Small giants 1 June, 2017 Isabel Vallejo
While every child is different, identifying those kids that are highly skilled is important in order for them to experience a normal development.
Medical advisor Richard Giraldo Arcila – Neuropsychologist
Studies show that between 20 and 25% of highly gifted children experience social and emotional difficulties. The parents and family members of these prodigy children with exceptional or gifted talent seem to be more narcissistic than concerned with meeting and identifying their needs, or improving their academic performance or their social and emotional lives. Why is this? This is because for parents and teachers, the concept of “gifted children” is still not clear to them and even more so, how these children should be handled remains unclear.
How can a child that is exceptionally gifted be identified? For many people, the definition of such a gifted child is limited to being highly skilled at math or reading. This is a very poor and limited concept, however, as experts rely on other areas that go beyond intellectual procedures in order to identify them.
According to an article published by Adrián García Ron and José Sierra Vázquez in the Spanish Association of Pediatrics (AEP, Asociación Española de Pediatría), “There is no exact definition of a gifted child. Because this group of children is very diverse and because their cognitive abilities can manifest in different ways, they are defined as children that show a high capacity to perform in intellectual, creative and/or artistic spheres. The psychoneurological characteristics of their sociocultural environment and of their personality can lead to personal, academic and social problems.”
What makes them unique is what makes them vulnerable
The fact that they are “not like the others” is the focus that many studies take, as this is attributed to being why gifted children are more susceptible to anxiety and depression. According to neuropsychologist, Richard Giraldo Arcila, this is a phenomenon that leads them to want to be like others and to want to hide their abilities to avoid bullying and jealousy or envy from their classmates and therefore have more friends or be more accepted.
Loneliness or isolation are often common defense mechanisms among these children and teens, which often translates to stress, depression and anxiety. These behaviors are common in children who are intellectually gifted. Other behaviors can also include rebelliousness, denial, enuresis (bed wetting), stomach pains and night terrors.
Psychologist Shirley Kokot also points out that early existential depression is normal in children that are exceptionally gifted, “…due to their ability to absorb information about troubling events and yet the lack of their ability to understand them.” This type of depression occurs because these children tend to be idealists and become frustrated when they do not reach their goals. Also, when they want to share these types of concerns they discover that their peers do not have the same questions, which makes them feel different.
Dr. Giraldo adds that these children also have what is called asynchronous development, “They understand concepts that are very advanced for their age. For example, at a young age they think about poverty in the world and they have a certain degree of perfectionism, which leads them to fear failure. They set very high goals and when they don’t meet them they become very upset. In many cases, parents and teachers demand more of them than normal, and because the standards placed upon them are higher, this leads them to feeling a certain degree of frustration when they don’t achieve what they want.”
In contrast to the common symptoms of depression in adults, at a young age, depression among children can make them more aggressive than normal. They prefer to do things on their own and they often cry for unexplainable reasons. Depending on the phase they are in, however, they may be able to it clearly explain what they feel.
Being a kid does not have to be complicated
While having a gifted child if is often a source of pride for parents, the neuropsychologist recommends allowing them to have fun, “The fact that a child is highly gifted does not mean that everything has to be perfect, it is important to allow them to make mistakes because they are learning. Sometimes, the grades they earn at school are not a measure of what they know.”
In order to handle these type of children and teens, experts suggest reinforcing their social and interpersonal skills; while their skills may not be strong, improving them will help protect them from depression. At school, it is important for the curriculum to adapt the to their needs, as sometimes they are not interested in what they are learning. This can lead them to be unsuccessful at school because they will be graded improperly and stigmatized as having a supposed lack of interest in academic activities.
Because this is a group of children that is considered to be “at risk” due to the complications that may experience in their personal, social and academic lives, it is crucial for parents and teachers to identify these children and create an interdisciplinary team that can provide guidance on making and confirming a diagnosis to foster an environment that is welcoming for them.
Last, in addition to having understanding parents and family members, the combination of psychological and psychiatric therapy is also essential to improving how highly gifted children feel.
Highly gifted children have greater intelligence, are very creative, have a broad imagination and have an insatiable curiosity that allows them to learn independently. These qualities make them unique.