Confusing Technically Knowledgeable with Gifted

The fast-moving, mobile, cloud, social, gadget industry is now part of our everyday world, web and app technology is seamlessly integrated into our lives. Most readers of this blog get their daily news electronically, reading it on a desktop screen or tablet instead of from paper. Our gadgets, cars, and houses communicate with each other, outside companies, and us in ways lifted from science fiction. We are experiencing the first true wave of the Internet of things on a consumer level and it is an exciting adventure.

Students and employees who are knowledgeable about the latest apps and social media platforms, who can write code and deploy servers, who have experience on the development side of the digital world, are in high demand. In colleges across the country the numbers of classic liberal arts majors are declining while students flock to acquire the engineering and math degrees that employers value so highly. As the economy continues its long road to recovery, many employers are taking the safer bet and hiring specific skills instead of general abilities.

While technical skills are necessary in many businesses these days, the reality is that the basics of being able to evaluate and analyze data, understand the marketplace, build strong relationships with coworkers and customers, and think, are more important than ever. While it is tempting to hire the person who currently has all the correct boxes checked for skills today, it is more important to make sure they will continually learn and make the connections that will drive your business forward.

Too often we assume that folks with deep technical knowledge are smarter than those with deep knowledge in non-STEM subjects. Perhaps this is a holdover from our reverence for the engineers that sent spaceships to the moon and created the home computer and Internet revolution. Those people were and are, not typical, even within the technology industry. Engineering revolutionaries and pioneers, like most innovators, are gifted. Although anyone with strong technical knowledge is smart, and many jobs require technical knowledge, we need to refrain from assuming that one specific category of skill trumps all others. Technically knowledgeable people may or may not be gifted. Beyond mere technical skills, we need people who can see the big picture, find relationships, discover hidden needs, and anticipate paradigm shifts.


altmv Reboot

Since I launched altmv in March 2012 it has been a site focused on parenting and educating gifted kids. Motivation, ADHD, sugar, and public education have all been viewed through the lens of the gifted child and his or her parents. Yet raising gifted children is only one aspect of my life. Over the last month I have increasingly struggled with compartmentalizing the multiple universes that I live in.

My work life has always been in the technical world of ISPs and hosting services, yet I have a strong interest in psychology and wellness. The intersections “the cloud”, our online lives, societal trends, how things work, and what influences us, fascinate me. Beyond gifted children, there is an awful lot ricocheting around in my head that needs to get out.

Appropriately named as a nod to the original Usenet News alt.* hierarchy, altmv will evolve to encompass a bit of everything. (Minus the* and alt.binaries.* sections.) I’ll even be pulling in some ancient articles I wrote on another blog about getting and training my Belgian Sheepdog.

News and thoughts on gifted kids and education will still be covered and easy to find through the use of categories, tags, and menu titles. I am excited about this reboot and curious to see what will happen when I finally let my universes collide.

The Perfectionist Shuffle

We have some young, high-strung perfectionists in our house. I don’t want to get into any judgement call about whether nature or nurture is to blame. They are our biological children and one way or another we are probably the culprits.

This tendency to always want to be right and to always perform at a superior level can make it difficult to learn and do new things. True learning involves failure. Initial attempts are usually messy and ugly. Admitting that something is confusing and knowing that merely following directions will not, in and of itself, create a beautiful essay, an elegant art project, or a masterfully played piano piece, creates issues.

Like many highly gifted students, early learning of the basics wasn’t much of a challenge. They are still developing the mental and emotional muscles they will need throughout their lives to persevere in the face of difficulty and unexpected setbacks. Gumption and tenacity are increasingly important in the work world as well as in life. When they head out into the job market they will enter an economy that is ever shifting. An economy where jobs and companies are constantly changing and their individual success will depend on their ability to welcome new challenges with positive energy and hard work.

They aren’t quite there yet.

Right now, many new and seemingly difficult homework assignments and tasks are greeted with what I’ve taken to thinking of as the perfectionist shuffle. First, there is the avoidance prelude. During this time, they try to pretend the assignment doesn’t exist. They hide in the world of books or waste time on the Internet, without having even read through the assignment.

When they can avoid no longer, usually due to parental intervention, they then start the excuse sidestep. Offered reasons for failing to begin the assignment will range from, not having enough time, to not having the correct materials, to being too hungry to think, to needing “a break” before they get down to work. Once they exhaust their list and it slowly dawns on them that they have to start working on the new, seemingly impossible task, we begin the exciting part of the perfectionist shuffle, the angst whirl. At its peak, if the project seems particularly daunting to them, the next couple hours include Insecurity, arguing, crying and carrying on about how they can’t do it, don’t know how to do it, shouldn’t have to do it, etc. It is exhausting. Amazingly enough, once they have tried all alternative routes, are emotionally spent, and there is no other path save forward, they usually settle down, dig into the task, and do a decent job.

Although it serves an emotional purpose, perhaps helping the kids cope with uncertainty, the perfectionist shuffle is not going to help them in the long run and is not fun for anyone within hearing distance in the short run. Being able to intellectually understand the difference between high quality work and mediocre work has its downside. It can make trying something new seem pointless. The fact that all the world’s experts were beginners at one point is easy to understand but difficult to internalize emotionally. We are trying to help them understand that lack of success after a solid attempt is not the worst outcome. That confronting every new challenge with an emotional firestorm is far worse than just learning to put in a good effort and see what happens. That if they can develop and maintain a positive resilience, success will find them.

Refusing to Trust Our Good Teachers

This week NPR ran a story on Maryland teachers attending summer school academies to learn best practices for teaching to the new Common Core standards. The story focused on a couple basic concepts that are now being emphasized that have the potential to make classrooms in general, more dynamic and interesting for gifted learners. The number of books and stories the students will read each year has dropped. Instead, teachers will push students to delve deeply into longer, extended texts. Instead of explaining upfront the context, influence, and importance of a novel, teachers will hold back and let students discover and work through the text on their own. Then teachers will fill in the gaps after the student have had a chance to think about and struggle with the concepts presented. Complex ideas and themes will be introduced at a younger age.

All of this seems like a great way to teach. Gifted students in particular will enjoy digging in to challenging literature and struggling to define, discuss, and defend themes and meanings within stories. Unfortunately, two glaring problems with the way the Common Core standards are being enacted may doom this latest education reform.

First, we are still treating our students as all equally academically capable. One of our nation’s hallmarks is the idea that anyone can achieve anything. Everyone should have the same opportunities but that does not mean that everyone has the same ability. Each of us knows that vast individual differences exist. No matter how good a school is, no matter how effective the teachers, not all students are capable of the same academic achievements. We ignore this in our setting of academic standards and policies. We have artificially devalued important knowledge, abilities and skill sets that are necessary for our country to grow and thrive and overvalued cerebral labor. Our singular focus on college as the only worthwhile path after high school has blinded us to the needs of students who are not college bound but still require a solid education that will help them succeed in other areas. New standards and rigorous testing will not fix this. Solid manufacturing and blue-collar jobs were a critical component of the successful middle class that strengthened our nation in the mid part of the last century. By honestly recognizing that not every student can or should go to college, we free ourselves to examine how we are preparing all students for the future. We then must confront the insanely warped distribution of income that has evolved over the last 20 years in the US, but that is not for this post.

Second, while I love the idea of encouraging more in-depth examination of subjects, high-stakes standardized testing eliminates most of the intellectual benefit. Learning does not occur in a straight line. Good teachers know that even bright students can struggle at times and there is value in the struggle. Not understanding something right away and being given the space to work through it leads to a better grasp of the material once it “clicks.” Our best teachers know this and will challenge students to try a bit harder, to re-examine their initial conclusions, to think at a deeper level and eventually, to learn more. Much of learning comes from the process of failing and re-trying. We used to give students and teachers the time and space for this to occur but no longer. We are impatient and we want the security of a test that objectively tells us that the teachers are doing their jobs and that the students are learning. The funny thing is that students don’t need to see test results to know if a teacher is exceptional. It is usually obvious during the first hour of the first day. Good teachers have an energy, thoughtfulness, and engagement that is obvious to anyone in their classrooms. Sadly, I feel we have fewer of these teachers than we did when I was a student. Low pay and less respect has pushed potentially excellent teachers into other careers. Dedicated teachers who earn higher levels of education such as masters degrees frequently find themselves priced out of the K-12 market.

Despite all this, there are still excellent teachers in our schools. Teachers driven by a passion that, for now at least, is sustaining them in the face of ever-increasing bureaucracy and unrealistic expectations. Testing is not teaching and our educational policies need to start doing a better job of supporting and trusting our good teachers.



Lean In for Gifted Girls

I just finished reading Lean In, the much talked about book by Sheryl Sandberg. In it she makes the point that women need to put more into their careers. That while women are outpacing men in educational achievements and taking more of the entry-level jobs, men still run the world. The book is heavy on statistics that are all carefully footnoted. While women earn 60% of the masters degrees in the United States, these highly educated women steadily drop out of the workforce in the years after graduation. This is especially true of highly educated women with children. Permanently dropping out of the work force hurts women’s long-term economic stability. It curtails their independence and may even be a contributing factor in lower self-esteem and depression. While the book was directed at women, the information is perhaps more valuable for those of us raising gifted girls. How can we set them up for fuller, more fulfilling lives? Should we put more emphasis on giving them the skills they will need for life after school, rather than just focusing on their academic careers?

Girls are different from boys. They are, on average, more concerned with following rules, pleasing people, and not hurting other’s feelings. They generally mature earlier and act more responsible at a younger age than boys. This tendency to compliantly follow adult directions makes girls easier to live with (most of the time) at home and creates a more studious, “teachable” student body in our educational institutions. Throughout their education, we reward girls for their hard work and positive, conforming attitudes. However, once they enter into the work world, different criteria govern who gets promotions and power. Businesses reward innovation, ambition, and results. Aggressively pursuing opportunities leads to rewards. However, women and girls generally do not want to appear ruthlessly ambitious. They fear (consciously or subconsciously) that if they really put themselves out there, promoting themselves, networking, and striving, they will be viewed less positively and this likeability hit will hurt their careers. Research shows they are correct. Our society wants men to be decisive, driven providers and women to be communal, sensitive caregivers. Women who “act like men” are less liked and this negatively affects their career trajectory.

So what do we tell our hard-working, ambitious daughters? How do we raise them to succeed not only in school but in the work world?

I am beginning to believe we as parents and teachers must start by giving up some of the benefits we get from having nice, compliant girls. My own personal experience is that my daughter tries hard to follow both spoken and unspoken rules. She frequently makes the extra effort to please teachers, yet is very reluctant to call attention to her achievements. My sons on the other hand are naturals at self-promotion. They also take the edict that it is far better to ask for forgiveness than permission one step further by adding in the caveat that neither is necessary if you avoid getting caught or can put the proper spin on your transgression. These different approaches often have my daughter complaining that “it” isn’t fair. That the boys get to do more without getting in trouble and that they don’t put in as much work at school or at home. She has a point and we do try to monitor the boys to make sure they are putting in the same effort to get the same rewards as our daughter. After reading “Lean In” though, I’m starting to wonder if this approach will actually help her in the long run.

Yes, the boys need more monitoring and it is our job to encourage them to be more thoughtful, diligent, and hardworking. On the other hand, our daughter may need a different message. Perhaps we should stop giving girls the idea that the way to get their efforts appreciated is to level the playing field and make things more fair by complaining to the local authorities. Title IX only applies to educational institutions, not the business world. Career opportunities are not automatically equal for men and women. Absent overt discrimination, positions are open to everyone, male or female but men end up in the executive suite far more often than women. Males generally approach the world differently and this can lead to more success for them in the work world. Our daughters need to know that being good workers and nice people will not automatically give them the careers they want. In addition they need to build their self-confidence, knowledge, and social work skills. We need to raise daughters that are a bit more of a pain. Ones that follow their own passions instead of our suggestions. Ones that are more interested in being themselves than in being liked by everyone. Ones that are willing to take chances and break some rules because they understand that their worth does not depend on always being good. Ones that are comfortable taking a seat at the table because they know they have a great deal to contribute. We need to become much more accepting and tolerant of noisy girls that speak even when they are not spoken to and shout out answers without raising their hands.

Well-behaved women seldom make history — Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

We must encourage our girls to follow their own interests even when it means ignoring our suggestions. We should go beyond tolerating their arguing and teach them how to become more effective in advocating their positions.

In general, girls have less professional ambition than boys. While some of this may be due to innate biological differences between boys and girls, even in our enlightened times we are still raising them differently with different messages. Boys get the message that when they grow up they will be full-time, ambitious providers. Girls get the message that while they should do well in school and start a career, it is at least equally important for them to be supportive of their boyfriends, husbands, and children. That if they are too career oriented, their family may suffer. While society sometimes questions whether a mother who takes a big promotion may be hurting her family, the same is virtually never true of fathers.

Ambitious girls are labeled as bossy instead of what they actually are, naturally driven leaders. We need to do a better job of helping our girls develop these emerging managerial skills. Instead of telling our girls to “be nice” we should teach them how to lead so that others will want to follow.

Knowledge is power and our girls need to know:

  • That on average men apply for jobs if they feel they meet 60% of the requirements while women only apply if they think they meet 100% of the requirements. Our girls need to understand that this desire to cross the T’s and dot the I’s is a false strategy designed to avoid rejection and holds women back. We should encourage our girls to put themselves out there and teach them that rejection is not the same as failure. And failure isn’t that bad anyways.
  • Effective ways for girls and women to negotiate. While women who tout their own achievements take a likeability hit compared to men who do the same, there are techniques to get around this. If women are negotiating for a higher starting salary, a raise, or other benefits, they can minimize negative blowback by “thinking personally and acting communally.” Men who fail to negotiate are viewed as weak, pushovers yet women need to provide a legitimate explanation for their negotiations. That explanation is frequently received more positively if it ties into positive societal stereotypes of women. For example, if women start negotiations by explaining that they know women often get paid less than men, in part, because men are more likely to reject initial offers and that this knowledge is why they are negotiating, the women position themselves as more communal and less selfish. Requests from women are also viewed more favorably if they say a senior person encouraged them to negotiate or that their negotiations are inspired by objective, industry standards. Until and unless society changes and starts to view aggressive women as positively as it views aggressive men, our daughters need the inside information on how effectively propel their careers forward while still appearing “appropriately” female.
  • How and why to work together. Frequently girls, especially in the middle school years, setup a social hierarchy where girls actively put other girls down to build themselves up. They are too concerned about popularity and boys and they view the social scene as a zero-sum game. This attitude too often stays with them as they enter the work world. Yet one of the most effective ways for women to advance their careers is to have their achievements and skills endorsed by others. Girls need to get in the habit of banding together and speaking positively about each other. We should coach them on how to call attention to each other’s ideas and achievements. By becoming effective promoters for each other they can learn at an early age how to make sure their accomplishments are known without appearing unseemingly “cocky” for a female.
  • That they should approach their education, networking, and initial jobs as if they will have a full and fulfilling life-long career. They should not question whether their work and career choices will fit with a later decision to have a family. When women doubt their ability to combine work and family before they even have a baby, they avoid advancements and assignments that will give them more money, power, and flexibility — items that can make a huge difference when they later need to combine work and family.
  • That there is currently a false “competition” between stay-at-home moms and career moms. The reality is that more and more women, and a few men, move back and forth between work and home, spending more time with their families when that need is greater and spending more hours on their career when it is best for them and their families. Our daughters can succeed where adult women have failed. They should grow up expecting to work together and stay connected no matter whether they are going through a period of full-time office work, full-time at-home work, or something in-between. Guilt over not being with the kids enough or not being at work enough need to stop influencing how mothers view each others’ choices. Families and careers go through phases and one or the other will, at times, demand more attention. Girls should learn the importance of supporting and helping each other, especially during transitions into or out of the work force.

Those of you who are raising boys aren’t off the hook either. Even if your home follows the statistical pattern of mom spending more hours on cleaning and childcare than dad, explain to your son that the world is changing. Teach him how to clean and cook tell him that as an adult, he will be just as responsible for the household chores as his wife. We should talk with our boys about work/life balance. “How do you plan to juggle it all?” should not just be something for girls to ponder. In fact, we can start changing the conversation today. Start ask the men you work with who have young children, “How to you do it all?”

Psychosocial treatments for Adult ADHD – Final Coursera ADHD Thoughts

A camping trip with my youngest child delayed this last posting on the final lecture from the Coursera class on ADHD. It was buggy, cold, and rained most of the trip. Watching him jumping around in the campsite, hopping from rock to rock in the cold rain, brought home to me one of the important criteria for a true ADHD diagnosis. No matter how active a person is or how often they switch their focus, they cannot be clinically diagnosed with ADHD unless it causes impairment. My son’s natural inclination to be constantly in motion at the campsite may be an evolutionarily desirable trait. Perhaps high-energy children were less likely to be overcome by hypothermia and were more likely to reach adulthood and have children of their own.

Yet ADHD traits are not at all helpful in modern classrooms and offices where children and adults are expected to sit still and focus their brain power on tedious items. That does not mean that ADHD traits are not adaptive for other situations and environments. The trick for adults with ADHD tendencies is to find occupations and environments that work with their natural high energy and high distractibility as much as possible. Then structure their lives and surroundings with external scaffolding to compensate for their relative lack of internal executive organization and function.

As a person with ADHD moves from childhood through adolescence to adulthood the manifestations of their ADHD evolves. A child with ADHD is likely to show high physical activity, aggressiveness, low frustration tolerance, and impulsiveness. An adolescent with ADHD is more likely to sit still but will be easily distracted and inattentive. An adult with ADHD will frequently shift activities, be impatient, restless, and easily bored. Incidentally, this may also be true of a highly gifted individual who is in a unfulfilling occupation. What makes the ADHD adult stand out is that the impairment is usually across multiple domains. A lifetime of  ADHD, especially ineffectively treated ADHD, can highly impair an individual. From finances to occupations, relationships to physical and mental health, ADHD takes its toil. One of the most insipid effects is the demoralization that can occur due to a negative belief system. Adults with ADHD have typically spent years watching themselves fail to meet seeming simple challenges. They may not have good coping skills and may have developed a paralyzing hopelessness that feeds into their self-image.

Medical treatments for ADHD are a critical part of the treatment for adult ADHD, yet pills alone cannot teach new coping skills or help individuals recover from a lifetime of negative self talk. Psychosocial interventions that have shown promise include helping individuals, either individually or in groups, with psychoeducation, problem management, decision-making, procrastination, organization, time and effort management, cognitive modification, and behavior modification. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is very effective for adults with ADHD especially when combined with specific treatment goals and organizational strategies. Therapists can help adults with ADHD externalize their executive functions as much as possible.

Adults with ADHD need to put in more effort than more cerebrally typical people to keep themselves organized and on task. The good news is that many of the behavior interventions that help tame ADHD tendencies are generically healthy for everyone. They include creating regular routines for waking times and bedtime to ensure a full night of sleep. Daily exercise to increase available dopamine for clearer thinking and better focusing. Eating regular nutritious meals with a low glycemic index to prevent hypoglycemia which increases ADHD symptoms.

Environments should have an organizational structure with specific places for items that are easily misplaced such as keys and papers. Electronic reminders, especially ones easily programmable on smart phones, can help individuals stay on task while not getting so lost in an activity that they accidentally miss upcoming events and deadlines. Visible timepieces, concrete plans with start and end times, and regular reviews of what is working and what needs a better strategy all help the adult with ADHD. It is important for the adult to forgive themselves and to be realistic. Recognize what does work vs. what should work. Find the right tools to address outstanding problems and automate and/or outsource problematic tasks whenever possible. Recognize that certain feelings and situations may lead to detrimental impulsivity and prepare plans and coping strategies to avoid or mitigate this type of predictable trouble.

Beyond drugs and psychosocial therapy there are a few other ADHD treatments worth mentioning. Although not enough data is available to determine how to maximize the effectiveness of these treatments, neurofeedback, computerized cognitive training, and targeted working memory training are all showing some promise in treating ADHD.

The bottom line is that, especially given the more liberal definition of ADHD in the DSM-V, if you feel like you are impaired by ADHD, help is available. Although drugs might be part of the solution that works for you, do not neglect your environment. The more you can do to structure your world and life in a way that works with your brain’s natural tendencies, the more effective you will be.

Managing Childhood ADHD Without Drugs: Coursera ADHD Class Week 11

The last couple weeks of the Coursera class on ADHD focused on how to live with and manage ADHD symptoms without drugs. “Pills don’t teach skills” and whether parents of children with ADHD or adults with ADHD embrace the idea of medical therapy, drugs are not the only treatment approach for helping someone with ADHD thrive.

Students with ADHD need support both at home and within their school environment. In fact, the US Department of Education has put together a fairly comprehensive brochure on how to teach children with ADHD. After giving teachers some guidance on how to identify children with ADHD, it has three separate sections on how to help a child with ADHD be successful in the classroom. Although rumors abound about teachers that, subtly or not so subtly,  have told parents to put their kids on ADHD drugs, that isn’t one of the teaching strategies. Instead the pamphlet focuses on instruction techniques, effective behavioral interventions, and classroom accommodations. It suggests a student with ADHD should sit closer to the teacher and farther from distracting kids. Wow, who would have thought? I know some elementary school teachers are resistant to “special” seating “privileges” for students with ADHD, perhaps referencing this official brochure will help parents get the seemingly minor accommodations their children need. Multiple times the brochure makes the point that children without ADHD also thrive in classrooms that are structured to help children with ADHD. Basically, these are strategies that can help any teacher be more effective regardless of the makeup of their classroom in any given year.

At home, one of the most effective treatments for children with ADHD is teaching their parents better behavior management strategies. By acknowledging that their child has below age-level-norm organizational, self-control,  and coping skills, parents can structure the home environment with scaffolding supports to help the child succeed despite their ADHD symptoms. There are several different training programs for parents. Most have similar elements: stay calm and don’t get emotional, analyze what is working and what isn’t, rely on planning and praise to gain compliance, go to the child to give instructions — use eye contact and touch to get child’s attention before giving instructions, break large tasks into smaller ones, use labels, file cards, and other visual cues and organizers to make tasks less daunting, reduce time delays for consequences (positive and negative), and use warnings, “when-then”, token economies and time outs to guide behavior. Work with the child to create better habits and more effective behaviors. If the child is encouraged to help evaluate the results of the program, it can increase their commitment and desire to change.

One comprehensive parent behavioral training program covered in some detail was one developed by Russell Barkley. Dr. Barkley has written extensively about executive function, defiant children, and how to take charge of ADHD. Putting the effort into learning how to be a better parent for a child with ADHD is very worthwhile. Studies show that not only do children do better with more effective parenting, parental stress is also decreased and satisfaction is increased under these programs.

Adults with ADHD face slightly different challenges than kids with ADHD. Some of these challenges stem from the bad habits and/or negative thought patterns that can develop over a lifetime of living with ADHD. My next post, and the last in this series, will cover psychosocial treatments for adults with ADHD.

Drugs for ADHD: Coursera ADHD Class Weeks 9 & 10

Drugs are one of the most common, if not the most common, treatment for ADHD. They can help individuals be more productive, calm, and in control of themselves, at least while the drugs are active. ADHD drugs are similar to prescription eye glasses. They help an individual function while they are in use, but they do not cure the underlying condition.

The Coursera class on ADHD takes the standard medical line that if used as prescribed and not abused, ADHD drugs, in most cases, cause no significant or long-term ill effects. Dr. Rostain cites statistics that stimulants are not over-prescribed for ADHD and that untreated ADHD leads to much worse outcomes than medical treatment of ADHD. Most studies on drugs for ADHD last just months, not years. Given that many individuals with ADHD take drugs for 5 years or more, and start at a young age, it is troubling that there aren’t better long-range studies on their effects.

Dr. Rostain covers many myths about stimulant drugs for ADHD. One stood out to me. The myth is that these drugs do not improve academic achievement. He states that stimulant treatment of ADHD improves work productivity, classroom conduct and rule-following, peer interactions, grades, and leads to reduced punishment, fewer days absent, and makes repeating grades less likely. So yes, on stimulants a child with ADHD will appear to be a better student and will certainly be easier for the teacher to have in class. Dr. Rostain didn’t mention that some studies have shown that psychostimulants have not been shown to achieve long-term positive changes in peer relationships, social or academic skills, or school achievement. He also did not mention that there is evidence that stimulant treatment of ADHD in juveniles can damage their developing brains. Long-term use of ADHD can also create a loss of motivation. Students, especially college students, may feel that their success is due to the drugs and a shift of agency may create a dependence on the drugs and low self-esteem.

There are three basic types of drugs used to treat ADHD: stimulants, non-stimulants, and antidepressants. Each affects the signaling of neurons in the brain in a slightly different manner and the lectures on them were too detailed to easily summarize. The comprehensive “What we know” brochure on Managing Medication for Children and Adolescents with ADHD from the National Resource Center on AD|HD is a good place to start. The last couple pages have suggested readings and then a handy reference chart for the drugs which includes the generic names, the brand names, the duration of action for each drug, the form the drugs come in, the dosage ranges, and the common side effects.

Even though there is a great deal of evidence that drugs can help treat ADHD symptoms in the short-term, they still carry risks. Risks that your pediatrician or health services provider may not mention. The best approach if you are considering ADHD drugs for your child is to learn all you can about the various drug options and then carefully, with the help of your child, monitor both the short-term and the long-term effects of any drug you give your child. Pay attention to both the physical side effects, such as stomach aches and sleep problems, and the more subtle psychological effects that may include decreased drive and motivation. Ask yourself, are you trading their initiative and innate personality for a child that is easier to live with and more compliant?

The Grown-Up Gifted Child

Recently I have been re-reading one of my favorite books on living with and raising gifted children, the award-winning, A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children. Early in the book there is a table that lists, “Problems Associated with the Characteristic Strengths in Gifted Children.” As I was reading this list again I realized, I know these people. The funny thing is, they aren’t kids anymore.

When gifted kids grow up they don’t usually age-out of their gifted passions, strengths, intensities, and quirks. They may learn to act in a more socially acceptable manner and they, hopefully, gain a measure of perspective and self-discipline that they lacked as children. However, the essence of who they are and how they are different stays intact. One of the big arguments in favor of programs exclusively for gifted students is that they aren’t just bright. Their brains are wired differently and while, yes, they can complete typical school work at an accelerated pace, that isn’t what defines them. They are more passionate, sensitive, and intense. Merely completing the lesson plan isn’t enough. They want to go beyond the lesson plan, or alternatively, question its basic worth. They are more driven by deeper meanings and philosophical questions than other students their age. This can make them an under-achieving, dejected, argumentative, moody pain in the wrong classroom environment or the engaged, high-performing, thoughtful student in the right classroom environment.

The same is true once they grow up. Just look at the a few of the strengths and associated issues they can create as detailed in the book.

Strength Possible Problem
Acquires and retains information quickly Impatient with slowness of others; dislikes routine and drill; may resist mastering foundation skills; may make concepts unduly complex
Ability to conceptualize, abstract, synthesize; enjoys problem-solving and intellectual activity Rejects or omits details; resists practice or drill; questions teaching procedures
Enjoys organizing things and people into structure and order, seeks to systematize Constructs complicated rules or systems; may be seen as bossy, rude, or domineering
Thinks critically; has high expectations; is self-critical and evaluates others Critical or intolerant toward others; may become discouraged or depresses; perfectionistic
Creative and innovative; likes new ways of doing things May disrupt plans or reject what is already known; seen by others as different and out-of-step
Intense concentration; long attention span in areas of interest; goal-directed behavior; persistent Resists interruption; neglects duties or people during periods of focused interest; seen as stubborn
Sensitivity, empathy for others; desire to be accepted by others Sensitivity to criticism or peer rejection; expects others to have similar values; need for success and recognition; may feel different and alienated
High energy, alertness, eagerness, periods of intense efforts Frustrated with inactivity; eagerness may disrupt others’ schedules; needs continual stimulation; may be seen as hyperactive
Diverse interests and abilities; versatile May appear scattered and disorganized; becomes frustrated over lack of time; others may expect continual competence

In the work environment these possible problems can limit opportunities, cause issues with HR, and possibly lead to terminations. Perhaps this is why many gifted individuals become entrepreneurs. As their own boss they can find the best way to work with their strengths.

In relationships, when the innate characteristics of gifted boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses go unrecognized, unrealistic expectations from both parties can poison the partnership.

Gifted individuals need to understand themselves and how they may differ from others at home and in the workplace. Self-knowledge of natural strengths and how they can become liabilities is essential to long-term happiness and fulfillment. This information guides the grown-up gifted child in working through misunderstandings and frustrations with their significant others, at home. At work, it enables them to increase their productivity, improve relationships, and perhaps even realize when their current work place is just a bad fit and it is time to move on.

Developing self-awareness in gifted students is one of the primary goals of quality programs for the gifted. It is also one that is virtually impossible to reach when gifted “programs” consist primarily of accelerated, in-classroom, differentiation. The farther away from the mean a student is, the more likely it is that her strengths will cause her issues at some point in her life. Gifted educators need to mentor their students on how to live in and thrive in the regular world as a highly, profoundly, or exceptionally gifted individuals.

Is it really ADHD? Coursera ADHD Class Week 8 – Assessment

More and more kids in the US have ADHD. This has led many to feel that we are over-diagnosing kids that have other issues, or are just a bit slower to mature, with a psychiatric disorder where none exists. Others argue that we are diagnosing and then medicating students whose only “disorder” is being anti-authority. It reminds me a bit of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

In his ADHD Coursera course, Dr. Rostain makes a strong point that the diagnosis criteria are solid and if applied correctly, will not over-diagnose ADHD. A complete evaluation for a child that shows signs of ADHD involves many steps, checks, and a full case history. Unfortunately, in most cases, this complete workup is not done because it is too time-consuming and expensive. Instead, a couple quick surveys filled out by frustrated parents and teachers and your child too can get a prescription for ADHD “study” drugs.

A complete ADHD assessment includes interviewing both the parents and the child and looking at:

  • Identifying key symptoms
  • Tracking the developmental course of those symptoms and the corresponding concerns
  • Conducting clinic-based psychological tests
  • Complete review of prior school and medical records
  • Complete physical and possibly neurodevelopment screening to rule out other causes of disruptive/distracted behavior
  • Vision, hearing, and formal speech and language assessments
  • Individually administered IQ tests, educational achievement tests, and screening for learning disabilities
  • Differentiating ADHD from other disorders
  • Clarifying the developmental “inappropriateness” of those symptoms and concerns
  • Look for other causes of the symptoms including changes or stressful situations at school and/or home
  • Checking on sleep patterns. Lack of sleep mimics ADHD.
  • Evaluating co-morbid conditions
  • Determining the degree of impairment
  • Assessing the family situation and how they are adjusting and accommodating the child’s behavior
  • Identifying strengths and resources of the child and the family
  • Eliciting priorities for change
  • Identifying community resources

Most of the time all of the above is not done. Having gone through the diagnosis process in our family, I know it was much more straightforward. I just noted that I thought ADHD might be an issue, filled out a couple of surveys that were highly subjective, and presto, we had Ritalin. Since then we have let the prescription lapse. It seems that being in a better educational environment is more effective than drugs for producing happy, productive kids. There are many reasons why a child has high-energy and is easily distracted. If a highly gifted student is in a classroom that is moving too slowly, of course she may be distracted and not paying attention. If a profoundly gifted boy has a third grade teacher that is only covering science at the third grade level and he “corrects” her by pointing out inaccuracies in her explanations, is that a psychiatric disorder?

One of the most used surveys to assess ADHD impairment is the Vanderbilt Assessment Scale. Almost all the questions from the teacher survey can be answered positively when a child is highly or profoundly gifted and is in an inappropriate school environment, but does not have ADHD. If independent IQ testing isn’t part of the screening process, a child could be incorrectly diagnosed and medicated when all he or she needs is a more challenging class. Yes, the teacher survey does include questions about whether the child is above average or not in reading, math, and writing but again, if the gifted, bored child isn’t doing the classroom work, the teacher will probably not rank his “academic performance” as above average. This is one of the reasons SENG has started to heavily publicize the issue of misdiagnosis of gifted kids. Two of the top misdiagnoses of gifted and talented children are ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). ODD is frequently co-morbid with ADHD and these misdiagnosis are due to a basic level of ignorance among health professionals and teachers about normal social and emotional characteristics of gifted kids. The medical profession pathologizes that which is uncommon, even if it is just a different normal.