By Linda C. Neumann.
Citation: First Published in the SENGVine, April 2011.
If you’re raising a highly able athlete or musician, it’s assumed that you’ll rely on people with special expertise to help your child develop his or her talents. Specialized teachers, athletic coaches, trainers, physical therapists, and sports medicine doctors are examples of the types of professionals who can make up the support team for a child who excels in sports or music.
When it comes to raising a child with exceptional intellectual abilities, on the other hand, we’re not so quick to call in professionals to guide us. As a result, parents of intellectually gifted kids can find themselves feeling overwhelmed – like they just don’t have the energy and expertise to do all that it takes to raise their high-ability son or daughter. Perhaps the parents of athletes and musicians have something to teach us – that we don’t necessarily have to do it alone. Borrowing from a well-known phrase, it takes a team to raise a gifted child, especially if that child faces social, emotional, or learning challenges, as many gifted and twice-exceptional children do.
Who might be part of a support team for a gifted child? At the top of the list might be mental health professionals who can do IQ testing and can address mental health issues like perfectionism, stress, anxiety, or depression. These professionals can also help ease friction between parent and child, and make the family function more effectively and efficiently.
To choose the right mental health professional for your family’s situation, it helps to understand how they differ in focus and expertise. Here is an overview of the type of help that mental health professionals can provide.
Mental Health Counselors:
Qualifications: At least a master's degree in professional counseling or related field. State licensing.
Types of Services Provided: Work with individuals, families, and groups to treat mental, behavioral, and emotional problems and disorders. Services include: -Assessing and diagnosing mental health problems -Providing therapeutic counseling -Crisis intervention
Clinical Social Workers:
Qualifications: At least a master’s degree in social work. Advanced training and state licensing to provide mental health services.
Types of Services Provided: Address problems related to physical, psychological, and social functioning. Services include: -Counseling children and facilitating groups for those with similar behavioral or emotional issues -Participating in the IEP process -Offering teachers guidance on dealing with difficult children -Coaching parents in effective parenting
Qualifications: At least a master’s degree. In most states, additional training that leads to a specialist degree or its equivalent. State licensing.
Types of Services Provided: Collaborate with parents, teachers, and other school personnel to identify appropriate teaching/learning strategies for gifted students and those with learning or behavior problems. Services include: -Evaluating effectiveness of school services -Participating in the IEP process -Counseling students and families -Crisis intervention
Qualifications: At least a master’s degree in psychology. Often have a doctoral degree. State licensing.
Types of Services Provided: Counsel emotionally and mentally distressed individuals or those with physical illnesses/injuries. Services include: -Conducting assessments -Diagnosing and treating mental disorders -Providing individual and group psychotherapy
Qualifications: Either a medical doctor (M.D.) or a doctor of osteopathy (O.D.). At least four more years of training focusing on mental illness diagnosis, treatment, and prevention
Types of Services Provided: Can order medical tests and prescribe psychotropic medications
Often provide brief supportive psychotherapy but refer patients to other practitioners for in-depth psychotherapy.
Beside mental health professionals, a variety of others can provide support. For example, it’s not unusual for gifted children to be highly sensitive to sensory input. Noises might be too loud, colors too bright, touch too intense. Having these reactions gives children a different experience of the world from everyone else and can put a child at risk for emotional problems such as anxiety and depression, or behavioral problems such as aggression. A pediatric occupational therapist (OT) is a professional who can address these issues. Pediatric OTs can function as consultants, trainers, or therapists, designing a therapy plan for children that helps them learn to cope with the sensory information they receive. OTs also work with children deficient in skills that can be important to school success such as social skills, the ability to focus and attend, and the motor skills that allow a child to write legibly or participate in sports. A pediatric occupational therapist must have at least a master’s degree in occupational therapy and be licensed by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.
Some additional professionals that you might need on your team at various points in your child’s life include the following:
· A coach. These professionals go by different names such as life coach, organization coach, homework coach, or academic coach. Some coaches specialize, such as those who work with gifted children and those who work with children who have issues related to AD/HD, such as disorganization and lack of motivation. Because there are no formal educational or licensing requirements to be a coach, the role these individuals play and their qualifications can vary widely. A typical role for a coach is to work with children and their families to set goals, determine strategies for achieving the goals, and provide encouragement and guidance in reaching the goals.
· Special education advocate. Sometimes families and schools don’t see eye to eye on the best way to educate an exceptional child, such as one who is gifted or twice exceptional. When agreement seems impossible, it may be time to bring in an advocate, someone to speak or write on behalf of the child. This person is knowledgeable about special education and the federal and state laws that govern it. An advocate informs parents of their rights and helps them negotiate with the school district to secure the best possible educational programs and services for their child. While there is currently no minimum training requirement for becoming a special education advocate, many have specialized degrees and experience in related occupations, like education, legal studies, mediation, or social work.
· Independent educational consultant. These consultants help families and students find the school or college that best meets a student’s needs. Frequently, they have a specialty such as working with gifted children, with children who have learning challenges, or with children who have behavior issues. Typical services provided include sharing first-hand knowledge of appropriate schools and program options, providing or arranging specialty testing and evaluation, coordinating with other professionals for services or evaluations, and following up with students and school staff members. There is currently no minimum training requirement to become an independent educational consultant. Many have specialized degrees and experience in related occupations, like education or admissions counseling.
Knowing the types of professionals that can help is just the first step in putting together your support team. Other important steps in the process are these:
· Ask for recommendations. The best option is to get personal recommendations from others in situations similar to yours. Online communities can be a good place to seek this kind of input. Associations can be good sources as well. They often have accreditation programs and will list members who have achieved accreditation.
· Interview the professionals you are considering hiring. It’s important to feel that there is a “good fit” between this person and your family. Make sure you are hiring someone your child feels comfortable with and trusts, and make sure that you help this individual understand your child’s unique profile.
· Check credentials, certifications, and references.
· Clearly state your expectations, preferably in writing, and establish how success will be measured.
The value of parents’ support of their gifted and twice-exceptional children cannot be overstated, but sometimes parents can’t do it alone. They need the guidance and expertise of others, people who can step in and shoulder some of the burden, enabling parents to step back and just be Mom and Dad.
Linda C. Neumann is the editor of 2e: Twice-Exceptional Newsletter (www.2eNewsletter.com), a bi-monthly publication aimed at parents, educators, advocates, and others who help twice-exceptional children reach their potential. A former SENG Director, she is also the author of the Spotlight on 2e Series of booklets that explore the combination of giftedness and learning challenges in children.