Meghan, age 10, facing off with the unique challenges of being gifted

Meeting Meghan was fascinating from the word “Go!”  Truly a young scholar, she was self-taught in her areas of interest, which ranged from foreign languages (Russian, Japanese, Greek and Italian, for starters) — to Harry Potter — of which she could recite full pages with a flawless accent. Writing, too, was a strong point for her.

If Meghan hadn’t had to interact with the world as it is, she might have been happy as a clam.  But her parents had begun to see some time ago that without increased social aptitude and the willingness to accept some of the absurdities of organized living, she might have a hard time creating a satisfying life for herself, despite her brilliance.

In pre-school, Meghan had adopted a British turn of phrase, borrowed from her beloved Winnie the Pooh.  In first-grade, she had greeted peers in Russian.  But rather than earning their respect, her unusual skills and interests inspired in them some deliberate cruelty and bullying. She’d backed off that approach, but the how-to of mixing with peers was still a mystery and a source of stress for her.

Meghan’s critical thinking was top-notch, and that, too, brought difficulties along with benefits. Many of the assignments given her in school seemed irrelevant and useless, with the result that she elected not to complete them.  The work she did complete was often either messy or late — because requirements for neatness and promptness seemed arbitrary to her.

It was hard to argue with Meghan’s logic!  Surely, some of what was required of her did lack educational value for her, and it was hard to defend the idea of “jumping through hoops”.  But without developing some tolerance for meeting deadlines and for keeping her papers clean and not torn, Meghan was going to have a hard time in college and later at work.

Often Meghan and her mother met with me together for Heart Steps Chats.  Using Meghan’s way of thinking and with the help of her mom’s astute observations, we began to explore social skills, specifically understanding nonverbal cues, as an opportunity to master another new language.  She began to see the meaning of subtle body language and could use it to help her navigate the social scene at school. We sought out activities where she would be welcomed and affirmed.  She began helping first-graders learn to read.

Then Meghan and I began tackling the endless busywork that school sometimes generates.  We talked about functioning in an adult world and began to explore careers that interested her and the expectations she’d encounter in her work.  We discussed the importance of the impression made by the appearance and promptness of her work, separate from its quality, and she agreed to upgrade her efforts.  With the agreement of Meghan’s parents, and using some of her coaching time, I attended a conference of her main teachers and counselor via conference call.  We established clear expectations about the timeliness and condition of Meghan’s assignments.  No longer was late, dog-eared work to be accepted, no matter how brilliant.

Meghan’s mother and I utilized her password-protected journal to keep in touch, sometimes even daily, regarding Meghan’s progress and to unravel some of the complexities of peer interactions that Meghan experienced during the week.  Online consultation provided her mom the support she needed to guide Meghan, whose ability to be involved socially gradually increased to a level where she was not so isolated. With support, she was able to join a writing group where her work truly resonated with others.  This increased her confidence even more.

Meghan, now a freshman in high school, is now doing well on her own, and we connect on a bimonthly basis. However, she knows that the coaching relationship is ongoing and available to her, and when it comes time to think about transitioning to college, she can “bring it with her” to college. There, she’s likely to find that she is one among many gifted students, all working at a similar level. For the first time, she’s liable to be confronted with challenges at which she is not instantly successful. It will be important to continue building her resilience so she is willing to take on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that will come her way in college, but that also present a risk of failure. She may well need some support in learning to tolerate a learning curve without feeling an overwhelming loss of self-esteem. This will likely be a determining factor in the life she ultimately builds for herself.  Fortunately, using the online and telephone components of Heart Steps services, I’ll be as close as her laptop and cellphone as a resource for her evolving needs.

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