What I Wish I’d Learned: A School Psychologist Learns about Giftedness

ourpoppiesby Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, Author of My Little Poppies

All of my certifications expired this year. Every single one.

I earned my MA/CAGS in School Psychology at a top university. I was passionate about my career. I absolutely loved working in urban settings: Boston, Chelsea, and Lowell, Massachusetts. I have always rooted for underdogs, and now I had the opportunity to help an underappreciated and underserved population in our public education system: our urban kids. I was determined to be a life-long urban educator. Too many fantastic educators leave the urban setting after only few years, and they have a multitude of valid reasons to do so, but I had no plans to leave.

Then, I had my first child: a colicky, super-demanding infant who rarely slept and would not gain weight. When I was at work, I was unable to give the 100% that I had previously, and those underdogs needed someone there, in their corner, every single day. Before long, I made the difficult decision to stay home until our eldest and his two younger siblings were in school full-time. While I had intentions of maintaining my professional development and licensure, I did not attend a single conference, nor did I read a single education book, unless you counted the ever-growing pile of parenting books on my nightstand. And that super-demanding infant of mine? He grew into a challenging, intense, inquisitive, and highly emotional child. He would master developmental skills, like reading, seemingly overnight. Eventually, we could no longer deny that little voice in our head that had been telling us for years that this son of ours was different than his peers. He was g-g-g-gifted.

You would think that, of anyone, a school psychologist would be well-equipped to parent a gifted learner, especially a twice-exceptional one. After all, I’ve administered hundreds of WISC-IVs and written as many psycho-educational evaluations. I have conducted developmental histories, performed functional behavior assessments, observed countless classrooms. You would think that I had studied gifted education while in graduate school at that top university, wouldn’t you? Wrong.

Do you want to know what I learned about giftedness while in graduate school? Close to nothing. Obviously, we learned how to administer and interpret various cognitive and achievement tests. We learned about the normal curve, IQ scores and ranges, and how common/uncommon scores are based on their position on that normal curve. With regard to giftedness, I recall learning the ranges of giftedness; which scores were considered gifted, highly gifted, exceptionally gifted, and profoundly gifted. I vaguely recall a chapter on giftedness in one of our go-to texts. I also recall having a conversation about how sometimes you will get a referral for a kid due to behavior, and upon testing you will realize that this kid is highly intelligent and acting up as a result of boredom. There was an underlying assumption that these kids were often boys. We discussed differentiation. That’s about it. The rest of my training focused on assessment and intervention for students with specific learning disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorders, NVLD, ADHD, and those students struggling with emotional and/or behavioral challenges. Out of curiosity I recently asked former colleagues who graduated from different programs about their experiences with giftedness. Apparently, my educational experience is not unique. Those who encountered gifted learners and twice exceptional students in the field were left to research the subject at home, after hours.

We often complain about administrators and teachers who do not have training in gifted education. The reality is, even the educators administering and interpreting the tests that can determine giftedness have not received proper training.

Needless to say, when we decided to have our eldest evaluated, we steered clear of school-based practitioners and selected an outside psychologist with years of experience with gifted learners. The results indicated that our son is profoundly gifted, with academic and cognitive skills above the 99.9%. He also has sensory processing disorder and possible ADHD. I have a profoundly gifted, twice exceptional learner on my hands. The psychologist strongly recommended that we consider homeschooling. Suddenly, there was now a new pile of books on my nightstand.

What have I learned from my son, the evaluative process, and the piles of books on my nightstand that I wish had been taught or even mentioned during my training as a school psychologist?

So here I am, with all of my certifications expiring. I now find myself suddenly, unexpectedly homeschooling a profoundly gifted child for the indefinite future. I have read all the books so I know the statistics on siblings and it is quite likely that I will soon be homeschooling more than one, and possibly all three, of our children. Returning to the career that I was so passionate about, that I thought I would return to after a few years at home, seems so far from my grasp at this moment. The DSM-5 came out last year and the WISC-V is due out this fall. I have not had a chance to look at either of them, let alone research the countless other changes that have been made to various measures and educational policy.

These gifted kids of ours are a different kind of underappreciated and underserved population in our public education system. These children are my new underdogs. I will be back at some point, come hell or high water, and I plan to remain in an urban setting—because there are poor gifted kids, too. In the meantime, you can catch me not-at-home-schoolin’ in New Hampshire, continuing to learn from my little poppies. I have a feeling my education has just begun.

For all of the educators, like myself, who wish to learn more about giftedness, I have included some resources that I have found invaluable along this journey: http://mylittlepoppies.blogspot.com/2014/09/here-it-is-folks.html.

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