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At-Risk Gifted

By Therese Clifford

On many occasions after spontaneous conversation with strangers, flipping on the TV to a random channel, or even overhearing conversation going on around me, I find myself wondering, “Do other people seem to run into social/emotional gifted stories frequently, or is it just me?”

I’ve been thinking about a mother I met in a community education class several months ago. We were chatting afterward about the prison system in general, and, after a while, she revealed that her 35-year-old son was in prison. She was telling me that she wished she’d known how to help him. His current incarceration was a conscious choice. The first time he went in on drug charges. The second time he went in because prison life had given him a structure and purpose he could not put together for himself in the outside world. Toward the end of our conversation, she mentioned as an afterthought that she had been told when he was in grade school that his IQ was 160. 160!

Of course I immediately started thinking that this was probably the absolute highest score that could even be attained (depending on the test) and I was quite sure no one bothered to let her in on the fact that there was a strong possibility her son’s real IQ was probably even beyond 160. It didn’t really matter now. And, unfortunately, it didn’t really matter then. She said that he had been a student in our local district and that the teachers simply told her that they did not know what to do with him other than skip him grade after grade. This was not a bad idea in itself; it was just that he needed to be given a closer look, so that he and others could come to a better understanding of who he was.

Instead, he went to the neighboring district with no better luck. She said he skipped grades and that the schoolwork was easy enough, but that he needed more to occupy his mind and help keep it less chaotic. He needed someone to validate his “differentness” so that he didn’t feel like such a freak – like he was somehow broken. He found drugs to be an answer, and then dealing drugs to give him challenge.

My heart broke for this family as I thought of Dallas Egbert (the boy whose story served as the instigator for SENG’s existence) and of so many other gifted individuals with similar stories – stories of incredible potential being left behind because of inadequate proper attention. So for this column, I decided to write about this man.

Then I flipped on the TV while I was procrastinating and came upon a program called Intervention. It was profiling Kelly, a late teen/early twenty-something living in Southern California. His mother, father and step-father were climbing the walls with anguish and concern over Kelly’s chosen life on the street in pursuit of beer. Kelly is a full blown alcoholic, admittedly so, and states adamantly that he does not want to become sober. He wants the life he has – out on the streets with his dog O.D. and girlfriend Clover. His Mother’s pain is just as great, if not greater than Kelly’s. She lives in a state of constant anxiety and worry over her son. At one point, she was shown calling the morgue just to check and see if perhaps Kelly was there.

Because the program was geared toward showing the lead up and results of an intervention, little time was spent on the reasons the problem exists. But one of Kelly’s concerned friends did talk about the fact that Kelly suffered from severe dyslexia, and that in second grade the students in special education were kept at a distance from some enticing activity that the other children were allowed to do. His hyperawareness of and hypersensitivity to this type of treatment was the kind of thing that tore Kelly to pieces. He burned with anxiety and embarrassment. Oh, and incidentally, Kelly happens to have a genius IQ.

The situations in these stories are more common than people realize. What to do? This column is not meant to deliver any one message or strategy, but to provide food for thought. I am surprised to say that there are some adults in this world, parents and others, who simply say, “this is the way things go due to poor parenting. If these people been raised right, perhaps they could have turned out to be good citizens.” They assert we all begin as blank slates, and that all personality, intelligence levels, and physical and emotional intensities are a result of upbringing. They argue that the people profiled above are not gifted because they are choosing to be not gifted – as if gifted is the action of producing, not something that describes who you are.

There are so many wonderful articles that speak to the above in SENG’s online articles library. I urge you to take the time to read all you can about the social and emotional needs of gifted individuals. It is my hope that the articles and message boards on the website will help bring about an interest in pursuing more much-needed research. The social and emotional needs of gifted individuals need to be taken into consideration and treated with concern and compassion. I shudder to think of the unfulfilled lives and the talent gone to waste in our world due to misunderstanding, misdiagnosis, and the simple lack of insight we have for the gifted.

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