Not Just Gifted at School

This post is special since a dear friend of mine wrote it. I asked her to write about her own experience as a parent of a gifted child to hopefully show you that you are not alone in your own journey.

It dawned on me one day that I wasn’t dealing with your typical average 3 year old. Here we are riding in the car, going to the store when my son speaks up from the back seat. “Mom, do you know what 3+4+2+1+3+2+4+3 equals?” I was driving so I didn’t spout off an answer right away, honestly I was curious what his response would be, and secretly I wouldn’t have been able to give him an immediate answer. Pretty quickly he says “I do, it is 22!” He said with such enthusiasm and delight. It was at that moment I knew this kid was going to give me a run for my money.

Outside of his love for numbers Tagen seemed like your typical little boy. He loved playing outside, loved the be with friends and family. You often hear of the social disconnect some gifted children have, only really relating to those much older than themselves. That wasn’t something I really ever noticed with my kiddo. What I did notice was the emotional variations. Some days we were great about things, then the next day those same activities would throw him into a spiral. At a young age he was always very much about things being fair. If his friend got to pick their seat it was only fair that he also got that same privilege. Or if his sister got to stay up past her bedtime by 10 minutes, then it was only fair that he got to stay up 10 extra minutes as well. Regardless of the circumstances, things have to be “fair”.

Thankfully the academics haven’t been an issue for Tagen, he will get his homework done, doesn’t usually fight it, and very seldom needs my help. Socially we have worked a bit more to be accepting of others differences in abilities and know that life isn’t always fair and you won’t always get the same things those around you get. This proved to be most difficult during 3rd and 4th grade so far. Tagen was extremely bored in class, had a few teachers who weren’t sure how to work with higher achieving kids, or strong willed boys. This lead to many trips to the principal’s office and me having her  number programed into my phone. My heart would sink every time I would see her number pop up. Not knowing what the issue was now. One day it was because he choose to draw a unicorn pooping out the math answer. He had finished answering the question with time to spare and used his artistic abilities to spice his white board up a bit. Needless to say his teacher wasn’t a fan and sent him right to the office. Sadly she was the only one who got to see the drawing, which was too bad, the kid has some talents in the art department. My question to the teacher, “Was his answer correct?” I don’t think she was a fan. There was another call from the office because Tagen was sitting at the bottom of the slide and wouldn’t move. A classmate tattled and rather than give a redirection the teacher sent him straight to the office. I was beginning to think this teacher had it out for my kid. Conferences during 3rd grade were rough as well, she could never seem to start them with anything nice to say. I was really starting to think I had a problem child in the making, and as a teacher myself, wasn’t about to take that lying down. I reached out to some other teachers from the past and they assured me he wasn’t the issue. It was simply that his current teacher hadn’t take the time to really get to know him and his quirks and tailor to his needs.

Now 4th grade was a bit better, the gifted specialist for his school really stepped in to help that teacher out with those boys in her room who needed the challenge. We still saw some behaviors, he did get suspended for fighting that year. Again, he believes things need to be fair, and it was only fair that he push the kid back because he was pushed. Needless to say we have had several conversations about expressing ourselves when we feel things are not fair. And again about things won’t always be the same for everyone. Tagen is in 5th grade this year and has really matured. I think it helps that they chose to move him up to 6th grade math, he is feeling more of the challenge and the teacher has taken the time to get to know him.

I know it isn’t the same for all gifted children, they all have their quirks and vices. Tagen will hopefully always be interested in learning, just leaving us with the emotional end to work more on at home. He is discovering what he is passionate about, and to my husband’s dismay it isn’t sports all that much. You just never know what to expect, and that is true for all kids regardless of their academic ability. As parents I feel like we need to support one another rather than compete over who has the more gifted or advanced child. Am I proud of him, you bet your sweet booty I am. I try not to go overboard however, I don’t want to create that monster child who thinks that just because he is gifted he is the best. I ask him daily what is one thing he failed at. He thinks I’m crazy but he is also learning that it is okay to fail at things, what matters is how you come back and respond.

Raising children is tough no matter what, raising a gifted child will bring a whole new level of soul searching. There are so many days I feel like I can’t offer him what he needs. Then I remember, he needs a mom who will give him unconditional love no matter what, a parent who will have those hard conversations with him and a role model of how to fail with grace and dignity then get back up and go at it again. Let’s take care of one another and remember, we are sending the next generation of leaders out into the world.

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.

What’s the state doing for your student?

Colorado Department of Education (CDE) has done an amazing job setting up the rules and regs for school districts across the state in order to help gifted and talented students become identified, have programming options, and encourage parent involvement in their child’s programming. They have one of the best set ups when it comes to identification of gifted and talented students and provide gifted and talented specialists with in-depth training on how to properly find gifted students. But what about programming for gifted students?

CDE requires all students who are identified as gifted and talented in any area (Specific Academic, General Intellectual Ability, and Specific Talent Aptitudes) are placed on an Advanced Learning Plan (ALP). The ALP is “a written record of a gifted student’s strengths, academic and affective learning goals and the resulting programming utilized with each gifted child and considered in educational planning and decision making. 12.01(2)” (CDE, 2018) This is a legal document in which programming is described and tied to standards for the students ability level and grade level. So what does this mean for you as a parent? What does this mean for you as an educator? A student?

Well the answer is simple, but the implementation is difficult. Here is why.

The Code of Colorado Regulations requires each school district has gifted and talented programming in place including having all gifted students on an ALP. Once the ALP is in place, it is to be used by schools (teachers, administration, and specialists) to help make decisions in educational programming and decision making in order to meet the unique needs of a gifted student. Another major piece of the ALP is the Affective Development (12.01(3)) and is a required piece of programming for gifted students. This means finding ways to help gifted students understand themselves as gifted learners, the implications of their abilities, talents, and potential for accomplishment. The Affective Development programming also requires programming centered around interpersonal (empathy, leadership, teamwork, active listening, etc.) and intrapersonal (self- esteem, ability to learn, self-confidence, etc) development. These plans are all tied to standards so teachers and parents know how the programming will happen.

Now as far as implementation, the state requires that an ALP is created and updated yearly. Every school district in state will have different requirements on how often the plan is updated throughout the year. (Personally I do one mid year update with students, unless their plan is different and requires more check ins.) At a minimum, parents and teachers should have access  to the ALP as well as have the ability to help create programming plans for the ALP. When the goals are being written, they should be aligned with tired classroom instructions and expanded learning opportunities for supplemental programming (12.02(2)(g)(ii). This is supposed to be a combined effort from the specialist, parent, and teacher with the support of administration.

(CDE, 2018)

Yes, I said, “supposed to.”

While the state has these guidelines in place, ALPs are often filed away and not looked by the classroom teacher who should be helping provide supports for your gifted student. The GT specialist should be following up with teachers on how they can help support the classroom teacher with their GT students. The reality of it is across the state of Colorado there aren’t the same opportunities or support staff available to help implement and support ALPs for gifted students. Some districts have one GT specialist for their entire student body, and some don’t have anyone to help with GT services. There are districts that are overcrowded and have multiple specialists who split time buildings and end up with caseloads of 135 gifted students to keep track of… (Something that would be unheard of in Special Education.)

The state of Colorado does not require a GT specialist in every district, they simply require someone to take on the responsibility of creating ALPs for students. The state also only requires teachers who are in charge of classroom instruction in core academics meet the requirements under federal law for highly qualified teachers. So if a gifted student is in a classroom with a highly qualified teacher and they have access to their ALP (with the possibility the teacher didn’t read the ALP), that school is technically meeting the requirements on serving gifted students.

So what can you do? Ask if you have a GT Specialist in charge of ALPs. Request access to your students ALPs so you know how to help make sure appropriate programming is in place for your student. If you are a parent, follow up with teachers to make sure they have seen your student’s ALP and ask how they are implementing it in the classroom. Remember it is a legal document, meaning it has to be followed for the best interest of the student. It is not something to be filed away and forgotten about until the end of the school year.

Check on your school’s programming options, and ask for updates on your students progress. It most likely won’t happen unless you ask.

Resources: Colorado Department of Education: https://www.cde.state.co.us/gt

ALP Resources from CDE: https://www.cde.state.co.us/gt/alp-0

Laws and Regulations for GT (page 98): https://www.sos.state.co.us/CCR/GenerateRulePdf.do?ruleVersionId=6251&fileName=1%20CCR%20301-8

So your child is gifted, now what?

So your child is gifted? Now what?

Once all the testing is said and done, as a parent you receive a permission slip to identify your child to receive gifted education services. You sign it and send it back to the gifted specialist at your school. So, now what?

Let’s start with a definition of Gifted. The Colorado Department of Education’s definition of gifted:

  • The Exceptional Children’s Educational Act (ECEA) defines “gifted” children as:

Those persons between the ages of four and twenty-one whose aptitude or competence in abilities, talents and potential for accomplishment in one of more domains are so exceptional or developmentally advanced that they require special provisions to meet their educational programming needs. Gifted children are hereafter referred to as gifted students. Children under five who are gifted may also be provided with early childhood special educational services. Gifted Students include gifted students with disabilities (i.e. twice exceptional) and student with exceptional abilities or potential from all socio-economic, ethnic and cultural populations. Gifted students are capable of high performance, exceptional production, or exceptional learning behavior by virtue of any or a combination of these areas of giftedness:

  • General or specific intellectual ability
  • Specific academic aptitude
  • Creative or productive thinking
  • Leadership abilities
  • Visual arts, performing arts, musical or psychomotor abilities

Basically, this means your student is looking at and solving problems at a higher level than their peers and some adults. Our job as the gifted and talented specialist for your student is to make sure they are being challenged intellectually, supported in their social emotional needs, and reaching their goals throughout their academic career.

Ok, what’s next?

Every school and school district is different, but a general rule of thumb is the gifted specialist will start working with your child to set up their Advanced Learning Plan (ALP) and setting goals for them to work on for the semester, year, month, etc. The ALP is a working and changing document. Once a goal is met, a new goal is set. As a parent, you have a right to access and provide input into this plan and document. Then it is the job of the gifted specialist to make sure teachers are made aware of the ALP for the student.

ALP Breakdown:

  • Annual document to be done at the start of the year
  • Progress monitoring throughout the year
  • GT Specialist should provide updates on the progress of the goals
  • Classroom teachers are made aware of, have access to and utilize the ALP in class.
  • Goals are written and aligned with tiered classroom instruction and supplemental or intensive programming if needed.
  • Students are active in the ALP process
  • Parents need to be informed and included in the ALP process.

Seems easy enough and pretty hands off, right? For the most part, yes this is true depending on grade level and how involved you want to be as a parent. My biggest piece of advice is to look at your schools gifted and talented resources and programming options in order to determine the type of program your student is going into.

How can you support your child at home?

  • Collect resources on your child’s interests- books, videos, and websites.
  • Make time to talk to your child about those interests everyday and encourage active questioning.
  • Find peer groups that have similar interests
  • Allow your child freedoms or responsibilities appropriate for their individual social and emotional development.
  • Model the behavior and respect of others you expect of your child. Find and encourage them to participate in acts of service that can make a difference.
  • Provide challenges outside of school. Enrichment is very beneficial whether it is to supplement academics or explore their passions make sure to encourage outside learning and challenges.
  • Encourage your child to take risks. Make sure to celebrate mistakes as learning opportunities. Even when you make mistakes, model positive ways to problem solve and grow.

Resources:

  • CDE’s Parents Corner
    • https://www.cde.state.co.us/gt/parents
  • District Gifted and Talented page
  • National Association for Gifted and Talented
    • https://www.nagc.org/
      • Click on the parents tab for resources
  • Davidson Institute
    • https://www.davidsongifted.org/
  • Facebook Groups
    • Parents of Gifted and High Ability Learners
    • Colorado Association of Gifted and Talented
    • Parents of Gifted Children