Why is my GT kid so intense?

Dabrowski is known for coming up with 5 areas children will exhibit intense behaviors and labeled them as “overexcitabilities”. It’s important to note that these are not limited to just gifted students, and can be experienced by all children and even adults. The other important thing to note is overexcitabilities (OE) are not used for clinical diagnosis purposes, but rather are used to help children understand and manage their OE’s in a positive way.

The 5 areas of OE’s are:

  • Psychomotor
    • Child has so much energy, never sits still for long
    • Child fidgets, has rapid speech, some sort of constant movement
  • Sensual/Sensory
    • Child avoids certain stimuli
    • Child has an extreme reaction to sound and/or touch (tags in clothes, texture of paper, loud sounds, different pitches of sound)
  • Intellectual
    • Child likes to experiment a lot
    • Child has unending curiosity
    • Child will sometimes worry about fairness and injustice
    • Child wants to learn everything and anything about their passions
  • Imaginational
    • Child has many imaginary friends or worlds that are real to them
    • Child will daydream a lot and has difficulty “tuning in” to lessons
  • Emotional
    • Child has deep sensitivities and acutely aware of their feelings
    • Child may internalize experiences
    • Child may overreact because they hold in school stress until they reach a safe place to be able to vent

Now most children will tend to exhibit one of these OE’s versus having all of these at once. Some children will exhibit one OE more than the others, but can show some small signs of another OE.

Even just having to help your child navigate through one OE is time consuming and overwhelming for you and the child. So what are the benefits of your child having an OE?

  • Improved learning once OE is known
    • Psychomotor- allowing extra movement or fidgets while in class can help improve child’s ability to maintain attention.  
    • Sensory- seating away from distractions, providing a calm place to refocus allows the student to experience learning in a healthy way.  
  • Prevention of misdiagnosis
    • OE’s can look like ADHD, autism, SPD, etc- if we are able to identify an OE it allows you to avoid a misdiagnosis that can be cause more harm with unnecessary medicine or testing.
  • Improved student/teacher/parent relationships
    • OE’s help everyone working with the child understand the reason behind behaviors
    • Allows the child’s OE to be handled with empathy and compassion thus allowing them to learn how to cope and celebrate their sensitivities as strengths.
  • Mental health assistance
    • Knowing a child has OE’s helps increase the success of counseling gifted children.
    • Lessens the risk for mood disorders such as anxiety and depression because it allows parents to help them with coping techniques for their OE.
  • Gifted identification
    • OE’s can increase with level of giftedness which allows parents and teachers assess a deeper level understand the students needs. (OE’s might be used to help identify students someday rather than current testing.)

So now what? We know what OE’s are, what they look like, and their benefits, but we should always be working on increasing our own understanding of things happening with our gifted students. Here are a few ideas:

  • Parent/Advocacy groups
    • SENG– Social Emotional Needs of the Gifted has support groups as well as articles and courses on OE’s
  • Connect with other parents who have children with OE’s
    • Facebook groups, local district or state groups
  • Administrators
    • Include trainings for teachers and staff on OE’s for gifted students. Educate your staff on how to help students cope and feel successful in the classroom if they have OE’s.
  • Teachers and Parents
    • Seek out additional resources to help you work with OE’s in a positive way. See the book list below and handout.

Book and Article Recommendations:

Check the quick do’s and don’ts when it comes to helping your child with their OE’s in a healthy way. Click here for a FREE download.

Why we need to check in on our GT Students

There is a very common misconception that gifted students don’t need to have a lot of check ins when they are in class. They “have it together”. Gifted students are playing by the rules and getting their work done, they don’t need help with the work, their grades are fine… Yes, while all of this may be true, we forget they have social-emotional needs too since their work often is not a issue. So, when their grades start to plummet we become frustrated that they can’t get it together.

We have to keep in mind as parents and teachers, our gifted students need to have check-ins too. They may be able to demonstrate content knowledge and not show difficulty with the work, but they do very often struggle with  social emotional issues that are bigger than they can handle. Young gifted students can be doing really well in school one day and then be crying in the hallway for an hour trying to understand why people don’t have enough food to eat. Older students might be doing great in their three advanced placement classes, but be having an internal struggle with making the decision to not go to college against their parents wishes. At any given point, a gifted student could be wrestling with the fight they had with their parents or even their friends which can derail them just as fast as a fire drill.

The trick is to check in with our gifted students before it gets to a point where we can’t get them back on track. We want to make sure we have a pulse on all of our students and their well-being, but that is difficult when you have a room of 30 students for 7 class periods a day. However, if we think of it in the sense of athletes and how often coaches check in on their star players we would notice the star athletes are checked in on often and coached on how to improve or challenge their skills. Coaches don’t let the star just go about their practice or their game because they have it all together. Coaches encourage them to push through the tough practices and praise them when they accomplish a goal.

Gifted students are complicated. They need to be challenged in their work, and they need help being in tune with their own social-emotional needs. So while in the gradebook they appear to be functioning well in their classes, they may have something bigger going on outside of academics they need help processing. Gifted students are unique in that they often are able to communicate and function intellectually, but they very often struggle with the emotional side of their brain because there isn’t a rhyme or reason behind those emotions. They need help to process those emotions in a logical way.

The flip side of this is when gifted students start to struggle academically. This is where we need to stop and ask the questions:

  • Are they bored? Do they need more challenging work?
  • Have they learned and mastered the material already?
  • Are they dealing with a major social emotional issues and need to talk to someone?

As you discover the answers to these questions you should be able to help your gifted student work through their needs and help find what they need right now.

Some suggestions would be the following:

  • Asking higher level thinking questions in class or one on one
  • Create challenging options for them to complete
    • Offer a menu of choices for completing projects
  • Give them the opportunity to express their needs (academically and mentally)
  • Check in on them
    • You know when things aren’t working- take the time to notice that and check on them
  • Encourage them to push through the tough assignments or content
    • Coach them using Growth Mindset techniques.

Our gifted students need to know we care about them as a whole person- not just their performance in class or on their report card. Make sure you check in on their needs outside of academics and let them know you care about their social- emotional needs can have a greater impact than any grade they receive on a report card.

Supporting you 2e student at home

Does the thought of sitting down with your 2e student to do homework give you a pit in your stomach? It’s totally normal to feel that way because your student is unique in two very different ways and it can be difficult to know where to start and how to support your child’s unique learning needs.

Just like every child, we want to make sure are able to help them feel successful in their school work at home while still remaining in a loving, supportive parent role. It’s a daunting task to feel like you are parenting well and helping your child grow into their potential you know they have. Today I want to share a few tips on how to help your twice exceptional student at home with their school work and helping them develop their strengths as a twice exceptional student.

  • Believe in your child
    • 2e students have and will make some of the most important contributions to our world. Take a look at this list of 2e adults that have made an impact on the world.
    • Be sure to provide supports that play to their strengths. This allows them to see themselves as successful.
      • Allow them to be creative
      • Allow them to be hands on with learning
      • Allow them to try to tie in their interests within the subject
  • Understand where your child excels and where they struggle.
    • Have the gifted and talented specialist or the special education teacher go over test scores with you in detail so you can gain a better understanding of how your 2e child’s brain is working. Ask to see*:
      • Cognitive Test Scores
      • Intellectual Scores
      • Psychological Scores

These scores and understanding what they mean will help you find ways at home to help your child with their work at home.

*It is your right to see these scores and they should be included in your child’s IEP/504 evaluations. Schools do not do all of this type of testing, so there is a possibility you may need to seek out private testing.

  • Set up a learning space and time school work.
  • Knowing your child’s strengths and weaknesses will help you plan this space and ideal time for working on school work.
    • Some ideas to consider using with your 2e child:
      • Set expectations for homework time and clear consequences
        • Ex: We are going to work on homework for 20 minutes and then we can take a break. If you are working really hard for those 20 minutes we can ______. (Play to their interests and what they enjoy doing during breaks)
      • Allow them to use their preferred method of learning if possible
      • Give small to-do lists
      • Allow breaks
      • Have music available to help keep them focused
      • Divide larger assignments or projects into smaller chunks
      • Check in on their progress after 5-10 minutes
        • Provide positive reinforcement and feedback during these check-ins
      • Use a timer for task completio
  • Create outside learning opportunities
    • Mentorships in their area of interests
    • Community colleges and Universities often offer summer camps that might play into your 2e child’s interest and strengths.
    • Make sure outside challenges are set up to meet your 2e child at their level- we don’t want them to fail or feel like they won’t be successful
  • Work with their teachers to help with supports and accommodations
    • Ask the teachers what is working well in class for your 2e child, and try to use those things at home. Consistency will help your 2e child feel like they are capable of learning anywhere if they can use the same supports at home and at school.
    • You may even have some strategies that work well at home you can suggest to the teacher. Do not ever be afraid to help your 2e child’s teacher out with ideas to help your child feel successful- most teacher’s appreciate know what works well at home so they can try it in the classroom

This is just to get you started. I would also encourage you to join other parenting groups of gifted and 2e parents in order to gain more insight into what they have done with their child at home to help them feel supported and successful at home while working on school work.  

Resources for 2e:

http://www.2enewsletter.com/

https://www.world-gifted.org/WCGTC17-Presentations/3-4-5-Handout.pdf

https://www.davidsongifted.org/

Healthy Advocacy

Advocacy- this is a huge piece of gifted education that seems to be lacking. Why?

There is a desire and a need for our gifted students to feel challenged and feel like they are learning new information, but when the students are encouraged to ask for more challenging work or the parents attempt to ask teachers what is being done for their gifted student; they are met with mixed reactions.

Well, the typical excuse of teacher’s plate are very full is not what you want to hear. I know this. So I am going to do my best to give you and your students the tools and the confidence to advocate for their needs in a positive way.

As a gifted and talented specialist, I would encourage you to first look at the Advanced Learning Plan (ALP) created for your student. If you feel like the ALP goals are no longer relevant to your meet your students needs, you need to set up a meeting to talk with the GT specialist at your school. Make sure you plan the meeting to happen with your student present because they need to have a say in their goals or they won’t participate in reaching those goals. Once new goals have been set or goals have been adjusted, the GT specialist will make sure the teachers are informed of the changes and how to help your student in the classroom.

Now, while ALPs are a legal document, there are not a lot of repercussions for not following the ALP down to every last detail. (Every state is different and you will have to check with your state if you’re not in Colorado) ALPs are often taken as a suggestion in classroom since legal action doesn’t tend to end up in favor of the student. (I did a study on this and out of 23 cases and only 9 of them barely won.) ALPs are helpful for teacher who are not familiar working with gifted students, but they are often on confused on the true needs of gifted students.

So, here is what I suggest when either you or your student are trying to advocate for their needs in the classroom:

  • Make sure you set up the conversation to occur at a time that works best for the teacher, where they won’t feel rushed or distracted by trying to make it to the next class.
  • Reassure the teacher you are enjoying the content, but are wondering if you can work together to create an alternative assignment or project that will challenge you but still meet the requirements on the rubric.
  • Let the teacher know you are willing to put in the work to make the assignment work, it won’t be completely up to them.
  • Explain to the teacher why this is important to you or why you are passionate about taking the time to do an alternative assignment.
  • If you have a GT specialist in the building, ask the teacher if you can work with them on the alternative content or project so not to take the teacher away from the larger classes needs.  
  • Request to meet with your GT Specialist to talk about the needs of your student or if you are wanting to address the goals set in the ALP. Trust when I say we love meeting with parents and students because it allows us to get a pulse on what you need and what your students need.

There will always be some obstacles when we are advocating for our gifted students, but the most important piece of advice I can give you is this- Don’t give up. Keep asking. Keep making suggestions. Keep finding ways to collaborate with the teacher to help meet your students needs. Sometimes if we are a squeaky wheel we can then plant seeds for more training and coaching to happen for our teachers on what it means to have a gifted student in their classroom.

Perfectionism. Yes. It can be a Problem

Perfectionism. The definition alone can tell you enough to make a connection to your own kid.

  • a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable
  • typically : the setting of unrealistically demanding goals accompanied by a disposition to regard failure to achieve them as unacceptable and a sign of personal worthlessness (Webster’s Dictionary)

Sound like your child? Maybe you even see a little bit of yourself in that definition?

So the big question is, “Isn’t perfectionism a good thing?”

Yes and no. There is a level of perfectionism we all want to strive for, but often our gifted students take it to a much higher level because of their desire to achieve more.

The healthy pieces of perfectionism we should be encouraging are:

  • An intense need for order and organization
  • Self-acceptance of mistakes
  • High parental expectation
  • Positive ways of coping with their perfectionistic  tendencies
  • Role models who emphasize doing one’s best
  • A view that personal effort is an important part of their perfectionism.

However when we start to see our gifted students heading towards more of a “dysfunctional perfectionism” we need to intervene. Here’s what “dysfunctional perfectionism” looks like:

  • A state of anxiety about making errors
  • Extremely high standards
  • Perceived excessive expectations and negative criticisms  from others
  • Questioning of their own judgments
  • Lack of effective coping strategies
  • A constant need for approval

Malow saw perfectionism as a good thing. It helps us realize more about our own human nature in what he refers to as self-actualization. “Self- actualization means experiencing fully, vividly, selflessly, with full concentration and total absorption,” Maslow wrote in The Farther Reaches of Human Nature.

So based on these things, perfectionism is a concept that can be both good and bad. The other part of this is there are good and bad things when we look at traits of “healthy” perfectionism and “dysfunctional” perfectionism.

Healthy traits:

  • Need for order and organization
  • Acceptance of one’s own humanness and errors
  • Parental support and role models for high standards
  • Attention to details
  • The awareness that personal effort and high standards are an important part of one’s perfectionism

Dysfunctional traits:

  • Anxiety about making mistakes
  • Perceived pressure from others
  • “Black and white,” or forced choice thinking in many situations, such as “good or bad,” “right or wrong,” or “perfect or failing.”
  • Self-doubt
  • Lack of effective coping strategies
  • A constant need for approval, and a belief that much of one’s success or failure will be determined by outside sources, not personal effort.

Perfectionism is not a trait that is problematic, but with our gifted students it’s the intensity of emotion associated with traits of perfectionism that can lead to behavior issues, self-criticism, family fights, shutting down, resisting the activity… Our gifted students are so passionate about things they love, so when they feel like they have “failed” or it wasn’t “perfect” in their eyes, we have to be on the lookout for intense emotions and reactions to said “failure”. These are the moments where we can teach our gifted student how to cope when things don’t go “just right”. Gifted students need help understanding how to deal with the intense emotions they are feeling because they may not know how to cope effectively with BIG emotions when they feel like they have failed.

Based on “Helpful Tips for Parents of Perfectionistic Gifted Learners” by Susan T. Berry

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Creating Independent Learners

One of the biggest concerns I have seen in working in gifted education is parents interest in how schools are fostering independent learning. This is not an easy task when teachers are required to teach a prescribed curriculum and have a wide spectrum of student needs to meet in one class. (Not to mention class sizes of 30+ kids)

Let’s back up first. What is independent learning?

The simple answer is allowing students to set a goal and develop a plan for learning. SMART goals are typically the most referenced when we talk about fostering independent learning. (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely)

SMART goals are also what is used typically when creating goals for gifted student Advanced Learning Plans (ALP). This goal set up is helpful in making sure students really understand what is going to go into accomplishing their goals throughout the year, and allows them to see what action steps they need to take next.

The thing with SMART goals is they can use this set for smaller goals in classes with class projects or even tests they are preparing to take. High school students will think SMART goals are too elementary, but once they put the goal into action they will see (hopefully) that it does help them achieve their goal.

Another thing about SMART goals is parents can help create them at home too. There are plenty of pinterest and google results out there for templates to use with your kids at home. So what kind of SMART goals could you set at home with your student? Maybe it’s mastering a kick in their karate class, getting the lead dance part in ballet, scoring their first goal, reading a harder book on a subject that interests them… the list can go on and on. You could even create goals on how they can work on building a better relationship with a sibling or adult, or learning how to recognize their triggers when they are anxious. Kids need help with those skills too.

Teachers are constantly using and developing rubrics for their classes and grading content, but another way to use rubrics is to allow students to self-assess their work in an honest and reflective way. This means asking students to genuinely reflect on their effort, what they learned, where they struggled (either with content or presentation), and what they would do differently if given a project similar. This self-reflection allows students to check and make sure they really did take ownership of their learning and end project. Another reason a self-assessment is beneficial is it allows teachers and parents to see where their student might be struggling or feeling confident in.

When we allow time for self-reflection on major projects, we are allowing our students another way to express what they are proud of and what they are struggling with in class. This can lead to them learning how to self-advocate for their needs in a class. Once they take the time to reflect on their success and struggles, they can then ask the teacher for work that is similar to what they felt like they did well and also for help in areas where they struggled. (Gifted students don’t always like to struggle with academics, but a self-reflection sometimes pushes them to realize they may need help and that is ok.)

So now what?

  • Create goals for your students- parents and teachers. Create some goals yourself with your students so they can see how you take control of your learning or personal goals. If we don’t demonstrate how to do it, they may not want to buy into it.
  • Make sure the goals are created based on their interests or where they want to improve upon something they feel needs strengthening.
  • Allow your students to reflect on their progress or completion of the goal.
    • Here are some example questions to ask:
      • What do I like best about the work I did?
      • What might I do differently next time in order to challenge my mind?
      • What did I learn about myself and my learning during this project?
  • Encourage students to use their self-reflection to advocate for their needs in the classroom. Encourage them to ask for help or ask for the ability to differentiate a project

    • (Teachers) Offer a menu of choices on how to complete a project that allows for you to use the same rubric, but allows a gifted student to take charge of their learning.  

This should get you started if you are concerned your student is not becoming an independent learner. I would love to hear your ideas and what you have done or seen in the past! Share below!

Happy goal setting!

Lindsay