In August, Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) held its 34th Annual Conference in Chicago. Melissa Bilash, Kat Murray, Dr. Matt Zakreski and I were honored to be selected to speak on developing peer relationships, using improv in the classroom and managing social-emotional needs in teaching technology/coding.  We again dusted off our note-taking skills in classrooms on a myriad of topics about gifted children.  Here are our top 4 presentations from the conference, that inspire and inform our work with gifted children.

The Columbus Group

It was a privilege to hear directly from some of the members of The Columbus Group, a group of experts on gifted children who gathered in Ohio in the early 1990s to create a revolutionary new definition of giftedness focused on the internal experience of being an intellectually advanced child.  Working anonymously because some of their ideas ran counter to scholarly research of the time, the group’s work resulted in a holistic, qualitative understanding of the tenuous balance that the gifted may struggle to achieve: their amazing memory for past experiences plus their advanced abstract reasoning plus their enhanced imaginations makes them capable of amazing achievements, but there may also be increased emotional vulnerability due to this heightened awareness. Anne Beneventi explains, “fitting in at all costs is a social instinct, if not a species imperative,” and children without the opportunity to connect with others can mask their true selves in order to fit in with a group of peers. The members of the group remained anonymous for more than two decades, until the publication of the book, Off the Charts, Asynchrony and the Gifted Child (2012); The Columbus Group is now affiliated with the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development (ISAD).

Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children

Founder of SENG Dr. James T. Webb has written extensively about gifted children being grossly misperceived or over-diagnosed with all kinds of psychiatric disorders.  In his presentation, he used “hyperfocus” as an example, long described as a characteristic behavior of children with ADHD. He argues that in gifted children, such singularity of attention is in fact not atypical; rather, it reflects a “stimulus-capture” situation similar to watching television or playing a video game, in which scenes rapidly shift from one to the next.  Imagine a gifted reader whose eyes truly speed across the words on the page:  their extreme fluency of reading can make the mechanics of reading essentially fall away, leaving the student completely immersed in the story much like they would be while watching a movie.  From that paradigm-shifting perspective, that student’s “hyperfocus” is instead actually reading performed at its ideal level — wherein the author is essentially painting pictures directly into the reader’s brain — but can be misunderstood as ADHD behavior by someone unfamiliar with giftedness. For more information on his work and publications, visit Great Potential Press.

Flight, Fight, Freeze: The Gifted Brain on Anxiety

Drs. Joanna Haase and Nicole Tetreault presented cutting-edge research regarding neurological differences in the gifted brain.  The Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC), the brain’s center of emotional decision-making and reward anticipation in addition to being the control center for heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure, is more expanded and interconnected in the brains of gifted people.  The research discovery they described was the fact that this enlarged, more active “gifted ACC” is home to a more plentiful supply of the neurons which fire in direct anticipation of a bad outcome.  This data represents a new way of understanding why and how gifted children may exhibit anxiety in situations that might not induce the same response in neurotypical children.  Read more on the gifted brain in an article they co-authored with Sharon Duncan for Gifted Research and Outreach, Inc.

Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined — The Truth about Talent, Practice, Creativity, and the Many Paths to Greatness

Scott Barry Kauffman, a psychologist from The University of Pennsylvania’s Imagination Institute gave an engrossing keynote address, which included a number of fascinating insights into how the complexity of intelligence may have blinded us to some of its psychodynamics. His work has focused on the dual-process theory of intelligence, or the idea that there are two kinds of intelligence working in tandem to create what we see as “ability.” Specifically, his research has shown that the human brain has an implicit cognitive ability — an unconscious pattern-seeking instinct — which works independently from IQ/cognitive processes. He theorizes that “intelligence is the dynamic interplay of engagement and ability in pursuit of personal goals,” putting engagement front and center as a central part of that construct.  In other words, he says, “Talent is a need.”   (It was also profoundly reassuring to hear him assert that “creative people have messy minds.”)  A few of us are now reading Wired to Create:  Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, co-authored with Carolyn Gregoire from the Huffington Post.

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