Guest blogger Rebecca Howell, of NAGC UK, comments on a little phrase that so many parents of gifted children have heard:
Yes, your child is bright, but…
These are familiar words to many parents of young gifted children, often heard at parents’ evenings. The words are followed by a comment about the child having ‘social issues’. The teacher observes that, although recognised as very able, the child is not interacting as expected with the other children in the class. It is easy to make the assumption that this is because there is a problem with the child’s social development, which, on the surface, appears to be significantly lagging behind that of other children in the class.
This comment is confusing and worrying to the parents who observe their child in many other situations. The parents know their child is bright and seems to be very advanced in some areas, not so much in other areas; developing asynchronously. They see their child interacting well with adults (who care and listen to the child) and wonder whether they themselves are somewhat to blame for talking to the child in an adult manner, especially when the child has no siblings. The parent watches the child playing well with children of different ages in imaginative and inventive play sessions with cousins and family friends. Their child has the ability to talk at length about his/her latest passion, and often strikes up conversations with adults. In the parents’ view, up to this point, their child’s interaction with others is both natural and delightful.
But then the doubt sets in. The parents remember the emotional outbursts when their child got frustrated with another child of the same age for snatching a toy from them. They recall that their child sometimes asks why a baby is crying, why another child gets upset, why yet another throws things. The parents start to observe other children of the same age and notices that their child behaves in a considerably different way to the majority. Then the parents begin to think that there is something wrong with their child. Yes, their child is bright, but… maybe their child is lagging behind with social skills; perhaps it is this aspect and not ‘the gift’ that is most apparent to others, perhaps there is even a learning difficulty in this area?
Parents should take comfort from knowing that a difficulty in relating well to peers is common for gifted children. It is also good to know that many gifted children get on better with older children. It is even better to learn that relating well to adults (who care and listen to the child) is frequently the case for gifted children, and that it is not the parents’ fault for talking to the child in a mature way!
Why this ‘social issue’ happens with gifted children can be explained by the advanced sense of justice and advanced sense of morality that often goes hand in hand with their cognitive abilities. Gifted children can often seem to bypass a lot of developmental stages that other children go through. Because they understand the world around them so easily, gifted children learn right and wrong early on and grasp moral issues and dilemmas that others take much longer to, and sometimes never, learn. Not only does this phenomenon mean that communicating with a gifted child can be like dealing with a much older child in a young child’s body, it also follows that gifted children find it difficult to understand why others behave as they do since they haven’t been through that developmental stage themselves.
It can be difficult for peers to understand the behaviour of gifted children, and , at the same time gifted children struggle to understand the behaviour of their peers. Both parties have difficulty understanding each other and this can lead to difficulties with friendships; which again can be an indicator that the child is having ‘social issues’.
When considered from this perspective, it becomes increasingly apparent that the gifted child, although always destined to be ‘different’ because of their asynchronous development, can and does enjoy social interaction; albeit in sometimes unusual or unconventional ways.