SENG 2012 Conference Overview

This past weekend my older kids and I attended the annual SENG conference in Milwaukee. This was our first time attending a SENG event and I’m sure it will not be our last. The kids, ages 9 and 11, had a great time in the children’s program. They toured the Harley Davidson Museum, spent a day at Discovery World, took a boat ride, learned about Nikola Tesla, and visited the aquarium. The most enjoyable part of the children’s programming was the chance to spend two days with other gifted kids and, perhaps more important, wonderful adults that understood them.

While the kids were off exploring, I attended a steady stream of seminars, many given by nationally renowned experts on gifted kids. Sessions I attended included ones on misdiagnosis and dual diagnosis of gifted children, depression in gifted individuals, exceptionally gifted children, giftedness from a lifespan perspective, anxiety in gifted children, and executive function disorder.

Being able to listen to the experts whose books I have read was great. One of the overarching themes was that gifted kids, especially ones that are highly, exceptionally, or profoundly gifted, really are different from other kids in terms of their intensity, excitability, and how they interact with and view the world. Parents and teachers need to be aware of these differences and work with them, not against them.

Some take away comments that resonated with me from the experts are:

Gifted does not equal good. – Joy Lawson Davis,  PhD (In reference to the fact that many gifted children growing up in rough neighborhoods may not be using their gifted abilities solely (or possible at all) for academic pursuits vs. other pursuits.

I was hoping for a solid 120. – Edward R. Amend, PsyD (When joking about his child’s IQ. Recognizing that the more gifted a child is, the more likely they are to have issues ranging from asynchronous development, to anxiety, depression, and intensity.

Understanding the normal but unusual function of this tribe. – P. Susan jackson, MA, RC (Referring to her work with highly, exceptionally, and profoundly gifted kids and the fact that they have behaviors, thoughts and intensities that are very different from average kids, but are entirely normal within the highly, exceptionally, and profoundly gifted population. It is important for parents and teachers who live and work with this population to better understand them to create a supportive environment and not wrongly pathologize normal behavior.)

Many gifted kids identify themselves by what they are bad at.  Dan Peters, PhD

We have a worry culture where you’re never doing enough for your kids.  Dan Peters, PhD

The more highly gifted a child is the longer it can take for them to develop the high level circuits in their brains that control executive function.  There are a lot of highly gifted kids that do not do well in school because they are highly gifted.  – Lisa Rivero, MA

Many gifted kids have high psychomotor energy. For career counseling see how kids want to spend their days — moving or sitting.  – Lisa Rivero, MA

One of the most thought-provoking sessions I went to was the one on executive function disorder. In it Bill Dickerman, PhD, introduced the idea that kids that appear to adults as less organized with less self-control than their age mates might actually have a huge learning advantage. These explorers and experimenters may be learning about the world in a fundamentally different way than the kids who are always sitting still and properly listening to their teachers. Most learners develop executive function around ages 3 to 4, some around ages 7 to 8, and a few around ages 12 to 13. This last group struggles because they are surrounded by adults that expect them to be more organized and other students who have more self-control and better work habits. By middle school, students are expected to be able to keep track of all their classes and work assignments on their own and in some, that part of their brain hasn’t finished developing. The idea that this may give them a learning advantage, if we structure their environment and education properly, is a revolutionary idea that warrants further exploration.


6 thoughts on “SENG 2012 Conference Overview”

  1. Many thanks, Aileen, for this terrific concise synopsis from a parent perspective, and I’m especially glad that you included a description of Bill Dickerson’s talk, which was the session that we’ve discussed most among our small circle of friends who had attended SENG 2012.

    So nice meeting you and your son over lunch at the conference — I actually came across your post via twitter, and it was only afterwards that I realized we had met — was happy to find you again in the blogosphere!

  2. Hi there nankin,

    I enjoyed meeting you at lunch as well. Bill Dickerson’s talk was really eye opening for me. I find I am thinking more about how executive function and delayed gratification abilities affect not only development but adult personalities and pursuits as well.

  3. I really hope that he writes an article on this topic, and I found comfort in his reassurance not to panic about kids who are still observational learners (who often seem distracted), compared to their more on-task, tool-oriented peers. But while that advice (don’t panic; care for the child; they will outgrow or figure out how to cope) seemed particularly relevant to parenting and homeschooling, my husband and I are trying to figure out how to adapt his insights to strategies in a more traditional classroom. Just as Bill Dickerson described, my son tends to wander around the classroom if left to his own devices. I’m wondering, How do we accommodate our son’s observational tendencies in a way that would not be disruptive to the class?

    1. Whatever approach we come up with, it’s really helpful to have an alternative perspective, one rooted in decades of working closely with gifted children, in loco parentis. Since he can take the long view and has seen how the kids turned out years later — realizing that they learned far more than it had appeared and retained it longer than their peers — his calm, compassionate advice was reassuring.

      One parent afterwards thanked him for reminding people that these kids need to be taken care of — as simple as that is, it’s a point that’s often overlooked. And even just in the few days since the SENG conference, it’s been far less frustrating reminding our child about minor practical routines now that we have a explanation that recognizes how our child’s challenges are connected to his strengths. – Nan

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