It is certainly not true for every gifted child, but some are at increased risk of ADJUSTMENT PROBLEMS and consequently, of unhappiness. Problems, research shows, may develop in connection with the following:
– extreme sensitivity
– uneven development
– role conflict
– inappropriate environments
– adult expectations
Let’s look at each of these in turn:
Because highly the gifted child has a high level of internal responses they are often INTENSELY SENSITIVE. Whilst this can certainly have its advantages, it can also EXACERBATE THE NORMAL PROBLEMS OF GROWING UP. For instance, the child’s intelligence may lead him/her to be unusually sensitive to social cues and may, for example, pick up on subtle signals leading him/her to sense rejection where it may not have been intended.
His/her sensitivity may lead him/her to respond strongly to what other children of the same age may well regard as trivial and unimportant; the other children may then ridicule and deride the child for what they perceive as his/her over-reactions. The child may then go on to form the view that there is something wrong with him/her and start to increasingly believe he/she are odd, leading to self-consciousness, low self-esteem and low social confidence. Importantly, also, the child may well pick up on society’s hypocrisy and social injustice very early on in his/her life, leading to feelings of cynicism and despair far earlier than others are likely to develop such feelings.
The child’s high intelligence and gifts may result in him/her relating to other children the same age as him/her in a manner more like that of an adult than that of a child. This can lead to problems with social integration. If he/she is not accepted by the other children this may lead him/her to socially withdraw. In turn, this can hinder the development of social skills which can then lead to the child being labelled as ‘odd’ or ‘weird’. If the gifted child then INTERNALIZES such labels (ie. the labels lead to the child believing he/she is as the labels describe him/her), social isolation and eccentricity may result.
Whilst the gifted child’s intelligence is very high, his/her emotional development is likely to be at a normal level. However, adults may (unreasonably) expect the child to have high emotional maturity because of his/her high level of intellectual development. When the child then has the normal emotional tantrums that most children of his/her age have, he/she may be WRONGLY LABELLED AS HAVING A BEHAVIORAL PROBLEM.
The high praise the gifted child will inevitably receive from school teachers etc. can lead to the child setting him/herself excessively high standards. He/she may become a perfectionist and perceive he/she has failed even when, objectively speaking, he/she has actually performed exceedingly well, and, therefore, when he/she gets the objectively accurate feedback, he/she may come to start distrusting it.
If the highly gifted child is male, he may well be in a school in which the prevailing culture means it is the boys who are ‘macho’ and good at sport etc. who obtain the approval and admiration of their peers. If the gifted child happens, for example, to be more interested in intellectual pursuits, such as poetry or chess, this can lead to ridicule and bullying.
The highly intelligent and gifted child will often find that the school year group he/she is in is not challenging enough and the pace of the learning is unsuitable. This can lead to frustration, withdrawal and behaviour problems.
The gifted child may find him/herself pushed very hard by his/her parents and by the teachers of every subject he/she is taking. In the reverse situation to the one described above, here the child finds he/she is unable to satisfy all these demands and is unable to put in the extra effort expected in relation to such a large array of subjects. This can result in the child’s OWN SPECIAL AREA OF INTEREST being overlooked; indeed, it may well be better if the child focuses the extra effort mostly in just his/her favoured area.
The very gifted and intelligent child will tend to have an INTENSELY ANALYTICAL approach to life; this can result in early, highly critical self-analysis. When coupled with his/her perfectionism and the unreasonable expectations of adults, this can lead to identity problems.
Why Gifted Children May Be Mistakenly Believed To Have A Diagnosable Condition
Certain characteristics of gifted children can be misinterpreted as signs of a diagnosable condition; this can sometimes lead them to be misdiagnosed with, for example:
– Asperger’s syndrome
– Oppositional defiance disorder
– Bipolar disorder
– Obsessive-compulsive disorder
– Narcissistic personality disorder
Examples of specific behaviours/qualities that some gifted children may display, certain constellations of which might lead them to be referred to psychiatric services and, possibly, following such a referral, being given a mistaken psychiatric label, are listed below :
– high intelligence but low common sense
– high sensitivity
– intense emotional outbursts
– displays of extreme frustration when obstacles stand in the way of the child obtaining his/her goals
– very disorganized
– easily distracted
– difficulties relating to peers, prefers to be alone or with adults
– very sensitive to noise and to bright light
– does not need very much sleep
– prone to very intense and vivid dreams
– prone to nightmares/night terrors
– poor social skills
– always asking questions
– often lost in daydreams
– prone to defiance/challenging and arguing against rules and authority
– antisocial attitude
– prone to outbursts of intense anger
– obsession with the concept of ‘fairness’
– early preoccupation with ethical/moral/philosophical/existential/metaphysical concerns
N.B.Of course, despite the possibility of mistaken diagnoses being given to gifted children, it is important to keep in mind that some gifted children do have diagnosable conditions such as those mentioned at the start of this article.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).