WATG Board Member
While the official title of the SENG, 2019 conference was "Exploring New Frontiers," a more apt title could have been "Gifted: Equity, Quality, and Life." The constant themes of the presentations centered on the fact that giftedness exists and talented people need services, equity includes giftedness, and giftedness does not end at grade 12. Attending the keynotes and various workshops each day, strengthened the resolve to continue advocating for this diverse population.
The conference began with the keynote, "On A Mission to Advocate for Underserved Gifted Students." Dr. Esquierdo spoke about the importance of building the assets and challenging misconceptions since "gifted children exist in countries that don't speak English." It is crucial, to begin with, an understanding of heritage and what the student brings into the classroom. She pointed out that we, parents, educators, and advocates, must understand that children know their abilities; it is up to us to teach who they are now and push them to become their best selves.
Equity encompasses all children, including those with exceptional giftedness. More than an IQ score, the critical issue that differentiates moderate, high, and profoundly gifted centers around the discrepancy between mental and chronological age. Dr. Kane observed that while profound giftedness is a statistical rarity in the population, affecting all aspects of the individual's development, it is becoming more common. Significant challenges faced by these children include lack of peers, placing a lot of "stock" into their giftedness, and not knowing what to do when something gets hard. Strategies to help profoundly gifted children include finding mentors, acknowledge their worries, and help them develop a sense of agency, promote both/and vs. either/or thinking.
The development of an asset model approach to the identification requires building innate student abilities. I presented research on the importance of art education for underrepresented gifted and talented youth. The science of poverty is shocking; empirical research confirms that poverty adversely affects the cognitive abilities of all people, severely impacts children's brain development, and creates adverse health outcomes. Along with these sobering findings, research confirmed that art education supports students from Low-Economic Status and minority enclave communities. Providing the arts does more than offer a special treat for children; it helps build fine motor skills, perseverance, and abstract thinking.
Equity extends to the social-emotional needs of gifted populations. Mr. Hess stated that asking gifted children to "act normal' is highly insensitive; they are "acting normal." Normal, after all, is a highly subjective word. Dr. Gato-Walden explained that the higher a person's level of giftedness, the higher their worry meter. One reason for this problem? Gifted, 2e and Highly Gifted people tend to live in their heads and being smart, they have a hard time letting go of their beliefs. Co-presenters Ms. Harlow and Mr. Hunt explained that anxiety and giftedness are related characteristics. Helping children grow into their cognitive and problem-solving includes strategies such as realistic goal setting, participating in real-life problem-solving activities, and providing parameters for them to follow both in the home and at school.
Twice-exceptional (2e) children are diverse, and many mask their exceptionality because their giftedness compensates for the needs. Dr. Sanguras shared research confirming that the development of grit influences performance, self-discipline, life satisfaction, and happiness, all traits that impact life long-term. Dr. and Mrs. Postma focused on the challenges faced by 2e kids and the importance of building system capacity to serve these students. Ms. Brown shared that misidentification leads to frustrations in life-long success. As advocates, parents, and educators, it is essential for us to understand our children, to identify early, and develop safe zones for them to be themselves.
Raising and advocating for gifted children requires acceptance of who we are. Ms. Merrill, the second keynote speaker, focused on the importance of developing an adult superpower toolkit. She explained that parents of GT kids never know where this ride will take them, or what others, well-meaning and otherwise, will throw at them. Strategies that help parents include recognizing the infinite patience and constant vigilance it takes to deal with the overexcitabilities of their children. She recommended fostering radical self-forgiveness and perspective; parents (educators and advocates) do the best they can with the information they have in front of them at that time.