Meeting the Needs of Intense Adults, Online and Off

What are your social-emotional needs? Intellectual needs? Creative needs? Physical needs? Twice-exceptional needs?

Not your children’s.


Are you meeting them?

And does the very idea make you squirm with discomfort? (Sure, my kids are gifted, but me??)

Many of the posts in this group blog, hosted so graciously by Christine, have been a fascinating discussion of questions such as these, forming a virtual support group for gifted adults, regardless of whether they think of themselves as gifted, whether they are posters, commenters, or lurkers. I learn something from every post and comment, even though I haven’t been nearly as active a participant on this blog (or any other blogs, including my own!) as I’d like to be recently. My excuse is that I have been busy co-chairing SENG’s (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) 2012 Annual ConferenceShining Light on Giftedness: Empowering Families and Communities, to be held July 13-14, 2012 in Brookfield, Wisconsin (just west of Milwaukee).

One aspect of the conference this year that I am most excited about is a new breakout strand on gifted adults, where you can continue this online support offline and in person. Parents, teachers, and other adults usually come to gifted conferences such as SENG’s to understand their children better, but they go home realizing that there is much to understand and celebrate about themselves, as well. I love to see the spark (sometimes an anxious spark, but a spark nonetheless) in their eyes that is the beginning of a new road of self-understanding.

Here is a peek at some of the gifted adult breakout sessions we are offering this summer in Milwaukee:

  • Disorganized Adults:  Is It Too Late to Learn New Skills? (by Kathleen Crombie)
  • Enjoying the Gift of Being Uncommon Together (by Willem Kiupers)
  • Finding and Claiming Your Adult Giftedness (by Lisa Erickson)
  • Gifted Comes of Age: Generativity, Integrity, Entelechy (by Joy Navan)
  • Giftedness Beyond the Classroom:  How to Survive and Thrive in Adulthood (by E. S. Vorm)
  • Grappling with Giftedness: A Lifelong Challenge (by Ellen Fiedler)
  • “My Child Is Gifted, Not Me!” Parents Coming to Terms With Their Own Giftedness (by Dan Peters)
  • Staying Close to Your Profoundly Gifted Spouse (by Suzanne James)

You can learn more about the conference at the SENG website. I hope to see some of you in my home town of Milwaukee this July!


Bringing Intention to Intensity, One Word at a Time

notebook and penRecently I have resumed a habit I had started when our son was a baby, and it is helping me to bring a little focus and intention to my otherwise often scattered days and thoughts: I am keeping a quotation notebook.

Be assured that this is no Luddite impulse. I am simultaneously learning how to use my phone and email to bring more organization to my hours, inspired in part by my college-age son and students who adeptly and routinely add, refer to, revise, and click off palm-held tasks and reminders from dawn until dusk. Much to my surprise (I have come long and painfully to the realization that organization can, in fact, be learned), it works.

But organization is not intention. Organization may get things done, but it doesn’t provide a sense of intended purpose. To bring intention to my day and my life, I need notebooks, not so much to write down my own thoughts—although I use them for that, too—but to record, remember, and assimilate the wisdom of others.

Here are just three examples of articles and blog posts I have read recently that speak to a sense of purpose or intention, to something bigger than a to-do list, with passages I want to remember:

Tara Sophia Mohr’s “10 Rules for Brilliant Women“:

“1. Make a pact. No one else is going to build the life you want for you. No one else will even be able to completely understand it. The most amazing souls will show up to cheer you on along the way, but this is your game. Make a pact to be in it with yourself for the long haul, as your own supportive friend at every step along the way.” Read More

Terri Taylor’s “Building a House of Brick ~ Respecting My Boundaries“:

“I hate confrontation. Which is the same thing as saying I hate standing up for myself. Wow. I’m sitting at my desk, typing these words as the realization of that filters through my being. I don’t like standing up for myself. No wonder my boundaries are being breached, even I don’t respect them!” Read More

Martha Beck’s “5 Ways to Bring Yourself Back from Burnout (linked to in Douglas Eby’s “Multiple Talents, Multiple Passions, Burnout, Part 2“):

“Unplug heaters, plug in coolers. Make a list of all the people with whom you regularly interact. Next, list environments you inhabit—your office, your car, rooms in your home. Finally, list your usual activities, from relaxation (ha-ha! just kidding!) to laundry to office meetings. Now imagine each item separately while noticing how your body reacts. Tension, jaw-clenching, or churning are signs you’re plugged into a heater. Muscle relaxation, spontaneous smiles, sighs of relief show you’re chilling.” Read More

Why not just bookmark these articles, or print them, or copy and paste excerpts into an email or Word document? I could even use a very cool free Moleskin app.

The act of transcribing quotations and passages longhand is part of the intention, part of the self-direction, as William Powers explains in Hamlet’s Blackberry:

“Unlike my screens, which thrust words, images, and sounds at me all day and night, my paper notebooks project no information at all. The pages are blank. They invite me to fill them with information, and when I do, it’s information of my own choosing that I write with my own hand…. When you’re used to clicking keys all day, shaping letters one by one feels exotically earthy, memorable just be contrast.

Digital screens are tools of selectivity, too, but using them is more reactive, a matter of fending off and filtering. Because a paper notebook isn’t connected to the grid, there’s no defensiveness. The selectivity is autonomous and entirely self-directed.” (p. 152)

The word “intensity,” after all, comes from the verb to intend, “to set out on one’s course.”

How do you bring intention to your intensity? What happens when you don’t?

As Speakers for Gifted Children

“There’s only one boy on this launch with any brains at all, and that’s Ender Wiggin. Take a look at good look at him, little boys. He’s going to be a commander when you’re still in diapers up there.” ~ Ender’s Game

Ender's GameI recently re-read Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game in preparation for the coming movie and to discuss it and the series of books with my 20-year-old son—home this week on spring break—who remembers the novel fondly from his childhood. With this re-reading, I am convinced that Ender’s Game offers valuable insight for any adults who live or work with gifted children, particularly concerning the often unwanted effects of public praise.

In the book, adults single out Ender as an exemplary student in front of his peers in order to isolate him and to develop his self-reliance and leadership:

“In your old schools, in your old families, maybe you were the big shot, maybe you were tough, maybe you were smart. But we chose the best of the best, and that’s the only kind of kid you’re going to meet now. And when I tell you Ender Wiggin is the best in this launch, take the hint, my little dorklings. Don’t mess with him.”

The result is that the rest of the students resent, torment, and avoid Ender. Of course, we read Ender’s story knowing that, as parents and teachers, we would never purposefully set up a child in this way. However, when I recently asked a gifted youngster if being singled out publicly for being the best in the class had similar effects, he said, without hesitation, “Absolutely.” His answer reminded me of an informal panel of teens I once facilitated. The teens were all highly gifted, and when asked what they thought about being referred to as gifted, every single one said they didn’t like it. They did understand the gifted difference and its important in knowing themselves, but they found that the label and attention caused too much misunderstanding.

The diversity among gifted children is profound, and we should not forget that there are some children who do either brush off such attention or even thrive on it. These children often let us know very clearly that they want the acclaim, and adults are hard-pressed to stop them from getting it.

But we can be very careful not to assume that most children secretly want such attention (especially if we, ourselves, struggle with not having received the attention we feel we deserved from parents or teachers) or that we are do them a favor by giving it to them, thinking that they will thank us later. In fact, as both a parent and a teacher, I have found the safest course of action is to assume that, unless I know otherwise, most children and students do not want to be singled out publicly, even at the college level. Instead, we can find more personal and private ways to acknowledge their accomplishments and leave the decision to share up to them.

Several years ago, I attended a session on gifted children and the media, led by Kathi Kearney and Stephanie Tolan at a Hollingworth Conference. They offered information and considerations for parents and others about interviews and other media requests. Stephanie also talked a bit about the privacy of children and her thoughts, in hindsight, on what she wrote about her own son and his friend in Guiding the Gifted Child.

Their discussion has stayed with me as I’ve had to make similar decisions about how much personal information to share as I write and talk about homeschooling and giftedness. Gifted children are very sensitive to their environment, and many of them are absorbing and interpreting conversations long before we are aware of their understanding. When they are older, they might appear self-absorbed or unfazed by comments made around them, but we can never know for sure what snippets of conversation will stay with them, how they are defining themselves based on what they hear or read about themselves. I continually grapple with this issue, being the mother of a very private son as well as an author who clearly has put his giftedness “out there” in a public way, even while I have tried to do so judiciously.

In his introduction to the author’s definitive edition of Ender’s Game (1991), Orson Scott Card wrote that the book has resonated so deeply with many young readers because it “asserts the personhood of children”:

“Children are a perpetual, self-renewing underclass, helpless to escape from the decisions of adults until they become adults themselves.”

Toward the end of the novel, Ender says, “You never asked me! You never told me the truth about anything!” Our connected, shared, digital age poses ever new challenges for adults to tell the truth that needs to be told as we advocate for gifted children while, at the same time, being careful to respect their personhood and privacy.

When Gifted Children Grow Up

I recently had the amazing good fortune to have dinner with about a dozen highly gifted adults, mostly women. As one by one we shared stories, I was struck by a thought: Each one of us as individuals was looking around the table, feeling that we were the odd one out, the less gifted duckling in a glorious pool of graceful swans.

Many of you first started thinking about giftedness as I did, in order to understand and meet the needs of your children. Until our son was three, I had never heard of gifted education, much less the emotional traits and needs of very bright children. The first book I read on the topic was Bringing Out the Best: A Resource Guide for Parents of Young Gifted Children, by Jacquelyn Saunders, lent to me by our school’s gifted and talented coordinator. I still remember the relief, the “aha” moment, when I learned that being “sensitive to emotional issues at an early age” and asking “many questions about pain, death, anger, love, violence, etc.” were aspects of being gifted and not necessarily a sign that we were doing something wrong as parents, or that something was wrong with our child.

From that point on, I embarked on what was to become both a personal and a professional journey of passion, that of understanding what it means to live with this thing called giftedness. I focused primarily on the concerns of gifted children, and I immersed myself in every resource I could find. Information about what happens to gifted children when they become adults was not only harder to find, it just wasn’t as interesting to me at the time, except in the tangential sense of its effect on parenting.

In hindsight, though, I can see that I was also embarking on another, more personal journey that I hear echoed in others’ stories. I was pegged as “the smart one” in my class of three students in the two-room country grade school I attended (the other two students were “the funny one” and “the kind one”). I was quirky and imaginative and had a hard time making friends. I remember at some point along the way making a conscious effort to study the other children and to do whatever it took to fit in, a goal I succeeded at all too well. By the time I went to the county-wide high school, I smiled my way to popularity. I was valedictorian and voted most likely to succeed. My high school yearbooks are filled with versions of “You are really nice, for a brain. Stay just the way you are.”

Through it all, though, I wondered when I would be found out as the impostor I feared I was. Not only had I erased much of my real personality, I also never had to work hard to get good grades. This was not because I was brilliant, but because there was little rigor in my classes. The drop-out rate in my high school on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation was very high (it is currently about 50 percent), and the percentage of college-bound students low. It was not that difficult to distinguish oneself.

Sure enough, as a first-generation college student hundreds of miles from home, I hit the wall. Hard. Never having developed the study skills or work habits necessary to handle challenging classes, I was the textbook example of someone with what Carol Dweck has termed a fixed mindset: I believed that my ability was set and ultimately unknowable, something to protect at all costs rather than develop. I acted as though potential alone would be enough for me to succeed, and I had internalized the belief that being smart meant I shouldn’t have to show much effort or even planning. The problem was that by the time I was in college, potential and reputation no longer sufficed. What mattered were diligence and organization and persistence, skills I was sorely lacking.

Not until graduate school and beyond did I finally start to learn to engage and even at times enjoy my own potential and the intensity that is a part of it, to bring it out in the open and to work with it rather than treat it as a fragile, mysterious object. This engagement was and is a sometimes painful process that reminds me often of my own limits. But that is part of the deal. True personal development requires discomfort and setbacks, a lesson that seems harder for some of us to learn than others.

The process of recovering and creating my personality has taken even longer.

This is the part of the post where I am supposed to provide an answer, or at least some insight. For now, though, I have only questions and the feeling that, once again, I am just beginning something. If I still have trouble applying the word “gifted” to myself and figuring out what it means, after over ten years of writing and speaking about the topic, how many others are wrestling with these issues, especially once our children are on their own and the only giftedness that remains is our own?

What is your story of when gifted children grow up?