Mr. Sam Young, MEd, is a growth-minded, two-time Fulbright Scholar and Director of Young Scholars Academy, a strength-based, talent-focused virtual enrichment center that supports twice-exceptional, neurodivergent, and gifted students and their families. Mr. Sam is a neurodivergent educator who has ADHD. As an ADHD learner, he has a tremendous understanding of, experience in, and respect for all things related to neurodiverse education.
Before founding Young Scholars Academy, Mr. Sam taught in a variety of capacities—including nearly a decade at Bridges Academy—at an array of programs in the US, Europe, and Asia. Travel and culture are near and dear to him. He has led 2e students to over 7 countries for immersive cultural and educational trips.
Mr. Sam has been featured in the documentary 2e2: Teaching The Twice Exceptional, the textbook Understanding The Social and Emotional Lives of Gifted Students, 2nd Ed., Variations Magazine, over 20 podcasts, 10 seminars, 2e News, and other publications.
In today’s interview, we’re covering:
- Sam’s experience of the ADHD diagnosis
- Using a strength-based approach in education
- Defining twice exceptionality, and the three ways 2E people mask
- Masking for 2E folks compared to autistics
- How we define giftedness
- Why school may not match 2E needs
? Want to listen? This post is based off of Episode 58 of the Neurodiverging Podcast! Listen on Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Youtube
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- And learn more about Sam and Young Scholars here: https://youngscholarsacademy.org/
- Learn more about Dr. Joseph Renzulli
- Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences
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Transcript of Episode 58: Education for the Gifted, Neurodivergent Child with Sam Young
Our sincere thanks to nakia henderson for providing this podcast!
Introduction to Sam Young
DANIELLE: Hello my friends, and welcome back to the Neurodiverging podcast. I’m Danielle Sullivan and I’m your host. I’m very happy to be here again with you today. Thanks for tuning in.
Today we have a great interview lined up with Sam Young who is a growth-minded, two-time Fulbright Scholar and the director of Young Scholars Academy, which is a strength-based, talent-focused virtual enrichment center that supports twice-exceptional neurodivergent and gifted students and their families. Mr. Sam is a neurodivergent educator who has ADHD, and as an ADHD learner he has a great understanding of experience in and respect for all things related to neurodiverse education.
Today I am so excited to be talking with him about his experience of the ADHD diagnosis, being diagnosed quite a couple of times from fourth grade on, and then how he came to the idea of using a strength-based approach in education, which is something he and I share both in my coaching and in his educational practice.
We’re also talking about what does it mean to be twice-exceptional– to be 2e– and what does it mean to be gifted, and how are those terms helpful and not helpful in the education space for our students. And then why school, the conventional public school system we have here in the U.S., may or may not match the needs of twice-exceptional and gifted neurodivergent students.
So this is a great conversation, I’m really excited to share it with you today. Before we dig into that I just want to say as always thank you so much to my Patrons. It has been a big year here at Neurodiverging, you may have noticed.
We have tried multiple new things this year, we have had group coaching, individual coaching, we’ve had webinars, we’ve had peer support groups, we’ve had our get stuff done groups, all sorts of things debuted this year with the support, both the kind of spiritual, energetic support and the actual financial support of our Patrons on Patreon. And I just want to say now that we’re coming towards the end of the year here, thank you so, so much for your support. It means everything.
If you would like to support this podcast, if you find it helpful, please consider joining us at Patreon.com/Neurodiverging. And also, just before we let Sam introduce himself and dig on in, I want to let you know that Sam is hosting a free open house for the Young Scholars Academy today, the 8th, at 6:30 Pacific Time, to see if that program resonates might be a good match for your family.
If you are interested there is a link down below that you can check out. It’s a free open house and Sam will be there answering questions and just sharing about the program. You can also learn more about Sam and Young Scholars at youngscholaracademy.org, and without further ado here’s Sam.
DANIELLE: Welcome to the podcast Sam, it’s great to have you! How are you doing today?
SAM: I’m great Danielle, thank you so much for having me, I appreciate it.
DANIELLE: Of course! I’m glad you’re here. You’re the director of the Young Scholars Academy and I know you work with a lot of 2e, gifted, neurodivergent kiddos, so I’m really excited to talk to you today ’cause I think we have a lot of listeners who are really interested in sort of– I hesitate to say alternative education, but I’m gonna say alternative education.
Like we’re homeschoolers, unschoolers, I think we talked about that a little bit, and I know a lot of listeners are thinking about how they can educate their kiddos out of conventional school systems or in ways in addition to conventional school systems, so we have lots of questions for you.
Could we start by, would you be able to just tell us a little bit about your path to directorship and what led you to this career?
SAM: Yeah, absolutely. So I guess let’s do the elevator pitch here.
DANIELLE: Yeah, go for it!
SAM: When I was younger I was diagnosed in fourth grade with ADHD, and that was kind of like a fork in the road for me, a moment that was sort of very defining for my life because I was really struggling and started to really kind of define who I was as a student. I had to go on and get a tutor, it was the late 80s, early 90s so phonics was big, right?
DANIELLE: Oh yes, I remember the commercials (laughs).
SAM: Hooked on Phonics, right?
DANIELLE: “It worked for me!”
SAM: Doing all of that stuff and it really started to hurt who I was as a student. I developed a lot of compensatory strategies to overcome that, but I was really successful almost everywhere that didn’t matter (laughs). I was struggling in school and so as I grew up it was a major part of my identity.
And as I got older, went into education, studied education, then I found out about twice-exceptionality, and I went to work at Bridges Academy for almost 10 years where I went to their graduate school. And I just kind of got deeper and deeper and felt like I just belonged here, was kind of taking care of younger me and making sure that other people don’t have the same types of struggles.
So I sort of developed this strength-based, talent-focused perspective and committed my life to that, and starting Young Scholars Academy was kind of like the big burning of the boats and send-off.
DANIELLE: (laughs) Thank you. So can I ask before we dig in a little bit more, I definitely want to talk about your educational focus and training, but we’ve had a lot of folks who have been on past podcasts talk about how ADHD has affected them as kids. I love gathering perspectives when I can because everyone’s experience is so different, like what their challenges were or where they really had strengths.
What is your memory of fourth-grade Sam in school? Where were you struggling before the diagnosis, what could have helped you better? Where were your strengths at that time?
SAM: Yeah, it’s an interesting one and it’s one that came up several times for me. So diagnosed in fourth grade and then kind of got mixed information, and then was maybe on the fence and didn’t have ADHD, and then was diagnosed again in high school, and then again in college, and then again in graduate school.
So it was this kind of teetering where I would– the truth of the matter is that it’s case-dependent. That’s the reality, right? That in certain situations I’m in a flow state and certain situations you can’t get me to sit down. But I, in fourth grade, was in trouble a lot, my desk was attached to the teacher’s desk and that kind of became the status quo.
So that was a space for me to– really, I just needed someone to kind of keep a hand on me and keep me focused because it was not stuff that I could really catch on to. I’d read a sentence and I would just see like, “Why are they saying like, ‘they’re there’ twice?” And I couldn’t get the meaning of the text because I was caught up in the patterns. “How many commas is too many commas?” or, “What’s the difference between this colon and that kind of colon?”
It was like a superficial trend observation, which really serves me well in life, right? Like seeing trends and spotting things, but at the time it did not, right? It did not in that setting.
DANIELLE: Yeah. Thank you, that’s so helpful because a lot of folks who are listening– I get so many emails that are like, “I never really believed that I had ADHD and then I heard this guest and their explanation.” So everybody’s experience is so different, but also sometimes just hearing one person explain it in a way that you can understand really helps, so I really appreciate you sharing.
I had a big emotional response when you were talking about recognizing trends and patterns because that’s a piece for me of where I got stuck in school was also some of that. Like, I can understand, you know, the mechanics of something or the programming of something, but the underneath part, the part you’re supposed to be paying attention to, I had trouble with.
And sort of in a different way, where I was very strong in English, and lit, and grammar and that kind of thing, but got stuck on, I guess I’ll frame it as lower level math. Like, “But why is the parentheses here instead of over here?” That kind of thing. So it’s really interesting how those traits show up, yeah.
SAM: It’s really tough you know, and as you said, there’s something that we say with twice-exceptional kids, which is like, “Once you’ve met a twice-exceptional student, you’ve met a twice-exceptional student.”
And ADHD is like that too, it’s such a wide spectrum, and especially with complications around missed and mixed diagnosis, right? Where someone may have ASD presenting as ADHD, or might have hyperactive ADHD, there’s so many different things. And also ADHD has become an adjective, or like, “Oh, I totally ADH…” you know?
SAM: It’s such a complex, really exciting space. But I think that the key– I don’t know that I fully answered your question so to do a better job of answering your question, I think it presents differently in everyone, and one of the best things that we can do to not identify but like support students is figure out where’s the breakdown, where are they struggling, and then is that transferable across all situations? And if not, why?
Because then we can start to ask like, okay, what’s going on there? Is there a certain thing happening? Is it that it’s the time of day? Is it the intensity or the speed of the content? You know, is it the interest, right? Is it passion? So I think we start to like figure that stuff out.
And for me it was very much like especially in English class, especially when I had to read, but if you wanted me to like get a group together or take part in a dialogue, “Yes, I love that!” It could still be English class and it could still be about deep stuff, it was just the way in which I was engaging and the way in which I was intaking the information.
DANIELLE: Yeah, and I think that’s also really important. We were opposite students (laughs).
DANIELLE: Because I’m autistic ADHD, but inattentive and I did not want to do anything groups. My weakness is, and still to this day, my weakness is really social groups. That I can’t track everybody’s gestures, and behavior, and eye tone of voice all together. I can do one person at a time and it’s fine and people I know really well, it’s fine.
But if it’s a bunch of like classmates, where it’s this sort of superficial knowing because you just all happen to be in the same English class, absolutely not! No chance.
But I’m really good if you give me a worksheet and some chapters to read and I just need to go do that. So it is, I think you’re completely right, it really is about really look at where is the person doing really well and how can we use that to support them in other areas, right? At least that’s how I approach it. I’m not an educationally trained person, so.
SAM: Look, I say this a lot, but I don’t know that education training necessarily makes a huge difference as someone who has like credentials in a bunch of different states. If you think that the system is functional and perfect then great, you got credentialed by it, but I don’t (laughs).
DANIELLE: Yeah, and I’m honestly the same.
SAM: And so having the credentials by a broken system is not the most validating thing.
DANIELLE: Yeah, yeah. No, it’s really interesting stuff. Can we talk– well, I have two questions and I’ll leave it to you which order we go in, whatever you think flows better, but one is, I would love to talk more about what 2e is and how it applies to neurodivergent people.
And the other thing is I would love to know sort of more about that gifted space, like what does gifted mean? Like if somebody is gifted what does that mean and how do we use that information to teach our kids or to approach education ourselves?
SAM: Yeah, no, these are really good questions.
DANIELLE: Two big questions (laughs).
SAM: They’re big ones, but I like that. So, twice-exceptional students, twice-exceptional people are my favorite people. And the idea is that essentially this is like a complex group, right? This is a group that merges two groups that often people don’t think can even coexist, right?
So the dual exceptionality is the idea is that someone, a twice-exceptional person has an exceptional gift or gifted area, and the G word’s loaded we’ll get into that a little bit, but an exceptional gifted area or above average area, and then they have an area in which they are struggling. And these are their dual exceptionalities, I kind of picture them as sort of asynchronous, right?
So someone might be really strong, like schoolhouse gifted, off-the-charts IQ, and they might have like autism, dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, you name it. And that chasm between sort of intellectual strength in certain areas and then things that are maybe struggles or, you know, “differences.” And that is the dual exceptional, I think.
But it gets complex, right? This is where it gets interesting because twice-exceptional people are often in one of three categories, which has to do with masking, right? So a lot of the times we don’t think of people with these dual existences because we only see one side, right?
So the concept is that there’s these three kinds of masking. Number one is when that gifted area covers or conceals the struggle area, and so it kind of covers it up.
The other one is the opposite where the struggle area covers the gift, so we don’t see it, right? This is a classic student who’s like brilliant in a certain area maybe but is in like a resource room. Like maybe like if you get them in a metal shop, they’re going to like do better than the instructor, but because they’re asked to do math every day in a way that’s really boring and unengaging, then we don’t see the giftedness, right?
Think of like a Simone Biles or someone who is like a rock star on the gym mat but had ADHD and struggled in class, right?
SAM: And then there’s the third category which is students who have dual masking, which is the hardest group to support because they’re the hardest to identify. It’s when the gift can overshadow the challenge and vice versa. So I hope that that makes sense.
DANIELLE: It does! It’s really interesting too, because in the autism community at least, and, you know, to a piece in the ADHD community especially among women, we talk about masking as being, “Do you look neurotypical or not?” So it’s again a term that has different definitions or significance across different areas.
So to me when I hear masking, I think of, well, for example, myself in school really pushing away from all those social areas, but really focusing on the academics. And so I just came off as sort of a nerdy, you know, highly focused on English sort of person.
And that covered my social deficits until I hit about puberty and that’s when, at least for people born as women and living as women, the kind of cliquiness and social bonding piece of being a teenager really kicks in. And I couldn’t mask that, right, and so I started to fall over.
But when I was younger, I just masked as somebody who was not autistic basically. Who could socialize as a neurotypical and function, roughly, as a neurotypical person, and so it’s interesting to hear these sort of– I’d love to do a (laughs) side-by-side of how all these different masks work together with one another or cover each other up.
‘Cause I could see as an autistic person, I’m going to be quiet in one minute, but I can see as an autistic person that masking of social challenges, for example, in my example, being highly gifted in English, for example, but also absolutely (laughs) incapable and very weak when it came to sort of the social norms of when do I talk, when do I be quiet, when do I make eye contact, how do I enter a conversation with a group, all those sorts of questions that I still really can’t do, you know?
SAM: It’s context-dependent.
SAM: I don’t have ASD and nor do I pretend to tell people with autism why they’re doing what they’re doing, but we know that the research tells us that when students or when people have a role in an assigned setting that there is a lot more comfort there.
So you as a host may feel more comfortable because you understand the expectations around that role, it is not amorphous, it’s not ambiguous, and it’s confidence-building because it can be a little bit more linear, right?
And that’s true, I mean we can extrapolate that so much broader, right? That regardless of if it’s ASD or ADHD or you name it, you know, people are often more comfortable when they understand the expectations. And that’s why a lot of our students like, you know, games and role-playing and things because they’re like, “Okay, as the dungeon master, here’s my job.” There’s no ambiguity around this. But life is ambiguous and that can be really scary and overwhelming for a lot of people.
DANIELLE: Yeah. And there’s also, I mean I think a piece of it with the autistic masking versus 2e masking is that for certain groups like neurotypical people, say American, Northeastern American neurotypical people, that specific culture, they have expectations around social engagement. They’re just unsaid or unspoken.
And so neurotypical people for the most part, not everybody, but for the most part, pick them up without explicit teaching. Whereas autistic people, if we want to participate in those, have to be explicitly taught, or have to go find other autistic people who don’t care about us mimicking that specific culture effectively.
And so it’s like, it is a different, I think, a connotation, but it shares some similarities, which I just think is really interesting. I’m stuck on masking, let me unstick us from masking and say, okay, so we have twice-exceptional, having a great strength and a great weakness perhaps? Can we talk now about giftedness? What does gifted mean? It is, as you said, a word with a lot of connotations to it, some positive, some negative. Yeah.
SAM: The G word is loaded, you know, because it has a dark history around it in many ways, right? That there’s gifted testing, and racial prejudice, and gender profiling, there’s a lot that comes with it. So it definitely historically has had a negative connotation, right?
There’s thoughts sometimes around privilege and equity. But ultimately, much like twice-exceptionality, much like everything that we’ve talked about, giftedness is a strength in a certain area. Historically, we think of giftedness as schoolhouse gifted, right? But that’s only a piece of the pie.
Giftedness can be, again, I know a very gifted high school dropout mechanic. He just speaks car. He walks up to it and runs his finger along the side of the car, and then he just will touch one thing and a problem that’s been plaguing someone for six months has evaporated, right? And that’s a gift.
So the question is when we think about giftedness we’re talking about above-average ability, and usually, when you think of your standard deviation we’re thinking about two standard deviations. So when you think of a bell curve, we’re looking at a few standard deviations over. And then beyond that, you get to what’s called PG, which is profoundly gifted.
So this is very high above a 135 IQ. And a lot of the times though, I like to kind of break down the difference, because again, twice-exceptionality is my thing.
So I think that there’s a very likelihood, a great likelihood that a lot of people who are identified or are seen as gifted may very well also be 2e, again it’s just context-dependent, right? So are we seeing the two realities? Because, going back to the bell curve, a lot of people sort of straddle both sides, like especially twice-exceptional people, they have this great asynchrony.
And most of the time we see people in their strengths, right? I think this is a really important idea that in school, we don’t get that, we see people from the bottom up. Like, “Okay, so and so little Johnny, little Susie, you’re not doing your math, you’re not completing your social studies, let’s fix that,” but in life, we say like, “You’re an incredibly talented painter! We have to get you doing album cover art.”
I think that school really needs to come over to the real world because in the real world, we actually are tapping more into strengths and talents and so forth. So this is a roundabout way to say that giftedness like everything else is context-dependent, but typically this means an above-average ability.
And to quote Dr. Joseph Renzulli, he goes beyond gifted, and is this one of my favorite, he’s controversial by the way, so I may be upsetting people by saying this, but Dr. Joseph Renzulli, talks about gifted behaviors, not gifted people, right? That we have gifted behaviors and that at certain times, in certain settings, with certain abilities, that we can kind of put this all together and demonstrate these gifted behaviors.
DANIELLE: Okay, interesting. I’m not familiar with them, but I think folks could make their own determinations and I’m sure there are books of his or articles of his that can be read, right? On the internet, so maybe I will find some links to put below for y’all.
One really quick question is, you mentioned– I know this was not the main point of what you said– but you mentioned IQ as being a way that we assess for giftedness. Obviously, IQ has a very weird and biased history and I was just talking to somebody else about this earlier.
Do you know– and I don’t know the answer– are there other ways folks go about assessing giftedness or high, high, high strengths or talents besides IQ tests? Or is there any movement by any of the community to move away from that particular? Or have people adjusted the IQ test since the last time I looked at it so it is more inclusive? Are any of those things the case?
SAM: Yeah, no, so I’m definitely not like a neuropsych, this is not my strength. I find the whole thing very overwhelming but there are so many different brands of tests, right? One of the most popular is the WISC, the Wechsler Intelligence… I can’t remember what the whole acronym stands for. But there are like three big ones and then there are more.
We are seeing really gifted strength-based neuropsychologists who can look at a kid and say, you know, “This is probably the best test for you. Let’s also incorporate some kind of maybe portfolio work and other work so we can get a more 360 view.” But yeah, we are moving beyond just the like classic–
You know, intelligence testing really started, it really took off like in the beginning of the 20th century, and we’re getting kind of beyond those elementary ones, but we also haven’t come that far, so that yeah, IQ is definitely, has been and still, I would say remains pretty loaded.
I just always encourage people to again think of, like, Howard Gardener’s multiple intelligences. Like, okay, great, you’re really gifted in this area and it shows on a test, but what about the people who don’t? And going back to Joseph Renzulli, he has this quote which I adore. He says, “No one cares about Pablo Picasso’s math abilities or Albert Einstein’s abilities to paint.” So it’s like we can test someone in an area outside maybe where their gifted abilities show up, we’re not doing them a service.
So I think it’s really important to, yes, do testing and get the data because it can be really helpful, but also go beyond, you know, like a single assessment and try to get that bigger picture.
DANIELLE: Thank you. That’s really helpful. So I’m a coach. I work with 2e people sometimes but it’s not our main focus at all, but strengths-based work is really important, and looking at where are you succeeding and how can we apply some of what you’re doing in those pieces of your life to other places where you feel like you’re not succeeding? Or how can we adjust approaches? And that really, very much, has to work with what are your gifts and talents. What are your strengths?
And some folks, it’s really easy just to know right away, like, “I can tell you’re really strong about,” say, “pattern analysis just by talking to you.” Or, “You’re very creative,” right? But then some people, you really have to do a lot of work to figure out where. There’s always a talent, right? But you have to do a lot of work to find it sometimes because it’s not being used in their everyday life.
And so I’m glad to hear I guess that there is more than one assessment technique or approach to figuring out how to educate folks with very specific unique talents. Because I feel like an IQ test is just not broad enough to capture most of those things, so, yeah.
SAM: Right, and a lot of the students will get, one of the emerging elements is that there are just more pieces to it. So it might be a singular test, right? But then they’ll also have observations from teachers and other people so you start to get like a wider view.
Again, it’s challenging to do this and I don’t pretend to understand how neuropsych evaluations work, but I know that the more information that we can get from the more stakeholders I think the better we can serve our students, as long as we do keep, what you’re saying, as long as we keep that strength-based perspective, right?
A lot of the times these neuropsychs can actually give really helpful information, right? So perhaps diagnosing someone and giving them an answer to questions they have or a label to identify with, as long as we keep that positive. And if it’s not, if it’s harmful, it’s like, “Uh oh! You’ve got this thing, oh boy!”
And that’s how a lot of people feel, I think. They get these 35-page reports and it’s like really dense and I don’t know that that is serving people well. So it’s so important to get that wide smattering of data to help someone live their best life, and as you said leverage their strengths.
DANIELLE: And like you said in real lif (laughs), not just in the school setting which is really geared towards learning very specific discreet skills that may or may not be helpful later on, in my own personal opinion. But then when you get to real life being able to know your strengths and talents so you can apply them in a way that really makes life good for you, right? We want wellness. We want– at least as a coach, I want my folks to be as happy as possible but also as well as possible which is hard to do.
Can we pivot a little bit? I would love to talk more about your school. How do you, say you get a new student come in, can you tell us a little bit about what the approach is for figuring out what’s the path for this person? How do we support them in what they need coming in?
So Young Scholars Academy’s a virtual enrichment program, we’re kind of like a virtual School Without Walls. And the idea is that it’s strength-based learning, and it’s interspaced and students self-select. I don’t really have like a, “You come in, you take a test, you get placed.” It’s really about having students pick something that excites them, and the goal is to buck the system (laughs).
The goal is like if you spend all day in classes that you struggle with, and then you go see a specialist because you’re not doing something, and then you have like a tutor, and then there can be like an hour of cryptocurrency investing, that’s gonna be awesome, right?
And so our goal is just to take all these differently wired kids from all over that have really unique interests, and just place them in a setting where they can delve deeply into what they love with mentor quirky expert people above them and then quirky people around them. And so to answer your question, it’s sort of a self-selection process and then we’ll evaluate on the fly.
Like if someone signs up for like advanced speech class and it’s their first time, “Hold on! These students have been doing this for a year or more,” so we need to maybe readjust, but beyond that, we’re differentiating, we’re meeting every student where they are. So, yeah.
DANIELLE: That sounds very much like our unschooling program at home. It’s like, “What are you interested in? How can I can you find resources?” My kids are very young, so they’re not quite accessing resources on their own yet, though they will be very soon. And so it is like, “How can I help you find the things that you’re interested in and be able to engage in them?” And if I need to translate them up or down, or help you adjust your level then I will, but that’s fantastic.
And what age does your group serve?
SAM: So we have like four cohorts. So we have seven to 10, 11 to 14, 15 to 18, and then we have 18,19 to 20.
And those aren’t always the boundaries, some classes will be across those, but generally, it really comes down to the educators’ preferences for whatever they think. I really say that we’re like a virtual village, so all the mentors and educators in our program are codesigning with me, and they’re really the experts and then I just kind of facilitate the village so that they can meet with the students.
‘Cause one of the things that our students need more than the content, more than the strength stuff is really just guidance. You know, just knowing that things are going to be okay and being with students, because of the asynchronies, being with students who are like them. ‘Cause humans, I always say, we’re social creatures who happen to think.
DANIELLE: Yes (laughs).
SAM: Right? If we don’t have that, and a lot of our students don’t. Like if you’re operating at a graduate school level intellectually, and then you’re in like a seventh grade socially-emotionally, it’s gonna be hard to hang out with older students intellectually because of the social-emotional stuff, but it’s hard to socialize with your peers because they’re talking about, you know, Pokémon.
SAM: (speech overlaps with Danielle) But you’re into Pokémon because you’re also that age, right? (laughs with Danielle) So it’s really confusing, so the idea is just to give them a space where they can nerd out with other students, and then also have these quirky mentors who get them.
DANIELLE: Yeah, that sounds fantastic. ‘Cause I know, again, part of my job as a parent coach is working with parents of kiddos– and most of those kiddos are neurodivergent ’cause I’m working with neurodivergent parents, and that’s just how it is– and a lot of the complaint is that kiddo is maybe doing great in school, maybe gets on well with siblings or cousins, but like does not have friends because they can’t find the one other autistic person in wherever middle of nowhere they are.
‘Cause some of these folks are in cities and obviously the more people you have the more neurodivergent people you have, the more likely you are to bump into them, but it can be really hard to make connections and that’s just with neurodivergence. I’m not even talking about higher intellect, right?
That it can be hard enough to find somebody with the same special interests as your– you like your battleships or your Pokemon, right? Much less somebody who is also on the same level as you in terms of thinking through big problems. So that’s really– I can see how that would be a huge benefit to the kids who are enrolled.
SAM: Yeah, it’s a really exciting space and we do have so many– I think of them as like marooned kids, and families for that matter, like you’re saying. We have families in several different countries. We have a student who is homeschooled and he’s in Switzerland and his parents let him take– like, sometimes when there’s a class that aligns with his strengths. Like, we have a robotics one which I already know is getting signed up for, and he’ll stay up, it’s midnight, and he’s taking the class from, like, midnight to one.
And his dad’s like participating ’cause he’s really excited like they’re both fired up about it. And then they built the day around it just so he can have that hour a day or whatever it may be, and so it’s really exciting to see. And it’s like you said, there’s just so many people who don’t have that luxury.
DANIELLE: Yeah. Do you ever feel challenged by folks when they come in and they want the best for their kiddo, and their kiddo’s not doing well in conventional school settings for whatever reason, but also it can be a big– I’m speaking from my own experience– a big leap of faith to be like, “Okay, I’m gonna let my kid lead.” Like, I’m gonna let them sign up for the stuff that’s of interest and of value to them, even if it’s not how I was trained to teach my child.
SAM: It absolutely is, and we have both. We have an executive function course and it’s really fun, it’s like gamified, they’re building their own systems, then they have to like test them, and measure them, and share them each week. I always say like, “Why are you here?” on the first day, and they’re like, “My mom made me.”
And I always know that, and I’m like, “Yeah maybe, but we’re gonna have a blast.” And then they come back for level two, level three, level four, right? ‘Cause, it’s a great community. So I’m still existing in the same world that you’re talking about, there are a lot of parents who are like, “My kid isn’t…”
And that’s real-life stuff. If a student is spending their whole entire lives consuming information and they’re really fired up about it, but they’re not necessarily building a vision beyond just the consumption or they’re not contributing, I still do, this may be controversial but I still do kind of barge in and say, “What can we do?” Not that we need to turn every hobby or interest into a job, right? But how can we make the world a better place with your deep-seated knowledge?
Like we’re just coming out of COVID and there are people who dedicated their entire lives to studying the Spanish flu, and all of a sudden they’re incredibly relevant superheroes for us, right? So there’s not always a clear purpose, but, “How are you getting your information out there? How are you sharing it, no matter what it looks like?”
So to answer your question, I still do exist in that same world, but I also will say just reminding parents that school’s converging to the mean. The stuff that you’re hearing, that kind of re-programming does have to start with the parents.
You’re hearing all the time, “Your kid’s not doing this, your kid’s not doing that,” and the parents are like, “Holy cow! I want my kid to be okay. I want to make sure everything’s going to be okay, I want to make sure we’re going to have a bright future here,” and that’s not what the future looks like. If I’m a programmer I’m speaking another language, I don’t really need to know that much about this Spanish class, I’m learning this.
And so if I have an F in Spanish but I’m like on fire in programming (laughs), that’s okay to me, you know? So I think it starts with the parents because we’ve all had an education and we all have an opinion about one. And when we’re constantly being told, “There’s a hole in the boat over here, we’re taking in water over there,” it’s like (quiet yelling)!
But when we focus on what we’re doing well we see transformations in our students, we see transformations in the work that they’re producing. And, as you said, we see the wellness, we see the happiness, and we see the mind shift and grow and the feel-goods start to come out.
DANIELLE: Yeah. Thank you, that’s really helpful. And people can absorb content throughout their life, right? And so for me as a parent and sort of a defacto educator, the goal is to teach the skills so that they can access the ability to absorb content later, right? To teach skills so that they can effectively use the content they have and work creatively with it, and question it, and challenge it, and sort of mold it around, make things out of it, right?
But I do think parents in a lot of conventional school settings are just constantly told like, “Your kid is not learning this content and that’s the problem.” When really for me it’s more about the skills around how to use that content that are more important.
And maybe that’s just the neurodivergent perspective because a lot of us have lagging skills or things we were not taught, or other things that people just pick up that we need to be explicitly taught. But I know it has helped my kids just to focus for example on executive function support. How do I manipulate this information rather than absorbing just the content itself of how do I solve this polynomial that I will never use again after what you test out of it in college, right?
That’s it, you’ll never touch it again. It’s like, okay, well I spent like two years learning polynomials, so I could have learned meal planning (laughs) or how to do my laundry or something actually reflective of my adult day-to-day.
SAM: A lot of our students do, as you say, our students do need to be taught things deliberately and they need to be involved, right? It isn’t top-down like, “Hey kid, take this agenda book and write down your homework,” ’cause that doesn’t take into account their intellect, it doesn’t take into account their strengths. So instead we can say, “Okay, what is task management look like?”
There’s really three things that needs to happen: you need to capture ideas, you need to prioritize them, and you need to execute them. Now, what are the best ways to do part one, part two, part three in accordance with who you are? And what have you tried? And then all of a sudden they’re crafting something. And that is not a one-size-fits-all, it’s very personalized. And it’s fun!
DANIELLE: Thanks so much for all of that, that was really, really helpful. For folks who are listening and who might be interested in all the stuff you do, could you tell us a little bit more about where to find more information about you and the program?
SAM: Yeah, so you can check us out at youngscholarsacademy.org, and the big news that I want to share is that we have– we’re actually open for enrollment right now by the time this airs. When you’re hearing this, from my mouth to your ears we’re open for enrollment, and our enrollment period is actually closing soon, so that’s when you can sign up for courses, and the courses are going to be running–
We have winter camps and also spring and winter courses, but the most important thing to take away from this is that tonight, Thursday the 8th of December at 6:30 Pacific Time, 9:30 Eastern, we have an open house where you can come meet all the mentors and meet different families and just go into breakout rooms and connect with families and mentors, and just get insight into the different classes.
So it’s a really exciting time, and our early bird special ends tomorrow the 9th, so we’re giving like 10% off all courses that are signed up by then so that’s really cool.
DANIELLE: Awesome! Okay great, well thanks so much.
Thank you so much for joining us on the Neurodiverging podcast today. I hope that you learned something, I hope you enjoyed it. If you like this podcast we have lots of other ones all about education, about neurodivergent students and how we need to access school in different ways on the website. You can find all of those at neurodiverging.com/podcast-index, or wherever you stream your podcasts, they’re all there. I very much hope they’re helpful for you.
We also run a monthly support group for neurodivergent parents, so if that describes you and you’re interested in joining us please go to neurodiverging.com and find out more information about how to get signed up for that. Thank you for being here with me. Please remember we are all in this together.