Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Deep, Dark, and Scary World of Gifted Children Part 2

So what is this all about? Why am I writing this. I am writing about this because I was recently reading a blog where a woman's daughter would "guest write" from time to time. Her words were so beautiful, so well thought out, so powerful. Although her mother never mentioned it, you could tell her daughter was quite the gifted child. Not just because she had an amazing vocabulary and an extensive command of the English language, she was also good at so many things (dance, academics, etc.). She also had emotional intensity and was working her way through negative thinking that had plunged her quite often into depression. As I read her amazing words she wrote I often saw my own kids. Although there were quite a bit younger than this fourteen year old - there seemed to be a kindred heart as I read her writing. Then I got quite startled because I remembered why I was reading her blog postings - it had just been posted on a listserv that I belong to that this sensitive, wonderful, amazing young girl had just fallen to her death as she jumped from a 5th story window of an abandoned building. This wasn't her first suicide attempt, but like many gifted children she was unfortunately bright enough to eventually get even that right. Her mother's blogs showed that she had tried hard to help her daughter, but just couldn't lift her from her despair. This was enough to know we needed to continue to work hard with our children. While all three are still very young, they won't be young forever. We must build in them to skills to stop the self hate, to manage the negative talk, to have a realistic expectation of themselves and the world around them.
So, what are we doing? The first and most important step we took when my eldest was three years old. We found a psychologist. Having a psychologist that specializes in working with gifted children is key. I encourage anyone within a 5 hour (yes hour) drive of metro Atlanta to check out Spomenka Newman (, but there are other such people across the country. If you know a good one that you can recommend, please post it in my comments section! The psychologist isn't just for your children, you need an advocate who you can turn to for advice and support. This is hard, this is so very hard. I know many gifted families that co-sleep with their children. Maybe not the entire night, but whenever their children come into the room at night they make room in the bed. Its because we know that whether they be 3, 5, or 15 - they are coming to our bedroom door because they are feeling scared and alone and dealing with something deep and also a bit scary for themselves. They have come to the one place they can find comfort and support, the only place they can find a bit of rest. We know if we turn them away they have been left to fight that despair, that fear, the pain all alone and they just aren't quite yet ready. I know of families that have two mattresses pushed together on the floor - they, like us, have multiple gifted children and even a king sized bed can get crowded!
The second thing I feel is important is to find peers - you need to know other families with highly gifted children. There are just some things only your true peers can understand. You need other people that realize when your child says "I am the worst person in the world" - they truly believe that at the time. Someone who understands when your son breaks down to cry it isn't because he is a "wimp"; its because he is knowledgeable beyond his years but still very much a child and he is just overwhelmed by what he knows is wrong that he can't seem to fix.
The third thing is to find an appropriate educational environment for your child. It is estimated that half of all profoundly gifted children are homeschooled. This means that half of them are traditionally schooled. Ensure that your child has exposure to teachers that understand gifted children. This will ensure their expectations are not unreasonably set, the teacher will know to look out for perfectionism, and the teacher will be skilled in handling emotional intensity. Ensure the lines of communication are open. For homeschooling families, read the emotional signs of your children and be comfortable letting school work take a back seat every once in while for the sake of mental health.
Explore all possible contributing factors to your child's emotional needs. When we had our eldest tested for dyslexia, we found he also had some vision issues. Upon vision testing we learned he was dealing with Moro Reflex issues - are natural reflex that happens in babies in utero that should be gone by age one.  Because his wasn't, his upper and lower body were still working as one unit. This meant his "startle" reflex was still on - big time. This issue often leads to extreme emotional intensity in children. Imagine your "fight or flight" natural reaction activated all day, every day. This was the emotional life of our child. Everything that happened to him would trigger the fight or flight reflex - his poor little body was in a constant state of shock. This physical reaction was taking a toll on his emotions. He felt everything deeply, not just emotionally, but physically as well. Our first task in therapy was working on his Moro Reflex, those loose his body from this physical and emotional prison of the extreme.
A fifth piece of advice: Get educated. Thankfully today there are plenty of resources dealing with the emotional lives of gifted children. Some resources I have enjoyed, or am now reading include the following:
Living with Intensity by Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski
Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking by Tamar Chanksy
The Out-of Sync Child has Fun: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder by Carol Stock Kranowitz
The Mislabed Child by Brock and Fernette Eide
Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter more than Peers by Gordon Neufeld
There are more great resources out there - feel free to list your own in the comments section!
A final note is to understand and acknowledge your own gifted struggles. Gifted children aren't planted here by alien seed - they are the product of their genetic make-up. The biggest struggle I have had is acknowledging my own giftedness; allowing myself to relive those deep and dark places of despair I visited as a child. Trying to be sensitive to my children as my natural mind tells me to simply say "toughen up" or "its not that bad" is almost cruel to hear for a child going through it in the moment. I remember being a gifted child and it did feel that bad, the world did seem the cruel, and life did seem that hard. If you have unresolved issues - get professional help. It isn't too late. And don't just do it for your child, do it for you.
Those with other advice - feel free to post in the comments section. We are a family, all in this together!

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