Today, Samuel Young shares his vision of giftedness through the Gifted Interview. Thank you, Sam! He is is the director of Young Scholars Academy, a strength-based, talent-focused virtual enrichment center that supports twice-exceptional students and their families. As an ADHD learner, he has a tremendous understanding of, experience in, and respect for all things related to neurodiverse education. He lives in California, USA.
.IF I COULD CHOOSE, WOULD I STILL BE GIFTED?
Absolutely! My biggest fear in life has always been being normal. I like to think I’m anything but =) That being said, I think it’s important to front-run this and just say that I have had no formal assessments.
.WHAT (MY OWN) GIFTEDNESS MEANS TO ME
Standing out in a great way. Having a superpower. Being like an X-Man. Bring with it both excellence and challenges.
.IF I HAD TO CHOOSE AN IMAGE OR A KEYWORD THAT SUMS UP WHAT GIFTEDNESS MEANS
.HOW LONG HAVE I KNOWN ABOUT IT?
Even to this day– despite working in this field for over a decade– I seldom say that I am gifted. It wasn’t until I started to study Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences that I began to even think that I could possibly be gifted. For the majority of my life, I thought that being gifted meant being schoolhouse smart. I had a one-dimensional definition. I’ve always known it wasn’t that kind of gifted… I still have to work 5 times harder than most people to simply just as well as my classmates.
Funnily enough, when I look back throughout my life, I can see a clear presence of giftedness. I’ve always been told I’m unique and special. I simply thought that that was normal and that everyone heard that. In fact, just today someone told me that they have never met anyone like me. =) I think that’s the kindest thing someone can say!
.WHAT PHASES HAVE I GONE THROUGH SINCE MY DISCOVERY?
To be quite honest, I would say that I’m still in the discovery phase. Although I’m a firm believer in positive psychology and strength-based education, I still have a lot of negative self-talk that sometimes makes me feel stupid or as if I am a fraud. The most important thing for me to do is to entrench myself in environments where I feel that I am gifted. That allows me to feel purposeful, accomplished, and beneficial to others. That makes me feel whole.
.HOW DO I EXPLAIN IT TO SOMEONE WHO HAS NEVER HEARD OF IT?
Defining giftedness is tough because the “G-word” is so loaded and can create a lot of polarization amongst and within people. I often refer to Joseph Renzulli to help people understand giftedness through his three-ring model. While Renzulli is somewhat controversial in this field, I feel that he offers a brilliant framework for people to understand how nuanced giftedness is. Personally, I feel it’s a much less threatening framework for having the conversation.
.THE REMARK WHICH BLEW ME AWAY MOST WHEN I TALKED ABOUT IT
I don’t know that there is a single remark, but getting people to realize that giftedness “occurs in certain people, at certain times, under certain circumstances”- Renzulli. One can imagine that that challenges a lot of people on both ends of the spectrum.
.HOW IT CHANGED MY LIFE (TO KNOW IT)
I don’t know that it has necessarily changed my life because I don’t know that I have fully stepped into myself. I love being a member of an inspiring community of people who constantly support and push me. Moreover, I can say the most life-changing thing is helping students step into themselves. My purpose in life is to help twice-exceptional students embrace both their abilities and differences and self-actualize. That’s the life-changing part!
.WHAT I HAVE ALLOWED MYSELF TO DO EVER SINCE
I’ve allowed myself to lean a bit further into my giftedness (although not as far as I’d like to) and do something really scary: I quit my teaching job and went on the create a virtual enrichment center so that I can realize my dream of serving 1 million neurodivergent families. I should note that stepping into myself has played a big role in allowing me to do this, but I couldn’t have done it without my incredible wife, family, and friends as my support group.
.WHAT IT CREATES TO OTHERS WHEN I TALK ABOUT IT
When talking about giftedness, I typically don’t say the “g-word”. As I mentioned previously, it is quite loaded. I often draw an analogy to sports. Although I don’t much care for sports, I think sports serve as the perfect comparison that helps people check their own biases. For example, no one cares how good Serena Williams is hitting a baseball or reading out loud–which by the way she’s a polyglot and can read in like 4 languages. We simply want to see her dominate the tennis courts. This is giftedness. It’s Gladwellian. It’s the responsibility of society to help people understand that and create systems that empower others to develop their talents and self-actualize. When we realize that we all have sport-like abilities to, varying degrees, it becomes clear that we must find our own superpowers, identify them, and develop them. It’s a far less threatening conversation than just saying gifted.
.WHAT IRRITATES ME WITH GIFTEDNESS
I will be honest, I sometimes have a hard time with the gifted community. Let’s just say, we have been at odds… While I certainly understand that many gifted parents have had to fight long and hard to empower their children– which is tragic and indicative of a systemic failure. It does seem, at times, that people don’t know how to stop fighting and then turn on one another. If our goal is to empower our children and help them self-actualize, we must equip them with a voice and agency. Unfortunately, all too often I see the gifted community devolve into shouting matches in which people get canceled quickly. If this is how we choose to spend our raw power, I fear the path forward may be rockier than it has to be. I’m not saying that we need to be entirely unified, but we should be a safe, accepting, and organized community.
.WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO EMPHASIZE ABOUT GIFTEDNESS
It’s important to be on the lookout for all kinds of giftedness and to be sure to develop all kinds of talents. I would argue that two of the most gifted people that I know are mechanics who live in their own shops. They both have off-the-charts IQs, yet they are underappreciated and were underserved by a failing system growing up. Both of these men feel more comfortable with engines than other people. They literally wake up each day reading primary documents in their interest areas. I joke that they eat primary docs for breakfast. These types of giftedness are often underdeveloped and under-celebrated. That needs to change.
.WHAT I PERSONALLY FIND TO BE THE MOST DIFFICULT
How’s the white, middle-class, able-bodied, cisgender male, I don’t know do I have firm footing to complain about difficulties. I feel very privileged. Not to say that I don’t struggle, but I struggle less than many others.
.WHAT I PERSONALLY LOVE
What I love is complex. I love a great many things and a great many people. In the context of giftedness, I most enjoy helping others and leading others. I have always felt like a natural educator who has the ability to serve as an exponent in the lives of others. I feel called to help other people grow exponentially and become the best/happiest versions of themselves.
.MY WELLBEING TOOL OR PRACTICE THAT HELPS ME MOST
Being active has always helped me in this life. I have a hard time resting because my mind goes a million miles a minute. Doing things that force me to be present and away from technology has always helped. My favorite activities have always been weight lifting, surfing, and tinkering with engines. Those 3 things seem to occupy my mind and allow me to get into a nice flow state.
.A (MIS)REPRESENTATION (ABOUT GIFTEDNESS) THAT I WANT TO CALL INTO QUESTION
As I said previously, we need to be flexible about how we define giftedness.
.WHAT I WANT TO SAY TO GIFTED PEOPLE
To all the gifted people out there, no matter how big or small your talent or interest area may seem, you have a responsibility to do the hell out of it! Develop that part of your life and build a happy existence around it. Don’t let other people write your story. In fact, if you are misunderstood, you are probably doing something right. As a society, we celebrate people that dive head-first into their passions. No one ever did anything incredible by just playing it safe. Lean in and be yourself! It may not always make sense, but it’s who you are. Do the hell out of it! Remember, “It’s better to be [known] for what you are than loved for what you’re not.”- unknown
.WHAT I WANT TO SAY TO PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT CONCERNED
Get concerned. You might have a talent that the world needs!
.WHAT I WOULD RECOMMEND TO SOMEONE WHO IS WONDERING
If you’re wondering if you are gifted there’s a good chance you might be. Just having the level of awareness to ask the questions that you’re asking is a pretty good sign. Most people don’t ask these kinds of questions. Then, depending on your age and goals, you can determine if you want to be formally assessed or not.
.THE MISTAKE NOT TO MAKE FOR A GIFTED PERSON
Don’t make the mistake of letting others tell you whether or not you’re gifted/defining your gift. Do your due diligence and discover the diverse and nuanced definitions that might empower you, decide how you wish to proceed. If you’re looking for more, seek more. Find gifted communities online and connect with like-minded people in them. That is a great way to determine if you have found “your people”. A warning- no 2 gifted people are alike. If your first community doesn’t work out, try try again!
.A BOOK TO READ ON THE SUBJECT
The Power of Neurodiversity by Dr. Thomas Armstrong
.MY OPINION ABOUT THE IQ WAIS TEST
While I know that IQ testing can be very important for some, it has a long, marred history rooted in discrimination that I have a hard time looking past. I understand that some find solace in understanding and data-gathering. I completely understand that and I think a comprehensive battery of assessments can be helpful. However, the reality is that IQ testing does not necessarily paint a complete picture of all avenues of giftedness nor does it come close to reaching all of those who might be gifted.
.IS IT A WASTE NOT TO KNOW THAT YOU ARE GIFTED?
Yes, it is a complete and total waste to not know one is gifted and/or gifted and learning disabled. While discovering this isn’t a silver bullet that magically puts someone at peace, it can be very helpful to have an understanding of why one feels the way that they do/is the way that they are. Moreover, sometimes having a label can bring someone the membership into a community that they have perhaps longed for. This next part could be a bit controversial, but some argue that gifted people have an obligation to explore their gifts and develop them. While that can put a ton of pressure on youngsters, I often think about it. Imagine a world without Simone Biles, Pablo Picasso, Abe Lincoln, etc.
.WHEN I MEET ANOTHER GIFTED PERSON, DO I RECOGNIZE HIM.HER? BY WHAT?
The neurodiverse space is vast. There are observational trends, but I don’t know that I can always spot someone. I’d say I can more than I can’t, though.
.WHAT DO GIFTED PEOPLE HAVE IN COMMON?
They question authority and think creatively and unconventionally.
.THE CRUCIAL STEPS NOT TO BE MISSED IN THE JOURNEY OF A GIFTED PERSON WITH HIS OR HER GIFTEDNESS?
We must all understand twice-exceptionality and masking.
.AN INSPIRATION FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY ABOUT GIFTEDNESS (THAT I WOULD LIKE TO SHARE)
Over 10 years ago, I lived in France with a group of American educators who were privileged enough to be sent on Fulbright scholarships to study the French pedagogical system. While there were elements of the traditional education system there that I found to be quite medieval, I did find that the broader system does embrace talent development in a way in which the United States does not. Here, in the US, if someone is not college-bound, they are expected to learn their trade on their own. I’ve appreciated that the French system invests in schools for every kind of trade imaginable. In France, for example, if you want to be a waiter, custodian, or hairdresser there are state-sponsored schools for all of that. The flip side to this is that many students were tested and tracked into these schools at perhaps premature periods in their development. Some kiddos are later to develop as academics, but in this system, it might be too late to get into college.
.A WISH FOR THE FUTURE
That we can include the twice-exceptional population here more. They are often left out of the gifted conversations.
.A HUNCH ON THE SUBJECT
Using a TV metaphor, I predict that Education will switch to more of a Netflix (playlist) style system and away from a cable (one size fits all) system in years to come. If you believe this too, please head over to youngscholarsacademy.org
.WHO WOULD I LIKE TO HAND OVER THE NEXT GIFTED INTERVIEW?
Anyone who rejected me for various programs in my life due to slower processing and difficulty reading.
.THE QUESTION THAT I WAS MISSING BUT THAT I WOULD LIKE TO ANSWER?
I would like to see more questions about twice-exceptionality and masking. 2e people are my people and they are often left out of gifted conversations because they are gifted AND ______.
My proposal: To what extent do you feel your giftedness affects your learning differences and vice versa?
Like so many people, I’m guilty about feeling guilty about my learning differences. The medical model has conditioned many of us to –myself included – to spend a great deal of time thinking about what’s “wrong” with us and focus on what we don’t do well. It’s taken me a lifetime to undo that constant focus on “deficits” and work to pull my strengths out from under the shadows. I’m still a work in progress. I am realizing that my strength areas have developed because of my struggles, not in spite of them. For me, there is a clear relationship between the two. Understanding that allows me to appreciate these halves of my whole. They cannot be separated. They are intertwined like the sun and moon and both serve important roles in my life. It’s not always easy to say, but I’m thankful for both. I’m not saying it’s easy. Yesterday, for example, I sat for 4 hours trying to get work done and couldn’t. Then I spent hours beating myself up for not working. The difference is that my personal work helps me to look back and realize that I was trying to do tasks that weren’t aligned with my strengths or feeling that day and that next time, instead of fighting it, I should lean into my feelings. That’s growth.