Thursday, September 8, 2016

Another (and possibly the most important) reason to advocate for gifted kids

Why advocate for gifted kids when they already enter life with advantages?

They grasp information with lightening speed. They coast through school. They typically excel in their chosen careers.

OK, sure... many are overlooked, miserable in schools that refuse to challenge them, underachieving, bored, hiding their talents. Some are bullied, and at best, struggle with finding a peer group where they belong.

Faced with others' expectations, a myriad of career possibilities, and the chains of asynchronous development complicating social interactions, there are multiple pressures they must endure. Acutely aware of life's uncertainties, tormented over the world's injustices, teetering on the verge of existential depression, many fight anxiety, sadness and despair.

Despite their innate advantages, gifted kids can suffer as much as any others - even as much as at-risk kids, or kids with learning disabilities that make school a daily challenge. All of these children struggle; however the fewest resources are devoted to gifted children. Their intellectual hunger and social/emotional needs are an afterthought in the hierarchy of school funding and resources.

So here's another essential (and possibly the most important) reason to advocate for gifted kids...

They grow up. 

And these adults, like all of us, carry scars and wounds from childhood. Sometimes wounds can create emotional pain, defensive patterns that guard from further assault, or "neurotic" symptoms that limit the ability to fully embrace life's joys, function as partners in relationships, or contribute productively to the workforce. Gifted kids become gifted adults, and cart their childhood woes along with them. And they may land in my office, or the offices of other therapists who try to help them move past... the past.

As a psychologist, I believe there is perhaps no more important reason to insist on advocacy than the reality that gifted adults continue to suffer the effects of neglect and painful experiences from childhood. It doesn't just stop after high school.

And the absence of an appropriate education is a form of neglect. Gifted children may appear to thrive, given their typically good grades, but most are barely challenged. And many suffer emotional scars from social alienation or bullying, some of which might have been prevented if they had been permitted to share classes with like-minded peers (through acceleration or ability-based groups). Parents may have few resources or support with these high-octane kids, often worry about the appearance of bragging if they share concerns with others, and may not know how to advocate for their child's needs within the schools.

Certainly, psychological struggles among gifted adults are not entirely due to a deficient education. Mental health problems may be inherited and biologically based, or due to trauma, a troubling environment or a distressing family situation. It is well-recognized that a loving, caring parental relationship, with appropriate but non-hovering supervision, firm limits, and the absence of harsh punishment (e.g., name-calling, shaming, physical punishment of any kind), is critical.

But we cannot control all factors in our children's lives - we do the best we can. Let's eliminate one such factor that might contribute to our child's suffering, and to his or her future well-being. Let's advocate for a fair and appropriate education for our children and for the welfare of others as well. Get informed. Learn about the laws in your state and school district. Befriend your child's teacher. Know your rights as a parent. And remain attuned to your child's needs.

Let's ensure that our children thrive in school throughout their childhood - and that these years provide a springboard toward emotional well-being as they become