The term “gifted” can be misleading. Some people may think that since gifted children possess the special “gift” of high intelligence, they do not need any extra help and will succeed no matter what. This line of thinking does these children a disservice. While it is true that many gifted children do very well both academically and socially, it is important to remember that giftedness can bring with it its own set of social-emotional challenges that require understanding and ongoing support from adults. In this article, I discuss the challenges in navigating peer relationships that some gifted children face. I also explore possible ways to address these challenges. Continue reading Gifted Children: Navigating Peer Relationships
A middle school girl laments, “I really can’t make decisions. It’s very hard for me to make up my mind.” A ninth grader asks his teacher, “Can I start over?” as he erases all of his work. “I messed up on this problem.” A young adolescent boy explains, “I look at the amount of work I have and I feel overwhelmed. I just don’t know how to get started.”
These statements are common among adolescents with executive functioning difficulties. Executive functioning (EF) refers to the cognitive processes that are necessary to think, manage the self, evaluate and solve problems, and achieve goals (1). Adolescents with executive functioning difficulties often have trouble initiating, completing, or turning in their class assignments; they may struggle to stay engaged in lessons or classroom tasks. At times, these students may be labeled as ‘lazy,’ ‘forgetful,’ or ‘lost’ (2).
When the concept of executive functioning was first examined in the 1970s, it referred to the front of the brain acting as the control center or the “executive” (3) of the brain. Originally, executive functioning was defined as a concept that related closely to selective attention, or the ability to focus on one thing while blocking out distractions. In the past two decades, this notion has evolved. We now think of EF as consisting of numerous cognitive functions that are needed to assist with learning and self-regulation (3). The current research on executive functioning is summarized below.
Parents bring their children into my office for a variety of reasons, but usually the children are there because somehow their cognitive, academic, or social-emotional needs are not being met by their current environment. Sometimes, after I get to know the child and conduct an evaluation, it becomes clear that the child is gifted, and that giftedness is part of the equation of this child’s unmet needs.
One 12-year-old boy told me his reasons for wanting to be evaluated: “I want to find out how many people in the world have a personality like me, because I want to know: where do I fit in?” He then poignantly added, “at lunchtime, all the boys want to talk about football, and I want to talk about physics!” A 16-year-old I tested shared with me that middle school had been the hardest time for him, because that’s when he “had the most disagreements with teachers on the worth of what we were doing.” A mother of a 6-year-old girl told me that her daughter comes home from school looking dejected, and described what she termed as her daughter’s “nerdy acting out.” When the girl’s first grade teacher asked the children to write down different ways to make the number 6, the girl wrote “2×3” and “-1 + 7”. The teacher then told the girl that “that’s not what we are doing right now.” After that incident, this child became even more disengaged from school.
When I share the results of the evaluation with parents and with the child, we discuss how being gifted is an important part of the child’s unique learning profile and of the unique way this child relates to the world.
At this point, it becomes important to clarify: what does “being gifted” mean?