By Tiombe Kendrick.
Once again, we embark on a new school year. I have been a practicing school psychologist for the past eight years. I am formally classified as a dual practitioner because I practice in the public school setting and private practice. During my career as a school psychologist, I have been responsible for evaluating students and advocating for their best interests in the areas of education and mental health. Many of the students I evaluate and advocate for are classified with disabilities ranging from learning disabilities to autism. However, I have also had the great honor of servicing gifted and talented students from all walks of life, from kindergarten to twelfth grade. I am truly fortunate that I reside in a state that makes the choice to provide special education services to gifted students!
The mental health of every gifted and talented student is critical! For gifted and talented children to have a chance to reach their full potential, they must be mentally healthy. Unfortunately, many educators and parents related to this population of students find themselves at a crossroads in relationship to their social and emotional development. Although these children possess very advanced cognitive skills, their social and emotional development may be representative of their actual age or underdeveloped. The latter can manifest itself in a variety of behaviors and/or situations that are mentally unhealthy for gifted and talented children. Prolonged negative behaviors and/or situations can place gifted and talented children at risk for developing mental health disorders and poor academic functioning. Screening students to determine mental health risks is very important in preventing “risks” from manifesting into debilitating “disorders.” In my professional opinion, I believe it is very helpful to screen gifted and talented students for mental health risks. If I determine that a student in the public school setting may be at risk for mental health issues, I inform the parents and consult with the school counselor. Often times, the school counselor will meet with at-risk students on a short-term basis as a preventative measure. In private practice, I will alert the parents to my findings and work together with them to develop a prevention strategy. It is very important to understand that preventing mental health disorders from manifesting is preferred over intervention. Intervention typically ensues once a mental health disorder has been confirmed. With many illnesses, risk factors are present prior to the manifestation of a full-blown disorder, and this holds true for mental health disorders, too.
All public schools, and most private schools, employ school-based mental health professionals. It is critical that the parents of every gifted and talented student become familiar with the mental health providers in the schools their children attend! All of these professionals have earned at least a master’s degree in their field and are specifically trained in mental health and the education of children. Although most private schools may not employ psychologists or social workers, parents of students attending these institutions can request to meet with these professionals at the school the student would attend if they were to attend public school (the home school). This is also true for homeschooled students. Parents of troubled gifted and talented students are highly encouraged to consult with their school-based mental health professional prior to seeking mental health services outside their school. If the school-based mental health provider determines the student’s challenges may require clinical intervention, he or she will generally provide parents with a referral to a mental health provider in the private sector. I encourage all parents of gifted and talented students in school settings to personally make contact with their school counselor, school psychologist, and school social worker. Although these professionals are very busy, they will make time to meet with you. I also encourage you to learn more about the professions of school psychologists, school counselors, and school social workers, as you may be surprised by what you learn. In fact, during the month of November, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) hosts School Psychology Awareness Week, which was last week, November 11-15 2013. In addition to NASP, the American School Counseling Association (ASCA) and the School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA) are also great resources for parents and educators. I encourage every parent and educator reading this article to visit the following websites related to these organizations:
1. NASP at www.nasponline.org
2. ASCA at www.schoolcounselor.org
3. SSWAA at www.sswaa.org
It is not always easy for the parents and educators of gifted and talented children to deal with the many challenges they encounter throughout their child’s development. But remember, help can often be found in your child’s school building if you know who to seek.
Here’s wishing all gifted and talented children (as well as their educators and parents) a great rest of the school year!
Tiombe Bisa Kendrick-Dunn is a nationally certified school psychologist and is licensed to practice school psychology in the state of Florida. She has been employed with the Miami-Dade County Public School District as a school psychologist since 2005. In 2006, Ms. Kendrick-Dunn was a member of Miami-Dade Public Schools Gifted Task Force Committee and was awarded the Mary Frasier Scholarship sponsored by the National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC). In 2007, she was both appointed to the NAGC Diversity/ Equity Committee and was awarded a grant by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) Children Fund Inc to establish a resource center specifically designed for gifted students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Ms. Kendrick-Dunn has presented at numerous professional conventions on the topic of gifted children and currently serves as the SENG Board President.