Cumulative Capacity in G/2e Children: It’s not one thing, it’s a hundred

Cumulative Capacity in G/2e Children: It’s not one thing, it’s a hundred

This month I’m honored to share with you a guest post by my good friend and colleague Shanna Philipson. Shanna is the mother of a 2e child and the author of Meet the Beaker Kids, a fun and informative comic book for anyone trying to understand their sensory systems or the sensory systems of their children and students. Purchase the comic and the corresponding manual here.  

It was not one thing, it was a hundred little things. It was a war that was lost through minute attrition — countless small provocations and challenges that never amounted to a full-scale crisis but cumulatively killed me every day, five days a week.

I’m not talking about parenting my 2e kid. I’m talking about teaching.

Why couldn’t I thrive in a job that came so naturally, so passionately from my mind and heart? I taught some of the brightest students in the district but felt utterly empty at the end of each day. How could a person love their work and yet be so unhappy in their work at that same time?

When I walked away from my high school classroom for the last time, I knew it wasn’t because I had failed my students or because I fell out of love with teaching. I walked away because the cumulative sensory, social, and emotional burden of my dynamic, loud, highly regimented work environment was crushing me. Hidden behind all my success was another me desperately trying to escape my environment.

The year after I quit teaching my seven year old daughter began to pull her hair out at school and suffer from migraines. It was then that I began to reflect on the cost of cumulative stimulus on students, too. Like my own challenges in the classroom, it wasn’t ONE thing that was wrong for her; it was a hundred. She couldn’t hold all she was expected to carry all day.

How could I explain this? For those of us who have children with a dual (or triple!) diagnosis, it’s especially easy to get swamped with the jargon of our child’s needs when we try to explain their experience to teachers and family.

What we need is an acknowledgment and a language to describe our — and their — cumulative stimulus experience. We need this because “problem” behavior is rarely the result of a single influence. We all have limits to our tolerance and need for stimulus, and the language of clinical diagnoses, therapies, or interventions just won’t cut it with grandma. Neither will subjective labels like “sensitive” or “emotional” or “intense”. After all, one person’s minute “intense” is another person’s week-long “whoopie!”.

Cumulative capacity is the hidden experience, the secret menu to your neurology. Because it’s never just one thing — it’s usually hundreds of little moments that define your tolerance for Life.

I think of cumulative capacity as an internal beaker. In this visual metaphor, our beakers are all different. The size of the beaker tells me a lot about how much input/stimulus (even the good stuff!) you can handle before you’re full. Are you full in 30 minutes — or a week? The shape of your beaker tells me how you prefer or tolerate your input. If you’re a slim test tube shape, you fill up quickly no matter your size. Or perhaps you’re an Erlenmeyer type! Your enthusiasm can quickly turn into intolerance if you fill too fast. (That’s me!) You may feel like one type of beaker at home, but another in the grocery store.

The point of this is not to offer you more jargon, but to invite you to play with a mental schema that assumes that we can describe our experiences in life — even the good ones, like my joy in teaching — without judging our tolerance for Life. In the context of cumulative capacity, you don’t have to hunt down each offending moment and analyze it. You can recognize when your beaker is telling you “enough”. And you can choose how, when, and with what you wish to fill it.

Why the Student of the Future Needs to Write Well (Part 2)

Why the Student of the Future Needs to Write Well (Part 2)

This month, my friend and colleague, Megan Maxwell-Smith has written a brilliant guest post that I think will resonate with many of you. Megan, an online writing coach, shares four activities to engage reluctant students to write. Check out Part 1 of this two-part series here!

4 Activities for Engaging Reluctant Writers

Reluctant writers will experience more success and more confidence if you toggle the amount of organization, mechanical skill, and new content creation that’s required for writing activities.

Since there are so many components to the writing process—from coming up with ideas, to constructing logical arguments, to refining language and style—it’s also helpful to allow students to focus on building one skill at a time.

The following targeted activities allow students to engage their strengths and also use scaffolding for their weaknesses so that writing is more approachable and fun.

Activity #1: Add in More Structure with Frames

For some students, frames cultivate creative energy by removing the need to think about structural details.

How to Do It:
Create fillable templates that include spaces for whatever elements your students are working on, such as topic sentences, transitions, or analysis.

Activity #2: Take Away Structure with Free Writing

Free writing helps students who balk at structure or who find it difficult to turn off “complete sentence” mode for mind-map activities. It also helps students who need to tease out their thoughts and see what they already know, or those who write with many mechanical errors.

How to Do It:
Create a big idea question on the topic you want students to write on. Then, create sub questions that will help unpack the topic even further and inspire more thinking. Set a timer for around 10 minutes and talk your students through the freewrite, beginning with the big question and periodically adding in sub questions. Before starting a freewrite, cue students to turn off their own “correctness” police so they don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Additionally, let them know the additional questions are there for help, but students do not have to address them.

Activity #3: Take Away the Writing Altogether with Oral Brainstorming

Let your students focus on ideas, the seeds of writing.

How to Do It:
Write broad categories on slips of paper or half-size note cards. Put them in a stack or a bag so that students can draw one at a time. When a student draws a card, start a timer for one minute. The goal is for the speaker to say as much about that topic as possible in the time. The thoughts can include personal experiences and associations, but should not deviate from the topic.

Take the first turn in order to model the “free association” nature of this activity and show students they really should just say whatever comes to mind.

Possible cards:

  • Zoos
  • US presidents
  • Space
  • Pets
  • Hobbies

You can also include units of study you know students have knowledge of, such as the French Revolution, volcanoes, or the circulatory system. This makes for a fun group activity but can also be done one-on-one if the instructor alternates turns with the student.

Activity #4: Offer (Bad!) Samples

This is a great activity to practice revising, since most of us can’t resist the urge to correct what we think is wrong or clumsy.

How to Do It:
Offer students sample writing that stinks. I like to make up a character so that students feel perfectly free to voice their opinions: they’re not correcting someone they know and respect; they’re correcting Joe, a confused but well-meaning Icelandic exchange student who is still learning English.

Rather than focusing on actual errors, such as misspellings or grammatical slip-ups, offer writing that is awkward, terse, or under-developed.

This is best done as an open-ended, collaborative exercise. Ask students what they think doesn’t work about the writing. (They can point out what does work, too, if they’re so inclined.) Try to draw out as much as you can. If the answer is, “It sounds babyish,” ask “Why?” Model answers to this: “I notice that Joe kept using the word thing instead of a more specific word.” Or, “Joe used and three times in this one sentence! I wonder if there’s a different way he could have put that thought together.”

If using this activity with students who struggle with verbal communication, you can skip the description of the process and jump right to making changes.

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Megan Maxwell-Smith is an online writing coach who specializes in making writing less stressful. She loves creating practical templates, outlines, and checklists so that students of all skill levels can successfully follow the writing process and adapt it to suit their unique learning styles. Her commitment is to helping students build skill and confidence in writing as they enjoy expressing themselves.

You can grab some of her free writing resources right here!

Why the Student of the Future Needs to Write Well (Part 1)

Why the Student of the Future Needs to Write Well (Part 1)

This month, my friend and colleague, Megan Maxwell-Smith has written a brilliant guest post that I think will resonate with many of you. Megan, an online writing coach, shares why she thinks writing needs to be priority for our children’s education. (This is Part 1 in a two-part series).

As a formerly timid and lost learner, I greatly admire the student of the future.

This self-aware student makes intelligent use of educational hacks that fit her neuro-uniqueness. She is not beholden to bloated publishing conglomerates or static curriculum. She self advocates.

But one traditional skill that tomorrow’s student won’t have outgrown is writing.

Writing Shapes the Brain in Positive Ways

The student of the future needs the critical thinking skills that writing imparts. In a world of ever more input and the opportunity for instant reaction, she needs to be discerning and thoughtful.

Learning to write is learning to argue—and to take apart and evaluate arguments. The craft and practice of writing will teach tomorrow’s student to think deliberately, logically, deeply, and expansively.

The Internet Makes Writing More Important, Not Less

Movements and companies are born on the web. Our leaders, innovators, and gurus are the people who communicate consistently and clearly via Internet channels. They bring us the ideas and solutions we didn’t even know we were looking for. Their humor heals, their compassion inspires, and their dedication moves us forward, individually and collectively.

If the student of the future wants to lead, innovate, learn, cooperate, or experience her culture fully, she will need to be an active participant on the web. She will need to contribute her ideas through her writing.

Writing Opens More Doors in the New Economy

The student of the future will invent objects and processes no one has ever thought of before. She is also likely to invent many of the professional and social positions she holds. Her advancement will depend on effectively describing her unique experiences and getting others excited about what she’s done.

Whether she speaks in person, records herself, or uses print or digital media, the student of the future will have to write. Because, in a larger sense, writing means curating ideas and selecting words with care. It means revising and editing in a patient process, until one’s meaning is direct, graceful, and inviting.

This student’s ability to communicate will allow her to collaborate with, manage, inform, and inspire a workforce or a movement. Her writing is what will grab the attention of heads of companies or heads of state.

Storytelling Will Be One of the Most Valuable Skills of the Future

From cover letters and program applications, to clever tweets and well-chosen hashtags, writing tells our stories and establishes our personal brands.

The future will bring us an endless supply of More. More platforms. More participants. More noise. In order to stand out, the student of the future will need not more volume, but more individuality. She will need to be committed in her voice and confident in her style. What else but the regular practice of writing will do this for her?

Writing Is the Entry Point to Culture

Even as we’re hearing (in written articles!) that people read less and less, the number of writers is only growing. Writing is now for everyone. In every tone, on every topic. We are becoming a culture of writers. There is no longer any barrier to entry for publication.

To participate in her culture, the student of the future must read, write, and respond. Writing will give her entry to the ongoing dialectic of culture. It will allow her to evaluate what has come before her and to argue for what should come next. And that is a power that all students should possess.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series next month!

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Megan Maxwell-Smith is an online writing coach who specializes in making writing less stressful. She loves creating practical templates, outlines, and checklists so that students of all skill levels can successfully follow the writing process and adapt it to suit their unique learning styles. Her commitment is to helping students build skill and confidence in writing as they enjoy expressing themselves.

You can grab some of her free writing resources right here!

Gifted Kids, Cyberbullying, and Digital Citizenship: Helpful Resources for Parents

Gifted Kids, Cyberbullying, and Digital Citizenship: Helpful Resources for Parents

This month my friend and colleague, Pamela Price, has graciously agreed to guest post for my blog as I finish up the first draft of my book, prepare for my wedding (!), and travel abroad. Thank you, Pamela! I urge you to take the time to explain digital citizenship to your children and students. As they say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Like it or loathe it, online interaction is increasingly a part of how we humans interact. This reality is both a blessing and a curse within the gifted community, especially for young adults and kids.

On the one hand, many gifted individuals—especially deep introverts, people with specialized interests, and homeschool families—find it easier to create and nurture social bonds with the aid of chat rooms, web forums, and social media. Teens frequently take great pleasure from relationships established online with people from all over the world.

On the other hand, the anonymity of virtual spaces can empower users to speak unkindly to one another. Gifted/twice-exceptional (“2e”) folks who are hard-wired to be emotionally sensitive, can find everything from minor potshots (aka “ordinary meanness”) to hate-filled cyber bullying as painful as any playground or classroom social slight. And we mustn’t forget that there are gifted/2e youth who are aggressive by nature and find a way to vent that energy via the Internet.

The upshot?

As with real world social interactions, gifted/2e kids and teens deserve guidance on how to navigate online relationships. They need to learn how to become good digital citizens. Fortunately, there are a number of free resources available for teaching “digital citizenship,” including civilized, polite norms of online behavior (“digital etiquette”).

The first of the following three recommendations is geared for kids specifically. The other two suggestions are for adults; however, mature kids and teens motivated to learn more about the topic may find the material accessible.

Webonauts Internet Academy

This PBS online game, which covers a range of issues from privacy to ethical behavior, is a great starting point. Designed for children ages 8 to 10, it’s also appropriate for younger gifted kids who may be trying out popular websites like Scratch in order to learn coding basics. The site includes tips for parents and educators on how to make the most of the content.

Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum

Designed by Common Sense Media, a non-profit “dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology,” these materials can be tweaked for use by homeschoolers and afterschoolers alike.

The curriculum is divided into grade levels, too, which can help you decide gauge where your child should be at in terms of general digital literacy. (It goes without saying that gifted kids, who are prone to asynchronous academic learning, may be “out of step” with their peers. Tweak the plan provided by Commonsense Media as necessary.)

Parents of older children dealing specifically with online aggression will find this resource helpful because it breaks the cyberbullying issue into three parts: the definition, how to prevent it, and when and how to report it. It also has great tips on establishing “house rules” about online use and behavior.

pamela-price-of-redwhiteandgrewPamela Price’s second book—on gifted kids and bullying—is due later this summer from GHF Press. As a GHF: Gifted Homeschoolers Forum board member, she is working currently on a pilot project with a PBS affiliate (KLRN San Antonio) and B.A.S.H. called the KLRN Virtual Classroom (#KLRNVirtual). The new initiative, designed to better inform homeschool families about PBS learning resources, is funded generously by the Knight Foundation. You can find Pamela at, Twitter (@RedWhiteandGrew), Pinterest, and




A Prescription for Progressive Education

A Prescription for Progressive Education

This month I’m proud to present to you a guest post from my friend, fellow writer, and gifted advocate Celi Trépanier. I think you’re going to love the metaphor she’s chosen to illustrate the worth of progressive education. I know I do!

Coughing, congestion and fever—symptoms that can send us to the doctor’s office, and so you go. You are ushered in and Dr. Stan Dardize’s nurse notes your symptoms and sends you to exam room 15. You open the door to a large room filled with about 25 other coughing, congested and feverish people. A stack of pre-filled, pre-scripted prescriptions is given to a nearby person by the nurse and told to pass one to each person in the room.

You and everyone else received the prescription for the same medication.

Then a second stack of papers titled “What to do for Cough, Congestion and Fever” are distributed—a list of of identical, standard behaviors meant to help you and all the others relieve symptoms of your illness. The bell rings and the nurse reminds you and all of the coughing, congested and feverish people in room 15 to fill your prescription, follow the given instructions and return exactly one week from today—all together—at the same time. She then shows you all the exit door and you file out coughing and shivering.

Ignoring preexisting conditions, not knowing what medications you are currently taking and disregarding any unidentified, co-existing conditions, the lot of you are treated the same, given the same instructions and expected to achieve the same results.

This one-size-fits-all approach to medicine is impersonal, clearly illogical and unthinkable. Treating every patient the same is sure to be ineffective, right? So, why do we educate our children this way?

Of course, the analogy above seems pretty absurd to us because we know all these patients are different despite the three common medical complaints of coughing, congestion and fever. We know there could be other medical factors that would make their medical treatment different from the other coughing, feverish patients in room 15.

Optimal, personalized and appropriate medical care should be a priority. And so should educating our children. It should be a priority.

Just like medical care, education is crucial for every person in order to have a sufficient quality of life. Education is needed to advance our world, solve our problems and bring about innovations. Shouldn’t it be personalized and not standardized?

Our traditional school system educates a group of students, the same-age, in one classroom, passively absorbing the same information, utilizing the same curriculum, but producing widely varied results. I imagine Dr. Stan Dardize’s coughing, congested and feverish patients, although treated with the same medical treatment, all had varying results—some got better, some got worse and some stayed the same.

These patients all expected to get well, not stay the same or get worse. As parents, isn’t this what we expect with education? For our children to do well? Not stagnate or fall behind?

Unlike traditional education, progressive or alternative education educates the whole child using methods and materials personally suited to that one child thus providing that child with the just-right tools to do well and to excel in his field of interest and talent.  Also, a progressive education teacher needs to have the space and freedom to develop personal relationships with her students so that she can create a personal education plan that suits the whole child.

Tailoring a child’s education to meet his unique needs and interests is better than a one-size-fits-all approach, and many traditional school teachers do try to individualize instruction, but it is next to impossible with the onslaught of standardization and grade-level expectations which are required of schools today.

When we consider how we learn in ordinary situations outside of a traditional school, it is so dissimilar to the ways we expect kids to learn in traditional school today. Helping our child learn to ride a bike, muddling through building a birdhouse, learning about a new travel destination, figuring out our new cell phone, understanding a friend’s political views—we read, discuss or just jump in and just do it. Learning in these situations is active, engaging and motivating which also helps us to retain the newly-learned skills and information. I don’t think memorization of isolated facts can claim any such retention of information.

Just because we’ve always done it this way does not make it the right way—not for every child.

About Celi: 

Celi TrépanierCeli Trépanier was born and raised in south Louisiana. She grew up with a strong Cajun French heritage, eventually married a French-Canadian, and has three wonderful sons. She currently resides in central Iowa with her husband and youngest son.

Celi has a vast and varied background in education. She received her B.S. from Loyola University in New Orleans and her M.Ed. from the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, then taught in Louisiana, Ontario, and Alabama, in public schools, private schools, and homeschool co-ops.

Celi became a passionate advocate for gifted children after tiring of her family’s painful battles with traditional schools and the misunderstanding and neglect of gifted students. Through adversity came her passion, her strength, and her voice. She advocates for the educational, emotional, and social needs of all gifted children, and her dream is for schools and society to one day understand the truths about giftedness in children. Her writing centers on her advocacy for gifted children and her own journey with her three gifted sons. Her emotional and sometimes pointed posts can be found on her website, Crushing Tall Poppies. You can follow Celi on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

The Six Types of Gifted Child: The Twice-exceptional

The Six Types of Gifted Child: The Twice-exceptional

I’m delighted for the opportunity to share my good friend, Bob Yamtich’s perspective on Twice-exceptionality. I love what he has to say about his experiences and how to support 2e kids. 

A few years ago, I left a self-help group of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome, offering gratitude for the group’s support over a span of years and reporting “I think it’s more that I’m gifted than Aspie.”  I promptly received replies, “That sounds like black-and-white thinking; it could be both” and “You are always welcome back.”

I have since returned and remain grateful to their support. It’s always a blessing to find one’s tribe, even if that tribe has a lot of different names and meeting places.

When Jade invited me to write a guest blog about Type 5: The Twice-Exceptional (2e) child, I immediately said “yes!” and started taking an honest look at any insights I could offer to address this. I looked (again) at the 1988 article profiling the six types of gifted, back when they were calling 2e “the double labeled.”

As I mentioned, two of my main exceptionalities are giftedness and Asperger’s traits, so my understanding of 2e comes from both self-exploration as well as my work as a therapist and coach with gifted/2e families.

For the past several posts, Jade has been working with you to identify and understand the six types of gifted child. And if you answered mostly E’s in her quiz, you may have a Type 5 gifted child. The Twice-Exceptional child refers to intellectually gifted children who have some other form of possibly diagnosable condition, often viewed as a disability (though I certainly don’t see it that way).

By now, I imagine most all of those reading Jade’s blog know that asynchronous development and the overexcitabilities of giftedness can lead to precocious access to perception, understanding, and wisdom. However, I would like to describe a more humble perspective: it took me years of therapy to cry (although I tried to speed up the process by bringing an onion, chopping board and knife) and say “Some things are hard for me.”

No matter how gifted they are, some things are hard for your kids.

Whether it is a difference in social thinking like Asperger’s, a difference like dyslexia, anxiety or ADHD traits, or even existential depression, any of these aspects of one’s experience can have challenging implications.

The combination of precocious understanding and lagging skills is complicated and confusing for your child. Their cognitive abilities and a longing for self-acceptance can make them impenetrable to feedback, out of fear of hearing criticism.

If your child struggles to understand their own complexity, how can you support them?

Talk openly with them about their exceptionalities. Ask how their mind works, and if it is fun to be them. Provide opportunities for self-exploration and understanding. Listen for any metaphors that give texture to their experience. And listen carefully.

Each person can have a custom-tailored self-understanding to better prepare them to have shared understanding with others. They say that in both love and therapy, you can only go as far as you have gone yourself. Go there with them.

I recommend preventive counseling for gifted and 2e kiddos, because complicated minds can build complicated traps.

And explore any other family members or historical figures who may share some of their exceptionalities. (Personally, I love knowing that my grandfather was a machinist with a keen attention to detail).

If possible, find mentors to engage them in their areas of strength while gently encouraging skill development where they lag behind.

A gifted/2e person does well to go far in their self-understanding, so that they can have more internal space to understand others and the world around them.

That understanding can lead to more acceptance, of self and others, and help increase ease and fun.

Have you talked with your kid openly about their giftedness and twice-exceptionality? How did it go? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!

And next, Jade will return to discuss Type 6: The Autonomous Learner in more detail. I know I personally can’t wait to read it!


Bob2_smallBob Yamtich, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California, has a private practice providing therapeutic communication coach­ing to gifted and 2e families. He and his wife are expecting their first child and are curious to see how many exceptionalities their new babe will have. You can learn more about his work at

*This blog post is based on the article, Profiles of the Gifted and Talented (Betts, George, and Maureen Neihart. Profiles of the gifted and talented. Gifted Child Quarterly, National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), 1988. Web. 2013. <>.).