Tag Archives: High Ability

The Unexpected Lessons I Learned When I Went Back to School for a Week

The Unexpected Lessons I Learned When I Went Back to School

When were you last a student in school? However much we enjoy learning, few adults spend much time in an actual classroom after we leave formal education.

So when our children tell us what’s happened to them in class, it’s difficult for even the most empathetic parent to put ourselves in their shoes and understand how our kids feel.

This month I got a reminder of what it’s like to be a student. My 12-year-old daughter was taking an intensive Spanish course and, as the rain had cruelly dashed my fantasies of lazing on the beach while Cordie got to grips with the indefinite preterite, I took the opportunity to work on my own Spanish.

My week back in the classroom gave me a fascinating first-person insight into a subject I wrote about here last week: How overexcitabilities can help you learn … and how they can hold children back in the classroom.

The class

My Spanish class only contained 5 students, but we had quite different abilities and needs.

Two were 18-year-old German au pairs, one of whom should have been in the level below.  There was 20-year-old Maria from the Netherlands spoke fluent Spanish with a strong Andaluz accent. She was in class to perfect her Spanish grammar and idioms, and spent most of her time on SnapChat. Next was sweet Dorota, a 21-year-old teacher from Poland. And finally there was me, an opinionated lawyer-turned-therapist-turned-homeschooling-mum, whose fluent Spanish spent 22 years going rusty before I began to brush it off again during our month in Spain last year.

Our teacher José was intelligent and creative, but had his work cut out to meet the needs of even such a small group of diverse students.

Not for the first time I wondered, how do teachers manage to serve the needs of 30 mixed-ability children?

And – something I found myself pondering over and over during my week’s course …

What’s it like to be a highly able child with asynchronous development and OEs in a classroom with 29 other children?

Classroom reflections

When the class topic wasn’t stimulating to me, my attention would wander. I’d discreetly doodle or make Anki flashcards, visit the bathroom or get ahead with my homework.

As an adult I was choosing to be in class. Our teacher was smart and resourceful, we were only 5 students, and the school day was just 4 hours long. I had a high degree of autonomy and plenty of experience in how to manage myself in under-stimulating situations.

I couldn’t help contrasting what it must be like for a child who’s bored in class day after day, who has no choice about being there, and who doesn’t know how to manage her intense feelings and under-utilised energy.

When the class topic was interesting to me – when our teacher talked about his Masters degree in ‘Spanglish’, for instance, or we were deconstructing a particularly interesting example of the imperfect subjunctive – I found myself talking nineteen to the dozen, eagerly releasing my pent-up intellectual energy. Then I’d catch sight of the glazed expressions on the faces of my fellow students and feel terrible for having dominated the conversation.

It sounds crazy now, and if I hadn’t written in my journal about it at the time I probably wouldn’t believe it, but even with all my knowledge about OEs, I had to make a huge effort not to internalise my feelings of shame and wrongness for being so different from my classmates.

On top of all that there was the homework, which sometimes I really didn’t feel like doing after four hours in class. Homework only took me about 45 minutes and of course I had the choice not to do it. I sympathised anew with the 12-year-olds who, after a long school day plus extra-curricular activities, are expected to spend 90 minutes each evening doing homework.

And when my classmates chewed gum, I didn’t let my stress levels to get too high before I politely explained that I have misophonia. I’ve never known people chew gum so quietly after that!😂  Schools may not allow children to eat in class, but young people with sensual OE are subject to all kinds of other sensory stimulation which impacts their baseline and  makes it difficult for them to focus.

How can we support intense and sensitive children in the classroom?

My daughter’s an extrovert who enjoys the homeschooling classes she chooses to go to,  but occasionally she finds a session frustrating or boring.

She knows there isn’t always time to dive deeply into subjects she’s curious about, and she understands that not everyone’s as intensely fascinated by the same things she is. Still, her OEs make her hyper-aware of her negative emotions, which she has to work hard to manage.

My Spanish experience gave me much more empathy for my children when they share these kind of reflections with me.

Here are some ideas that occurred to me during my week as a student about how we can support bright, intense and sensitive children in the classroom:

  • We can listen to our kids and not dismiss what they say as whining.
  • We can help them learn about themselves, including about OEs, high ability and asynchrony.
  • In particular, we can show children how their OEs can help them learn – by making them curious, creative and enthusiastic, for example.
  • We can reassure our children that just because they’re different from their classmates doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them.
  • We can take an interest when our children bring up issues that have been superficially addressed in the classroom but haven’t been explored as deeply as they’d like. By giving them the opportunity to discuss topics in this way we can ease our kids’ feelings of frustration and keep alive their intellectual curiosity and love of learning.
  • If we sense that a child is being given too much busywork, we can talk to teachers and suggest that the child is given more autonomy to choose her own projects.
  • We can reassure our children that later in life they’ll have the opportunity to make friends from a much more diverse group of peers, whether that’s at university or as they move through life pursuing their passions and interests.

* * *

When were you last a student?

Did you learn anything unexpected?

I’d love to hear from you, in the comments or on the Laugh, Love, Learn FaceBook page.

Don’t forget to leave your email address in the ‘Follow By Email’  box at the bottom of the page if you’d like to receive my weekly posts about life in an overexcitable family straight to your inbox. 🙂 

How Overexcitabilities Can Help You Learn – And How They Can Hold Children Back in the Classroom

How Overexcitabilities Can Help Us Learn

Can the intensities and sensitivities that often come along with high ability help us to learn? Or do they get in the way of learning?

Earlier this year I co-wrote an article about overexcitabilities and education for a MENSA newsletter. My fellow author Simone de Hoogh* had lots of interesting insights about how each of the OEs might affect a child’s experience of classroom learning. You can read our article below.

Shortly after I wrote the piece, I had my own eye-opening experience of being back in the classroom, when I took a week’s intensive Spanish course. (Let’s just say I have renewed empathy when my children occasionally grumble about their classes.)

I’ve written about these first-hand insights in a separate post, which I’ll share next week.

How overexcitabilities can help you learn – and how they can hold children back in the classroom

Too many bright children aren’t recognised as gifted and talented because the overexcitabilities (OEs) that may come with their high intelligence prevent them from achieving in a school environment.  This is not only harmful for the young people concerned – it’s also a waste for society.

According to Kazimierz Dabrowski, the more OEs a person has, the greater their development potential and their drive to improve not only their own life but also the world around them.

Dabrowski viewed overexcitabilities as innate personality traits. He identified five  types of OE, each one of which can be a double-edged sword. When supported, OEs can contribute positively to a child’s ability to learn, but in the wrong learning environment these OEs can severely impact a child’s development.

People with overexcitabilities experience life differently from those who do not have the traits. They are often intense, hyper-sensitive and react strongly to stimuli that others don’t even notice. OEs can also bring above-average energy, pleasure, creativity, interests and empathy.

Here are some of the ways OEs can affect a child’s experience of learning:

Psychomotor OE

Psychomotor OE brings abundant energy, drive and zest for life. But when a person with this OE is stressed, their urge to express their psychomotor energy grows stronger.

Imagine what happens when a well-meaning teacher who doesn’t know about OEs (and often doesn’t realise how bright her pupil is) tries to keep a child from being ‘disruptive’ by occupying him with busywork.

As the child gets more stressed (because he finds the work boring), he finds it impossible to contain his energy and becomes more and more fidgety. Being required to keep still increases his stress levels further. He’s caught in a vicious circle.

Children with psychomotor OE can find themselves in a catch-22 situation: they can’t focus on under-stimulating work, which means they don’t achieve enough to be identified as gifted and therefore offered work more suitable to their level of intelligence.

Intellectual OE

Children with intellectual OE are deeply curious and can focus for extended periods on complex issues that interest them. However their deep thirst for knowledge can give rise to incessant questioning and an inability to accept ‘because I say so’ as an answer.

These young people also have a strong sense of justice and an inability to tolerate unfairness of any sort. In adult life this drive to understand and deep sense of justice will serve them well, but at school their tendency to argue and question authority can be seen as disrespectful and challenging.

Imaginational OE

Imaginational OE, meanwhile, can bring great creativity.  But in the classroom a creative child’s tendency to go off on tangents is not usually welcomed by a teacher who needs to get through the curriculum.

Children with imaginational OE are often seen as distracted and showing a lack of respect, which means they learn to repress rather than appreciate the creativity which could later be channelled towards new inventions and future solutions to world problems.

Sensual OE

Individuals with sensual OE are capable of deeply appreciating art, nature, music and other sensory experiences.

But their acute sensitivity to stimuli can make the noise, lights, smells and general hubbub of the average classroom unbearably overstimulating, rendering children with sensual OE incapable of doing their best work.

Emotional OE

Dabrowski saw emotional OE as one of the most powerful traits contributing to personal development. Children with this OE are often deeply empathic and sensitive to others’ needs.

But at school these young people’s strong emotional reactions and their need for depth in relationships can leave them vulnerable to bullying.

Children with emotional OE can also be deeply affected by news topics discussed at school, and may struggle with the mature themes in books they are assigned if their reading level is more advanced than their chronological age.

Similarly, they may struggle to contain and process their emotions after being shown films that may be age-appropriate but which affect them much more intensely than others.

Unfortunately many teachers aren’t aware of the social and emotional challenges OEs can bring, and even those who are informed struggle to accommodate the needs of these twice-exceptional learners within the confines of the school system.

* * *

This is a big topic which I know I’ve only touched on here. I’d love to hear from you and then maybe write in more depth about aspects of OEs and learning that you find interesting.

How do your children’s OEs affect their experience of learning?

How do you support them?

Do you have any other questions or comments about OEs and education?

 * * *

* Simone de Hoogh,  Parenting Consultant and ECHA Specialist in Gifted Education, was inspired by her experiences raising her two (now adult) children to set up PowerWood, the UK’s leading not-for-profit organisation committed to raising awareness and supporting the emotional wellbeing of families dealing with the intensity, hyper-sensitivity and super-reactivity (OEs) that often accompany high ability.

If you’d like support dealing with OEs, join me, Simone and other kindred spirits at the friendly PowerWood FaceBook group.

* * *

I hope you’ll come back next Monday to read about my week as a student. In that post I’ll be sharing a few ideas my time in the classroom gave me about how we can support our intense children’s learning. To be sure you don’t miss it, just leave your email address in the box below or above left and you’ll receive my weekly posts straight to your inbox. 🙂

 

Hat tip: Thank you to Devon Goodwin, editor of the British MENSA Education Special Interest Group newsletter for coming up with the title of this post!

Why Being British Stopped Me Finding Help For My Twice-Exceptional Child

british and twice-exceptional

Back when I was still trying to figure out why my intense son was so different from other kids I did a lot of research online. (Read ‘Spent hours googling Why does my child have so many meltdowns? How to parent my explosive child without losing my sanity,’ etc.)

One of the terms I came across on US websites was ‘twice-exceptional’ (sometimes shortened to ‘2e’).  The GHF defines twice-exceptional as referring to a child who ‘is both gifted and has identified learning differences or other emotional or mental health disorders’.

Although my intuition told me that my sensitive, intense, intelligent son fell within the definition of ’twice-exceptional’,  I felt very uncomfortable using the term, even in my own mind. The dictionary defines exceptional as:

Exceptional: 1. unusual; not typical / 1.1 unusually good.

Who was I to go around describing my son with a word that others might construe as meaning ‘unusually good’, let alone doubly so?

I also disliked the word ‘gifted’. I knew my son was bright, but aren’t all kids gifted in their own ways? Besides which, Jasper’s intense emotions often felt more like a burden than a gift.

If it weren’t for the use of these words and my cultural prejudice against them, I might have found answers and support a lot sooner.  I suspect that many British parents of kids with overexcitabilities have a similar experience.

The Dutch lady who tried to ask British parents about giftedness

Simone de Hoogh’s experiences with her own bright, sensitive, intense children inspired her to found PowerWood to support children with OEs.

When Simone, an ECHA Specialist in Gifted Education, moved to the UK from her native Netherlands she was shocked by how giftedness is perceived here.

Simone’s first surprise was her discovery that in Britain hardly anyone uses the word ‘gifted’. The UK government defines the term to include the top 10% of children who achieve consistently high academic results, so as to warrant their inclusion in the school’s Gifted and Talented Register. When, as part of her research, Simone began asking parents about giftedness, their reaction was actively hostile. Most Brits, Simone discovered, perceive giftedness as elitist and as conferring even more benefits on already overly-advantaged white, middle-class children.

Children who fall through the cracks

It became apparent to Simone that the official UK definition of ‘gifted’ excludes many high-able children, like (i) those who aren’t achieving due to socio-economic factors (like a lack of time or space to do homework), (ii) kids with unrecognised learning disabilities (like dyslexia or sensory processing issues), and (iii) those with a high level of overexcitabilities.

Simone could see that out of all these groups of youngsters whose high ability was not being recognised (and who were therefore under-stimulated and often unhappy at school), kids with overexcitabilities were the worst served by existing institutions. She set up PowerWood to fill this gap and support children and families dealing with OEs.

Simone’s challenge was how to connect with her target group in a country in which the concept of ‘overexcitability’ was practically unheard of. In the US, OEs are rarely mentioned except in the context of giftedness. In the UK, however, Simone found that it was only by avoiding any mention of giftedness that she could reach the people she was trying to help.

(Incidentally, the latest research suggests that OEs are not only found in the highly able. Nor do all highly able individual have OEs. But where OEs are present, they are usually more intense in the highly able, which Simone suggests is one reason they’ve been considered an aspect of giftedness for so long. The other reason is that the highly able are more likely to go searching for, and find, answers about themselves and their children.)

What twice-exceptionality looks like in our family

Both my children have overexcitabilities, but my son’s are more extreme. Cordie and Jasper have been home-educated since they were 6 and 5 respectively.  I suspect that if they’d stayed in school, Cordie would have been identified as gifted but Jasper would not.

Jasper’s every bit as able as his sister – more so, in some areas – but already after two terms of school I could see that his intense, hyper-reactive behaviour and in particular his need to constantly be in motion was beginning to get him labelled as a naughty trouble-maker.

The teachers were obsessed with Jasper’s handwriting – I once spent an entire 10-minute parents-evening session being shown the ‘snappy-snap crocodile’ pencil grip which I was supposed to make my 4-year-old practise daily.

Jasper has sensory issues which cause him to feel overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of a typical classroom. And he has mild dyslexia, which probably wouldn’t have been identified or supported at school because, like many high-able kids, he was able to compensate for it and therefore ‘keep up,’ which is often the only thing teachers have time to be concerned with.

Is twice-exceptionality recognised in the UK?

The UK equivalent of twice-exceptionality is DME – ‘dual or multiple exceptionality’. DME refers to a child who is not only exceptionally able but also has one or more special need or disabilities. I’d never heard of the term until I began researching this blog post, which shows how often it’s used.

Unfortunately there are no real advantages to being identified as having DME, unless a child is lucky enough to have a teacher with the means and inclination to support him or her. Children on the Gifted and Talented Register are given enrichment opportunities of an academic nature (though funding for such activities is negligible) but the kind of practical and emotional support twice-exceptional children need is pretty much non-existent.

Homeschooling a twice-exceptional child

I’m so thankful that I’m able to home-educate my twice-exceptional son. At home Jasper can leap around the room as he solves maths problems, take trampoline breaks whenever he needs to, and read quietly on his own when he’s over-stimulated.

He can dictate to me or use a keyboard to write his stories. He can ask the incessant questions his intellectual overexcitability stirs up in him without being seen as disrespectful or a know-it-all. And when Jasper starts describing his new invention in the middle of a fractions problem I can listen and even help him take notes, knowing that the maths question can wait, while my son’s intense imagination needs to be nurtured and appreciated right now.

Gifted, twice-exceptional or DME – how we feel about these words doesn’t matter. In the US they’ll probably help you find community and support. Here in the UK they may not. What matters is that we embrace the incredible neurodiversity that nature has created, and ensure that every child is loved, appreciated and supported as the precious individual that he or she is.

Resources

Websites (UK)

PowerWood – An Introduction to High Ability in Children

Special Educational Needs Magazine – Young, Gifted and Special

Support for families dealing with overexcitabilities – PowerWood Facebook Group

Websites (US)

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum – Resources: Twice-Exceptional (2e)

Books

Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults by James T Webb

Living With Intensity by Daniels & Piechowski

* * *

Do you use the word ‘gifted’?

How do you accommodate your twice-exceptional child’s special needs?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments on at the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page!

GHF Blog Hop - British & Twice-exceptional

To read more about what makes high-able 2e kids twice-exceptional, visit the other blogs in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop.

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