Category Archives: Assessment

A Proven Program Model

We are a startup; we’re seeking seed funding to launch our program, yet we’ve already received requests from families with children whose needs are so acute that they aren’t being met by the school system.

These are families who don’t have the resources to do what wealthier families with extremely asynchronous children do, and either “afterschool” or homeschool their children. Their children are suffering immensely because their educational, social, and emotional needs are not being met. Their families are similarly suffering from the fallout. We wish we were already up and running, so that we could ask these families to apply formally for support, and so we could then provide that support.

So as we prepare to start knocking on doors — big doors! — for seed funding, we’d like to share a series of posts about our approach, starting with our program.

The Asynchronous Scholars’ Fund’s program model is based on a support approach proven successful by thousands of families across the United States (and internationally, even more families) over the course of the past twenty-plus years, and indeed for decades before that.

What does it look like? The details may vary somewhat depending on whether a child is in school, or homeschooled. The basic approach is this: Let the child follow his or her interests. The parent(s) serve as facilitators, providing materials, books, videos, classes and workshops, outings, and projects to allow the child to study the topic in question with as much depth as he or she desires, for as long as desired. Typically the child will move on to the next topic when the first one has been exhausted. Some children, particularly the more exceptionally and profoundly asynchronous, may have multiple interests they explore in depth simultaneously.

How can any child cover a full curriculum this way, particularly if learning exclusively in a home setting? The answer is anchored in who these children are. Most will branch out to end up exploring the full range of what typical children would cover in school, out of sheer interest. Most do so on their own schedule; while some maintain their learning multiple, ever-increasing grade-levels ahead across the board, others will reach a point when they realize that to achieve something they want and need – perhaps community college early admission, for example – they have to meet state requirements for high school graduation or equivalency, and will cram the needed learning into a very short time period.

Other kids, especially those with twice exceptionalities like dyslexia or Asperger’s spectrum disorder, may require more parental guidance to support and strengthen their weak areas, while they soar ahead in their strengths. Some may require remediation using approaches that can be adopted by the facilitating parent, but others require additional outside support from occupational therapists and other professionals.

Additionally, children with narrow interests may need parents to weave that interest into everything they do. If the love is horses, for example, that provides the opportunity to do horse math: If you have three horses in the stable, but six stalls, what percentage of stalls are filled? Horse grammar: What part of speech is the word “horse”? What is the etymology of the various horse part names? Horse biology! The physics of horse motion! The possibilities are nearly endless.

For asynchronous kids who are in a school, the degree of after-school and weekend accommodation will depend deeply on the accommodation that is happening during school hours. Is the child accelerated to the level of his or her intellectual age? Is the curriculum compacted to meet his or her need for learning at a faster pace? Does the child have intellectual (not chronological age) peers? If these needs are met, the needs out of school will be less intense.

But an asynchronous child whose needs are not being met in school will have extremely intense needs after school and on weekends. Most families in this situation find they need to devote constant effort to feeding the “lion” that is the child’s ravenous intellect. Because the social and emotional well-being of these children is closely tied up in having their intellectual needs met, families trying to use afterschooling to meet all these needs have a much harder time. It can be done successfully, but most success results from a combination of advocacy to have the child’s needs met in school through acceleration to place the child with intellectual peers, curriculum compaction, and in-school enrichment, in addition to the intensive afterschooling efforts.

The Asynchronous Scholars’ Fund will provide direct aid to families in need to help their asynchronous and twice exceptional children. This will include provision of services like assessments and advocacy through service partners familiar both with the needs of gifted children, and the methods of school districts, schools and educators. It will include the provision of intensive educational resources specifically tailored to each child’s needs. Kids and families may require individual or family counseling from specialists experienced in working with this population. The Fund will help families access free and low-cost online resources, including, when needed, through the provision of computer technology, training, and Internet access. And because community can be the greatest support network for anyone, the Fund will help families connect with existing communities of families with kids like theirs, both online and in person.

Stay tuned for our next blog post on the the reasons why parents meet resistance from their own families, communities and schools in seeking to meet their children’s needs by following this model, and how they can help resolve that challenge.


Helping Healthcare Providers Help Gifted Kids

Screen-Shot-2012-06-13-at-11.00.35-PMI don’t usually write posts from my own point of view, but I recently helped GHF create a set of resources for parents and healthcare providers to help them better support asynchronous (gifted) children. Although I authored the brochure as an individual, I wanted to write a specific blog post here about it, because the result represents one type of support high-potential kids in need usually don’t have.

Children who are further along the spectrum of giftedness than the “garden variety” who may be served well by GATE programs (if such programs exist in their schools) are different enough from the norm that their healthcare is impacted. Families in need may lack the resources (internet access, time away from work and home responsibilities) to research effective ways to advocate for their children in education settings. And even families who aren’t in need may not understand just how much advocacy is required to help healthcare providers understand their children, too.

Perhaps “advocacy” is a misleading word, because here I don’t mean that parents need to advocate for systemic change. Instead, in many cases, healthcare providers don’t have experience with this population, strictly because of the size of the population itself. (See the chart near the bottom of the brochure.) As a result, even healthcare providers may believe the leading myths about giftedness, or simply may not understand how extraordinarily intense and different these children’s needs are.

As we build our program to serve these kids, the Asynchronous Scholars’ Fund intends to connect families with free resources like those provided by GHF. Such resources are critical to families’ abilities to understand their kids’ needs, and to help them start meeting those needs more effectively.

I’m a parent, and my own children have extraordinarily unusual needs as well. I wish I’d had resources like the GHF brochure years ago, but I’m also happy my own experience helped me contribute to the expanding landscape of resources available to help others. I hope it’s useful for you or someone you know.

– Marlow

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!

Alisa: A true (anonymous) story

We are proud to share with you the exclusive trailer of the claymation PSA we’re working on: This is Alicia (Trailer).

The full film is coming in January 2012, but here’s a synopsis:

Did you know that there is an entire class of children in this country who are so grossly misunderstood that no one helps them, not even when their need is extreme?

This is Alisa. She is many ages at once — 6 years old chronologically, but 20 when she reads astronomy, 8 years old socially, and 4 when she tries to write neatly. She is asynchronous. Some people call this being a high-potential child. But her potential will never be realized if her extremely intense needs aren’t met. Worse yet, the fact that society is failing to meet Alisa’s needs is damaging, frightening, and alienating to her. She should have the same right to have her needs met as any other child.

There are thousands of kids like Alisa in the United States, kids who are many ages at once. They are as diverse as the population of our country.

You can make a difference. Donate to the Asynchronous Scholars’ Fund today. Thank you for your support!

Shifting the Paradigm: Asynchrony and the High-Potential Child

The National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) created a kerfuffle in the gifted education community very recently by recommending that efforts to support gifted children be focused not on identification, but on talent development. We want to go on the record to say that the NAGC has done wonderful things in service to this population, but that they are missing the mark with their new recommendation. Allow me to elaborate:

1. The NAGC notes correctly that “programs… are driven by identification methods rather than service models and rightly criticized for focusing on too narrow a group of learners.” They’re partly right; the goal is to serve the population of children whose intellectual ability and promise is on the outlying end of the spectrum, children who are many ages at once (asynchronous). Focusing solely on identifying kids using the methods used particularly in the public school system has indeed partly failed. The system must include a focus on service models that work for each child.

But the NAGC has the emphasis wrong: The system is failing not because focusing on identification is wrong; but because the methods of identification are flawed:

    • Academic-based performance as a measure of identification of gifted and asynchronous children only identifies those who have managed to perform well in school. This tends to be those who fit in a particular segment, often between 130 and 145 IQ, and those without learning disabilities (those who are not twice exceptional).
    • IQ tests measure general intelligence (“g”), which is incredibly one-dimensional and thus may rarely, if ever, measure the true intelligence, capacity and promise of the most significantly asynchronous (“gifted”) children. (See Karl Bunday’s History of IQ Tests and the “Challenges to g” section of the Wikipedia entry on “g factor”, although I’d love a better link if anyone can offer one in the comments.)
    • Yet worse, every single IQ test in existence today has a ceiling effect that fails to take into account the most profoundly asynchronous children; testers run out of questions, even if extended norms are used; and the only non-ceilinged test (the Stanford Binet L-M) is so woefully out of date that it has substantial flaws in application as well.
    • Add to that the fact that anyone’s performance on a test like this is subject to the vicissitudes of their health and mood that day, their rapport with the tester, the tester’s skill and objectivity, the effectiveness of the individual test taken, etc., and you have a very imperfect measure.

What to do with these flawed methods? We shouldn’t discard them, but rather keep them (and their shortcomings) in perspective. We should educate ourselves using the many resources that exist about giftedness; the Gifted Homeschoolers’ Forum has one good list, but there are others. We should also supplement these methods with something that much of the education world ignores or discounts now: the observations of the child’s parents regarding the development and characteristics of their children.

More research can be done on this point. But the observations of parents regarding the giftedness of their children tends to be very accurate, according to the Gifted Development Center and as confirmed informally by a vast segment of participants in online communities for families of gifted children. Questionnaires for parents and families that assess measures like those described by the GDC should be developed and used by educators, healthcare professionals, and others. The results should be given substantial weight.

We agree with the NAGC that talent development in education is important. But a sole focus on talent development ignores development of the whole child, which for exceptionally and profoundly asynchronous children is at least as critical, if not more so. The social and emotional development of these children is the hardest area to address effectively, some say. Many specialists in the field of education and assessment of profoundly asynchronous children believe that when these kids are nurtured socially and emotionally, their educational development naturally follows on its own, unless it is actively hindered by the educational situation in which the children are located.

Kids like this need to feel emotionally safe; have social and emotional support in coping with their extreme asynchrony (having adult-level thoughts about death, life purpose, philosophy, morality, etc., with only 5 or 6 years of life experience and emotional resilience, e.g.).

Equally important, kids need to know there are other kids like them. They need to find them and spend time with them.

And lastly, we argue that it is absolutely critical that the damage that comes from the very word “gifted” needs to stop. The education world in particular needs to leave this word behind. These children are as different from typical kids as typical kids are from those who are profoundly developmentally challenged. Their needs are equally extremely different. We need a marketing miracle-worker to help us find a term that will work, apparently, but the fact remains that the change needs to happen.

We welcome your comments and suggestions!


Helping the High-Potential Child

You may have noticed our tagline. Helping the High-Potential Child is simple, but powerful. Children who are extremely asynchronous have extreme needs, but the “gifted” label blinds others to that need. These children are intense, all the time, and their needs are equally intense.

To compound matters, the way giftedness manifests itself — the way it “looks” to teachers, parents, and others — can be very different from what most people imagine. They expect global giftedness, brilliance, even genius. When they see a supposed gifted child “zoning” in class, or taking a long time to answer a math problem, they think, “How could this child possibly be gifted?”

But extremely asynchronous children — children who are many ages at once, with a wide gap between their intellectual age (very high) and their age in years (very low) — often have so much going on in their brains at one time that speed of response drops far below what people expect.

Let’s take the example of a typical early elementary school math problem: a chalkboard drawing of two groups of two orange circles. The teacher asks the class, “We have two oranges here, and here are two other oranges. How many total oranges do we have?” A typical child may ponder briefly, but see that there are four, and raise his or her hand to respond.

But an asynchronous child may be thinking something like this: Why isn’t the teacher using actual oranges? Those circles don’t look much like oranges. And why oranges, not bananas? Or candy? Better yet, why not draw the numbers? If she drew the numbers under the oranges it would help my friend Bobby figure out the numbers faster, because he doesn’t just “see” them like I do. I wish she was doing multiplication instead of addition. Then we could look at the symmetry between 2+2=4 and 2×2=4. I love that. Or better yet, she could do 2 + x = 4 and subtract 2 from both sides to show them that the unknown variable is 2. She could just act that out with the oranges, even, and use a box to cover the two. Then she’d need eight total oranges, but I bet it would be better. Why is the teacher looking at me like that? Why is the class looking at me? Oh, right, she asked me the answer.

And only then does the asynchronous child pop out with the answer: “Two!” — if the teacher hasn’t already moved on.

We aim to help identify these children, point them to existing resources, and provide aid to those who can’t afford to access those resources on their own. These children have high potential. We want to help them have the same chance any child has to thrive.

The Critical Role of Identification

As we design our selection process and program to support asynchronous scholars, we have been thinking a great deal about how critical it is for these asynchronous kids to be identified as early as possible – not by the Fund, but by their families and schools.

Two recent articles reminded us that the most underserved of asynchronous kids are English language learners and those who come from underprivileged backgrounds. The current focus to narrow the achievement gap takes the approach of bringing the lower end of achievement up. This helps some kids reach their potential to be nearer to the middle of the heap, which is laudable. But kids already at the middle don’t benefit much, and those whose potential is higher – especially much higher – are left out in the cold.

And woe be unto those whose potential is very high, but who are misunderstood to have little potential, because they are English language learners; have learning disabilities despite high IQs; or suffer from low motivation, poor work skills, and corresponding poor performance in school, also despite high IQs. Some of these children may be assumed to be the beneficiaries of No Child Left Behind, because the approach may help bring their test scores closer to the norm. But what is still left behind is their critical need for intellectually challenging material, accelerated pace-of-learning, and assistance learning diligence and persistence.

Identifying children as being asynchronous – many ages at once, with the potential to work above their chronological age – is critical for several reasons. The first is that it brings the child one step closer to having his or her needs met. The Davidson Institute for Talent Development has an excellent database of articles on identifying such children. Not only might identification gain access for a child to a GATE program or other learning opportunities better suited to his or her needs, but permits both educators and parents a much better understanding of the child. This makes a critical difference in a child’s self-esteem and emotional well-being. For some, it’s life-saving.

The challenge is in identifying these children as belonging with other asynchronous scholars. Schools that use IQ scores alone as indicators of potential have larger disparities among minority and non-minority groups, according to a 1993 study on developing America’s talent. But other indicators can be taken into account to assess the whole child, and these factors become more important to include in assessments when the student in question comes from a minority group, an underprivileged background, or is an English language learner. These include how fast the student is learning a second (non-native) language; whether the child is street-smart; how well they get along with older children and adults; creativity and resourcefulness; and more. Both educators and parents should be familiar with the traits of asynchronous, advanced learners. We’ll be keeping them in mind as we begin to reach out to school districts, homeschool groups, communities, and elsewhere to identify children and families who need our assistance.