Gaslighting article image use only for thisHave you experienced this before?

Shea Emma Fett explains that gaslighting is “when someone tries to tell you who you are, what you feel, what you think, what you intended, or what you experienced.”

A person doing this might also “rewrite” you to others, spreading this rewritten version of you. “It is hard to stand firm when one person is trying to replace your experience, but when they have a chorus of supporters, it is nearly impossible.”

Gaslighting does not require deliberate plotting. Gaslighting only requires a belief that it is acceptable to overwrite another person’s reality. The rest just happens organically when a person who holds that belief feels threatened.”

“The end game is not confrontation, it’s non-engagement.”

Read full article by Shea Emma Fett



Gifted, Arrogance, & Trybe

FREAKFLAGLBG14-ConW-03Listening to the conversations in the room, one in particular caught my attention. “He plopped down and proudly announced, ‘I’m gifted!’” one woman said.

“Wow, arrogant much?” another woman responded.

Curious, I asked for the context. It was a mingling activity at a school event the first woman was attending for her grandson. She felt put-off that her grandson’s classmate would include his giftedness as part of his introduction.

“Oh,” I nodded. “But… what if he had said he was a star football player?” Well, he has to earn that, the women collectively explained to me. “Okay, so what if he was part of a tribe?” That’s different, they explained, because then it’s about the tribe instead of the individual.

Trybe. This is a term I often hear among my circles, and yes – even spelled in that funny way. “Find your freaks” is also a common phrase – the need to be among others who encourage you to reach for who you are as an individual while also giving you a sense of belonging.

Claiming accomplishments or being part of a group is an accepted desire for most, but not for those identified as gifted. That is considered a display of arrogance to be squashed. Parents have even been advised by schools to not tell their children that they are gifted. Instead, a student gets to wonder why he or she is so different, and even to feel shamed by it. And since many believe that gifted students don’t need help, we get report card comments of not meeting potential with assumptions that laziness or disdain for authority is the reason.

So what about that disdain for authority? That arrogance or elitism that gifted individuals are stereotyped as having? Is there any truth to that?

Maybe. Consider this: elitism is a common self-defense response against years of being “other.” Imagine fighting against naysayers for everything important to you, or a childhood full of not just kids, but also adults in positions of authority, who feel the need to take you down a notch. Down as low as one can be held. Depression. Loneliness. Apathy. The intensities of being gifted amplify this.

However, what happens when a gifted student’s needs are met? When we encourage a sense of belonging among others, perhaps with their own freak flags flying? What happens when we provide compassion and guidance instead being yet another source of adversity?

Carl Jung taught, “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” This applies to all of us.

I want to hear from you. What do we need to do differently to better serve gifted students? How about gifted adults; what are the struggles in life and the workplace that need to be addressed? Send me a message and let me know your thoughts.


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Person First vs Identity Labels: Which Do You Use?

HELLO_I-amIn an autism awareness conversation, the question is asked, should we say a “person with autism,” or an “autistic person,“ or an “autist?” How about an “Aspie” versus a “person with Asperger’s?”

My take: whatever that person wants. Not everyone agrees with me on this. Yes, it can get confusing, and it’s hard to keep track of individual preferences. A large number of people believe we should adopt the one, best way and stick to that. But what is that, and who gets to decide?

A pattern emerges on whether or not “person first” language is preferred (a person with ___). If the person sees the label as part of his or her identity or sense of self, then wearing the label is more likely the choice; if the label is seen as an unfortunate condition or burden, then it is more secondary to the person.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter. For example, you could say that I am a person with synesthesia, or that I am a synesthete. Since the implications of synesthesia are typically considered benign, most synesthetes are fine with either phrasing.

Other times, it does matter. A person with gastro-intestinal disorder, meanwhile, would likely find it absurd to be given an identity label for this (and what would that be? A gastrite?). On the flip-side, a person who identifies as an Aspie might find it undermining to be called a person “with Asperger’s”, or even more so “with autism” if being an Aspie is part of his or her core identity. It can feel similar to saying one has an ethnicity versus is an ethnicity. For example, I will say that I am Celtic, but that I have other ethnic heritages that are part of me genetically but less of my identity.

This pattern isn’t perfect. People have varying opinions about whether a condition or set of traits is a “disorder” and even those would who label it as such might still see the condition as part of who they are and own that identity. It can also serve as a way of seeking camaraderie and support from others who share the label. An example of this would be the term Lupites for people with Lupus, which has caused some amusing confusion among roleplaying gamers. I don’t know of a single person with Lupus who would choose to keep the condition, but it can definitely define a person in profound ways, and a tribe of others sharing that label helps.

So what can you do to make sure you phrase things to never insult anybody? First, I’m pretty sure this is impossible. We can, however, do our best while also being patient with each other in the process. I tend to use the pattern described above, which relies on my biased perspectives. I then adjust when I realize the predominate preferences of a group, and then adjust again for individuals regarding their own personal identity.

It’s not a perfect solution! What are your thoughts on this? Do you have any strategies to suggest? What about examples from your own experiences?


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Not Broken

Neurotypical syndrome is a neurobiological disorder characterized by preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority, and obsession with conformity.

think do what told

The above quote, on a page titled the Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical, is offered by as a parody. It takes the same framing often used for neurodivergent perception and behavior, and applies it to neurotypicals (aka “normal” people) in a way that hopefully causes you to think.

Or to rethink.

Similarly, the following short video by Rethinking Autism packs a punch. By offering the perspective of somebody with autism, people have cried in relief of finally having something represent their views, or in frustration and confusion. This video has mostly been well-received, but some parents voiced concern that it might represent them in a poor light, and others expressed confusion over the responses offered from the autistic perspective.  Just remember that this confusion is the very reason why the video needed to be made; this is the voice that needs to be heard more often.  It’s a matter of personal agency. View the video and see what you think.

Those who are neurodivergent are so often told to adjust to neurotypical ways without equal effort of those who are typical to adjust to neurodiverse ways. Often “broken” aspects are not necessarily bad, just different, and often better. Yes, better. You might not agree, depending on your personal perspective, but these different ways can be preferred from a personal or even socio-cultural view. Many times, whether or not a way of thinking or being is valued depends on time and location. Beyond this, it is often those who do not “fit in” that rock our world and make the changes for which we are later grateful.

Human competence is defined by the values of the culture to which you belong. ~ Thomas Armstrong, author of Neurodiversity

Thomas Armstrong shares a pre-Civil War era article about a mental disorder among slaves. The symptoms? They wanted to run away. Obviously something was wrong with them, and this “disorder” required medical treatment. I hope this sounds absurd to you. I also hope that we can become more aware of the influence of society’s “supposed to’s” and learn to overcome them.

I love Armstrong’s section titles, but I will just share one more for now because it echoes something that The McAuliffe School often teaches:

Whether you are regarded as disabled or gifted depends largely on when and where you were born.

How many times have I said to people, “You are not broken” when in reality they definitely had some damage to overcome? However, the phrase is usually heard with grateful relief, and that is when the healing can begin.   The McAuliffe School often spends much time detoxing students and their parents from previous experiences, replacing the negative views with affirmations that you are strong. You have gifts. Okay, so you have quirks and you need to develop strategies to deal with some things; we all do, every single one of us, neurodivergent and typical both. Learn to play nicely with the neurotypical “natives” while also surrounding yourself with a support system of those who value you exactly how you are. As Chris Brogan encourages all of us to do: find your freaks.  You’ll be in good company, and it’s your privilege to do so.

Privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. ~ Joseph Campbell

Careful questioning: Nurture student voice and unlimited learning

raise hand question little boyI was once in a college literature class where the professor confidently said, “I assume we are all of Judeo-Christian background here, so…”  She then went on to apply this filter to the analysis of the stories and poems we had recently read, and she was coming up with interpretations that differed from my own. Do you think I raised my hand to let her know that her assumption meant I was left in the dark about all the analogies she was now using to teach me? Today I would have, but not then. Raised in a militant-atheist household, I had only started learning about various religions, and I felt instantly stupid. In retrospect, I probably had something unique to contribute, especially in interpreting the works by authors who were also not of Judeo-Christian backgrounds.  Instead, I struggled silently, and this was just another case where a teacher was telling students what to think.

One of the things I often tell new teachers is don’t tell students what to think.  Teach them to think, but not what to think. Instead, help them build critical thinking skills, the ability to recognize logical fallacies, and the habit of questioning everything – including their own current beliefs.  Try on different filters. Invite others to describe their perspective. Be open.

And when a kid starts to go a direction you think is wrong – ALL WRONG – don’t panic. For one thing, they might be right. And regardless, it is part of their journey. Just keep asking questions and encouraging them to do the same.

Sounds simple enough, but those questions! Teachers sure know how to load a question to get a specific answer, don’t they? This isn’t just a teacher thing; it is a human thing to do. Begging the question or loading a question with assumptions is a very normal, but limiting, approach to communication.  Let’s look at a simple example from daily life:


Question loaded with suggestion: Do you want to go to Location A? (In scenario where many other options would be just as possible)

Question loaded with Begging the Question: Since you like Location A, when are you going there?

Pure Question: Where do you want to go?


None of the above seems like a problem in most circumstances, but let’s use this simple scenario to understand how loaded questioning works.

The question loaded with a suggestion requires that the person answering either agrees to go along with the suggestion or be put in the position of rejecting it in order to answer with another option.  Think that isn’t a big deal? What if the location was instead a person, and what if the person was standing in the room? Also, people can feel uncomfortable having to reject an idea offered to them, especially if they’re students in a classroom responding to a suggestion made by a teacher.

The question that begs another question in the above example makes the assumption that the person feels a certain way about something. What if this is an incorrect assumption? What if the person doesn’t really like that location, or perhaps just doesn’t want to be there today? Now the person has to wrestle with countering an assumption plus rejecting a suggestion.

The pure question allows for the greatest freedom for the person doing the answering. It also requires the most work from that person in coming up with an answer! If you wanted to help that person a little, offering several suggestions that end with a “or anywhere else you want to go” statement would be the best.

Again, the above scenarios seem rather benign, but we can apply the pattern to other situations. Think of how the same types of questioning can be applied to politics, views on social justice issues, or career exploration topics. What happens when we do this in interpersonal communication? In that literature class, the professor made assumptions about the religions of the students, and even applied her religious beliefs to the interpretation of works by others who also didn’t share her religion. Her questions then assumed that this same religious and cultural filter would always be applied. It was as valid a filter as any, but not the only one. So many assumptions, suggestions, and limitations resulted in a poor learning experience for at least this one student.

I have witnessed several scenarios like the one above, and not always with religion. Political affiliation, socioeconomic perspectives, cultural assumptions, and other personally-important yet limiting filters can come into play. Sometimes it is less personal; the limitations are simply based on the limited experiences and knowledge of the teacher. And everybody is limited!

By modeling careful questioning, and recognizing when a question is loaded, teachers are helping students think critically and openly about topics. They are expanding the horizons beyond their own perspectives. We should never limit students to that which we believe or think we understand. Not only is this pedagogically unsound, it is unethical.


To learn more about teaching students how to question, check out MindShift’s post: Why It’s Imperative to Teach How to Question as the Ultimate Survival Skill


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