By Dr. Lin Lim.
Dear SENG families,
As I pass my first anniversary of serving on the SENG board of directors with passion and focus on the SENG Model Parent Group (SMPG), I would like to share my personal experience and thoughts around complex outlier parent support groups--first as a participant and then facilitating in-person and virtual SMPG groups for the past two years.
My connections with the gifted community started from a parental perspective as our family struggled to find an appropriate learning environment in our local public school district: firstly for my twice-exceptional (2e) second child, and later for my profoundly gifted first child. Our journey began six years ago when my younger child was in second grade. As I learned about twice-exceptionality, I felt increasingly isolated from my regular circle of good friends, gifted groups, and special education groups. My path diverged more and more from my group of friends with children around the same ages as my two children, from gifted groups, and special education-focused groups. Our family experiences overlapped with both gifted and special education families yet were distinct enough that I felt lost.
To my great relief and through a lucky coincidence, a stranger reached out to me after reading a question I had posted about twice-exceptionality through a gifted email list approximately two years into my journey. This mother of an older child invited me to a 2e parent support group which was held once a month at a grocery store café about a 30-40 min drive away. Meeting other parents in this informal support group was my first taste of a parent support group in which I felt that I had found my tribe of parents who understood and provided non-judgmental support. Although I found the group to be very helpful in practical and emotional ways, it soon became clear as my children grew older, that I often had to choose between attending the in-person group meetings or bringing my children to their activities. I noticed that when our family was in crisis, I would make it a point to attend the in-person 2e parent support group; otherwise, I felt obligated to spend the time on my family.
Fast forward another year. I had embarked on two graduate certificate programs, one of which was an academic graduate certificate in twice-exceptional education from the newly established Bridges Graduate School of Cognitive Diversity in Education and the other in Mind, Brain and Teaching from Johns Hopkins University. After completing my certificate in twice-exceptional education at Bridges Graduate School, I have since joined the school in various capacities from faculty to advisor to administration. I also trained to become a SENG SMPG facilitator for both in-person and online facilitation at the beginning of the COVID pandemic in 2020.
Although the critical role parents play in the lives of their children is undisputed, it is not clear about the impact that parent groups play in supporting parents of and complex outliers. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an outlier as “the person or thing that is atypical within a particular group, class or category.” (Merriam-Webster, n.d). As such, complex outliers are statistically infrequent. Complex outliers can include 2e, profoundly gifted (PG), profoundly gifted twice-exceptional (PG2e), PG or PG2e and a minority or disadvantaged membership. With a statistically infrequent population, we often must search far and wide to meet other families of complex outliers, make difficult decisions to spend precious limited time attending a parent support group, bringing our children to enrichment, therapies, or engaging in other activities. Before COVID, parent-parent support has been proposed as a viable way to support parents of disabled children (e.g., Brookman, 1988), minority parents (e.g., Mueller et al., 2009), and parents located in difficult to reach areas such as rural areas (e.g., Duppong Hurley & Huscroft-D’Angelo, 2018). There is research that showed lower parental stress and more positive parent-child interactions when parents report higher levels of satisfaction with parent and family support services (e.g., McConnell et al., 2012). Another study conducted by Mueller et al., (2009) found that parents reported support groups felt like part of a family, were a source for information, and were emotionally supporting. Heath et al. (2018) additionally reported that parents seek peer support to share experiential knowledge with others.
COVID and available virtual meeting technology nudged the increase, availability, and willingness to participate in virtual parent support groups. According to the World Economic Forum (WEP), 2011 signaled the beginnings of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) characterized by the speed of technological breakthroughs that impact production, management, governance, and the human-machine interface. In the past year and a half facilitating dedicated twice-exceptional parent groups online almost exclusively has opened my eyes to new possibilities and advantages for complex outlier families seeking parent support groups. Parents have called in on their mobile phones to join in while driving or waiting for their children at extra-curricular or therapy sessions. Both primary caretakers have been able to join in virtually from different locations. Parents from across time zones, countries and cultures have joined in, enriching all participants and facilitators. Even supplemental resources have been subject to technology influences, using video-audio recordings that allowed for transcripts and translations to increase alternate ways to access resources for a wider range of parents.
Our world is shrinking geographically through advances in technology. By zooming out to join parenting support groups virtually, I have come to appreciate how much we end up zooming in on our shared experiences and similarities across time zones, countries, and cultures for parents of twice-exceptional children. This feeling of being alone is now rapidly being replaced by an ever-increasing supportive connection of our tribe of twice-exceptional parents in similar shoes, walking a similar journey from near and far away with the ease of staying in touch through email or other online social media platforms. Online groups have opened up additional ways to meet other families we did not have access to, or feel compelled to, seek out in person/online prior to COVID.
I whole-heartedly extend my hand to invite you to zoom out and to cast your net far and wide to meet other complex outlier families. They are out there and increasingly getting closer to you through technological advances. Join a parent group, train to become a SENG SMPG facilitator and start your own support group. It only takes 2!
SENG Board of Directors 2021-2023
SMPG Committee Co-Chair
Brookman, B. A. (1988). Parent to Parent: A Model for Parent Support and Information. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 8(2), 88–93. https://doi.org/10.1177/027112148800800210
Duppong Hurley, K., & Huscroft-D’Angelo, J. (2018). Parent Connectors: A Parent-to-Parent Support Program Feasible for Rural Settings. Rural Special Education Quarterly, 37(4), 251–256. https://doi.org/10.1177/8756870518785149
Heath, J., Williamson, H., Williams, L., & Harcourt, D. (2018). Parent-perceived isolation and barriers to psychosocial support: a qualitative study to investigate how peer support might help parents of burn-injured children. Scars, Burns & Healing, 4, 205951311876380. https://doi.org/10.1177/2059513118763801
McConnell, D., Breitkreuz, R., & Savage, A. (2013). Parent needs and family support service outcomes in a Canadian sample. Journal of Social Work, 13(5), 447–470. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468017311434819
Merriam-Webster (n.d). Search for a word. https://www.merriam-webster.com/
Mueller, T. G., Milian, M., & Lopez, M. I. (2009). Latina mothers’ views of a parent-to-parent support group in the special education system. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 34(3–4), 113–122. https://doi.org/10.2511/rpsd.34.3-4.113
Lin Lim, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of Communications at Bridges Graduate School of Cognitive Diversity in Education in Studio City, California. She holds a doctorate in psychology from Boston University, Academic Graduate Certificate in Mind, Brain and Education (Johns Hopkins University Graduate School of Education), and Academic Graduate Certificate in Twice-exceptional Education (Bridges Graduate School). Her parenting journey with her two profoundly gifted children, one twice-exceptional, and the other radically accelerated drives her to create better understanding, communication, and nurturance for such children between all educational stakeholders. She is a founding board member of the non-profit Gifted Education Family Network of Texas and serves on the SENG boards of directors as an SMPG Co-chair.