitive and physical. His understanding was that through these experiences students develop personal responsibility as opposed to responsibility toward the expectations of others. This was in place of the traditional process of education which existed at the time which he felt planted the thoughts and habits of others in the minds of children, thus stifling their individuality altogether.

It was at Aurau, while under the umbrella of Pestalozzi’s philosophies, that Einstein is thought to have developed his first genius visualization of the speed of light and it has been said that Einstein truly enjoyed his learning experience there. That is powerful, given that he was a young man who had grown to detest school and who many assumed would amount to nothing.

So, what can we learn from young Einstein, and the past?

  • Our most challenging children are often the most brilliant.
  • Skepticism and the willingness to challenge existing notions may be signs of genius.
  • The most important tool for effective instruction is making sure that students know that they are respected and cared for as individuals.
  • The potential of our young learners is an extension of their individuality, not their ability to conform to the thought framework of others. An authoritarian, fear based environment is damaging/does not support success.
  • As individual confidence increases through successful independent experiences, so does intrinsic motivation toward learning as well as the desire to develop personal responsibility.

SENG Model Parent Group Starts in September – You Are Not Alone!

RDS is pleased to announce our fall SENG Model Parent Group will hold its first session on September 17th, 2015 at 6:30pm. The group will run for 8-10 weeks. Out of respect for the nature of the group, please only register if you are available to attend every week. Cost for the series is $120 and space is limited to 16 participants. You can register here.

Our Founder Lisa Reid answers some questions for parents about these groups below:

Why are these groups important for parents of gifted kids?

I receive calls from parents every day who are frustrated, heartbroken and confused. Giftedness is so misunderstood by not only the general population, but also by many professionals. People assume that to be gifted is a blessing, when in fact it often brings a host of challenges ranging from intensities and emotional challenges to underachievement. Given the lack of awareness of the nature of many gifted, and especially 2e children, parents are often left feeling very alone. This is in addition to managing the challenges associated with raising a child with special needs. I can provide all of the resources and advice in the world but it is not the same as hearing someone else tell your story and relating to it. Parents share their experiences and they learn from one another. It is a huge relief for them to be able to feel as though they have a community that “gets it”, is supportive and nonjudgmental, and can provide hope and guidance through common experiences. The bonding and growth that occurs in the group is a beautiful and inspiring thing to see.

What are some activities that take place in a typical group?

Each week, parents read a chapter from A Parents Guide to Gifted Children. In addition, they receive “homework” that consists of one new parenting approach that they will try during the week. At the beginning of each session, parents have an opportunity to share and reflect upon the impact of the approach. In addition, they reflect upon the reading, which includes some key points for discussion. Some topics include but are not limited to, Characteristics of Gifted Children, Motivation, Friendships, Communication and Teaching Self-Management. As facilitators, we guide the conversation, but we are not present to lecture or give advice. These are group-initiated discussions.

How can peer camaraderie and community benefit parents of gifted kids?

The most important and repeated testimony we see is “I don’t feel as alone now.” People make friends, learn about themselves and their children and gain a new and positive perspective toward the way in which their child is experiencing life.

What do parents learn in these groups? Give me some concrete examples.

-Myths about Gifted Children

-Understanding neuropsychological profiles and learning styles

-Communication strategies (active listening, separating behaviors from feelings, understanding how our beliefs impact our behavior, encouragement)

-Learning how to start where the child is and recognize their needs. Develop an understanding of the root of behavior and lacking motivation.

-Positive communication – dealing with perfectionism

-Managing negative self-talk and modeling positive behavior

-Managing idealism and depression

-The difference between discipline and punishment

-How to set limits (setting limits because you care)

-Consistency

-Creating clear expectations

-Understanding asynchronous development

-How to be a strong advocate for your child as opposed to being a pushy parent

-Caring for yourself as a parent

Anything else to add?

The transformation that occurs within groups as they come to know, trust and learn from one another is truly incredible.