Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Misdiagnosis of Gifted Children

Let’s visit an imaginary world where you, an adult with substantial ability in your area of expertise (whatever that may be), were forced to sit in a second-grade class all day. Imagine that for some reason you don’t understand, your teacher and fellow students and everyone else in the school sees you as a second-grade kid. You are bored. You are outraged, in fact. Why is this being done to you? Why can’t you have more challenging things to learn? Why does everyone think you’re just like these other kids? You can’t stop your hand from using your pencil to tap against the desk, or your foot from tapping in frustration. You get up to pace. You start snapping at other students. Your attention drifts, and you feel like you can’t focus on anything.

Restraining yourself all day, every day, to tolerate this intense boredom and injustice saps your energy so severely that even when you escape the confines of school to a family who also bizarrely views you as a second-grader, even though they know you’re smarter than that, it’s all you can do to lie around zoning out, reading distractedly, or taking your aggression out on them. And then the next day comes, and you have to do it all over again.

This is what it feels like to be a profoundly asynchronous child. You may have adult-level cognitive abilities, but you are second-grade age, so you are forced to go through the exact scenario just described. You may develop nervous habits from the stress and boredom, things like fidgeting, impulsiveness, inability to focus (because, come on, who can focus on excruciatingly boring material day in and day out, without respite?), and more.

Your teacher looks at these behaviors and tells your parents you have ADHD, or oppositional defiant disorder, or any of a number of other disorders, and that they should take you to the doctor to be medicated. Your parents do, and your doctor writes a prescription after a 15-minute visit, and you are deposited back in school, drugged out of your mind.

Another article today described it more succinctly: “Imagine if someone took away your Big Wheel and expected you to operate a sports car without training at 6 years old. Now imagine being punished and humiliated for wrecking.”

These scenarios sound extreme, and they are; but versions of them are being repeated again and again in endless variation with everything from garden-variety gifted kids to profoundly gifted kids across the country. An organization called Supporting the Emotional Needs of Gifted Children (SENG) made an excellent video about it, aimed at educators and healthcare professionals. But it’s instructive for everyone, and our wish is that everyone see it (and share it).

We have one caveat, the same one the video makes: There are twice-exceptional kids, kids who have advanced cognitive abilities but also learning disabilities. Some kids DO have ADHD, whether gifted or not. But the characteristics of giftedness, the school setting, and a range of other things absolutely must be assessed as part of the diagnosis, and the intellectual needs of the child must be met on an ongoing basis.

By sharing the video, and talking to educators and healthcare professionals about it, you may help change a child’s future. Thank you!

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Advanced Content for High-Potential Learners

We came across a brief post on a homeschooling blog we visit from time to time, mentioning that Stanford University’s Nick Parlante will offer Computer Science 101 free online starting in February 2012. Two things (okay, three) about this interest us:

1. It reminds us, and we are thus reminding you, that there are incredible, wonderful, free resources in a vast range of subjects available online for anyone interested. This is exactly what high-potential learners need. Have a kid who’s interested in math? Watch Vi Hart videos, or try Khan Academy, or check out livingmath.net. Have a high-level learner? Check out MIT’s OpenCoursware. Want to learn Latin, but have a visual learner? Try Visual Latin (ok, that’s not free to really learn deep, but the first six lessons are free). Gifted Homeschoolers’ Forum has a list of favorite things that covers a great many topics.

Downside: If you don’t have internet access and/or a computer (some sites don’t work on smartphones, for example), you may not be able to access these more than perhaps at a public library. One more vote for broadening access to the Internet for everyone!

2. We love the fact that resources like these make it possible to customize learning to fit your child’s (or your own) needs. Learn better in the evening? Do your work then! Prefer to learn deep, rather than wide? Explore as deep as you like! Have plenty of ideas about how to teach kids math, but don’t know what a sentence diagram is, or why you would possibly want to know or have your kids know? Look it up online!

3. OK, this is maybe just us, but computer science is fascinating. Computers are part of our lives in such integral ways now. Understanding at least the basics about how they work seems valuable.

High-potential learners, particularly very asynchronous children, need to be allowed tackle big concepts before they’ve mastered the small steps along the way. Their brains are thirsty for this depth and complexity. When they’re ready, they’ll circle back and fill in holes. Let them soar!

Feeding kids’ brains at home

Note the apostrophe: Though zombie fans might like the title better without it, I’m talking about feeding the brains that belong to the kids. The more asynchronous/high-potential the child, the hungrier the brain.

There’s a wonderful blog post on how to help feed kids’ hungry brains, right in your home: It’s called 9 Ways to Make Home a Place of Delightful Discovery, Part 1, and it beautifully describes what we’ve observed being so incredibly effective for kids who fall into highly, exceptionally, or profoundly gifted categories in particular; but we think that there isn’t a child out there who wouldn’t benefit from doing what you can to create such creativity and learning opportunities in your own home.

Do you have any particularly effective modifications you made to your living space that helped your kids learn?

How We Will Change the World in 2012

Inspired (belatedly!) by Craig Newmark’s “How Will You Change the World in 2012″ post on craigconnects, we want to share our plans for changing the world in 2012.

But first, the setting:

With all the progress made in many places over past decades as regards helping children with disabilities, children in need, improving education, and the like, most people would think that there isn’t a group of kids who aren’t being helped. It seems like we’re helping kids more than ever before.

But there is one group of children who don’t. Worse yet, these children are very nearly universally scorned, ignored, and even actively hindered because of their very nature. These kids are intense. They have intense needs. They’re extremely misunderstood.

Because of the way these kids are treated, they don’t learn like they should — not just content, but also good work habits, persistence, and trust. These kids constitute as much as twenty percent of all high-school dropouts. Few, if any, reach their potential.

Emotionally, many end up angry, bewildered, stressed, scared, disillusioned, despondent, even clinically depressed at ages as young as 3 or 4. (Yes, you read that right.) This kind of emotional trauma leads directly to severe physical health problems: blinding headaches, nausea, stomach aches, even ulcers. (Again, yes, you read that right. Stress-generated ulcers in small children.)

Socially, many such children founder, because they’re not placed with peers, and have little to nothing in common with those they are placed with. By adulthood, years or decades of this kind of treatment, lack of support, and even vilification by their very own teachers take severe tolls on health, social adjustment, work performance, and families.

Who are these kids, and why is society persisting in doing this to them?

Before I tell you, i’d like you to take a moment and scan your emotions. Do you feel sympathy for these kids? Now I’ll tell you who they are, and check again… still feel sympathy?

They’re gifted. Highly, exceptionally, and profoundly gifted.

I’m willing to bet you are now kind of annoyed. If they’re gifted, they don’t need help, right?

Wrong.

Here’s how we are going to change the world in 2012:

1. We are going to work to spread awareness of the extremely intense educational, social and emotional needs these children have. To help people understand that what they believe about gifted kids is 99% wrong. (The one thing that’s right? They’re smart! But that’s the source of many problems for these kids, instead of being a source of solutions.)

And we’re going to not call these kids “gifted,” because too many people have the wrong understanding of what that means. We’ll call them a more accurate word: Asynchronous.

2. We will continue to raise funds to launch a program to help asynchronous children in need by providing their families with aid for assessments for identification, advocacy, and educational support; supplies, books, and materials; and tutors, counseling, and the like. Our program is based on the real-life, proven effective approach thousands of families have used across this country for decades. Research on meeting the needs of such asynchronous children unanimously supports our approach, despite public misconceptions (and ironically, the misconceptions of teachers and administrators).

By doing these two things, we expect to help a generation of unusual and exceptional children and families, starting in California but as a model for the rest of the nation. We expect to help them grow up knowing what it is to be educationally challenged; to have good work habits and persistence; to reach their educational (and life) potential; and to have a chance to be as well adjusted socially and emotionally as possible.

These are things we wish for any child. Asynchronous children deserve the same.

Bring it on, 2012!