Dr. Sharp: [00:00:00] Hello everyone. Welcome to The Testing Psychologist podcast, the podcast where we talk all about the business and practice of psychological and neuropsychological assessment. I’m your host, Dr. Jeremy Sharp, licensed psychologist, group practice owner, and private practice coach.
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Hello everyone and welcome to The Testing Psychologist podcast. I’m here with you today to talk all about the emotional needs of gifted kids. My guest, Adam Laningham is the author of Gifted Children & How Trauma Impacts Them, and Thinkology 2.0. [00:01:00] He has over 20 years of experience in the field of education.
Adam was recognized as the Arizona Gifted Teacher of the Year, has taught at several schools in multiple grade levels, created and facilitated numerous gifted programs, and served as a District Gifted Services Manager coordinating programs for over 6000 gifted students. Adam has served on the Board of Directors for the Arizona Association for Gifted & Talented. He is currently the President-Elect of SENG -Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted. He’s the founding member of Callisto (supporting gifted foster youth), and advisor for CogAT Riverside Insights. As founder and owner of Bright Child AZ, Arizona, Adam is an international speaker, consultant, and gifted advocate.
As you might guess, Adam is quite the expert on gifted kids and their needs. So we talk about just definitions and [00:02:00] types, so to speak, of gifted kids, ways to identify gifted kids both via hard assessment and some of the soft signs that we might see. We talk about certainly the needs of gifted kids and classroom intervention, what might look like. We talk about different types of gifted programs that are out there and why more homework is not the answer to challenging gifted kids and many other things.
As always, lots of information to take away from this one and I can almost guarantee that Adam will be back for a second episode at some point because there’s just so much to cover. But in the meantime, please enjoy this conversation and don’t hesitate to check out the show notes where there are lots of resources, including the SENG Summer Conference in July 2023 and Adams books- the most recent of which is all about twice-exceptionality. These are [00:03:00] fantastic resources for this topic.
Let’s get to my conversation with Adam Laningham.
Adam, hey, welcome to the podcast.
Dr. Sharp: Good to see you. I’m excited to talk with you. This is one of those topics, I feel like I say this a lot which is probably telling, but I have not talked a whole lot about giftedness on the podcast. The only other episode I really did was way back within the first 20 episodes, probably six years ago or something. So this is very much needed. I’m glad that you’re here. Thanks for being here.
Adam: I’m excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
Dr. Sharp: Absolutely. Well, let’s start with the usual [00:04:00] question. Of all the things you could do in this world or in your life, why spend your time and energy on this particular area?
Adam: Well, I feel like I’m a teacher at heart. No matter what I do, I’m always teaching, helping, and supporting people. And they always say when you get into teaching, you find your niche. So within that, I taught at multiple grade levels, all kinds of different schools and things. Over time, I found these gifted, creative, quirky learners and I just gravitated to them and that took me into gifted.
They’re definitely a misunderstood group that needs much more support than most people realize. That’s what keeps me going whether I was teaching, a district administrator or now doing lots of different things outside of the school [00:05:00] systems.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, just recognizing maybe an underserved group, if you would phrase it that way, and knowing that they have needs unique from other students, huh?
Adam: Yes, very much misunderstood for the most part. So that formed my education and advocacy piece.
Dr. Sharp: I’m with you. It makes me think back to the first episode I did with Dr. Aimee Yermish on assessing gifted kids. She framed giftedness as an area of competence in our field. Almost like a, well, not almost, very literally, a population that we need to be pretty educated on and understand how they need support differently than some other folks that we might work with.
Adam: Absolutely. There are so many preconceived notions once you say the term gifted, which is one of the things I talk about. Actually, the first book I did was [00:06:00] Don’t use the “G word” with these kids, because the adults don’t even understand and have all kinds of conceptions and understandings of what giftedness is and is not. So we put that label on these kids. That doesn’t always help them try to find their way through and understand what’s going on.
Dr. Sharp: I think that rolls really nicely into just some introductory information, some background information. I would love to hear your working definition of giftedness and the different variations if there are different variations, how do you even conceptualize giftedness?
Adam: It’s definitely interesting. As I go around and talk to people around the country and talk to them about giftedness, it has even broadened what I think of it because you come down to just the logistics of it in a school system, every state is so different [00:07:00] in what they classify what giftedness is and how you’re able to service them. I get questions like, well, what’s the percentage of the population? And even that’s all over because the experts in the field can’t even come up with, I would say, a definition we all agree to as far as giftedness, but to me, it’s definitely the ability to, in one area or another, go beyond what your typical peers can do.
And again, coming out of education, we always focus on academics, but I would argue that’s in anything; that can be leadership, sports, whatever, arts. Some people, for whatever reason, just naturally have that ability to take it to the next level or understand it in a different way that stands out. They’re outliers.
Dr. Sharp: That’s reasonable. [00:08:00] Yeah, I think we get locked into looking at it specifically through cognitive ability. Being neuropsychologists or school psychologists, looking at it through that assessment frame, does this kid have an IQ or a specific cognitive skill above the 95th percentile or whatever it may be in your state?
It’s easy to get locked into that but it sounds like for you, you look at it in a broader sense where this could be IQ, could be cognitive, could be creativity, could be sports, could be, I don’t know, leadership, could be any number of things.
Adam: It truly can. And again, we’re dealing with people, everybody’s a little different and how they apply themselves and what they’re able to do. So we like to come up with titles and names and put people into boxes and things. And even when you say gifted, even trying to explain gifted, we’re trying to put them into a box. We [00:09:00] have some general ideas or ideas of what constitutes giftedness but again, people are complicated. It’s a little gray.
Dr. Sharp: It’s so true. We love boxes. Let me back up even more. We’ve been using the term gifted, you’re the head of this agency supporting the emotional needs of the gifted, is gifted the right term? Should we be using something different?
Adam: I don’t know. We need something logistically and going back to schools, if funding is involved, you need a label, unfortunately. So it’s this double-edged sword. It’s a term. We can come up with another term. It’s still going to be what do we agree? And we have to have it in order to, in many states, get funding. In the district I worked for, it all came down to staffing of teachers. [00:10:00] How many kids qualify told me the ratio I was allowed to staff these programs at.
So we do need a term even though I don’t necessarily like it. In the ideal world, it’s just we would accept everybody’s a little different and differentiate for them whatever it is, and we don’t need labels, but with the systems that we’re in and what we need to do, we need them.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. Always. The thing for me with gifted is it automatically sets up a dichotomy of, the other side of the coin is not gifted and that doesn’t feel great for other students. It’s like you said, we need something and that’s been the word since I was in elementary school, at least.
Adam: Yeah. I think the word does lead into those misconceptions because many, I don’t think voice it this way, but feel like it’s a bit elitist. It’s [00:11:00] like, oh, these kids get this kind of treatment for whatever on a test. And I think that does lead into, well, budget cuts and what’s going on. They’ll be fine. I’ve heard that, I don’t know how many times, the gifted kids are fine. They can just sit there and it’s like, no, that’s the worst you can do is have a kid come to school and realize they’re not going to have their needs met. They’re not as important because they already know it. I talk a lot about that in my presentations and things.
What got me into gifted really was I naturally started finding my niche and liking these creative, quirky kids, but it was these students who were never identified at the elementary level coming up to me as a middle school teacher and super smart. They got my sarcasm, my dark English humor. They got it.[00:12:00] They wouldn’t do homework and they were awful for some of the other teachers, but I’m like, these kids are smart. What’s going on? And they weren’t coming out of the gifted program. That’s what it comes down to making sure we can identify these kids, how important that is, and then getting them into services that nurture those gifts and give them that place to perform and show their strengths.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, I think there’s a lot to unpack there. I definitely want to talk about how to support them. I’m curious about this identification component, though. You touched on a few soft signs of giftedness. Understands dark English humor, check. I’m kidding. I am curious how you look at the assessment or identification process for gifted kids and what you consider like must-haves on the hard assessment side, [00:13:00] so to speak, and then some of those other, I guess you would say soft signs that teachers or parents might notice that don’t fall under maybe typical assessment.
Adam: Absolutely. Well, I come at it a more holistic view, as an educator who’s been experienced and knows, I know a gifted kid when I come across them. I don’t need a test. But for many, we do. Again, I’m an advisor for CogAT Riverside so I’ll give you that disclaimer, but I do bring that whole holistic bend to it because yes, we do need these hard tests. Many states require them. You have to go through them.
And gathering data on kids is good. Not that we need to test them every day and do some of the crazy standardized testing and stuff that goes on in many places, but getting data on how your students or children [00:14:00] learn, how they can process things, that’s not a bad thing. That is definitely good. That’s important.
As a district manager, I was in charge of all of the testing. We used the CogAT. I was the first to tell my teachers, we do the best we can. We assess these kids, but it’s one test in one day. If the kid was having a bad day, the kid didn’t realize it was important, whatever, there’s lots of factors.
So it was always, yes, we have to jump through these hoops. This is part of the process. We have to do it, but we also need to understand they’re kids and we need to look for other things.
Dr. Sharp: I like that.
Adam: So, a lot of the things especially trying to identify underserved populations was students who have been assessed for special needs. Lots of times, the testing that the psychologist can do can help the gifted and look through and see how are those kids functioning. [00:15:00] Are they thinking differently? What areas? A lot of the assessments I noticed working with psychologists were much more in-depth than what we were doing on the gifted screening end. So I loved looking at those assessments and talking to them and seeing what we can do.
We look for those kinds of kids and those kids would be considered twice-exceptional if they do qualify for a service for a special need and gifted, and we can talk about that in a bit. But also we would look at kids, for instance, who are English language learners. If they are able to move quickly and test out of the ESL tests, that’s showing something.
So working with my teachers, we’re always looking for kids casting that wide net. Those kids who may be struggling in one area but are definitely bright in another, those going through EL tests and you talk to the EL teachers are like, oh my gosh, this kid passed tests it out within a few months. I’m like, there’s probably something there.[00:16:00] So again, we always wanted to look at multiple data points. Even if the kid wouldn’t count specifically for our numbers and our staffing, we always wanted to take those kids that we were seeing that potential in. And what’s interesting, when we started setting up kindergarten and preschool programs, we would take those kids who we just had a checklist for behaviors. We would take the kids who just got really close on those tests, and get them in with a gifted trained teacher in that nurturing and enriching environment, they typically tested later and got into the programs.
Dr. Sharp: That really speaks to the, it’s the opposite of stereotype threat. I can’t think of the term now, but kids live up to what you give them, right?
Adam: There is a lot of that. I can’t take just any kid and put them with a gifted teacher and make them gifted, [00:17:00] but there are a lot, it’s a whole range of abilities, areas, and things, and a good and enriching environment makes a huge difference.
Dr. Sharp: Absolutely. Yeah. I’m glad you brought that up. I know that our district uses a, I think it’s a four-point matrix for identification just based on assessment. There’s the CogAT and then there are three other data points; district testing, star maps, and maybe one other one. They have to hit all of those points to be identified as gifted. They have to fall above the threshold on each of those components which is interesting. I wish the audience could see your face. Tell me what you’re thinking right now.
Adam: I have to react to that too much.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. Let’s go there. What are you thinking?
Adam: Well, we did not use academic tests to identify gifted.
Dr. Sharp: Oh, okay.
Adam: That’s learned. We want reasoning ability, [00:18:00] processing, thinking. Usually, if it’s going to be one thing for us, it was the CogAT to be all in end all if they’d pass that. You have gifted kids who don’t care about school, even at younger ages, they’re not going to get good grades and they’re not going to do well on those academic tests. They might, if they felt like it that day, maybe but academics, that’s training kids for honors and AP courses, that’s a different thing.
We can get into that if you want but gifted is, I do not know, usually kids who do well academically, do well in school, as in they’ve learned the game. They will do the homework, they will do the work, they will do well. Gifted kids think differently so they can take things apart. They can process things faster. They may be doing well in school. They may [00:19:00] not. That doesn’t mean they don’t have that gifted potential there to do that if they were put in the right situation or had the right motivation.
I was always of the mind and I still am, that academics is different. It’s what you’ve learned, it’s how you apply yourself whereas gifted is how do you piece things together? How do you reason through things? How do you process that?
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, I can get on board with that. Well, it sounds like it absolutely varies district by district and state by state.
Adam: Even school to school. In some of these states it’s like you can go to one school and go to the next school too, two miles down the road and it’s a different world.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, that makes sense. We’ve seen that in other situations within our district, certainly, and guidelines are different which makes it super easy to navigate for parents and families.
Adam: Oh, yeah.
Dr. Sharp: Well, let’s see, you [00:20:00] mentioned just briefly some maybe misconceptions about gifted kids. I wonder if there’s more to talk about there. Could we dive into that for a bit?
Adam: Sure. Well, it goes back to the label gifted. What does it mean? A lot of people who haven’t been experienced or know, it’s just, oh, those kids who do well in school, all not necessarily or you’re gifted, that means you should get straight A’s. Things should be easy, not necessarily because as we work with gifted kids, maybe you’re just gifted in math and okay in everything else.
Just because you’re gifted in math does not mean you need to be in, their expectations are to write these great novels and do all of this amazing poetry and read 4 grade levels ahead. No. So coming into what giftedness is, there are so many misconceptions, and one is you’re [00:21:00] gifted in everything. And that’s a lot of the pressure we put on our kids. That they’re to perform. They’re supposed to get straight A’s because they’re gifted.
Even the parents, oh, my kid’s gifted, how can they get a C in algebra? Well, maybe they’re just non-verbally gifted. There’s a lot of preconceptions or those preconceived notions of what giftedness is and what it is. A lot is tied to academics. Also, I would say a lot to, and this is my train of thought, how they apply themselves and things like that.
I would always argue that every child comes to school each day to learn. They should get a full day of learning. Regardless of where they’re at in their abilities, if they’re already three grade levels ahead in math, that doesn’t mean they don’t have to do math today. [00:22:00] It means they need to be up at that level that they’re working at.
So many times, at least when I became a manager and started going out to the different schools and really seeing what’s going on, I’m like, time-on-task. These kids can do it. The schedule is this way, no, you don’t have 20 minutes of dead time. What can this child be doing?
They deserve to learn. They don’t need to be the tutor in the class to help the rest of the kids because they got their work done early. And if you know most gifted kids, they’re not the best tutors in the world because it comes easier to them, trying to explain a concept, especially math, that they may just know to someone who’s struggling, not a good situation, or kids who, oh when they’re done with their work, they just go read.
Okay, gifted kids who enjoy reading are voracious readers and will read no matter what. [00:23:00] So they’re in school, they need to be engaged in some enriching concepts, going more in-depth, going further ahead. They deserve a full day of learning. I think a lot of the preconceived notion is they’re fine, they’re good. Well, a lot of that shows that they’re not as valued as the other kids. And it causes issues, I would say.
A lot of where my focus is that whole social and emotional piece because we have all of these conceptions and things placed on them and what they should be or how it fits, but it’s not really the case. And one thing I will say, as I travel around and talk to different groups and things, I always get the question asking me to put gifted kids in the box. How are they all the same?
And it’s like, well, like we said earlier, my definition of being able to go beyond their peers in a [00:24:00] particular area, but also they are far more sensitive than their typical peers. I have not come across a gifted kid who is not more sensitive to what’s going on because they can process, they are sensitive because of the system they’re in and what they have to do. I’ve not come across a gifted kid that was not more sensitive. They may not vocalize it to you, but they are taking things in, especially when they’re young.
I always hear these stories like, this child knows how to do math but they can’t explain how to do it. Well, they soaked it up somewhere, especially young gifted kids, they’re like a sponge. They are soaking up knowledge, they’re aware of what’s going on even when you don’t think they are and they take all of that in.
Dr. Sharp: I want to touch on the idea of, [00:25:00] or the concept phenomenon, I’m not sure what you call it, theory of Dąbrowski overexcitability. You mentioned sensitivity. I’m just curious from your perspective, how do you approach that theory? I’ll settle on that.
Adam: Like everything there, I agree with some and not all, everything and part of it is the kids you’re working with. Yes, they are sensitive. They can be sensitive to things that you’re not even aware of and they can be reacting to things and even they haven’t fully processed like the tag on the back of their shirt is irritating their skin and they’re sensitive to it but they don’t know why and they’re reacting.
A lot of the times, it’s getting to know the individual child, knowing that they’re going to be sensitive to certain things: colors, smells, different things. They may not be aware of it. [00:26:00] And again, that’s part of working with these kids and not just focusing on the academics but being aware of their thinking, being aware of their surroundings, thinking about it, talking about it. Learning how to work in the world, work with others.
Lots of things come out about like the fluorescent lights in the classrooms. Some of these kids are so sensitive, they can hear the buzz from the lights. No, nobody else does. And you think the kids just misbehaving or reacting? There’s a lot of things where it’s seen as fluff. The kids don’t need it but the gifted kids do need it.
And academically, if they get these pieces right, if they’re able to organize their thoughts, if they’re able to focus and look past these things, learn to work with somebody else in a group and use those kind of skills, [00:27:00] all these soft skill pieces, the academics, especially for these kids, that’s the easy part. They will excel.
So many parents and teachers, we’re focusing on the academic piece and jumping over all of these more nebulous gray things that are harder to teach. People may look down on your wasting time in the classroom, building those relationships in that environment but that has to come first, especially with the gifted kids. It doesn’t hurt the rest of the kids. There are many sensitive kids out there that need those kinds of things, but for the gifted kids, it’s really essential.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, it’s an interesting perspective that I could really get on board with that. It’s like the academic part is the easy part so to speak. Theoretically, gifted kids, we’re generalizing, a lot of gifted kids can pick up academic stuff pretty [00:28:00] quickly. It’s more all the other stuff that happens at school, managing emotions, environment, method maybe of teaching, relationships, things like that, and taking care of all those pieces is maybe more important than the actual teaching or the material. I don’t know. Maybe that’s a stretch.
Adam: well, no, I started out many years ago teaching, and I was probably more traditional in my scope and I’m like, I’m not spending two weeks on icebreakers and things at the beginning of the year and the kumbaya nonsense, but I was able to connect well with the kids. I think a lot of it naturally. We would do hands-on activities and things like that, and the kids knew their boundaries and where to go. So I didn’t spend a lot of time on that. But looking back, it’s like most of the time we really do, not that it needs to be hand-holding in Kumbaya for a month out of the school year.
To do this, you can [00:29:00] really get to know your students, and do a lot of things through group work and writing activities and get to know them while you’re teaching them, but for gifted children, they need that relationship. So the teacher does need to really think about that environment, how they are going to get to know their kids better, show the kids who they are a little bit more because the gifted kids are, they are sensitive to those kinds of things.
And be really specific in that as you’re starting out the school year to build that kind of environment that they’re going to do well. `And it’s good for all the other kids in the room, by the way. A lot of gifted strategies and things that we do, it’s good for everyone but for the gifted, it’s essential. Again, putting in the time to get past all of that, they will be good.
I had one of my stories, but when I became the manager of the school district, I went in to do some training and meetings with [00:30:00] one of my magnet schools where we had the highly gifted program or one of them. I was talking to the teachers, I’m in Arizona, so if it’s not tested, it wasn’t learned, but the big state test was coming up and the teachers were on edge about it. I’m like, what are you talking about? And they’re like, well, we have to start doing test preparation and planning.
I thought they were teasing me. I thought they were trying to pull my leg at first. I’m like, we’re in the highly gifted academy. The kids are two grade levels above, but they’re like, well, they’re tested at their current, the age level, grade level curriculum, so they haven’t had it in a year or two. I’m like, this is the Arizona test, which let’s be honest, has been watered down I don’t know how many times. These are highly gifted kids. We’re not shutting down our project-based program for a month to do test preparation.
Dr. Sharp: All right.
Adam: Furious, [00:31:00] had to get the principal involved. I’m like, I am not budging on this. If you guys are nurturing these kids and doing these great things, they don’t need to be spending all of this time reviewing old academics. We can review a few days before so the kids are used to the test and what it’s going to be asked for because the kids would be worried, those conscientious gifted kids want to do well. Some know the game and don’t care.
I’m like, we can do that kind of thing to relieve some anxiety, but my goodness, these are gifted kids. They have the scores to prove it. They have a completed application. They’ve been in the program. They’re doing well. Let’s step back and think if we’re doing all these other things in the classroom to make sure they’re feeling valued, that they’re getting what they need, they have their creative needs met, we have the data to show they’re [00:32:00] working well above grade level, why are we worrying about these things?
Dr. Sharp: Great question.
Adam: Not that academics aren’t important but…
Dr. Sharp: It is challenging when it’s wrapped up in funding, bureaucracy, and political stuff. There’s a lot of layers here.
Adam: Oh yeah.
Dr. Sharp: Yes. Well, we’re touching on this idea a little bit, but I wonder if we could sharpen the focus just on, I would love to hear from your experience or what the research says about commonalities among gifted kids. Are there certain “personality traits” or other qualities that are more common across gifted kids that we should be aware of?
Adam: I would say yes and no. There are certain traits that we would look for and I would share with my teachers when we’re looking at identifying kids. Again, budget was a big [00:33:00] issue. Every kid was not going to get it tested by a psychologist for gifted. So we did more of the screener CogAT type testing, but even then we couldn’t test every kid because it’s all funding.
I would really work with the teachers and give them checklists and things. These are some things to look that gifted kids tend to have; they think outside the box. Sometimes they have a high vocabulary for their age, especially if they’re verbally gifted. Sometimes they surprise you and just know things.
So we would go through checklists and things to help but even with that, kids would surprise us. I’d be like, if in doubt, throw the kid in. We’ll deal with the money later. Get the kids tested if you have any inkling as a teacher. We can train to look for things and we’re putting a box, I will say yes, for sure they are positive. Yes, they do [00:34:00] think outside of the box but you’re not always able to see that.
So when we’re looking at testing or identifying kids, that’s where I’m like, we need to look at the whole picture, look at all kinds of things. And for me, philosophically, when we’re looking at programs, I’m like, do you think the kid will benefit from it? And you have room throw them in. Not everybody like that, but it may surprise you.
We’re still learning so many things about the brain and how it functions in kids. Have they developed. We call it looping where you’d stay with your kids for two to three years in a row. They would come back at the end of summer like a different kid sometimes. Just within a few months, their development and their maturity and things.
So it’s really hard to pigeonhole these kids and say they’re constantly evolving, changing, growing. [00:35:00] To try to fit them into a box is really hard. Yes, they can be very quirky. They are more sensitive. Trying to think. It’s hard because every one I want to say, I can think of a gifted kid. I knew that was an exception to whatever that was.
Dr. Sharp: Right. People are complicated.
Adam: Absolutely. Another thing, we had our highly gifted academies and to get into those, it was academics as well as giftedness, teacher approvals, parents signing off. This was this big long process. Yes, I had to go through all the applications. When you got into the classrooms, I would take parents on tours and then if I was in the area, I would just drop in just to see what’s going on.
I remember my first tour that I took, it was a third grade class and I took some parents in. It was, I don’t know, beginning of the school year. I walked in and of course it’s [00:36:00] noise and busyness and all kinds of things. I’m like, okay, good. They’re engaged and I’m looking around. At first I was like, okay, calm face, we’re good. This is an official tour.
And of course, the kids are working and the more you see it’s the more engaged they were. They had their laptops out. They’re working on different things. The teacher had a small group working on a totally different activity. So the parents are looking in whatever, and of course I see this kid over under the table and I’m like, all right, I’m going to go see what’s going on.
I walk over there and kneel down and he has his Chromebook laptop, whatever it was. I’m like, okay, what are you doing? And he’s like, oh, I’m working on my PowerPoint. And he turns and shows me. I’m like, oh, that’s cool. And I said, well, what’s this? And he’s like, well, that’s so-and-so. He’s in fifth grade.
I’m like, you’re working with a fifth grader on your project? He’s like, yeah, we’re using Google whatever, back and forth. I’m like, oh, parents come look. How cool is [00:37:00] that within this classroom of screened, highly gifted, whatever, the kids were all doing different things at different levels, different abilities.
Even within that program, I would tell people, you walk into the classroom and they’re all gifted. You see then even other things that screen them in to get in there, but you’ve got the future CEO probably dotting her i’s, crossing her t’s, everything’s immaculate and perfect in her binder, and then the boy on the floor rolling around with a Chromebook but, oh my gosh, the cool things he comes up with for his projects. He may or may not be able to find his homework but the stuff he can come up with.
And that’s gifted at the same grade level, at the same school, going through even more, what I want to say, like hoops to jump through to get into this program. And it’s a whole bell curve. I call it a giftedness. Those high achieving super on top of it. And then [00:38:00] the quirky einstein kids. You can’t put them in a box.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, as we talk, it just gets more and more obvious that we need to keep in mind the variability and not try to build a specific template necessarily for gifted kids.
Adam: In many places and longer time ago, it was more that academic route. It was but we set up honors and AP courses because they would get more and they would just jump through more hoops and do more things and it’s like, well no, we’re not school gifted.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I wanted to ask about that. And since we’re opening that box or that door, let’s go ahead and walk through it, I suppose, the intervention for gifted kids or the support for gifted kids. I talk a lot with parents about not just pursuing gifted [00:39:00] programs that give more homework. That’s not necessarily the best fit for your highly intelligent kid. Maybe for some, but not for all.
We do have a number of gifted programs in our district that gifted GT just means you get more homework, right? I wonder what you think about all that, and there’s a lot to unpack from that question, so feel free to tackle it however you’d like.
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Adam: I see it as we have high-achieving students. They’re the ones who do school well. They follow directions. They’re organized. Generally, they have very involved parents to make sure they get their homework done. They’re able to move a little faster, do more work, go into honors, and AP programs. Great. That’s not necessarily gifted.
Within gifted, I would say we have two tracks. We have the quirky gifted who think outside the box, super creative, maybe more [00:41:00] artistic, maybe more gifted in other areas, but even if they can, are not motivated to necessarily move into more work and move further ahead and jump through more hoops and have that kind of discipline to apply themselves as the high achieving kids do.
Within gifted, we do have the high achieving gifted. So in that highly gifted program, I have the future CEOs and the quirky people creating the new vaccine for whatever. Within gifted, we have two tracks where yes and honors, AP is great for them. They will excel, they will apply themselves. That’s a perfect fit.
What I was noticing in our district, and we were preschool through 12th grade, we had nothing besides that highly academic, rigorous giftedness. After some areas after 6th grade even but certainly starting at 9th [00:42:00] grade, it was just honors, AP, and that’s it. Many gifted kids would drop out of those programs.
And knowing what I know about that social-emotional piece and all these different things where they need to feel valued and have that kind of say and then use their creativity, I started pushing the high schools to start doing more as far as what I would call truly gifted. Truly gifted programs would be more project hands-on learning. Students get more say in the content or how they are applying the content.
There’s more time to go in-depth and do those enriching activities versus drill and kill and take a test. Talking with a lot of families and kids because this was a process, we were a big system. It wasn’t just like, oh, Adam snapped his fingers and now we’ve got real gifted programming at the high school.
It was a process [00:43:00] but I started doing parent nights and meeting with students and let’s just say, most of our high schools were just like when I was in high school so not very open-minded to something new. I went around and had parent camps and things at every high school. Talked to the parents, talked to the kids.
One story really stood out to me, this boy who was at our highest-performing top-tier high school, he saw the flyers and came to the meeting. And he said, I was in the gifted courses as a kid in the elementary school and I came up here and all it is AP. And he’s like, I don’t care about that test. I don’t want to do three hours of homework. I don’t want to do it.
He says, I failed out of, was it world history or something? So I had to retake it and it was AP world history or I do not know, something. He said, I went into the [00:44:00] normal class. He said, I just sat around and talked to the teacher. It was so easy.
At that school, and I know this is happening in other places and as I traveled, the AP and honors, advanced courses ended up for all of the kids who will do more. And then what was left were the kids who weren’t motivated to do it? But when you had these gifted kids who had that potential but didn’t see the need of the drive, there was nothing for them. He says it went from one extreme to the other.
Looking at statistics and things, we’re starting to find out more and more that gifted kids are struggling. They’re dropping out of high school. Many studies starting to show they’re more like to commit self-harm, even worse kinds of things. It doesn’t necessarily surprise me if these kids are sensitive. They are creative, they are quirky, and we’re not [00:45:00] giving them an outlet to apply themselves and enjoy learning.
For goodness sake, we can’t enjoy what we’re learning? We just have to go through these checklists. Yeah, it’s not fun. And what’s in it for them? So what I would say gifted is, yes, you can have, I’m not bashing AP, Honors. Those are amazing programs. They’re great for a lot of kids. They’re great for a lot of gifted kids. They’re not great for every gifted kid.
And so before I left, we really pushed to every high school having at least some form of some creative outlet with gifted trained teachers that allowed the kids to do different things. And actually that school ended up doing the most. We had the most gifted options and courses and different AP gifted, general education gifted, weird courses for all different subject areas because the teachers bought into it and really started seeing the value of, yes, I’ll take on an extra preparation and tweak this class for these kinds of learners. [00:46:00] That was actually pretty cool.
Dr. Sharp: That does sound fantastic. I would love to talk a little bit more about this subset of gifted kids who maybe don’t fit in the academic box, who aren’t high achievement motivated necessarily. What are some of the cool ways that you’ve seen or implemented to reach those kids and give them opportunities in the classroom or on a bigger, broader scale within the school to really thrive?
Adam: Well, a lot of times we did, and they’re called different things, especially at the younger age levels, we have like RTI, MTSS, weird times built in. And that was where a lot of my gifted teachers and specialists focused on building their schedules so the gifted kids could come during that flexible time and they could focus on hands-on learning kind of things like STEM projects or arts or theater because a lot of our schools were lacking in a lot of those things as well as tying in a [00:47:00] lot of that social and emotional piece that the classroom teachers didn’t have time for or the groups were too big.
A lot of the teachers who did this work are Title I schools where they need that academic content. Even the gifted kids at those low socioeconomic schools needed that content, but they had that flextime to now have that creative spark during the day for those to have that, I would almost call it a break, something fun but you’re still learning and engaged in doing what kind of you need in a smaller group.
One thing that was really interesting, and I actually do presentations on this, is the CTE courses, career, and technical education at the high school level. Way back, when I was at school, that was a track for the kids who don’t go to college. You learn a trade. Oh, those are great for gifted [00:48:00] kids because the career technical education, those classes are hands-on. They’re actually doing something. It’s real life so they can see meaning in it. And the kids can naturally create a project, a business plan.
One of our schools had the culinary arts. They could learn how to be a chef and do things or run a restaurant, or the gifted kids could find the meaning in it and actually apply themselves besides just sitting there and doing bookwork and things like that. So career and technical for gifted is wonderful.
Dr. Sharp: It’s such a cool perspective. I never really thought of it that way but the way you describe it, I could see that being really powerful for gifted kids because those classes really are the precursors for engineering, entrepreneurship, and financial management depending how you look at them. Those applied [00:49:00] experiences could really be a catalyst for gifted kids to go in incredible directions.
Adam: Absolutely, especially nowadays where there’s so much opportunity and freedom to start your own business or do things. For these gifted kids, a lot who drop out or barely get through school, they’re not going to college, but they’re smart. What are they going to do? They’re going to start a business or do something like that. And these skills definitely help and it gives them that meaning even if they are going to college.
It was fun talking to the parents about this because they’re like, whoa, what do you mean? I’m like, think about it. What is your kid like to do? These are good classes. It doesn’t mean drop out of the AP classes, but have some classes built into their high school schedule where it’s creative. It’s different, outside the box, for CTE.
Dr. Sharp: I love that. We didn’t have this when I was in high school, but I would imagine these days there are more applied like software engineering [00:50:00] classes or coding and stuff like that could be really fun for kids.
Adam: Well, that’s all creative, and the kids like coding and things. They know how to code better than we do. They’re on the computers learning it and figuring it out. Gifted kids can problem solve and they’re creative so that’s a great fit for most of them.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I’m going to be thinking about that.
Adam: And it’s good for all of the kids.
Dr. Sharp: Right. Well, that’s the cool thing about those classes is it seems like they’re pretty applicable across the spectrum of motivation, ability, achievement, et cetera. Hands-on classes have a lot of value that I think we’ve probably undervalued in our educational system for a long time, especially given all these statistics anyway, we could go down the rabbit hole of college and student debt.[00:51:00] We’ve landed on this topic a little bit throughout the interview, but I would love to spend more focus time on just this idea of catching gifted kids who might fall through the cracks, kids who are maybe in districts that don’t have a lot of resources. I think there’s maybe some overlap there if you might say like, culturally responsive gifted support and twice-exceptional is in there as well. I would love to talk more about those kids that are maybe getting missed or under-supported a little bit.
Adam: Yeah, there’s a lot who go under-identified, I would say, for various reasons. And that’s why a lot of the statistics we’re starting to see with kids dropping out of school, doing self-harm, those kinds of things. I know so many gifted kids are not identified, so those numbers are worse than what’s being reported.[00:52:00] But again, it comes to that mindset shift of what is gifted, what can we do that? I would say one of the easiest things is in the classrooms is we need to be doing more projects, more activities where the kids are given a bit more freedom and you can see what they’re able to do. A gifted kid will run with it and start piecing things together, generally beyond what their general education peers would do.
And just seeing those kinds of things could definitely help teachers identify them and give them more. I do think a lot of it comes down to the teachers. Well, especially now, there’s so much turnover and craziness going on is the teachers are overwhelmed. We have these huge class sizes and they’re given the curriculum and all of these extra things that they teach to the middle and then help those that need it most.
That’s what happens. As a former teacher, [00:53:00] I will tell you, yeah, that happens. It’s still happening. All the time, teaching is hard. Over time, teachers generally get better and you start learning these skills and how can I loosen up and make sure every standard is this big thing. We can’t get through all the standards anyway. Let’s pick and choose what’s most important. Think about the kids as kids and not a product and get to know them a bit better and start allowing them some freedom to see what they can do.
We come across a lot of, how shall we say, barriers to giftedness. One being that social and emotional. I had principals point blank tell me, this is a Title I school. We don’t have any gifted kids. Oh, yes, I did.
Dr. Sharp: It’s a bold statement.
Adam: Clearest day. It was all I could do not to jump over my desk. And said multiple [00:54:00] times. But in that case, I did work with the teachers and proved her wrong. I identify more kids at her campus. So there are a lot of preconceived notions and what I want to say, stereotypes out there.
There should be the same percentage of the population at a Title I school should be gifted as a higher-end school. I will say, number-wise, usually the more involved parents, more affluent, we find more of those kids for sure but still, depending on how we’re using our identification techniques, should be able to find them in the Title I areas.
One of the things we did was, there’s a nicer way of putting it, but we would lower the Bar at our Title I schools because we used the CogAT. And I’ll tell you, if you get a kid who is in [00:55:00] Title I area, very impoverished and they can get an 89 on the CogAT, they’re in. That’s just what I would say. I don’t care what you market, whatever, we’re getting those kids in, we’re seeing that potential.
So there are a lot of barriers out there, whether it’s a socioeconomic, race, I think plays a factor a lot of the time. When you think stereotypically, when I first started teaching, the kids in the gifted program all looked the same. They had very involved parents. They looked the same. They all were wonderfully well-behaved. It was very different. We were missing a lot of kids.
So the ESL, I talked a little bit about that. Just because kids come from another country or don’t speak English doesn’t mean they’re not gifted. It’s just being open, giving them those supports, and maybe using multiple data points to try to get them [00:56:00] services. But it’s that whole mindset shift of really understanding what giftedness is and being open to it. I will say sometimes I’ve run into teachers who are almost afraid.
Dr. Sharp: How so?
Adam: The kids might know more than them. And I’ve run it out myself, but I’m good with it. But definitely like the pretesting and testing and those kinds of things, like the teachers, it’s like, okay, now I know this kid is labeled or knows this already. Now what do I do? It’s another whole thing to deal with and a lot of teachers are intimidated.
I remember I had a 5th-grade student. My minor is in history. I took a ton of history courses, especially American Civil War. I know a lot. And this kid, a 5th grader was teaching me stuff.
Dr. Sharp: That’s awesome.
Adam: I’m like, where is this coming from? Well, [00:57:00] he was fixated on it. He wanted to learn about it. There’s this thing called the Internet. He was able to go on and find a lot of details and information and come in and we would have these great discussions and he would teach me things and it didn’t intimidate me. I found it quite amusing.
Dr. Sharp: Good for you.
Adam: Yeah. It’s understanding these kids and realizing they can look like anything. They can come from anywhere but they stand out in these areas and how do we nurture that?
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. It sounds like a theme with the maybe under-identified kids is, even if the school doesn’t have the resources to provide a ton of support, you can still be on the lookout for kids who are standing out among their peers, nurture that, support them, give them a little extra, the opportunity to engage in problem-solving, thinking outside the box.
Adam: Well, and another [00:58:00] thing is the twice-exceptional. And that’s actually, my book is now on Amazon, this book is twice-exceptionalism. What’s interesting about those kids is a lot of people see it, we’re good in the school system at finding kids who struggle and working on that deficit to support them. Gifted kids can have a deficit. They can struggle in multiple areas. A lot of times that focus is on filling the deficit and they don’t even notice the gifts or those other areas of talent that these kids don’t have.
When I was the manager, I worked closely with the student support special education services and I’m like, okay, anytime you have any inkling of a kid who shows giftedness in one of these other areas, we need to know. We need to make sure that that piece that maybe keeps them wanting to come to school, that piece of [00:59:00] joy during the day that they’re good at, we nurture it and we get it.
In a lot of our programs, giftedness came first, and this was a big mind shift, if a kid has any kind of gift or anything that’s burned under the schedule, we’re making sure those kids have something, and then the special education student support services wrapped around and tried to support them in those other areas, and that was really a priority and it worked really well. You have to have open-minded people that you’re working with, but we can’t have these kids going through school that all they’re done to is support this one area that they’re struggling in, which means they probably don’t enjoy it, and that’s all they’ve got.
Dr. Sharp: Right. So would you say is it or is this a stretch, an overgeneralization to say that for twice-exceptional kids, we should prioritize supporting the giftedness before the…[01:00:00] Adam: Flat out? Yes. We need to lead with their strengths. And that’s about my co-authors and I, the kids need to have that kind of spark. They need to have that bit of joy. Something that stands out in their day that they can kind of, the old saying, hanging your hat on. Like they’re good at math, then let them excel in math and do what they need to do and we’ll get them caught up on the res but let them have that peace.
I always like to put myself in someone else’s shoes. If I’m going to school and all I get taught at is stuff I don’t do well in, I’m not enjoying and I’m really good at this other thing, but I never get it day after day, year after year, what is that going to do? You’re not going to do well in school, period.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I say that to parents a lot. It’s not 100% applicable to the [01:01:00] situation, but the idea I think, fits that just imagine as an adult, if we had to do something eight hours a day for 12 years that we didn’t feel good at, that is insanity making. It’s truly torturous. And that’s what we ask our kids to do in many cases.
Adam: Exactly what we do. Yes. They need extra help, so we’ll pull them out of PE. They need extra help, let’s pull them out of recess. Oh my God, no, it doesn’t mean that those things aren’t important. They do need to be able to read at grade level. I’m not saying they don’t, but we have to balance it and see both sides of every child, let alone these gifted learners because twice-exceptional is especially the subset of the subset and schools aren’t built for them.
Dr. Sharp: I think you’re right.
Adam: Have both ends. That’s hard. And as [01:02:00] a classroom teacher with 30 kids and you’ve got a kid or two like that, you need help. That’s going to be difficult.
Dr. Sharp: Right. There’s a lot to say about this and I know we just don’t have the time, at least this time to dive super deep but I would love for you to tell us a little bit more about this most recent book because my audience, my people, we dwell in this world of twice-exceptional kids probably more than any other because we do so much assessment and see kids who are both struggling and excelling in different ways. And so curious I’m about this book on twice-exceptionality.
Adam: Yeah, my co-authors and I, Dr. Lin Lim is a professor out of Bridges. She is the President of SENG, which is how I got to know her because I am the President-Elect of SENG. And then our other author, Val Wilson is one of my former teachers who I worked with for many years and is just an amazing [01:03:00] professional helping and working with her kids at a low socioeconomic school.
So we collaborated and it’s actually turned into a series. I had this book started two years ago during the pandemic, and it’s now turning into probably five books. Probably, yes, like this, we can go on and on but taking all of our experience. Lin is the professor at Bridges, which focuses on twice-exceptionalism. Her son is twice- exceptional. Then me overseeing and managing gifted and working with that social-emotional piece. And then Val with the Title I piece.
So the series is Gifted and Struggling Twice-Exceptional Children and the first book we decided to focus on the parents. So it’s What Our Parents Need to Know. Next month we should have the teacher version out. And they’re all set up like book study books. So you can do it in book studies and things. And then what’s the next one? We’re going to do strategies in [01:04:00] the classroom, so things teachers can use in the classroom to help this population.
Administrators, we have a guide coming out and then we’re going to do on a mental health professionals to help support them because in my experience, a lot of school counselors and things really don’t get gifted, let alone twice-exceptional. So we’re wanting to create a series that are easy to read, resources with strategies and things that will help adults work with these kids.
Dr. Sharp: Sounds great. That’s such needed resources for all those populations.
Adam: Absolutely. And again, we talk about leading with kids’ strengths. One of the main concepts is we view gifted kids as green. We’ve based a lot of it off Susan’s work where we have blue and yellow make green. So blue are where kids struggle, yellow are where they excel or are gifted. Together, they make [01:05:00] green. You have to see all of it in order to understand the child and support them.
I would argue gift at first, but it is part of the whole piece too. You’ve got to understand the situation, the person, in order to best help them. And I think a lot of times we just don’t understand everything that’s going on, so then we’re not able to truly help them.
Dr. Sharp: Right. Well, I’m not going to argue with a strengths-based approach. I love that. I get totally on board with that. We come full circle, I think with this idea that working with gifted and twice-exceptional kids certainly is a separate area of competence for us and for many professionals that we need to need to really dive in and know about these kids if we’re going to work with them.
Adam: Absolutely. And I will do a little plug for SENG to your listeners. We are having our big SENG Conference at Villanova this summer. It’s outside of [01:06:00] Philadelphia, so if anyone is interested, it is a family conference. Bring your kids. We’ve got different STEM activities, young adults programs, and it’s all for supporting gifted and twice-exceptional kids. That whole social-emotional piece that is so important.
Dr. Sharp: Very cool. And as always, I’ll put these links in the show notes; books, the conference, and any other resources that you would like to share so folks can definitely check that out.
Adam, thank you. This was fun, informative, and got me thinking about a lot of different things. I appreciate your time.
Adam: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.
Dr. Sharp: All right, y’all. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode. Always grateful to have you here. I hope that you take away some information that you can implement in your practice and in your life. Any resources that we mentioned during the episode will be listed in the show notes, so make sure to check those out.
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