By Teresa Currivan, LMFT, Parent Coach
For most of us, the word “gifted” conjures images of privilege and automatic success. But what if I told you that gifted people also suffer because of this false notion?
What is giftedness?
Gifted people reside in every culture, every race, every country on this planet. The part that most can agree on is that giftedness means higher IQ. While this is usually true, what is less commonly known is that it can also involve acute sensitivities to noises, smells, and other environmental stimulation; an unusually strong sense of justice; high creativity; and sometimes crippling perfectionism. The personality “quirks” that manifest from these characteristics are often misunderstood by not only lay people, but by educators and other professionals, including those in mental health. This lack of understanding impacts not only the gifted individuals and their family members, but all of us.
In the article, Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children, Webb, et al., explain that the gifted individual’s inherent drives “together result in an intense idealism and concern with social and moral issues, which can create anxiety, depression, and a sharp challenging of others who do not share their concerns.”
What happens when we misunderstand or ignore giftedness?
The most common problem I work with is the child who is struggling in school because he doesn’t think or learn at the same level or same way as the rest of the classroom.
Many gifted learners I work with are what are called visual-spatial learners (those who learn holistically). They, like all children, desperately want to fit in. But in our typical classrooms designed for linear-sequential learners (those who learn step-by-step and in succession), they cannot. These are kids who are highly creative at math, art, tech, science or emotions in ways that are often different than the “norm”. As many schools become more focused on linear-sequential teaching and testing, these children have fewer learning tools at their disposal. As a result, they may act out, become silent and depressed, and, because they have different learning needs, are often diagnosed with learning problems (rather than giftedness). In fact, gifted kids are more likely than any other population to be misdiagnosed. While their needs would be best met through more, faster and different, they may be put in special ed where the pace is slower and memorization is often emphasized. This exacerbates their boredom and can lead to depression, higher incidence of ADHD symptoms, acting out and deep self-esteem and social issues. The result: we have a recipe for disaster and suffering for both the gifted child and for other students in their classroom. Years later, the impact remains as many gifted adults today ironically don’t view themselves as smart and are underusing their strengths. Not good for our society as a whole.
What I’ve observed is that we get stuck in trying to understand this in terms of our “normal” selves and “normal” people. Gifted individuals are wired differently, and I believe that if we were to truly understand giftedness, with all of its challenges and actual gifts, we would also be able to appreciate ourselves more – no matter where on the scale we fall.
If your child is struggling and you think he or she may be highly gifted, please seek help. Forcing them to fit into a “round hole” can be harmful. When allowed to learn as they need to and to socialize with those they naturally connect with, they will find their place among the rest of us so we can all benefit.
In this video clip from the documentary, aptly named “The G Word,” set to be released in 2020, director Marc Smolowitz shines a new light on giftedness. Produced by Ron Turiello, the movie includes highly regarded experts in the field of giftedness. I hope their movie will help to create a better understanding of what gifted people face and why they are important members of our society.
This article is also published on Parent.Co. and Mother.ly, where it has received a combined share of over 2.5K.
Teresa Currivan is a mother, licensed marriage and family therapist, school therapist, and coaches parents by phone at Help My Child Thrive Coaching. Teresa has been published on sites such as fb.me/TeresaCurrivanCoaching., Filter Free Parents, and is a blogger at GHF and Hoagies Gifted Education. She specializes in giftedness, twice exceptionality, educational fit, and family dynamics, as well as gifted adults. She lives in the San Francisco, California Bay Area with her husband and son. You can find more articles on this website. Follow her on her Facebook at
***Not sure if your child is gifted? Or maybe you have a question about your gifted child or family? I offer free 20 minute consultations for first-timers. Email me and we’ll set up a time to talk. I’d love to hear from you. TeresaCurrivan@gmail.com ***
© 2017 Teresa Currivan