Linda Silverman

LINDA SILVERMAN

OK. I am Linda Silverman and I direct the Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado. And I love Utah and I’ve been there a lot lately. It’s one of my favorite, favorite places.

I’ve been studying this field for about 42 years. I’m a lifer and I use to think about gifted children as having advanced development. That was my whole definition. Sort of like delayed development at the opposite end of the continuum. So you look at normal development as the mean, delayed development uh different degrees of retardation and advanced development as different degrees of giftedness. And now I’ve, uh with a whole group of people, come up with a more complex definition of giftedness that involves a synchronist development. A synchrony means being out of synch and being out of synch occurs in many ways. First of all it’s uneven development internally because the child may be only 7 years old like Justin Chapman who’s going to be presenting with me tomorrow, but mentally Justin is 20 years old. And so he has a 20-year-old mind in a 7-year-old body and we don’t have a means of understanding how to educate a child who is that different from other 7 year olds. And we keep placing him into 7-year-old norms and it never works because this is how out of synch he is. When you’re out of synch internally, if your body or hands and feet are one age and your mind is another age, you end up feeling out of synch with other people. So it’s internal asynchrony and external asynchrony. And it—it isn’t just uneven development, which is what some people think of it as, it’s also a—a very different emotional structure that involves greater awareness. Uh, Justin is incredibly aware of the injustice in the world, incredibly aware of ages and—and discrimination against children and he wants to get laws past in every country that stops discrimination against children. So we see a greater moral awareness, a greater awareness of injustice, uh a—a tremendous level of emotional sensitivity. So there’s this intensity of experience that is a part of this advanced cognitive awareness. (construction noise) What happened? (interruption) The kind of awareness that these children have is moral, spiritual, emotional, very deep, very profound and so they’re not only thinking differently from other children, which makes it difficult for them to fit in, they’re also feeling different from other children. They are worried about (construction noise) Ready? They’re worried about acid rain. They’re worried about the o-zone layers. They want to talk about these things. They want to have action plans for the homeless. They want to do something about starvation. They want to help the world and the other kids are trying to figure out how to tie their shoes. So it’s very difficult for them to know how to fit in in a world where who they are is so different. And the more advanced they are, the more lik—likely—the more advanced they are the more likely they are to be morally sensitive and to try to make a difference in the world. So my definition of giftedness really has a—a much broader viewpoint then achievement, potential for achievement. That’s sort of irrelevant. This is a new consciousness and these children are going to be world leaders and they’re going to take us into a whole new era of peaceful negotiation. And we are still trying to teach them reading, writing, and arithmetic and they’re so far beyond that in—in so many ways. We don’t understand that we keeping them (construction noise) We’re trying to keep these children in step with a plan for literacy when they came to school literate and they’re ready to change the world. They’re ready to become world leaders. And the higher the I.Q., the more likely they are to have this incredibly powerful agenda that we’re not ready to—to even let them loose with or help them. We’re—we’re still trying to teach them ABC’s and we have a long way to go to meet the needs of this new consciousness.

I believe that you can begin to identify gifted children very, very early in life just like you can identify children who are developmentally delayed early in life. And what we try to do with developmental delays is to catch them as early as possible because we’re very aware that early intervention is essential for there to be optimal development. What we have to begin to understand in our society is that early intervention is just as important for giftedness to develop fully. And so I think parents need to be the identifiers. Parents need to know what the norms are for average children and to see when their child is developing at an advanced rate. Parents and pediatricians need to be the ones who are the first identifiers of these children and say, “My goodness, this—look at the sentence structure that that child is using. Listen to that vocabulary. Wow. Did you hear that question?” These are easily identified when children start talking. But we do have late talking, very profoundly gifted children who are more visual spatial and they have greater right hemispheric development and you’re not going to hear it in their words and their questions. You’re going to see it in their constructions. They’re the ones that will throw out the Christmas presents and start building with the boxes and—and make things out of string. And I’d hear about parents who say their children love junk. They have empathy with junk. And they—And I have other parents who talk about—they go through rolls and rolls of masking tape or scotch tape because their children are always inventing things. So we have these non-verbal abilities that parents also have to be aware that that’s advanced development too. It’s not advanced verbal development which we’re use to thinking about, but it’s advanced spatial development. So the parents, I think, are the first identifiers and then the schools come along and schools will tend to look at things like early reading ability, uh vocabulary, good math skills, uh can the child spell, all this academic achievement. But there are other indicators that teachers can look for. A child with amazing curiosity, the child who’s so fascinated with the science equipment that they keep playing and playing with it and asking more and more questions, the child who builds very advanced constructions, the child who has phenomenal imagination and in—in the play centers. They’re the—the leaders in dramatic play. The children who have such empathy that the minute somebody falls down this is the child who rushes over. These are the kinds of things that we have to begin to understand, are the uh personality constructs the—they’re very important parts of giftedness. It’s not just who reads better then somebody else. And some of the children at our—who come to our center are not readers. They are uh some of them either delayed readers, read late, or some of them are dyslexic. But they’re brilliant, they’re inventors, they are incredible in other ways. But reading and writing may be difficult for them and that doesn’t make them ungifted.

Let me talk a little bit about different types of programming. Um, mainstreaming was very popular in the 90’s during the school reform movement. Uh, and mainstreaming is what I learned when I was uh learning special ed at the University of Southern California in the 1970’s. Um, the inclusion model is a beautiful democratic ideal but it—if you try to include people whose development is so very, very different—4, 5, 6 standard deviations out there—they can’t be given the same curriculum and the same teaching strategies as every one else because that does a disservice to them. And if we understand the opposite end of it, we begin to see what the concept means when we’re talking about differentiated programming at different levels of ability. So that when we’re in the mainstream, the mainstream is about 1-½ standard deviations on either side of the norm. That would be uh a child maybe 80 I.Q. to 120 I.Q. And that’s going to take in a sizeable portion of the population. It’s maybe 60 percent, I’m not exactly sure. But when we’re talking about mainstreaming way far out, we’re trying to normalize all these other kids and make them like the norm which doesn’t work on either end because if you go down to 70 I.Q. that’s special ed and we know that we can’t just put them in a regular classroom without some modifications. When we go down three standard deviations to 55 I.Q. that takes a full-time aide for mainstreaming to occur. When we go down to 40 I.Q., that’s four standard deviations, you would have a hard time even with a full-time aide mainstreaming that child. But we think nothing of going 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 deviations in the other direction and saying, “OK, we’re just going to put them—we’re going to mainstream.” Mainstream on one end means that the teacher has training, that there is a special resource person assigned to that individual, that there is an individual educational plan in place and that program is monitored very carefully by Federal and State law. If that’s what it meant for gifted children I’d be in favor of mainstreaming. But mainstreaming for gifted kids means putting them in the regular classroom, giving them the regular curriculum, expecting them to fit in with everybody else, and not modifying what you do to meet their individual needs. That’s not mainstreaming, that’s neglect. We call that mainstreaming, but it’s not an appropriate model. Pull-out programs are much better then mainstreaming for gifted children because they allow gifted children to be together and once they find other people who laugh at their jokes, once they find a true friend who understands them, it takes away their loneliness, it normalizes their experience and it really helps their social development enormously. They need to know that they’re not freaks, that there’s others like them in the world. So pull-out programs are just wonderful for gifted children who have never had any other alternative but what we call mainstreaming, which is reg—really regular class placement. Now there are other possibilities. There are—there is separate classes that we are very much against and we call them in this country “Segregated Classes.” Do you know in Canada they call them “Congregated Classes”? They congregate the gifted. And when you think of a congregation, you think of a group of people with similar interests and values that choose to be together because they can enrich each other’s lives by being a community. A congregation is very different from uh segregation. And so I would like to see gifted children congregated more often. I like the idea of full-time placements, especially for highly gifted children who have to hide who they are in a regular education experience and they do not get their needs met and they have to pretend to be interested in things they’re not interested in and their learning is sacrificed for the good of everyone else. So congregated classes would be my first choice. I also am in favor of acceleration because I believe that some children are just naturally accelerated, just like some children are naturally delayed. That is the way they were made and there’s a purpose for every person’s development on earth. No one is hereby (construction noise) No one on this planet is here accidentally in—in (construction noise) Oh, I have to wait. We’ll try that again after he’s through tapping. (construction noise) In my belief system, no one is here by accident, no one’s abilities, disabilities, strengths and weaknesses are not part of a plan and every single person’s individuality is needed, every single person’s individuality. If we don’t respond to that and respect that, then that individual, that individual who has certain gifts to give the world cannot be put in a position developing those gifts and giving those gifts that are there for a reason. (sirens in background)

Well, my background is in special education and uh it wasn’t my first choice to get a degree in special ed. I wanted to get a degree in gifted education because I’m a lifer. I love gifted kids. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to study since I was 17. But the field dried up as you well know, that we just have a “now you see it now you don’t” field. So there—when I went to get my degree there was no degree in gifted education to get. And Leo Baskalia was my adviser at USC and he offered me a fellowship to study learning disabilities. And it wasn’t my first choice, but I studied learning disabilities and realized why that was in the plan. Uh, my life script needed that because that special education background enabled me to see hidden disabilities in people that others could not see, did not understand. And if we have achievement models of giftedness, we cannot wrap our minds around how a child can be learning abled and learning disabled at the same time. It’s just a logical conundrum. But if we understand developmental advancement, abstract reasoning, a synchronist development, then we see that within this construct of asynchrony. The most asynchronist is highly (construction noise) Now he—tap, tap, tap. (construction noise) Two of those, then tap, tap, tap. (interruption) Oh, I missed the last two taps. OK, um the most asynchronist child is a child who is both highly gifted and learning disabled and I see them all the time in my office. I—I have found that 1/6th of the children who came to our center for assessment had hidden learning disabilities and the reason they came was not underachievement, they came because in Colorado we have six private schools for the gifted that we have had almost since the start of my center, which was in June of 1979. And the main reason the majority of people come to our center is just to find out if their child is gifted and to see what kind of school placement to choose for their child. And that’s the entrance requirement for those schools is an I.Q. test and none of them have their own psychologist. So they’re not coming because they have problems. The average age of the child who comes for assessment is 7 and we get them as young as 3 ½ or 4. They’re just wanting educational placement decisions. Given that this is your garden-variety population, not your problem clinical population, it is quite amazing that we find hidden learning disabilities in that many of them. Karen Rogers came out and did a study with our center for 5 or 6 months. She did a post-doc on our profoundly gifted population and she studied 241 children and found out that 40 of the fathers were dyslexic or had other learning problems. And that’s 1/6th of that population. So it confirmed what I had been seeing, that we’re seeing a very large percentage of gifted children that are twice exceptional. Twice exceptional means gifted and something else happening. The ‘and’ can be auditory processing problems, visual processing problems, spatial issues, sensory motor integration issues, which shows up in resistance to—to writing assignments, h children who have uh Attention Deficit Disorder or it’s look alike, children with emotional problems. All of these are gifted ‘and’ issues and there are quite a few of these children out there. My belief at this point is that one of the reasons why we’re seeing so many is birthing issues. I think gifted children have larger heads that are harder to get through the birth canal, especially the first-born child. And we’re tending to use pottosin more often in the medical field to induce labor and we’ve done some studies at our center that pottosin was developed to be used for a 3 to 4 hour period and some of our mothers had it for 16 hours, 20 hours, 24 hours, 30 hours, which forces hard contractions on this little babies head and you can’t help but wonder “What is that doing? Is that cutting off oxygen to some part of the brain?” They are overdosing gifted mothers with endo—with pottosin. Gifted mothers are being overdosed by being given too much pottosin and this I think is a real issue. There are other birthing issues also. Very long labors, uh complications, uh a fetal distress, uh medications that parents—that mothers are given, uh a cord wrapped around a part of a baby, forceps deliveries. I’m seeing a lot of at-risk births in this population and these are kids who often end up being the children who don’t like to write, who will talk beautifully, but don’t ask them to do that—the homework, the essays, they really hate that kind of uh written work. It doesn’t work well for them. I’m now learning that when you have a child who has a writing issue—and that’s our main reason for underachievement, children who do not like to write—that most of them have a sensory motor integration issue that could have been discovered before that child went to school and should have been dealt with by a pediatric occupational therapist. And had they had that intervention before they were 7 instead of having the educator or the pediatrician or the psychologist say, “Oh, don’t worry about it, he’ll out grow it,” when they don’t, that problem with handwriting could have been prevented if we took seriously the differences, the discrepancies between what the child can do mentally and what the child can do physically. Some of these children literally need help with fine motor development. They have trouble deciding which hand to use by the time they’re 5. They have trouble determining how to cross the mid-line. They’ll go to the middle of their body with one hand and then use the other hand when they cross the mid-line of the body. They run with their hands like this, or they can’t catch a ball, or they can’t cut, or they can’t color in the lines. You can see all of these signs in 4, and 5, and 6-year-old children and it—just saying, “Oh, well he’s within the average,” isn’t appropriate when we’re looking at gifted development. We truly need more advanced sensory motor skills to go with a more advanced mind. So you can’t just say, “Well, this child is average physically, but very brilliant mentally, not a problem.” It becomes a problem. It turns into underachievement. It turns into real resistance to school and it’s something that could have been prevented. If we are stuck with a situation where we have a child in our classroom who will not do the work, there is a solution to it. I get a lot of resistance from teachers, but there is a solution. And the solution is the keyboard. What got damaged in this birthing process was—were the left hemispheric motor connections that allow the child to do comfortable motor sequencing and what doesn’t get damaged is the ability of the fingers to tap on a keyboard. And that integrates the right and left hemisphere and enables the child to perform, to write. But we’re very resistance in schools to letting children use keyboards. We are still so focused on this handwriting thing that when we have a child with—who’s—who’s handwriting just doesn’t develop appropriately, we force them into being better writers and we make them feel stupid if they can’t master handwriting. This is a very damaging thing to do to children’s self-esteem. If we would allow them to use a keyboard, they would be just fine. I have a lot of fathers who I work with who say the only need they have for handwriting in adult life is to write a check and we haven’t figured that out yet in the schools. I’m not saying don’t teach handwriting. I believe that handwriting should be taught, but it should be taught the way our great-grandparents learned it, as an art form not as a means to an end. These same children that cannot master writing, the way we teach writing, as if it’s just a means to taking notes, can master it when we teach it as an art form and when we don’t pressure them to do it quickly. If we allow them to—to make every single letter beautifully, they can become quite artistic and do calligraphy. But fast handwriting, that is one of the worst things we do and the things that we do to create underachievement in our schools to disabled children that we don’t recognize are disabled.

I have come across children in the last year of my practice, the likes of which I did not know existed and could not believe existed. And I have studied this field for a very long time and I thought I knew a lot and I have to tell you that I feel like I’m in kindergarten when I see the consciousness of some of these children. I had a boy that I worked with who was um I—a boy that I worked with had been lied about by a next door neighbor that he trusted and he really had a turn the other cheek philosophy and could be totally forgiving and compassionate toward that person who had gone around every where he went and told lies about him. I’ve seen him do this same behavior in many different situations so that he maintains his trust in humanity and his love of God and his belief in life as an adventure despite anything that happens to him. I have seen children who are devoting their lives to peace when they’re very, very young and are willing to take a stand and speak out against injustice regardless of what cost it is to them. I am seeing children who I believe are my teachers that I must learn from because they come with a consciousness beyond the point to which I have evolved and I am so fortunate to be able to bring one of them to the National Association For Gifted Children Conference and present with him. That’s Justin Chapman and he has a project to end age discrimination. He’s trying to get laws passed so that any person can learn anything they are ready and capable of learning at any age. And that he wants to make these laws available all over the world so the children are not held back to the level of everyone else. They’re able to progress. There’s another boy that I’ll be presenting his paper, he couldn’t be here himself, and he wants to stop violence in the world. And what he’s doing on his Web site, is asking the children of the world to sign a pact that they will not play violent games, they will not attend violent movies because they are consumers. And if the consumers stop consuming the violence, then the people who make the movies for children, the people who make the games for children, will have to think again. And he’s writing letters to the leaders (construction noise) Oh, I have to do this last one before you bring in your next person. Are they going to start again? (construction noise) This is so phenomenal. He wrote a letter to the—the um Middle East to try and stop the fighting in the Middle East and it was taken to the leaders. He’s trying to get Bill Clinton to declare January 1st “Peace Day.” Are we going to wait for the tap, tap, tap now? I know the minute I start talking they’ll start with the hammering. Come on, get your little hammer out. Um, well maybe I’ll just sneak it in. (construction noise) Never mind. Four taps that time. Uh, this—this boy whose paper I’ve brought to read, Greg Smith, is trying to get a—a peace day declared in the United States and has sent a letter to the Middle East that will be read to the leaders about the suffering of the children and how if they really want this to be a better world, they’ve got to stop the suffering of children in war. These are people who are going to change the world and we have to be prepared not just to stay within the box of the way we have always educated children, but be prepared to learn from these advanced souls and to help them with their missions. They come here with a very big purpose, a huge purpose, and if we get out of our roles, we can begin to help them to make this a better world. (interruption) Oh, my pleasure.