*Read to end, and download your FREE anger tracker today*
A few months ago, I launched my free seven-day e-course “Decoding Intensity”. Those who sign up receive a daily email for seven consecutive days in which I break down some of the basics regarding gifted or twice-exceptional children and overexcitabilities.
In the first message, I ask that the reader reply and share with me their most daunting concern regarding parenting and educating gifted or twice-exceptional children. The overwhelming response was anger.
Parents and teachers of these sensitive and unique children are wondering why their child’s temper flashes so intensely when faced with even minor frustrations and disappointment.
Do you cringe when you imagine your child,
losing at checkers?
not getting a part in a play?
having their seat accidentally taken by another person?
facing iPad time limits?
You’re not alone.
In a previous post I shared,
“…anger in gifted children is often fueled by anxiety… And if anxiety triggers a fight-or-flight response, some gifted children are going to fight.”
The next question then becomes, “Why are gifted and twice-exceptional kids so anxious?” There is no definitive answer to that question, as the circumstances that lead to anxiety are myriad and layered. Anything from diet to bullying to misunderstood learning differences can create anxiety in a child.
The first step to understanding what is making a child anxious and angry is to observe what is triggering those feelings in the first place. Tracking what happens before a blow-up can give you powerful insight into what changes can be made to bring peace back to both of your lives.
To this end, I’ve created a downloadable free tracker for you to use as you observe what is triggering your child’s explosions. When using the tracker, pay attention to the whole child in addition to trying to draw a direct line between cause and effect. This means recording if the child ate, slept the previous night, or has a big event like a birthday or trip coming up along with any obvious events that activated your child’s anger.
After using this tracker, you may notice certain trends or cycles related to your child’s behavior and mood… which is excellent! This data is going to be crucial to you as you formulate a plan for better supporting your child and creating peace and harmony at home and in the classroom. Reach out to me, or leave a comment on my blog letting me know what you learn. I think this is going to be quite a revelatory experience for you! I can’t wait to hear all about it.
I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the 2e newsletter in the Fall. The interview that follows was released in the November 2016 edition of the 2e newsletter. The 2e newsletter is an excellent resource for parents, educators and other professionals that care for twice-exceptional children..
Finding the Right Learning Environment: A Conversation with Jade Rivera
By Linda C. Neumann
Author, educator, and coach Jade Rivera has made neurodivergent learners the focus of her work for much of the last decade. When asked to describe this population, she explains that they are individuals who, due to common variations in the human genome (such as giftedness, autism, and dyslexia, for example) process the world around them differently than do most others.
“I love the term neurodivergent,” she says, “because it quickly conveys exactly what I’m talking about with regard to giftedness or twice-exceptionality. It breaks down the myths surrounding these children, and it gets to the heart of what we’re really talking about – kids who are having a holistically different experience from what many people consider normal.”
Rivera began a career in alternative education following what she describes as a “brief, successful, yet unfulfilling career as a chemist.” She saw this new venture as a way to use her own personal and professional experiences as well as her compassion to help young neurodivergent learners understand who they are and how they learn. She works with parents and professionals as well to help them better understand and meet the needs of the neurodivergent learners they raise, teach, and care for.
What Makes a Good Learning Environment for Neurodivergent Learners
What does the “right” learning environment look like for kids who experience both learning and the world around them differently? According to Rivera, “connection, acceptance, and sustained support are the true needs of a learning environment.” She believes that advanced academics, iPads, and makerspaces are great; but, she says, “They only go so far if we don’t take the time to connect socially and emotionally and allow children’s abilities to unfold naturally, at their own sped-up or slowed-down pace.”
Rivera explains that, in her experience, setting high expectations for these learners is also essential. “I let my students know that they are capable of great and fulfilling feats,” she states. “I tell them that it’s our job as facilitator and student to work together to determine how they learn as well as what they want to learn so that they can live a life that is meaningful to them.”
When asked why traditional schools are often a poor fit for gifted and 2e learners, Rivera replies, “I think it’s important to note that traditional school has become increasingly difficult for neurodivergent children in the last 15 years, since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) went into effect. I might have had a more appropriate and innovative education as a 2e child in the 1980’s than most kids are getting now in 2016. Teachers have been systematically stripped of their abilities to be flexible and use their best judgment. They are forced to focus so much on achievement that they can’t afford to spend time on connection; and, as I stated before flexibility and connection are vital to a 2e child’s wellness in the classroom. Add to this the fact that teachers are rarely trained to educate gifted and twice-exceptional children, and you’ve got a recipe for misery.”
The Impact of an Inappropriate Learning Environment on Neurodivergent Children
In her work, Rivera sees the impact that being in the wrong learning environment can have on neurodivergent learners. “They are hit with the combo of depression and anxiety, which may show up as volatility and anger in the classroom, or possibly as withdrawal and lack of engagement” she explains. These students may find themselves incorrectly identified as having ADHD or an emotional behavior disorder; and they may be inappropriately remediated or medicated. They are at risk, she says, for being bullied, kicked out of school, or even treated for oppositional defiance disorder.
“Unsurprisingly,” Rivera observes, “the result is often a child with a poor self-image, one who might feel alienated and who has no real friends.” These are also children more likely to express thoughts like, “I wish I was never born” or “I want to die,” a situation that Rivera describes as both deeply sad and totally unnecessary.
Switching to a more appropriate learning environment, however, is not an instant cure all. According to Rivera, “Transitioning a child from an inappropriate environment to an appropriate one can be challenging. If the new learning environment is project-based or progressive, it might take the student a while to adjust to the new expectations put upon them.”
Furthermore, Rivera notes, the child may have developed unhealthy coping mechanisms that will take time and perhaps counseling to redirect. This healing process, in her opinion, must be the top priority.
Rivera has seen that kids pulled from the traditional classroom and placed in a progressive school “can become miserable in a wholly different way.” “All of the sudden,” she says, “they’re asked to direct and think for themselves after having very little experience doing that! It’s critical to scaffold these children into these new environments in order to set them up for success.”
According to Rivera, neurodivergent learners who make the change to an appropriate learning environment will “find themselves challenged and encouraged at their level and according to their learning style. Overall, they will have their needs to be seen and heard met. But this is not to say that it will be all roses and sunshine. There will be hard days, but there will be fewer hard days.”
Designing an Innovative Learning Environment
As part of her work, Jade Rivera designs innovative learning environments. Here are some thoughts she shared with 2e Newsletter on what an innovative learning environment should be.
“Many people equate innovation with technology, but innovation is so much more than that! When I think of innovation, I think of iteration – making a commitment to repeatedly coming back to the classroom’s academic, social, and physical design to make it better for everyone who uses the space. The basis for these changes should be feedback and observation, and the process for making changes should be one of testing out new ideas, observing and assessing their efficacy, and then coming back to design some more. It’s an endless process but an effective one. With a certain mindset, it’s joyful. Today, in its latest form this process is referred to as Design Thinking. To learn more about it, check out Stanford Design School’s website: http://dschool.stanford.edu/dgift.
To this end, every micro-school that I’ve led has held a strong commitment to reflection and iteration. I’m constantly absorbing all I can about educational theory and neurodivergent children so I can create the most effective learning environment possible. I’m proud to pass on this knowledge to others, like Edison Academy SLO in southern California. This private micro-school for twice-exceptional students is committed to providing a personalized learning environment for twice-exceptional students by focusing on their strengths. They create an individualized learning plan for each student in tandem with the child and their caregivers based on each student’s readiness, talents and interests. This is an example of a school that understands what twice-exceptional learners need.
Edison Academy SLO is the first up-and-running micro-school born from my Build Your Micro-School Summer Institute. I created the institute for people who read my book, but wanted more. The Build Your Micro-School Summer Institute is a 3-month course packed with guidance and information on creating your own innovative learning environment. Each week I host live calls and open office hours. I work with those enrolled to set goals and create lists of outlined action steps. By the end of our time together, each enrollee will have everything they need to create a thoughtfully planned micro-school ready to meet the learning needs of their community.
People in education talk a lot about inspiring children to become learners and preparing them for lifelong learning. In my mind, there’s no better way to accomplish these goals than to build them directly into the design of the learning environment. I love to teach people how to do exactly that.
“What if I just got lucky?”
It’s the question that lives in the hearts and minds of every person struggling with impostor syndrome. Along with,
“Next time, I’ll fail and then everyone will know I’m not clever after all.”
When a person is living with impostor syndrome, they are emotionally incapable of internalizing their accomplishments as real and deserved. They fear that their achievements are the result of some beneficial twist of fate, when in reality they are the fruits of talent and effort.
In the worst case, it’s a crippling fear of being found out that turns into a pathological avoidance of the spotlight. (I’m talking about something beyond the normal amount of self-doubt everyone struggles with at some point in their lives).
The impostor syndrome phenomenon is typically associated with women, and for understandable reasons. Many women live with a lack of large-scale support for their efforts, along with a fundamental mistrust of their motivations. They are told that they are too emotional or irrational. One need only to turn to history (or more conveniently, the A Mighty Girl Facebook page) and read about the countless women whose historical contributions have been forgotten or mis-ascribed.
Just recently, I began to connect impostor syndrome with my students’ avoidance of challenging educational experiences. Honestly, their avoidance is the product of numerous social-emotional challenges, but I rarely hear anyone discussing how impostor syndrome might be a contributing factor.
A little while back, I presented a webinar for SENG titled “The Unique Challenge of Being a Gifted Woman.” While preparing for that event, I spent a lot of time cogitating on my own life as a twice-exceptional woman and my avoidance of challenge. I realized that when I have struggled with impostor syndrome, it wasn’t only due to the fact that I’m a woman.
It’s also because I have achieved great things in hands-on project-based settings, like a laboratory or a workshop, only to have my self-image torn apart during a timed test or otherwise judged for my inability to produce memorized information on demand.
As a young woman I thought this meant I was stupid, when what’s actually stupid is taking bright children and forcing them to demonstrate knowledge under terms that benefit only one type of learner. It’s a waste of time, a waste of resources, and a waste of abilities.
Not all is lost. I’m cheered that through the work of homeschoolers, micro-schools, and other alternative learning centers, children are learning that their worth isn’t as measurable and finite as a letter on a test.
Together, we’re combatting impostor syndrome. We’re showing these kids that the future needs problem solvers and innovators, that their divergent thoughts can lead to just as much success as an “A” on a math test.
This is a truth that I’m only now beginning to fully internalize. I’m glad my students won’t have to wait that long.
Let me know what tips and tricks have helped you overcome impostor syndrome.
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!
Bob 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 www.bobyamtich.com.
*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. <http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10114.aspx>.).