2e or not 2e? That is the question…

I often get asked how to identify twice-exceptional children. There are several lists of characteristics, but many of those lists focus on education. I have tried to compile a list that is more encompassing.

As with all such lists, each 2e child is unique and will have a blended list of the various characteristics.

e1:

• intellectually or creatively advanced

• very empathetic and concerned with social justice, cares deeply about the future of the world

• advanced, often wicked (sometimes bizarre), sense of humor

• questions the status quo, can come up with creative alternatives

• enjoys codes, puzzles, games of strategy

• may have extraordinary perceptions and/or abilities in one or more areas

• very sensitive to patronizing or hypocritical behavior, may call adults in authority on their behavior

• will not follow rules for rules sake, may challenge the underlying logic of illogical rules

• may get along very well with adults and much younger, or much older, children

• has extreme need for intellectual or creative stimulation

• often autodidactic

• highly curious and divergent thinker

• can rapidly accelerate learning to high levels of expertise

• responds well to academic flexibility and self-directed learning

• long attention span when working in areas of high interest

• behavior issues often resolve when intellectually or creatively satiated

• deeply connected to those they love, feel things deeply

• mature beyond their years, often precocious

• love to challenge themselves and/or others

• are very passionate about areas of interest (fully focused and invested)

• creative problem solvers

• have deep knowledge about areas of interest

• can generalize knowledge to make unique connections (strong metacognative skills)

• persistent

• like to see the big picture first and then fill in the details

• may have superior spatial skills

• may be very good at developing compensatory strategies

• are often well read and have a superior vocabulary

• may have unique insight into complex issues

• unusual imagination

e2:

• often misunderstood and ostracized

• can be gullible, socially awkward, and often bullied

• may be very disorganized

• may be a perfectionist

• can be very compulsive

• often have anxiety issues

• often have unrealistic expectations for themselves, may judge themselves harshly and have low self-esteem (feel like an imposter)

• says and does things that are out of sync with what others are doing

• often rigid about rules and fairness, struggles with grey areas, can be inflexible

• will not follow rules for rules sake, may challenge the underlying logic of illogical rules

• may argue, debate, or challenge the status quo, even if they are punished for doing so

• may need order and routine to function well (even if they appear to be chaotic or messy, often have their own underlying system)

• may need time to prepare for changes in routine, surprises may be difficult to manage

• may be dismissive of details in their quest for the big picture

• may appear arrogant

• asynchronous development emotionally, social, academically (very immature in some areas, extremely mature in others)

• may be very impulsive

• often have issues with food (digestion problems, gut health, food allergies, food aversions, eating rituals)

• has trouble with authority, can be oppositional and argumentative

• may have learning disabilities, poor handwriting, motor skill issues

• can be extremely sensitive to environmental stimuli (sensory processing issues)

• often bored and frustrated with school

• often misunderstood and/or misdiagnosed by skilled professionals

• may have difficulty sleeping, may not need much sleep, or may have unusual sleep cycles

• less interested in typical external motivators and reward systems

• has trouble modulating voice levels

• has trouble controlling body (sitting still, standing in line, walking with group)

• overwhelmed by emotions and emotional intensity

• falls apart under pressure (timed tests, rapid transitions, being rushed)

• very sensitive and easily wounded emotionally

• often confused by social protocol

• may have trouble understanding facial expressions and body language

• often dislike linear learning or rote practice

• often feel held back by typical pacing and learning practices, may be very frustrated with school

If you found yourself nodding your head often (or feeling like someone has spied on your child), then your probably have a child who is 2e.

(Thanks to the experienced parents of 2e children who helped compile this list.) :-)

Motivating Students

One of the central tenets of teaching is motivating students to learn; but our success rate has not been very good. This seems odd, considering that research has shown nearly all children are born with an innate desire to learn. Babies do not have to be bribed to learn to speak or walk. A preschooler won’t require a treat to encourage her to look at a book. Kids don’t have to coerce each other into learning a new game. Children are natural learners who possess an innate curiosity which motivates them to learn.

So what happens to this intrinsic motivation when the children start school? Why do teachers have to jump through hoops to convince students to do their work? Parents, teachers, and administrators are continually seeking solutions to this ever-present problem. Every year publishers hope to find a new curriculum or program they can tout as the latest educational solution to student motivation. Millions of dollars are spent, rather unsuccessfully, on motivating children to engage in learning.

It is the fantasy of every teacher to have excited, engaged students. Picture a classroom full of students who are so busy learning that they don’t have time to misbehave. Imagine kids who can’t wait to get home to do their homework. What would parents do with all their time if the nightly homework battles were eliminated? What would happen if grades and tests mattered less than real learning? Is such a scenario possible?

Perhaps this will happen if adults can shift their perspective. Instead of telling kids how and what they should learn, maybe it is time to ask them what they want to learn and how they want to go about it. Sugata Mitra*, the inventor of Cloud School, calls this approach, “self-organized learning” and believes it could revolutionize education. His approach is about providing ideas that spark curiosity, encouraging kids to ask questions, then standing back to let them figure it out with their peers. Students are taught how to search for answers, collaborate for solutions, and motivate others to help problem-solve. His “Cloud School” experiments, have demonstrated just how intellectually motivated children are when given the time, freedom, and tools to learn.

Cameron Herold*, a highly successful entrepreneur, believes our schools crush curiosity and discourage risk taking. He thinks schools should stop focusing all their time and efforts on their students’ failures. Instead, he believes teachers should help each student identify their own passions and strengths. Then they should connect their students to resources that would help them excel in those areas. Our children will live in a world that is very different from ours. If we teach to maintain the status quo, we cannot prepare them for the future. How can we expect our children to solve the problems of tomorrow if we disconnect them from their ability to question, explore, imagine, and invent?

Ken Robinson* has made it his life’s work to bring creativity back into our schools. He believes that the past focus on teaching to the test has squandered the talents of millions of children. Our school system has tried to teach children as if they were a uniform product, rather than diverse individuals. This model focuses on conformity and achievement in a narrow field of study. Consequently, many children have lost interest in learning. Robinson believes we have a culture of compliance that sacrifices our children’s talents. “All kids have tremendous talents — and we squander them pretty ruthlessly.” The role of teachers should be to mentor, stimulate, facilitate, provoke, and engage. Robinson believes if you spark curiosity, and give children the resources to explore, they will learn without too much further assistance. “One of the roles of education is to awaken and develop powers of creativity.”

Kiran Ben Sethi’s* Riverside School in India does just that. She has thrown out traditional schooling to focus on a “contagious” educational experience where learning is designed by the children and takes place in the real world. She asks, “When are we going to wake up and recognize the potential that resides in each child? When will you include the child?” Her approach takes children through a journey that builds awareness of what needs to be changed, teaches them to be open to being changed, and eventually empowers them to lead the change. Kiran asked children across India to pick one problem or idea that is important to them and figure out a way to take meaningful action, and they did. She reports that children were designing solutions for a diverse range of problems, everything from loneliness to adult illiteracy to plastic bag recycling. The children found ways to tackle big problems and change lives. They discovered what moves them to action, what skills they possess which enable them to take action, and the sweet joy of seeing their efforts bear results. Children are a powerful force.

Allison Gopnik*, a psychologist whose research has recently shown the sophisticated learning and decision-making of babies, states that, “Babies and young children are like the R&D division of the human species.” Kids are driven to figure out the world. Innate curiosity, restlessness, and unwillingness to accept the status quo are a student’s best assets, and a teacher’s best friend. It is time for educators to tap into that natural drive and help children reach their full potential.

That is the goal of my interest-based learning center lab, Big Minds Unschool. Here, a small group of twice-exceptional children are free to design their day, select their activities, and socialize freely. I facilitate student-selected projects that are based on their genuine interests. They are encouraged to dream, play, take chances, build, and explore. According to Socrates, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” I believe we need to give kids enough kindling to get them started and then stand back while they build a mighty bonfire.

(*To find out more about these projects, go to: TED Talks http://www.ted.com/talks)

The Best Gifted Myths of 2012

Here is my very own list of the Year’s Best! The following are the best myths about giftedness that I have heard in 2012:

  • Gifted kids are not asynchronous in their development or abilities.
  • Gifted means gifted in ALL areas.
  • Acceleration is not good for gifted children because they will be too young to enter puberty at the same time as their classmates.
  • Children who are ahead in Kindergarten are not gifted, they are just early learners; the other kids will “catch up” by third grade.
  • All gifted kids read early and want to read all the time.
  • The “most gifted” children are gifted in math and science.
  • If your child is not academically inclined, they are not gifted.
  • If your child speaks like an adult, they must also possess the logic and reasoning skills of an adult.
  • Children cannot be learning disabled and gifted.
  • Gifted children are very mature for their age.
  • A child with advanced intellectual ability simply would not also delight in fart jokes.
  • Gifted children are always the product of gifted parents.
  • Your gifted child will be intellectually challenged in the classroom, because the school has a policy which supports differentiation for every child.
  • If your child cannot speak well or write well, that is evidence that he or she is not gifted.
  • Giftedness is the result of overly motivated parents who started flash carding their kids early on.
  • Any academic endeavor is easy for gifted kids.
  • Gifted kids need to do rote practice drills just like everyone else
  • There is no such thing as a “gifted underachiever.”
  • Gifted students are easier to teach.
  • Gifted children have an innate desire and ability to be peer tutors.
  • Your kid couldn’t possibly be gifted because she or he does (or doesn’t)…
  • Private schools will provide an appropriate education for gifted kids.
  • IQ tests can definitively identify all of your gifted child’s abilities (or disabilities).
  • Giftedness can’t be identified until third grade.
  • “Gifted” is elitist.
  • Your kid can’t be gifted because I quizzed them about ____ and they didn’t have the answers.
  • All children are gifted.
  • Gifted children learn the same way “normal” children do.
  • Your child is too young to learn about…
  • Taking gifted kids out of the school system is unfair because it will lower overall test scores and make it harder for the school to get funding.
  • Gifted children don’t get bullied any more often than any other group of kids.
  • All gifted children learn the same way and a “gifted curriculum” will work well for all of them.
  • Perfectionism is not a problem for gifted kids.
  • Giftedness is a harbinger of success in all endeavors.
  • Children should progress through school with their age mates, because otherwise, how will they find friends?
  • Your child is refusing to do the worksheet because he or she doesn’t know how, not because he or she is sick of the same boring work.
  • All parents overestimate their children’s intelligence and abilities.
  • Gifted children should be kept in school to be socialized, otherwise they won’t be able to relate to “normal” children.
  • Revealing to your child that she or he is gifted will cause social maladjustment.
  • GATE is enough.
  • Boredom never hurt anyone.

Happy New Year everyone.

Hope 2013 brings you all a little less of the aforementioned #$*%&@ and a little more grace and compassion from those around you.

The Difference Between “Gifts” and “Gifted”

I often get asked, “Aren’t all kids gifted in some way?” I suppose you could say that all people have gifts. The word “gifted” is problematic in that way, but the difference between “gifted” kids and “kids with gifts” is that they think differently. They act on information differently, they have an intense internal drive to learn everything they can about any particular topic. They don’t take someone’s word for it, they have to research it for themselves. They are questioners of everything. (I acknowledge the problems with lumping all intellectually “gifted” kids into one category, but for ease of discussion, I have just gone ahead and done it.)

Here is a good example. In the months leading up to the elections, as in many households, the adults were talking about the issues and candidates. But in our household, it wasn’t just the adults. Not only were my kids discussing all the issues and candidates; but they were researching online and doing their own fact checking. My daughter debated each issue in depth and wanted to make sure her parents understood what was at stake when we cast our vote. She came with me to the polling station and said she can’t wait until she can vote. The night of the election, my kids watched the election with the same interest and concern as did my husband and myself.

Did the interest die out after the election was over? No. It was just the beginning. All the questions that arose during the pre-election discussions and research, such as, “What is the electoral college and how does it work?”, or “What is wrong with the First Past the Post voting system?” or “What is gerrymandering?” became the objects of intense research.

My son was really excited when he found that the entire Constitution, all of the Amendments, and the Bill of Rights were available online. And yes, he read them all and has discussed them with me at length. I am embarrassed to admit that I learn more from my kids’ research and discussion than they ever have from me.

When my son finally felt he had a firm grip on our political system and how it works, he moved on to reading diverse opinions about politics in America, trying to understand how “everyone else” thinks. Each topic he explores spins off many more threads to follow, and follow he does. He also remembers most of what he researches, so he becomes a formidable fount of knowledge.

But it doesn’t stop there. Once all the “serious” research is done, the “fun” stuff starts to happen. For example, did you know that Ronald Regan is the only president to have worn a Nazi uniform? (Don’t get to worked up, it was only a costume in a movie.) Or that Chester Arthur changed his pants several times a day? (President Arthur? I didn’t even remember there was a President Arthur!) Or that John Quincy Adams skinny dipped in the Potomac every morning? How about the Lincoln’s holding Whitehouse séances? Did you know the United States of America was the first country to become independent from a Colonial empire? Or that it is theoretically possible to win an election with only 21.91% of the popular vote? Who knew politics could be so interesting!?*

From past experience, this intense interest in our history and politics will last several weeks, maybe even months, until my son feels he has a thorough understanding of the topic. Then his intellectual efforts will move on to another topic. Perhaps the obsession with knowing all there is to know, the drive to pursue that knowledge, wanting to find information from many resources, doubting and checking the “facts,” and the ability to retain the information are good examples of the difference between how a “gifted” kid thinks and how a kid with “gifts” thinks. It is not that a “kid with gifts” couldn’t do all those things, at some level, they probably could; but they are not driven to do those things. My guess is that most “kids with gifts” would not spend the bulk of their waking hours pursuing information on a given topic for weeks on end. So by all means, let’s celebrate all the gifts our kids possess; but please, can we also recognize that there is a difference between having gifts and being gifted?

*(Look up some of this fun stuff at http://www.usconstitution.net, CGPGrey’s Youtube videos, or Dan Brown’s Youtube videos).

Shame on you, Ann Coulter

Shame, shame, shame on you Ann Coulter. You are a typical, cowardly cyber bully. You would never have said those words in person or on camera, yet the R-word just rolled off your tweet as if it didn’t matter. Your hate was so beautifully deflected by John Franklin Stephens’ response. I admire his gentle love for someone as misdirected as you, but I am not a big enough person to so easily forgive. I wish I could magically make you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

I have to watch my son, and the clients I serve, deal with this kind of mean-spirited, cruel, and downright offensive attitude way too often. Why do you think you have the right to use a word like “retard” in a demeaning way? Are you such a paragon of virtue that you can judge others? I look at what you have contributed to the world, compared to what someone like John has contributed, and you just don’t measure up in any significant way.

Unfortunately, your public scorn does have an effect. Many of us are working to eradicate bullying, and you just undid the work of thousands of decent people with your thoughtless tweet. It is a pervasive attitude, I see it every day. I was driving through Berkeley the other day and saw three middle school-aged boys spitting on a homeless man who was lying in the bushes. They were laughing at his struggle to get up and out of their way. We are creating a culture which lacks empathy. It will come back to haunt us.

Thank you John, for standing up to bullies, for lighting the way with your joyful, classy approach to life. You are a role model I would be honored to have my children emulate.

Credentials

There is no specific credential here in California for working with gifted students, especially 2e students. I could hold a special education credential, which the state would say qualifies me to work with the disabilities of my clients, but nothing to ensure that I could adequately meet the high abilities of these same clients. When I am working within the school system, I often see teachers who don’t know what to do with 2e students. If they are special education teachers, they know several methods for mitigating disabilities. If they are GATE teachers (which are a rare breed these days), they may know how to teach gifted children, but I have not had the chance to work with any teachers who understand how to do both.

If the 2e student is profoundly gifted, there is even greater chance that the teacher will have no idea how to help this student meet his or her potential. This is not entirely the teacher’s fault. There is no funding, very little interest, and scarce formal training on how to deal with gifted, let alone twice exceptional, children. But I am not willing to let teachers off the hook entirely. I have offered free consultation, advice, professional training, and support to every teacher I have encountered in various meetings across schools in the Bay Area. I can count on one hand the number of teachers who have taken me up on this offer. I have also offered to conduct a professional development training on the needs of twice exceptional children to many administrators. None of them have expressed any interest.

I have worked as a teacher. I know what a hard and thankless job it is. I also know that there is a movement across the nation to teacher-bash, as if all of our educational problems could be placed squarely on the teachers’ shoulders. I am not trying to do that. I am trying to raise awareness of the many lives which are being tattered by the system. I see children so damaged and withdrawn that it appears they have given up on everyone and everything. I see parents who are worn out with trying to advocate for their child against an intractable system. I see teachers stretched to the limits by ridiculous administrative and curricular demands. I see administrators trying to spread themselves and their dollars impossibly thin.

Even if there isn’t any clear villain here, there is a clear victim. Our 2e children have the same right to a fair and appropriate education as neuro-typical children. Twice exceptional children have potential, they have hopes and dreams; so why are they so far down the priority scale in our school system? What will it take to get someone, somewhere to recognize that we cannot continue to force these children into an ill fitting, potential wasting system?

Mental Catch

My son loves to quiz us, all day, every day. His topics range from chemistry, to geography, to history, to physics, to math, to chess. Never mind that neither my husband or I are experts in any of these subjects, he does it for the sheer joy of thinking. I often feel guilty that I can’t quiz him on any relevant subjects, I know he would revel in the chance to give his brain a real exercise for once. Thank heavens for Sue, his indefatigable math teacher and friend! At least once a week he gets to match wits with someone who is well versed in his subject matter.

My husband calls it “mental catch,” other parents might go out to throw the ball around and play catch with their kids, we do it with ideas.

“Mom, why do they recommend bringing mercury thermometers inside when the temperature reaches about -35 degrees?”

“I thought they stopped using mercury in thermometers because it is dangerous,” I say.

“No, they still use mercury thermometers in some places. They bring them in because mercury freezes at that temperature. In mercury thermometers which contain nitrogen, when it freezes the nitrogen bubbles can go into the mercury and when it warms up again the nitrogen bubbles will stay stuck in the mercury, making the thermometer unusable until it is sent to the factory for reconditioning.”

“Okay…” I say.

He asked his Dad the other day, “Does Euclid say how to construct a regular pentagon in his Elements?”

Dad, “I don’t know. Who is Euclid?”

Son, “He was a Greek mathematician, but not much is known about his life. Do you want me to show you Euclid’s Elements?”

Dad, “Sure.”

Son, “Euclid showed how to construct a regular pentagon using compass and straight edge…” And on it goes throughout the evening. I am an early to bed person, so my husband has to take the night shift. I often hear their mental catch sessions late into the night. My son never seems to tire, he takes right up where he left off with me the next morning. Sometimes he corners his sister, but she is usually pretty adept at dodge ball. Thank heavens there are two of us willing to tag team with him.

I guess we are providing some benefit, he solidifies his knowledge by teaching us what he knows, and if nothing else, he has a willing partner to toss his ideas back and forth. We probably drop the ball more often than we catch it, but our son is a patient teacher.

Sibling Rivalry

My daughter lives in the shadow of her twice exceptional brother. Not only does she hear people commenting often about his brilliance, she also experiences the embarrassment and frustration that come with his special needs. She is brilliant too, just not in ways that are as obvious. She is incredibly mature, highly creative, artistic, imaginative, and a gifted leader. On the flip side, her twice exceptionality is not as noticeable either. She keeps her anxiety well hidden from the outside world, and she is socially skilled, which makes her seem pretty normal to most people.

Last week we were visiting my Mom and headed off to an amusement park for the day with our extended family. My son was having a difficult day with his germ phobia and repeatedly did things that embarrassed her in front of her cousins. At the end of the day, as we were getting out of the car, he pushed into her in his efforts to stay a “safe” distance from the car tires. She reacted by pushing him into the car tire, at which point all hell broke loose.

Later, as I tried to talk to both of them, I made the mistake of asking my son if he was okay. My daughter screamed, “Why don’t you ever ask me if I am okay?!” and stormed out of the house. I gave her a minute to settle down and then I went outside and lay down on the grass next to her. “I know life with your brother can be hard,” I said and she began to sob.

“I feel so ashamed that I pushed him,” she gulped, “I love him so much, but he drives me crazy!”

I looked at her and said, “Me too, but as his Mom, I also have the responsibility to try to help him grow up and become functional. You have the option to walk away from it.”

She looked me in the eye and said, “Not really, I can’t get away from it. I live with it every day and none of my friends really understand or want to talk about it.” She went on to tell me how lonely she felt. Her close friends don’t want to have deep, emotional conversations. She feels they don’t really understand who she is or what her life is like. She is not interested in many of the things they find fascinating and vice-versa. She often feels she has more in common with their older siblings. Having a weird brother just makes her feel more isolated. On some level she longs for a “normal” sibling relationship, including the rivalry. She doesn’t feel she can fight with her brother, rely on him for anything, or even banter and tease him. Because he is so gullible and strange, she feels extremely protective of him; but at the same time she longs for him to understand her and interact with her in a more typical way. He looks up to her and is extremely wounded if she is mean to him. She said when she lashes out at him, it makes her feel like she just whipped a puppy.

It was one of those moments when you realize you have let the parenting ball drop. I have tried very hard to make sure she didn’t feel responsible for her brother. I would never purposefully guilt trip her about her reactions to him. I only required that my children be kind to each other. I have worked to ensure she had plenty of time with friends and an active social life away from her brother. Even though dealing with her brother’s issues have taken the majority of my time, I had tried to work in some Mom/Daughter time with one-on-one attention. I thought I had been allowing her the space and freedom to not deal with his issues continually; but now I realized she carries that burden with her where ever she goes. Despite her coping skills and independence, she needs my advocacy and attention as much as her brother. I had no idea she felt so alone.

As I lay beside my incredible daughter, looking up at the stars on this warm summer night, I took her hand and promised her that I would try harder to be sensitive to her needs. I vowed to listen more, be better at acknowledging her efforts, and more attentive to her accomplishments. I told her how much I valued both her independence and support. I assured her that friendships will get easier as she gets older, there will be more chance of meeting like-minded people as her world expands. I also told her that her brother will probably get better at handling his problems and may get to the point someday where he doesn’t embarrass her. But in the meantime, I encouraged her to talk to him about her feelings. That it is okay to tell him she feels uncomfortable, or frustrated, or embarrassed; but that she also needs to let him know what she loves about him. I told her that I hope someday he will be able to give her the same kind of support she has given him, that eventually she can put some of her burdens on his shoulders. In the meantime, I want her to experience the sheer joy of growing into her own potential and I promised her I would be more attuned to helping her get there.

As we all learn and grow as a family, I fervently hope that she will see what an incredible person she is, know that she is valued, and have the confidence to believe in herself, even when I drop the ball.

Independence Day

Last night as I watched the last fireworks fade away, I realized we had enjoyed an entire Fourth of July celebration without incident. My kids had fully participated in the picnic, the games, and the fireworks, all while blending in with the perfectly normal kids. I don’t recall anyone looking at them and then at me with that “What the…” look on their face.

I feel inordinately pleased with myself and my family. Compared to past years, this evening was a rousing success. We have bravely soldiered through many Fourths. We were smart enough not to take babies to fireworks, but we thought by the time they were kindergarteners, we could celebrate with the masses. Boy were we wrong. My son spent his first fireworks alternately covering his eyes and ears while continually screaming “Turn it off, turn it off” loud enough to be heard over the fireworks.

The next year we ostracized ourselves from our fellow picnickers when my daughter began to cry and scream, “She bit my butt,” while pointing at the daughter of acquaintances we had come with to the picnic. This was followed by an uncomfortable denial, a butt examination, a cleaning and bandaging of a definite bite wound, an awkward conversation with the biter’s parents, and a long, stonily-silent ride home.

Election year Fourth of July witnessed stunned silence among adults who overheard the tail end of an intense discussion about a woman’s right to choose…between my second grade daughter and her little friend. Who knew second graders’ considered presidential candidates based on their pro-life or pro-choice views? Unfortunately, her little friend’s parents did not appreciate my daughter’s decision to exercise her right to free speech.

The following year was the year my son began to question the safety of everything. Those Fourth of July revelers unfortunate enough to be seated around us had to listen to two hours of broken-record pyrotechnic safety questions, to which no answer was satisfactory. Then there was the food safety year, and finally the gross and wasteful consumption year.

So it was with a certain resignation that I sallied forth to celebrate this year’s Fourth. Imagine my surprise when the evening ended incident free. Do I dare declare my independence from miserable celebrations? Perhaps, like our founding mothers and fathers, I can put the battles behind me and watch my little revolutionaries mature into fine, upstanding citizens.

Support is the Key

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” ~ TS Eliot

I disagree. I think there is a point where you go from having had incredible possibility…to being a has-been. I know plenty of adults who feel they never had the chance to reach their full potential. While I wouldn’t call them failures, I would say that their life accomplishments do not come close to matching their early potential. Perhaps we should say, “It’s never too early to discover what you might be.” We should be looking for kids with exceptional potential and finding ways to support them early on.

Here is an all too familiar scenario. A profoundly gifted child begins reading at age two and by kindergarten is reading high school level material. They are excited about math, science, and literature. They can’t wait to get to school and learn. Until they actually start school and find that no one is at their level. There is nothing to learn and not much to do. Pretty soon they are mind-numbingly bored. They start to misbehave. They are labeled a behavior problem. Their abilities are overshadowed by their behavior. From the very first year, the system begins to work against their natural genius.

I read a great article the other day, “The Boy Who Played with Fusion” by Tom Clynes for PopSci (http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-02/boy-who-played-fusion). Clynes tells the story of Taylor Wilson, a physics prodigy who had exceptional parental support through many phases of experimentation in his garage. Their outreach led to recognition and mentoring for Taylor by University of Nevada’s atomic physicist, Ronald Phaneu, and nuclear technician, Bill Brinsmead. These two professionals have helped Taylor build a fusion reactor in the basement of their labs at the tender age of thirteen. Taylor is now working on a bomb sniffing application for his reactor, which has caught the eye of the Department of Homeland Security.

On the flip side, Clynes also mentions David Hahn, another genius with a plan to build a nuclear reactor in his garage. The full story is told in Ken Silverstein’s Harper’s Magazine article, “Radioactive Boy Scout” (http://harpers.org/archive/1998/11/0059750). David started out much like Taylor, but once he began experimenting with dangerous materials, his parents forbid him to continue. He decided to proceed in secret, moving his operation to a storage shed and creating an alias which allowed him to begin buying radioactive materials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Hahn’s story didn’t end well…he was arrested and all of his materials were confiscated in a radioactive cleanup by a haz mat team.

Clynes’ article states that the difference between Taylor and Hahn is support. “Hahn, determined to achieve something extraordinary but discouraged by the adults in his life, pressed on without guidance or oversight—and with nearly catastrophic results. Taylor, just as determined but socially gifted, managed to gather into his orbit people who could help him achieve his dreams: the physics professor; the older nuclear prodigy; the eccentric technician; the entrepreneur couple who, instead of retiring, founded a school to nurture genius kids. There were several more, but none so significant as Tiffany and Kenneth, the parents who overcame their reflexive—and undeniably sensible—inclinations to keep their Icarus-like son on the ground. Instead they gave him the wings he sought and encouraged him to fly up to the sun and beyond, high enough to capture a star of his own” (Clynes, 2012).

There are extraordinary profoundly gifted children like Taylor and David in our communities and they need support. African American children, Latino children, girls, and twice exceptional children are most likely to be overlooked and underserved. Yet, they all need a team of mentors. I am continually surprised at how few politicians, government entities, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists are lobbying for educational reform; or at least providing funding for appropriate intellectual and creative support. Surely they must see that these kids hold enormous potential for producing the discoveries, inventions, and innovations needed in the world right now and into the future. How much collective brainpower and creativity is wasted every day? What future are we sacrificing with our short-sighted view of education?

Parents, caregivers, friends, teachers, and neighbors, it is up to us. We have to be the force that creates change. Don’t take no for an answer. Refuse to teach the same old way. Offer to mentor a kid who shares your passion. Create a new way of doing things. Support the parents who are struggling to meet their kid’s intense intellectual needs. Start a grass-roots movement. Donate to a fund. Find a need and fill it. We have to start somewhere and our kids can’t wait. We can’t afford to let them become has-beens.

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