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The Social and Emotional Needs of the Gifted Child. Pamela Clark, Ph.D., LMFT Converse College. Unusually large vocabularies/complex sentence structure Greater language comprehension Longer attention span Intensity and sensitivity Wide range of interests

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the social and emotional needs of the gifted child

The Social and Emotional Needs of the Gifted Child

Pamela Clark, Ph.D., LMFT

Converse College

behavioral characteristics of the gifted
Unusually large vocabularies/complex sentence structure

Greater language comprehension

Longer attention span

Intensity and sensitivity

Wide range of interests

Highly developed curiosity and limitless questions

Interest in experimenting and doing things differently

Divergent thinking

Learn basic skills more quickly and with less practice

Largely teach themselves to read as preschoolers

Able to retain more information

Imaginary playmates

Unusual sense of humor

Design complex games

Behavioral Characteristics of the Gifted
Gifted students are at least as well adjusted as any other group
  • Some research indicates that being gifted can be a buffer against behavioral/emotional problems
  • When gifted students do experience problems, it is often a result of mismatch with educational or home environments
Creativity, energy, intensity, and high aspirations
  • Overexcitabilities
  • Asynchrony – internal unevenness in development
  • Difficulty finding compatible friends
  • Being unchallenged academically
  • Unrealistic expectations of others
  • Twice-exceptional
    • ADHD or Learning Disability
dabrowski s theory
Dabrowski’s Theory
  • Kasimierz Dabrowski – Polish psychiatrist who focused on the field of gifted children and adults
  • Most children come into the world excited by it
    • Tendency to seek out stimulation
  • Those with high abilities more likely to have innate intensities resulting in heightened responses to stimuli
  • Intensities exceed what you would typically expect
Dabrowski referred to these heightened intensities as “overexcitabilities”
  • Can occur in one or more of five areas: intellectual, imaginational, emotional, psychomotor, and sensual
  • Sometimes occurs only in one area, but usually in more than one
intellectual overexcitability
Intellectual Overexcitability
  • Characterized by curiosity, asking probing questions, concentration, problem solving, and theoretical thinking
  • Active minds that search for understanding and truth
  • Introspective, enjoy mental puzzles involving focus, concentration and problem solving
  • Often focus on moral concerns and issues of fairness
  • May become impatient if others don’t share their enthusiasm about an idea
imaginational overexcitability
Imaginational Overexcitability
  • Approximately ¾ gifted children have one or more imaginary playmates during preschool years
  • Rich imagination, fantasy play, animistic thinking, daydreaming, dramatic perception, and use of metaphor
  • Divergent thinking and daydreaming
emotional overexcitability
Emotional Overexcitability
  • Often the first to be noticed in children by parents
  • Heightened concern for and reaction to the environment
  • Form strong emotional attachments to people, places and things
  • Often accused of overreacting
  • Intensity shown in high levels of compassion, empathy, and sensitivity
  • May show frequent temper tantrums and displays of rage
  • Adults may become involved in social causes
psychomotor overexcitability
Psychomotor Overexcitability
  • Love movement and show a surplus of energy
  • May be manifested in rapid speech, fervent enthusiasm, intense physical activity, and a need for action
  • Seem never to be still and may talk constantly
  • When emotionally tense, may talk compulsively, act impulsively, show intense drive, compulsively organize, become competitive or even act out
sensual overexcitability
Sensual Overexcitability
  • Sensory aspect of daily life more heightened
  • May not be able to tolerate tags in clothes or seams in socks
  • Noises and flickers associated with fluorescent lights may really bother them
  • Odors may overwhelm them or may react strongly to the texture or taste of certain foods
  • May attempt to avoid certain settings where there’s a risk of overstimulation
  • May get great pleasure from music, language, art, food, etc.
  • Means out-of-sync
  • Gifted child may experience asynchrony on several levels
    • Between intellectual abilities and physical abilities or affective abilities
    • Between chronological peers and mental age
    • Between giftedness in one area as opposed to others (math, music, etc.)
  • Can create social and emotional vulnerabilities
  • Most problematic between 4 and 9 years old
  • The higher the IQ, the more acute the problem
  • Particularly difficult with twice-exceptional
  • Research on gifted students suggests:
    • As a group, gifted students tend to be perfectionists
    • More so than average-ability peers
    • Their perfectionism can be a positive force for high achievement
  • Healthy perfectionism can result in intense pleasure in doing a job well but can also be less precise if called for – this type enables
  • Neurotic perfectionism results in an inability to feel pleasure in tasks because they are never done well enough to justify feeling good about them – this type is disabling
Unhealthy perfectionism has been associated with depression, eating disorders, writer’s block, migraines, sexual dysfunction, obsessive-compulsive personality disorders, suicide, and Type-A coronary-prone behavior
  • Also linked with underachievement, academic procrastination, and career failure
  • Some researchers suggests perfectionism is innate and the pressure of high standards internal
  • Others suggest parental perfectionism results in a focus on performance as opposed to learning
  • Still others speculate that the media promotes perfectionism, peers and teachers pressure student to be the best, or “hothousing” babies (early academic training) are the culprits
  • Help parents and students understand that wanting to achieve and having a drive to excel is not in and of itself unhealthy
  • Help gifted students take pleasure in accomplishments
  • See setbacks as learning opportunities
  • Praise students’ efforts and determination as opposed to their being “smart” or “talented”
  • Encourage them to challenge their efforts into their passion as opposed to trying to do everything well
  • Help them set priorities and value relaxation
peer relationships
Peer Relationships
  • Research indicates gifted children are well-liked and popular with peers until around age 13
  • Gifted adolescents often value their giftedness but understand it can result in social pressures
  • In studies of popularity, gifted boys ranked most popular, nongifted boys and nongifted girls second most popular, and gifted girls least popular
  • However, profoundly gifted have great difficulty finding true peers unless they are radically accelerated – social acceptability much greater problem for them
  • Maintaining a positive family environment helps gifted adolescents deal with anti-intellectual environment
  • Parents should be careful not to stress popularity and social success
  • Parents should support child’s talent but not add to pressures
  • Point out that competitive forms of friendships end at graduation for most people – point out awards ahead
  • Arrange for gifted children to spend time with like-minded peer – assemble a gifted cohort (Saturday and summer programs, special classes, debate teams, intellectual and creataive teams and gifted-peer discussion groups)
  • Schools provide counselors and school psychologists trained to understand needs of gifted
  • With the exception of students creatively gifted in the visual arts and writing, research suggests that gifted children are at no higher risk for depression than average-ability children
  • However, depression among all children and adolescents has increased Rates of suicide has increased 300% in the past 30 years for adolescent males
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescents
risk factors for depression in the gifted
Risk Factors for Depression in the Gifted
  • Asynchronous development – at risk for existential depression (struggling with meaning of life)
  • Perfectionism – is associated in the clinical literature with depression and suicide
    • Perceived pressures with feelings of inadequacy may contribute to fear of failure and negative self-evaluation
  • Social isolation – associated with depressed mood
    • Has been noted among highly gifted who are not radically accelerated
    • More of a problem for those under 10 who have less mobility
    • Important to distinguish between loneliness and solitude (only loneliness correlates with depression)
  • Sensitivity – speculated to increase suffering from social injustices, personal losses, slights, and perceived rejection
    • No studies have confirmed this
  • Research consistently suggests gifted do not score higher on depression assessments than average-ability
  • When differences do show, tend to favor the gifted
  • However
    • Studies focused on white gifted students already identified and in programs
    • Those gifted with problems are probably not included
protective factors
Protective Factors
  • Some characteristics common among gifted students have also been cited as protective factors
    • High intelligence
    • Problem-solving abilities
    • Advanced social skills
    • Androgyny
    • Advanced moral reasoning
  • Gifted may be exposed to higher levels of stress, but personal characteristics may serve as a buffer
profoundly gifted
Profoundly Gifted
  • Levels of giftedness
    • Mildly gifted – 115-129 IQ
    • Moderately gifted – 130-144 IQ
    • Highly gifted – 145-159 IQ
    • Exceptionally gifted – 160 – 179 IQ
    • Profoundly gifted – 180+ IQ fewer than 1 in 1 million
  • Overly excitabilities more prominent in this population
  • Tend to have more problems making social adjustments
    • 2/3’s reported by parents and teachers as being “poor mixers”
  • Prefer the companionship of gifted age peers or older children
  • Loneliness and isolation is often experienced by these individuals and is much more acute in children younger than 10
Problems of social isolation, peer rejection, loneliness and alienation are not the function of exceptional mental abilities but due to lack of peer group based on commonality of interests and abilities as opposed to age
  • Research indicates that, for this group, some form of acceleration is essential if they are to find peers with whom they can form satisfying intellectual and social relationships
  • Generally, the acceleration needs to be radical