Conference Coverage: Illinois Association for Gifted Children 2017

Naperville, IL, February 1-3

November, 2016

Here we recap some of the 2e-related sessions presented at this conference:

Supporting the Social and Emotional Development of High Ability and Twice-Exceptional Students

Presenter: Megan Foley Nicpon, Ph.D., University of Iowa

Megan Foley Nicpon is an associate professor of counseling psychology at the University of Iowa. She is also a practicing psychologist and associate director of the research and clinic at the university’s Belin Blank Center. Finally, she is the mother of several children, one of whom is twice-exceptional.

In her presentation, she covered five topics:

  1. The social-emotional needs of high-ability children
  2. Risks inherent in the social-emotional development of high-ability children
  3. The social-emotional needs of twice-exceptional children
  4. Psychological aspects of talent development
  5. Strategies and interventions for fostering social-emotional development.

In general, said Nicpon, high-ability kids have good social competence. However, there are risks to developing that social competence, among them twice-exceptionality. (Nicpon covered other risk factors such as perfectionism; but for brevity, we are excluding that discussion.) While acknowledging that research and therapeutic work with 2e students can be complicated, Nicpon noted some general findings based on the research of others:

  • There may be a connection between academic success and social-emotional factors such as resilience, the “normalization” of the disability, and using a strength-based approach to education.
  • The denial of gifted services may result in a decrease in students’ motivation and self-concept.
    Nicpon then discussed social-emotional needs of three categories of twice-exceptional children: those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with ADHD, and with learning disabilities (LDs). With ASD, the child, the parents, and teachers may all report different psychosocial behaviors, with the child under-reporting his or her own problematic behaviors. Over time, such behaviors may lessen due to the child’s psychosocial development.

Nicpon noted the following with regard to gifted children with ADHD:

  • They have lower self-esteem and happiness than gifted-only children.
  • They are similar to their peers in other areas of psychosocial functioning such as the ability to handle anxiety.
  • According to one study, these children do not underachieve relative to gifted-only peers.
  • They are more likely to repeat grades, to need more academic support, and to have co-morbid issues than other children.

Nicpon also shared her belief that medication is worth a try for children with ADHD. She explained that medications used for ADHD are “fast in, fast out,” unlike antidepressants; yet they can be life-changing, providing that the child has a positive response to the medication.

In addressing gifted children with LDs, Nicpon observed that they tend to see themselves as being more like non-gifted students with LDs than like gifted-only students. For these 2e kids to be successful, she noted, it’s important to build on their talents.

Nicpon concluded with six social-emotional implications for twice-exceptional children:

  1. They may need more interventions related to social-emotional development than do other gifted or non-gifted children.
  2. Their social-emotional development is helped by focusing on strengths and remediating weaknesses.
  3. Educators need sufficient training to be able to spot gifted students with LDs so that these students can be offered gifted services.
  4. Psychosocial function “may improve over time,” especially with mental health interventions.
  5. Students generally don’t self-report the same social-emotional problems that parents or teachers see in them.
  6. A comprehensive assessment (psychoeducational testing) is necessary to “sort out the nuances” and avoid misdiagnosis.  

Twice-Exceptional Mindset: Ready, Set, Tech

Presenter: Jeanette Salinas, Director, The Journey School of Houston

Jeanette Salinas, director and co-founder of The Journey School of Houston, began her session by describing who twice-exceptional students are and what they need in the classroom. With a background in working with twice-exceptional students, she stated that she has come to understand that academic achievement is only part of the recipe for student success. Emotional regulation and social interactions play vital roles as well.

In training her teachers, Salinas explained, she emphasizes that what students want is to be acknowledged, challenged, and engaged in a positive way. An effective way to engage them, she has found, is through technology, especially through mobile devices. She gave a number of recommendations for apps and other online resources that she said can “serve as a lens to help students see who they are.” Among those she described were the following:

Math Learning Sites

  • IXL learning — A subscription-based learning site for K-12 in math as well as English, science, and social studies (Salinas warned that “IXL is great when you get things right. But when you don’t, you see ‘Incorrect’ in big bold letters.”)
  • Khan Academy — A educational site that offers video tutorials and interactive exercises

Free Resources

  • Digital Designer — Allows users to build models using virtual LEGO bricks
  • Skype Education — Enables connection with experts around the world and virtual field trips (According to Salinas, some field trips are already set up.)
  • Google arts and culture — Offers museum tours

Storytelling Tools

  • Storybird — Gives students avenues for telling their stories and for sending their stories home to share with parents
  • Adobe Spark — Allows users to build web pages and to create and share social media graphics, web stories, and animated videos
  • Sketch Nation — Provides an approachable way to learn coding
  • Storyboard That — Lets kids create their own comics

Research Tools

  • instaGrok — An educational search engine that creates mind maps
  • Today In History — Serves as a great history resource
  • Tiki-Toki — Helps students visualize by enabling them to create 3D timelines that include images, details, and videos.

Classroom Management Tools

  • ClassDojo — Enables teachers, parents, and students to work together as a team, sharing photos, videos, and messages
  • Class Craft — Turns classroom management into a game in which students earn or lose points, depending on their behavior

Additional Resources

GASP! I Could Never Homeschool!

Presenter: Jen Merrill, author and blogger at Laughing at Chaos

Speaker Jen Merrill opened her session by giving parents considering homeschooling this vote of confidence: “If you can stay one page ahead of your kid, you’re fine.”

She based this opinion on her own experience with homeschooling her son, whom she described as “a teen who’s very bright and very 2e.” Merrill stated that her initial reaction to the advice to homeschool him was, “No way. We’d kill each other.” The result, however, has been quite the opposite. She explained that once her son no longer had to “hold it together all day in school,” his nature changed, and it brought out the “really awesome kid that was inside.”

During the session, Merrill gave parents hesitant to make the switch to homeschooling some things to consider. First, she pointed out that, as a parent, “you are already in charge of your child’s education; you just don’t know it.” Then she asked parents to think about whether they would rather spend time, money, and energy struggling with the educational system and with trying to fit their child into a predefined mold, or spend those resources creating an educational program that best accommodates the child’s needs and challenges. 

Merrill stated that if you decide to give it a try, it’s good to have some guidance such as:

  • Read the book Making the Choice: When Typical School Doesn’t Fit Your Atypical Child (See, by Corin Barsily Goodwin and Mika Gustavson.
  • Remember that there’s no “right” way to do homeschooling. The best way is whatever works for you and your family as a whole (not just you and the child being homeschooled).
  • Avoid “burning your bridges” at the school your child has been attending in case you need to send him or her back in the future.
  • If you’re trying to work out how to combine work and homeschooling, consider flipping schooling — do learning activities with your child during the evening when you’re home and have your child work independently (with adult supervision) by day.
  • Be aware that your child is likely to need some transition time after leaving school, referred to by homeschoolers as deschooling. It’s a time to disconnect the school experience from learning. A rule of thumb is one month of deschooling for every year in school. Ways to deschool (based on Merrill’s own experience) might include watching documentaries, spending time at the library, visiting museums — anything, to encourage self-motivated learning.
  • As a parent, be sure to schedule self-care time to avoid burning out.
  • Combat isolation by making an effort to get out of the house — find homeschooling groups (on Facebook and Meetup, for example), join a parent group, and get your kid involved in a homeschooling co-op.

Merrill suggested a number of resources to help homeschooling parents get started. Among them were:

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