How To: Fix Gifted Identification in Your Texas District!

High-quality gifted education services include opportunities for acceleration, grouping with other GT students, learning with depth and complexity, and affective support, all shown by research as important in enabling gifted students to reach their full potential.  For decades, however, inequitable identification practices have resulted in the nationwide underrepresentation of certain populations of students in gifted services, especially gifted Black and Hispanic students.  

The most serious problem in Texas GT education is the failure of many GT programs to identify and include all students who need services.  Gifted education researchers have identified several changes that can improve equity in identification, but too many districts have yet to implement these solutions. 

This is not just a problem for the students missing needed services; this should concern each family and each educator involved in gifted education. The Texas State Plan for the Education of Gifted/Talented Students requires that the population of each district’s gifted/talented program is “closely reflective” of the population of the total district and/or campus (Section 2.25).  When districts fail to identify and serve all students with above-level potential, our districts, economy, and society lose out – and more importantly, children are limited and harmed by our refusal to fix our education system.

As a parent or caregiver, what can YOU do to start to improve GT identification in your district?  For answers, please read below for interviews with a gifted education expert at Texas A&M University and two district GT Coordinators here in Texas.  

What the Research Says:  

Karen Rambo-Hernandez, Ph.D.,

Associate Professor,

Texas A&M University

Professional Advisor to the

Gifted Education Family Network

A nationally recognized expert in the field of gifted education, Dr. Karen Rambo-Hernandez is known for her research, published work, and presentations on equitable identification practices.  We are thrilled to be able to share her wisdom with GEFN families and supporters.

GEFN:  Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and for your work in this field!  For parents who are ready to make an impact: what are the most important changes their districts should make immediately in order to improve equity in their gifted identification processes? 

Dr. Rambo-Hernandez:  Oh, good question. Before I talk about the most important changes I want to quickly bring up the idea of identifying for “what.” Identification should happen after we know how we are going to serve the kids— that way we can align identification procedures with the planned services. We sometimes get too caught up in the identification process and forget why we identify. We identify students so we can serve them. So, let’s flip the script. Let’s first determine what services we plan to offer—and lean into the context of the district to make some of these determinations. For example, I grew up in Baytown, Texas, where there is a huge refinery— that needs a steady stream of talented technicians. So, that school district might want to focus on developing STEM talent. Then when you are ready to identify students, choose assessments that are aligned to the services and then apply universal screening and local norms in the identification process. These two pieces will improve equity in identification.   

For universal screening, districts should use something that is already given. Schools regularly use standardized assessments to track student achievement, so use those. Don’t add another assessment, and don’t use something locally created (because validating those is quite involved). Then use the scores on that assessment to identify which students will be automatically referred for testing for gifted education services. For example, if your gifted program has the capacity to serve 10 students in a grade level, then the students with scores in the top 30 might be automatically referred. 

I think that it is important to set a lower bar for the universal screening than you expect to use for the identification phase (and take the suite of uniqueness that a kid brings with them).

For local norms, use the school’s context to determine who is most likely to benefit from gifted services. For example, a student who is performing at the 90th percentile (based on national standards) and is in a school with an average achievement at the 80th percentile— that student is likely having their academic needs met by the enacted curriculum at that school. But drop that same 90th percentile student into a school with an average achievement at the 30th percentile, the student is unlikely to have their academic needs met. One way to think about this is to remove cut-scores and employ a “number of seats” approach. If the school has the capacity to serve 15 students at each grade level, then the top 15 students should receive access regardless of a cut score. 

GEFN:   Can you share why it is so essential for districts to implement universal screening for gifted services?  What happens when districts rely solely on parent or teacher referrals for screening?  

Dr. Rambo-Hernandez:  Generally speaking, families differ in their comfort level navigating the school system. Some families are incredibly well-networked, comfortable navigating the education system, and know how to leverage systems to advocate for their student’s needs effectively. These families are typically from more privileged backgrounds—and are the ones who nominate their kids for gifted programs. These are the parents who are watching for the nomination announcements, who know how to advocate for their children, and are more comfortable navigating the school system. These are awesome things! Other parents are less comfortable navigating the education system. To make gifted services dependent on family’s comfort level navigating the system will systematically leave out students. This is simply unfair. To further complicate matters, teachers are well-meaning (believe me- I’m a big fan of teachers- I was one!), but like the rest of us they are susceptible to unconscious biases. Let’s not let that muddy the waters. All children need to have equal opportunities to be identified— and nomination advantages kids from more privileged backgrounds over others.

GEFN:  In one of your articles about local norms, you draw a comparison between local norms in gifted education and the way athletic or musical talent is typically supported in schools.  Can you help our readers understand how those identification practices are similar?

Dr. Rambo-Hernandez:   Ah, I love this analogy! Let’s take an athletic example. If a school wants to field a basketball team, they take the best athletes they have— they don’t set arbitrary cut offs (e.g., you have to run a mile in less than 6 minutes). They decide how many kids they need for the team (5 to play and 5 on the bench), and the best 10 basketball players make the team. Cut-offs just don’t exist. Schools vary in the talent present (and that even varies within a school over time). Schools take the basketball talent they have present in the school and develop it. It should be the same way with gifted services— take the top talent present at the school and develop it. Serve as many as the school can. I’ve heard schools say they don’t have any gifted students. That’s simply not true. We need to move the focus away from cut offs and toward serving talented kids. 

GEFN:  In the same article, you mention one of the objections raised to making these changes– the complaint that using local norms expands gifted programs to include students beyond those traditionally considered to be “truly” gifted– and some proposed solutions. Can you share some examples of how districts that are expanding services can continue to fully meet the needs of already-identified gifted students, through acceleration or differentiated gifted services?  

Dr. Rambo-Hernandez:  Can I start by saying I don’t like the term “gifted student”? It makes it seem like we are running around trying to find students who are inherently different from average students. Giftedness, talent, and ability run on a continuum. Let’s find the kids who would most benefit from gifted services— those who are least likely to have their academic needs met by the enacted curriculum and instruction in each school. Those services provided should be challenging and stretching. 

Okay, now that I’ve got that out of my system (I’m smiling by the way), once you know which kids are going to be served, the academic needs of those kids are likely to be quite dissimilar (and will range by campus). For example, some of my work has shown that anywhere from 10-40% of kids start the academic year above grade level (the estimate ranges based on the subject, grade-level, and assessment referenced). For example, using NWEA MAP data for mathematics, about 14% of kids have already mastered 5th grade mathematics before the year starts- and of that 14%, 2% need 6th grade content, 5% need 7th grade content, 4% need eighth grade content, and 2% are ready for high school material (the numbers don’t add up because of rounding in case you checked). But let that sink in. If we identified all of those students as needing advanced academic services, the services would need to span at least 4 grade levels to adequately meet their academic needs. So, rather than expect a pull-out program to be able to serve all of the students, let’s leverage the classes that already exist— let’s use subject acceleration (or grade acceleration if the student is advanced across the board) to address their academic needs. 

GEFN:   When these improvements are proposed, what other objections should we expect district leaders and/or local GT families to raise?  What advice would you give to advocates as they work to address these objections and to convince district leaders to follow current research recommendations?

Dr. Rambo-Hernandez:  Ah, buses. One of the things you’ll need to figure out if you’re going to move toward implementing subject acceleration is transportation. Sometimes campuses are close together (so kids can walk) – that makes it easier. Also, there is a common misconception that students who are accelerated are more likely to have social problems. This just doesn’t play out in the research. Generally, there are no differences observed in the social-emotional well-being of students who accelerated when compared to similar ability students who did not accelerate, but there are huge gains academically for those who accelerated. Also, going back to my research that shows large proportions of students are already above grade level, if we actually paid attention to those numbers, a large proportion of students would accelerate. Then, the accelerated students would be with many others their age, which makes the social-emotional argument moot. 

GEFN:  As gifted equity advocates work to raise awareness about this issue, are there some key points they should share with other GT parents and with district leaders?  Why should every parent or caregiver of an identified GT student in Texas care about the problem of underrepresentation in local gifted programs?

Dr. Rambo-Hernandez:  Well, if I can be blunt, if the kids receiving gifted education services don’t look close to a cross-section of the kids in the school, then gifted education programs are going to go away. So, if you want your kid to continue to have services, you need to care about the problem of underrepresentation. Gifted education has a proverbial black eye— that we are addressing but haven’t solved— historically, students from underrepresented backgrounds have been, well, underrepresented in gifted education. Also, parents should care because it is the right thing to do. Racism is real. Do what you can to address it. Use gifted education as a way to address racism— not to perpetuate it. Further, gifted education should be part of a suite of services provided to meet the needs of all students. There are kids in every school who need more. Let’s use gifted services to help meet those needs.

Making the Changes:  

Raine Maggio, M.S.

Past Gifted and Advanced

Academics Coordinator,

Current Director of Enrichment,

Round Rock ISD

Monica Simonds, M.Ed.

Director, Advanced Learning

Programs and Services,

Richardson ISD

Several districts in Texas have successfully taken steps to improve GT identification practices, and two suburban districts in particular have recently received recognition for their changes.  We are grateful to be able to speak with Ms. Raine Maggio and Ms. Monica Simonds about their successes.

GEFN:   Thank you for your work to improve equity in gifted services!  Can you please share a little about the improvements you made to gifted identification processes in your district?  How long did it take for key district decision-makers to decide to support your changes? 

Ms. Simonds:  I began in this position in the summer of 2010 spending the first year or so learning about current practices and analyzing data.  The changes we made came in three main transitions.  The first occurred when we expanded designated gifted services into secondary grades.  Once we had GT-sheltered services and/or courses in all grade levels, we focused on elementary identification practices.  Data indicated that our population of students identified for gifted services was not reflective of the district as a whole even though there had been efforts in place that predated my joining the team.  We implemented Multiple Pathways to identification that incorporated universal screening at second and sixth grades along with several levels of norming based on age (national norms), experience (Emerging Bilingual, Economically Disadvantaged, or both), and environment (campus).  Now that we have those pieces in place, the final time of innovation is upon us as we move into a season of programming evaluation both for evaluation and service design.  

It is imperative that students identified for services receive the appropriate instructional interventions and we continue to build on our current tiered services.  We identify students first for services in general that include Total School Cluster Grouping with a GT-trained teacher, an Advanced Learning Teacher (“ALT”) providing needed support, and the ALT providing professional learning to the classroom teachers.  Some students need more instructional challenge and the ALT pulls them out for two hours a week.  Finally, some students need far more than can be provided in a classroom so they are sheltered at a central campus for full-time gifted instruction.

Once we had identified the need and the research-based approaches to addressing the identification issues, we were fortunate that district senior leadership was in place to support our innovations.

Ms. Maggio:  We took one year to form a committee of principals, counselors, and gifted specialists to gather information about current practices and suggestions for new systems. Based on those recommendations, the following year we updated our assessments to online administration which allowed us more flexibility in our ability to to make accommodations. We make every attempt to allow testing accommodations that are written in IEPs and 504 plans. This helped us to better identify students in our twice exceptional population. We also implemented the use of local norms in our processes. Being a large school district, we divided our population into 3 groups based on similar numbers of students receiving free and reduced lunch. After giving a universal screener to all 2nd grade students, we used that data to create local norms for each of those 3 groups comparing students of the same age, experience, and environment together. Additionally, we created three pathways to identification to allow campus committees to include additional quantitative and qualitative data for consideration when needed. Lastly, we removed achievement testing as part of identification in the early grades in order to not only identify students performing remarkably high, but also those with the POTENTIAL of performing remarkably high. This allowed us to make a tiered service model to encourage talent development. 

GEFN:   Which underrepresented student populations in your district have benefited most from these changes?  Do you have plans or hopes for future improvements to GT identification in your district?

Ms. Simonds:  First, Emerging Bilingual and Economically Disadvantaged student groups as a whole are being identified at double, triple, or more the rate that they were previously identified.  Now that we have emerged from the complications with testing students created by extreme absences and higher than usual mobility rates, we will review the identification data for each campus and use it to guide next steps.  At this point, the next pathway to identification that we may add is to move the district-level Emerging Bilingual and Economically Disadvantaged student groups to the campus level where there is a large enough grouping of students to do so with reliability.

Ms. Maggio:  The changes in our identification allowed us to identify many more students at Title 1 schools. Prior to the changes, there were 13 elementary schools (out of 34) who identified less than 5% of their population, within 3 years the number of Title 1 schools below 5% identified was 4. 

As far as hopes for improvement, I’m personally no longer in the position to oversee gifted services in my district, but I’m certain that the district will continue to improve those processes. 

GEFN:   What obstacles did you face in making changes to follow current recommendations in gifted identification, and how did you and your district work through those obstacles? 

Ms. Simonds:   It was tempting to try to do it all at one time.  However, it’s important to phase in any innovations to avoid implementation fatigue in the organization.  We were fortunate that the only obstacle is time to implement any change, to ensure services are effective, and to provide professional learning for classroom teachers.  Ultimately, competing priorities are our biggest obstacle, most of which are not from any one entity and are not intended to be obstacles.  An example is the state-mandated in-school tutoring that can impede on our services or take planning time away from decision makers.  However, ultimately, we have worked through any challenges with teamwork and a continued focus on the four questions of the Professional Learning Community of which number four is “what will you do when a student has already learned” what you are teaching.

Ms. Maggio:  A major obstacle in the beginning was going from all paper pencil testing to 100% online testing. Each assessment was delivered in a different system and training everyone on multiple systems all at one time was definitely a challenge. There was a huge learning curve, but once we got through one cycle the commitment was well worth it. 

We also had to train all the members of the campus screening and placement committees to look at data in a new way to make sure processes were being followed across the district. We now have an online training so that any new member can get training as needed. 

GEFN:   Have you received any criticism about these improvements from local families or educators, and if so, how have you helped them to understand the “why” behind following current recommendations?  

Ms. Maggio:  The biggest obstacle was probably helping staff and parents understand local norms. Since there are different target scores at different schools that took some education for people to understand. We changed the focus from “your child is gifted” to “your child shows a need for gifted services.” By showing people the goal in the state plan for the gifted, we were able to show how identification should be about outliers who are identified by comparing students of the same age, experience, and environment. 

Ms. Simonds:   In the beginning, some of our families shared concerns about moving from our students in grades four through six getting a full day of gifted pullout services to pullout being only two hours a week.  It was difficult for them to imagine the classroom teacher taking on the responsibility of differentiating for the high-ability learners.  However, that differentiation should have been or was occurring already so we emphasized the ALT (Advanced Learning Teacher) providing support.  It’s a work in progress as we have new teachers who come to our district without a gifted background.  Our ALTs have adjusted their schedules to prioritize being in the PLC meetings to support the planning for all learners and we have remained steadfast in our journey to being a Depth and Complexity district requiring all elementary and any secondary advanced course instructors to complete their GT update with choice of Depth and Complexity, job-embedded learning.

GEFN:   What advice would you give to families who would like to support similar changes, and who are ready to approach GT educators, administrators, and school board members with their requests?

Ms. Maggio:  One, go into the conversation willing to be a part of the solution that is for a greater good and not just an isolated situation for your child. Two, acknowledge that change takes time and offer some resources if the district does not have knowledge of these practices. Dr. Scott Peters offers an excellent resource for those exploring equity in identification. You can find it here. https://sites.google.com/uww.edu/peterss/gifted-identification-resources?authuser=0

Ms. Simonds:   Three things immediately come to mind.  The first is to learn about the district priorities and the data that went into determining what those were.  Include learning about the gifted identification data.  Marry that with what the state is mandating, and possibly not funding, that the district is trying to address.**  Ensure you have a good understanding of school finance.  It’s complicated and it changes every two years.  Second, learn about what the Texas State Plan for the Education of Gifted and Talented Students provides as mandates for compliance.  Finally, get involved.  Join district committees or focus groups to learn about what is currently in place or being planned and look for ways to connect that to the changes you are seeking.  Watching board meetings is a great way to do all of this.

An overarching theme should be that the educators and board in your school or district love your children and want to do the best for them.  Positive presupposition goes a long way to build a collaborative relationship.  

Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out to others to be your thought partner.  We are all in this together.

The Gifted Education Family Network wishes to extend sincere thanks to Dr. Rambo-Hernandez, Ms. Maggio, and Ms. Simonds for taking the time to share their insight with GEFN members.  We encourage our members to visit our discussion group to engage in conversations about how we can work together to improve equity and diversity in the GT services needed by advanced Texas students in all populations.

** Editor’s note: in recent years, changes in earmarked state GT funding have caused confusion for Texas districts. GT advocates must advocate for sufficient local funding and must also ensure that district leaders understand their responsibility to fund GT programs that follow state regulatory requirements. 

Further Reading

Preprint, shared with author permission:  Local Norms for Gifted and Talented Student Identification: Everything you Need to Know (2021).


Preprint, shared with author permission:  Who gets identified? The Consequences of Variability in Teacher Ratings and Combination Rules for Determining Eligibility for Gifted Services for Young Children (accepted for publication, 2023). Journal for the Education of the Gifted. https://osf.io/n25jd/ 

A&M Blog: Why Are Some Students Forgotten in Gifted Education?


Equity in Gifted/Talented Education: TEA Website Resource


GEFN News: Raine Maggio, GEFN Gifted Administrator of 2022 GT Excellence Award


Dallas Morning News: ‘Finally finding our babies’: How Richardson schools are making their gifted classes more diverse (2021)


National Association for Gifted Children: Is There a Gifted Gap? New Report Makes Clear the Need for Universal Screening of Gifted Children (2018) https://www.nagc.org/blog/there-gifted-gap-new-report-makes-clear-need-universal-screening-gifted-children 

National Association for Gifted Children: Local norms improve equity in gifted identification (2019)


Content is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute and should not be relied on as legal advice. Viewpoints expressed through interviews are those of individual interviewees and not necessarily held by or endorsed by GEFN. 

Copyright 2023 Gifted Education Family Network, interview and formatting by Emily Villamar-Robbins.

Math, Creativity, and Making an Impact

In January 2022, Dr. Po-Shen Loh offered a free virtual event to GEFN parents and 5th-8th graders on “How to Use Math to Invent.” Dr. Loh is a math professor at Carnegie Mellon University, coach of the U.S. team for the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), and founder of the free personalized learning platform expii.com.

As an IMO coach, Dr. Loh works with the top high school math students in the United States. His advice for adults? Don’t just show highly capable kids how to do something new because you’ll bore them. Instead, get them thinking and you’ll get them engaged. He explained, “A problem that doesn’t fight back is not worth solving.”

To demonstrate, Dr. Loh gave the kids a challenge. He drew six lines and asked how many triangles they could find. The kids counted and entered their answers. He then approached the problem differently, asking how many unique combinations of the six lines could make a triangle. Rethinking the problem made it possible to find the answer mathematically.

Dr. Loh encouraged the kids to approach problems from a different perspective, and advised them to pick up lots of different skills to use later in life. Impact comes from being able to innovate, he said, and that comes from having a broad base of skills.

His final message for the adults: look for ways to help kids maximize their impact. Highly capable people can have “multiplicative” impact when their work makes others’ work more efficient. He encouraged the kids to use their abilities to make life better for others. We are grateful to Dr. Loh for his engaging and inspiring talk, and to our event sponsor: Techie Factory.

Write up by: Anna Aberle, GEFN Programs Coordinator

Event with Dr. Po-Shen Loh –Invention & Math

GEFN members are invited to a FREE live family event with Dr. Po-Shen Loh. Dr. Loh is a Math Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, serves as the National USA International Math Olympiad Team Coach, and was awarded the USA Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2019. He is passionate about sharing his love of math and its creativity with everyone. In this session, open to all GEFN families (recommended for 5th-8th graders), families will experience an interactive session and an opportunity for Q&A with Dr. Loh. Register for the event with Dr. Loh!

DATE: Tuesday January 25, 2022
TIME: 7pm CST, on Zoom

Our community sponsor for this event: Techie Factory

Parent Advocacy in the Development of Black Male Scholars and Scholar-Ballers: a Panel Discussion for Building on Resilience: Models and Frameworks of Black Male Success Across the P-20 Pipeline

In November 2021, the Gifted Education Family Network partnered with the Minority Achievement, Creativity, and High-Ability Center (MACH-III) for an incredible panel discussion on parent advocacy for gifted and high-ability Black males. Panelists included Dr. Fred Bonner at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, Dr. Tarek C. Grantham and Tony Collins II at the University of Georgia, Syrell Grier at the University of Virginia, and Thelron Pleas and Marques Dexter at the University of Georgia.

Dr. Grantham introduced background and research on the urgency of advocacy for high-ability Black male students, and each panelist shared their lived experiences as Black scholars who have overcome significant obstacles to achieve their potential. Parents in the audience had an opportunity to ask questions about supporting their own children, and Dr. Grantham addressed how parents new to DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) can work to improve inclusion in their local GT groups and GT programs.  He discussed the importance of Frasier’s Four As — Access, Assessment, Accommodation, and Attitude — and he emphasized the importance of Attitude and an anti-racist mindset in beginning the work needed to improve equity in GT programs.  

As GT parents, we believe at GEFN that it is our responsibility to extend our support and inclusion to the needs of ALL students with advanced learning potential, including – and especially – students in populations that have been underrepresented in GT programs.  For this and many other reasons, it is important for ALL families of GT students in Texas to become upstanders in the work for GT equity.  Panelist Dr. Tarek Grantham explains this need in “Parent Advocacy for Black Males in Gifted and Advanced Programs,” a chapter he co-authored in Building on Resilience: Models and Frameworks of Black Male Success Across the P-20 Pipeline (2014):

“To reverse underrepresentation among Black male students in gifted and advanced programs, the role of upstander parents as advocates is critical.  Black male underachievement and underenrollment in gifted and advanced programs is an education crisis.  A critical goal of advocacy for the needs of gifted Black males is to hold schools accountable for administering gifted program policies and services that promote excellence and equity… When upstander parents challenge bystander teachers to become upstander educators and take an active role in the educational trajectory of Black males in gifted and advanced programs, everyone wins.”

We are grateful to the MACH-III Center, to Dr. Grantham, and to each panelist for making the video of this important event available to our members!  We invite GEFN families to share this link with parents and educators in their districts, and we encourage families to engage in discussion about the topics raised.

This event was based on the chapter co-authored by Dr. Grantham in Building on Resilience: Models and Frameworks of Black Male Success Across the P-20 Pipeline, edited by Dr. Fred Bonner.  We encourage families to consider purchasing the book or checking it out from their library (local or interlibrary loan).  The MACH-III Center has generously offered to donate a limited number of books for parents unable to purchase a copy (need-based) who would like one — if you are a GEFN member and are interested in one of these, please contact us. 

As a GT parent, how can you become part of the solution?

  • Follow the MACH-III Center on social media for announcements about new events, publications, and resources
  • Join our GEFN discussion forum to exchange ideas with GT parents statewide on effective advocacy in your district (GEFN membership required; for free membership, sign up here)

Shop our fundraiser through December 1st!

We’re excited to announced our first fundraiser! GEFN is a nonprofit run entirely by volunteers, and we’re partnering with Novica for a fall and holiday shopping experience that we think you’ll love.

When started through our dedicated shopping link, your Novica order will support artisans in a socially conscious global marketplace, and through December 1st, GEFN will receive 25% of every purchase!  Funds raised are used for basic operating expenses that allow us to reach Texas GT families in all populations with information, events, and resources to support their students. As funding permits, GEFN looks forward to supporting parents and caregivers with need-based conference scholarships and with increased advocacy for best practices.

Please visit https://www.novica.com/gefn_2021/ and support artisans across the world while helping us to continue our mission! Happy shopping! 🙂

Screenshot of the GEFN dedicated shopping page on Novica

Interview with Dr. Nicole Tetreault

Insight Into a Bright Mind: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Stories of Unique Thinking

Our next blog post explores expert insight on the needs and characteristics of twice-exceptional students and adults.  “Twice exceptional” is a term used to describe gifted individuals with one or more disabilities. The term is sometimes used to describe individuals with disabilities who have any high-ability area of strength.

Dear Gifted Education Family Network subscriber,

Thank you for spending the next hour going on a journey with Dr. Nicole Tetreault.

Dr. Nicole Tetreault is an author, neuroscientist, writer, meditation teacher, consultant, and international speaker. She is currently an Associate Dean at Bridges Graduate School of Cognitive Diversity and a colleague of Dr. Lin Lim, founding board member of the Gifted Education Family Network. Dr. Tetreault holds a doctorate in biology from Caltech and she has a recently released book, Insight Into a Bright Mind: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Stories of Unique Thinking (2021).

This book brings readers on a journey through Dr. Tetreault’s realization that she is a twice-exceptional individual, the neuroscience of our biology and interactions with our surroundings, giftedness, and characteristics of neurodiversity. One big reveal in her book is that about 20% of students are considered neurodiverse – which means that 1 in every 5 children in the classroom is neurodiverse.

From the Interviewer: Dr. Tetreault and I had a wonderful organic conversation around parenting, education, and her personal experiences as a twice-exceptional individual. As a parent of a twice-exceptional child, having a conversation with Dr. Tetreault provided me – and hopefully you, our viewers – with a window to the inner experiences of a twice-exceptional individual through time.  Our conversation begins with the question around labels and ends with Dr. Tetreault sharing her top 5 actionable tips that all families, regardless of economic ability, can implement and begin to use to better nurture our children.  I hope that you will be inspired to read her book, watch the other talks Dr. Tetreault has been giving around the country, or visit her webpage. Enjoy! — Yours Truly, Dr. Lin Lim

Edited Video Transcript

Dr. Lim: Welcome, Dr. Nicole Tetreault, my fellow colleague at Bridges Graduate School of Cognitive Diversity in Education. We’re here today to talk about your book, “Insight Into a Bright Mind,” and to share your wisdom — gained through your journey as a twice-exceptional adult — with the Gifted Education Family Network, a Texas nonprofit started by parents to bring information and resources to families. One of our missions is to support gifted [programs] in public education, as that is often the only option for some families. 

Your book is full of a wide range of information — from brain science, poetry, letters, personal stories, both yours and other families, to discussions on different neurotypes. It’s been very difficult to select what to talk about with you today. I’m interested in the use of metaphors and language to convey ideas, so this interview is focused around that aspect of your work. 

To begin, I would love to hear about your perspective of the use of terms such as neurodiversity, neuro individuality, gifted, talented, intelligence, twice exceptional, and so on. Walk us through your thoughts and feelings about such labels and terms and make a case as to what terms we should use to create a common understanding between families, schools, researchers, and policymakers.

Dr. Tetreault:  Well, can I just say I really am delighted to be here with my fellow colleague here today, and all of the work that you do. I think it’s so beautiful that even the mission of your organization is to offer education for families in public schools, because that is only the option for so many. 

I think part of the mission of writing this book is an alignment with how we get collective consciousness where we can focus on the work of Dr. Baum and the strength-based education model that really holds true [with our neurology]. And so part of that mission is to think about how can we – not me – collectively rethink the labels that we’ve been identifying ourselves and children with, and how can we shift our awareness, to really shift us into a more positive light, where these kids and adults are able to grow up and experience their true essence.

I think that when you bring up public school education, there’s really a challenge. Teachers are faced with having a classroom full of kids. Especially if you’re in a standard classroom you’re going to have 20% of the kids, that is one in five kids, who’s going to be neurodiverse. When you think about that, and you break it down even more, when you think about the term neurodiversity, what we know in brain science is each of us has our own very unique brain map. So it’s not that that the wiring is a subtype of a subgroup of people – that helps for understanding a broader view, to offer in services and offer types of supports and also really build the strengths – but when you really think about it with science, it’s so much illuminating, even when it comes down to it, that really each of us has a unique way of processing and interpreting the world. 

Dr. Lim: People need to be aware when you’re talking about groups in general. It’s still an umbrella term, you know, even for twice exceptional students; there are subtypes, and within subtypes, everyone is still so different. And I think that’s something for people to keep in mind. That what may be true for one person may not work for the other, and I think that speaks to what brain science is showing – an alignment with the general kind of philosophy that we really need to cater [to] and be considerate of individual differences in general, overall, not just for gifted outliers. Perhaps taking that bigger viewpoint might be helpful in terms of framing policies and giving us a big picture of where we should go. 

A lot of things start from assumptions. If you have a different assumption, or you buy or choose to buy into a different assumption, then the behaviors could be so different, like what you wrote in your book. You talked about the butterfly effect, how you had experienced it on your own. You know, I believe that was in English writing class.

Could you explain that a little bit? I think it’s important for people to know, little behaviors and small things we could do. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed – like how are we going to change this whole education.

Dr. Tetreault: I think that really when it comes back to – when you’re bringing up the butterfly effect, and when we think about it – is to look at the individual. And I think, to take out any sort of bias, as much as you can take out the cultural biases, take out the biases of gender, take out the biases of gender identification, take out the biases of gifted or not gifted, special ed, and really reframe.

A lot [of] what I talked about in my book prior to that butterfly effect is the experience that I had growing up, really being misunderstood, a female being awkward, being really different than my peers. I was in a school where I was actually the only Caucasian girl. And, you know, having blonde hair was very strange. And at the same time, there was this bias that I couldn’t do math or I couldn’t be certain things.

And so really, elementary school was challenging for me, not due to the fact that people were bad. It was just a misunderstanding of what I brought to the table. The way the butterfly effect happened for me, and the way that I talked about it is – you know that famous experiment, a butterfly flaps its wings a distance away, and you could have a hurricane or tornado happening across the country or across the world. At that moment for me, [with my] being dyslexic, I didn’t read very much. I avoided reading. Reading wasn’t something pleasurable to me, and it wasn’t until I was in high school that I read Maya Angelou’s, “ I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” and I read it from start to end, start to end. 

It was the first time I fell in love with literature, and it was a viewpoint so different than anything I’ve ever been exposed to.  I started – and I had always been a kid who loved writing poetry. I loved words, I loved the sound, and being dyslexic, you know, phonetics is strange. You make up your own spelling. I had this teacher [who] wanted us to write about a very first kind of memory, and mine was a first kiss. I remember I wrote about it, and I had all these details based on what I learned from Maya Angelou’s writing – [to] kind of go into the body to describe it, really in detail. She read it out to the class, and it was the first time ever in my life – and I was in ninth grade – that my work was actually highlighted. There were so many times I was overlooked and overlooked. It had such a profound effect, where I realized, okay, this is something I could do later on maybe.  It gave me that sense of hope that maybe I’m actually good at school, where I thought I was such a bad student my whole life.

When a teacher sees the potential, [when] they see that goodness, they see that seed, they help that child plant that seed and teach them that it’s going to grow. It really makes a big difference in their life. It goes back to the strength-based model; this teacher found strength and really supported it.

Dr. Lim:  And the strengths could come from not just teachers, but any one person could be that spark for another person. So I think that’s a very powerful and uplifting message – that even when things are dire, and you feel like, “how do we get out of this,” it just takes that one person, right? Your story attests to the butterfly effect, how that one person was put you on this journey, and look where you are now.

So, jumping a little bit, kind of more removed – I really enjoyed your series of personal letters that you put in between each chapter. What was your inspiration to decide to include this after each chapter? You take a break, you’re in a completely different setup – what was your inspiration to do it this way?

Dr. Tetreault: Well, it was an experiment. You know, it’s so interesting. I’m glad you mentioned that, because I actually had a first editor that told me it didn’t work. I had to make the choice that our relationship [wasn’t] going to work because I need[ed] someone to help me find the way that I think is going to work. The book in itself is an experiment that you bring out about language, in the sense that I played with a lot of different forms, with the intention to break what it is to write about science, to break what it is to write about giftedness, to break what it is to include poems and personal narrative. It’s an experiment.  A lot of my inspiration came from the work of Lidia Yuknavitch, who wrote “The Chronology of Water,” where she plays with a lot of different forms.  She was one of my teachers early on, saying, “as long as you really stick with a form, your reader will trust you.”  So, I had to trust that the form I was doing was going to work.  

The inspiration for that [form] was originally an exercise that I loved to play with when I teach expressive writing.  It is a letter to your future self, called Futureme.org, where you could type in a letter to yourself a year from now, and then see what you said in it.  When I started out, I was going to only have one letter at the end and it was just going to be, “today’s your birthday.”  My husband actually mentioned, “why don’t you experiment and try to write one per chapter, and see if that would work.”  I had a bunch of them, and I was going to mesh them all together, and then I kind of divided them up to match the chapter with the experience.  I wanted there to be that conversation of “I see you, you’re not alone.” I think so often individuals feel alone in their experience. I really wanted to offer a place where they could land on the page in an emotional sense, and then dive into the piece about the science. For me, science and poetry are very closely related, almost like spiritual experiences of prayer, where I feel that they have healing intrinsic aspects to them. And so I just wanted to offer those in that form to the reader. 

Dr. Lim: I really liked that, because stereotypically, as we’re talking about all the different labels, when people think about science, it is supposed to be dry.  When you think of the word “science,” in general, the imagery and the emotions that it brings up for a lot of people are so different from the way you’re doing it in your book. Putting the more lyrical content in between the chapters is not a distraction – it actually pulls everything in more closely. That is how I experienced your book, and I thought it was very interesting. Recently, I’m really interested in the use of language, imagery, and metaphors to convey ideas and to change minds. Your book was really interesting to me from that point of view. A lot of the things you said, for example, tell us a little bit about the “secret side doors.”  I love that language – you could have said the same thing using different words. The really interesting part about your book is that it is more relatable. I can imagine what side doors are – secret –  it’s something hidden. Explain your secret side door.  Viewers who haven’t read your book would love to know.

Dr. Tetreault:  When I talk about the secret side doors, it’s these unconventional paths that 2e individuals experience because of their unique biology and physiology, unique processing, and unique experiences. Sometimes behaviors get misunderstood because they are new, novel. The same thing happens when I think about experiences and the side doors that I had to do through [my] education. I didn’t have a standard canonical path. I went to high school, and my mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  My grandmother had moved in with us and had cancer. There was a shift where I decided to not go away to college right away, and I went to a junior college, and actually worked in a lab at Caltech. That was my first introduction to this world of the laboratory, testing it out.  Then I went on to UC Davis and I really fell in love with neuroscience even more.  I didn’t have that standard trajectory because after college I got married, had a baby, and then went to graduate school.  I had a one-year-old in graduate school.  

When people ask, “how old are your kids” – I have one son, he’s 17 –  they think I have a three-year-old or four-year-old.  I had [my son] while I was in graduate school.  Right when I was applying for graduate school, because I have a visual processing difference and I’m dyslexic, I had to really study and I had to get a tutor to help me with the verbal reasoning on the GRE. I had a six-month-old and I was studying for the GRE, and I applied to graduate school and actually didn’t get in the first time around. I had gotten into UCLA, and my dream was really to go to Caltech, yet at the same time I wanted to study Parkinson’s (UCLA).  And I went and I studied Parkinson’s (at UCLA).  After doing that for two years, it was a bit heavy because my mom had that same disease, and I decided to transition to autism – and I got into Caltech.  It was my dream come true.  Spence [my son] was three and on campus with me.  It was a really unconventional path. Right after I finished graduate school, my mother passed away three months later. I was in this position where I had a couple of postdocs and I had one specific job that I turned down. I said to myself, I think I’m really meant to write. I think I’m meant to translate, because there was this big gap when my mother was suffering from Parkinson’s and what I knew was going on in a laboratory. I saw – that’s where my heart wanted to go. So, all these years I thought I wanted to study human brain tissue and Parkinson’s, and I transitioned out! What I’m saying about the side doors is that I tried, and did many different things along the way, and it wasn’t really a standard way, how things are done – and it’s funny, because I walked away from academia and now I’m back at Bridges (Graduate School) with you. I thought that part (academia) is over.  I’m a writer now, and it’s like –  no I’m not.  You know, life shifts and it changes and it builds. And so I think it’s just you never know where you’re going to land. With these gifted and 2e kids, there’s so much that they have to offer, and it may not be the way that you know. You may have a kid who wants to go to art school, or wants to go to Harvard, or doesn’t want to go to college and wants to program all day, and they end up heading to Mozilla.  I think we create these structures, that you have to go this certain path to be this certain way, and I definitely thought that. I realized I didn’t get to where I was by any standard normal path.

Dr. Lim: So would you say that perhaps the first step on this journey to understand yourself can be self-awareness?  How does one go on this journey, because sometimes you wake up, you’re like – whoa what happened – [and] you’ll find yourself somewhere.  I think in your case, you bring a unique perspective because you’re telling us your journey as a neuro individual.  How did you finally realize you are dyslexic? You talked about your sensitivity to light. If you had the migraines at a younger age, at what point [was] the tipping point? Let us walk with you in your shoes as that person journaling along. I understand that when [you were in college] you found out you were dyslexic, but I think your light sensitivity and migraines you experienced a lot earlier. What was going on at that time, what were you thinking? 

Dr. Tetreault: I think there are a couple of things.  I was the youngest of five kids, so I was either with a bunch of my siblings or completely alone. And I think that the way that I naturally processed, if things were too bright or too much, is I would retreat, and I would be by myself. I didn’t know that I was naturally self-regulating, if that makes sense. I grew up in a household where there were TVs on in all different rooms and that was just like a nightmare to me, so I would just go to my room and close the door, and have it be really quiet. One thing that my parents gave me was the ability to be autonomous in some ways and figure it out. As a kid, I obviously didn’t understand that other people didn’t experience [sensitivity] the same as I [did]. I thought that this is what everyone else experienced and it’s no big deal. It wasn’t until I was working in the laboratory that I started to notice how dysregulating fluorescent lights were and developed a deep awareness. In my house, I could shut lights off, at school I  always sat by a door. I might have tuned out and had been staring out off into space or I was super highly aroused and I would blurt out answers. I think I [went] from one extreme to the other at a very young age, where I would tune out to a point or be totally overstimulated. At the time, no one knew what was going on. There were maybe thirty-five other kids in the class and they wanted us in our rows and to kind of be quiet. At the same time, I think I learned to endure without naming and speaking about it. It’s sort of like when you’re running a marathon, you may be getting a black toe but you may not know it until the end of the race and you pull off your shoe and you’re like, “oh yeah, my toe was banging quite a bit, and I got a black toe.”  I was enduring. I do remember as a kid being highly distracted every time a garbage truck came by.  The noise was just so loud, sirens were very loud, and I did not think I could just stop the noise. Now I have the awareness and I just cover my ears and I don’t care if it looks a little strange, you know. It’s loud, it hurts.

Dr. Lim:  My son is the same way.  It’s actually amazing if you think about it – kids are actually naturally very self-regulating. I think the discrepancy comes because we don’t understand what they’re doing or why, and perhaps they don’t either.  My son doesn’t do it often, but he seems to be more sensitive to bass sounds. We happened to be somewhere where the bass was loud, and he just covered his ears in a concert, [and] we’re like, “you can’t do that.”  Later on, when we had a conversation and took the time to figure out “why” versus “you shouldn’t do that because it’s not appropriate,” we realized looking back [that] he was naturally self-regulating without consciously being aware, and removed himself from the stimulation.  I do see the effect when you’re in public school because it’s so loud, so many people.  We were in a public school – it’s considered “small” – he was very very dysregulated by the time he got home. He needed a lot of downtime, he could not even speak when he came home. I wanted to do the motherly thing, such as, “hey, how was your day?” and he [couldn’t] even talk for a few hours. He had to go to his room and close the door. Initially, I felt offended and hurt wondering, “why is he doing that?” when I just want[ed] to see how [his] day was. It was much later (years) when we were able to talk about it, he said that he just needed downtime. If I gave him that space, he would – then when he’s ready – come back down and reconnect. But if I pushed it, it actually got worse because I didn’t understand (what was going on). I love your story.  Instead of rushing to act, when we see something, perhaps pause, especially when we feel like we need to act immediately (and be reflective versus reactive).  I think your parents gave you that grace to let you be, instead of [asking], “why aren’t you with the family.” I think that’s something for parents to think about and consider, instead of reacting to the situation –  whether we think it’s right or wrong, appropriate or not, maybe try to find out from the child’s point of view, “why were you doing that?”  Sometimes they don’t even know.

Dr. Tetreault:   I love that you’re bringing that up about your son, because even really simple things – like we pressure our kids when we’re around family and there is the bigger family. I feel like I can always remember the stories when my son was tiny and I asked him to “do that thing you did” and he said “no, I’m not doing it.”  I would pressure him, “but it was so cute, do it!” and my son [said], “no, I’m not doing it” – they have a mind of their own. They’re not our little circus acts. Sometimes we may force our kids, “you need to hug everybody, you need to kiss everybody,” and it may not feel right for them.  Even a “simple” thing (hugging) –  I’m not into hugging, and sometimes my son was very huggy, and other times he really wanted the space.  My son is now 17, and when I hug him, I ask.  Sometimes he doesn’t want that affection, so I ask, “can I give you a hug?  Can you receive it?”  If I’m going there (hugging) and expecting him to take my affection, and if his body’s not in it, that is not going to feel good to either of us. Usually when I say, “can I get a hug or may I give you a hug?” he may want to embrace.  Other times, he says, “in a minute, give me a minute.”

Dr. Lim:   I think that’s a conversation to have that seems important. We do that (ask for permission) with adults, we generally ask for permission to be close, but we tend to forget that with kids. We just take it for granted that they should accept it. I think what you’re saying is that it is a great idea to just ask so they can be prepared, or assess if their body is ready for that.  This communication piece that you brought up – let’s bring it back to your elementary teacher, Mrs. R and the story about coloring all the pages of your phonics book in order to pass the class. What was interesting to me about that particular story was that I wondered if you’d be more willing to comply if she had told you that punctuality, task completion, and following directions were the important things in her class – meaning, that communication piece. It is not about phonics, really – she wanted everybody to learn to listen to instructions.  It makes me wonder – if you [had] heard that  if she had communicated that with you, would you have felt differently?

Dr. Tetreault:  I mean, it’s a really interesting question. I think that when you offer a person what your expectations are, they could either meet your expectation, they could deny your expectation, or they may not understand your expectation. For me, in that case, the expectation wasn’t clear, so I didn’t totally understand her motivation.  Had it been readjusted where it was about task completion, showing that I can follow instructions – that I valued the process of coloring rather than it being, “bad kid. You didn’t do this” –  maybe it would have been.  At the same time, I kind of got from my mom that there are going to be things you’re going to have to do in life, that you may or may not love, and it’s part of the expectation. My mom gave me that piece, whether or not I fully learned it at the time, or still have yet to learn it.  Sometimes I still think, “Oh, why are we doing that?” 

Dr. Lim:   I wonder about that too, just because that’s the case now – why do we have to do all the busy work for? This sort of sounds like a larger philosophical question.  It’s almost like all of us have taken for granted that somehow we have to suffer through busy work in order to get the things we really want to do. Can we not think that there could be a better way? 

Dr. Tetreault:  Why can’t we subtract out the busy work and offer a kid a chance to creatively think? When you think about it from a biology and a brain standpoint, when the brain is doing a repetitive action over and over, there’s less activity because it’s not novel. When you’re allowing a kid or an adult to be in sort of their imagination or creative flow, we know that it’s brimming with activity. So I do wonder and I do think that even when we consider standardized tests and things, what are we actually testing?  We’re testing that a child meets a standard for a specific skill.  We’re not necessarily testing how bright that child is. A lot of what I talked about with executive functioning in relation to standardized testing, that is a little more in alignment (with that standardized testing is assessing) than a child actually being creative. In standardized testing, you’re also testing whether or not a child could follow directions – you know, that’s another executive function. 

Dr. Lim:   Or sit for three hours, to fill in the little bubbles or whatever it is now!

Dr. Tetreault:   If you are twice-exceptional and you are getting accommodations, then you’re getting six hours, and this kid is missing recess with their peers.  Educators in the system have such a challenge to show competence, but I think maybe we could do something a little bit different. I find it really inspiring that for college admissions now, standardized tests are really not the only benchmark, which I think is really important. If people have the money and the resources, they could increase the standardized test scores 200 to 300 points.  What does that say about kids who are struggling in low socioeconomic status, where getting food on their tables is their or their parents’ main concern? They are not going to be getting those resources. I definitely don’t have the answer, but I think that there needs to be a collective reboot.  I love the way Bridges (Graduate School) is tailoring, where the kids really thrive in their natural strengths, and you see the success.  You see them eventually getting into college and you see them find that side door. When they’re going in that path, it is actually not a side door anymore, it’s a front door where they’ve been given the opportunity to flow with their natural abilities.

Dr. Lim:  There is this video that we watched in one of [the Bridges Graduate School] classes called “the animal schoolhouse.”  All the different animals in the forest had to all take standardized classes like flying, climbing, riding, or something like that. You see the poor duck for example, who might be really good at swimming but can’t run or climb that well. When you watch that video, people understand that (standardized classes) do not make sense. If you think about it, that’s exactly what is going on (in education). For some students, they naturally have certain strength in certain areas, but not all across the board – and you know everyone’s different. That is why the kind of language in visuals and metaphors have been really interesting to me recently. We should do a lot of these writings in a way that links the imagery people understand and the emotions that come with that imagery. That might possibly be an additional way to connect educators, families and researchers to find a common language. It just seems like we are all speaking in a different language. Take translation of neuroscience into application or other realms – the language you’re using is so specific to neuroscience, so we can’t relate to each other to create a common understanding.

When you were younger, you had a large vocabulary, but you couldn’t really spell and you [were] going to get points taken off if you [couldn’t] spell them correctly. You substituted them for an easy word so you [didn’t] lose points. With technology increasingly now being available, at school and at younger ages, what do you envision technology’s role might be regarding the need to spell?  With changing technology, how does that impact groups that were disadvantaged before – that may benefit more than certain groups?  It’s sort of like the technology piece seems to be one of the butterfly effects thrown in.

Dr. Tetreault:  I think it’s incredible, and I think that technology can make such a difference in communication and production. Even for kids that are on the autism spectrum, often they may have challenges with verbal expression but technology can provide a bridge for them to be able to communicate. I think that it’s definitely something that is a positive feature. I don’t know if I wrote this in my book, but my son was highly verbal and he has dysgraphia, and he would get to the test and write, “the book was good,” while all the way driving to school he was telling me for 45 minutes nonstop how the book was great.  Of course his name was not on the paper but the teacher knew it was his. The next week we put him onto typing, and he was able to write a paragraph in a flash. I absolutely think it (technology) is a side door, an opening.  When I was in college, I had this thing called an AC speller, you still had to hand write for exams.

I would be in my test and one of my accommodations included using the ACE to type in the word, and then it would translate it for me because I couldn’t spell the word, but it actually made quite a difference.  Even in my exams in college, I was able to have access to language that I just didn’t readily have the spelling. My dyslexia was really particular, specific to “I” before “E” and double consonants. Having that [technology accommodation] was such a weight off my shoulders.  I was able to really focus on the material and the content and focus on my ideas and focus on playing with ideas and playing with language.  So, absolutely, I think it’s a foundational bridge for children and adults. Voice to text is another technology bridge as typing may not even be that accessible for some kids. Dictation software can be fabulous and be relieving as well.

Dr. Lim:   One of the things that a lot of families struggle with, when they have a diagnosis – what and when do they tell their child? They worry that would have a negative impact on their child. College is another big transition area where families wonder whether they should let the school know about their child. What are your thoughts on that?  I’m sure there aren’t any easy answers, but that seems to be something  families struggle with. Initially, depending on the age of the child, they’re like – well, when should I tell them – we’re not – that timing between when the parents found out and when the child should know. And then the next big thing is going off to college – should they let the school know ahead of time or not?  How does that impact your child?  As somebody that has gone through it, can you speak to parents about those worries that they have?

Dr. Tetreault:   To be honest, the sooner a child knows, the sooner they become empowered to advocate for themselves. Through nurture and compassion, parents can say, “these are your superpowers.  You have such an amazing unique brain, where you’ve got these strengths – and at the same time, we have some areas where [we say], why not get a little support if you’re having a challenge.” If this is going to alleviate any sort of suffering a child would have, I would absolutely advocate for it because of a lot of misunderstandings that happen in the classroom, especially with 2e kids.  [It] is what I call the gifted disconnect – where, “you’re so bright, and you do well in these areas, but why do you get a C or D here? What’s wrong with you?”  The child can really internalize these messages and can have low self-esteem, struggle with things like perfectionism, imposter syndrome, and mental health considerations. They struggle with anxiety because they may not understand that they think differently and that they need support. So, absolutely. I think communicating to the child, so they can be advocates for themselves – and at the same time I also think that it would even help at the playground and with friends. If you have a child who has a different communication style and ADHD,  when they’re with their friends, they can say, “hold on one second.  Can you resay that, because my attention shifted and I was watching the bird.” This allows the friends to respond, and pulls away from the stigma – versus in the past, we go off, self regulate or deal with ourselves without fully knowing. This is a piece of a child’s identity.  It is not their whole identity, but I think understanding the intricacies within helps them better identify and communicate with others.

Then the second part of your question, in terms of college – 1,000% allow the college to know, because it could make all the difference. You have to remember that these kids can be coming from a classroom of 12. They could go to a small college and be in classrooms of 15, or they could end up at a really big university where they could have 300 people in their classroom and they could get lost in the sea of kids.  At the same time, if they’re taking a test and their [normal accommodations] were saved, perhaps they have a note taker or they get books on tape, or audiobooks – and [if] those accommodations aren’t made, it could be a shock to their system, where all of a sudden they could be experiencing challenges.  They could be failing out because they’re not having the proper support in place. So, by all means, bring those in. And let parents know [that] when I was identified in college, it made the difference for me – where I was getting, Bs and Cs in classes all the way to getting As. Once I got the support, once I got the ability to figure out that I needed to rewrite my notes a certain way, and did those kinds of things, it made all the difference.

Dr. Lim:  Sounds like parents have to balance between short term worries that if they disclose certain things during the application, their child may not get into the college versus the long term success of their child after they get into college. What might happen when they are not getting the accommodations they need after they have gotten into college?  Considerations between short term and long term goals can perhaps help individual families handle their individual situations.

Dr. Tetreault:   If the child is applying to a school where accommodations are not a part of the built-in process, it may not be the right school for the child. It may be the child’s dream school, but it may not offer the right kind of support the child needs.

Dr. Lim:   This means in the long run, they may not be successful. When you look at the long run, families can minimize heartaches and unnecessary detours along the way.

Dr. Tetreault:  You want a child to land in a place where they’re gonna thrive, not where they’re struggling to survive, and to recognize that they may have challenges along the way.  Just because you put all these things in place, it doesn’t mean that they’re not going to have difficulty.  Parents can teach them ways to have self-compassion for their way of processing and compassion for their experience. It is really important to also know they’re not alone.  One in five are neurodiverse. 

Dr. Lim: You might think you’re the only one out there, but it really isn’t the case.  You also talked about educators and teachers as guides. That’s very different imagery. That’s a great way, if people buy into that – it leads to very different types of teaching and ways of teaching. Can you talk a little bit about that? You talk about teaching in a very kind of dynamic way versus the way people traditionally think about teaching –  such as, I have this method I went to school and learned, and this is how I’m going to teach it.

Dr. Tetreault:   There is a lot of pressure on teachers.  The biggest gift a teacher [gives to] a child and a family is to help them identify their magic –  to say, “you brought this into the class today. That’s you. That’s your essence.”  A teacher can help guide that child through their strengths. I think teaching is a dynamic process, and I think any educator would tell you that it’s a synergistic relationship.  The student also teaches the teacher how to think about things, how to grow. Sometimes that student is going to ask a teacher a question that they don’t know the answer to. For example, in my own experience, when I lecture and give talks, often when people ask me questions and I don’t fully know the answer, it informs me that this is an area that we need to investigate together, and it really ends up being a point of interest and spark for me as I hadn’t thought about it this way. When a teacher comes to it in [that] sense – like, we’re in this together, as a guide – there’s sort of humility, rather than, “I’m going to teach you X, Y, and Z, and you’re going to spit it back out.”  It’s a much more dynamic and synergistic relationship.

Dr. Lim:  It sounds like it’s a collaboration – you’re on this journey together. In your writings, there is a lot of imagery about journeying together, or to be in somebody’s shoes to accompany that person.  Last but not least, for families that have to stay in public school and they have no other choice, please pick the top five things that would be very useful for families with limited resources, so they could just run with it. 

Dr. Tetreault:   For families that are in the public school system, the first thing is to find a space of communication and open dialogue with the teacher and the child and the family. So often in the education system, parents and educators are “otherized.”  The teacher thinks, “this kid is a pain in my rear end,” and the parent thinks, “my child is not,” and they’re not seeing that the child is suffering – and at the same time, the child is causing suffering for the teacher.  I think first and foremost, [prioritize] working to nurture the relationships with the teacher and the community.

The second thing is to find what the child loves and help guide the child to do the things that they love.  The more that they’re doing the things that they love, they’re in flow.  They get the positive reward, they get that dopamine, and they get that motivation. Another thing is that they get those social connections from engaging in the thing they love. A child may love robotics, and they may have a 16-year-old in the group, and the child is maybe 10. That 16-year-old and 10-year-old could really get along happily because they’re talking about robotics or Legos, or, you know, anatomy of horses, if they like animals – to diversify.

The third thing is for parents to step back about their expectations for their child. The parent is the guide for the child just as the child is the guide for the parent. Our job as parents is to help the child see what they have to give to the world, not what we expect them to do.

The fourth thing is to identify the source of the differences in their learning. We often talk about these bad behaviors the children experience. If we can identify the origin of where that behavior is coming from, it is most often from fear, anxiety, or a pattern of suffering. If we could tend and nurture that suffering, we can help the child move through that rather than continually adding fuel to the fire. 

The final thing is to really spend time with your kids without electronics.  Go outside, be in nature. Parks are free, greenery is free. We know [that] nature naturally calms the nervous system, and it could be really healing for some of these children who have high levels of overstimulation.  Just being in nature can be such a healing force, it brings out that spaciousness.

Dr. Lim:  Thank you for sharing that!  I wanted to just share a personal story about the last part about spending time in nature. My son has pretty severe dysgraphia, [and] he also has dyspraxia, which is not knowing where he is in space. One time we were near the Gardens of the Gods [in Colorado], and we were there for a camp with other families. [We were] at this place for two hours, it was all just nature, no reception –  and he started writing spontaneously!  He is the child that speaks with great creativity, he could tell you wonderful stories verbally, nothing is ever written. He just started spontaneously to write, there was no reason or rhyme to write, and he was never a writer as far as I could tell. He started spontaneously writing, and it was about two pages.  He used a pen, [and] it was legible, which was shocking!  I asked him  “why did you do that?  I was really curious. He said, “I just felt like it!” There is nothing scientific about it, but sometimes you wonder, and he has asked about going back there. That is the only place we’ve been to that he has enjoyed that he kept asking to go back, which makes me wonder what maybe interacting with him there was like, as he was like a different person. In that moment, when you’re there to witness that sight, when you see how different your child is under different circumstances, it really opens your eyes.  I wonder what was going on there for my son to be like that. How can I find and replicate that where I’m seeing that side of him? What you said reminded me of this story.

Thank you very much, Dr. Tetreault.  We had a wonderful, honest, heart-to-heart conversation about humanity, parenting, and what it means to grow up as a neurodiverse individual. Hope you all enjoy this recording and here’s her book right here.  Our conversation today centered on human beings, while Dr. Tetreault’s book goes into more detail on the neuroscience of things. Her book is full of tips and insights for various neuro-diverse brain wiring, and we recommend it for parents of twice-exceptional students.  

About the interviewer:  Dr. Lin Lim is an Associate Dean at Bridges Graduate school of Cognitive Diversity in Education (BGS). She holds a Ph.D. in psychology from Boston University, an Academic Graduate Certificate in twice-exceptional education (BGS), and an Academic Graduate Certificate in Mind, Brain and Education from Johns Hopkins University Graduate School of Education. Dr. Lim is a founding board member of the Gifted Education Family Network and a member of the SENG board of directors.

Keep in contact with our GEFN community – become a member (free!) and receive our e-newsletter! Sign up here.

Legislative Update

June 1, 2021: Update

Click here for the full update. GEFN wishes to thank all legislators and families who supported and advocated for GT education this session. Your advocacy makes a difference! To effectively support equity and excellence in GT programming for students in all populations across our state, our network must continue to expand. Please take 5 minutes to invite friends and family to “like” and follow us on social media and to sign up for our free newsletter. Your outreach can improve equity and access for GT families. Join us!

May 17, 2021: Contact the Senate Committee on Education TODAY about scheduling & supporting House Bill 1302 that supports GT!

9:15 PM — [ Click here for the full alert details ] Summary: House Bill 1302 was amended with changes requested by GEFN and TAGT, and it passed the Texas House! If HB 1302 passes the Senate and is signed into law, it can provide accountability and incentives to increase access to acceleration and advanced courses in Texas public schools, including specific opportunities for GT students. Please Contact the Senate Committee on Education Today! With only a few days left in the legislative session, it is important for the Senate Committee on Education to quickly schedule HB 1302 for hearing and vote to send it to the full Senate for a vote.  If one of the Committee members is your Senatoryour voice is especially important!

Older Updates:

May 13, 2021

9:10 PM — We are excited to share that HB 1302 was amended and passed the Texas House! Thank you to Representative Ryan Guillen, Representative Terry Meza, Representative Angie Chen Button, and Representative Matt Shaheen for supporting access to advanced learning and the needs of GT students! Families, we will soon share details about next steps in advocacy for this legislation!

May 10, 2021

11:01 AM — House Bill 1302 has been scheduled for a floor vote on Tuesday, May 11.  If HB 1302 is amended and passes, it can provide accountability and incentives to increase access to acceleration and advanced courses in Texas public schools, including specific opportunities for GT students. Click here for details.

April 17, 2021: GT Parent Conference at Baylor U

Baylor’s Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development will host its 2nd annual parent conference on April 17, 2021 (new date!).

This is an event designed to provide parents of gifted and talented students with resources, information, and opportunities to network with other parents and find needed support.

Through April 17, 2021: GEFN Cardboard Challenge – FREE! Sponsored by NuMinds Enrichment

Do you have or know a student who loves problem-solving and creative thinking? Do you know a “maker” in search of a unique challenge? Register your student(s) for a free, virtual, asynchronous challenge culminating in a live showcase event for students on Saturday, April 17, during the annual GT Parent Conference!

Interview with Dr. Anne Rinn

Social, Emotional, and Psychosocial Development of Gifted and Talented Individuals

Dr. Anne Rinn is a Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of North Texas, where she also serves as Director of the Office for Giftedness, Talent Development, and Creativity. She has authored more than 50 publications related to the social and emotional development of gifted individuals and the psychosocial skills necessary for the development of talent. She is currently coeditor of the Journal of Advanced Academics, holds leadership positions in the National Association for Gifted Children and the American Educational Research Association, and she serves as a professional advisor to the Gifted Education Family Network. Her latest book, Social, Emotional, and Psychosocial Development of Gifted and Talented Individuals (2020), is an essential addition to professional learning libraries for K-12 educators and for professionals who work with children. We are thrilled to share our discussion with Dr. Rinn about this topic.

Q: Please tell us a little bit about the book. What do you cover and who is the intended audience?

In this book, I explored what is known about social and emotional development with a particular emphasis on how it relates to gifted and talented individuals, using existing theory and research as a basis. The book then moves into an examination of specific psychosocial skills that contribute to the development of talent. Topics include developmental theory, personality, perfectionism, sensitivity and intensity, self-beliefs, motivation, and counseling, among others. By providing both a background on the social and emotional development of gifted individuals and a discussion of specific psychosocial skills that are necessary for talent development, this book provides a thorough look at all components of affective development and growth from a variety of lenses. As such, the book is intended for both researchers and practitioners, as well as parents of gifted children.

Q: Your book opens with an exploration of the cognitive differences of gifted children. Can you share why it is important for educators and professionals concerned with social and emotional development and wellness to also learn about and understand these cognitive differences? 

Most theories in the field of psychology about cognitive, social, and emotional development are based on typically developing populations. And, most developmental milestones and trajectories happen similarly among typically developing individuals. However, intellectually gifted children can experience accelerated cognitive development. Gifted children experience the same developmental milestones and trajectories as typically developing individuals, but there are no theories to explain if or how advanced or accelerated cognitive or intellectual ability affects social and emotional development. Cognitive development is a precursor to social and emotional development, and most components of development happen along a similar age-based trajectory. We do not have any evidence to suggest social and emotional development is accelerated like cognitive development in intellectually gifted children, but questions remain about if and how an accelerated cognitive developmental trajectory can impact the social and emotional developmental trajectory among intellectually gifted children. Many call this “asynchronous development” in the field of gifted education.

It is vital that practitioners and parents have an understanding of cognitive, social, and emotional development and how development might (or might not) look different for intellectually gifted children. A lack of understanding or awareness could lead to inadequate or inappropriate educational opportunities for gifted children, decreased social and emotional well-being among gifted children, and, in some cases, misdiagnosis of gifted children.

Q: The discussion of ethnic-racial identity among high-ability individuals seems especially important for everyone concerned about diversity in GT programs. Why should educators learn about intersectionality and respond to the challenges faced by gifted learners from diverse backgrounds? 

Simply put, intersectionality is an approach to the way we measure and understand multiple categories of identity, difference, and inequality (e.g., gender, race, disability). For example, suppose I wanted to examine the social experiences of boys and girls in middle school. It would be far more illustrative to examine multiple categories rather than just focus on one. So, instead of just boys versus girls, I would look at, for example, the experiences of boys with a disability, boys without a disability, girls with a disability, and girls without a disability. I could take that further and add in race or socioeconomic status… boys with a disability who are from high socioeconomic status backgrounds, boys with a disability who are from low socioeconomic status backgrounds, etc. The point is that the more we consider about a person and try to understand their “multiple categories”, the better we will be able to meet their needs.

Q: I would love to talk about the section on the Big-Fish-Little-Pond effect. It seems so important for both parents and educators to understand the points you cited, including the positive outcomes of ability grouping and the longitudinal effect of placing gifted students in specific classrooms or programs.  We know that schools sometimes resist ability grouping, and that some schools even intentionally spread gifted students across different classrooms rather than follow requirements and recommendations to group them together. Could you elaborate on the importance of ability grouping? What are the social and emotional implications of ability grouping?

The Big-Fish-Little-Pond effect describes a phenomenon by which students experience a slight decrease in self-concept upon moving into a class or program consisting of equally or more able students. For some students, transitioning from being the top student in their class or program to one of many top students can bring on a feeling of doubt about one’s abilities. However, the Big-Fish-Little-Pond effect does not occur for all students and if it does, it is typically short-lived. And, the benefits of a “big pond” far outweigh any brief feelings of doubt, which can also be worked through with a parent, teacher, or mentor.

Most research indicates that ability grouping fosters positive intellectual, academic, social, and emotional outcomes for gifted and talented students. For example, gifted adolescents often gain access to like-minded peers through advanced course enrollment (e.g., honors, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate), thus fostering both their intellectual and social/emotional development. Research has shown that highly able adolescents taking advanced coursework have larger networks of friends and more engaged friends than equally able adolescents who are not enrolled in advanced coursework. Advanced course enrollment is just one example; students talented in music, visual and performing arts, and leadership, for example, can experience similar positive social and emotional outcomes in groups of like-minded peers in organizations like band, choir, theater, and JROTC.

Q: While GT parents and educators understand the importance of robust GT programs and services, particularly for special populations, not all school administrators understand that need. When considering the psychosocial interventions and cognitive differences explored in your book, what advice would you give to parents or parent groups who wish to ensure that their districts understand the importance of maintaining strong GT staffing and services?

There are a number of valuable resources and organizations available for parents and parent groups looking to advocate for gifted students and gifted services. The Gifted Education Family Network, of course, is a fantastic place to start (https://giftededucationfamilynetwork.org/). Here you will meet like-minded parents and find a wealth of resources. Similarly, the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (https://www.txgifted.org/) and the National Association for Gifted Children (http://www.nagc.org/) have parent strands and plenty of resources on advocacy (e.g., see Advocate for Gifted Children, http://www.nagc.org/get-involved/advocate-gifted-children).

GT parent groups serve so many purposes and I recommend emphasizing teacher training as one purpose of a GT parent group. I’ve seen GT parent groups send teachers to conferences and training opportunities (e.g., funding teachers to attend training for their six-hour updates on gifted education*), purchase relevant books for GT teachers and coordinators, and hold mini-conferences for parents and teachers to attend together, for example. GT parent groups can affect change, for sure.

The Gifted Education Family Network enthusiastically recommends Dr. Rinn’s book for use by educators, parents, and professionals who work with the gifted. The book may be purchased on Amazon or the Prufrock Press website, or parents may be able to borrow the book through a local library or interlibrary loan.  

* Note from GEFN:  Texas GT parent groups wishing to sponsor GT professional development scholarships for educators may wish to consider teacher training opportunities offered by the Baylor Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, by the Office for Giftedness, Talent Development, and Creativity at the University of North Texas, and other low-cost options.

Emily Villamar-Robbins, J.D. holds a Graduate Academic Certificate in Gifted and Talented Education and has served in multiple volunteer roles for gifted education at the local and state level.  She serves as a member of the Texas Education Commissioner’s Advisory Council on the Education of Gifted Students.

Worldwide facilitated SENG Model Parent Group for 2E Parents

Facilitated by:
Lin Lim, Ph.D.,
Susan Chun, M.A., P.P.S.,
Cherin Escher, M.A.

Meet the Facilitators

With up to 20 parents participating, the weekly virtual meeting will focus on topics from the book A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, such as communication, motivation, discipline, stress management, and relationships.

In addition, 2e specific additional resources will be provided weekly. 

Register now! The first series begins on February 3 at 8PM Central time!

The participation fee will be donated to the Gifted Education Family Network. Dr. Lim is a founding GEFN board member, and also a SENG board member who co-chairs the SENG Model Parent Group committee. No family will be turned away due to financial reasons. Payment will be adjusted to what works for your family.

January-March 2021: Eight-week Virtual SENG Model Parent Group – hosted by McKinney Gifted & Talented Alliance

GT Families across Texas are invited to participate in a virtual SENG model parent group hosted by McKinney Gifted & Talented Alliance. Their first meeting is January 12th. The format is a guided discussion for caregivers of the gifted.

Click here to register. Details are in the flyer below. Thank you to Letha Williams, SENG Model Parent Group McKinney, Facilitator; and president of McKinney Gifted & Talented Alliance, for sharing this opportunity with our network of GT families across Texas!

past / Dec. 16, 2020: Virtual Event – “What Does Giftedness Look Like?” – Dr. Kristina Henry Collins

How can parents go about supporting the social and emotional needs of their gifted children? Our speaker, Dr. Kristina Henry Collins, is a NAGC Board Member, President of SENG, faculty at Texas State University, and a Professional Advisor for the Gifted Education Family NetworkReserve your spot today for this free virtual event on Wednesday, December 16, 7:30pm – 8:45pm.

Space is limited!  RSVP required. This presentation serves as an informational overview and exemplar for a PARENT ORIENTATION to giftedness and gifted programming through the use of book study/round-table discussions. Share the graphic above, and invite your Texas GT parent friends!

Coming in December, for our Texas families: GEFN virtual event presented by expert Dr. Kristina Henry Collins!

Wednesday, December 16, at 7: Does “Giftedness” Look Like… and how can parents go about supporting the social and emotional needs of their gifted children?”

You’ve received a letter notifying you that your child is eligible for your school’s gifted program. Of course, you’re thrilled! You recognize your child’s unique talents, and you are glad the school will provide an environment that fosters those talents. So, what’s next? How do you support your child at home? Will there be an orientation that you can attend?

These are just a few of the questions you may have. In addition, the academic and talent development that your child will receive at school should also be complemented by social and emotional support. The letter you received likely doesn’t cover that, but there are many books that can help provide the information you need to support your child at home.

This presentation serves as an informational overview and exemplar for a PARENT ORIENTATION to giftedness and gifted programming through the use of book study/round-table discussions.

Through a series of frequently asked questions, the presenter will address the overarching question: What does ‘giftedness’ look like? And how can parents go about supporting the social and emotional needs of their gifted children? Additional resources provided.”*

Space is limited. To receive an opportunity to register, connect with GEFN! Subscribing is free and includes the benefits of GT parent networking, support, news, resources, and more. https://giftededucationfamilynetwork.org/subscribe/

Thank you to Dr. Collins for helping GT families to support the social and emotional needs of their students!

past / Nov. 18, 2020: Advocating for Marginalized Gifted Students of Color ~ Dr. Kristina Henry Collins

Free event from the Mirman School: Advocating for Marginalized Gifted Students of Color with Dr. Kristina Henry Collins, Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 6:00pm!

Details and registration below:

“Due to social and historical inequities, bright Black and Latinx students are often not identified as gifted. Even those who are, often don’t have access to the rigor and support they need.”Join us for an evening with Dr. Kristina Henry Collins focused on advocating for marginalized gifted students of color. The goal of this event is to provide information that will help parents, guardians, and teachers advocate for unidentified, misidentified, and underserved gifted students of color and connect them with the resources they need to thrive.”Dr. Collins serves on the board of directors of the National Association of Gifted Children and is the president of Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG). As a professor at Texas State University, her research focuses on the social, emotional, and cultural contexts of gifted and talent development.”

Registration link: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_kcBNQFwjRa2gpCmu_rtW5Q

Thank you to Dr. Collins for sharing this event with GEFN!

New! Discussing Racism with Gifted Children – shared from NAGC

For help discussing racism and bias with gifted children, please see “Discussing Racism with Gifted Children” from the September issue of Parenting for High Potential, a publication of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC).  Article linked below and shared with permission from NAGC.  Many thanks to NAGC and the authors for making this important resource available to families.

Interview with Dr. Joy Lawson Davis

Co-Editor of Gifted Children of Color Around the World

Educators worldwide know Dr. Joy Lawson Davis as a global expert in gifted education.  With over 40 years in the field, her books include the award-winning Bright, Talented, & Black: A Guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners (author), Gifted Children of Color Around the World: Diverse Needs, Exemplary Practices and Directions for the Future (co-edited with Dr. James L. Moore III), and Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students: Perspectives from the Field (co-edited with Deb Douglas).  She has served on the board of the National Association for Gifted Children, as the founding executive director of a Governor’s School for gifted students, as the Virginia State Specialist for K-12 gifted programs, as Director of the Center for Gifted Education at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, as Associate Professor and Chair of Teacher Education at Virginia Union University, and in numerous advisory and leadership roles across the country.  

During this challenging time, we are thrilled to interview Dr. Davis on her latest book and on challenges advocates must address in order to achieve equity and excellence in gifted education.  Read below to learn what parents should know about challenges facing gifted children of color, steps that can improve equity and access, and the importance of strengthening gifted programs for all students who need these services.

What should GT advocates know about the impact of poverty on gifted students of color, and how can they support these students in their districts?

Gifted students of color and those who live in poverty are underserved in school programs for high ability/gifted students nationwide. According to research, there are countless numbers of students from culturally diverse backgrounds who are missing out on services because of biased identification practices, teachers who don’t recognize and believe in the high intelligence creativity of these students, and lack of funding to fully support comprehensive program changes needed to ensure equity and access for all students with high potential. Schools can do more to support these students by changing their identification practices, providing cultural competency training for teachers, and ensuring that school leaders are culturally competent, as well. All school districts that have equity, diversity and inclusion as part of their strategic plans should also be sure that gifted programs are examined and redesigned to ensure equity.

When you talk about equity, diversity, and inclusion, there has to be policy that includes gifted plans, plans for high ability students, [or] advanced learner plans.    I have seen many school districts’ strategic plans that don’t mention anything about high ability and gifted students.  If there is nothing written into policy about equity in gifted programs at the district level, leaders are really not compelled or inclined to do anything.  They will overlook these kids continuously and they will move on to other priorities, other needs that the district may have. 

The information on twice-exceptional African-American students in your book Gifted Children of Color Around the World and in your chapter in Scott Barry Kaufmann’s book is incredibly important.  How can GT advocates support improved awareness of twice- and thrice-exceptional students, and specifically, implementation of recommendations in your book? 

First and most important is educator training on the traits of gifted learners who may also have other exceptionalities, and integration of this training with cultural competency training. Generally, 2E programs address the needs of students in the majority population. Black students with the same traits (gifted and having learning disabilities or other exceptionalities) are served based on the areas needing support, and their gifts are totally dismissed. Look among your exceptional populations students who receive[] SPED services to determine if there are students who may also qualify for gifted services. Teachers must be re-trained to see students of color [as] capable of high intelligence, not always [to view them] as deficient in skills, troublemakers, loud, too busy… twice exceptional services must expand to locate and serve Black students as well as White students.  

What policy changes should GT advocates ask states and districts to make to better support students of color? 

[Ask for] policy changes in identification protocols, ensuring that all services are demographically representative… Black students, Latino students, Native American students are underrepresented in gifted programs.  Policy changes in teacher preparation should also be considered.  Mak[e] sure that all preservice programs include coursework in Special Populations of Gifted students and Culturally Responsive pedagogies.  Additionally, policy changes to increase parent/family engagement are also recommended. In teacher prep programs, all states have mandatory courses, and that’s how they determine whether the teacher prep programs are certified…  If we look at those mandatory courses and include pedagogies, that would be something that all state programs can do.  If that doesn’t happen and we know it’s not happening, then we can be sure local training covers these types of courses.  There are grad programs, masters programs that don’t have any idea how to address the needs of gifted students in general, but certainly not how to deal with the needs of special populations, those understandings are critical. 

An additional change I would recommend is that all school districts increase their parent and family engagement response.  How are we engaging parents?  How are we working collaboratively with parents?  Do parents in these special populations groups feel like gifted programs belong to them?  These are some of the kinds of things I teach about when I conduct full workshops.  We talk about the sense that some populations do not feel gifted education belongs to them, and that’s simply because of the way we’ve operated…  There will be parents even after their children have been identified who will say, “I didn’t know much about this before.” …There’s a sense that gifted programs are owned by other populations, and the populations that are underserved don’t feel that same sense of ownership.  But we can change that.  We can correct that.  Locally, we can change that with policy, but we can also change that with action, with practice.

How can advocates help educators learn to work more effectively with students of color?

Advocates are parents, community members, other stakeholders – these groups should create forums, councils, and be demographically representative and invite school personnel to THEIR table to discuss and plan for change in gifted programs to make them more accessible.

Advocates are groups like your own… these groups, your groups, can create forums.  You can ensure that they are demographically representative, and then you can invite school personnel to your table. It’s always about being invited to the table, being part of the table.  If you don’t have a seat, you are on the table… as advocate groups, you can actually have your own table and then invite school personnel to the table.  Their response to your invitation will say a lot about what their interest is, how willing they are to collaborate, to be partners, and to change conditions in gifted programs to make them more accessible.  We just simply have to decide that we are going to be able to do this.  It may happen differently district to district, but one of the things we can do is to have forums and councils and bring other people in from the school… you invite people to your table, and have these deep and difficult conversations about changing policy.

In addition to learning from your books, do you have recommendations for ways that GT parent groups can become more inclusive of families of color?

Invit[e] faith based leadership, community organizations, Fraternities/Sororities, [and] other existing community support groups to join them at regularly scheduled meetings held throughout the community.  Increasing the sense of belonging is very important.

These other community groups have conversations on their own about these gifted programs that schools have that don’t have anything to do with their kids.  Their kids aren’t being served, and many times they set up their own enrichment programs, Saturday morning programs…  I have been engaged over the last few years with a number of these groups who are doing excellent work that looks just like gifted programs but they are not being held in the school district… you won’t get their constituency voice at the table unless you reach out to them.  Reach out to community organizations, existing organizations.  Find parents in the community, in your schools, who are part of these organizations.   

Advocates for GT have seen a concerning trend of attempts to eliminate funding for gifted programs.  What advice do you have for parents working to protect and improve funding and requirements for gifted programs across the country, both at the local and state level?  

This trend across the country is really dangerous, I think –– very alarming, very concerning. When these things happen, and when we eliminate funding for gifted programs, those who suffer the most are the most vulnerable.  

Your arguments to maintain funding MUST include a position of equity and access that will ensure that all populations, all communities, all families’ needs are met or will be met by gifted/advanced learner programs.  You must be more invitational in your own behavior.  Voices must be those of a wider variety of community members: Black, Hispanic, Low income, Immigrant, any other populations that have been left out of the discussions in the past MUST BE HEARD. Our goal for gifted/advanced learner programs is total inclusion and access for all.  Giftedness has no boundaries. It is not synonymous with affluence. Gifted children originate from all communities.  Everything that you do should demonstrate your belief in these core principles. 

Most of their arguments have to do with the fact that gifted programs… are not meeting the needs of a wide population.  You have got to be smart enough, and genuine enough… to [say]: all communities have gifted students, and we want to meet the needs of those students. You must be more invitational in your own behavior, and not promote exclusion, elitism, and segregationist behaviors.  I’ve seen too much of that already… given the fact that we’re already suffering under this pandemic, the most vulnerable populations are suffering more under this pandemic, community groups like your own must be more invitational, you must be more inclusive.  Voices must be those from a wider community of community members… You have to reach out, and you have to reach deep sometimes. You have to discard, and recognize first of all, your own biases, your own microaggressions that have kept people from being a part of this conversation.

Not to suggest that all children are gifted – I’m not saying that.  I never will say that.  What I’m saying is that in all communities there are gifted children.  Giftedness has no boundaries.  It is not synonymous with affluence.  Just because parents and their children have means does not mean that all of their kids are gifted.  Gifted children originate from all communities.  I have been around the world with this message. There are other communities from different countries around the world who are having the same issues that we are having, and their message is that gifted children originate from all communities.  Our responsibility is to go to all communities and find these gifted minds, bring them in for enrichment, for acceleration, bring them in and train and provide the challenge they need so they can help move our societies forward… we have a responsibility for them if we want them to help society.  We are missing out on a lot of intelligence, a lot of creativity… so many of these kids have the answers [to] the problems that plague us as a society everywhere.  

[If] the school districts who say they want to remove funding and programs win, [then] the children who are gifted and high ability and who have less means…will suffer the most.  We can’t allow that to happen. Publicly funded programs should be available to the public[, and] students from all demographics should benefit. We have an obligation to ensure that gifted programs are inclusive and designed to equitably be available to students from all racial and income groups. Our children are counting on us!  

The Gifted Education Family Network wishes to thank Dr. Davis immensely for her time and for her lifetime of incredible work in the field of gifted education.  

We are excited to recommend Dr. Davis for onsite and virtual parent workshops, private consultation, professional learning workshops, keynote presentations, and evaluation of programs, including consultation services to address equity in gifted education. Please visit drjoylawsondavis.com to learn about her services.

The Gifted Education Family Network also recommends these books by Dr. Davis for both parents and educators, available for purchase:

Bright, Talented, & Black: A Guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners 

Gifted Children of Color Around the World: Diverse Needs, Exemplary Practices and Directions for the Future

Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students: Perspectives from the Field, co-edited by Dr. Joy Lawson Davis and Deb Douglas

Photo credit and all rights to content in Gifted Children of Color Around the World and Bright, Talented & Black: a Guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners reserved by Joy Lawson Davis, Ed.D.

Emily Villamar-Robbins, J.D. holds a Graduate Academic Certificate in Gifted and Talented Education and has served in multiple volunteer roles for gifted education at the local and state level.  She serves as a member of the Texas Education Commissioner’s Advisory Council on the Education of Gifted Students.

Post updated 10/17/21 to include book link.

past / October 2, 2020: PACE Fort Bend invites you to virtual meeting on “The Social-Emotional Health of Our Children During COVID-19”

PACE, the Fort Bend Association of Parents for Academic Excellence — and a member of the Gifted Education Family Network’s Parent Advisory Council — is inviting the Gifted Education Family Network to attend their virtual event called “The Social-Emotional Health of Our Children During COVID-19.”

This parent learning event will be held virtually via Zoom on Friday, October 2, 2020, from 9:30 am -10:30 am. Please feel free to invite parents who may be interested. Remember, you are your child’s best advocate and you make a difference!

To register, click here. Registration will close when we reach capacity. Zoom link will be emailed to registered participants 24 hours prior to the event.

Thank you to PACE Fort Bend for generously opening this event to families in the Gifted Education Family Network! PACE families have advocated for gifted & talented learners since 1990.

Share your PG + ASD story – Research Participants wanted!


Lin Lim, Ph.D., had a colorful educational journey, with primary and secondary schooling in Singapore followed by a Bachelors in Economics with a Minor in Environmental Studies at Boston College. She then completed a doctoral program in Psychology at Boston University, with an interest in attitudes and beliefs. She completed a graduate academic certificate in Twice Exceptional Education through Bridges Graduate School of Cognitive Diversity in Education and is 2 courses away from a graduate academic certificate in Mind, Brain and Teaching through Johns Hopkins Graduate School of Education.

She has been very involved in her local non-profit and education-related groups in Texas. Currently, Lin is a founding member of a Texas parents grassroots non-profit, Gifted Education Family Network (GEFN  –giftededucationfamilynetwork.org), which shares information, resources and focuses on equity in education to gifted families, including 2e, PG, and special populations. She also serves on the Certificate Program Advisory Committee at Bridges Graduate School of Cognitive Diversity in Education. Lin has two children, one gifted and radically accelerated, and the other, who is twice exceptional. Lin advocates for a neuroscience-informed, strength-based educational, and parenting approach.  


I am interested in educational equity in public school for 2e students in general and am really Interested to collect qualitative narratives from PG+ASD families. The percentage of students that should qualify for both gifted and SpED services in public education and are actually serviced are way below incident levels. 

I would love to collect and analyze qualitative unstructured educational stories of PG + ASD families that are currently/previously in public schools.  If your child/children have ever been in public school, even briefly, I will be interested to hear your story from multi-family members’ perspective. 

This will be for an original content article, future publication submission/s in scholarly journals, or other forms of online or print production.

Here is the post-interview confidentiality form.


PUBLIC schooling: must have at least tried public schooling before other forms of schooling.

PG definition: one of more subscale in IQ assessment that needed extended norms, hit ceiling or over 145, or FUll scale/GAI or other composite scores over 145.

ASD- Formal diagnosis OR If there is no formal diagnosis yet but strongly suspected – will be interested to hear your current journey also. Just note no formal diagnosis during the interview.


Parents/primary caretaker/s of PG+ASD children, Sibling/s of target subject and PG+ASD children (minimum 13 years old). If your child would like to share their perspective and experience but are close to 13 years old, please reach out.


Click here to participate

Thank you,

Lin Lim, Ph.D.



past / Sept. 15, 2020: Free virtual event: Racial Battle Fatigue in Faculty – MACH-III Center

We invite the Gifted Education Family Network to a free virtual event, “Masterclass: Racial Battle Fatigue in Faculty,” hosted by the Network’s GT Professional Advisor Dr. Fred A. Bonner II and the MACH-III Center.

Register today at: https://bit.ly/3a7kTCV

Letter to TEA Commissioner: Requesting GT inclusion in TEA district guidance for Fall 2020

August 3, 2020 

Commissioner Mike Morath, Texas Commissioner of Education
Deputy Commissioner Matthew Montano, Special Populations
Niloy Gangopadhyay, Director of Special Populations
Monica Brewer, Statewide Coordinator, Gifted/Talented Education

COVID-19 Support
Texas Education Agency
1701 N. Congress Avenue
Austin, Texas, 78701

Dear Commissioner Morath, 

As representatives of families with children who require Gifted and Talented services across the state of Texas, we are writing with concerns regarding the Agency’s guidance for the 2020-2021 school year.  To ensure that districts maintain necessary, state-mandated G/T services, and to ensure districts do not overlook preparation for these services in any plans or platforms, it is essential that the TEA include Gifted and Talented Education in Agency planning and in 2020-2021 overview guidance.   

We respect and appreciate the work of the TEA’s Statewide Coordinator of Gifted/Talented Education and the Commissioner’s Advisory Council on the Education of Gifted/Talented Students. The 2019 updates to the State Plan for the Education of Gifted/Talented Students were necessary and important.  We acknowledge the challenges facing all of public education during the COVID-19 pandemic, including challenges facing the TEA.  

Because districts must prioritize TEA guidance responding to COVID-19, it is critical to include the needs of all populations. The importance of Gifted and Talented Education in maintaining student engagement and equitable access to continued learning cannot be overstated during the current crisis.  For this reason, it is problematic that G/T was not included with other special populations in the Asynchronous Plan Rubric and in other guidance documents.  We have learned from the experiences of families in multiple districts that clear requirements are imperative to ensure districts maintain the services and staff needed for compliance and for student learning.

While G/T services must be adapted, they remain essential and can be provided without burden during COVID-19.  School district leadership and instructional staff will benefit from the TEA communicating and clarifying the following points, some of which will require revisions or supplements to previously issued TEA guidance:

  • The State Plan remains in effect, and all sections can be met in all instructional models
  • Update pertinent information in the April 14, 2020 TEA Gifted/Talented Guidance document to reflect G/T expectations for 2020-2021 school year (online and face to face) 
  • Update the TEA Asynchronous Plan Rubric to include Gifted and Talented services
  • Clarify that access to appropriately challenging resources and assignments during virtual learning is a part of the learning expectation for G/T students, not an additional expectation to be fulfilled after completing other required assignments.

Gifted learners at all levels in schools across Texas are a special population whose social, emotional, and academic needs must be recognized to ensure they are engaged and successful. Moreso now than ever, we risk G/T students becoming disenfranchised from public education if they are not provided with the research-supported learning experiences outlined in the Texas State Plan for the Education of Gifted/Talented Students.  We support public education and want to ensure G/T students are able to thrive educationally, even during the unprecedented times we are facing.  For these reasons, we ask that the Texas Education Agency continue to include and prioritize Gifted and Talented Education students in all levels of future LEA guidance.

Thank you for your work for all students, including gifted learners.  We are eager to serve as a resource for Texas G/T parents and districts.  We hope to collaborate with the TEA in the future.


Sabrina James, Chair
Gifted Education Family Network

Amy Warren, Secretary
Lin Lim, Treasurer
Emily Villamar-Robbins, Vice Chair
Angie Hanan, Vice Chair
Myiesha Taylor, M.D., Vice Chair
Kimberley Barber-Davis, Vice Chair
Kim Farbisz, Vice Chair
Jorge Rodriguez, Vice Chair

NEW! Free Parent Resource on Full Grade Acceleration

Get the PDF

“Most parents have heard of ‘skipping grades.’ They may not know, however, that research recommendations can help educators and parents determine whether a grade skip – also called full grade acceleration – may be in a student’s best interest. What does research tell us about this practice, and how does this research address myths and concerns about acceleration?”

The Gifted Education Family Network and Gifted Unlimited, LLC are excited to announce the release of a free parent resource on full grade acceleration.

Free and available for download, this publication summarizes research on acceleration, offers sources and links for further reading, and includes concerns specific to Texas public school students.

The Gifted Education Family Network wishes to thank Gifted Unlimited, LLC for its partnership in creating this resource for parents!

Sources and links for further reading are included. Get the PDF now.

past / SENG Panel of 13 Leading Black Scholars of GT Education

Online event hosted by SENG – Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted

Join SENG’s next Presidential Town Hall Meeting for two exclusive SENGinar panel discussions with 13 leading Black Scholars in Gifted and Talented Education.  Parents and educators are encouraged to attend and learn from the panelists’ personal testimonies, strategies, and practices.

Presenters for this event represent the Consortium for Inclusion of Underrepresented Racial Groups in Gifted Education (I-URGGE).  Among the panelists is SENG President Dr. Kristina Collins, one of the Professional Advisors on the leadership team of the Gifted Education Family Network.

The online event includes two sessions:

  • Session 1 – July 21 at 7pm EST (6pm Central): “From Courageous Conversations to Courageous Actions.”
  • Session 2 – July 23 at 7pm EST (6pm Central): “Unpacking the Lived Experiences of Gifted Black Scholars in America Today.”
Click here to register!


Black Families Matter

The leaders of the Gifted Education Family Network (GEFN) are devastated by the recent and senseless murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. We recognize that the events of the past month do not exist in isolation. We condemn unjust practices and policies that historically have harmed, endangered, and oppressed Black families in all aspects of our society. We denounce the injustice of acts of violence, racial microaggressions, hate crimes, and murders committed against Black fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters across our nation. We grieve the horrific impact of individual biases and systemic anti-Black racism on Black families, including our Black families in Texas. We join in the call to action for reforms to address discriminatory practices in our criminal justice system, the use of deadly force by police, and injustice suffered by all impacted by racism.

Equity is central to the mission and vision of our organization. Children do not have the opportunity to learn and achieve their full potential when their families are constantly concerned about their safety or when educational systems do not value their contributions. Further, if all children, regardless of their cultural, ethnic, and racial identities, are not afforded access to needed educational opportunities, humanity will miss the opportunity to engage the invaluable, precious human capital these individuals provide, and we all suffer.

We stand with everyone who is calling out for justice, equality, and the end of structural racism. As advocates for gifted education, we pledge to use our work to inform, support, and empower parents to insist on critical improvement in funding and policy initiatives that impact the future of gifted education, especially for underrepresented and underserved students.

We ask that all families involved in gifted education join us in an explicit call to action from our respective communities to (1) listen to Black voices when they share their lived experiences, perspectives, and solutions for change, (2) to acknowledge and understand our own implicit biases, (3) to examine the failures of our criminal justice system, (4) to educate ourselves on culturally specific concepts in gifted education, and (5) to take immediate action to advocate for justice and change. We cannot tolerate continued systemic anti-Black racism that has gone unaddressed in our country for far too long.