The Burdens of Gifted Children

burdensofgiftedchildren

 

Gifted children have an unusual cross to bear; most of society sees giftedness as …… well, as a gift, but gifted children most often see it is a curse. As most who do not understand giftedness, people assume gifted children are smarter and have it made in life. For those of us who understand, teach and parent gifted children, we know otherwise. Here are 7 burdens most gifted children bear in their lives.

Bullying: Bullying could stem from jealousy of a gifted child’s intelligence, but insight into why kids bully also shows that children who become victims of bullying usually are those who stand out from the norm in some way. Sooo, you-know-who stands out among their same-age peers – Sarah Smarty-pants and Nathan the Nerd. Delivering an in-depth monologue at recess about the loss of Ancient Greek knowledge and technology when the Romans conquered the Greeks, and the resulting affect it had on the historical timing of the Industrial Revolution does call attention to oneself. Correcting a teacher in front of the class when she mispronounced a word could also lead to some retaliation. Yes, gifted children are often the victim of bullying when their intelligence shines a little too brightly.

The Race to the Middle: In the last few decades, our educational system has focused on making sure no child gets left behind and teachers having to teach to the middle. This works well for the students who struggle and those who are performing in the average range. Excellent, right? No? Oh wait! Where does this leave our gifted learners whose voracious appetite for knowledge puts them ahead of the pack? Let me tell you – it leaves them bored, disenchanted and disengaged. While everyone in education is racing to the middle, gifted children’s love of learning is racing out the classroom door. The parents of gifted children do not escape this educational burden either, as they find themselves fighting the schools to get the education their gifted child needs and deserves.

Birds of a Feather Flock Together: Unless of course you are gifted and you are a rare bird. Gifted people make up approximately the top 1% of the population. So, if a gifted child in 6th grade attends a school with say, 200 other sixth graders, statistically there is only going to be ONE other gifted 6th grader to flock with. We know as humans, we tend to make friends with those who share our interests. The same goes for school-age kids. For gifted children, the likelihood of finding like-minded peers to make friends with are slim. Having trouble finding friends who share your interests is a significant hardship for gifted children!

Bionic Senses: Gifted children are most often born with emotional and physical intensities, sensitivities and overexcitabilities. These are known as Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities; named for the Polish psychiatrist who first noted them. An itchy tag on the back of a shirt, an odd odor no one else seems to smell or the unavoidable death of a dragonfly hitting a car’s windshield – all of these could send a gifted child into a uncontrollable spiral of emotional turmoil. These super-sensitivities easily become an unwanted burden for a gifted child, and it leads to exhausting levels of damage control for parents.

Not In Sync: Asynchronous development. While other children develop emotionally, physically, socially and intellectually in a synchronous manner, gifted children usually do not. Their intellectual and social intelligence may be light years ahead of their same-age peers, but emotionally, they could lag behind significantly. How difficult it must be for a child who has the intellectual reasoning of an adult, but not have the equivalent emotional maturity needed to handle the adult concepts he understands! As a parent of a gifted child, asynchronous development makes parenting difficult when trying to reason with the man-child who is also falling out on the floor crying like a toddler.

The Green-Eyed Monster: Some say that money is the root of all evil, but if you want my opinion, the root of all evil is JEALOUSY! Gifted children are not spared from the envious actions and words of mean-spirited, resentful people. Both same-age peers and adults deliver envy-laden insults and actions just to make sure the gifted child is knocked down a few notches. Jealousy is also a major road block to advocacy efforts for gifted children – why would a child who has it made need more? I read recently this one particularly greenish blog post written by a mom proclaiming in her title how she hates it when parents brag about their gifted child. Another blog post seen by many on the net claimed people are not born gifted, they work and create good habits in order to become gifted. Ummm … jealous much?

It’s a Mis – Misunderstood, Misdiagnosed, Mislabeled, Mistreated and Mistaught: The “mis” plight of our gifted children causes their lives to be unnecessarily painful. The many unique and misunderstood characteristics of our gifted children often lead to psychological misdiagnoses. The gifted child who is bored in class begins to misbehave and his teacher recommends that he be tested for ADHD. A gifted child’s underachievement in school can be misinterpreted as laziness. Teachers who misunderstand giftedness do not see the need for acceleration or differentiation when teaching gifted children. In the classroom, on the playground, at the park and in their own neighborhoods, gifted children are misunderstood and are being mistreated.

Saddled with these burdens, our gifted children struggle with self-esteem issues, feel like they don’t fit in in our world, they learn to hide or dumb down their intelligence, they may underachieve, and many end up with anxiety and depression.

Isn’t it time we alleviate these burdens? Through advocacy, all of us who love, parent, educate and work with gifted children can make positive changes in the lives of gifted children.

Advocate for gifted children and lessen the burden.

Comments

  1. I started in the gifted and talented program when I was about six. This is incredible. This explains my life perfectly. I’m about to graduate from highschool. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for many years! I’ve been told that I’m bipolar, and I am taking many medications. However, this makes me think a lot differently.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It seems many, many gifted kids struggle with the same issues you have. Have you read this book? “Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults” by authors: Authors: James T. Webb, Ph.D., Edward R. Amend, Psy.D., Nadia E. Webb, Psy.D., Jean Goerss, M.D., Paul Beljan, Psy.D., ABPdN, F. Richard Olenchak, Ph.D.

      Congratulations on your upcoming high school graduation! Woo Hoo!

  2. Thank you. I experienced many of these myself and then my wife and I watched our son experience many of them himself in school. Now we homeschool and could not be happier with the decision.

    • Yes, as parents of gifted children, it is impossible to sit back and watch them experience these burdens; homeschooling is such a good fit for gifted children! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  3. Kate Andersen says:

    Not to be cliche…but you hit the nail on the head with this article!! Thank you! As a gifted specialist for the past decade and now a parent of an identified highly-gifted son, I know all too well the difficulties of gifted individuals. There’s not much compassion or understanding by the mainstream when it comes to meeting the needs of these unique individuals…and they do have needs not only academically, but emotionally too. And unfortunately, if you live in my state…not much is being done in the way of funding for these children either. Last I checked it was zero dollars!

    • Yes, there is a lack of compassion and understanding which often leads to the lack of funding in many states. We just moved from a state where the gifted funding toggled each year between zero funding to some years with a total of 1 million dollars in funding which is just a drop in the bucket. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! The more we all speak out, the more likely we can make positive changes happen for our gifted children!

  4. Right on the mark. You cover so many of the struggles these children (and eventually adults) must face.

  5. Seems like bionic senses would be called sensory defensiveness too. I was a gifted child and gave birth to another one. I can’t help but think that aspergers syndrome is part of a lot of these kids. I see that in myself (yes i have been dxed with that and ADD as an adult) and in a lot of other aspies. At least it would have given me grounds to ask for accommodation. I wish that schools had more flexibility and teachers had aids to help with the little things that make all the difference.
    The more i learn about so called disabilities the more i learn about the other abilities in myself and others. It is like mother nature did some trade offs.

  6. This was an excellent article. As a retired gifted teacher of k-5 students, this article really hit the nail on the head. I was also gifted myself, reading on a 12th grade level in 3rd grade. I was so totally bored in school and became the classic underachiever. It wasn’t until I was 35 yrs old did I go to college and became a gifted resource teacher at 6 schools. I saw so many of these “burdens” on gifted students, exactly because of the reasons you state. I taught in an inner city school system where it is “just not cool” to be gifted. There are other things that matter more. I faced an uphill battle with students, staff, administrators, parents and even colleagues in the pursuit of best educational practices for gifted. I hope you consider putting this article on other gifted sites like Hoagies and/ or GT World. This would also be a great piece to put in the Gifted Journal. Keep up the great work! :)

    • Many thanks for your kind words! And thank you for sharing your story; if we all share our stories, then maybe we can make positive changes in the lives of gifted children. One change I’d like to see is the misconception that a gifted underachiever is just “not applying himself.” I really appreciate your comment; your experience and story is a needed testimony for many of us!!

  7. I couldn’t agree more!

    • My family and I live in Virginia where there is actually alot done for “gifted” children. Ou problem is that the public school system where I live has the top 15% of their students in some type of “gifted” classes/programs etc and there is no understanding for the student that is in the top 0.05%. We’ve tried several very expensive private schools also and it is all the same. My oldest 2 somehow did ok – we lived in another area of the country when they were little and they were fortunate enough to find friends that allowed them to be who they were and accepted them. They are fairly well adjusted adults and are making their way in the world. My nearly 19 yr old has gone through multiple schools and just about the time somebody in the system almost “gets it” and I think we might turn the corner, he gets so frustrated he quits. His last 1 1/2 years we homeschooled and he does a lot of internet surfing and just hitting the library. It is a lonely life for him. I’m not sure he would/will do any better in college, although I think he is learning to not correct teachers and to just not talk much around peers do he is not outcast. Sad. Anyway, thank you to everyone for educating parents, students, the general population. Bless you all. Sue

      • Sue, I have heard that about many gifted programs: the gifted programs contain such a wide range of abilities much like the regular classrooms do. It really amounts to the challenge level of Honors or AP classes – it is still not what a gifted child with unique learning abilities needs. And you are right, it is critical to have teachers who understand the emotional, social and educational needs of the gifted!

        Thank you for sharing your 19 year old’s experiences, it hits home for many of us. I can’t help but think that in our mad race to the middle, we are oppressing and losing our next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Einstein to the detriment of our society!

        • I find it fascinating that you reference the possibility of losing our next “Bill Gates” who is doing so much to create a bigger problem for gifted students with his brand of educational reform. His actions definitely highlight the problem of allowing money to dictate educational reform as opposed to getting those with experience to develop what is truly needed. One size never fits all, most, or even many…

          • I agree with you about his role in education; his actions are controversial. My mention of him was because of his influence on computer technology. Without his role in the advancement of computer technology and promotion of its availability to most of society, we just wouldn’t be where we are today with so many technological advancements that we all enjoy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

  8. Marilyn says:

    I am a retired public school teacher and mother of two gifted children. We have spent several hundred thousand dollars educating our children in private schools. They are both doing well now. It is, however, very frustrating to see our brightest children being told “You’re bright, but probably not as bright as your mom and dad think, you’ll be fine. Maybe it would be good if you spent your in school hours assisting those who do not learn as quickly as you, then you can learn what you need after school hours or on Saturday.”
    Mediocrity has become the accepted norm in our schools. In our effort to make everyone the same, aren’t we losing this country’s most valuable resource?
    Perhaps it’s time for parents of those brightest children to make their voices heard, just as the parents of the special needs children have done.
    Great article! Keep it going.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more! I know that advocating for gifted children oftentimes seems insulting to parents of children with special needs, but our gifted children are still children and should not be neglected and made to feel like outcasts. They are not fine on their own and the statistics for depression, underachievement, delinquent behavior and suicide among the gifted proves this. These are children; is there ever a situation where it is acceptable to neglect and ignore the needs of a child?

      I wholeheartedly believe that the more gifted adults share their stories, the parents of gifted children speak out and gifted children bravely start to advocate for themselves, the greater our chances of being heard! We all have to work together to improve the lives of our gifted children!

      Thanks for your comment and for getting me on my soapbox so early in the morning! :)

  9. I have a 14 year-old son who was identified as gifted in first grade. He loved school until second grade where his teacher was determined to “put him in his place” whenever he showed signs of working independently. He is now a freshman in high school and is barely getting by grade-wise. After reading this article, I am wondering if his underachieving is a form of depression or feeling misunderstood. I have tried every form of discipline and praise I can think of, but nothing has helped. I know he can do the work, he just won’t turn in the work.

    Do you have any recommendations for me?

    • Lora, I know from my own experience and from what I have learned about gifted children, when the traditional school environment is not a good fit, many gifted children do just give up. I would recommend that you look up gifted children and underachievement – there are many articles and books out there. You may also want to seek the advice of a counselor or psychologist who understands and has experience treating gifted children. Good luck, Lora!

  10. What an excellent website. I am product of the “gifted” program in the public school system. While I admit it was an attempt by the state/county to serve the needs of the gifted it was counter-productive from certain standpoints. It definitely led to bullying. In elementary school, the gifted children were sent to “gifted” once per week. This was announced after the roll call in our primary class. “Gifted students may leave now” the teacher would announce. This created animosity that lasted for years and for some of us, that stayed in our small community, into adulthood. Many of the other points you state are spot-on also, but that one hits home the hardest.

    I think another point that is tangential to the “Mis” diagnosis you mention (and discuss in another article) is teachers diagnosing children with ADD/ADHD as a result of non-accepted behavior resulting from sheer boredom. Often, the gifted child already knows the material being taught or grasps it quickly. Repetition of something already learned leads to boredom/distraction which often results in behavioral issues. “Talks in class”, “Does Not Complete Class Assignments”, “Doesn’t apply him/herself”. I’ve been accused of all and more.

    As luck would have it, I have a 4 year old nephew who is also gifted. His VPK teacher has already noted suspected ADHD in his cumulative folder that will follow him to public school kindergarten next year and will be seen by any of his teachers that care to read his file. Needless to say, this concerns me.

    I would be grateful for any thoughts or experiences you may have on how to handle this situation.

    • Sadly, it is common for gifted traits and behaviors to be misinterpreted and misdiagnosed as other conditions such as ADHD. If it were me, I would learn as much as you can about the misdiagnoses in gifted children, request a conference with his teacher first, and then possibly other school personnel such as the counselor and the principal if need be. Go prepared with pertinent information you have found and ask questions. If you feel it is needed, get a private evaluation by a psychologist who has experience with and understands gifted children. Good luck!

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