By: Laura Petix, MS OTR/LEPISODE 80


Profound giftedness is its own type of neurodivergence, and there’s no roadmap for their educational path. Listen in as we talk about what giftedness is, how it shows up, and the many ways we can support these children in and out of the classroom.

Caitlin Greer Meister

Caitlin Greer Meister is the Founding Director & CEO of The Greer Meister Group, a New York City-based private tutoring and educational consulting practice that specializes in content mastery, cognitive flexibility, resilience, and academic independence. She is trained in the Orton-Gillingham approach for teaching students with language-based learning differences and has extensive experience working with gifted learners and supporting neurodiverse students. Caitlin has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Parents Magazine, New York Magazine, Real Simple, WWD, and more

Follow Caitlin on Instagram @caitlingreermeister or visit for more information.

In this episode, we talked about:

Episode Links

Giftedness and Neurodiversity with Caitlin Greer Meister
Caitlin (00:00): A lot of people mistakenly think that gifted is synonymous with high achieving and it isn't, right? Giftedness is about, again, how you process information, how you experience the world. Now, some gifted folks are high achieving, right? But not everybody is. You don't have to be. And unfortunately, most of the gifted...

Caitlin (00:00): A lot of people mistakenly think that gifted is synonymous with high achieving and it isn’t, right? Giftedness is about, again, how you process information, how you experience the world. Now, some gifted folks are high achieving, right? But not everybody is. You don’t have to be. And unfortunately, most of the gifted and talented programs in our schools are really what are high achiever programs. And so this is part of the root of all of our confusion around the language because we have schools calling something gifted or gifted and talented that’s really about being high-achieving. And then we have folks like you and me who work with neurodivergent kids saying, well, giftedness is really this complex spectrum of how we process information. And you can see how it becomes a little bit difficult to have conversations unless going in that you are on the same, you’re using the same language, and you have the same foundation. Laura (00:51): Welcome to the Sensory Wise Solutions podcast for parents where parents can get real actionable strategies to support kids with sensory processing disorder. I’m Laura, OT and mom to Liliana, a sensory sensitive kid who inherited my anxiety Laura (01:08): And Laura (01:08): My love for all things Disney. Consider me your new OT mom, bestie. I know my stuff, but I also know what it’s really like in the trenches of parenting a child with sensory processing disorder. Speaker 4 (01:21): Okay, mom, enough about me. Let’s start the podcast. Laura (01:27): All right, we have a wonderful episode for you today. This is really going to get into one part of a discussion that I don’t always get to dive into because this is not my wheelhouse. So the discussion I’m talking about is if you’ve been here for a while or maybe not even for a while, you can pretty much get this vibe from me, and you probably have already heard me talk about this, and that is trying to debunk the debate of is it sensory or is it behavior? I swear I joke about this, but I say one day on my tombstone, it’s going to say that tagline, that sensory is behavior. I will never let it go. Every time I hear that question, is it sensory is behavior, I say behavior is sensory because everything that we notice our kids do is a behavior. It’s not always good or bad, it’s just a behavior. (02:21)That’s what it is. But what parents and teachers, I think really want to get to the root of, is this child doing this thing on purpose or is it something out of their control? So I try to reframe this for them and I try to tell them, you have this behavior. What you need to find out is if that behavior is being driven from a sensory need, a sensory trigger, or is it being driven by something else and by something else? It can be so many different things. It can be cognitive abilities, it could be learning differences, it could be social emotional challenges, it could be trauma, it could be a need for connection, all of those things. And I will always kind of list those out there, but I usually leave it at that. And then I dig into the sensory triggers for certain behaviors. (03:15)Today though, I have someone on the podcast who I’m going to introduce in a bit, who gets to get into it with us. One of the reasons why you might be seeing behaviors in the classroom that are related to learning differences, and not only learning disabilities, but just learning differences in general. And particularly, we’re going to talk about profounded profound giftedness in children. So that’s going to be great for you on the episode today. Here’s a quick intro to who Caitlin is. So Caitlin Greer Meister is the founding director and c e o of the Greer Meister Group, a New York City-based private tutoring and educational consulting practice that specializes in content mastery, cognitive flexibility, resilience, and academic independence. She’s trained in the Orton Gillingham approach for teaching students with language-based learning differences and has extensive experience working with gifted learners and supporting Neurodiverse students. Caitlin has been featured in the New York Times, wall Street Journal, parents Magazine, New York magazine, real simple WW d and more. And you can learn more from Caitlin on Instagram at caitlin greer meister or visit joyfully for more information. I’ll put all of those links in the show notes below. You’re going to love this episode. Caitlin is amazing. We vibe so well on the neurodiversity movement. I know that her words and her information today are going to sit so well with you. (04:44)Hello, Caitlin. It’s so good to have you on the podcast. I’m so excited. I have so many questions already for you now that I know all of your expertise in this particular area, because this topic keeps coming up so much. But before I ask all the questions, I would love if you could just give us all a little friendly introduction to who you are and how you got started in this profession. Caitlin (05:07): I’m so happy to be here and I’m so excited to have this conversation with you. Here’s how I’ll start. Imagine being a first time mom and hearing these words. We don’t know how to help your child. That was me. That was me as a first time mom. And I grew up thinking that I knew how to do education because I knew how to get stickers on my reading logs and aza, my report cards and my pencil lines, never straight outside my standardized testing bubbles on my answer sheets. And then I had this beautiful, amazing child, and the way that he learns doesn’t fit into other people’s standardized bubbles. Right now I have more than 20 years of experience working with kids and families in a variety of roles. But nine years ago, almost nine years ago, it’s his birthday next month, everything changed for me. (05:56)And in learning how he learns best and what was going to help him thrive, then something amazing happened and it became bigger than just being about my son because I was having conversations with other parents and I realized that I could help them figure out how their kids learned best and how they were going to thrive. And it was this gift that I could give to other mothers. I mean, other than raising my own children, it’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. So that’s what brings me to your doorstep or your microphone. And then I am also the founding director of a private tutoring and educational consulting practice based in New York called Joyfully Learning at the Greer Meister Group. And I’m just thrilled to be here with you. Laura (06:37): Wow. I love the way that you put that because that’s so true that it can be really hard. Well, I think one of the hardest things of parenting a neurodivergent child, especially when they’re your first, is feeling like you did something wrong or some what This isn’t supposed to happen, and you have no one to talk to in your personal life who gets it or understands or even know the right questions to ask. And then when you ask a medical professional or someone, is this normal or is that normal and they can’t help you or they’re not fully seeing what you’re seeing, that can be a really hard journey to walk, I think for so many parents, Caitlin (07:13): Well, I think I realized pretty early on that when experts are telling you they don’t know how to help your child, that I couldn’t rely on somebody else to hand us a plan. I was going to have to figure it out myself, and it wasn’t easy. It was a lot of trial and error and reading everything I could get my hands on and watching him play and learn and seeing what caused him to light up inside. And I think sometimes we have a picture in our head of what our child’s educational path is going to look like before we become a parent. And having to rewrite that as we went was a really big change, was a really big journey for me. Laura (07:55): So I want to start there then. When you say you had to rewrite that, because we all, like you said, we even before we take that baby home, we have a plan of a vision of what this milestone is going to look like and how their schooling and when they grow up and all of those things. And as we see that not everything always goes according to plan. And our kids have wonderful, unique, differently wired brains as they are and surprise us and have a lot of unexpected things. And we have to go with the flow and listen to then what our child is telling us through their behavior, their strengths play to those and their challenges that come up. When you say you had to rewrite that, what did that look like? I’m curious, and other parents might need to know also, it might be good to start here. If your child then, once you realized that he had maybe different learning style and a different path, what kind of school setting did you find for him? Was he in a traditional school setting and how did you rewrite that path for him taking that into consideration? Caitlin (08:57): So my older son is what the world would call profoundly gifted. And that on the surface can sound like, oh, what an amazing gift, what an amazing blessing. And there are certainly aspects of it that are, but it also comes with a lot of challenges that until you’re living it, you may not be as aware of. And I think that it took me a while to figure out what the right environment was going to be for him in terms of learning environment. And in the end, well, I shouldn’t say in the end, he’s going to be nine, so who knows, right? We take it one year at a time. But he is right now at a school for gifted kids for accelerated learners. And they are extremely flexible with us, and they work with us in terms of what helps him thrive. Because even in that setting, he’s a bit of an outlier and we supplement. (09:49)So part of that rewriting what I pictured was, again, no one person or institution is going to be able to hand me a plan that’s going to be all of his needs. And so I have to decenter school a little bit, for lack of a better way to explain it and say that is one aspect of his overall learning and education. And there are all these other pieces, whether that’s self-directed pursuit of something that he loves, whether that’s an outside provider like an ot, or if I bring in a tutor for him in something, any number of ways that this can look. So I guess that’s a very long way of saying flexibility. I had to really learn flexibility and to take it one step at a time. Laura (10:33): And how early on did you find this school for him? It always starts by noticing a behavior or assign either at home or at school. And then we dig in, what is it we learn more. Okay, now we know what it is, how can we support him? And then sometimes parents will try directly in that environment and then they say, is there a better environment and how long that can take in the child’s years? Early on. How long did that transition or was it quick? You knew the answer right away and immediately had him in the right school from the get-go? Caitlin (11:09): I definitely did not know the answer right away. Laura (11:12): Good. Cause I think I’ll make everyone feel better. Caitlin (11:16): But I did have a couple of advantages, right? Number one, this is my field. I was working in education long before I had him, and I even had a background in gifted education. So I sometimes joke that the universe looked at me and went like, oh, you think you have expertise in this? We’re going to give you this one to parent. Take me down a few notches. Really Laura (11:36): Humble you. Caitlin (11:37): So I had the advantage of having a background in education and in gifted education in particular. And I have the advantage of living in New York City where we have a lot of options and choices in terms of schools and the privilege of being able to afford to explore those options. And so I like to be really upfront about that because I don’t want to cause any other mom out there listening to go like, well, if she could do it, why didn’t I do it the same way? I had some pretty significant advantages and privileges going into this. Laura (12:04): Yeah, that’s really important. I’m glad that you called all those things out. Cause that’s one of the things that I was thinking. I recently spoke with another family who has a child who they are identifying or anticipating will test as gifted or profoundly gifted or twice exceptional. And I would like to ask you more technical details about those. But we were talking about finding the right school, and we were like, I don’t think there’s enough of them out there. If there are, I don’t know how affordable they are. And how do you know if this is the right? All of those questions came up, so I’m so glad to have you here to set that out there. And so it does sound like New York. I’m, I’m probab. I’m some wondering if also someplace in California, but New York, I’ve heard of a lot of schools like that, specialized schools, private schools that are known for catering to kids with these kinds of learning styles. So can you break down what it means or what the definition is of profoundly gifted and also if it’s the same or different than what we hear as two E or twice exceptional? Cause I hear both of those. Caitlin (13:09): Sure. So one of the challenges in talking about giftedness in our culture is that if you ask 10 different people what it means, you’re going to get 10 different answers. We haven’t all really agreed on a definition for what giftedness is, and it’s compounded by the fact that giftedness at certain levels when you’re talking about a highly or profoundly gifted child, is a form of neuro divergence in and of itself. So when we talk about two E, what we’re talking about is, which stands for twice exceptional, which is generally used to talk about somebody who is gifted and has another form of divergence. So maybe they’re gifted and they’re also dyslexic, or they’re gifted and they also have a D H D or whatever else. It might be two exceptionalities. Right? Got it. When you’re talking about kids who are profoundly gifted, their profiles are so complex and there are statistically so few of them in the population that it becomes really difficult sometimes to parse out, well, this is because of the giftedness, this is because of something else. And I have found that it’s more valuable sometimes to look at the needs and not at the labels. We may never get a set box to put a profoundly gifted child in. And it is more valuable to look at, well, what helps this individual child thrive? Right? Laura (14:31): And that’s what I would say for so many different challenges that come up for parents. And we get stuck in this, is it this diagnosis? Is it that, is it this? We need those sure to make sure that we can focus down, be narrowed in terms of how we support them, but really, really just looking at the child’s behaviors and trying to listen in and pick up those clues and see what they need most. So if we’re thinking of a child who is profoundly gifted, can you give us a little taste or example of what we might notice for those of us who are not in the field, what are some little clues that we might have seen in early on in their school years, maybe starting kindergarten or first grade in those early years that would lead us to start thinking this router or looking further into it? Caitlin (15:21): Sure. So I think this takes us back to your question of what does gifted really mean? And back to this idea that there are a lot of different opinions about what that means. So when I look at giftedness, I look at it like a spectrum, so many other things. And what we also need to understand is that being gifted, in particular, we’re talking about highly or profoundly gifted kids, impacts the way that they experience the entire world. And so the example I give is when you have a two-year-old who can read, and that two-year-old is on the bus next to somebody with the front page of the newspaper talking about upsetting, triggering topics, now you have to guide your preschooler through navigating things in the world that developmentally they weren’t necessarily supposed to be exposed to at that age. And that’s just one example. The other thing to know about it is that a lot of people mistakenly think that gifted is synonymous with high achieving and it isn’t, right? (16:20)Giftedness is about, again, how you process information, how you experience the world. Now, some gifted folks are high achieving, but not everybody is. You don’t have to be. And unfortunately, most of the gifted and talented programs in our schools are really what are high achiever programs. And so this is part of the root of all of our confusion around the language, because we have schools calling something gifted or gifted and talented that’s really about being high achieving. And then we have folks like you and me who work with divergent kids saying, well, giftedness is really this complex spectrum of how we process information. And you can see how it becomes a little bit difficult to have conversations unless going in that you are on the same, you’re using the same language, and you have the same foundation. Laura (17:06): And so when you say high achieving, or if someone is identified as profoundly gifted, is it typically a test, like an IQ test? Is that all they focus on the intelligence answering really in depth or academic based questions? Is that how they determine someone? Is roundly gifted? Caitlin (17:24): What you mean? For an in-school gifted and talented program? Laura (17:29): Just if, even if it’s not within the school, how would their, because it’s not a diagnosis, but how would someone, without a doubt identifying my child is profoundly gifted. Oh, I Caitlin (17:44): See. Laura (17:44): Okay. How would you identify that? Yeah, Caitlin (17:47): So you’re going to start to notice things about your child that stand out from a young age, most likely, and it’s going to be different for every child because a child could be gifted in one area and not in another. They have often have what we call asynchronous development where their abilities in a certain area are extremely accelerated and in another area are completely on in line with their age, same peers, or even delayed, who knows, right? Child by child. But so you might notice, for example, that your child learns to read really early without much instruction. You might notice that your child seems to intuit the math in the world around them without sitting down and learning, okay, this is the algorithm for how we divide or how we multiply. But they just notice, oh, well, we have 10 coffee pods, and if daddy drinks two coffee pods a day, these are going to last him five days, something like that. (18:41)So you’ll start to observe those things or really deep interest in something, a deep dive interest in something that is unexpected for a preschooler, like the periodic table of elements, let’s say. These are the things that you may start to notice if their real gifts lie in something more artistic, you might see a musical ability or a painting or drawing ability. There are a lot of different ways it can manifest, but it tends to come early and strong in whatever way it’s going to come. And so it tends to be pretty noticeable from a young age. Laura (19:18): I could see that early and strong part coming into play when there’s really no schooling, traditional schooling on their part yet. And you’re really, really young kid who’s only been home with you is starting to show these abilities. And you’re like, I never taught you that. How does that happen? So I could see how that can be something really strong, an easy identifier early on, or especially later on when it’s like in hindsight, and you’re actually, now that I think about it when they were doing this, but now that they’re in kindergarten, it just, yeah. Caitlin (19:49): So the coffee pot example actually comes from my younger son who’s in preschool now, and my older son began to really develop phonemic awareness, meaning understanding the sounds that our letters make, the sounds that make up our words at 17 or 18 months old. And for those of you who aren’t in education and may not be familiar with the developmental timelines, that’s very early for both of those things. The division for my younger son and the phonemic awareness for my older son. Laura (20:15): And I want to know, you might not have the actual statistics, but I’m assuming it’s very highly they go together, is is it common for when we have this asynchronous development where one of the lesser developed or more average skills average to their developmental, to their age is more of the emotional regulation piece where they are a two year old, will still have two year old emotional regulation and throwing tantrums over not wanting the cookie cut in, but be able to read the newspaper or be able to read the instructions of how to make or bake a cookie from scratch. Is that pretty common for these kids? Caitlin (20:57): Yeah, I mean, it definitely can be. And that has been my experience. Both of my kids have developed pretty typically and what we’d expect for their ages in terms of social and behavioral skills, despite advanced cognitive abilities. And that’s when people talk about asynchronous development, that’s a lot about what they talk about, because sometimes you find yourself in a conversation with a child that is at a certain level that you almost forget how young they are. And you realize, okay, wait, so here’s an example from my son. He was working with a tutor on something in physics, and he just wanted to play with the iPad. He just wanted to push the buttons and what does this do? And was a C, and I was in the kitchen trying to mind my own business, but I just looked over and I went, are you reminding us that you’re eight? Yes. And we just needed a reminder. Laura (21:43): I love that. So when you have, that is more of our job as professionals. When we have a parent who doesn’t understand this async synchronous development, is it more about us, like you said, just, oh yeah, your brain is only four years old, of course, that part of your brain doesn’t really know how to control this part of this emotion or whatever. Even though you have all of these wonderful skills, is it more about reminding parents of that and sort of decreasing our expectations of those emotional regulations, of those average skills that they have? Or is it more about, are there still ways me, I’m trying to phrase it, are we trying to get those other skills on at the same level as their high, early profound skills that they already have is what I’m saying? Caitlin (22:31): So I’m a believer that any child is going to benefit from parents who are emotionally regulated themselves and who are sturdy and consistent and calm in their role as parent. And so I would encourage parents not to get caught up in deferring to their child in some way that might not be healthy just because they have this advanced cognition when it comes to behaviors or what our family values are, things like that. And I think we also have to understand that when your brain can move so quickly and be making leaps 10 or 20 steps ahead, that can sometimes create frustration or dysregulation or some sort of disconnect in how you’re feeling emotionally in your environment versus how your brain is processing. And especially if your child is not in a neurodiversity affirming environment or an environment specifically designed to meet the needs of gifted learners to understand that they may feel sort of a disconnect or a misalignment with their peers and the expectations that environment a lot of the time. (23:46)And that takes a lot of resources for a child to navigate in and of itself. And so for us, I think what this all boils down to is the importance of holding space for your child to be their authentic self, whatever that is, and to try to find a school or a learning environment or to advocate within the one you’re in for your child to be able to be their authentic self in that learning environment and to feel valued and to feel that people understand the value that they are bringing to that environment as who they are authentically themselves. Laura (24:22): I love that. And I want to start pivoting a little bit more towards the school and that environment, because I think that that’s a big piece, obviously where this comes up. So we know, obviously in an ideal world, it’s either the parent hearing this, in an ideal world, if this were easy, you would have the perfect school to send your kid to and all of their, you just send your kid there and all of their needs will be met as best as possible in that. But for the majority of parents who have a traditional public school in their local, their school district, and we’ve identified that your child’s classroom behaviors are primarily related to their profound, profound giftedness, a lot of parents or teachers are thinking they might be bored because this content is too easy for them. And so it always seems, then the question is, do we skip a grade? (25:14)Do we give them advanced math? What do you find are some of the places to at least start? If parents are hearing this and I don’t have the option to homeschool, I don’t have the option to send them to a gifted specific school. What kinds of changes can I ask the teacher to make in the classroom so that my child feels like their needs are being met in this particular profounded giftedness? Because we have all the suggestions for sensory environment stuff, but for this, if we have a profoundly gifted child in a typical general education classroom, what would you suggest? Caitlin (25:49): So I think I would start by saying that what benefits a profoundly gifted child or a child with any form of divergence benefits all children, not the specific accommodation, but the idea that we’re going in looking at an individual child and saying, what is going to help this child thrive? So let’s talk about differentiation because you mentioned it. So for anybody listening who might not be familiar, and differentiation means that each child in the classroom is given the appropriate challenge level in the work for what’s appropriate for them. So it’s not going to be one size fits all, right? Differentiation means we’re customizing to different kids. And sometimes that’s not done at all in the classroom. Everybody gets the same thing. Sometimes a classroom is differentiated by small groups. So you might see this most commonly with reading groups or math groups where a cluster of kids is given one kind of work and a different cluster is given another. (26:41)And in some settings, you’ll see differentiation down to the individual level. And that would be wonderful if we could always have that, but obviously resources are always a consideration. But the thing is, does differentiation benefit gifted kids? Absolutely. But does differentiation benefit all kids? Absolutely. Right. So one of the great things about what I get to do when I work with parents and I work with teachers and schools is to say, this is what we’re talking about. Might sound on the surface really narrow. We’re talking about one group of kids, but these things benefit. No matter how you would categorize your child in this conversation, it’s going to benefit your child, right? Laura (27:17): Yeah, I love that. And so if we were talking to a teacher, let’s say, let’s just say a very specific one. Let’s say I’m thinking kindergarten and my child does not seem like what emotionally social, emotional skills of my kindergartner would not be ready to move them up academically to first or second grade. So the differentiation, but what if your child’s skills are so far beyond, even if they were in a differentiated group for reading or math, is it typical to ask the kindergarten teacher to give them separate individualized work? And then does that child sit on their own? How does that actually look in a typical classroom that makes it feel somewhat inclusive and integrated in the classroom? Caitlin (28:08): It’s complex and you’re hitting it right on the head. You’re intuiting what some of those complexities are. So ideally we would avoid what’s called differentiation by isolation, which is when you take one kid and you give them a separate packet to work on and go have them sit on a desk at a desk in the corner away from everybody else, right? We don’t see great outcomes from that. So we try to avoid that. Some of the ways that we can avoid that are to do mixed age groupings where we’re grouping based on ability versus age. We don’t really have much research to support the idea of age same groupings in schools. This idea that all the six-year-olds go in a room together and all the eight-year-olds go in a room together is not really what benefits most kids. So we do that. It’s a legacy in our system, but we also have a short-term memory when it comes to education because we say like, oh, well, that’s just how it’s done. (28:56)Except if you go back a hundred years or 200 years, you look at one room, school houses. We were all mixed ages where you look at Montessori where they do mixed ages. So yeah, it’s a little bit of a tangent, but that’s one thing I encourage parents to think about is if your answer is, well, that’s just how it’s done, let’s really look at that and say like, well, why is that how it’s done? And is that what’s best for my child? But to go back to your question, so yeah, we tried to avoid differentiating by isolating, we can look at mixed age groupings where we’re grouping based on skill level. We can look at activities, design activities that have a variety of entry points. We can look at activities that can be split up where each child does independent work at their level, but then comes back to collaborate on combining those things in some way, a collaborative book that the students are writing, but each student is responsible for a different section of this book or something like that. So there are a lot of ways that it can be done, but obviously the better student teacher ratios are, the more realistic it is to ask that of your teachers, right? Laura (30:03): Yeah. It seems to all come back to what you said earlier where you can only give so many requests or suggestions or accommodations, and the school is only going to be able to meet so many of them just based on the structure and the ratio and all of that. And even if, so, when you don’t have the option of homeschooling or a private school and your child is there, I think it’s a good perspective to have of what you mentioned earlier where you kind of decenter school or just realize that this isn’t going to be the only way that your child’s needs are being met, and you can supplement, which is what I want to talk about, what that looks like for parents if they decide that they, okay, we we’re doing the best we can with school. I can’t change that. That’s out of my control. (30:50)I’ve advocated as best as I can. We’re going to leave that as is, and I’m just going to double down on my supplement stuff at home or making sure that my child has a good, I think really awareness of their giftedness. And so I’m curious first, if there ever gets to a point where you have to, I talk at this, you have to have the talk with your kid. When I talk to parents who have kids with sensory needs, I’m like, you have to have the sensory cup talk. Have you talked to ’em about why they’re so sensitive to sounds? And a lot of parents, I think, don’t about this and don’t know how to talk about it. So did you ever have to explicitly address this with your sons and saying, your brain is, this is how it works, and this is why you learn best this way? And do you suggest parents do that as well with their kids? Caitlin (31:39): Yeah, a hundred percent. So it begins with having a neurodiversity affirming home. And what that means is that in our home, we understand that neurodiversity is a fact of our species. No two people process information exactly the same way. And not only is it a scientific fact, not really up for dispute, but it helps our species thrive. And so the example I often give to other adults is, if we want something different like a cure for cancer or an actual solution to climate change, why would we think that forcing everybody to think the same way would get us a different result at the other end? It just doesn’t make any sense. So if in your home you are steeped in this value of being neurodiversity affirming, understanding what neurodiversity really means, then the next step there is to say, here is how your brain processes information, and here is how somebody else’s brain process is. (32:31)Here’s how I do, here’s how your dad does or your other mom does, or your best friend does, or whatever it’s going to be. And so my kids have grown up with that because this is my field and also my heartfelt belief, right? So I remember being in the car with my son one day and we were talking about neurodiversity and different forms of neurodivergence, and he said to me, eagerly with a big smile on his face, what’s my form of neurodiversity? How does my brain think? Because this is what our home is, this is what we’re steeped in. Just any other family value that you might have made a priority in terms of when you thought of, okay, we want to raise our children in this kind of environment. And any parent can do that and also don’t feel like, oh gosh, my kids are six or eight or 10 or such and such age and we haven’t been doing that. It’s too late. It is not. You can do it today. Laura (33:22): Yeah, that I am a huge proponent of that, of just even neurotypical families should be having the neurodiversity talk, because that is where a lot of the misunderstanding starts from in peer to peer stuff and language and things that you hear said about you, and then that internal narration of those things. So that’s a really big piece, and I’m glad you said that. So now I do want to, and just be Caitlin (33:49): Clear, profound giftedness is not the only form of neuro divergence we have going on in our family. There’s a lot of stuff going on, and then we have friends who have different forms of divergence. So it’s just always been part of my children’s awareness. Laura (34:01): Yeah, I think it’s important for kids to just understand just the word different doesn’t mean bad. And I think that’s where a lot of parents get hung up on is I don’t want my child to feel different. I don’t want them to be the different one from all of their peers, but when we can change the narrative and say, everybody is different, and your flavor of different is different from this flavor of different, and everyone’s got their own little seasoning and spices, and yours just happens to be this, and it’s less known about, or people don’t really, your classroom is not able to meet those needs sometimes. That’s why mommy and daddy have to talk to your teacher about this and this. I think, yeah, Caitlin (34:46): It also goes back to this idea of, well, differentiation actually benefits everyone, right? Yeah. We were talking about academic differentiation, but you know, and I have discussed this on Instagram comments in the past, we talk about whole body listening, right? Or we talk about how does a child demonstrate that they’re paying attention? And if a teacher can say, oh, this is the way that Liliana demonstrates that she’s paying attention or that I know she’s paying attention, and this is how I know that this child is paying attention and they don’t have to look the same, it’s the same idea. It never has to look the same. And that’s again, connected to this idea of making sure that your child can be their authentic self in whatever they’re learning environment is. Laura (35:25): It’s so important for everybody to hear that message over and over again, and for our kids to start really believing and knowing that about themselves as well. I want to ask you then, so what does it mean to supplement their education outside of school? If we have a profoundly gifted child, where can parents start for looking for those resources? Is it a private tutor? Is it a center? Where would they go to even know the right place for their child? Caitlin (35:56): So I’m again going to widen that and say that my answer to that is the same answer for any child. It’s about knowing your child best and what is going to help them thrive. So I’m a big believer in self-directed learning, which means your child expressing something that interests them and helping them pursue that interest as opposed to the adult saying, this semester you’re going to do lacrosse, and next semester you’re going to do ceramics and prescribing that path for the child. Now, when some parents hear me say that, hear the self-direction part, they get nervous, right? Well, but what if my child’s missing out on something? Or what if they could be really amazing at this thing? But they never knew it because they didn’t try it. I’m a big believer in putting things in kids’ environments and seeing what they’re drawn to. So it’s not that my children never get exposed to things unless they specifically ask me for it. It’s that I expose them to a little taste of this and a little taste of that, and I see what they’re drawn to, and then I make it possible for them to pursue that thing more deeply. So I think that that would be a big part of my recommendation is I learned to do this for my son by sitting back and watching, and it is hard. You want to get involved, you want to step in, you want to go, but what if we stack the blocks like this instead, right? Yeah. (37:13)But I learned more by standing back and observing and seeing what they do. That example I gave you with the coffee pods would never have happened and almost didn’t happen because I’m always don’t play with the coffee pods because they’re expensive, and if they crack open, it’s be a huge mess for me to clean up. Don’t touch the coffee pod, don’t let, right? But when I was able to step back and just let him play with the coffee pods and listen, he intuitive division, how cool is that? Okay, so that’s a big part of it. Now, to your more specific question about if your child is showing an interest in something, then how do you find more of that for them? Yeah, right. Yeah. I’m a big believer that you don’t have to go out and buy all the things, and you don’t have to carve out special learning time in our already busy days because learning is everywhere. (37:58)And so in my coffee pot example, we were unpacking the groceries, right? And last week we had to go run errands, and I had my kids with me, and there was a longer wait than we thought for our package to be ready. And so we were walking across this bridge and we’re noticing, oh, the bolts are hexagons or whatever, learning is everywhere. We fostered those early reading skills, those early phonemic skills in the bathtub we’re playing in the bath. And I’m like, can you touch a toy that starts with boo? Right? And he touched the ball, right? Stuff like that. Yeah. We were online for a bouncy house and he was getting impatient, and I was like, okay, count how many people are in line ahead of us. If half those people went on the ride, how many people would be left in this line if five more people joined the line, now how many would we have? (38:44)So it can be in your regular day without buying all these extra things. Now that’s all fine. Well, but then we get the parents who say, okay, but I work. Yeah, and I just don’t, or I don’t see those opportunities the way you do, Caitlin. What do I do? Right? Yes, you can absolutely hire tutors as somebody who runs a private tutoring practice. I’m a big believer in that, especially if there’s any stress in your relationship with your child around their learning, or particularly this happens with older kids around homework. I mean, I can’t tell you how many times a day I answer the phone and the parent on the other end is home. I never signed up to be homework enforcer. This is causing way too much stress in my home, et cetera. Right? Yeah. Outside tutor can be amazing for that. Or if it’s a subject, your child’s interested in it. You don’t have the expertise. In my physics example, yeah, I don’t know anything about physics, right? So I brought in somebody from outside. Laura (39:37): So would you say if a parent had to find outsource, so a parent to supplement their child, their profoundly gifted child, do they focus on providing the private tutor or the private experience or the learning experience that the child wants to learn more of? Or do you focus it on the areas if it’s the asynchronous development where they’re struggling in one area relation to school, and you support that kind of gap instead where, yeah. I’ll start there. And then I have another question already. Caitlin (40:06): I don’t think it’s an either or, right? I think it’s a balance, and I think that if you, for example, noticed that your child was having sensory processing challenges, you would go to an occupational therapist, right? It doesn’t matter how good he is a physics if when he needs his ot, he needs ot. If your child is L, if you notice, I like to frame these learning challenges as an issue of confidence. I want all the students I work with to go into school from a position of the greatest confidence possible. So I am not a big fan of clickbait headlines about learning loss and summer slide, and you have to catch up. You’re behind. I don’t think that serves anybody. I look at it as how do we set this child up to enter school from a position of the greatest confidence? And so if there’s a child who is feeling not confident with a particular subject, we can certainly bring an outside support to work on that content, improve their mastery, improve their confidence. (41:08)It might be about content, it might be about executive functioning. We work with a ton of kids who don’t need tutoring in a specific content area, but need executive functioning support, and how do we nurture developing executive function? So that’s really my take, and that’s because much like I say in our house, we have this neurodiversity affirming philosophy. In my work and in my home, we have a strengths-based philosophy. So what does that mean? That means that I would never look at a child and say, here are all the ways that you’re failing to meet expectations, and now I have to help you catch up. Instead, I would say to a child, here’s what you’re really strong at, and let me show you how you can use that strength to grow in this other area where you want to or need to grow. We’re not glossing over a child’s challenges when we take a strengths-based approach, but you tell me which of those two approaches would get you more engaged with learning. Yeah. Right? Yeah, Laura (41:59): Absolutely. That’s so important. And I think we always call out strength-based approach, but no one really knows what it is, especially if you’re not in the field. They’re like, okay, that’s great, but what does that mean? What does that look like? I know that I notice this a lot in my work with parents, and so I’m curious if you’ve noticed this as well. When there is a particular behavior specifically in the classroom, the teacher’s saying, so so-and-so’s not listening, or He’s always getting up and running around, or avoiding this particular subject and this and that. And then we focus so much on that behavior, the very exact tip of the iceberg behavior, what we’re seeing and all the strategies, and have you tried this? And that could be helpful too, but sometimes it’s a bandaid. When I work with parents at home through, first of all, having the neurodiversity talk with your child, spending a little bit more one-on-one time to really understand their sensory profile or whatever their needs are, and meeting that at home and having that kind of space for them at home, a lot of the time hear that it ends up helping somewhat in the classroom without even having to actually touch that. (43:02)Do you notice that as well, when parents are able to shift their focus to how they can support their child at home in simple ways, like the coffee pot example or walking across the bridge or being able to find a private tutor to fulfill that passion and that drive for that child, do you notice that that can indirectly improve or affect their behavior in the classroom? Caitlin (43:26): Yeah, absolutely it can. A hundred percent. It can. And again, we’re going back to this idea of everybody has a finite amount of resources to spend navigating their environments during the day, and how much are we filling up our child’s cup or bucket versus depleting it? And then how many resources do they take into whatever challenge that they’re going to face? And I’m a big believer that behavior is communication and the kids do well when they can. And so in your example, if I have a child in a classroom who’s demonstrating a behavior that the teachers are considering challenging, to your point, it is absolutely like the tip of the iceberg. That’s where we begin our sleuthing, and that is where parents can advocate with teachers and say, well, here’s what I’m seeing, and let’s work together as a team. I’m a big believer in parents being a team with the teachers, and together as a team, you are going to figure out how to help your child thrive. We never want to get into an antagonistic relationship with our teachers where it’s like we’re on opposite sides of the issue, because let me tell you, nobody gets into elementary education unless they want to help kids. They’re certainly not doing it for the money or the glamor, especially Laura (44:30): These days, especially right now. Yeah. Caitlin (44:34): Take it from somebody who hires teachers who no longer want to work in classrooms. Yeah. Nobody gets into this field unless they genuinely want to help kids. So if I could give parents one piece of really head-on advice about interacting with your teachers and advocacy, it’s be on a team, right? With Laura (44:49): The teacher, because I have a couple of questions that I know the answer, but I would love everyone to hear you say it as well. Would you suggest parents initiate this conversation with the teacher early on in the school year? If the parents already know, this is how my child is. I know this is going to be hard for them in the classroom, you might notice this. Or would you say to wait until the teacher notices it and not even draw attention to anything? What’s Caitlin (45:15): Your answer? So I’m absolutely on team reach out at the very beginning, which I think you are too. (45:22)Yes. Again, our teachers want our kids to thrive. That’s why they’re in this profession and your child best as a parent. And so the more that you can share your insight with the teacher, the more you are setting both the teacher and your child up for success. And in my experience, both as a mom and with the families that I’ve worked with over the last dozen years now in private practice, those outreaches are always welcomed, always welcomed. I can’t think of a single time that a teacher said like, nah, I just really don’t want to talk to you before the school year starts. So it’s always going to be easier to set up well from the outset than to try to put out a fire and fix something once it’s gone off the rails. Laura (46:09): Yes, a hundred percent that I completely agree. And it sets the tone, and I feel like this takes so much of the awkwardness and the second guessing that the teacher might think or, oh, I saw him do this. Maybe I’ll wait to see if he does it again before I worry mom or dad or say that we need to do, but if I already know, mom called this out, I’m going to say, oh, I saw that thing that you mentioned. I’m going to try that tool. Or We tried, that didn’t quite work. Did you have something else? It shortens the conversation each time you have, because we’re already on the same page for any classroom need. And I’m a huge proponent of that, but I hear from a lot of parents who are just like, I don’t want to draw attention to it if my child will not show those behaviors. But my argument is just because they’re not showing the behaviors, if you already know that they have that need, it might just be that they’re holding it in or masking, and we still want to make sure that the teachers know or have all the information as best as possible upfront. I think that’s helpful. Caitlin (47:06): So I usually encourage parents to prepare themselves for these conversations with teachers, because I find sometimes that even a mom who is high-powered in her career feels confident in a lot of different ways. Often we’ll go into parent teacher conferences, she’s the first grader. We just get this sort of tied up. I don’t know, and I don’t want to rock the boat, and I don’t want to draw attention to something that might be negative. And it we’re sometimes set up for it because you go into those meetings and you sit in one of those itty bitty chairs, right? Yeah. (47:35)So I think a little preparation goes a really long way, and I can be more specific about that. I think that it’s helpful to remind yourself going into the meeting or the phone call that you’re not going to solve everything in one 15 minute call or meeting, and you don’t need that to be your goal. This is a step in a hopefully long and positive and fruitful relationship with this teacher. The second thing is to have a couple of priorities in mind that you really want to focus on and talk about. Because what I hear from parents a lot is that the agenda went in a different direction than they thought it was going to, and they felt like they didn’t get to talk about the things that really mattered to them. So I think being really clear on, you don’t want to overdo it. You don’t want to go in with 12 things, but just two things in mind that you know want to prioritize. And then the third thing I would say is to just go in with this idea of being a team and that this is, you guys are a team, and the challenge is one, you’re going to meet together. I use that with my kids for sibling rivalry. I’m a big believer in that in a lot of ways. Yeah, Laura (48:42): That’s Caitlin (48:42): Awesome. We’re a team. Laura (48:44): I love that. And aside from i e p meetings and those official, official intimidating, everybody sit at a conference room thing, I have been encouraging a lot of parents, especially for older kids, if there’s just these little things in the classroom, I notice you’re old. You’re having a hard time packing up your bag at the end of the day, and it’s getting late out or whatever the one particular issue is. And I find that a lot of, well, at least with my daughter, she ended up being like, I was the middle man. I’ll tell your teacher this. I’ll email the teacher e teacher told me this. Oh, guess what your teacher said? And then she’ll say, can you tell my teacher this? And I, I’m like, you know what? I feel like we could do a very quick two minute, everybody in the same room conversation. So I ask the teacher, can Liliana and I stay in and just have a two minute acknowledgement? Everybody hears what everyone’s saying, so she hears you directly that this part is hard for her and you’ll give her extra time. So just including your kid in some of those meetings, if appropriate, I think goes so far in the relationship that they’re going to have with their teacher moving forward so that it’s not this mom or dad or parent is the middle man. And translating Caitlin (49:55): Kids thrive when we have a strong homeschool connection. And what that means is that they thrive when they can trust that parents know what’s happening during the school day, and that teachers and parents are in communication, right? And so if what your child needs to feel confident in that is to be part of a group discussion to see that taking place, then I can totally see that working. Laura (50:17): Yeah. Yeah. So that’s helpful. Okay. Caitlin, I could talk to you for so much longer, but in, I will save that for maybe another conversation, maybe an Instagram collaboration one day. I would love if you let parents know if they want to learn more from you and check out some of your resources, where can they find you? Caitlin (50:36): Yeah, so the best place to find me is on Instagram. It’s at Caitlin Greer Meister, and that is where I am sharing strategies to help your kids thrive while preserving your own sanity, right? Because we’re moms, we’re people too. Laura (50:50): Preserve the sanity. I only have so much to go around in a day. Caitlin (50:54): So it’s strategies, it’s tips, it’s tricks. If you’re looking for my company, if you’re interested in learning more about private tutoring or educational consulting, you can find that on Instagram at joyfully learning, or at our website, which is just joyfully Laura (51:08): Great. I’ll put all of those links in the show notes below. Thank you so much for spending time with us today, Caitlin. I learned so much from you today. Caitlin (51:14): Thank you. It was my pleasure. I’m so glad we got to do it. Laura (51:16): All right, I’ll talk to you soon. Caitlin (51:18): Bye. Laura (51:21): If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider rating it and leaving a review, which helps other parents find me as well. Want to learn more from me. I share tons more over on Instagram at the OT Butterfly. See you next time.




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Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

I’m an enneagram 6, so my brain is constantly moving. My OT lenses never turn off and I can’t “un-see” the sensory and other developmental skills that go in to literally every activity. I love taking what I see and breaking it down into simple terms so parents can understand what goes into their child’s behavior and skills.

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