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Myth 17- Gifted and Talented Individuals Do Not Have Unique Social and Emotional Needs

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  http://gcq.sagepub.com Gifted Child Quarterly DOI: 10.1177/0016986209346946 2009; 53; 280 Gifted Child Quarterly  Jean Sunde Peterson Myth 17: Gifted and Talented Individuals Do Not Have Unique Social and Emotional Needs http://gcq.sagepub.com   The online version of this article can be found at:   Published by: http://www.sagepublications.com   On behalf of:   National Association for Gifted Children   can be found at: Gifted Child Quarterly Additional services and information for http://gcq.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts Email Alerts:   http://gcq.sagepub.com/subscriptions Subscriptions:   http://www.sagepub.com/journalsReprints.nav Reprints: http://www.sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav Permissions: http://gcq.sagepub.com/cgi/content/refs/53/4/280 Citations  at Ebsco Electronic Journals Service (EJS) on December 15, 2009 http://gcq.sagepub.comDownloaded from   280 Gifted Child Quarterly Volume 53 Number 4Fall 2009 280-282© 2009 National Association for Gifted Children10.1177/0016986209346946http://gcq.sagepub.comhosted athttp://online.sagepub.com Myth 17: Gifted and Talented Individuals Do Not Have Unique Social and Emotional Needs Jean Sunde Peterson  Purdue University Roots of the Myth It is understandable that school peers, significant adults, and the public in general may assume that gifted and talented individuals do not have unique social and emotional needs. When common, positive stereotypes prevail based on images of confident and motivated students, athletes, and musicians, gifted-ness might be perceived as being unrelated to social and emotional concerns. Educators and others may therefore not recognize or address social and emo-tional needs, assuming that gifted students deal easily with developmental challenges. Early scholarly work related to giftedness may also have contributed to the notion that high capability means solid mental and  physical health and success and satisfaction in career and relationships. Research samples have often not  been inclusive enough to reflect concerns of a broad range of high-potential students and may have per- petuated positive stereotypes.In addition, deeply engrained societal attitudes as well as democratic and egalitarian political views may, for many citizens, preclude thinking that stu-dents with high-level abilities should be given special attention for social and emotional needs. Federal edu-cation mandates have also reflected little concern for the well-being of gifted and talented students. Even the field of gifted education may not have advo-cated as strongly as it could have for proactive approaches to promote healthy social and emotional development. Challenging the Myth Collectively, research findings have not concluded that gifted individuals are more or less likely than others to have mental health concerns. In fact, studies have found an array of comparative strengths, vulner-abilities, and similarities. Anecdotal and empirical literatures have suggested that “gifts” can be both  positive and negative.Clinical literature has suggested that characteris-tics associated with giftedness, such as sensitivity, intensity, and psychomotor, intellectual, sensual, emotional, and imaginational overexciteabilities, are not only risk factors but also potentially viewed inap- propriately as pathology by helping professionals. In addition, gifted individuals may differ greatly from less able age peers and among themselves in the degree  of characteristics associated with giftedness, making it difficult to anticipate social and emotional concerns. Giftedness may also co-occur with one or more learning disabilities, contributing to frustration,  behavior problems, and general discomfort in the classroom.Degree of social difficulties may increase in pro- portion to level of giftedness. Not only is a pro-foundly gifted child likely to have no intellectual or interest peers at school or in the community, but also schools may not be receptive or accommodating to highly able children. Even moderate giftedness may lead to a poor initial fit in school, with social and emotional discomfort increasing throughout the school years.Gifted individuals may have unique concerns in other areas as well. Clinicians specializing in work-ing with them have reported that client issues can include trauma, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation,  bullying, learning disability, underachievement, career-development impasse, and poor coping. In regard to guidance, gifted children need much earlier attention to career development than do other stu-dents. For high achievers, stress levels related to overinvolvement in activities and to their own and Author’s Note:  Please address correspondence to Jean Sunde Peterson, Purdue University, Department of Educational Studies, 100 N. University Street, BRNG, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2098; e-mail: petersoj@purdue.edu.  at Ebsco Electronic Journals Service (EJS) on December 15, 2009 http://gcq.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Peterson / Myth 17 281  others’ high expectations may match those related to unexpected, difficult life events. However, their sen-sitivities may indeed contribute to intense responses to negative life events and situations. In addition,  perfectionism, extreme self-criticism, and disruptive, self-destructive, or delinquent behavior may affect school experiences and well-being. Gifted students may self-medicate distress with illegal substances and even drop out of school. Unfortunately, problem-atic behavior can preclude teacher referral for special  programs or for appropriate challenge in academic coursework. Programs then cannot affirm and sup- port gifts and talents, and troubled gifted students’ contact with intellectual peers may be limited.The myth may be driven by the reality that most of the above phenomena have received relatively little or no attention in literature related to giftedness. Other areas have also had little, if any, research atten-tion in connection with giftedness: eating disorders, self-injury, substance abuse, sexual abuse, obsessive– compulsive disorder, parent–child conflict, difficult developmental transitions, and physical disability. With relatively little research attention to counseling issues, not much is known about how gifted individu-als experience these phenomena and how counselors should differentiate their services for gifted youth across cultures and across socioeconomic levels. This limitation has implications for addressing concerns either through prevention (e.g., small-group and large-group work) or intervention.Gifted individuals face the same developmental tasks as their less able age peers, related, for example, to identity and differentiation, career direction, peer relationships, autonomy, and confidence in compe-tence. However, the characteristics associated with giftedness mentioned earlier may make the subjective experience  of meeting normal challenges qualita-tively different from others’ experience and also sometimes hinder task accomplishment. Exploration of identity can be especially intense in persons with high ability, potentially contributing to protracted conflict with parents. In regard to identity, some gifted students, especially females, reject achieve-ment in favor of peer acceptance. Some, because of ability and circumstances, have developmentally inappropriate family responsibilities. Parents and educators, both with high expectations, may be unaware that asynchronous development is not unusual in this population, with social and emotional development not as advanced as cognitive develop-ment. High moral development may mean struggling with social justice issues, sensitivity to peers, and concern about world events and problems, without  being equipped emotionally to handle these. In addi-tion, gifted youth with extreme talent may not be socially and emotionally prepared to handle the power and attention that such levels of ability often generate. Influential in regard to emotional sensitivities and dif-ficulties with developmental challenges is Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration, which indicates that gifted individuals have potential to reach high levels of  personality development through psychoemotional struggle. Implications of the Myth Positive stereotyping of gifted and talented indi-viduals has dangerous implications. With no purpose-ful attention to social and emotional development by significant adults, gifted students may not express their needs, believing them to be aberrant. In studies of gifted adolescent targets or perpetrators of bullying (Peterson & Ray, 2006) and gifted homosexual young adults (Peterson & Rischar, 2000), participants often had not asked for help even when in despair. In a study of profoundly gifted clients in therapy (Jackson & Peterson, 2003), some feared that mentioning their concerns would simply be “too much” for others. In addition, students may not show doubts and vulnera- bilities to parents, coaches, and teachers who are invested in their performance and image, preferring to protect a positive image instead. Other obstacles to help-seeking are an ability to compensate for or dis-guise concerns and an assumption that they must solve their problems independently. With no prior curricular attention to developing skills related to articulating and making sense of social and emotional concerns, even the transition to college may be diffi-cult for gifted students. They may be unprepared for challenges related to leaving home, loss of high school identity, social transitions, loss of a protective K-12 school structure, different academic expecta-tions, and new autonomy.The myth may contribute to the absence in counselor-preparation textbooks of complex informa-tion related to gifted students’ social, emotional, and career development and the need for differential approaches. This lack suggests that school and other counselors may not respond to gifted students appro- priately about social and emotional concerns and may have attitudes and biases that preclude effective work with this population. These professionals may not identify or support strengths unrelated to academic at Ebsco Electronic Journals Service (EJS) on December 15, 2009 http://gcq.sagepub.comDownloaded from   282 Gifted Child Quarterly, Vol. 53, No. 4 or other performance, assets that may be crucial to well-being. They may not normalize troubling thoughts, feelings, and behaviors or may misdiagnose them. When they do not associate sensitivities and intensities with giftedness and do not respond sup- portively when, for instance, bullying or other harass-ment has occurred, school tragedies can result. Neither high achievers nor gifted underachievers are exempt from troubling circumstances, of course. Yet adult assumptions may preclude support for trou- bled gifted youth when support is crucial. High achiev-ers may need affirmation of their humanness and underachievers for their intellectual strengths and tal-ents. Neither may feel understood or appreciated holis-tically. But both may be protective of the image they  present socially. In addition, achievement may be cen-tral to achievers’ identity, but identity development may be constrained by lack of differentiation from adults invested in them. Achievers may also foreclose  prematurely on career direction, and they may refrain from taking appropriate risks. Underachievers may have the ability and courage to critically challenge common views and values but be unable to move ahead with various developmental tasks. Conclusion Empirical and clinical literatures have challenged the myth that gifted students do not have unique social and emotional concerns. When the myth pre-vails, pertinent concerns are not recognized and addressed formally or informally, proactively or reac-tively. Educators, parents, coaches, and even counsel-ors may miss indications of distress. Lack of opportunity for gifted students to discuss concerns related to social and emotional development poten-tially contributes to vulnerability. References Jackson, S. M., & Peterson, J. S. (2003). Depressive disorder in highly gifted adolescents.  Journal for Secondary Gifted  Education , 14 , 175-186.Peterson, J. S., & Ray, K. E. (2006). Bullying among the gifted: The subjective experience. Gifted Child Quarterly, 50 , 252-269.Peterson, J. S., & Rischar, H. (2000). Gifted and gay: A study of the adolescent experience. Gifted Child Quarterly, 44 , 149-164. Further Reading Grobman, J. (2006). Underachievement in exceptionally gifted adolescents and young adults: A psychiatrist’s view.  Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, 17  , 199-210.Mendaglio, S., & Peterson, J. S. (2007).  Models of counseling  gifted children, adolescents, and young adults . Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.Mendaglio., S. (2008).  Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegra-tion . Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.Milsom, A., & Peterson, J. S. (Eds.). (2006). Examining disabil-ity and giftedness in schools [Special issue].  Professional School Counseling, 10 (1). Neihart, M., Reis, S. M., Robinson, N. M., & Moon, S. M. (Eds.). (2001). The social and emotional development of gifted chil-dren: What do we know?  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.Peterson, J. S. (2008). The essential guide to talking with gifted teens . Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit.Piechowski, M. M. (1999). Overexcitabilities. In M. A. Runco & S. R. Pritzker (Eds.),  Encyclopedia of creativity  (Vol. 2, pp. 325-334). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.VanTassel-Baska, J., Cross, T. R., & Olenchak, R. (Eds.). (2008). Social and emotional curriculum with gifted and talented  students . Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.Webb, J. R., Amend, E. R., Webb, N. E., Goerss, J., Beljan, P., & Olenchak, F. R. (2005).  Misdiagnosis and dual diagnoses of gifted children and adults: ADHD, bipolar, OCD, Asperger’s, depression, and other disorders . Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press. Jean Sunde Peterson ,   PhD, professor and director of school counselor preparation at Purdue University, is a former class-room and gifted-education teacher. Now a licensed mental health counselor with considerable experience counseling gifted youth and their families, she conducts workshops on academic underachievement and social and emotional development of gifted students based on her extensive research and publications in these areas. She is author of The Essential Guide to Talking with Gifted Teens  and coeditor of  Models of Counseling Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults.  She has been a mem- ber of the board of directors of the National Association for Gifted Children and is a past chair of the Counseling & Guidance   Network.  at Ebsco Electronic Journals Service (EJS) on December 15, 2009 http://gcq.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
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