Different Minds provides an insight into the challenges and benefits specific to gifted children with attention difficulties. You can purchase the book here.
1) Can you briefly outline your history? How has this background influenced what you write about?
I have been a clinical child psychologist for more than 30 years, specializing in gifted children. Over time, I have seen many types of issues with gifted children and realized that putting my thoughts and strategies into book form would be helpful to parents, teachers and other professionals who deal with gifted children and adolescents.
2) What do you hope professionals and parents learn from Different Minds?
I hope they learn that each gifted child is unique but, nevertheless, shares commonalities with other gifted children that set them apart as a group. These children then have special needs for parenting, educating, and counselling them. This is particularly true of those gifted children who are twice exceptional (2e), both gifted and with a disability. These 2e children share traits with both other gifted children and children with their disability, but they differ from each of these groups as well. Thus, a gifted child with ADHD has many needs in common with other gifted children but also will have challenges, for example, in using executive functions that other gifted children do not have. On the other hand, some challenges common to more average IQ children with ADHD may not be typical of gifted children with ADHD, for example, getting the big picture and learning concepts rapidly.
The same idea of commonalities and uniqueness also holds true for those gifted children who are autistic. Thus, I hope that parents, teachers, and other professionals can take away from the book not only the challenges of these gifted children but also how they can use their strengths to help develop areas of interest and talent.
3) How can Different Minds challenge assumptions and increase understanding?
Different Minds is fairly research heavy so the book covers research in many areas of development and serves as a guide to understanding the challenges people who are autistic or who have ADHD face. The effect of giftedness can challenge some assumptions about what ADHD or autism can look like in very high IQ and in creative people. Thus, some assume that people with very high IQs who show certain behaviors are showing signs of giftedness, and do not have ADHD or autism when that is likely not true at all. It’s how the behaviors affect the individual and others that determine if the child has a disability. That makes it difficult to diagnose ADHD and ASD in gifted people.
For one thing, the person can compensate until their compensatory ability becomes overwhelmed. Thus, some people with ASD can camouflage in some situations in school, but at home lose control and have a meltdown. Gifted people with ASD and ADHD can perform well in school in early years until they have to depend heavily on weaker executive function skills, deal with poor attention and need stimulating work to function. I hope that my book, Different Minds, which explores these topics can help increase knowledge and understanding about how gifted people with ADHD and ASD function.
4) In the past couple years, much research has been done on neurodiversity and how people learn differently. What small steps can teachers and educators take to help students become self-advocates?
The first step is to realize that student behavior is a sign of something. If a neurodiverse child is complaining about an issue, they do need that issue addressed as they cannot figure it out for themselves. Expecting them to solve the problem themselves dooms them to failure. The second step: realizing negative behavior is not usually intentional for these students. But is a sign that their ability to function is overwhelmed. Thus, they need the underlying cause of that behavior addressed. For example, in my book I highlight Cara, who could not eat lunch in the cafeteria due to her sensitivity to smell. She was not being difficult and being told to tolerate it and eat her lunch did not work as she could not do so. What she needed to eat her lunch was to be in a place where she was not subject to smells.
The final thing teachers of gifted students need to think about is that gifted children with ADHD and ASD have a very low tolerance for repetitive work they already know. They need challenge and stimulation and often work in areas of interest. Just expecting them to do pages of repetitive work will bring on negative behaviors, anxiety, and depression. Thus, when students ask for, or complain about the work, it is a sign that they do need to be listened to and then worked with to develop a solution that is acceptable to them.
5) What was your initial inspiration for Different Minds?
In the early 1990s I started working with a fascinating group of very high IQ children with unusual behaviors who were unlike other children I had worked with previously. They learned rapidly but were exceptionally rigid, had huge meltdowns over small things, argued endlessly, knew minutia about a particular topic but had no common sense and they could not get along with peers at all. I had six boys and one girl in a group to work on social skills and discovered in the process how differently they thought about the world around them than did other gifted children I knew. These children were my introduction to gifted autistic children and their families and over the years I learned much from them about what would be helpful and what was not. Eventually I decided to writ ethe first Edition of Different Minds to try to help a wider audience.
6) Are there any other resources you would recommend?
There are now so many. Certainly, for giftedness, I would suggest people start with Linda Silverman’s Giftedness 101, Barbara Gilman’s Gifted Minds Empowered, Joy Davis’s Bright, Talented and Black, S. B. Kaufman’s Twice Exceptional: Supporting and Educating Bright and Creative Students with Learning Difficulties.
For ADHD: Hallowell and Ratey’s ADHD 2.0; Nadeau, Littman and Quinn’s Understanding Girls with ADHD, T. E. Brown ADHD and Asperger Syndrome in Smart Kids and Adults.
For ASD: Tony Attwood’s The Complete Guide to Asperger Syndrome, Neihart and Poon, Gifted Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Donna Henderson, Sarah Wayland and Jamell White Is This Autism? A Guide for Clinicians and Everyone Else.
General; Ross Green’s The Explosive Child