Much of the literature in the world of gifted education and parenting seems to focus heavily on younger gifted children, and yet there are also many joys and challenges as our children move into adolescence and beyond.
Adolescence is a time of great brain growth, second only to the immense brain growth period of infancy and the first few years of life. It is during these later critical years, up to about age twenty-five, that brains continue to develop, and the frontal cortex (the governor of thought, judgment, and behavior) fully develops. Some experts believe that this development may not be fully complete until our mid-twenties or beyond. During this crucial period, many future habits and skills are learned and practiced, and sometimes the problems of childhood are exacerbated.
It is during these adolescent years, and into the college years, that some gifted students may struggle with executive functioning skills. Because schoolwork (and often life) has been easy for them so far, they may lack the skills that they need to be successful as the workload, expectations, or competing scheduling conflicts become more intense.
Executive functioning skills (or lack of them) impact so much of life. Students may have difficulty with homework and planning -- doing it completely, procrastinating, or forgetting to turn it in. They may not use planning tools effectively, or they may not have planning strategies at all. Many over-trust their memories. Some don’t care about grades, or may have ineffective study habits. Many are disorganized – their lives, backpacks, folders, desks, bedrooms are a disaster. They may lack time management skills, and they have no sense of how long a task will take. They cannot prioritize effectively. Some have difficulty reading or following directions or noticing details. They do not check their work. Often, they won’t ask for help, feeling that needing help is a sign of weakness (this can be especially difficult for gifted kids). As a result, they are often overwhelmed, and this can result in meltdowns, homework fights, distractions, forgetfulness, and lack of self-control. Beyond high school this can mean failure at higher education or in a job or a relationship, which can be very costly failures.
One parent described it like this, “Our son did so well in elementary school, but during middle school and high school things began to change, especially at school, but at home too. The more complex his life became, the worse it got. Honestly, we had no idea how he could be so smart, and yet so dumb at so many things. Eventually the school counselor helped us find resources to help him. She called his problem an executive function disorder. There were a lot of ways we could help our son now, and we decided to try things. It made a huge difference.”
Executive skills can be taught, and the middle school and high school years are great times to teach and refine them. Here are some areas of concern, as reported by parents and educators:
In parent groups, and in resources such as
Smart but Scattered, and Smart but Scattered for Teens: The Revolutionary Executive Skills Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare, or in the excellent videos by executive functioning coach Seth Perler and others, many suggestions emerge. Here are some ideas for parents and educators that are often shared:
Parents, educators, and young adults working together can produce remarkable results. It may even prevent heartache later, and for this students, parents, and educators will be eternally grateful.
As always, I welcome your thoughts. Together we grow.
Jackie Drummer, Past President of WATG
(WATG would like to extend a huge thank you to Dr. Martha Aracely-Lopez of Milwaukee Public Schools for translating this article into Spanish for our Spanish-speaking families and educators. The translation can also be found in our website blogs.)
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.