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Why a Counselor Should Understand Giftedness

Gifted and Talented Expert Advice from Noreen H. Joslyn, LISW, ACSW

Q: Why do you state that it's so important to have a counselor who understands giftedness? Could you please elaborate a little on when a child's sensitivity or intensity is within the norm and when to start being concerned?

A: This question comes up frequently in mental health counseling. With giftedness may come a deep sensitivity that can be easily misleading to others who aren't familiar with it. Here are some examples: gifted kids who are moved to tears after watching a disaster story on the news; a tendency among some gifted kids to have a small, intense circle of peers rather than a wide group of acquaintances; deeply accurate and insightful comments from gifted kids that make adults around them uncomfortable.

I have also known many gifted who wonder aloud about life after death and how others would feel if they were gone -- not because they were suicidal, but just because it's an interesting question! There is also a tendency among gifted kids for what I call dramatic talk: "I will never have any friends again"; "I absolutely hate my brother"; " What's the point of graduating from school if global warming is on the increase and we're all going to die?"

When a parent, or a counselor, is looking at possible serious depression or anxiety in a gifted child, check for the following:
1. A change in physical symptoms, such as serious loss of appetite, sleeplessness, tension headaches, etc.
2. Unusual behavior, such as refusal to leave the house or increased fearfulness.
3. A real lack of hope for the future, or an inability to see any solutions recommended by others.
4. Very dramatic behavior, such as writing a last will or giving away prized possessions (before they plan to die).

It is also essential that the counselor understand the true sense of being "different" that many gifted kids feel. This is not elitism, but very accurate when you consider how statistically unusual giftedness truly is. Many professionals -- teachers, counselors, coaches -- have had little or no training in working with the gifted. Do not hesitate to ask before you sign on with any professional. A counselor's understanding of giftedness may be essential if she is to help your child.

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Noreen Joslyn is a licensed independent social worker in the state of Ohio and is a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers. She has a master's degree in Social Work, specializing in family and children, from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a psychiatric social worker in private practice with Ken DeLuca, Ph.D. & Associates, where she counsels parents and children.


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