Visiting Dreams

This is the season for resolutions, we are seeking to fix flaws and change our lives. It is our human qualities that make us want to compare, judge, control, and aspire. We can be hard on ourselves, and on our children.

We tell them from an early age what is expected of them, what we fear for them, and how we want them to comply. We are trying to help them become successful, functional, and fulfilled. They are swamped by our own fears and desires.

We mean well, but considering that our children are becoming ever more stressed, anxious, depressed, and suicidal; shouldn’t we to take a real look at how we raise and educate our children? It is time to let go of our agenda, our need to control, and our desire for compliance.

How would our collective lives change if we allowed children to trust their own instincts and feed their curiosity? What if they could be free to learn what they want in the way they feel most comfortable? How would they grow if we trusted their ability to explore their own destiny? What if we gave them the message that they are perfect beings, fully capable of bringing their future to fruition.

This year, let’s give our children the gift of unconditional love and support as they determine what they need to make their own futures. As Kahlil Gibran said, “You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”

Life Advice

Advice for 2e Adults

Many 2e adults are still struggling to figure themselves out. They often have depressing memories of how confused, frustrated, and ostracized they felt as children. These memories may continue to impact their lives as they mature. The adult world can be just as harsh and judgmental as it was when they were children; but they now have the added burden of needing to compete in the job market, be functional in relationships, and responsible for others. This is tough for any adult, but for someone who has always struggled to assimilate, it can be overwhelming. I can offer the following advice to help you figure out how to make your multi-faceted self fit into that round hole we call life.

Learn about twice exceptionality. Understand why you feel and behave the way you do.

Be your authentic self. Many 2e persons have difficulty fitting into “typical” social expectations. Allow yourself to create a life that may fall outside of societal norms. It is important that you feel comfortable and able to live according to your own wants and needs.

Embrace both your abilities and disabilities. People often see the disabilities more than the abilities, and that can prevent them from reaching their full potential. Disabilities should be accommodated, but should not be your only focus. Your abilities need to be acknowledged and nurtured too.

Don’t underestimate your abilities, 2e people frequently evaluate their competence based on their disabilities, which can lead to underachievement, disengagement, and depression.

Find your niche. Your passions and talents will be best utilized if you stay connected to what you love and find a way to build your life around those passions.

Find a group of friends who are kindred spirits and have intellectual synergy. It is important to be with those who understand your humor, share your passions, forgive your quirks, and allow you to be yourself.

Be your own advocate. Seek good professional support, but trust your own instincts too.

Accept that many “typical” school and work situations may not be a good fit. Twice exceptional people often reject expectations that feel meaningless to them. It is critical that you allow yourself to be autonomous, even if it means rejecting the status quo. Being an entrepreneur or finding a way to be self-employed may be a good choice for 2e people.

Embrace your intensity. Don’t let others denigrate your feelings and experiences.

Don’t expect to be brilliant all the time. Allow yourself to have periods of rest and reflection.

You don’t have to be well rounded. It is your right to pursue your passions with singular focus.

Others may have difficulty understanding your drive, moods, ideas, sensitivity, and intensity. Try to understand others’ perspective, but don’t give up your essential core to fit their expectations. Don’t dumb yourself down to fit in.

Many twice exceptional people are great at starting projects, but poor finishers. Sometimes it is because they have too many competing ideas, or they don’t feel they can produce what they see in their mind, or they are afraid they will disappoint themself or others. Work to build your self-efficacy and resilience, both will help you push through those anxieties.

Don’t give in to perfectionism, it will cripple your ability to pursue your work to completion.

Understand that you are essentially an asynchronous being. You will always have areas where you are far below “normal” and areas where you are far above. Your intellect, imagination, spontaneity, inquisitiveness, enthusiasm, sensitivity, impatience, and emotionality are an integral part of your make up, but are often out of sync with the world around you. You may not move through typical adult stages of life at the same time, or in the same manner, as “normal” people do.

Childhood struggles with twice exceptionality can be crippling, but they do not need to have the same impact on your adult life. You have more opportunity to avoid unhealthy situations and expectations as an adult. While you may continue to feel out of sync with others, you have more control over your life.

High cognitive abilities can lead to success, but can also lead to intense frustration if you are unable to fulfill your expected potential. You may have to reject society’s achievement-bound definition of success in order follow your passions.

Don’t let your intensity destroy intimacy. Build your ability to see another’s perspective and approach relationships with empathy, for yourself and for others.

Find a way to give back and help others. You have the capacity to see things others may not notice, utilize your unique vision to contribute to your community.

Stay tuned to your own developmental pace, but make sure you continue to progress throughout your life. There is always something more you can to do enrich your connections, accomplish your goals, and make a difference in the world.

Twice exceptional people don’t just march to a different drummer, they hear a whole new rhythm section. The world needs to hear that beat, it is the sound of visionary progress. – Dr. Hayes

School Trauma?

Yesterday I was asked by a parent of a twice-exceptional (2e) child if there was such a thing as school trauma. This was from a parent whose child reported that every day at school was a “living hell.”

Even if a 2e child manages to escape bullying, which is highly unlikely, as 2e children are bully magnets due to their differences. They still must spend their days in a classroom that is not designed to support their needs.

They often endure stultifying boredom, as nearly all of their time is wasted on going over material they already know; but often they are unable to demonstrate their knowledge because there are no accommodations for their dis/abilities.

Most 2e children’s intellect allows them to compensate for their weaknesses, so they often look like an average or underachieving child to their teachers and administrators. In many instances they are reprimanded for not turning in homework, doing messy work, not following instructions, and not completing assignments. Often these “failures” are due to fine motor skill issues, executive functioning issues, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, or a host of other undiagnosed dis/abilities.

Moreover the sensory dysfunction that many 2e children endure: extreme sensitivity to their environment, including classroom or playground noise, or visually over stimulating classrooms, can be debilitating. It’s no wonder that many of these children view traditional school as torture.

Add to that their perfectionistic tendencies, asynchronous development, overexcitabilities, and their ability to see through much of the administrative and bureaucratic nonsense that is part of our typical public schools, and you have a recipe for disengagement, strife, and drop out.

There seem to be two main ways 2e children respond to this toxic environment, I call them the “exploders” and the “imploders.”

The exploders are the major behavior problems in the classroom, the defiant kids, the class clowns, the kids who run away, the kids who flip out and throw something.

The imploders are the ones who quietly check out and withdraw from all intellectual pursuits and social interactions.

Both of these responses are equally dangerous. The exploders are often labeled as emotionally disturbed and treated accordingly. The imploders may become depressed and even suicidal. Both imploders and exploders are seen as difficult, damaged children and parents are blamed for their failure to raise children who will comply with the school rules.

On the flip side, 2e children are also disciplined for their strengths. They are told to refrain from answering questions about topics they know, because they are taking away other student’s opportunities to learn. Or they are scolded for being disrespectful if they correct a teacher’s misinformation or incorrect instruction. Many 2e students are mocked by their peers for their knowledge and ostracized for being too smart.

We acknowledge that events in which an individual has been abused can cause emotional harm and even disorders such as post traumatic stress syndrome. Yet we have been turning a blind eye to the emotional, physical, and intellectual distress of the majority of our 2e students as they struggle through their days in a typical school environment. Is there such thing as school trauma? Yes, tragically, unequivocally, YES! And 2e children are paying the price for the ignorance about twice exceptionality and the bureaucratic disregard for their needs.

Has your child been traumatized by traditional school? At Big Minds we incorporate mindfulness and prioritize connection with our students so they can feel safe to enjoy learning. Contact us today! http://www.bigmindsunschool.org

2e or not 2e? That is the question…

I often get asked how to identify twice-exceptional children. There are several lists of characteristics, but many of those lists focus on education. I have tried to compile a list that is more encompassing.

As with all such lists, each 2e child is unique and will have a blended list of the various characteristics.

e1:

• intellectually or creatively advanced

• very empathetic and concerned with social justice, cares deeply about the future of the world

• advanced, often wicked (sometimes bizarre), sense of humor

• questions the status quo, can come up with creative alternatives

• enjoys codes, puzzles, games of strategy

• may have extraordinary perceptions and/or abilities in one or more areas

• very sensitive to patronizing or hypocritical behavior, may call adults in authority on their behavior

• will not follow rules for rules sake, may challenge the underlying logic of illogical rules

• may get along very well with adults and much younger, or much older, children

• has extreme need for intellectual or creative stimulation

• often autodidactic

• highly curious and divergent thinker

• can rapidly accelerate learning to high levels of expertise

• responds well to academic flexibility and self-directed learning

• long attention span when working in areas of high interest

• behavior issues often resolve when intellectually or creatively satiated

• deeply connected to those they love, feel things deeply

• mature beyond their years, often precocious

• love to challenge themselves and/or others

• are very passionate about areas of interest (fully focused and invested)

• creative problem solvers

• have deep knowledge about areas of interest

• can generalize knowledge to make unique connections (strong metacognative skills)

• persistent

• like to see the big picture first and then fill in the details

• may have superior spatial skills

• may be very good at developing compensatory strategies

• are often well read and have a superior vocabulary

• may have unique insight into complex issues

• unusual imagination

e2:

• often misunderstood and ostracized

• can be gullible, socially awkward, and often bullied

• may be very disorganized

• may be a perfectionist

• can be very compulsive

• often have anxiety issues

• often have unrealistic expectations for themselves, may judge themselves harshly and have low self-esteem (feel like an imposter)

• says and does things that are out of sync with what others are doing

• often rigid about rules and fairness, struggles with grey areas, can be inflexible

• will not follow rules for rules sake, may challenge the underlying logic of illogical rules

• may argue, debate, or challenge the status quo, even if they are punished for doing so

• may need order and routine to function well (even if they appear to be chaotic or messy, often have their own underlying system)

• may need time to prepare for changes in routine, surprises may be difficult to manage

• may be dismissive of details in their quest for the big picture

• may appear arrogant

• asynchronous development emotionally, social, academically (very immature in some areas, extremely mature in others)

• may be very impulsive

• often have issues with food (digestion problems, gut health, food allergies, food aversions, eating rituals)

• has trouble with authority, can be oppositional and argumentative

• may have learning disabilities, poor handwriting, motor skill issues

• can be extremely sensitive to environmental stimuli (sensory processing issues)

• often bored and frustrated with school

• often misunderstood and/or misdiagnosed by skilled professionals

• may have difficulty sleeping, may not need much sleep, or may have unusual sleep cycles

• less interested in typical external motivators and reward systems

• has trouble modulating voice levels

• has trouble controlling body (sitting still, standing in line, walking with group)

• overwhelmed by emotions and emotional intensity

• falls apart under pressure (timed tests, rapid transitions, being rushed)

• very sensitive and easily wounded emotionally

• often confused by social protocol

• may have trouble understanding facial expressions and body language

• often dislike linear learning or rote practice

• often feel held back by typical pacing and learning practices, may be very frustrated with school

If you found yourself nodding your head often (or feeling like someone has spied on your child), then your probably have a child who is 2e.

(Thanks to the experienced parents of 2e children who helped compile this list.) 🙂

Motivating Students

One of the central tenets of teaching is motivating students to learn; but our success rate has not been very good. This seems odd, considering that research has shown nearly all children are born with an innate desire to learn. Babies do not have to be bribed to learn to speak or walk. A preschooler won’t require a treat to encourage her to look at a book. Kids don’t have to coerce each other into learning a new game. Children are natural learners who possess an innate curiosity which motivates them to learn.

So what happens to this intrinsic motivation when the children start school? Why do teachers have to jump through hoops to convince students to do their work? Parents, teachers, and administrators are continually seeking solutions to this ever-present problem. Every year publishers hope to find a new curriculum or program they can tout as the latest educational solution to student motivation. Millions of dollars are spent, rather unsuccessfully, on motivating children to engage in learning.

It is the fantasy of every teacher to have excited, engaged students. Picture a classroom full of students who are so busy learning that they don’t have time to misbehave. Imagine kids who can’t wait to get home to do their homework. What would parents do with all their time if the nightly homework battles were eliminated? What would happen if grades and tests mattered less than real learning? Is such a scenario possible?

Perhaps this will happen if adults can shift their perspective. Instead of telling kids how and what they should learn, maybe it is time to ask them what they want to learn and how they want to go about it. Sugata Mitra*, the inventor of Cloud School, calls this approach, “self-organized learning” and believes it could revolutionize education. His approach is about providing ideas that spark curiosity, encouraging kids to ask questions, then standing back to let them figure it out with their peers. Students are taught how to search for answers, collaborate for solutions, and motivate others to help problem-solve. His “Cloud School” experiments, have demonstrated just how intellectually motivated children are when given the time, freedom, and tools to learn.

Cameron Herold*, a highly successful entrepreneur, believes our schools crush curiosity and discourage risk taking. He thinks schools should stop focusing all their time and efforts on their students’ failures. Instead, he believes teachers should help each student identify their own passions and strengths. Then they should connect their students to resources that would help them excel in those areas. Our children will live in a world that is very different from ours. If we teach to maintain the status quo, we cannot prepare them for the future. How can we expect our children to solve the problems of tomorrow if we disconnect them from their ability to question, explore, imagine, and invent?

Ken Robinson* has made it his life’s work to bring creativity back into our schools. He believes that the past focus on teaching to the test has squandered the talents of millions of children. Our school system has tried to teach children as if they were a uniform product, rather than diverse individuals. This model focuses on conformity and achievement in a narrow field of study. Consequently, many children have lost interest in learning. Robinson believes we have a culture of compliance that sacrifices our children’s talents. “All kids have tremendous talents — and we squander them pretty ruthlessly.” The role of teachers should be to mentor, stimulate, facilitate, provoke, and engage. Robinson believes if you spark curiosity, and give children the resources to explore, they will learn without too much further assistance. “One of the roles of education is to awaken and develop powers of creativity.”

Kiran Ben Sethi’s* Riverside School in India does just that. She has thrown out traditional schooling to focus on a “contagious” educational experience where learning is designed by the children and takes place in the real world. She asks, “When are we going to wake up and recognize the potential that resides in each child? When will you include the child?” Her approach takes children through a journey that builds awareness of what needs to be changed, teaches them to be open to being changed, and eventually empowers them to lead the change. Kiran asked children across India to pick one problem or idea that is important to them and figure out a way to take meaningful action, and they did. She reports that children were designing solutions for a diverse range of problems, everything from loneliness to adult illiteracy to plastic bag recycling. The children found ways to tackle big problems and change lives. They discovered what moves them to action, what skills they possess which enable them to take action, and the sweet joy of seeing their efforts bear results. Children are a powerful force.

Allison Gopnik*, a psychologist whose research has recently shown the sophisticated learning and decision-making of babies, states that, “Babies and young children are like the R&D division of the human species.” Kids are driven to figure out the world. Innate curiosity, restlessness, and unwillingness to accept the status quo are a student’s best assets, and a teacher’s best friend. It is time for educators to tap into that natural drive and help children reach their full potential.

That is the goal of my interest-based learning center lab, Big Minds Unschool. Here, a small group of twice-exceptional children are free to design their day, select their activities, and socialize freely. I facilitate student-selected projects that are based on their genuine interests. They are encouraged to dream, play, take chances, build, and explore. According to Socrates, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” I believe we need to give kids enough kindling to get them started and then stand back while they build a mighty bonfire.

(*To find out more about these projects, go to: TED Talks http://www.ted.com/talks)

The Best Gifted Myths of 2012

Here is the gifted version of “The Year’s Best” lists. The following are the best myths about giftedness that I have heard in 2012:

  • Gifted kids are not asynchronous in their development or abilities.
  • Gifted means gifted in ALL areas.
  • Acceleration is not good for gifted children because they will be too young to enter puberty at the same time as their classmates.
  • Children who are ahead in Kindergarten are not gifted, they are just early learners; the other kids will “catch up” by third grade.
  • All gifted kids read early and want to read all the time.
  • The “most gifted” children are gifted in math and science.
  • If your child is not academically inclined, they are not gifted.
  • If your child speaks like an adult, they must also possess the logic and reasoning skills of an adult.
  • Children cannot be learning disabled and gifted.
  • Gifted children are very mature for their age.
  • A child with advanced intellectual ability simply would not also delight in fart jokes.
  • Gifted children are always the product of gifted parents.
  • Your gifted child will be intellectually challenged in the classroom, because the school has a policy which supports differentiation for every child.
  • If your child cannot speak well or write well, that is evidence that he or she is not gifted.
  • Giftedness is the result of overly motivated parents who started flash carding their kids early on.
  • Any academic endeavor is easy for gifted kids.
  • Gifted kids need to do rote practice drills just like everyone else
  • There is no such thing as a “gifted underachiever.”
  • Gifted students are easier to teach.
  • Gifted children have an innate desire and ability to be peer tutors.
  • Your kid couldn’t possibly be gifted because she or he does (or doesn’t)…
  • Private schools will provide an appropriate education for gifted kids.
  • IQ tests can definitively identify all of your gifted child’s abilities (or disabilities).
  • Giftedness can’t be identified until third grade.
  • “Gifted” is elitist.
  • Your kid can’t be gifted because I quizzed them about ____ and they didn’t have the answers.
  • All children are gifted.
  • Gifted children learn the same way “normal” children do.
  • Your child is too young to learn about…
  • Taking gifted kids out of the school system is unfair because it will lower overall test scores and make it harder for the school to get funding.
  • Gifted children don’t get bullied any more often than any other group of kids.
  • All gifted children learn the same way and a “gifted curriculum” will work well for all of them.
  • Perfectionism is not a problem for gifted kids.
  • Giftedness is a harbinger of success in all endeavors.
  • Children should progress through school with their age mates, because otherwise, how will they find friends?
  • Your child is refusing to do the worksheet because he or she doesn’t know how, not because he or she is sick of the same boring work.
  • All parents overestimate their children’s intelligence and abilities.
  • Gifted children should be kept in school to be socialized, otherwise they won’t be able to relate to “normal” children.
  • Revealing to your child that she or he is gifted will cause social maladjustment.
  • GATE is enough.
  • Boredom never hurt anyone.

Happy New Year everyone. Hope 2013 brings you all a little less of the aforementioned #$*%&@ and a little more grace and compassion from those around you.

The Difference Between “Gifts” and “Gifted”

I often get asked, “Aren’t all kids gifted in some way?” I suppose you could say that all people have gifts. The word “gifted” is problematic in that way, but the difference between “gifted” kids and “kids with gifts” is that they think differently. They act on information differently, they have an intense internal drive to learn everything they can about any particular topic. They don’t take someone’s word for it, they have to research it for themselves. They are questioners of everything. (I acknowledge the problems with lumping all intellectually “gifted” kids into one category, but for ease of discussion, I have just gone ahead and done it.)

Here is a good example. In the months leading up to the elections, as in many households, the adults were talking about the issues and candidates. But in our household, it wasn’t just the adults. Not only were my kids discussing all the issues and candidates; but they were researching online and doing their own fact checking. My daughter debated each issue in depth and wanted to make sure her parents understood what was at stake when we cast our vote. She came with me to the polling station and said she can’t wait until she can vote. The night of the election, my kids watched the election with the same interest and concern as did my husband and myself.

Did the interest die out after the election was over? No. It was just the beginning. All the questions that arose during the pre-election discussions and research, such as, “What is the electoral college and how does it work?”, or “What is wrong with the First Past the Post voting system?” or “What is gerrymandering?” became the objects of intense research.

My son was really excited when he found that the entire Constitution, all of the Amendments, and the Bill of Rights were available online. And yes, he read them all and has discussed them with me at length. I am embarrassed to admit that I learn more from my kids’ research and discussion than they ever have from me.

When my son finally felt he had a firm grip on our political system and how it works, he moved on to reading diverse opinions about politics in America, trying to understand how “everyone else” thinks. Each topic he explores spins off many more threads to follow, and follow he does. He also remembers most of what he researches, so he becomes a formidable fount of knowledge.

But it doesn’t stop there. Once all the “serious” research is done, the “fun” stuff starts to happen. For example, did you know that Ronald Regan is the only president to have worn a Nazi uniform? (Don’t get to worked up, it was only a costume in a movie.) Or that Chester Arthur changed his pants several times a day? (President Arthur? I didn’t even remember there was a President Arthur!) Or that John Quincy Adams skinny dipped in the Potomac every morning? How about the Lincoln’s holding Whitehouse séances? Did you know the United States of America was the first country to become independent from a Colonial empire? Or that it is theoretically possible to win an election with only 21.91% of the popular vote? Who knew politics could be so interesting!?*

From past experience, this intense interest in our history and politics will last several weeks, maybe even months, until my son feels he has a thorough understanding of the topic. Then his intellectual efforts will move on to another topic. Perhaps the obsession with knowing all there is to know, the drive to pursue that knowledge, wanting to find information from many resources, doubting and checking the “facts,” and the ability to retain the information are good examples of the difference between how a “gifted” kid thinks and how a kid with “gifts” thinks. It is not that a “kid with gifts” couldn’t do all those things, at some level, they probably could; but they are not driven to do those things. My guess is that most “kids with gifts” would not spend the bulk of their waking hours pursuing information on a given topic for weeks on end. So by all means, let’s celebrate all the gifts our kids possess; but please, can we also recognize that there is a difference between having gifts and being gifted?

*(Look up some of this fun stuff at http://www.usconstitution.net, CGPGrey’s Youtube videos, or Dan Brown’s Youtube videos).