Category Archives: Service Providers

Why Is It So Hard to Find Schools for Profoundly Gifted Kids?

We were inspired by a Twitter question from @bee_panelo today to write about something that routinely stymies parents of profoundly gifted kids, not to mention twice-exceptional kids (those who are gifted but who also have learning disabilities or other special needs, never mind that profound giftedness has its own inherent special needs, as we’ve written before). The question was this: Why is it so hard to find good schools for highly/profoundly gifted children?

Most people assume that private schools would be the logical choice — that they would have a better track record at meeting the needs of those with more extreme levels of giftedness, and at accommodating the needs of the twice exceptional. But reality is different: There are shockingly few private schools that do a good job at meeting the needs of the exceptionally and profoundly gifted. Exceptions include the Davidson Academy of Nevada in Reno (but it’s only for kids working at the high-school level across the board, and may not be able to accommodate those profoundly gifted kids who work better solo than in group) and Bridges Academy in Los Angeles (for kids in grades 5-12, but it’s unclear whether it would work for the profoundly gifted as well). Other exceptions exist, and I welcome you to post them in the comment section. They are few.

In some situations, a family will be very fortunate to find a sympathetic teacher and/or administrator who is willing to trust the (unequivocal!) research that shows that radical acceleration and curriculum compacting works well for these kids, particularly when the incoming class is prepared for the child’s arrival in advance. We know of a private school in Westport, CT that assigned at least one profoundly gifted child a full-time tutor to permit him to work at his own level and pace, right within his age-level class. This doesn’t gain him intellectual peers, a need that is as critical for profoundly gifted kids as for any other child, but it’s vastly better than the alternative (not having intellectual peers or appropriate intellectual challenge).

But why? Why can’t (or won’t) schools accommodate these children? We don’t have all the answers, but here are our thoughts:

1. Schools don’t understand the profoundly gifted or the twice-exceptional. These kids are unique. Their very nature, at the end of the bell curve, means there are few of them, relative to the vast numbers of other types of children. And the concept of twice-exceptionality — being that smart, but having a learning disability! — seems counter-intuitive. Furthermore, profoundly gifted kids don’t always “present” the way educators think they should (that’s a PDF: see p. 8), particularly when their needs are not being met. Such kids, particularly with twice exceptionalities, may perform poorly in school, challenge authority, seem lazy or incapable, and dramatically underachieve. (As an aside: If they perk up at the prospect of extremely out-of-level work or deep and complex problems, they’re probably in the crowd we’re talking about!) There are many myths about gifted kids, and sadly, educators and administrators are just as likely to subscribe to these myths themselves — even many GATE teachers!

One of the primary things schools fail to understand is that the social and emotional needs of profoundly gifted kids are almost always far closer to their intellectual age than their chronological age. That behavior you’re seeing? It’s nearly certainly because you are asking a child with an intellectual age twice his or her age to find some area of commonality with someone of an intellectual age half theirs, while you are simultaneously meeting everyone else’s needs, except for theirs. Put yourself in their shoes: You, an adult, will sit through a 4th-grade class every day, with those kids, and be treated just like them. Their needs will be met, and yours will not — in fact, everyone will deny that you have any different needs. If you misbehave, it’s clearly a sign that you’re in the right class, that you belong with those kids, because you are behaving like one. Right?

To modify another much-quoted example: If your IQ is 160 (“exceptionally gifted,” with an IQ similar to Einstein’s), and you are in a classroom of typical kids, you are more different from them than they are from a profoundly developmentally delayed child with an IQ of 60. Or let’s say you have an IQ of 180, and you are in a GATE pullout program once a week, with kids with IQs of 130-140. Forty to fifty IQ points is a huge difference — think of a kid with an IQ of 80 and one with an IQ of 120 or 130. Understand now? Yes, kids can and should learn to be polite. But yes, the education should meet the needs of ALL KIDS, even those with IQs of 180 (or higher!).

Educator and administrator understanding of these kids is absolutely critical. Training can help.

2. Schools often believe that meeting the needs of the profoundly gifted will entail great expense. Many schools resist identifying twice-exceptional kids and giving them  Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) if they are working at or above grade level, never mind how far below their intellectual level the children may be working (or how unmet their learning disability-generated needs are). But meeting the needs of kids with learning disabilities is the same whether or not the kids are gifted.  And acceleration is free or very low-cost, as per the research discussed in A Nation Deceived.

As above, it’s critical that educators and administrators learn about the solutions that work for these kids.

3. Schools fear that if they meet one profoundly gifted child’s needs, they might have to acquiesce to the needs of others. Sorry, but we have to say this: Shocking! They might have to actually meet other kids’ needs! We wouldn’t want that, now, would we?

4. It’s not easy to meet the needs of a profoundly gifted child. Profoundly gifted kids are extremely unique. They are few (though more than statistics would predict – see point 17 in that link), and they are extremely diverse — as diverse as the population at large. So let’s say a school has figured out how to meet the needs of one profoundly gifted kid, and along comes another, or the sibling: They’ll likely have to revise their approach, because the second child’s needs will be different. Having twice exceptionalities just amplifies the differences among these children.

The Solution?

There are solutions, both involving acceleration/compaction as noted above, and involving mentoring, custom schooling (including home schooling), early college admission, you name it. One of the things that is needed is a national public education campaign (not just for educators, but for the public at large as well) to help people understand what these children need, and how to give it to them.

We must meet all children’s needs, even if they’re extremely different from the norm.

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Finding Their Tribe: The Importance of Intellectual Peers

Attending a national gathering of profoundly gifted children, we are reminded how critical it is that children this asynchronous be given the opportunity to be with their intellectual peers. Given their asynchrony, this doesn’t necessarily mean their age-mates, even in a gathering like this; but knowing, by experiencing directly, that there are children in the world who are “like them,” is revelatory for kids this unique.

Profoundly asynchronous children at this end of the spectrum move through the stages of friendship development at a faster rate than more typical age-mates. For such a child of six, this may mean seeking friendships that typical children don’t seek until age 11 or 12 — the “sure shelter” of a friend who will accept you for who you are, no matter the circumstances, while most other six-year-olds are seeking a play-partner or person to chat with. Add to this mismatched level of expectations the feeling of differentness and that asynchronous children feel from a young age, and you have a recipe for isolation, alienation, and even depression.

Tending the social and emotional wellbeing of kids like this is critical, and the most amazing transformations happen when kids find their tribe. This can happen in more limited settings, like discovering the one-in-a-million kid who also happens to go to your new school in a big city. But for some children, especially those in more rural settings, it can take traveling across country to participate in a program like the Davidson Young Scholars’ program, PG Retreat, some of the national talent searches, or competitions like the Intel Science Talent Search to fell like they’ve finally found other kids “like them.”

We’d love to hear your stories of how your unique kids found their tribe. Let us know!

If Schools Can’t Meet Gifted Kids’ Needs, What Can?

We’ve mentioned earlier that between asynchrony itself, dramatically different learning styles, and twice-exceptionalities, asynchronous scholars have educational needs that differ so dramatically from those of typical learners that the existing school system can rarely meet them. Especially for gifted kids on the furthest ends of the spectrum, this is the case even in gifted and talented education (GATE) programs, which in any case rarely exist before the third grade, and too often are severely limited or completely absent in this day of funding crises and No Child Left Behind. But giftedness comes hand-in-hand with acute needs, and not meeting those needs seriously damages the child.

In recognition of this harm, out of sheer necessity, increasing numbers of families educate their asynchronous children outside traditional school settings—primarily after the school day ends (“afterschooling,” as noted above) or in home schools.

We should pause here to say that there also are a limited number of private schools that serve asynchronous scholars, but nearly all of these schools target asynchronous scholars whose IQs fall in the first and second standard deviations above the “normal” range at most (so, 130-159); and in many cases do not serve children with “twice exceptionalities.” There is one exception to this, the Davidson Academy in Reno, NV, which is both public and designed to serve profoundly gifted children—but even the Davidson Academy requires that children test well enough to meet their entrance requirements (and quite a number of profoundly gifted children do not test well, because even most IQ tests are not designed to test profoundly gifted children!), and have asynchronies or twice exceptionalities that are not too severe to prevent them from being able to function well in a classroom settings (many exceptionally and profoundly gifted children have intense asynchronies, and a subset has learning disabilities or sensory processing issues that make classroom work untenable). Nonetheless, for those children who qualify, the Davidson Academy is a wonderful, wonderful resource.

But back to those whose needs cannot be met in these school settings: There are a certain number of charter schools offering distance education to homeschoolers. Such schools in California offer $1,200 to $1,800 per school year per pupil to be used for external enrichment classes or service providers, curricula, books and sometimes supplies. However, those funds must be used only for the charters’ “approved vendors.” At many charters the approved vendor list is restricted enough that the more asynchronous scholars cannot use the funds to support deep study subjects of interest to the child—particularly if those interests are extremely specialized or substantially out of grade-level. Many charters also place monthly and annual testing, worksheet and reporting requirements on participants that don’t match the needs of more asynchronous scholars. For these reasons, many, if not most, asynchronous homeschoolers do not enroll in charters. (Hard figures are not available; this estimate is based on anecdotal information gathered from regional and national online mailing lists and forums for gifted homeschoolers.)

Many people might be left wondering what exactly an asynchronous scholar might need in a home school setting. The answer is complex, because there is as much variation in the population of asynchronous scholars as there is in the population of children in general. Most asynchronous scholars learn best when they drive their own learning, selecting a topic of interest and diving in deep for extended periods of time. The parents’ (or tutor’s, teacher’s, educational advisor’s, or mentor’s) role becomes one of facilitation, procuring resources for children so they can teach themselves. These children learn entire concepts at a time, and circle back later to fill in details.

But other asynchronous scholars learn well by following established but compacted curricula at an accelerated rate. Some have extremely high IQs but are dyslexic or have other learning disabilities, and need to use learning strategies developed for learners with those disabilities, but adapted to meet their needs for accelerated, compacted learning. Some asynchronous scholars delve so deep into a particular area at young ages that they outstrip all existing child-oriented materials before their interest as been sated, and parents must develop new materials, adapt adult-level materials, develop entire classes on a particular (sometimes arcane) subject, or find tutors or mentors who can do the same.

There is a thriving online community that addresses some of these needs, and it provides critical support to afterschooling and homeschooling families. The community is comprised of online mailing lists and websites (including those of service providers like the Davidson Institute and the national talent search programs) listing resources, reference sources, and research. Some of the leading lists include TAGMAX, TAGFAM and for those with twice exceptionalities, TAGPDQ; the Gifted Homschoolers’ Forum’s mailing list; and a great many others listed on the Hoagies’ Gifted website. Mailiing list members discuss their challenges and successes, point one another to resources they’ve found useful for their own asynchronous scholars, and the like.

But it may be no surprise to learn that obtaining these resources requires funds far in excess of what many families have at their disposal. Although the cost of educating a typical child at home may be fairly reasonable (assuming the self-selecting respondents of that survey were parents of typical children, which they may not be), meeting the needs of a substantially asynchronous gifted child requires much more money. To be able to meet the educational needs of an asynchronous scholar at home, one parent typically has to remain home, often putting a career (and thus income) on hold, further limiting what’s available. Even families of asynchronous scholars attending typical schools need to spend equal amounts to obtain learning materials for their children to use at home. And this is to say nothing about the services of education advocacy specialists, IQ and achievement assessments, evaluations and treatment for common (among asynchronous children in particular) disabilities not covered by insurance like sensory processing disorder, and the like.

This also doesn’t factor in the costs of the highly specialized materials, tutors, and resources these children may require: Biology lab equipment… college-level texts that still don’t contain material too inappropriate for highly sensitive young children… travel to perform at concerts… appropriate supplies for prodigious artists… a telescope and corresponding computer software and hardware for a child doing original astronomy research… tutors, teachers, community college classes… we’ll stop there. This list may sound incredible, but there are children that need these things to be their right selves, to meet their own, intense inner drive to learn and explore.

The fact is that our system makes no allowance for children like this. The burden of providing these things for these kids this falls on the family. Fairness aside, that can work fine when a family has the means; but there are dozens, if not hundreds of families in California alone who do not have the resources to do so.

asflogobriefThe aim of the Asynchronous Scholars’ Fund is to rectify that shortfall. We are building on a model proven by hundreds of families who work every day to find and implement resources for their asynchronous children. Based on that model, the Fund will provide the resources for families of lesser means to permit them to identify and meet their children’s needs. Please join us today in building this program: Your support will make a difference!