The Humility of Being the Coordinator and Parent of a Gifted Child
Part of my vocation is working with parents and trying to help them to figure out how to best work with the uniqueness of their gifted child. It is really easy to delve out advice when it is someone else’s child. To allay their fears that these quirks are just the natural order of having a gifted child and to not be concerned when one of their over-excitabilities kicks in.
Many gifted children, not all, have what are called over-excitabilities. There are five of these:
• Psychomotor – a heightened excitability of the neuromuscular system, which can include a “capacity for being active and energetic.”
• Sensual – a heightened experience of sensual pleasure or displeasure emanating from sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing.
• Intellectual – demonstrated by a marked need to seek understanding and truth, to gain knowledge, and to analyze and synthesize.
• Imaginational – a heightened play of the imagination with a rich association of images and impressions, frequent use of image and metaphor, facility for invention and fantasy, detailed visualization, and elaborate dreams.
• Emotional – heightened, intense feelings, extremes of complex emotions, identification with others’ feelings, and strong affective expression
There are various strategies for helping to cope with these such as providing time for spontaneity, creating an environment free of offensive stimuli, helping them to use their imagination to function in the real world, and accepting their feelings.
Over the years, I have shared these various strategies with parents of gifted students who have their over-excitabilities. For example, I once had a mother bring in her 5th grade son to explain to me that he might act tired in class because he didn’t get any sleep. When I asked her why, she explained he was worried about people in Africa who were starving. I have had other students who became very emotional with almost no provocation, or students who seem hyperactive, or those who just won’t just a question they are pondering go.
But what happens when it is your own child? It isn’t so easy then. I found myself in this position with my younger daughter. She has the sensual over-excitability. How this manifests itself is that she is very particular about the clothing she is willing to wear. To the point where she found a pair of underwear she liked and wore them for nine days. She wears the same four outfits even though she has drawers full of clothing with the price tags still attached. She doesn’t like having any ties around her waist and yet likes her pants a size bigger than they out to be, meaning she often is holding up her pants by holding them. She also removes stimuli that are bothering her peripheral. We will be watching something on the television, and she has to move a stack of DVDs with bright colors, or when she is watching her IPad in the bathtub, all of the soaps on the bathroom counter are put in the sinks, so they are out of sight.
I will admit that at times, these little quirks can be annoying. When she tried to wear the same shirt for an entire week, I almost lost it. I was tired of finding things behind the couch that she had moved there and had not moved back. But I know this is part and parcel of having a child who is gifted, so that is what I chalked it up to. Sometimes that doesn’t make it easier when she has hidden the remote control and I cannot find it to watch my baseball game.
My wife on the other hand, like most mothers do, worried about these actions. She thought maybe our daughter was OCD or some other malady that would require her being seen by a phycologist, or that maybe medication would help. At her annual checkup with the pediatrician, our family doctor actually said to my wife that our daughter should be evaluated and put on anti-anxiety medication. I wondered how many other gifted children had to go through her office and had been put on medication they didn’t need.
As her own anxiety grew, I tried to assure my wife, as I had done so many times before with parents, that it was nothing to be concerned with, that our daughter would eventually grow out of it. But if you are someone who did not go through these quirks yourself, you want answers as to why. Why can she just stop doing it like when she doesn’t hang her towel up after a shower or put her dishes away? But most frustrating is that you want instant solutions. Unfortunately, there aren’t many instant solutions. It is a process that is gradual and takes time.
What I did not want to happen is I didn’t want my daughter to think in any way, shape, or form that what she was doing was somehow wrong. My knowledge of the over-excitabilities helped me to understand that there wasn’t anything wrong, but how many parents of gifted students who were not aware of it made their child think that there was something wrong?
And how do I know she will eventually grow out of it? Whenever we got down the basement to play ping pong, which is pretty frequently, I have to wait for a couple of minutes as my daughter removes all of the items that would distract her peripheral such as the pillows on the futon, paddles that are out on the floor, boxes stacked on the air hockey table, and other things. I found this annoying at first because I had to wait, and a couple of times I needed to get up the stairs to answer the phone or use the restroom only to have it blocked by her barricade of items stacked in front of the steps. But what I have noticed over the course of a couple of months, is that this barricade has become smaller and smaller. She no longer takes all of the pillows. If something is on the air hockey table, there are times she takes no notice. These items are not distracting her as much as they had before.
So what strategies did I use with my daughter to help her and my wife deal with these quirks? One thing I have learned about gifted children over the years is that in most cases, they can be rationalized with. If you are able to help them see the big picture, most times they will be amenable to change. I negotiated. I told my daughter I didn’t care if she moved items that were bothering her with the caveat that she put them back. This took some reminding, as everything does with a child, but she has gotten much better about returning the DVDs she has moved to where they originally were.
When it came to the clothing, in order for me to remain sane, through much trial and error and much time spent in dressing rooms, we found seven pairs of underwear she was comfortable with. Then we created a system where she would put her underwear at the end of the day in a basket and my part of the deal was to make sure they were washed every week and then she started through them again. Same went for outfits. We found a week or so worth of outfits she was comfortable wearing and had her cycling through these.
I also negotiated with my wife, showing her instances where things were getting better and helping her to let things go that were minor inconveniences. Things are certainly not perfect now, but they are more tolerable and we all have a better understanding of what is going to act as a stimuli to our daughter and remove it before it even becomes a problem.
The best thing for coping with these quirks is having someone to talk to about them. My wife and I have each other. An excellent resource is other parents of gifted children. Sharing stories and realizing you are not the only one going through this can be very reassuring that everything is just fine.