Tom began lecturing nationally over 15 years ago on the topic of Giftedness with Learning Disabilities/Twice Exceptional (gld/2e). He incorporates the notions of Flow (Csikszentmihaly), Multiple Intelligences (Gardner), Entelechy (Aristotle) and other timely educational issues and developments while entertaining audiences with his stories about growing up undiagnosed. The son of a learning disabilities teacher and an educational psychologist, he struggled through school and was told that he was smart but lacked motivation. In his own words:
In 3rd grade I was physically dragged to school by my parents. I had countless run-ins with teachers who wouldn’t listen to my views of things. Most of them were older and wiser….older at least. I learned that I could study as much as possible, tutor others, present to a panel of experts, write a dissertation about a topic, but still only get a B on the test. Throughout school, I felt like I stood out like a fly in the punch bowl and struggled more socially than academically.
It wasn’t until college that I began to experience significant academic challenges. As an undergraduate, my struggles were very confusing to me because I tutored classmates in statistics, math, physics, and other classes, but would end up getting a lower grade than those I tutored. I could not turn in the work I had written because it never was “ready” so I would throw it out and get a zero rather than turning it in. I did not know that my relentless perfectionism and this type of throwing out of good work was not uncommon with students who have been diagnosed as “Gifted.”
I was fortunate enough to request and receive a comprehensive cognitive assessment at the university counseling center by a highly qualified clinical psychologist. The results indicated that I very likely had attention deficit disorder (ADHD) as well as learning disabilities (LDs). I didn’t know what either of these diagnoses meant. The psychologist informed me that I was very “smart.” and I felt as if I was being told this just to ease the blow of being called “stupid.” I worried that if I accepted the labels of LD and ADHD and received accommodations, I’d have a “tainted” education. I didn’t know how marginal my short-term memory was, nor that my long-term memory was exceptionally strong, or how this could even be possible. I refused to think of myself as “Gifted” until I found out that being Gifted does not mean that you get all A’s. In fact, students who are extremely brilliant are usually not motivated by grades.
Slowly but surely, Tom began to understand his newly discovered identity as a student who possessed learning and attentional deficits with giftedness (gld/2e). He finally realized the reason why a math teacher told him that he should probably take remedial math. The teacher didn’t comprehand Tom’s disability (that he forgets numbers just as easily as he forgets names) nor his giftedness (he is in the 99th percentile in most mathematics concept areas as long as the tests aren’t verbal and require working memory).
After his diagnosis, Tom was propelled into a whirlwind of advocating activities, research and presentations, during which he met others like himself who “survived” an educational system that was not able to recognize giftedness with learning disabilities let alone serve this population. Tom collaborated with and was inspired by the late Bob Abbott, a respected pioneer in the International Learning Disabilities Association who self identified as an adult as having gld/2e. Bob and Tom both “slid through the cracks, never being recognized as gifted and too smart to be labeled as disabled. “
Tom has learned to creatively cope with complex combinations of abilities and deficits and he consults with others like him who have developed deep emotional scars because of their school experiences. They never got challenged in school and were told that they just needed to “try harder.” They have never been understood by their teachers, peers or loved ones.
Tom completed his Masters in Business Administration with emphases in Economics, Marketing and International Business, started his own company promoting summer camps and outdoor recreation facilities and continues to work closely with technology, especially assistive technology aimed at leveling the playing field for individuals with disabilities. Having written a textbook chapter on the topic of assistive technologies for students with disabilities, he holds a strong expertise about state-of-the-art equipment and systems that facilitate positive academic performance. He knows, first hand, which components and features are best suited to bypass, work around, or compensate for learning challenges. He currently provides insightful consultation and presentations on the topic of learning and attentional disabilities and giftedness to many audiences. He collaborates with Christine Fonseca, author of Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students: Helping Kids Cope with Explosive Feelings by providing substantive information on how giftedness and emotional intensity relate to learning and attentional disabilities.
Tom is a father to 3 amazing daughters and a husband of a wonderfully supportive wife. He is active as an elected official on his local school board and hopes to eventually merge many of his areas of interest into a single position one day …or at least a few of his interests. He continues to assemble a network of adults who have gld/2e and is a serious consumer advocate for this population. He advocates for timely and accurate diagnosis of both giftedness and disabilities followed by the provision of appropriate accommodations that stimulate minds and strengths while facilitating coping skills for specific disabilities. Tom’s presentation style is informative, relaxed, enthusiastic and emotionally charged. He uses hands-on activities and audience participation to engage and educate.