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The Profoundly Gifted Adult

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: Years after raising three gifted children, I am still puzzling over our middle kid, who is distinct from his sibs and many of his peers. He has been diagnosed at different times with OCD and anxiety disorder, and others have raised the question as to whether or note he has Asperger's syndrome. I do not believe that the latter is the case and that his characteristics are the result of his rather unique mind.

He was tested at age 5 only because he was quite different. In fact a private kindergarten later refused to re-enroll him in first grade unless he went to see one of "their" psychologists, because he would not "connect" with other children. He used that year to study hawks outside the classroom and to build his own things. School was a haven from an oppressive older brother.

His IQ test at age five resulted in an IQ of 150. The ed psych said his creativity test was the "highest score" she had ever seen. Today as an adult he is most interested in pursuing his creative ideas. He can teach himself languages, such as Hawaiian and adapt to other cultures. He can create music and lyrics, perform, has created a TV show idea which he is marketing. He is a natural artist, and created a cartoon strip at age 8. He is also a good writer. In fact, his cognitive skills are equal to his creative ones, and he is autodidactic. He published an article on coconut palm trees (he loves tropical ecology) in an international journal and was the only non-PhD. in the table of contents.

That said, he cannot lead a conventional life and still pursues his interests irregardless of their practicality. All through school he completed only what he wanted to and his teachers complained to me often. He left high school to be an exchange student in Brazil, but got honors at entrance to UCSB after taking the high school equivalency test.

My other children have professions and we all just let "Eric be Eric," but he is barely getting by financially at age 38.

He's a lovely person, but he needs some informed guidance to be able to convert his talents into what I call "professionalizing" himself.

Any thoughts or recommendations? I have counseled a lot of young people as a scholar/college teacher, but he is unlike any other kid I have come across.

A: As you have dealt with three gifted children of your own, you are probably in a very good position to understand your son. However, there is a fine difference between children with different levels of giftedness. And that is the intensity of their gifts which leads them to cope and manifest their gifts differently.

Some common characteristics of highly gifted individuals are:

  • An extremely curious mind – which calls for the need for constant mental stimulation.

  • Strong need to explore subjects in surprising depth that leads to the ability to focus intently on a subject of interest.

  • Ability to learn and process complex information quickly.

  • Inability to concentrate or complete a task that is not meaningful or intellectually challenging.

  • A tendency toward underachievement.

  • A need for precision in thinking and expression.

All characteristics of gifted children continues into adulthood, create a different experience of life for the gifted adult, just as they do for the gifted child. So the issue of whether they are being recognized or whether or not the individual understands and accepts her/his differences will still remain. Gifted children who are nurtured accordingly usually cope well and being different can be a positive life experience. However, it can sometimes be painful or even destructive.

You have probably used the same strategies to help your son as you did with the other kids and it should have worked. But the intensity of your son's giftedness made it hard for anyone to understand his needs. Unfortunately, as all gifted children need differentiation in education, the more one's IQ deviates from the norms; the more difficult it is to “fit in”. A special individualized curriculum would have been helpful in this case. This is possible today with the many gifted and talented programs across the country; however, it may not have been available when your son was growing.

The cognitive differences in adults can lead to high levels of career success in many fields, as you may have noticed in your other children. These are the specific abilities that often produce the “recognised gifted adult” – which may be the ground-breaking physicist, the great philosopher, or the successful entrepreneur. However, research have indicated that for the gifted adult whose life circumstances do not readily provide an arena for the positive use of these abilities, the result may be a feeling of frustration, lack of fulfillment, a nagging sense of being tied down, and imprisoned. The worst scenario is that they are unable to understand their dissatisfaction with life. This may be happening in your son's case.

At this stage, it may be hard to make him do anything you want him to, including profession as he has his set mind. What I believe you need to do now is consult a professional in this area (make sure someone who is an expert in giftedness) and seek some advise. He may not understand or wants to understand what is happening and may need some help here (Have you seen the movie “Good Will Hunting”? – interesting!). It may be hard to get him to see someone so perhaps you may need to see how you can help him. A professional career counselor can be a great help as well. Another thing that can be done is to get in touch with one of the experts in giftedness in the universities who may be able to refer you to an expert in adult giftedness. Also get in touch with the gifted association in your area. Although they appear to be more for younger children, you may be referred to someone who can help.

You may want to check out these sites and contact the person in charge:

If you feel nothing is working, and you have exhausted all your resources for help, just help him be himself (this is especially since it can be very exhausting and may take a toll on your wellbeing). Show him that you and his siblings are there to support him and allow him to flow naturally. Sometimes, just being accepted for what you are makes a whole lot of difference. But for now, don't give up – you have a very special son and you can help him contribute to the world. My very best wishes to you and your son.


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