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Emotional Issues and Giftedness

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I have this friend that was diagnosed with a mild intellectual disability; she was put in special classes. When she was a kid she used to go to a French school and she did exceptionally great there but when she came to an English school she did poorly in all subjects comparing to when she was in a French school because she couldn't understand the language. But when she got into high school she did really well she even got a prestigious English award in grade 10.

Once she was frustrated on how she bored in classes (even told the teacher that she didn't want to do her work because she was bored) she even thought of dropping out of school because she couldn't handle all the boredom in her classes (even English she was bored but still got an A in that class), she got a good mark on this English testing (she got 300 of 400). When she was in her special class as a kid she took the multiple intelligence test, it turned out that she was linguistic smart. She speaks French fluently and is learning Japanese. She an avid reader and loves creating her own stories (which are exceptionally good her English teacher even said that she has potential to become a great author), she has a great passion for science and even was asked to tutor someone. She also got recommended to a great leadership program.

I noticed that when she's really curious about something she does really well in it, my hypotheses is that when she's interested in something that's when she go to her full potential. Her guidance counselor said that she found some of her courses to easy because if the course was too easy for her she won't put any effort at all. The guidance counselor also said that she had a natural gift for English.

She's a huge a perfectionist (if she fail a test or quiz she get very emotional about she even fell under depression). She's also hurting emotionally; she's socially inept and she not good with others. She prefers hanging out with people that are older than her or below her age. She always gets depressed when she doesn't do well on a certain tasks. She's highly sensitive and always hates her self for being different. In the future she wants to be a psychologist in gifted children. She is vastly interested in the general subject of gifted children. I'm really worried about her because she's falling apart especially in Science because she said that the course was too easy for her and she's not putting the right amount of effort in that course. I want to know if she's gifted and also have a disability. And if she's gifted could she have this disability? And can you be gifted and also fail courses too. Please answer my question because I want to help my friend so bad. Thank you for your time and consideration.

A: Your friend certainly needs help and I believe that she may not be getting the necessary help she needs for sometime now. It is not clear about the mild intellectual disability that you mentioned, as it does not appear that she has cognitive disabilities. Or perhaps misdiagnosed due to a learning disability that she may have had that went undiagnosed.

From what you described, she is definitely linguistically gifted. Hence, she may be way ahead in language and thus boredom kicks in when her intellectual capacity is not met with in the classroom. Everyone, and more so gifted people would be motivated to work on interests areas. Especially for gifted individuals, they need to find their work meaningful. Curiosity is a distinct trait of gifted individuals.

From your description, she appears highly sensitive and as you mentioned a perfectionist. These traits are common amongst gifted people; some handle it well and some are not able to. Perhaps her environment did not allow her to come up with coping skills to manage her emotions and this may have gone on for years. After some time, it is no surprise that these individuals would sink into a depressive mode. Being an avid reader is excellent, but on one extreme, some gifted individuals may find all their answers and feed their curiosity by reading; so much so that they forget the real world. This is also because their peers may not be able to understand them and eventually it becomes much easier to relate to books. This is a vicious cycle as one gradually starts living in the world of books and has fewer friends. Socializing is a skill that needs to be nurtured and without proper nurturance, these individuals lack the social skills required to cope in the real world. Again, emotional imbalances may set in and the person may be clinically depressed. She also needs specialized education to challenge her cognitively. If her intellectual needs are not met, she would be bored and eventually burn out.

A gifted person does not necessarily mean a straight 'A' student. There are gifted people who are not doing well academically. So, it is not surprising for a gifted individual with a high IQ to fail a course and there can be many reasons for this. Additionally, a person can be gifted and at the same time have a disability; a condition we term as twice exceptional. You may want to read up a little more on this. What I believe should be done now is to get her properly assessed as I think she may need some kind of therapy to help her cope with her perfectionism, sensitivity and depression. She also needs to be diagnosed for any learning disability. It is hard to tell from your brief description, she may have any condition from Asperger's syndrome to just being highly gifted.

Whatever the problem is, I believe she is a very special girl whose needs have not been met; hence the growing challenges. I believe with the right guidance from a reputable psychologist, she would be able to cope much better and focus on the strengths (i.e. being an author). As a friend, you may also want to encourage her growth and be there for her. For now, see a professional who can advise her further based on a detailed assessment. I wish her and you the best of luck and I really hope she would get better soon.


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