For most of us, the word “gifted” conjures images of privilege and automatic success. What if I told you that gifted people also suffer because of this false notion?
What is giftedness?
Gifted people reside in every culture, every race, and every country on this planet. The part that most can agree on is that giftedness means a higher IQ. While this is usually true, what is less commonly known is that it can also involve acute sensitivities to noises, smells, and other environmental stimulation, an unusually strong sense of justice, high creativity, and sometimes crippling perfectionism. The personality “quirks” that manifest from these characteristics are often misunderstood by not only lay people, but by educators and other professionals including those in mental health. This lack of understanding impacts the gifted individuals and their family members, but it also affects all of us.
In the article, “Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children,” Webb, et al., explains that the gifted individual’s inherent drives “together result in an intense idealism and concern with social and moral issues, which can create anxiety, depression, and a sharp challenging of others who do not share their concerns.”
What happens when we misunderstand or ignore giftedness?
The most common problem I see in my work is the child who is struggling in school because he doesn’t think or learn at the same level or in the same way as the rest of the classroom.
Many gifted learners I work with are what are called visual-spatial learners (those who learn holistically). They, like all children, desperately want to fit in, but in our typical classrooms designed for linear-sequential learners (those who learn step-by-step and in succession), they cannot. These are kids who are highly creative at math, art, tech, science, or emotions in ways that are often different than the norm. As many schools become more focused on linear-sequential teaching and testing, these children have fewer learning tools at their disposal. As a result, they may act out, become silent and depressed, and, because they have different learning needs, are often diagnosed with learning problems rather than giftedness.
In fact, gifted kids are more likely than any other population to be misdiagnosed. While their needs would be best met through more, faster, and different avenues in education, they may instead be put in special ed classes where the pace is slower and memorization is often emphasized. This exacerbates their boredom and can lead to depression, higher incidence of ADHD symptoms, acting out, and deep self-esteem and social issues.
The result: we have a recipe for disaster and suffering for both the gifted child and for other students in her classroom. Years later, the impact remains as many gifted adults today ironically don’t view themselves as smart and are underusing their strengths. This is not good for our society as a whole.
What I’ve observed is that we get stuck in trying to understand this in terms of our “normal” selves and “normal” people. Gifted individuals are wired differently, and I believe that if we were to truly understand giftedness, with all of its challenges and actual gifts, we would also be able to appreciate ourselves more – no matter where on the scale we fall.
If your child is struggling and you think he or she may be highly gifted, please seek help. Forcing a square peg to fit into a round hole can be harmful. When allowed to learn as they need to and to socialize with those they naturally connect with, these gifted children will find their place among the rest of us so that we can all benefit.
In this video clip from the documentary, aptly named “The G Word,” (set to be released in 2019) director Marc Smolowitz shines a new light on giftedness. Produced by Ron Turiello, the movie includes highly regarded experts in the field of giftedness. I hope their movie will help to create a better understanding of what gifted people face and why they are important members of our society.