International School Parent Magazine - Spring 2020

Page 24

How to support a gifted child The second and final article of our gifted child series, here, Dr Laurence van Hanswijck looks at how to deal with a gifted child. Dr Laurence van Hanswijck de Jonge Misdiagnosis of the gifted child

Poor attention, boredom, daydreaming in specific situations, low tolerance for persistence on tasks that seem irrelevant, judgment lags behind the development of intellect, and intensity – these may lead to power struggles with authorities, high activity levels, and questioning rules, customs and traditions. In the classroom, a gifted child’s perceived inability to stay on task is likely to be related to boredom, curriculum, a mismatched learning style, or other environmental factors. Gifted children may spend from one-fourth to one-half of their regular classroom time waiting for others to catch up -- even more if they are in a heterogeneously grouped class. Their specific level of academic achievement is often two to four grade levels above their actual grade placement. Such children usually respond to non-challenging or slow-moving classroom situations by “off-task” behaviour, disruptions, or other attempts at self-amusement. It is easy to understand how this can be misinterpreted as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity/Impulsivity Disorder (ADHD). It’s well known among researchers of the gifted that these individuals exhibit higher intensity and increased levels of emotional, imaginational, intellectual, sensual and psychomotor excitability and that this is a typical pattern of development. These characteristics, however, are frequently perceived by psychotherapists and others as evidence of a mental disturbance. Since the gifted function with relatively high levels of intensity and sensitivity, when they seek therapy, they are frequently misdiagnosed because therapists receive no specialised training in the identification and treatment of persons who have advanced and

“I’ve never seen giftedness expire. I’ve seen it get worse - the sensitivity deepens, the perfectionism gets more intense, all this energy erupts, makes more of itself.” complex patterns of development. Therapeutic assessment of gifted persons with asynchronous development heightened levels of awareness, energy and emotional response, and an intense level of inner turmoil. Often this results in a mislabeling of their developmental transition as a personality or attentional disorder. Histrionic, dysthymic, cyclothymic, borderline, narcissistic, ADHD are a few of the diagnostic labels mistakenly used. The results of this type of misdiagnosis can range from benign neglect to misguided counselling strategies that invalidate and attempt to ‘normalise’ the complex inner process of the gifted. When misdiagnosed gifted clients can be prescribed medication to suppress the “symptoms”, there is the danger that the incredible inner fury of the gifted process will be neutralised, thus minimising the potential for a life of accomplishment and fulfilment. As a result, those who have a lot to offer society are the least likely to get their therapeutic needs met. I had the luck to meet an exceptional 8-year-old boy. His school


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