Friday, May 1, 2015

Advocating for the Twice-Exceptional Child

Life with a twice-exceptional child - gifted with a learning disability/difference - can be enormously rewarding and at the same time extremely frustrating when attempting to advocate for an education that meets all their needs.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is circumventing the prevalent mind-set of many school administrators and educators these days who simply do not believe twice-exceptional children exist. It has become increasingly disturbing to read articles in major media outlets that our children are simply spoiled brats who need a little discipline like in the ‘old days’.

Here’s an idea: invite them over for dinner. Then, ask them to tell you again why your child does not have special needs. A simple conversation with one of these kids can be quite revealing. The breadth and depth of their knowledge can suddenly be overshadowed by their inability to complete a thought after being distracted by … well, by just about anything.

A recent study reported in Gifted Child Quarterly (Vol 59 No 2 April 2015), "The Advocacy Experiences of Parents of Elementary Age, Twice-Exceptional Children", found that parents of twice-exceptional children fight an uphill battle throughout their child’s school years. Only after educating themselves about school policies and learning how to use appropriate educational terminology when talking to school officials did they have any success; often sacrificing any sense of working ‘with’ the school. They found that rarely did school personnel act in the best interest of the child. Parents eventually lost faith in the system and simply did their best to monitor their child’s school for compliance of any meager accommodations gained in the advocacy process.

"Parents felt that school officials were not living up to their professional responsibilities, and feared that one advocacy error on the parents’ part could potentially impede their child’s future." (GCQ 59 (2) p. 114)

This scenario accurately reflects not only my own personal experiences but those of most of the parents I have worked with over the last 15 years. Lack of information, cooperation and education combine to make advocacy a daunting task. Parents feel alone; abandoned by a system they once placed so much value in and are suddenly faced with the reality that it simply doesn't work for everyone – certainly not for their children.

Advocating for the twice-exceptional child is like a never-ending story filled with disingenuous gestures from school officials and lack of respect for parents. Ask any parent who has walked this path and the tales reflect an eerie similarity. Few have happy endings.  Perseverance, tenacity, and a thick skin become indispensable life-skills for these parents.   

Parents in the above-mentioned GCQ study were driven by a longing that ultimately their child would achieve happiness, and become a self-sufficient and productive member of society. There was, however, a disconcerting sense that ultimately their child’s disability would over-shadow their potential.

When giftedness is identified, the disability is often ignored. In other cases, the disability may render a request for identification of giftedness unattainable. And to add insult to injury, parents who obtain an official diagnosis from private non-school professionals often find that the results are unacceptable in most school districts.

Parents are not the only ones who can benefit from further education. School administrators and teachers who take the time to learn about twice-exceptionality are found to be more empathetic and willing to develop a collaborative relationship with parents. The GCQ article references research (many listed below) conducted over more than two decades which firmly establishes that a child can be both gifted and have a learning disability.

How can this situation be improved? What has to change? Well, for starters, the well-being of each individual child needs to be front and center. They are not simply reflections of data mined from standardized test results. One-size-fits all education plans do not work with these kids. Identification of giftedness cannot supplant the necessity of accommodating any co-existing learning disabilities.

And finally, progress will only be made when all stakeholders are mutually respected and strive for true collaboration, to provide the child with a beneficial educational experience that prepares them for a fulfilling life.

What has been your experience in advocating for your child? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

This post is a part of this month's Hoagies' Blog Hop: 2ekids. Please check out the other blogs by clicking on the link below!

 Hoagies Blog Hop

References from GCQ Article:

Additional Resources:

The Twice-Exceptional Dilemma (pdf) from the NEA 
Advocating for Exceptionally Gifted Young People: AGuidebook (pdf) (Davidson Institute for Talent Development) 
Gifted Children’s Challenges with Learning and Attention Issues 

If This is a Gift,Can I Send it Back?: Surviving in the Land of the Gifted and Twice Exceptional (Amazon) by Jen Merrill and GHF Press 

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay CC01.0

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay  CC0 Public Domain 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Seeking Professional Help for Your Gifted Child

There may come a time when you find it necessary to seek professional help for your child. The reasons are varied but can include seeking help for social-emotional issues, for mental health reasons or a professional determination of giftedness for educational purposes. I will discuss this last point in a separate post.

When to Seek Professional Help

Knowing when to seek professional help for your child is a very personal decision. Many people tell me that as a parent of a gifted child, they feel alone and conflicted by the advice of friends, family and even their child’s teachers. I have found that if someone hasn’t traveled down this road, it’s difficult to understand what parents face on a daily basis. Professionals who don’t understand giftedness or have had no experience with gifted individuals will show little empathy for a parents’ plight.

If you are struggling with issues surrounding your child’s heath or well-being, seek professional help. There is no reason to go it alone in today’s world. If you can’t find help in your local area, many professionals offer services via phone consultations or Skype. You would not hesitate if your child was physically ill; so don’t delay seeking it now.

As a parent of an atypical child, you may be fearful of the outcome of consulting a professional. Don’t be. Failure to act when the situation warrants it can have devastating consequences for your child. The struggles won’t go away on their own.

Where to Find Professional Help

Once you realize that you do need help, where do you find it? Far too often, this is the hardest part of the process. Lack of professionals trained in gifted is a major problem. As Tiombe Bisa Kendrick-Dunn, current president of SENG, recently wrote, 

“[Mental health] professional’s graduate education includes an abundance of knowledge relating to pathology and related treatments, but lacks the same for gifted and talented individuals. Unless a major shift occurs, they [the gifted] will continue to be misdiagnosed and at high risk for inappropriate treatment, which can cause irreparable harm.”

Hopefully, the list above (see new tab) of professionals who deal with gifted individuals will be a start. They are self-elected. The list is provided as a guide. I do not personally make recommendations; legally, I can’t. You will have to determine that for yourself. Use the list as a starting point and then use the information in this post to aid you in your search. The list will become a permanent part of this site and will be frequently updated. Below you will find links to articles to help you in the decision making process as well as links to lists on other sites.

What Type of Professional Do You Need

First, you have to decide what type of professional will best meet your child’s needs. There are psychologists, psychiatrists, family therapists, counselors, social workers, personal coaches; all providing very different types of services. I will provide a brief description of what each one does:

  • Psychologists: There are basically two kinds of psychologists from which parents of gifted children can seek help; clinical or counseling psychologists and school psychologists. Clinical psychologists must have a PhD or PsyD in psychology or hold a state license to practice. They generally do not prescribe medication. They have extensive training in psychological testing, scoring, and interpreting tests. School psychologists, on the other hand, can be certified by boards of education with an education specialist (EdS) degree. Specific requirements vary by state.
  • Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists are licensed physicians. They generally take a medical approach and can prescribe medication.
  • Family Therapists: Therapists will have post-graduate training in human behavior, relationships, and with individuals. These professionals would be helpful when looking for solutions to family issues related to your gifted child.
  • Licensed Mental Health Counselors: largest group of mental health providers in the US; help people who have normal cognitive processes cope with difficult life circumstances. 
  • School Counselors: School Counselors, formerly referred to as guidance counselors, were once only used for academic or vocational guidance but today are increasingly used to help students with social-emotional issues both individually and in groups.
  • Social Workers: Social workers generally possess a Masters degree (M.S.W.) in social work and are trained to treat emotional and behavioral problems. They work with both individuals and families. Some schools have social workers on staff.
  • Personal Coaches: Personal coaches receive training in helping individuals to find direction and set goals through a variety of strategies.

Questions, Questions, and More Questions

Knowing what to look for in a professional and what questions to ask is no easy task. What should you look for in a professional? First and foremost, you should feel comfortable talking with whoever you choose. Are they empathetic to your situation? Does your child feel comfortable with them? Are they at ease when asked about giftedness? If you answer “no” to any of these questions, it is best to look elsewhere.

Here’s a checklist of questions to ask anyone you are considering working with:

  • What experience have you had in working with gifted children?
  • What is your personal philosophy concerning giftedness?
  • Has your professional training included what giftedness is and how to recognize it?
  • What do you see as major issues in the gifted population?
  • How have you modified your approach to therapy when working with the gifted?

Listen carefully when your potential provider answers your questions. Are they sincere? Do they refer to asynchronous development, peer relations, overexcitabilities, multiple exceptionality perfectionism or issues you are personally seeing in your child? Or do you feel like you are talking to someone who thinks ‘all children are gifted’? Are they smart? Research has found that this is a key factor … the person you choose needs to be able to keep up with your child both cognitively and intellectually. Remember, you are seeking help for your child; someone who relies on you to look after their best interest.

And one last thing to consider … Aimee Yermish, a highly respected therapist in the gifted community and owner of the da Vinci Learning Center in the Boston area, shares this sage advice, 

“Anyone who frames giftedness as being part of the problem, anyone who defines the intensity and drive and perceptiveness and differentness and post formal reasoning as “the thing that’s wrong with you,” leave and don’t look back. The goal is not to get our kids (or us!) to act like everyone else.  The goal is to help us figure out who we are and how to act like ourselves, just in an adaptive way.”

Just Do It!

Take your time in choosing professional help. If you don’t feel comfortable with your first choice, move on. Their advice can have profound implications for your child’s future. Consider it an awesome responsibility; not just another item on your to-do list.

Your thoughts …

So what do you think? What has been your experience in finding professional help? What tips would you add for locating a professional experienced with gifted individuals? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


100 Words of Wisdom Tiombe Bisa Kendrick-Dunn SENG Vine, March 2015 


A Place to Start: Is My Child Gifted? from Davidson Gifted (Includes lists of questions to ask potential professionals) 

Assessing/Testing for Giftedness Malone Family Foundation 

Graphic by Lisa Conrad.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Book Review: Not Now, Maybe Later

Although procrastination is not always a bad thing, it can lead to stress and be especially incapacitating for children. It can compromise their dreams and self-esteem and result in underachievement. It can be a game changer as they live within their family, move from one grade level to another, and as they mature and develop a sense of self.”     ~ from the introduction.

Nothing says procrastination like putting off a review of a book about procrastination. Maybe I’m onto something here; or not. A pdf of the new book, Not Now, Maybe Later, by Joanne Foster has been in an open tab in my browser for several weeks now. I had tons of excuses … looking for a paid gig, blog posts, Twitter chats, laundry (okay, maybe not laundry) … but I finally sat down and read it.

Truth be told, I should have done this weeks ago. It is a book that every parent should read. Too often parents buy books only to leave them on the shelf because – who has time to read when you have kids? I’m here to tell you that you need to take the time to read this one; it’s just that important.

Not Now, Maybe Later is about teaching our children executive functioning; getting things done, completing tasks they don’t think are important, meeting deadlines, finding fulfillment in everyday life. Who wouldn’t want that for their kids? Who doesn’t want that for themselves?

In my opinion, Chapter 1 is priceless. Contemplation of why we procrastinate and strategies to deal with it will prove invaluable to any parent who is frustrated by their child’s failure to complete anything. Think of a world of where you don’t hear the words, “in a minute” or “why do I have to?”

Joanne Foster, Ed.D.

I really appreciated advice like this from Dr. Foster:
Parents should understand that while a child’s procrastination isn’t something that should be praised, it does not always merit scolding or reproach. Sometimes people—young, old, and in-between—just need help getting past whatever is causing the procrastination in the first place, along with some good old-fashioned encouragement and support.
Of course, procrastination can become a serious problem, but parents need to decide what approach they will take with their gifted child. An authoritarian approach never worked with my children; not to say I didn’t try a few times. Dr. Foster suggests using common sense in deciding which way is most effective in motivating and guiding a child to task completion.

Take time to find out the cause for the procrastination. It can be a matter of ability, perceived dangers, lack of an endpoint, or simply bad timing. Understanding why the procrastination is taking place can go a long way in figuring out what to do about it. A child may simply be “taking his time weighing options, planning, reflecting, or working on the task elsewhere with others.”

Another reason a gifted child may procrastinate is the fear of failure and their inability to cope with making mistakes; they see it as a way of avoiding an undesirable outcome. By helping a child work through these feelings, they will begin to develop resilience; a valuable skill that will help them throughout life. Many strategies are offered to cope with failure including talking to your child about the benefits of perseverance, planning ahead, learning about trial-and-error, and knowing that it’s okay to ask for help.

Not Now, Maybe Later is an invaluable resource that will provide you with the knowledge and tools to help your child become a self-reliant, independent adult. Isn’t that what we all want for our kids?  

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of the manuscript for review. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

7 Myths Surrounding Parents of Gifted Children

Recent stories in the media characterizing parents of gifted children as pushy, overbearing, helicopter parents or ‘know-it-all’ fanatics who only care about their own child have become all too common. I would like to clear a few things up ... 

Myths surrounding parents of gifted children:

  • They would rather praise their child than see them work hard
  • They believe intelligence is fixed
  • They think the gifted label is the equivalent of the “golden ticket”
  • They want nothing more than to see their child accepted into an Ivy League school
  • They lack empathy for learning disabled students
  • They can’t wait for the next parent-teacher conference
  • They ‘push’ their children to excel

They would rather praise their child than see them work hard

Parents of gifted children are often the only advocate their child has when it comes to their education and acceptance in society. What appears as excessive praise to others is perhaps the only time some gifted children receive positive feedback at all from an adult. It in no way negates the realization that hard work is an integral part of succeeding in life.  

Why do you think parents desperately try to convince teachers that their child needs to be challenged from the very beginning? Many parents of gifted children are products of the same educational systems they find their children in and know first-hand how debilitating it can be to sit in a classroom where no challenge exists at all.

"Many parents of gifted children are products of the same educational systems they find their children in and know first-hand how debilitating it can be to sit in a classroom where no challenge exists at all."

Early on, gifted children reach the conclusion that hard work isn’t needed because they are not given work that challenges them. Parents see the results at home when their child refuses to do the stack of unfinished worksheets sent to be completed as homework. Parents see the love of learning slip away year after year. They are the ones left to deal with the inevitable melt-downs that occur when their child arrives home after an unfulfilling day of being required to do things they already know.

Parents of gifted children know the value of hard work. They also know the value of providing their child with a support system that values their social and emotional needs more than only their achievements.

They believe intelligence is fixed

In recent years, this particular myth has been the result of misunderstanding how we define intelligence and how we conceive giftedness. It is an argument steeped in semantics. Recent scientific evidence is pitted against anecdotal evidence in nature-nurture debates that cast parents as uninformed participants who simply need attitude adjustments. They do not. 

Parents of gifted children are extremely aware of the fact that intelligence can be nurtured. They also know that the definition of giftedness is highly debatable in the halls of academia, but truly personal when it comes to their own child. Exceptional ability cannot be viewed as either an entry point or a destination when discussing giftedness. This is a false dichotomy based on a lack of understanding of what giftedness is and is not.

They think the gifted label is the equivalent of the “golden ticket”

Parents of gifted children do not believe it’s going to be smooth sailing simply because of a label. None. Unfortunately, it is a label required by most schools to participate in gifted programs.

These programs are rarely seen as ‘elite clubs’ for high achievers by the parents I know. They are life-lines to challenging curriculum; a refuge from bullying; a place to spend time with peers and teachers who get them. The number of effective and advanced education programs in this country is few and far between; and for most gifted students, they are on the decline or non-existent.

They want nothing more than to see their child accepted into an Ivy League school

This myth is the result of conflating giftedness and talent development. Parents of high achievers may set an Ivy League education as a goal for their child, but parents of gifted children know that this is a decision best left to their child.

What parents want most is for their child to be happy in whatever path they choose regardless of where they go to college or if they go at all.

They lack empathy for learning disabled students

News reports about funding gifted education sometimes devolve into contentious arguments between allocating resources for either gifted or special education. It suggests that parents of gifted children lack empathy for disabled students.

This myth is offensive and particularly so to parents of twice-exceptional children who must advocate on both fronts for their children. It is not an either-or debate. No one child or group of children is better than another. It is a matter of meeting needs.

"No one child or group of children is better than another. It is a matter of meeting needs."

They can’t wait for the next parent-teacher conference

Parent-teacher conferences are often the most stressful situation the parent of a gifted student must face in the K-12 years. In order to mitigate tensions during these meetings, parents are advised to not mention the ‘g’ word, the ‘b’ word, or their child’s social-emotional needs. While other parents are encouraged to tell about their child’s successes outside of school, parents of gifted student may refrain in order to not appear to be bragging about their child.

Many parents report being made to feel guilty for suggesting their child needs support. They are reminded that resources are scarce and that their child is already ahead of the game. Who wouldn't want to attend one of these meetings? Right?

They ‘push’ their children to excel

Why else would their child be identified as gifted? They must have read to them in the womb, bought Baby Einstein videos before they arrived home from the hospital, and certainly sent them to the finest pre-school available.

Parents of gifted children will tell you that the ‘spark’ they see in their child comes long before their child is identified as gifted. Providing a nurturing environment is a response, not a prerequisite for giftedness. These children push their parents – often to the edge.

"Parents of gifted children face many more obstacles and tough choices than meets the eye."

The truth of the matter …

The truth of the matter is that parents of gifted children face many more obstacles and tough choices than meets the eye. For many it is a daily struggle dealing with the social and emotional issues faced by their children, advocating for an appropriate education for their child, and providing financial resources for enrichment and additional educational opportunities. If you subscribe to any of these myths, may I suggest you take the time to sit down and talk to the parents of a gifted child, making a sincere effort to understand the life they lead? 

What has been your experience as the parent of a gifted child? Have you encountered any of these myths? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

Graphics courtesy of Lisa Conrad.

Photo courtesy of Flickr CC 2.0 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Smart Girls in the 21st Century

“There are smart girls in every classroom whose capacity and desire to learn are overlooked and go unnoticed simply because they don’t fit their society’s image – and their particular school’s definition of giftedness.”

Parents of gifted children – and in this instance, gifted girls - bear the responsibility of parenting more intensely in very absolute terms by their own admission. Enter Smart Girls in the 21st Century Understanding Talented Girls and Women. Of the many of books I’ve read in the past several years on giftedness and parenting gifted children, this book by Barbara Kerr and Robyn McKay ranks in the top 10 of books I would recommend to parents.

Kerr and McKay bring a fresh perspective to decades-old debates regarding the definition of giftedness, academic achievement, talent development and a myriad of other divisive topics that weaken the foundation of the gifted community and jeopardize gifted advocacy as a whole within society.

Dr. Barbara Kerr

Smart Girls includes an historical review of what being smart means for women in our society, how things have changed in the 21st century, and the way forward. The book is well-researched and easy to read which is invaluable to parents in need of good information, but little time to find it. 

Dr. Robyn McKay

Just as the authors did not agree with other researchers and academics in the field, I did not always agree with their conclusions. This does not, however, diminish my view of their work. On the contrary, I appreciate their contribution to the field and the knowledge I gained from them.

It is a book that admittedly focuses on talent development. The authors state, “We have left out a few popular ideas about definitions of giftedness that include sensitivities, intensities, or overexcitabilities because these ideas have not yet been linked by research to academic achievement, high performance at work, or life satisfaction, which are the predictions in which we are interested. Sometimes a focus on oversensitivity or extreme intensity can cause us to pathologize giftedness, to make it seem as if strong, even maladaptive, reactions are a sign of giftedness rather than a sign of a very frustrated, bored or troubled child.” (21, 22)

Many books written today about being gifted or educating gifted children allude to the works of Terman or Hollingsworth and Smart Girls is no exception; but with a very different point of view. “Leta Hollingsworth became the first great advocate of gifted girls. While Terman in his works seemed to accept that eminence was simply too difficult for gifted women to achieve, given their household roles, Hollingsworth showed both by her writings and her life that extraordinary accomplishment was, and should be, possible for gifted girls.” (29)

Insights provided by Smart Girls’ authors Kerr and McKay make this book a must-have for parents. Success coupled with happiness is a much sought after formula and one that can be found here. Let me conclude with a favorite passage from the book in which we are told that recent studies show:

“Women often failed to fulfill their potential, not because of lesser abilities, but because of environmental factors, including less rigorous educations, less prestigious colleges, the absence of mentors, and the difficulties of combining family and career.” (22) 

It is time to address these issues and provide our smart girls with the strategies to succeed in the 21st century. 

Photo credits: Personal photos; Pixabay.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

One Child, One Life ...

It’s easy to get caught up in the busy holiday season and to sometimes forget what is most important … nurturing our children. As parents, the window of opportunity for providing a loving, supportive environment is only open for a short time. Use that time wisely. Do not take anything for granted involving their education, their social-emotional development or their individual needs. Life affords us but one chance to foster the next generation. Becoming a parent happens in an instant. Parenting is a lifelong endeavor. 

Over the past several years, I have had the privilege of interacting with some impressive young people in the gifted community both online and in person. All of them benefited from nurturing environments provided by their parents.  

Meet Calista Frederick-Jaskiewicz. I first met Calista as a young child at a STEM Advocacy meeting where her mother had come to speak about her daughter's unique journey as a student who never attended a brick and mortar school; opting to attend one of the first cyber-schools in the nation in kindergarten. Calista sat quietly in the back of the room folding origami birds ... not something you'd expect to see at a STEM meeting. Over the years since that initial meeting, I've come to learn how important origami is to STEM fields and to see the incredible nurturing Calista's parents provided her. 

Calista has been the recipient of many honors and awards including: 2014 Trib Total Media Outstanding Young Citizen, Distinguished Finalist of the 2014 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, 2013 National Center for Women& Information Technology Aspirations in Computer Science Award Winner, a 2012 Kids are Heroes honoree, violinist with the Three Rivers Young Peoples’ Orchestra in Pittsburgh, and nine-time State Taekwondo Champion. Now a freshman at Georgia Tech, Calista continues to influence the world both academically and socially through her non-profit organizations, Origami Salami and Folding for Good

Meet Nikhil Goyal. Nikhil was a guest on #gtchat, a chat I moderate on Twitter, and a Keynote Speaker at this year’s Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented Annual Conference. It was a pleasure to meet him and listen to his talk on education reform and the value of student voice. There is no doubt that his parents provided a nurturing environment.

Nikhil’s accolades are many. At age 19, Nikhil Goyal is an activist and author of One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School as well as a book on learning, forthcoming from Doubleday-Random House in 2015. He has appeared as a commentator on MSNBC and FOX and has written for the New York Times, MSNBC, NPR,Huffington Post and Forbes. A Motivational Speaker, Goyal has spoken at Google, The Atlantic, Fast Company, NBC, MIT, Yale University, Stanford University, SXSW and others. He was named one of the “World Changers” for Dell #Inspire 100 (2012), named to 2013 Forbes 30 Under 30: Education List, one of ORIGIN Magazine’s The Nation’s Top Creatives. His first book, “One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School,” in 2012 offered a student perspective on the American education system. His upcoming book, The End of Creativity: How Schools FailChildren, is set to be released in 2015.

Meet Madeline Goodwin. Madeline was also a guest on #gtchat. An interview I did with her earlier this year can be found here. Madeline’s mother, Corin Barsily Goodwin, is the Executive Director of GiftedHomeschoolers Forum and a strong influence in her daughter’s life. Madeline was homeschooled her entire life and entered college at age 13. She credits her mother and step-dad for supporting her throughout college. This past spring, she graduated cum laude from Southern Oregon University and began graduate school in the fall.

While in college, Madeline became involved with the Ecology and Sustainability Resource Center on campus. Her interests included climate change, biodiversity, social justice issues, LGBTQ issues, women’s rights and human rights. After graduate school, she is considering the Peace Corps or Americorps.

Meet Jack Andraka. Jack was a Keynote Speaker at this year’s NAGC National Convention. Sitting in the audience, I was amazed that this young man was only 17. He was a witty, engaging speaker who just happens to be working on a prototype for an early-detection test for pancreatic and other types of cancer. His mother was sitting in the audience as well and Jack credits his parents for always supporting him in all his endeavors.

Jack’s TED Talk on his work has been viewed nearly 4 million times. He was a 2013 winner in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Jack did his research at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine under the direction of Professor Anirban Maitra. This month, he announced that he will be attending Stanford University as a member of the Class of 2019.

Recent research in neuroscience points to the importance of creating a supportive environment for children to reach their full potential. Conversely, lack of a nurturing environment can have an untold detrimental effect on what children can achieve. Parents need to understand their roles in the lives of their children and to remember that .. one child, one life can change the world. Nurture your child like the world depends on it!

Friday, August 1, 2014

In Search of Friendship and Finding Peers

Many theories have been put forward and research papers written about gifted children and how they approach friendship; but it’s not complicated. They seek out their peers. People who are most like them. They might be the same age; or not. They almost certainly share common interests and enjoy each other’s company.

The idea that gifted kids are always socially awkward has been popularized in the media by television shows such as The Big Bang Theory where characters are constantly struggling with ‘fitting in’ which is not always the case. This isn't to say that making friends is always easy for gifted children; they simply view friendship and peer relationships in a different way.

Parents sometimes worry that their child does not have a large circle of friends. It should be noted that gifted children can be very selective in who they choose as friends. They may reject offers of friendship from other children based on their unique view of the world around them and self-concepts. In a recent study, it was determined that contrary to popular belief, they do not suffer from peer rejection any more than children in the general population. (Bain and Bell, 2004) They prefer to form relationships on their own terms.

As in any discussion of gifted children, levels of giftedness must be acknowledged. The ease with which these children develop friendships is often affected by their distance from the norm. Meckstroth and Kearney in Off the Charts Asynchrony and the Gifted Child state,

“Their intellectual and personality characteristics amplify their life experiences, and their differences from the norm tend to exacerbate their sense of dissonance with others.” (285)

High levels of giftedness more often than not are associated with sensitivities, introversion, perfectionism, and a sense of fairness; all factors that affect friendships.

The role of asynchronous development in finding friends can make life interesting for the gifted child but stressful for their parents. Age is often not a determining factor in who they choose as friends. A 10 year-old may feel just as comfortable discussing the latest developments in game theory with a high school student as they are playing a video game with an age-peer.

Maintaining relationships is another matter. Parents play an important role in guiding the choice of friends when their children are young. Christine Fonseca reminds us in her book, Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students:

“Relationships are difficult in the best of situations. This particularly can be true with gifted children, as the rigid nature of their thinking patterns and the overly sensitive emotional nature of their personality can cause conflict with both peers and adults. Typical relationship issues, including developing healthy friendships, bullying problems, trying to ‘fit in’ and handling peer pressure, are appropriate topics for role-playing and parent coaching.”  

There are times, of course, when your child may decide to be friends with someone you feel is a bad influence. You need to tread carefully and consider whether or not to intervene. It may be better to let your child make the decision in this case.

Ultimately, we want our children to be happy. As adults, we generally base our conception of what happiness means based on our own life experiences. Young children need guidance, but if we do our job right … they will find their path to happiness. Providing a strong foundation by modeling the formation of positive and healthy friendships will go a long way in assuring they can do the same.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

This post is part of Hoagies' Gifted Blog Hop on Friendship for August 2014. Please use the link below to access the entire list of participating blogs.


Bain, Sherry K. and Bell, Sherry Mee (2004). Social Self-Concept, Social Attributions, and Peer Relationships in Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Graders Who Are Gifted Compared to High Achievers. Gifted Child Quarterly, 48, 167 – 178.

Fonseca, Christine (2011). Emotional Intensity in GiftedStudents Helping Kids Cope With Explosive Feelings (p. 139). Waco, Texas: Prufrock Press.

Meckstroth, Elizabeth A. and Kearney, Kathi (2013). Indecent Exposure: Does the Media Exploit Highly Gifted Children? In C. Neville, M. Piechowski & S. Tolan (Eds.), Off the Charts Asynchrony and the Gifted Child (pp. 282 – 291). Unionville, NY: Royal Fireworks Publishing Co., Inc.