Supporting Emotional Needs for the Gifted Conference Updates

posted Aug 12, 2014, 12:19 PM by MW Rod   [ updated Aug 12, 2014, 12:21 PM ]
If you've ever thought about attending a SENG conference, see what one GT mom has to say about her experience this year.

32nd annual SENG Conference - 18-20 July 2014 - San Jose, CA

My husband and I attended the SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) conference this summer for the first time.  We weren't certain of what to expect, but we were hoping to gain a better understanding of our 8 year old son’s needs.   We were hoping to find ways to help him to succeed in school and life.  It’s become clear to us in recent years that he is different from the norm and we don’t have all the answers, so we thought this might help. 

I highly recommend SENG to anyone who works with GT students or to parents of gifted learners. The conference session topics went much broader and deeper than we expected, and we learned more than we expected, about so many topics relevant to our family’s needs.  We truly regret that we didn't attend a SENG conference sooner!  The perspective we gained was fantastic. We learned some ideas on advocacy, including how to approach the school differently, to have a more effective partnership.  We also learned that there isn't always a simple solution or one ‘right’ way, that there are many different ways to help gifted children succeed, and that needs can change from year to year.

There were so many sessions to choose from in the conference….There were 12 session times between Friday morning and Sunday early afternoon, with 6 or 7 different sessions happening simultaneously in adjacent conference rooms, and lasting about 75 minutes each.  Sessions were in several categories: 2E, parenting/grand-parenting, education, misdiagnosis, gifted adults, over-excitabilities, special topics.  We attended sessions across many categories depending on the topic.  I attended a group on perfectionism.  The discussion lasted about an hour, and I left the discussion group with some practical ideas to guide my son when perfectionism is causing him challenges.  Being with other parents of gifted kids of various ages, provided an environment that was comfortable and encouraging.   I could clearly see the benefits of being in a SENG model parent group on a regular basis.  (There’s information on SENG’s website, www.sengifted.org, about starting or joining a model parent group, and they even have online groups, and educational webinars for a small fee!)   

There were a few things that kept recurring in the conference, so I’d like to note some of those themes.  First, perfectionism can go hand in hand with procrastination.  Some gifted kids tend to put off doing things because they want them to be perfect…  It sounds strange, but it is very common.  Not starting a task means the child cannot do it wrong.  How to combat this?  With a lot of positive encouragement and praise for the process, and not just the final product or the grade received.  Don’t praise the child for being ‘smart’, praise the effort they’re putting in.  Read together some biographies of great leaders, inventors, etc…  Seeing their previous failures can help a gifted kid realize perfection isn’t attainable or necessary; it’s human to make mistakes and learn from them. 

Another common theme was disengagement and underachievement.  A few definitions may be helpful here…  Disengagement is withdrawal from activity.  Underachievement is a discrepancy between ability and achievement.  Motivational Paralysis can result, which is poor motivational health and is self-sabotaging.  What can we do to prevent all of this?   Early intervention, individualized approaches to learning (self-paced, independent learning in areas of interest), and a change in attitudes and perceptions of giftedness can help. Kids often don’t see the point of what they are doing in school – if they see some purpose to their work, they are more likely to be engaged.  Teaching Gifted Kids in Today’s Classroom, by Susan Winebrenner, was referenced for its helpful information on how to provide individualized learning options. A cookie cutter approach cannot meet needs of all. What might be a great program or school for one gifted child might not work for another… there is truly a need for individualized learning for gifted learners.

Another topic that kept recurring was the question of how to find the ‘right fit’ for a gifted student.  Four models were given: traditional school, home school, distance/virtual school, and a hybrid/blended program that could include 2 or 3 of these.  To create a right fit, first identify specific areas that need improvement in the child’s current program.  Then create a list of alternatives for each area, with cost versus benefits of each.  Determine which options best achieve the goals.  Include the child in the process, and don’t forget about their physical needs, including play and stress relief.  One thing to keep in mind; gifted kids need to spend part of everyday learning and interacting with children of similar ability.

Acceleration (by moving up in grade or working in a higher grade for a subject) was mentioned in a few different sessions.   One presenter mentioned that acceleration is a poor substitute for gifted education.  However, if there is not a program that is appropriate for the child, accelerating by moving up to a higher grade level may be a better fit.  It is likely that the pace and depth may still not be enough after the student settles in to the higher level.   If you are not certain if acceleration is the right choice for your child, the Iowa Acceleration Scale can help in the decision.  It is important to present the Iowa Acceleration Scale in a team meeting at school, and discuss the results together, ensuring the school knows acceleration will not overburden them.  A contingency plan to have the child meet with the school counselor to handle any adjustment to the new grade, and having parents arrange a tutor to cover any curriculum gaps that might arise, can help.  It is also wise to have a trial period, where you are willing to reverse the grade-skip if needed.

One of the most entertaining sessions I experienced was on the final day.  It was about gifted adults and communication.  One thing SENG has taught me is that many of us adults grew up as gifted kids, and our needs don’t disappear after we become adults.  SENG has some great support for adults in dealing with challenges we may face.  I was reluctant to attend a session to focus on me, instead of my child… but I was so glad I went to this.  Dr. Dale Stuart was the presenter, and she kept the session funny and light and the packed room was having a great time.  The entire session was one big ‘aha’ moment. She discussed cognitive biases we all have.  They include that we tend to think everyone thinks and feels like we do, that we know what others are thinking, and they know what we are thinking.  We also think we see reality objectively.  These biases can be problematic, because we tend to think our way is the best way.  We also have memory ‘blind spots’, recording memories that are the most useful to us, and our memories become altered every time we recall them (this explains how eyewitnesses can view the same events completely differently).  How do we escape the traps we fall into?  Accept that we act irrationally more often than we believe.  Accept we may be biased, so we need to ASK and LISTEN.  Step outside yourself and observe your own behavior, and consider how your actions affect your partner or others. 

There is so much more, but I hope this gives a little insight into what the SENG conference is about.  It was a fantastic experience, and while it’s a bit pricey, it was really worth it.  There’s even a kids portion if you want to have your child attend and meet other gifted kids for the weekend… and this year there was a scholarship opportunity available through SENG, as well as a discounted rate for Gifted Homeschoolers Forum members to attend the full-day Saturday events (when the most sessions were held).  So, there may be ways to make it more economical if you want to attend.  It may be worth planning a family vacation to Colorado this coming July… I don’t think you’ll regret it!  

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