Category Archives: gifted children

Remote Learning Strategies for Special Needs Students

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Remote learning isn’t easy.  Helping a special needs student navigate it isn’t easy either. Here are some strategies to improve outcomes and reduce everyone’s stress about it:

  • If your child’s OT has created a sensory diet for them, this is the time to use it.  A sensory diet is a series of activities and actions that support the brain’s ability to regulate alertness and emotional arousal.  If there every WAS a time to get serious about a sensory diet, it is now.  Your child needs every advantage to stay calm and focus.  If you never drilled down and tried it, ask for a review of the techniques, and don’t be shy about admitting that you don’t use it as often as recommended.  We know you are overwhelmed.  We are too!
  • Your learning environment matters.  Take a look around, and remove distractions.  Remove things that don’t distract you, but could distract your learner.  This may mean that you put up a tension rod and a drape that blocks a window, another room where a sibling is learning, or even the view to the snack cabinet.  It may mean that cheerful signs go down.  It may mean that the room you are using is the wrong room because it is too bright, too warm, too noisy, etc.  Kids with learning differences don’t get motivated by lots of decorations; they get distracted.  Teachers get enthusiastic about decorating their classrooms, but they don’t have sensory processing or learning issues.  Don’t make things harder for your child.
  • Positioning matters.  The chair height and desk/table height will affect your comfort and attention span, so you have to think about how it affects your child.  If your OT is virtual, you can send photos and videos of your set-up and get feedback.  This may not require a purchase.  We can help you use the materials in your home to make your equipment work better.
  • How much sleep is your child getting, and how much rest, play, and fun?  Some kids are way over scheduled, even with COVID, and some aren’t getting a chance to be creative.  Make sure that you have puzzles, art supplies, crafts, and other ways for your child to explore.  You might find that you can throw off some stress by painting or crafting as well.
  • Consider therapeutic listening.  I am using Quickshifts Quickshifts: A Simple, Successful, and Easy to Use Treatment For Regulation, Attention, and Postural Activationwith almost all my private clients, and it is helping them focus on Zoom sessions.  Even parents that were skeptical of this treatment have come on board.  They see the difference it makes!

 

Gifted Child? Try “How Does Your Engine Run” For Sensory Processing

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I love working with gifted children.  OTs get referrals to work with gifted kids whether or not they have been tested by a psychologist.  Some have motor delays amplified by the asynchronous development, but many are sloppy at handwriting because their motor skill cannot keep up with their language skill.  Some are sensory avoiders or sensory seekers.  Or both.  They aren’t always in distress.  They are almost always out of synch with their families, peers, and teachers.  Without understanding how to manage sensory processing issues, these kids are driven by the need to handle motor demands and sensory input, often driving their teachers and parents a little bit nuts.

Some gifted kids really do need motor skill training and sensory processing treatment.  They are struggling with tolerating their world, and can’t achieve their potential in school, with peers, and at home.  While many kids are “twice exceptional”  and have a learning disability or other disorder in addition to being gifted, simply being gifted creates permanent processing challenges.  The gifted brain will always be driven, and it will always prefer intensity and complexity to an extent that exceeds people with typical skills.   Almost all younger gifted kids need help to understand that their brains will always respond this way, and they will constantly bump up against the typical world in ways that can create problems.  Knowing how to manage this conflict in daily life is our wheelhouse.  Occupational therapy is focused on function.  Always.  We don’t stop with a neurological explanation of giftedness.  We have solutions.

One of the most useful strategies to address a child’s aversions or sensory seeking behaviors is to create a “sensory diet”.  This can be very simple or very complex.  A sensory diet provides activities and equipment that help people tolerate sensory experiences that overwhelm them, but it also “feeds” the desire for sensory experiences that can derail them from interaction and participation.

Avoidant kids learn that more proprioception will help them tolerate noise without wearing headphones and blocking out all interaction.  Sensory seekers learn that they don’t have to kick another kid’s chair to get input; they can do wall push-ups or wall sitting quickly in the hall between classes.  Therapy that includes a sensory diet helps the child who has such pressure to speak that they interrupt everyone, and it helps the child that learned to escape bright lights and scratchy clothes through daydreaming.

Developing a sensory diet that a child can use independently is the goal of Mary Sue Williams and Sherry Shellenberger’s book “How Does Your Engine Run?  Children learn about sensory modulation by thinking about their ability to perform sensory processing as an engine.  Running too fast or too slow doesn’t allow for great performance.  Running “just right” feels good internally and allows a child to learn, respond appropriately and achieve mastery.  Finding the right activities and environments that allow for “just right” processing is based on what therapists know about neuropsychology, but this program asks the client to assess what works for them, and asks them to use these strategies effectively.

This book isn’t new, and it isn’t perfect.  But it is a good place to start.  It explains behaviors using neurological strategies that work, and provides a framework for inexperienced therapists to move from prescribing to guiding.  A gifted child can begin the process of using a self-directed sensory diet far earlier than their typical peers. I have seen 4 year-olds start to master their own drives once it is explained to them.  They feel terrific when their abilities are recognized, and adults are seen as supporters instead of controllers.

The biggest problem I encounter is unlearning the behaviors that children have developed before their parents and teachers understood that giftedness is more than a big vocabulary.  Children may have learned to push a parent to exhaustion to get what they wanted.  They may have bullied adults or intentionally alienated adults to be allowed to do what they want.  They may have become extremely bossy and gotten away with it.  They may have decided that any skill that takes time to develop isn’t worth it.  They will lead with the things that they find effortless.  This will trip them up over time, but without understanding the life of the gifted child, these behaviors sprout like weeds.

Gifted children are still children, and they need guidance and support to grow into their gifts!  Occupational therapists can help them and their families do just that.

Looking for more information on helping your gifted child?  

I am writing an e-book on this topic, but you can also call me for a consult as well.  Visit my website Tranquil Babies  and use my contact information to set things up today!

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Does Your Gifted Child Interrupt You Constantly? Respond This Way For Better Results

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Gifted kids of all ages like to ask questions.  Most of the time, they have an intensity that means they frequently interrupt people.  It is one reason why they like books and online media.  They can turn the page, scroll fast, and toggle back and forth without waiting for you!

As understandable as this behavior is, it is still impolite and annoying.  This is a problem.  Gifted kids aren’t always the kids with the most friends, and highly gifted kids are so far off the developmental path of their typical friends that sometimes they have only one friend.  Or none.

Teaching a gifted child how to behave socially is important for their long-term and short-term mental health.  They aren’t trying to be difficult or rude.  They need adults to help them manage their gifts.  Here is a suggestion to manage the chronic interruptor:

Give them MORE information than they asked for, using technical terms that you think they don’t know, and more details than you would offer another child of the same age.

Why?

The gifted brain looks for three things:  intensity, complexity, and satisfaction of the drive for learning, novelty and perfection.  Giving a gifted child an answer in this way, rather than shutting them down, is like giving a thirsty man a bottle of water.

If your child sits back and thinks about your complex answer, their shoulders relax, and their tone softens, you know you hit pay dirt.  You got it right.

What if they become more aggravating?

The child that, instead, is being a real PITA, who wanted your attention but not your information, the child that wanted to jerk your chain?  They won’t react this way.  They may even get more aggravating.  When your child draws a line in the sand and baits you, that has nothing to do with being gifted.  They are defying you.  Different problem.

But the gifted child, who was simply expressing that drive, intensity and complexity?  They should be much happier, and they could even smile at you.  You understood them, you got them.  Responding this way to my clients  and getting a positive result is one way I know I could have a gifted child in front of me.  Giftedness is rarely formally tested under 5, but it emerges early.

For more information on helping gifted children thrive, read  Why Gifted Children Aren’t Their Teacher’s Favorite Students….  and  Raising a Gifted Child? Read “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children” For Successful Strategies To Navigate the Waters  .  One of my new posts, Gifted Child? Try “How Does Your Engine Run” For More Peace at Home and School , describes a program occupational therapists use that teaches a gifted child how to manage their drives in a positive way.

If you want to ask me questions about managing your gifted child, visit my website,  Tranquil Babies , and buy a consultation session.  You will be able to have more of an understanding of why you and your child struggle so much when they are so smart!!

Why Gifted Children Aren’t Their Teacher’s Favorite Students….

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Parents of bright children often want to have their child in programs for the gifted and talented.  Parents of gifted children want their child to make more friends and spend less time in the principle’s office.

Why?

Gifted children of any age are rarely the teacher’s pet.  Here are a few reasons:

  1. Bright kids are a joy to teach.  Gifted kids are usually the children that disrupt and challenge teachers.  Bright children learn quickly and can answer all the questions.  A gifted child learns amazingly quickly and asks more questions than the teacher raises.  They can grasp a concept or an action after 1-2 repetitions.  And then they are done with that topic.  Really done.  Bored stiff or wanting to drill deeper.   This makes them out of step with their peers in a typical classroom.  Teachers have to work harder to make their lessons effective for the gifted child while staying on the lesson plan and managing the kids who struggle to keep up.
  2. Gifted kids are passionate: passionately opposed to rigidity, passionate about fairness, and addicted to logic.  They are not fond of following baseless rules, or sometimes any rules.  In fact, pointless rules are like poison to a gifted child.  Bright kids know these rules are pointless, but they care more about the consequences of disobeying, so they go along.  Gifted kids find the illogical and often capricious nature of these rules offensive to their very spirit, and will even bait teachers to get them to admit that their rules make no sense.  This won’t endear a gifted kid to educational staff, even the teachers that initially liked the challenge of teaching an intensely inquisitive child.
  3.  Bright kids learn the correct answers and rattle them off as requested.  Gifted kids believe that there are no correct answers.  The gifted child sees all the gray areas and can see the many sides of a situation.  They can even see that math questions could have more than one answer.   For teachers that are linear thinkers, this can be maddening.  For gifted kids, it is how they see…everything!

I love working with gifted children.  They can be the most fun I have in a day!  I love helping them handle their sensitivities and helping their parents understand their needs.

Looking for more ways to help your gifted child?

If you are the parent of a gifted child and would like to learn more about how to approach everyday issues with confidence and compassion, visit my website Tranquil Babies and purchase a consultation session under Happiest Toddler on the Block.  Even if your gifted child isn’t a toddler, that will be OK.  You will get a 30-minute session focused on you and your child!

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How an Occupational Therapist Can Help The Siblings of Special Needs Children

 

joao-rafael-662575-unsplashThe parent of one of my clients recently returned from a conference related to her youngest child’s genetic disorder, and she told me that the presentation on helping the siblings of special needs kids really only offered one niblet of advice: “Try to give each sibling 10 minutes a day of “just us” time.”

My shoulders, and my heart, fell.  Telling exhausted and worried parents that they need to find more time in their day, every day, isn’t fair.  This mom could have used so many more specific strategies.  She didn’t need another way to feel inadequate to the challenge.  When you have a special needs child, you don’t have extra time.  Some days you aren’t sure you will be able to shower and shampoo.  Even if you could carve out some time by delegating and hiring help, the truth is that living with constant worry about the present and the future, running chronically short on sleep, and perhaps still recovering from a NICU nightmare…this doesn’t lend itself to stellar time management.

There are things that really do help.  Among them are getting the right kind of assistance and support, sharing the knowledge you receive from specialists, and handling everybody’s feelings with compassion (including self-compassion) and honesty.    Occupational therapists are out there helping families deal with life, since we have a solid background in the science of occupational demands and the psychological responses to illness, injury and trauma.  We aren’t psychotherapists, but we study the science of healthy life routines and behaviors.  We also spend a lot of time learning what special needs kids need to thrive, and this includes supporting the siblings and parents of our clients.

Here are some of the things I wish that the presenters had suggested:

  1. Ask your child’s therapists to train more of your family members and caregivers.  This means the partner that isn’t the primary caregiver for a special needs child, but it also could be the grandparent or the babysitter that is the backup emergency caregiver.  There are parents who feel they can never take a break because a half-spa day would mean that no one knows how to prevent their child from falling down the steps or how to know when a child is going in the direction of a meltdown that will derail the day.  If you have a medically fragile child, more people need to know how to keep them safe and healthy.  Your child’s therapists are skilled in providing training in their area of specialization.  They may not offer it to your other family  members unless you ask for it to be done.  This is an investment in your peace of mind.  Make it happen.
  2. Find out if your child’s siblings can enter a therapy session and learn more about how to help or encourage their special needs sibling.  Therapists can teach your child’s siblings, and because they are seen as authorities and not parents, this can work well to foster understanding and interest.  Even preschool kids can learn why the baby isn’t playing with them( but she is watching) and that means “I like you”.  Your therapists are pediatric specialists and are good at helping children of all ages, even if your social needs child is an infant.
  3. Learn methods to spread your warmth and concern without promising time commitments you may not be able to keep.  Something so simple (and explained in more detail in my new book below) is to talk with your child’s siblings about your feelings of anticipation before some fun event, even if it is reading a chapter in Harry Potter.  Telling them, days ahead, that you can’t wait to be with them can feel so good.  Later, you can remind them how much fun you had.  Don’t require them to reciprocate.  You are speaking about your feelings, and if they brush it off then don’t take it personally.  Tweens especially struggle with how to respond.  They still need to hear your warmth.
  4. Express your frustrations honestly, but mindfully, to your child’s siblings.  You will both feel better for it.  You don’t have to wail and keen, and in fact I would discourage that.  You can do that with your partner or your counselor.  But your other children need to know that feeling less than blissfully grateful for their special needs sibling is normal and not shameful.  When some feelings are perceived as unacceptable, they grow in importance and sprout little behavioral problems of their own.  Start by speaking about how tired you are.  It is honest and it is probably already visible.  Mention that you feel both things; love and frustration.  You have to adjust for your other children’s age and emotional tolerance, but I promise you:  this is going to really help.
  5. Ask for help.  And accept it when it is offered.  Some people don’t think they need help, and some don’t think they deserve it.  Some think that it will be seen as weakness or laziness.  Some ask for help and get a casserole instead of babysitting.  Some get advice instead of a casserole.  And some turn down help to avoid feeling as tired and frightened as they really feel deep inside.  Think carefully about how and why you don’t have or accept help, and try doing what doesn’t feel natural or easy.  It could be the best move you make this week.
  6. Reconsider the amount of therapy and tutoring you are doing.  I know; what therapist thinks you can overdo their own treatment?  Me.  Overscheduling therapies can backfire when you, your special needs child, and the rest of your family suffer from the demands.  The time demands, the loss of participation in real life fun like hayrides and playgrounds, etc.  The downtime that any normal person needs and so few parents and special needs kids get.  That affects siblings too, in lost time with parents and exhausted parents trying to wedge “me time” into a free moment.
  7. Make choices about what your priorities are, but allow yourself to have a priority that is not all about your child.  For example, you may have to accept that your house isn’t going to be spotless, and that you may be buying rather than making most of the holiday cookies.  But if making a few batches of a precious family recipe (my best friend from college always makes her Scottish grandmother’s recipe for fruit squares) will make you feel like a million bucks, then go ahead.  Yes, life with a special needs child is different from what you expected.  But you get to have some things from your previous life that bring joy!

I am so excited to report that my newest e-book is finally done!

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume One:  The Early Years is designed to empower the parents of hypermobile kids ages 0-5.  There are chapters on picking the right high chair, toys, even pajamas!  One section is just on improving communication with your family (including siblings), teachers, therapists and even doctors.  No other book answers questions that parents have about finding good eating utensils and how to navigate playdates and social events more successfully.

It is available on Amazon as a read-only download and on Your Therapy Source as a printable and click-able download.  Look for more information and a sneak peek at the ways every parent can learn what therapists know about positioning here:The JointSmart Child Series: Parents of Young Hypermobile Children Can Feel More Empowered and Confident Today!

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Sensitive Child? Be Careful How You Deliver Praise

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Sensitive kids need encouragement as much as the next child, but they can have a paradoxical reaction when you praise them.  What do I mean?  You compliment your child by saying “GREAT job!  I knew you could do it!”, and they react by becoming angry or even arguing with you.  They may even try to destroy what they had done.  This can include being mean to a sibling or pet, or breaking something that they created.

Why?  Weren’t you supposed to support them?  All the parenting books recommend giving children accurate and immediate feedback.  You could have done everything as suggested:  you were warm, you were specific about their success, and you used words that match their age and developmental stage.  You even avoided the pitfall of praising results and instead you praised effort.  It backfired on you.

What went so wrong?

Simply put, you didn’t expect that they would think that any future performance could be seen as a failure, and this burden was more than they could bear, or the sensory input overwhelmed them.  Or both.  This reaction is more common than you would think, and happens in very young children, as young  as two!  Some very sensitive kids cannot handle the physical intensity of some methods of praise.  Your change in vocal volume and even vocal pitch may send them into physiologic alarm mode.  The longer you go on, the more upset they become.  And they don’t have a good answer when you ask why they are so upset.  They are just as eager for true appreciation as any other child, but they know that they feel bad, not good.  You weren’t intending to create pressure on them.  Kids can place it on themselves.  These are often the kids that need things to go the way they expected, or to go perfectly or it isn’t acceptable.  They are very invested in being seen in a positive light.

What can you do differently?

If you think that your child is reacting this way, dial down your response and observe how your child takes it in.  Using a lower voice and shortening your response can help.  Making a general statement rather than elaborating might be easier to hear.  “Nice work” can be more acceptable than “You did an AMAZING job; I cannot wait to show everyone what you did!”  Dr. Karp’s “gossiping” technique, whether it is gossiping to a toy or to a person in the general vicinity might be more acceptable.  Waiting a few minutes, or even waiting until the next day to deliver praise can be helpful.  It sounds great to follow the strategies listed in the parenting blogs and in magazines, but if you have a sensitive child, you have already learned that things sometimes have to be altered to fit your child’s needs.  This is just another example!

Another suggestion is to put more effort into modeling how to handle slip-ups.  Kids need to know that we make mistakes and don’t always succeed.  We look so powerful and accomplished to young children.  We know that we have our limits and faults, but kids don’t always see it that way.  Explicitly tell your child when you make a mistake, and talk about your feelings and how you make yourself feel OK with not being perfect.  This can go a long way to helping a sensitive child handle praise.

Looking for more information on helping sensitive kids?  Read What Helps Sensitive Kids Handle Haircuts?,  and Young Children, Sensory Modulation and the Automatic “NO!” plus Holidays Hints For Sensitive Kids.  Sensitivity is common in gifted kids, so read  Sensitivity and Gifted Children: The Mind That Floods With Feeling and in kids with sensory processing disorder Sensory Sensitivity In Toddlers: Why Responding Differently to “Yucky!” Will Help Your Child.

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Raising a Gifted Child? Read “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children” For Successful Strategies To Navigate the Waters

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Raising a gifted child isn’t all rainbows and first place ribbons.  Especially in the early years, the intensity, drive and complexity that gifted children bring to the table can come out looking like bossiness, perfectionism and extreme sensitivity  How To Spot A Gifted Child In Your Preschool Class (Or Your Living Room!).  Many books try to explain why gifted individuals are challenging, but this book is unique. It is offering parents clear strategies to help their child thrive and help them navigate school and social activities with confidence.

A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children is written by four leaders in gifted education and research.  James Webb, PhD, was a strong supported of the gifted community and gifted children in particular.  The other authors; Janet Gore M.Ed., Edward Amend Psy.D and Arlene DeVries M.S.E., are all specialists in this area.  They offer useful information about both the benefits of giftedness and the challenges in every chapter.

This book is unique in many ways.  It offers solid parenting advice, not theories and research studies.  Gifted children are still children who require support, limits, education and love.   The authors are eager to give parents tools to make life at home and school easier.  Gifted kids can be misunderstood, teased or excluded. Dealing with this is not easy for any parent.  They even acknowledge that parents themselves may be criticized or mocked for advocating for their child’s needs.  The chapter on what to do if your child is twice-exceptional (for example, having a learning disability in addition to giftedness) address getting help for both skills and areas of challenge.  It also helps parents consider whether their child’s diagnosis is accurate.  Many characteristics of giftedness can be seen incorrectly as ADHD, bipolar illness or ASD.  Getting the right diagnosis is essential to maximizing your child’s abilities and happiness.

One aspect of giftedness that is rarely addressed in this much detail but is solidly reviewed here is the emotional sensitivity often seen at an early age.  This book spends considerable space on helping parents teach their gifted children how to handle frustration, perfectionism, and even existential depression.  What is that?  A child that can comprehend the level of danger and inequality in the world at a young age may not have the emotional ability to come to terms with this knowledge.  The authors do a terrific job of explaining the sources of  a gifted child’s pain and offer concrete advice to parents.

There is so much to say about the joys and the pitfalls of parenting gifted children of any age.  This book does an excellent job of helping families (and educators) see the road ahead and handle it well.

Looking for more practical strategies that work?  I am in the process of writing an e-book on occupational therapy and the young gifted child.  In the meantime, read Gifted Child? Try “How Does Your Engine Run” For Sensory ProcessingDoes Your Gifted Child Interrupt You Constantly? Respond This Way For Better Results and Why Gifted Children Aren’t Their Teacher’s Favorite Students….

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Is Your Kid With ADHD Also Gifted, or is Your Team Missing Their Giftedness?

david-clode-635942-unsplashAre you hearing that your child is a management problem at school, but is a joy at home?  Do you see them thrive when your older child’s friends include them in play?  Does your child sustain their attention and manage their behavior well when the class goes on field trips or has speakers come in, but dissolves into troubling behavior on a “regular” school schedule?  Your child may have a dual diagnosis of giftedness and ADHD, or have been misdiagnosed completely.

I know, I am not a psychologist.  But I am aware of the many kids I have treated that blossom when, instead of simplifying the environment or the activity, I expand it.  This goes against the standard treatment protocols for kids with sensory processing disorders and ADHD.  But it is exactly what gifted kids love and need.  Give a gifted kid more complex work, leave them alone to solve a challenging problem, or ask them to mine their passion more completely, and you often see better performance, not worse performance.  The kids with ADHD without giftedness often struggle more and need more help under a more complex environment.  The misdiagnosed gifted kids shine like little pennies when challenged.  Gifted kids will show ADHD behaviors in situations that restrict or frustrate their tendencies to dive deep into a subject (intensity ) and look terrific in a setting where they are stimulated and engaged.  Kids with ADHD might be happier out of school, but they struggle with the same issues of distractibility, disorganization and they show a lack of focus, not a deep absorption.

As an aside, many of the kids I treat that look like they have Asperger’s (or now high-functioning autism) are gifted, and their delays in speech or motor skills mask their gifted performance when they are between 1 and 5 years of age.  What gives them away as gifted instead of disordered?  They light up when someone wants to talk about their deep interests, and they would seek that interaction out.  Their interests may seem quirky, but they aren’t incredibly obtuse.  For example, a gifted child could be interested in ocean life, with a strong interest in squids.  If you like squids, they will talk your ear off and enjoy it tremendously if you do.  A child with Asperger’s will be interested in something so unique that they couldn’t find someone to share it with, like threshing machines, and they couldn’t care less if you share their interest.  They won’t want to convince you of the many useful things they do, they won’t want to discuss it.  Will they want to talk?  Sure, but talking to you isn’t the same as discussing it.  They may find your input annoying, in fact.

Grades, and even cognitive testing, sometimes aren’t enough to identify gifted kids.  Some of them aren’t going to try very hard.   Some will mess with the evaluator’s mind.  I have heard at least one parent report that their child deliberately gave the wrong answers to see what would happen.  This child is reading chapter books at 3.5 years old.  He really doesn’t understand that getting a low intelligence score is going to send him to special ed instead of advancing him to a higher grade or an enriched program.  Emotional maturity is one of the skills that are often not advanced in gifted kids.  To paraphrase Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie “A Few Good Men“, these kids want the truth (or the facts, or the experiences) but sometimes they can’t handle them.  Young gifted kids can fall apart when their imagination doesn’t match their execution.  Whether it is writing, building, drawing or another skill, they can display anxiety and anger when things don’t match their amazing thoughts.  This isn’t oppositional defiant disorder or an anxiety disorder, it is an asynchronous development problem.

I can’t ignore the strong bias against giftedness in our culture.  Sure, there are cultures that applaud accomplishments, especially intellectual accomplishment, but not when it is accompanied by impatience, a tendency to dominate the conversation, perfectionism and frustration with others and themselves.  Gifted people of all ages become aware that it could be easier to speak about being on the left side of the Bell curve than on the right side.  Whether you share your suspicions or your testing results is up to you, but know that you may get pushback from some unlikely sources, especially at school.

If your child is gifted, seek out support wherever you can find it, and learn how to discuss your child’s gifts with them.  There are online sites like SENG that can offer you some strategies and some resources.  You may want or need outside help to learn how to harness their overexcitabilities OT and Non-Disabled Gifted Children and handle their feelings, but a child that understands their gifts will not consider themselves impaired and will learn to accept their atypical nature with confidence.

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What Psychologists Just Don’t Get About Raising Gifted Toddlers

myung-won-seo-675403-unsplashI can’t take it any longer.  If I hear one more professional on YouTube say that the difficulties begin when your child enters school, I am gonna cry.  Real tears.  For those younger kids.  And their parents.

CNN just ran a story in which a psychologist suggested not telling kids that they are “that special”.  To help them feel more like other kids.  Well, I can tell you straight up that a child who feels empathy for the rocks and the kids in far-off countries, or who cannot tolerate the intense lighting or sounds in his classroom, is WAITING to understand why this is happening.  Knowing that it is commonly a part of being gifted would be a relief, not a burden.  But this professional might not know the range of experiences that giftedness brings, only the scores on the test.

Ask a parent of a gifted toddler how easy their life is, or how easy their child’s life is, and you will very often hear a tale of frustration and sometimes even exhaustion.  The life of a super-quick mind at 1 and 2 isn’t all charming enrichment activities at the zoo and the museum.  Sure, it isn’t as difficult as when they are 7 and have no friends to discuss paleontology with, or no one to play soccer with at 5 because their skills so exceed everyone else, but it is still not that easy.

Here are a few situations that make raising (and being) a very young gifted child a struggle that can be misinterpreted as temperament or developmental issues:

  1. Gifted development is often extremely asynchronous at this age.  Translation: “all over the place”.  Gifted toddlers can be delayed in their motor skills and hugely advanced in their reasoning or language skills. Or the other way around. They can have sensory sensitivities that create tolerance issues to tags, lights, noise and more.  Either way, it can be hard to be in a body that doesn’t match your mind.  And hard to raise a child with asynchronous development.  A child’s seemingly never-ending frustration about what they can’t accomplish and their strong skills that cannot be acted on make things tough at home and school.  For example, a child that can read chapter books at 2.5 into the night, but needs to sleep for 10 hours so they aren’t angry and exhausted tomorrow is going to give you a real argument.  Like a Supreme Court-level argument.  Again and again, night after night.  Gifted toddlers often like circle time because they get to answer questions, but they might refuse to participate in activities that they find boring.  They are seen as oppositional or even assumed to be unable to participate, when if fact they find sticking cotton balls on paper silly.
  2. Toys for typical young children anticipate normal, evenly displayed development.  This means that the knobs on microscopes and the gears on building toys aren’t made for the toddler who can conceive of an amazing building.  The toys they want aren’t great for them and they toys they can manage are not exciting.  Unless….they take them apart or melt them down to make something else. OOPS!
  3. Very young gifted children who are supposed to be developing social skills like sharing and cooperating are distinctly not motivated to do so with peers that are still non-verbal or have limited imaginative abilities.   If they have access to older kids, they may be thrilled to have playmates a few years ahead of them, but if they don’t, they are more likely to avoid their peers.  Parents are tasked with finding children that their gifted toddler can enjoy in play, and handle the questions from other parents about why their child simply “doesn’t like playing with my kid?  That is beyond awkward.  It sounds like boasting to a lot of people, but when your child is bored with his peers, it’s a real social problem for everybody!
  4. Parents find the high energy level and interactional demands exhausting.  Not all young gifted kids are like the Sheldon Cooper character on Big Bang Theory.  Lots of gifted toddlers love to ask questions and discuss things, love to be active all day long.  They aren’t old enough to roam the web or go to the library.  They want your attention.  Short naps and even short sleep cycles without any fatigue or behavior problems are one way to spot a gifted toddler.  Those brains don’t always need as much sleep as typically developing kids.  That means a lot more demands on parents and caregivers.  If you have been dogged all day by a toddler that won’t let go of a discussion, you might wish (a bit) that your kid wasn’t so S-M-A-R-T!

Why don’t psychologists seem to get this?  I am going to go out on a limb and say that unless they have raised their own gifted kids, they don’t interact with very young gifted kids in their clinics or research facilities.  Until they can formally test them, they aren’t on the radar of these professionals.  But it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  Out here in the real world, I treat about 3 toddlers that appear to be highly gifted each year.  And I see what struggles they and their families go through.  Being misdiagnosed isn’t without it’s costs.  I wrote a bit about how to sense that your child might be misdiagnosed in Is Your Kid With ADHD Also Gifted, or is Your Team Missing Their Giftedness?

 

Read more about gifted children and the challenges of being gifted in  Raising a Gifted Child? Read “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children” For Successful Strategies  How To Spot A Gifted Child In Your Preschool Class (Or Your Living Room!) and How To Talk So Your Gifted Child Will Listen.

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How To Spot A Gifted Child In Your Preschool Class (Or Your Living Room!)

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Bright kid: “Are there any sharks out there?” Gifted kid:  ” The most common shark in the Atlantic Ocean is the ….”

Do you have a gifted kid?  Do you teach one?  You might not be able to tell the difference between a bright child and a gifted child by the number of letters they know, or the facts about dinosaurs they can recall.  Here are some distinct signs that your child, student or therapy client is actually gifted:

  • They are not a joy to teach.  Bet you didn’t expect that!  Yes, the gifted child isn’t usually sitting there soaking up knowledge.  They are out there arguing points and doing their own experiments.  They see the subtle differences, so they are going to bring up the exceptions to ALL of your rules.  They don’t like rules and correct answers nearly as much as the bright kids.  They are interesting to teach, but they won’t be as easy to teach as the bright children who simply learn what they are told and repeat it back to you.
  • They learn fast.  Really fast.  The typical child will need 15-20 repetitions or demonstrations and practice to learn a skill. The gifted children may only need 1-2 repetitions to learn.  The bright children need 5-8 reps.  So if you demonstrate a dance move or how to write a letter and your child copies you perfectly the first time, you may have a gifted child in front of you!
  • They NEED complexity and novelty.  Note that I said “need” versus “prefer”.  These kids don’t love routines.  They learn them quickly, but they find them boring, not comforting.  They don’t want to hear a favorite book again as much as they want you to read the next book in the series.  Without sufficient stimulation, the gifted child will go find her own entertainment and probably tell you what to do with your routines!  Bright children are often happiest when they can show you what they remember.  Gifted kids like to show you what you aren’t seeing or mentioning about a topic.
  • Gifted children are intensely curious.  This is different in magnitude from a bright child, who is interested in many things and consistently pays attention to stories and lessons.  The gifted child wants to know everything, and they want to know it now.  If the questions that you are asked show a level of synthesis you would not expect based on age and exposure, you may have a gifted child in front of you!
  • They have a lot of energy.  The gifted child may not need that nap, or they may collapse suddenly due to their full-on approach to life.  They could wake up totally ready to go, and go to sleep talking as well.  This is a child that isn’t going to want to be quiet when they have something to say.  The bright kids raise their hands and wait to be called on.  Be prepared to expend some energy yourself to engage with a gifted child.
  • Their passions and ideas can result in daydreaming and preferring to work alone on their projects.  This doesn’t mean they can’t be social.  But it may mean that they see no point in gluing construction paper triangles onto a pumpkin when they could be creating a pumpkin patch and a corn maze like they visited this weekend.  They won’t passively complete your project when they have a better idea of their own.

If you have spotted a child that may be gifted, you will want to offer them the opportunity to expand and explore within your classroom or your home.  You don’t need to label them.  If you find that their abilities place them far outside the reach of your class plan or they complain about school, it may be time to pursue formal testing.  Linda Silverman, a psychologist with a specialization in working with the gifted, suggests that any child that tests more than 2 standard deviations from the the mean (statistically far from average) is in need of special educational services.  Just because gifted kids are not below average doesn’t mean that they don’t have needs.  To learn more about gifted kids, read How To Talk So Your Gifted Child Will Listen and Sensitivity and Gifted Children: The Mind That Floods With Feeling.  Some gifted kids have other issues.  Read Gifted and Struggling? Meet the Twice Exceptional Student and How OT Can Help.

And remember that “gifted” doesn’t mean “better kid”.  It just means better skills.  The gifted population has been hammered for being elitist, when in fact, they receive a lot of criticism and prejudice as well as glory.  Treating these kids fairly will allow them to thrive!

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Is Your Gifted Child A “Troublemaker”?

 

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When you hear hoofbeats, maybe you SHOULD think zebras, and not horses!

Gifted and talented children are frequently leaders in their schools and communities.  They often have advanced language skills and display an early and intense sense of humor. Gifted children can be the funny, outgoing, energetic kids who have deep empathy and abundant warmth.  Wondering if your young child might be gifted?  Read How To Spot A Gifted Child In Your Preschool Class (Or Your Living Room!).

But being gifted isn’t all rainbows and first place ribbons.  Some aspects of being gifted contribute to styles of interaction with authorities and peers that are not a cause for celebration. Gifted kids can be perceived as causing trouble, creating conflict and disrupting things wherever they go.  Super-bright children might end up with this label for the following common behaviors and characteristics:

  • They resist many rules as limiting and irrelevant.  “Because that’s the way it’s done” is not accepted when a gifted child sees the rule as useless or worse: illogical.
  • Boredom with class material they have already mastered gets expressed as anger or  criticism.  Not all teachers appreciate this Why Gifted Children Aren’t Their Teacher’s Favorite Students….
  • Their unique interests mean that they may reject their peer’s play schemes and try to convince their friends to play games their way or else.
  • They talk.  A lot.  At times, they may take over a discussion or attempt to alter a teacher’s presentation to address related issues or get more in-depth about a topic.  They may not be able to let a topic go until they have asked every question and made every point that they find important.
  • The frequent sensitivity of gifted children might make a normal level of noise, light or interaction too stimulating, and younger children especially will react in frustration or even tantrums.  They may not be able to accept praise Sensitive Child? Be Careful How You Deliver Praise
  • Your gifted child may be having difficulty with an area of development that has been masked by their talents.  Gifted and Struggling? Meet the Twice Exceptional Student and How OT Can Help A common example would be the gifted child who is struggling with dyslexia, but has been able to use powerful memory and logic to fill in the blanks in a story.  They may not have read the book, but they are able to recall enough of the teacher’s description or the cover’s blurb to “fake it”.  The resulting failure and frustration, even with high overall test scores, builds their resentment and avoidance.

What can you do to transform a gifted troublemaker into your family’s champion or star?

  • The first step is to recognize where the ‘trouble” is coming from.  Your child’s early developmental skills and rapid acquisition of new information could be fueling their behavior.  Seen through this lens, many of the frustrating reactions and interactions with gifted children become understandable.
  • Explore ways to create a more enriched environment for your child.  It doesn’t have to be classes and microscope sets.  It could be more trips to the library or more craft materials to allow all that creativity to be expressed.  Children that are fulfilled are less crabby, less demanding and less resistant.
  • Be willing to take the time to answer questions and discuss the origins of rules.  A rule that is in place for safety can be accepted if it is explained.  A rule about social behavior, such as allowing everyone to have a turn in order, is an important lesson in navigating a world in which the kids with the fastest brains aren’t always the ones who get the first turn.
  • Consider the possibility that your gifted troublemaker is “twice exceptional”.  There may be issues like dyslexia or sensory processing disorder that need to be addressed.  Other issues don’t have to be cognitive.  Your child may be struggling with anxiety or coordination.  Giftedness doesn’t discriminate or remove all challenges to learning.  But remember that these do not minimize their profound gifts in other areas.  They complicate them.
  • Share your awareness of their gifts with them.  Kids who know that their frustrations and responses have a source other than being a difficult person have higher self esteem.  A gifted kid who thinks badly about themselves?  Yes, it does happen.  Feeling different from their friends, knowing that their ideas aren’t always welcomed, being told to be quiet and go along with the flow.  All of these can make a gifted child question themselves.  When you explain that their brain works differently, and that you will help them navigate situations successfully, your support can make a tremendous difference!
  • Use great strategies.  Read Got a Whining Child Under 5? Here Is Why They Whine, And What To Do About It and other posts on helping children handle life’s curve balls.
  • If you engage a psychologist, be aware that they may not see what you see.  I wrote What Psychologists Just Don’t Get About Raising Gifted Toddlers out of my frustration with professionals who don’t see beyond a standardized test to the full effects of giftedness on toddlers.  The younger the child, the less likely a psychologist will have helpful ideas.  Or even any experience with very young gifted children.

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How To Talk So Your Gifted Child Will Listen

 

 

greyson-joralemon-299735I have written a few posts about identifying giftedness in very young children ( Your Bossy Baby or Toddler May Be Gifted. Really. Here Are The Signs You Are Missing!  and How To Spot A Gifted Child In Your Preschool Class (Or Your Living Room!) ) but I want to give some specific attention to communicating with a young gifted child.

Communicating may seem to be the least of your worries when raising or teaching these kids!  Many, but not all, gifted children start speaking early.  And they waste no time once they learn to speak.  Gifted toddlers are known to be chatty, specific, and often demanding in their insistence that you listen to them.  Getting them to listen to you is usually the problem.

Why?  Not because giftedness confers entitlement or because they are spoiled.  The gifted brain is wired for details and connections like a heat-seeking missile.  It likes novelty and intensity over routines.  Gifted kids cannot stop themselves from seeing relationships between objects, events or ideas.  They often want to change the rules of a game and strongly value their own viewpoint.  They learn one concept and will immediately have seven more questions about that topic.  And they want all their answers responded to.   Right now.

You might be inclined to think you have a child with ADHD( Is Your Kid With ADHD Also Gifted, or is Your Team Missing Their Giftedness? ) but it is likely that you simply haven’t been told about the way the gifted mind works normally.  I read a piece that said that even psychologists are falling victim to seeing “atypical” as “abnormal”.  That has got to stop!  Some teachers aren’t that fond of the gifted child either: Why Gifted Children Aren’t Their Teacher’s Favorite Students….

You will probably never be able to use “Because I said so” and get away with it when speaking with a gifted child.  Why?  Your response provides no details, no information for the gifted mind to chew on.  And they have lots and lots of ideas about how to approach and complete just about everything.  Doing it your way may take some convincing!

Here are a few suggestions that make communicating with a gifted child more successful and even enjoyable:

  • When making a request or giving a direction, be clear that it is one or the other.  Gifted children will take you at your literal word when you say “Could you clean up your space now?” and respond that they could, but they don’t want to.  Ask them to clean up, or offer them the choice to do it now or in 2 minutes.
  • If you do make a request, provide a simple rationale but use the “big words” they love.  “Please clean up so that we have enough space and less visual distractions to do _______on the table” is logical and saves the time you would spend to repeatedly ask them if you said  “Clean up now”.   It also adds some vocabulary words they may not know.  That can be like catnip to a gifted mind!
  • Don’t be offended if you get a quick retort that things could be done a different way.  Gifted children aren’t necessarily being rude or sassy.  They are stating what is obvious to them:  there are more ways to accomplish this task than the one you laid out.
  • Explain your reasoning when you get a rebuke, and make sure it makes sense.  Gifted kids dislike illogical or rigid thinking.  They may comply with your directions because of a reward or peer pressure, but they will not see you as an authority if  your reasoning doesn’t demonstrate clear and rational thought.  The exception to this rule is when your rationale is creative and expansive.  Some, but not all, gifted kids will go along with this type of thinking because it suggests more excitement could occur by following you there.
  • Be prepared to be exhausted.  Gifted children’s minds work overtime, and you may be caught up in complex stories or conversations about anything and everything.  These kids can go on forever, it seems, ferreting out more information from you and coming up with multiple lines of thought.  Expect that you will be asked to give them this kind of attention.  It can be fun, not exhausting, if you set limits for time and attention.  If you have to move on, suggest that you can take this conversation back up later.  They probably will remind you of this promise later on!
  • Suggest that they use their creative powers to come up with new ways to play with old toys or combine two toys or games with other children.  Gifted children do not always need adult interaction, even though they often seek adults for play.   They will often say that their peers cannot or do not want to take play in a direction that they find fun or exciting.  By giving them a creative start and letting them explore, they may find ways to get peers involved as more than assistants or observers.

Read Raising a Gifted Child? Read “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children” For Successful Strategies To Navigate the Waters for a child psychologist’s views on how to bring up one of these exceptional kids with less frustration and more compassion for everyone.  He is supportive of parents, not critical.  He’s not as generous to school administrators though!

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Should You Tell Your Gifted Child About Their Giftedness?

 

wout-vanacker-497472Your child is gifted.  Perhaps a school psychologist has formally tested your child, or you have engaged private testing that indicated advanced skills.  Or perhaps you watch your child on the ball field or in school plays.  She just blows her peers away.  Everyone knows that there is something very special about your child’s abilities.

What do you say to your child about his gifts?  Do you say anything at all?  Does it really matter how you discuss giftedness with children?

Many, but not all, gifted kids will figure out that they are different, even without formal testing.  By 5, children have started comparing themselves and their abilities to their friends, classmates and siblings.   Gifted children begin to notice that their skills in some areas exceed their peers.  They may also realize that they react differently.  The many “over-excitabilities” of giftedness can result in greater sensory sensitivity, emotional sensitivity,  a sense of justice far beyond their years, a quirky sense of humor, or a level of energy and movement that doesn’t match friends and classmates.

I think that kids benefit in two big ways from knowing about their gifts: they will not interpret “different” as “bad” or “exempt from challenge”, and they can learn to manage any sensitivities or intensity differences with confidence.  Can gifted traits be disruptive to the status quo?  Sure, but that’s not necessarily a problem when it is managed well.

I like Mary-Elaine Jacobsen’s personal management strategies in her book, “The Gifted Adult”.  I think that many of her suggested approaches to handling what she sees as a triad of constant brain traits (complexity, intensity and drive) in gifted adults can be applied to supporting a gifted child.

Young gifted children may ask questions constantly, want to discuss their passions without end, and strive for perfection when everyone else is satisfied with their first amazing effort.  They want to answer every question posed in class and may want to control a game because they are bored with a simpler strategy of play.  Telling a child that they are “too much”, when these behaviors emerge as the result of their brain’s makeup, is potentially harmful.  It is possible to teach children to manage the expression of their gifts without denying their nature.  It starts with telling them the truth: they are wired differently.  Acknowledging their frustrations and providing solutions isn’t always easy, but even an incomplete attempt done with compassion and optimism is better than telling them to fit in and stop causing problems.

Children who don’t have to work to receive high grades may not feel empowered by acing a test; they may feel like frauds when complimented for effort they didn’t expend, or even fear the loss of praise when they are encouraged to explore advanced studies.  Gifted children need to hear praise for the quality of their efforts even more than children who struggle. Telling a child that their creativity and depth of thought is what you find impressive, rather than their grade, communicates that the true nature of their giftedness is seen and appreciated.

There are other challenges that gifted children face, with the degree of challenge increasing when their abilities far outrun their peers or when areas of disability create the situation of being “twice exceptional”.  Take a look at  Gifted and Struggling? Meet the Twice Exceptional Student and How OT Can Help.  Supporting children is so important under these circumstances.  Being honest is just the beginning.

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Why Gifted Preschoolers Should Be Taught Handwriting Early (And With The Best Strategies!)

 

 

guillaume-de-germain-329206Gifted children are identified by their asynchronous development.   The three year-old that can read, the two year-old that can play a song on the piano after hearing it once at music class, the four year-old that can complete his sister’s math homework…from second grade! These children have one or more advanced areas of skill that classify them as gifted.  One of the skills that rarely emerges early in the gifted population is handwriting.  More often, gifted children have problems with handwriting. Some are just sloppy, some produce illegible products even after trying their best.

A few theories exist to explain this phenomenon:  gifted children are more concerned with expression and ignore handwriting lessons, their typical motor development doesn’t keep up with their advanced cognitive skill progression and they give up, or perhaps a gifted student with poor handwriting has an undiagnosed motor and learning disabilities.

I am going to suggest an additional explanation:  gifted children are not given effective early pre-writing instruction and are often taught to write using strategies that create confusion, boredom or frustration, turning a fast learner into an underachiever.  Gifted kids like novelty, complexity and intensity.  Tracing a dotted-line “A” over and over isn’t any of those things.  Gifted children often remain so focused on their passions that it is easier to let them go and shine in their chosen areas than to make handwriting fun and appealing.

Yes, it is true that children with advanced cognitive skills could have average or below-average motor skills that don’t allow them to independently write a complex original story.  Writing details down may take too long for their quick minds, or they need to use letters they don’t yet have the skills to execute.  A child with an amazing imagination and vocabulary may find standard writing drills dull in comparison to the creative process.  Gifted children may even be averse to the unavoidable failure inherent in practice that leads to mastery.

What can be done?

  • Good pre-writing instruction is essential to build the foundational motor control and spatial skills.  This includes teaching grasp rather than waiting for it to develop, purposely building two-handed coordination and drawing into play,  and using other pre-writing tasks such as mazes, puzzles and tracing/dot-to-dot (not for letters, for drawing).  See Why Dot-To-Dot Letter Practice Slows Down Writing Speed and Legibility to understand why dots aren’t a great strategy for any child.  Learning to draw balloons, birthday cakes and Christmas trees is fun.  It is also a great way to practice writing the curves and intersecting angles that letters require.
  • Use multi-sensory, multi-media methods to develop pre-writing and handwriting skills.  Many gifted children love sensory-based experiences.  Their natural drive for intensity and complexity can be satisfied when letters are made from pretzel sticks or Play-Dough.
  • Create a fun, open environment for learning, in which challenge is expected and success is both celebrated and beside the point.  If children are taught that they are expected to know all the answers since they are gifted, exploration can be suppressed.  If they learn that failure is anticipated and shame-free, it allows them to try again and invent solutions to the problems they face.
  • Harness the skills a gifted child possesses to advance their handwriting development.  Children that have great spatial awareness notice letter formation similarities and proportion rules.  They transform an “F” into an “E” and chop two vertical lines in half to make an “H”.  Children in love with language can use fun mnemonic devices or little “stories” that help them form letters correctly.  When the letter “S” starts as a mini “C” and then “turns around and goes back home” they remember the formation of this tricky letter more easily than copying or tracing alone.

As an occupational therapist, I use the Learning Without Tears program (formerly known as Handwriting Without Tears).  The materials are high-quality, the learning progression is developmental and builds one skill on top of the previous skill, and the early levels are more sensory-based than most writing programs.  See Can HWT’s Flip Crayons Transform Pencil Grasp in Preschoolers? and Why Do You Start (Uppercase) Letters at the Top? Speed and Accuracy for some HWT strategies that really work.  Gifted kids usually want to be creative and expansive when learning, so take a look at Have More Fun When You Use Drawing To Develop Pre-Writing Skills to make teaching a gifted child   easier.

If you are the parent of a gifted child, or if you teach gifted preschoolers, please share your best strategies to support handwriting here!!!  If you are wondering if you should tell your child that their advanced skills have a name, “gifted”, check out Should You Tell Your Gifted Child About Their Giftedness? for some good reasons why they need to know and how to approach this issue with them.

If your gifted child is driving you nuts, or is driving their teacher nuts, read   Gifted Child? Try “How Does Your Engine Run” For More Peace at Home and SchoolWhy Gifted Children Aren’t Their Teacher’s Favorite Students…. and Is Your Gifted Child A “Troublemaker”? to better understand what could be going on.

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Holidays Hints For Sensitive Kids

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The stores are full, your inbox is too, and you are wondering how to handle your sensitive child’s reactions to family and school events.  You are not alone.

Everyone knows about the “holiday blues”, where our dreams and expectations come up against real life:  awkward family relationships, conflicting demands on our time and finances, etc.  But for kids with sensory and emotional sensitivity (I don’t see these as always separate issues, by the way), surviving the holiday season can be very difficult indeed.  The excitement and the novelty of the holidays affect them more intensely and are not always welcome additions to their days.   Here are some suggestions to make things better:

  • Think about an event before you commit to it.  The hour of the day, the size and the activity, the duration of the event are all considerations.  You know your child, so you can identify what factors will be the most challenging and what will be easier to handle.  In general, sensitive kids do best with smaller, shorter, quieter and earlier events.
  • Create your own event around your child, and invite others to join in.  When you get to design it, you have more control over how things play out.  Some suggestions would be cookie decorating, visiting a nursery or outdoor holiday display, making wrapping paper with crayons and stickers, and watching a holiday video party.
  • Get your sensory diet activities all set up for an event that you can’t or won’t cancel. Your OT should be able to help you craft a plan to reduce your child’s overall sensitivity with input such as deep pressure, breath control, tactile input, etc.  Just ask.  Most of us would be happy to help you.
  • Do not forget the basics of keeping any child calm at an event:  enough sleep, enough to eat and drink, and being healthy enough to participate.  If your child is ill, tired, or hungry, you need to think carefully about how well he will manage, and make the decision to cancel or alter your plans.   Sometimes the situation isn’t going to be fixed with a few bounces on a therapy ball and some joint compression.  In these situations, your child isn’t any different from any other child.

 

If you are looking for ideas about how to decrease sensitivity, take a look at How to Help Sensitive Kids Handle Greeting People (Including Their Own Parents!) and Sensory Sensitivity In Toddlers: Why Responding Differently to “Yucky!” Will Help Your Child

Holidays can be fun for everyone, including sensitive children.  Plan well, be flexible, and make thoughtful choices that work for your family!

OT and Non-Disabled Gifted Children

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I was asked to write another guest post for Therapro, the fantastic OT equipment and materials company that I have been using for clinic and home items for years.  This time the subject is gifted children:  Do Gifted But Non-Disabled Children Need Occupational Therapy?.

The first time you encounter a young gifted child, you may not know that their advanced skills could be contributing to their behavior.  Giftedness is more than advanced intellectual ability, it is a whole-brain difference.  The fMRI studies done in the last decades have proved that to be true.  Gifted kids can have sensory and behavioral responses that suggest they have ADHD, oppositional disorder, or sensory processing disorder.  Some are conclusively “twice-exceptional” , but many are just responding to a brain that is wired for intense and complex interactions.  Schools are geared to routines and benchmarks.  Let the problems commence!

Read Does Your Gifted Child Interrupt You Constantly? Respond This Way For Better Results and Why Gifted Children Aren’t Their Teacher’s Favorite Students…. for more posts on the ways begin gifted can present challenges as well as opportunities.

Read the best book I know to help you make life with a gifted child easier: Raising a Gifted Child? Read “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children” For Successful Strategies To Navigate the Waters

Occupational therapy has always been focused on helping people achieve their best lives.  Having abilities that are on the far sides of any bell curve can make life harder, so my take is that occupational therapists can be helpful to kids that are struggling because of their talents and gifts, not just due to delays and deficits.

Read my post, then tell me about your gifted child, or the gifted children that you have seen as a therapist or teacher.  They really are interesting kids in so many ways!

Gifted Or Disordered? The Unrecognized Behavioral Traits of Young Gifted Children

 

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Here is a short list of many common behavioral characteristics of gifted children:

  1. Spontaneous. 
  2. Boundless enthusiasm.
  3. Intense focus on passions.  
  4. Highly energetic.  This is the child who doesn’t seem to need as much sleep or downtime as peers.
  5. Constantly asking questions.  Constantly.
  6. Insatiably curious.  Everything is interesting, all the time.
  7. Impulsive, eager and spirited.  Novelty is a total turn-on, not something to be feared.
  8. Persistent and goal-directed in areas that are important to them.
  9. Very easily frustrated, especially when they are unable to meet their own standards.
  10. Volatile temper when perceiving that they have failed.
  11. Chatty; absolutely a non-stop talker.

So…now are you excited to parent a gifted child, or to have one in your class or in your therapy clinic?  Or are you thinking “This sounds more like a child with learning problems, not gifts, and it sounds even be more like a child with autism”.    Or even “Children like these could be really annoying”.

Well, you aren’t alone.  Many of these characteristics of gifted children exhaust adults, and create difficulties when gifted children try to navigate the world of typical kids and adults.  They may be 5-10% of the population, but they can be the source of 80% of the frustration in your home, class or clinic.  And they are often misdiagnosed as troubled rather than talented, just based on their behavior.  Even by clinical psychologists.  Read What Psychologists Just Don’t Get About Raising Gifted Toddlers to learn more the ways that professionals don’t see gifted toddlers clearly enough.  There is one really helpful book about differential diagnosis, and I encourage every parent that suspects their challenging child is actually a gifted child to read it from cover to cover.  Read more about it here: Raising a Gifted Child? Read “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children” For Successful Strategies

Welcome to the world of the gifted and those who interact with them.  It isn’t all sparkling conversation and shining rows of chess/debate medals.  Gifted children that have many or most of these characteristics may also be amazingly sensitive to others, the world around them, and to their own inner experiences.  That combination of behavior and sensitivity makes for some intense and often exhausting interactions that others find irritating or worse.   It really is the gift that keeps on giving.  And we aren’t even talking about the twice exceptional children. These children have diagnosable difficulties with learning, behavior, movement and sensory processing in addition to their gifted qualities.  They often wait years before clinicians parse out which is which.

So how could you know if the child in front of you is actually gifted, other than a psychologist’s tests?  And even if you know you have a certified smartypants, how can you determine whether their behavior is typical for gifted people or a sign of a disorder?  The answer could be to assess the quality of their behavior while looking at the level of cognition, the complexity of the conversation and the emotional depth and intensity of the interaction when compared to their age.

A three-year old that can eagerly exchange ideas regarding how tornados differ from hurricanes in their potential for damage and their source of power for 10 minutes is exhibiting a level of comprehension, intensity, curiosity, persistence and enthusiasm that you don’t typically see in this age group.   His ability to string together concepts, retain and analyze information,  respond to your own perspective and tune into your emotional tone during the discussion gives you clues that this is a gifted child, not a child with attention issues or autism.

A five year-old that paints and re-paints a picture until the colors and shapes express exactly how happy she was at the zoo may also be showing you some of these characteristics.   Her frustrated insistence on a complete representation of form and emotion, as well as her unique use of media are telling you a lot about her talents.  If you are amazed that all this focus doesn’t tire her out but energizes her more; there’s another clue.  The depth of her joy she has while creating or when opening a box of new pastels, like Christmas has come again, is another hint that she may be gifted.

When a child’s asynchronous development gets in the way, a gifted child can struggle.  Most gifted children aren’t gifted in every area of development, so a gifted artist may not be able to physically draw what she sees in her mind, a gifted writer may not be able to write his book legibly at 6, and a gifted athlete may not be able to handle her team losing.  That is where wise adults can provide strong support and education in managing their talents and explaining their struggles to gifted children.

I am frequently asked as an OT for ideas on how to manage gifted toddlers in class and at home, and I wrote a short post earlier this year in response Gifted at Preschool: How to Support The Young Gifted Child In Class.  For suggestions on how to make life easier at home, my suggestions focus more on building sensory and emotional tolerance for kids, and teaching self-awareness and self-calming skills.  Read Why Gifted Children Aren’t Their Teacher’s Favorite Students…. to understand why teachers run into conflicts with gifted kids over and over again.

Is your child singled out more for being a problem than being a star?  Read Is Your Gifted Child A “Troublemaker”? for ideas on how to turn this around today.

If your child receives OT for any reason, this may be a place to start.  Check out this post for more information:  How Occupational Therapy Can Help Gifted Children (And Their Exhausted Parents!)  Occupational therapists that can see the difference between gifted traits and symptoms of an attentional or learning disorder can help parents on this amazing journey of discovery with their gifted child. Read Gifted and Struggling? Meet the Twice Exceptional Student and How OT Can Help for some strategies to help your gifted child who also has dyslexia, ADHD, or motor control issues.

Is Your Gifted Child Is A Perfectionist?

 

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Do you know a child who is always trying to get to “perfect”?  Being called a perfectionist is almost universally a criticism in our society.  It doesn’t have to be.  Some kids that are reaching for the ultimate aren’t unnecessarily stressing them selves out.  They may gifted.

The gifted child is capable of seeing what others do not.  They envision a wider and deeper experience, a more complete artistic expression, a better-turned phrase.  And they demand a chance to achieve it.  In this way, perfecting their performance or product isn’t psychological struggle, it is accomplishing what they can imagine.

A gifted child may not beat himself up for not immediately achieving his vision, but he may not leave well enough alone.  He may not have to.  Given the chance, he may work happily on his project for hours or days or even months, not really minding the process that requires failures and one-offs.  This should give you a clue to the source of your child’s persistence;  the gifted enjoy the process as much as the product.  This is very different from the child who tears up a picture in frustration.  There are no tears from a gifted child, but there may not be any negotiation.  They cannot leave their work in it’s current state, knowing that a better outcome is right around the corner.

What if the picture or term paper is due on Tuesday?

Give your gifted child the gift of understanding and teach them that deadlines also have value.  Living in our society requires the gifted child to bend to fit, but not break.  They can continue to work on their project when it is returned to them, or they can accept that reaching the perfect state the they see is something that doesn’t happen with every endeavor.

Let them enjoy the creative process, as this is the true joy for them.  Gifted children need your help to learn how to navigate the wider world, where often their modest efforts are celebrated.  They know that they can do more, but if they can shift off of a demand for perfection in some things, they can reach the heights of their abilities in other experiences.

Gifted at Preschool: How to Support The Young Gifted Child In Class

 

leo-rivas-micoud-30808Gifted children often cannot wait to go to preschool.  They may follow an older sibling into their classroom and cry when they have to leave.  After all, look at all those books, art supplies, and science stations to explore!   Things can go right off the rails, however, if the teacher and the classroom aren’t prepared for everything a gifted child brings with them.  And I don’t mean the lunchbox or the fidget spinner!

Gifted children are more intense, use more complex thinking, and more driven than other children.  Even at the preschool level.  This is a child who may teach himself to read, tells wonderful stories, creates wonderful multi-media art, and practices kicking a soccer ball into a goal until it is too dark to see the ball.  At 3.  It can also make a child argue about school routines,  insist on changing the rules of every game, and constantly discuss and examine every item in the room.  This doesn’t always go over well  Why Gifted Children Aren’t Their Teacher’s Favorite Students….Imagine the average teacher’s reaction when a gifted toddler wants to grab the story book from the teacher at circle time to determine exactly which type of dinosaur is displayed.  Is that a T-Rex, a brontosaurus, or a brachiosaurus?  She can pronounce their names and knows the difference at 2, and she wants to figure this out, while her classmates are making growling sounds or picking their noses!

Here are some suggestions for teachers to understand and manage the behavior of their gifted students without crushing their spirits or allowing them to run the classroom:

  • Learn about the child’s gifts.  Knowing who you have, who you really have in your classroom: it will help you make a plan.  What they like, what they love, and what frustrates them.  This doesn’t mean that you focus the class on them, but you know that a module on space will elicit a lot of interest, and a module on the color red will not.  Unless you talk about the red planet, Jupiter.
  • Learn about the multiple sensitivities of gifted individuals.  They are not limited to intellectual gifts.  They can include physical sensitivity, emotional sensitivity, and even spiritual sensitivity.  Some will be easier to deal with than others.  But you want to teach the whole child, right?  That way, you see a three year-old’s intense need for movement throughout the day or wanting to have a formal ceremony for the recently deceased goldfish as normal, not perverse.
  • Explain the rules, negotiate the deal when possible, and acknowledge the frustration of things that seem unfair or arbitrary.  Helping gifted individuals fit into a society that says it loves giftedness but really supports conformity, without crushing their spirit, is tricky.  You can help.  Bring their awareness to the fact that controlling the game and telling people what to do and how to do it makes other children less likely to want to play.  This is real teaching.  Even if their new rules for Candyland are truly innovative.  Take a look at Gifted Or Disordered? The Unrecognized Behavioral Traits of Young Gifted Children for more on the real behavior differences in gifted children.  And read How To Talk So Young Gifted Children Will Listen  and  Does Your Gifted Child Interrupt You Constantly? Respond This Way For Better Results  to learn how to successfully communicate with these quick little minds.
  • Don’t forget handwriting!  Many gifted children want or need more opportunities to learn to write.  But they need you to understand what makes handwriting interesting and rewarding to gifted children.  For more on this subject, check out Why Gifted Preschoolers Should Be Taught Handwriting Early (And With The Best Strategies!).
  • Offer real enrichment, not busywork or babysitting.  I have heard stories from parents of teachers who tell gifted children to read to their classmates, or tell them to “teach” their friends about shapes.  This alters the relationships between classmates and is not a good idea.  These kids are going to be singled out soon enough as different.  Build friendships, not mentorships.  More worksheets that they can race through isn’t better.  Find worksheets that challenge them, even if you have to look at kindergarten or first grade materials.  Better yet, make your own, following their interests.  You will be rewarded by a child that loves school and knows they are truly seen as an individual!

 

Sensitivity and Gifted Children: The Mind That Floods With Feeling

 

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Gifted children are often the most emotional and empathic toddlers in the room.  They are the kids who cry when the ASPCA runs those tearjerker commercials.   They are the teens who want to develop an NGO to provide clean water in developing countries.  Gifted children don’t do this to get a boost on a college application, but because it physically hurts them to think of another’s suffering.  Your gifted child’s mind cannot help but to feel strongly and care deeply.

How can you help your child navigate these feelings without crushing their altruism and energy? The first step in helping these children to handle their sensitive social and emotional nature starts with adults understanding that this isn’t a personality quirk; it’s a neurological bias that accompanies an impressively active and intense brain that doesn’t “turn off”.  you can also change how you react to them in good times and bad: Sensitive Child? Be Careful How You Deliver Praise

Sensory Sensitivity, Autism, and Gifted Sensitivity
When OTs usually refer to sensitivity, we usually speak about the physical sensitivity that our clients may experience.  We know that sensory sensitivity can lead to avoidance of sensory input and poor modulation of arousal.  The poor modulator is the child who has a hard time staying in an optimal state of calm, struggling to focus attention on accomplishing their daily activities.  This can be true with gifted children, but is not always a feature of giftedness.

We also know that children with ASD find it difficult to connect with another’s emotional experience due to their neurological wiring.  It is not that they choose to misinterpret other’s emotions.  They may long to know what others are thinking and what to do and say in interpersonal relationships.  Temple Grandin and John Elder Robison have written about their difficulties and discomfort in understanding how friends and family feel.

The gifted client is swimming at the other end of this pool:  they have profound emotional connections to people (and sometimes feelings for objects as well!),  even strong connections with the imagined emotional experiences of strangers!  Again, this is not just their temperament or their personality; the emotional flood is coming from their brain wiring that generates deep connections between profound concepts and expansive comprehension of situations. Gifted kids see very clearly how the human race is all one, how affecting a part results in affecting the whole, etc. It can be overwhelming for them to know this at 4. Or 14. Gifted children are not little adults, even when testing indicates amazingly advanced mental abilities. Their asynchronous development means that they may understand concepts but still cry when they lose a game. They are still children.

There is some science behind the idea that gifted children are emotionally advanced as well as academically advanced.  Researchers on giftedness are eager to display their fMRI views of the gifted brain as it thinks, showing it humming along at warp speed, lighting up like a Christmas tree in areas that are mostly quiet for other people.  I would guess that those mirror neurons (proposed to support empathy and interpersonal skills) that seem inactive in ASD are probably switched on 24/7 in gifted individuals.

Parents get their first taste of this quality when they see how attuned their baby is to their speech and their movements.  “She would just watch our faces all day long!” is a familiar report when asked about early development.  Toddlers begin to be aware of their own emotions and the emotions of others, and the gifted toddler can be quite a handful as she sorts this out. The gifted child may want to volunteer, may become upset when reading news stories, and may insist that the family participate in activities for social causes. On the other hand, a gifted child may become sad and overwhelmed by situations that other children are unable to comprehend. It can lead to feelings of powerlessness and anger when the adults in their world don’t respond in kind or disregard their concerns.

My message to parents and teachers of gifted children, and those who work with children showing strong emotions and advanced skills without a gifted label is to consider that the strong reactions that you see may be a brain effect, not a personality defect. Your next step: supporting a child to handle the flood of emotion, and help them channel their feelings into productive actions and interactions that build social skills, not isolation and a negative self-image.
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