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Sources of Resilience for Gifted & 2E Children

By Andrea Brucella Finnegan.


Twice-exceptional and gifted students often face more adversity in school than their neurotypical peers. This is often due to their complex cognitive nature. An unfavorable school environment that does not match the academic or sensory needs of a child is considered a school adversity. Additionally, pressure to unnaturally conform to school norms, unwanted social isolation, frequent, unhealthy squabbles and negative interactions with peers, gender discrimination, as well as bullying, are other examples of school adversity that gifted children may face daily. Even an exhausted student-teacher relationship falls into this category, and it can wreak havoc on a child’s wellbeing.


Some children that pertain to these gifted and 2e adversities also have one or more additional serious adversities coming from the home arena: verbal/emotional/physical abuse, neglect, family separation/divorce/death of parent, economic hardships, long-term impacts of covid-19, a mentally-ill parent, and racial inequalities (U.S. Department of Education, 2019). What can be done to help ensure all possibilities to develop better resilience in our bright and quirky children’s troubles at school and beyond?


Some children seem to be epigenetically more resilient than others (Palix Foundation, 2023), but it appears that a combination of both nature and nurture are key. Doll & Song (2023) state that in order to overcome adversity, children need three major ingredients in their life: 1.) a rewarding and caring relationship with an adult; 2.) plenty of opportunities to practice autonomy; and 3.) strength-based elements that nourish children’s hope and optimism.


These three ingredients can serve as a recipe to increase success for children to “bounce back” inside and outside of school. This article provides ideas to support this resiliency framework for high potential, neurodiverse children, but it is important to also have a holistic picture of a child’s resilience “tipping scale” (Harvard University, n.d.). The more positive experiences that support well-being and support for resiliency, as opposed to negative experiences, make it more likely for a child to have better emotional wellbeing, health, academic success, strong relationships, and security (Palix Foundation, 2023), despite the adversity in their lives.


Experiences at critical stages of [child] development modify how [children’s] genes are expressed (see photo). Over time, supportive relationships and serve-and-return experiences can shift the fulcrum [the rock represents the fulcrum] in a more resilient direction, strengthening brain architecture so that a person is better prepared to bounce back from significant life stressors (2023).


A REWARDING & CARING ADULT RELATIONSHIP

Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child (n.d.) states, “The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult”. Children are constantly watching as adults model how they deal with their own adversities and day-to-day frustrations. Children who have a dedicated adult who can share in the same interests or career goals and model resilience during challenging times will have more learned strategies to overcome life’s “lemons” (Clasen & Clasen, 1997). This valuable adult can be a music teacher, a sports coach, babysitter, or a family friend who shares the same interest as the child. A good match for a neurodiverse child often forms when a child and mentor share a love for the same interest and when the time shared together with that interest is mutually lost in “flow” together.


While all children benefit from having a grounded, nurturing parent or mentor to show them the way, gifted and twice-exceptional children often need these kinds of adults for social emotional survival. “If we want them to achieve, we must link them with achievers” (Berger, 1990; Weinberg, 1989). “One of the most valuable experiences a gifted student can have is exposure to a mentor who is willing to share personal values, a particular interest, time, talents, and skills” (Berger, 1990).


Tips for Parents/Care-takers

  • Aim to make regularly scheduled one-on-one “dates” with your child in any kind of activity that is enjoyable.

  • Be mindful of how you, as the adult role model in your child’s life, are modeling reactions to your own hurdles in front of your child. Are your own behaviors and reactions ones that you wish for your child to mimic?

  • Take care of your own wellbeing and mental, emotional and physical health so that you can be the best version of yourself to show your children what to aspire to be.

  • Coaches, teachers, religious leaders, special interest group leaders and family members can all serve as adults who your child looks to for guidance. Multiple positive adults in a child’s life give a greater chance of a child feeling a connection to one.

  • Let your child’s special interests lead you to positive adults who enjoy the same things. They will want to learn from them because they already have a common thread.

An Animal School

The Video, An Animal School: A Tale of Gifts, written by Lin Lim and Adam Laningham, illustrates some of these common school adversities among gifted, 2e students.


In the video, the character, Okapi, was being picked on at school for and acting different from peers. This situation lacked a caring, like-minded adult, who Okapi could have looked up to, who could have modeled that being different can be a good thing. Though we don’t know exactly what Okapi’s life was like outside of school, we can infer that Okapi suffered greatly from being “different” because Okapi didn’t have someone who could serve as the strong, unique, and resilient image needed as a model. Unfortunately, Okapi’s “fulcrum” had more weight stacked on the negatives in life.


On the other hand, the character Peacock Mantis Shrimp, was lucky enough to have family as close mentors. Dropping out of school was the best choice because the family was the key to success here. The family spent time nourishing the gifts and talents that the school could not. Peacock Mantis Shrimp was one of the few twice-exceptional characters in An Animal Story: A Tale of Gifts who flourished because the opportunity to be homeschooled provided an enriching environment filled with support for those gifts and talents by elders. Peacock Mantis Shrimp’s “tipping scale” had greater weight on the positive things that supported resiliency. “With the encouragement of those who believed in Peacock Mantis Shrimp’s passions and gifts outside of the school, Peacock Mantis Shrimp found joy” (Lim-Goh, 2023).


PLENTY OF OPPORTUNITIES TO PRACTICE AUTONOMY

Opportunities and environments that allow children to practice having autonomy and perceived self-efficacy are important for gifted and neurodiverse children. Teach children that it is ok to fail and make mistakes. It is ok to accidentally make a mess of a situation. It’s part of being human and part of the learning process. However, it is necessary to own those mistakes and practice the steps of cleaning up that mess independently as well as to learn important lessons from those failures.


Mistakes reflected upon, without constant hand-holding from parents, will foster resiliency. Oftentimes, as parents, we want to nip problems in the bud for our kids. “Oh, my child left his homework on the kitchen table (again)! I’ll just drive it down to the school for him…” We try to prevent any pain and suffering that those little problems may bring. Many parents mean well. However, if we don’t allow our children to take the driver’s seat with their manageable problems, we may actually be setting them up for more hurt in the long run. This lack of practice managing problems then leads to an inability to cope when a larger problem comes along. When parents try to solve their children’s problems for them, they send the message to their child that You are not capable of doing it on your own.


A tolerance for adversity must be built up in little heaping doses as our children grow. Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child (n.d) also adds that, “resilience does not simply come from within a child. It comes from the interaction between the child and their environment”. Children need autonomy to learn in their environment. Sometimes lessons learned will hurt, yes, but without ever knowing sadness or pain, a child will not have a reason to be grateful for the happiness in life (Chui, 2023) and most parents would argue that their ultimate wish for their child is to know true happiness.


Tips for Parents/Care-givers

  • Be open to sharing your own little and big failures with your children. Then share the lessons that you learned from them and how not to fear failure. Demonstrate that failure has an important purpose in life, and let that conversation lead into how times of failure give opportunity to build resilience and, oftentimes, can lead to greater things.

  • Let your child figure out some of their own problems, perhaps with some age-appropriate scaffolding at first, but ultimately let them decide what the best way to proceed is. You can be supportive and give them space to make choices at the same time. Do more listening than talking. Ask children what they think they should do and why.

An Animal School

In An Animal School: A Tale of Gifts, Sugar Glider Possum was labeled a failure at school by his teachers and unfortunately, believed it to be true. The story is left untold about what happened next, but imagine that a supportive adult had been modeling and demonstrating to Sugar Glider Possum that failure might be his gain in some unobvious way in life. What would Sugar Glider Possum’s own thoughts be about alternative options for success? Would Sugar Glider Possum define failure in the same way as the Animal School? Adversity is hard, but not knowing how to handle it can be even harder.


The sweet and determined character, Bumblebee, represented not only an asynchronous, misunderstood student, but a super resilient one for not letting bullying and negative opinions of others bring down optimism and hope, even at a young age. It would be great to learn more about Bumblebee’s background and if Bumblebee had been equipped with the three ingredients for resiliency discussed here.


NOURISH CHILDREN’S HOPE & OPTIMISM

The third ingredient for gifted and twice exceptional children’s resilience is a buffet of elements that nourish hope and optimism. Stress-dissolving hobbies and healthful activities can provide the recovery that children need to overcome bouts of adversity. Regular physical exercise, mindfulness practice, and any kind of involvement in clubs or programs that promote the growth of executive functioning, adaptive skills, self-regulating capacities and stress-reduction will contribute to tipping the resiliency scale toward the positives. Like adults, every child needs to make time for activities that give their mind and body energy, as opposed to taking energy away. One of the most important elements for 2e gifted children is a focus on their talents and strengths. Engaging in special interests can boost self-esteem, revitalize the mind and soul, and put a child in their “happy place” when all else around them may feel like it’s crumbling down. In addition, cultural and religious support structures in a child’s life can also foster a sense of support and belonging that can boost resilience.


Tips for Parents/Care-givers

  • Whatever your child’s special interests are, whether they be Pokemon, bug collecting, theater, playing an instrument, Dungeons and Dragons, or swimming, make sure that your child is surrounded by these things and by those who share a passion for those same interests.

  • Regular exercise and mindfulness practice can be made into a routine at home. For example, listening to a kids’ mindfulness app before bed can deliver positive affirmations and relaxation techniques that become a new norm. A short walk after dinner with your child can become an expected routine that benefits both of you.

An Animal School

In An Animal School: A Tale of Gifts, Gharial was not given ample time to focus on such talented swimming moves, which took away chances to build resiliency. What might be Gharial’s outcome if the school had allowed a talent-focused approach to learning? Could he have learned to incorporate climbing underwater while enjoying the challenge of new swim techniques?


Conclusion

While it’s often the place where adversity takes place, the school environment can be a critical form of intervention for supporting healing and resilience building (U.S. Dept of Education, n.d.) in addition to a positive home environment. When gifted and twice-exceptional children are well supported with mentors, the right amount of age-appropriate autonomy, and elements that build resilience, the outcome is greater well-being overall. It is every parents’ wish that our children struggling as the misunderstood “trailblazers” and “originals” be supported, encouraged, and given the tools to make it through the tough times feeling that they CAN and WILL see the light at the end of the tunnel. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “Out of life’s school of war—what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” Gifted and twice exceptional children will come out stronger when they have more positives in their life outweighing the negatives.

________________________________________________________

Andrea Brucella Finnegan is a passionate advocate for neurodiversity and gifted/ twice-exceptional students. She serves as co-director for Operation House Call at the Yale School of Nursing, a program that teaches confidence and sensitivity towards individuals with intellectual and/or developmental differences. Andrea is a SENG parent support facilitator, a U.S. national and international speaker of neurodiversity among children and professional educators, and currently at the time of writing this article, a doctoral student at Bridges Graduate School, studying cognitive diversity in education. Andrea is a mom to three wonderful children who inspire her field of work each day.


References

Berger, S. L. (1990, December 19). Mentor relationships and gifted learners. Davidson Institute. https://www.davidsongifted.org/gifted-blog/mentor-relationships-and-gifted-learners/


Chui, A. Y. T. (2023, March 9). Life is pain: Why a life without pain guarantees true suffering. Lifehack. https://www.lifehack.org/625387/a-painless-life-may-sound-enticing-but-its-the-guarantee-to-true-suffering


Clasen D. R., Clasen R. E. (1997). Mentoring: A time-honored option for education of the gifted and talented. In Colangelo N., Davis G. A. (Eds.), Handbook of gifted education (2nd ed., pp. 218–229). Allyn and Bacon.


Doll, B., Song, S.Y. (2023). Enhancing Resilience in Classrooms. In: Goldstein, S., Brooks, R.B. (eds) Handbook of Resilience in Children. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-14728-9_28


Harvard University. (n.d.). In brief: What is resilience? Center on the Developing Child. Retrieved July 8, 2023, from https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/resilience/


Lim-Goh, Lin. (2023, May 14). An animal school: A tale of gifts[Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4etWS0emb0


Palix Foundation. (2023). Resilience: Why do some of us bounce back from adversity better than others? Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. https://www.albertafamilywellness.org/what-we-know/resilience-scale#:~:text=A%20person’s%20resilience%20scale%20is%20a%20good %20predictor,health%2C%20academic%20success%2C%20strong%20relationships%2C%20and%20economic%20security


U.S. Department of Education. (2019, April 24). Understanding the importance of creating positive school climates to support students facing adversity and trauma. School Climate Improvement Resource Package. https://safesuportivelearning.ed.gov/sites/default/NCSSLE-Trauma-Adversity-Brief-508.pdf


Weinberg, H., (Producer) & Weinberg, H. (Director). (1989, October 18). One plus one[film]. The Public Television Outreach Alliance, Corporation for Public Broadcasting; QED Communications.


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Thank you for sharing this insightful article about sources of resilience for gifted 2e children. It's a crucial topic, and your strategies and resources are invaluable for parents and educators.

On a related note, I found the concept of resilience to be universally important, not just for children but for pet owners as well. In households with gifted children and pets, it's worth considering an anti dog barking device to help maintain a calm and focused environment, especially during intense moments of learning and growth. Every tool that contributes to a harmonious atmosphere is a welcome addition.

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andrea.finnegan
andrea.finnegan
02 nov 2023
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I really love how you tied in our fur/feather/scale babies into the equation with our gifted children. All aspects of the environment are important to learning and knowing what to minimize or maximize is key. Thank you for this great comment.

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