No, Not Everyone is Gifted

Jim Delisle is a Colorado favorite.  He’s a straight shooter, and does not mince words.  His new book, Dumbing Down America, is his latest attempt to highlight what is not working for our gifted students in the education system.

I asked Jim to post a guest blog.  He obliged with this blog, No, Not Everyone is Gifted, in which he refutes some of Malcolm Gladwell’s beliefs in Outliers.  Like I said, Jim is not afraid to speak out, especially if it will help people better understand the plight of the gifted child.

Jim Delisle
dr jim delisleI’m pretty tired of reading that anyone can be gifted as long as they try hard enough. The book that epitomizes this idea is the best-selling Outliers: The Story of Success, written by Malcolm Gladwell in 2008, with his follow-up volume, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, appearing in 2013. In the former book, Gladwell contends that what separates the intellectual chaff from the wheat is not aptitude, but practice. Naming it the “10,000-hour rule,” Gladwell uses select case studies to show that 10,000 hours of doing anything will turn you into the genius you’ve always wanted to be. In David and Goliath, Gladwell continues to dismiss the importance of high intelligence and the dominance of strong ambitions. Using yet more case studies of miscreants who made it big, Gladwell contends that overcoming personal hurdles and family troubles, in combination with lots and lots of practice, will turn you from generic to genius.

Of course this readily graspable concept designed to make everyone feel good about their own potential has mass appeal. Too bad that Gladwell’s convenient and simple ideas . . . are wrong.

When a bad idea like Gladwell’s goes viral—as did the 10,000-hour rule—other authors capitalize on it in their own books, as so many spurious clones appeared in subsequent years. In David Shenks’s 2010 volume The Genius in All of Us, the author states that the world doesn’t have a “talent scarcity” but a “latent talent abundance.” He is even so bold to title a chapter “How to Be a Genius,” as if intellect can be grown Petri dish style or baked at 350 degrees for 10,000 hours. And in Daniel Coyle’s 2009 The Talent Code, the author uses scientific evidence (so he states) to prove that science doesn’t have much of a role in development of intellect. With deep practice, ignition, and master coaching, you, too, can become as accomplished as Jessica Simpson—the pop singer used as an exemplar by Coyle to back up his claims. Seriously?

There is an aspirational attraction to a theory that says you can be greater than you think you are, and no one has the right to downplay the honest efforts of someone who genuinely wants to improve. However, this ambition to succeed is a far cry from dismissing the role of heredity (or downplaying it substantially) in determining intelligence, as these “everyone can be gifted” authors contend. You can’t just toss out 150 years of psychological evidence to the contrary to make the general population feel superior.

The real damage done by these Pop Psychology gurus is this: their theories are based on the idea that the best way to deal with giftedness is to make believe it doesn’t exist at all; rather, it is “created” through effort, practice, and the occasional raw deal that life hands you.

Yet those who deny or diminish a biological basis to intelligence are very selective in which branches of the genetics tree they prune. I can’t imagine that any of the above authors would deny that hair color, height, predisposition to diseases, or nearsightedness have at least some basis in the genes we are dealt. If this is so for virtually every other element of our human existence since birth, then how can they deny the rightful place of genetics in determining one’s innate level of intellect?

No one refutes the potential impact of personal lifestyle or the environment in which you are raised on the quality of one’s daily life. So even if you were born with a predisposition toward heart disease, exercise and a healthy diet can mitigate against your chances of coronary impairment. And although there’s not much you can do about increasing your height, even some great basketball players who didn’t “measure up” in the typical sense succeed professionally. (Case in point: Tyrone “Mugsy” Bogues, who at 5’3″ was the shortest man ever to play in the NBA, became a point guard for the Charlotte Hornets and had a successful 10-year career with them.) So of course a person’s environment and ambition can affect their performance in life . . . but so do genetics. By dismissing or discounting the relevance of our DNA on particular aspects of one’s being—like intelligence—some very smart people are making some very dumb assertions and, sadly, carrying a large number of readers with them.

In the 1960s, many new bands appeared during the “British Invasion.” I’m sure many of them rehearsed and performed for 10,000 hours or more, but only one of those bands turned into The Beatles. Their innate talent in music was enhanced by their practice, not determined by it. Gifted children are the same: they exist from birth. As wise parents and educators of these children know, we ignore the early signs of giftedness at our peril, and treating all children the same because we all have the potential to become gifted thwarts the minds of those who already are.

dumbing down america jim delisleJim Delisle, Ph.D., has worked with gifted children and their caregivers for 37 years. The author of 19 books, the above article is excerpted from his latest book, Dumbing Down America: The War on our Nation’s Brightest Young Minds (and What We Can Do to Fight Back), published by Prufrock Press.

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Talking About Giftedness: the Elephant in the Room

My favorite session at the 32nd Annual SENG Conference in San Jose, CA this summer was Elephant in the Room: How to Talk about Giftedness. I run into a lot of people in my daily work life (parents, students, teachers, administrators) who don’t understand giftedness, who don’t agree with the premise of individuals being gifted, and have just general uncertainty about discussing giftedness.

seng-conference-2014This session, presented by Sharon Duncan and Joanna Haase, was very informative and empowering. It provided imperative information addressing misperceptions society has about giftedness.

Duncan and Haase encouraged us to think of promoting awareness of giftedness as a social change movement, just as GLBT rights and Civil Rights required educating people and changing their perspectives. They encouraged us to correct myths about giftedness every single time we hear them being uttered. For example: “How can he be gifted, he doesn’t turn in his assignments?” “You call her gifted? She’s failing math.”

Furthermore, Duncan and Haase say we need to OWN IT; to make direct eye contact when we address people who are spreading falsehoods about giftedness. If we can’t talk about giftedness, then we cannot get support for it and we cannot educate about it.

They identified the roots of the problem many of us have about speaking up about giftedness as:

  • We limit the conversation of gifted solely to education (IQ scores, test scores, grades, etc.).  We need to educate that giftedness is a psychological phenomenon, not an educational phenomenon. Gifted is a technical definition, not an elitist word.
  • Myths are entrenched. Until we can speak up and dispel myths as they arise, myths and misunderstanding will remain firmly entrenched. (“All children are gifted.”)
  • The concept of intelligence creates discomfort. If we identify an individual as gifted, that must mean other individuals aren’t.  Nobody wants to feel “less than.”

And, while we need to create empathy, it is not advantageous to try and show gifted kids as victims. We change mindsets through education and exposure. Not by being silent, or by being aggressive.

Further, if we correct the perception that giftedness is not required for eminence, achievement, and success, then society may not need to perpetuate the myth that “all kids are gifted.”

We need to mandate education for all the people who are working with/treating our kids. Why are these mental health professionals that work with our gifted children not required to learn about giftedness?

seng-conference-2015The Elephant in the Room: How to Talk about Giftedness was just one of ten highly informative sessions I attended at this year’s three day SENG Conference.

Next year’s SENG Conference will be in Denver. I hope you’ll attend! Info here.


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Reflections During National Parenting Gifted Children Week

I’m writing this during National Parenting Gifted Children Week, which is celebrated the third week of July each year to highlight and promote awareness of gifted children and their parents.

NPGC Week 2014When I think back on my journey in this field, it makes me grateful that we’ve gotten to the point where enough people are advocating for gifted education nationally that we are proudly promoting it to the general public. With a clear conscience. And not feeling as if we have to apologize for asking for adequate educational opportunities for the gifted children we love that we are teaching and raising.

We’ve come a long way, considering…

When I was getting my teaching certificate in the early 80’s, I was taking a class on Exceptional Children that focused 99.99% on Special Education. There was one chapter in one book that said, “There are children that are considered gifted, but they are rare, and chances are you will never have any in your classroom.” My pre-service teacher training failed miserably in preparing me for students who were exceptionally gifted learners. The fact is that in 2014 I work in a public high school where 35% of the student population is identified as GT. That’s 800 students. How “rare” are they?

When my son was identified as highly gifted in elementary school in 1993, I was told by the principal that he was “an enigma and, frankly, we don’t know what to do with him.” Flash forward to 2014 where all of the schools in our district now have a GT Coordinator to work with students like my son. While not all personnel are trained adequately to work  with the range of gifted students, at least there is now awareness that gifted students are not “an enigma” and need something different.

When I was forming my own fledgling parent support group in the mid-90’s, I was grasping for whatever I could find in the way of resources to support our discussions. Now, we have the strong example and guidance of SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) to provide a framework for parent support groups. I am now a SENG certified trainer and group facilitator in the state of Colorado. My workshops are always chock full of educators who want to learn how to best support parents of their gifted students. Parents of gifted children no longer have to hide. They are not seen as “pushy parents” as often, but rather parents who are trying to do their best raising unique children with unique needs. If you aren’t yet aware of SENG, please become familiar with this dynamic organization.

When my son was in high school and needed to take some classes at the nearby university, we had to pay full tuition. Now, there are grants and district funds to support many students whose learning needs require radical acceleration. This allows for students to learn at their own pace, and not be held back simply because of how many years old they are.

It used to be believed that gifted children “could make it on their own,” that they must “stay with students their age for social reasons,” and that gifted kids “could be damaged emotionally and socially by grade skipping.” We now realize that growing up gifted is a qualitatively different experience. These students may need not only significant academic adjustments, but also increased awareness about their social and emotional uniqueness. In the 2000’s I began leading discussion groups specifically for gifted secondary school students, and gave training workshops on how other adults can lead discussion groups with their gifted students.

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Why can’t education operate like sports?

My daughter was a gifted gymnast. At gymnastics practice the girls who were more talented were selected out to be in more challenging levels, regardless of age or school grade, and were nurtured and coached through those various levels for competitions. The coaches met them where they were, and worked with the gymnasts at their own personal level, guiding them through increasingly more difficult skills. Nobody would have ever assumed that any level of those kids would “make it on their own.” Instead, the intensity of coaching ramped up as the gymnast’s skill level increased. And the gymnast’s dedication to hours in the gym was greatly accelerated in the higher level of gymnasts.

The ages of the gymnasts ranged from 8 to 16, depending on their level of skill. Their ages didn’t make any difference in their placement, but their ability levels did.  The irony of the situation has never left me. Why can’t students in classrooms be placed with others of the same ability, regardless of age, but subject specific, and devotedly coached to move forward?

We’ve come a long way since I started teaching in the 80’s, and we’ve come a long way since my children were in school in the 90’s. I celebrate the fact that there are a multitude of national, state, and local agencies and conferences that provide awareness and support to those of us who are on this journey together. We have a ways to go before gifted children get the learning opportunities and necessary adjustments that they deserve in our schools. Yet, we’ve no doubt come a long way… let’s keep moving forward together!

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Gifted Kids Are Often Bullied. Advice To Stop Bullying.

Bullying is a big topic in the field of gifted education, especially in the social/emotional aspects of gifted in which I specialize. So I wanted to pass along some of what I heard at a presentation on bullying by Barbara Coloroso.

As with children with disabilities or special needs, gifted children are often at a higher risk of being bullied. In fact, in one of the first major studies on bullying and gifted students, researchers at Purdue University found that by eighth grade, more than two-thirds of gifted students have been bullied.

Typically, gifted students are bullied because of their exceptional school performance. Other students are either jealous of their abilities and their grades or they see them as a threat in some way. Additionally, their academic abilities make them stand out from their peers. And in some cases, other students can see them as the “teacher’s pet” or a “know it all.”

How can we raise a generation of kids who will stand up for themselves against bullies? Coloroso says protection against bullying starts with knowing how to think. Gifted children have got to know they can think for themselves, and that they don’t have to believe what others are saying to or about them. We must teach gifted children not what to think but to think for themselves. One way to do this is to have them make age appropriate decisions on their own. Increase the difficulty as they get older. Then they’ll know how to stand up for themselves if they become bullied.

Our society is often passive with bullying. A potential witness is a bystander that sees bullying but is afraid to stand up. We need to raise kids who will stand up and say “that’s mean. Stop it!” And, then go sit with the kid who is being ostracized.

We can’t avoid or ignore bullying, and contrary to what some people say, it’s not “just a part of growing up.” The majority of bullying that goes on in middle school, and even in the workplace, is sexual bullying.

Another of Coloroso’s recommendations is not using conflict resolution tools for bullying. Bullying is just plain wrong. There’s nothing to discuss. Teasing is what friends do. Taunting is what bullies do. Bullying is a conscious, willful and deliberate hostile activity intended to do harm. There’s no conflict that needs to be resolved.

Bullies dehumanize others by calling them names. Bullies don’t see their targets as people. “Once I dehumanize you, I can do whatever I want to you.” Bullying is about utter contempt for another human being. Kids model what they see us do. As for sibling rivalry, conflict is inevitable. Violence and bullying is not.

Our schools need to have anti-bullying measures in place: A policy firmly against bullying; procedures against bullying; and programs against bullying to help teach kids honor humanity.

Coloroso says that a good come-back for someone being bullied is: “That comment was beneath both of us.”

Barbara Coloroso

Barbara Coloroso’s Seven Steps To Stop Bullying:

1. Discipline
2. Create opportunities to “do good”
3. Nurture empathy
4. Teach friendship skills
5. Closely monitor TV viewing, video games and computer activities
6. Engage in more constructive, entertaining, energizing activities
7. Teach ways to “do good will”


As adults, we can pay attention, get involved, and never ever look away.


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Memorable moments are when we feel something

We’ve wrapped up another school year, and we just had the official send-off for the IB Diploma students. Over a delicious buffet brunch surrounded by their admiring parents, the 60 students were asked to stand up and share a take-away from their four years with the IB program.

These students have taken on the most rigorous course work that can possibly be offered in high school, and they have spent four years of dedicated studying, hard work and sleepless nights to prove it. What I noticed this year, as in past years, is that their take-aways are almost always related to something fun or funny that happened during their high school years, not something remarkable or earth-shattering that they learned.

Some remarked on the TEDx Denver field trip that I organized for them, in order to inspire their confidence in their abilities to make a difference in the world. What they remembered was the hilarious game of Duck Duck Goose that spontaneously broke out before they boarded the buses to head back to Boulder.

Several remarked on the times I spent with them in ToK Tuesdays (their Theory of Knowledge class, where I do social/emotional activities once a week). One commented on the fun exploding missiles they built out of the popsicle sticks I brought in. Never mind that the intent of that exercise was to grab a stick every time I read a sensitivity statement that they could relate to. They responded to some unintended fun.


A few remarked on the IB Retreat that we hold every year with guest speakers and group activities. What they remembered was the snowball fight that broke out in their downtime during lunch.

Another student commented on a worksheet that had various dots where they had to work in groups to find specific designs within the dots. The goal was for them to realize it was easier to do a challenging task when they worked together, rather than competing with each other. What the student remembered was how much fun they had creating shapes.

Sometimes what we think we are imparting (a lesson) is actually not what our students take away (emotional fun). I think it’s wise to always imbed within “educational” activities the opportunity for students to have a “fun quotient.” Allow for extra time where they can just let loose and do what they feel like doing. This will allow for self-discovery.

When we look back, what we all remember are not necessarily the moments that we learned something, but the moments that we felt something. I can’t think of a better take-away from high school than remembering fun times with friends, and feeling good.

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How Jim Webb gives meaning to existentialism

Terry-Bradley-Jim-WebbDr. Jim Webb spoke to a large, interested audience in Boulder recently for Boulder Valley Gifted and Talented. His topic revolved around his new book Searching For Meaning; Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope. Webb is one of the 25 most influential psychologists nationally on gifted education and has written or co-authored 17 books. That’s a photo of me with Jim Webb before his presentation. Here are some of my take-aways from Dr. Webb’s talk. 

Gifted children seek complexity

  • They engage in metacognition: they think about thinking
  • They are more likely to reach higher levels of moral development
  • They are more intense and more sensitive
  • They see non-traditional ways of acting and being
  • They are likely to challenge or question tradition
  • They search for consistency and universal truths in themselves and in their environment
  • They are more likely to raise questions about life’s meaning and purpose

These characteristics make them more prone to disillusionment. They raise questions about “what’s it all about?” Examining one’s life prompts a realization that much of our life is spent being involved in illusions where we try to keep up appearances.

At first it’s a lot more comfortable to live with illusions. But as we gain more life experience, our perspectives shift. We are more likely to question the status quo, and we become disillusioned (if we are not already).

13 Healthy Coping Styles that go beyond illusions:

1. Creating your own life script — change your story, change your life
2. Become involved in causes — idealists are the ones involved in causes
3. Using bibliotherapy and journaling for perspective (this can help you clarify your thinking
4. Maintaining a sense of humor – can ameliorate feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
5. Touching & feeling connected — this reminds us that we are still alive and we’re connecting to cut through aloneness
6. Developing authentic relationships — is there someone in your life that you can really be yourself with?
7. Compartmentalizing — you don’t have to think about your ideas and concerns 24/7. You can set aside your problems that seem overwhelming so they don’t bleed into the other aspects of your life that are able to bring you joy.
8. Letting go — realizing how much one really needs to try to control life vs. whether it is better to just let go and flow with life.
9. living in the present moment — if we are focused on the past or the future, we can’t really be in the present – our life will pass us by.
10. Learning optimism & resiliency — focus on your assets and draw on your strengths
11. Focusing on the continuity of generations — wanting to share with others what you have learned in life gives your life meaning
12. Mentoring and teaching others — can foster authentic relationships and bring pleasure for having helped others
13. Rippling — realizing that each of us influences others, for years to come

Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration examines in detail how bright people get disillusioned. As a therapist, Dabrowski was known to get excited when a student of his expressed feeling depressed. He would say, “That’s great! Let’s take the parts of your life that have meaning and try to reintegrate them at a higher level.” His theory describes that individuals who “disintegrate” can eventually develop the parts of their lives that have meaning, and positively reintegrate later.

“Although disintegration is likely to result, with existential depression as a main component, this can be “positive disintegration.” – Dabrowski

Forward Arrow smallBright minds are more likely to have higher expectations, to see how things might be, and to be lonely idealists. How can we help them find hope in this world?

Many feel isolated because they recognize that no matter how close they become to others, a gap remains, and they are nonetheless along. “If we must die, if we must construct our own world, and if each of us ultimately is alone, then what meaning does life have?” Such realization and concern can prompt existential angst and depression.

There is a tie-in between existential depression and bright minds. Sometimes, a situation called “compassion fatigue” is experienced, when an individual gets so tired and overwhelmed caring about others, the environment, unjustness, discrimination, etc. that they decide just not to care anymore. This can result in depression.

Forward Arrow smallThe 40% Solution – 50% of your happiness is genetic; 10% is situational and 40% is your mental and behavioral approach. Accept yourself as valuable separate from your roles and separate from others’ evaluations of you.

Dr. Webb delivered an important message. He imparted a lot of wisdom in an area that is not often discussed in the gifted community. For more, I recommend Webb’s book Searching For Meaning; Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope from Great Potential Press.

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Lessons about gifted kids from Roald Dahl’s Matilda

I just read an article titled 12 Lessons About Gifted Kids from Matilda. You know Matilda, the extraordinary child created by Roald Dahl. She has been the star of a book, a film (I loved it!), and a musical. This article is an beautiful reminder that gifted kids do things “early” and “more”.

Matilda is caught up in the world of books. For some kids, books are a life saver, especially when like-minded friends are hard to find. For a child like Matilda, who is very different from both her family and other kids her age, books may be enough to provide a bridge until they can find an actual friend. Adults often provide a safe connection for gifted children who are desiring to connect with someone who is safe and approachable.

Parents would be wise to provide continual access to a variety of books and movies that have relatable characters. Reading and watching along with your children will offer many opportunities to pause and ask “Do you ever feel that way?”

Matilda is a great movie for parents to watch with their gifted children. Just as books can provide bibliotherapy, movies like Matilda can provide cinema therapy.


1. Signs of giftedness can often be seen early in a child’s life.
2. Giftedness is innate, not taught.
3. Gifted children love to learn and often have a variety of interests. Because of this, many gifted children love to read.
4. Gifted kids often outgrow “children’s” content early.

Read all 12 Lessons About Gifted Kids from Matilda.


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3 things to know from the Beyond Giftedness Conference

I recently attended the 21st annual Beyond Giftedness Conference in Arvada, Colorado (a Denver suburb). I’ve attended almost every year and have been a presenter at many. When I attend events like Beyond Giftedness Conference, I always pick up some new ideas, fresh perspectives and different approaches on gifted education and the social/emotional side of giftedness (my area of interest). Here are three points I wanted to share from this year’s Beyond Giftedness conference.

Federal funding for gifted

Dr. Stephen Schroeder-Davis in his keynote “Mindset and Talent Development” said the discrepancy between the gifted education budget and special education budget can be described as maligned neglect. This discrepancy can no longer just be an oversight; it’s been going on for too long. There is a concerted effort to not support gifted education nationally. The proof is that the federal budget for gifted education is $5 million (Javits Act 2014) and the federal budget for special ed is $12.7 billion. That’s correct, millions versus billions.

This made me realize how the current national funding is a purposeful oppression of our gifted population. When 5-7% of the national student population is considered gifted and talented (that’s about three million K-12 students), the funding directed to gifted is abysmal. It should be noted that the feds do not provide ANY funding directly to local school districts for programs and services for gifted and talented students.

Existential depression and gifted

The next session I attended was “Who I Am and Why Does it Matter: The Existential Dilemma” with Jenny Hecht and Eamonn Morris, a former student at the high school where I work. I learned that there are three types of depression: psychological (usually prompted by an event, such as the death of a loved one); clinical depression, which is a mood disorder (frequently as a result of brain chemistry or genetics); and existential depression.

Existential depression can be pervasive in a person’s life. It usually comes with guilt because the person feels they should be able to get over it but can’t. Generally, because they feel they don’t know their purpose in life, or they feel they’re not doing life correctly, or they can’t get over it themselves, the person feels guilt. Even children can have existential depression – how confusing that must be.

There is a large prevalence of existential depression in the gifted population. For more, I recommend the book Searching For Meaning – Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope by James Webb.

I’ve written previously about Eamonn Morris’s struggles with depression.

Flipped learning for gifted

The final session of note for me was “Using Flipped Classrooms to Bring Out the Best in Your Students” by Jerry Overmyer.

Flipped learning (or flipped teaching) is: What used to be class work and lectures is done outside of class by the student. What used to be homework is done in the classroom. Students learn new content online by watching video lectures, usually at home, and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class with teachers offering more personalized guidance and individual interaction with students, instead of lecturing. Videos can be created by the teacher, or there are many videos already online that teachers can use. It’s not about how great the video is, it’s about the new use of face-to-face class time. Flipped learning allows students to become independent learners, allows teachers to be available when students need them most, and allows parents to more effectively help with homework.

Flipped learning is ideal for gifted kids. Those who grasp the lesson or concept quickly can move on to the next thing they’re interested in. No busy work. Those who don’t grasp the lesson or concept quickly can watch videos repeatedly, even watch and discuss with parents or friends, and figure it out. Students work more at their own pace.

What’s the best use of a teacher’s time? Is it a general lecture to all students of varied abilities, or is it working one-on-one or meeting each student where they are and moving them forward individually, not as a group.

“Teachers will not be replaced by technology but teachers who don’t use technology will be replaced by those teachers who do.”  Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach

I believe there are always take-aways from every meeting, group discussion, conference, or convention that can help all of us understand how to better work with students. I hope to see you next year at the 22nd annual Beyond Giftedness conference in Arvada, Colorado in 2015.


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Giftedness and disabilities can coexist

There’s a quote I really like: “If the purpose for learning is to score well on a test, we’ve lost sight of the real reason for learning.” (by Jeannie Fulbright)

Similarly, I think it’s also true that “if the only definition of giftedness is being able to score well on tests, we’ve lost sight of the real definition of giftedness.”

Test scores are easily quantifiable, but it is important to note that there are many qualitative aspects of giftedness that are not easily quantifiable. Examples of these attributes include:

  • having the ability to connect with the essence of others
  • having a charismatic nature that readily captivates and attracts others
  • demonstrating creative thought and ability
  • having asynchronous development which causes simultaneous elevated strengths and areas of weakness
  • having heightened sensitivities to the world, and experiencing intensity in many aspects of life

Annamarie Roeper said that “giftedness is based on emotions as well as cognition” and she developed the Qualitative Assessment Method to identify gifted children based solely on observation.

That brings me to Benjamin…

Benjamin is a senior in high school, and he has autism. He is highly capable, and has a captivating presence. He is a public speaker who talks frequently about living with autism. I have seen him present a number of times and I continue to be amazed on so many levels. His mother has provided incredible attention and painstakingly worked to help Benjamin manage his differences.

This constant process and unyielding message of love is beautifully described in her new book, Benjamin Breaking Barriers: Autism – A Journey of Hope. She asked me to review her book, and in doing so, I was continuously impressed with her descriptions of Benjamin’s behavior and thought. I highlighted dozens of quotes that read like they were in a book illustrating a gifted child rather than a child with autism.

For all of us who work with students with disabilities it is important to be mindful of the fact that many of these same students may also be gifted in some areas. This is an example of significant asynchrony. Gifted children identify themselves, and so do “twice exceptional” children. We just have to know what we’re looking for. Benjamin is a perfect example of an individual who has significant learning and processing disabilities, while at the same time is convincingly functioning with significant strengths.

Focusing on his strengths is where Benjamin will make a meaningful life for himself, and make a difference to others. This is his purpose.

Benjamin posted this on Facebook:
Happy New Year, everyone! I’ve learned something interesting: people are calling me “twice exceptional.” The term means that, in addition to having autism, I also have some real gifts. Terry Bradley, the TAG (Talented and Gifted) specialist at my school has been super supportive, and I appreciate her identifying me as being “gifted.” Please read my latest blog entry, “Giftedness and Autism.” Find it at


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“It’s Kind Of A Funny Story” – real life struggles help students

I’m so sorry to hear that Ned Vizzini died. His movie about teenage anxiety and depression, “It’s Kind Of A Funny Story”, helped many of my high school students address their issues. “It’s Kind Of A Funny Story”, which was first a novel, then a movie, is about a 16-year old struggling with depression and suicide-ideation because of school and family pressures. NPR named  “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” one of the 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels of all time.

I have shown the movie during many semesters to my 15 and 16-year old IB Diploma students who are often weighed down by similar troubles. The students enjoy watching the movie because there are many messages that they can relate to in it, plus actor/comedian Zach Galifianakis makes it funny at times.

Over the last few years, I’ve had a few students come up to me after watching “It’s Kind Of A Funny Story” to say that they can relate, that they feel the same pressures, and that it’s good to know they’re not alone in feeling this way. This communication allowed me to get supports in place to help them with their stress.  It served to bring some of the “high fliers” to my attention, so that I could get them help.

After watching “It’s Kind Of A Funny Story”, one of the students, who also was in a psych ward for depression and suicidal ideation, like the movie’s lead character, wrote to other students:

The takeaway from this film should be: material success and academic performance have no bearing on your happiness. What really matters is how you treat other people, how you act in the face of adversity, and how you find fulfillment, whatever it is.

I heard Ned Vizzini keynote once at a gifted conference. He was a compelling speaker. I bought his book Teen Angst. I’m sorry to hear that Ned Vizzini couldn’t overcome his demons but it’s good to know he’ll be helping others with their issues for years to come through what he left behind in his many books and movie. Read about Ned Vizzini’s life in his New York Times obituary.


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