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Many people believe that giftnedness makes life easier for a child. But high intelligence can get in the way of social relationships to the point that the child feels isolated and alienated. What can you do to help your gifted child fit in?

Giftedness itself is still an unclear, controversial concept. In children, we tend to think of giftedness as a clearly shown superior cognitive ability that manifests through remarkable achievements in the classroom — performance that is further supported with IQ tests and high scores on regular ability tests.

Giftedness can be that, of course, and it often is. But we need to keep in mind that the boredom gifted children encounter in a regular, mixed-ability classroom with regular, boring curriculum can manifest as under-performance and misbehavior. As such, a child is not always tested for giftedness, and indeed may be incorrectly diagnosed as a problem child suffering from conditions like ADHD. 

Not all gifted children will show remarkable achievements either, regardless of talent — and this is particularly an issue for those growing up in poverty or in information-poor households. 

So, some gifted children are correctly identified and supported while others are not. Regardless of which category an individual child falls into, giftedness itself is going to affect much more than the child's academic performance.

Giftedness is, after all, a whole-person phenomenon. It is more than the result of an IQ test, and definitely more than the sum of a child's academic achievements or individual characteristics.

The very fact that gifted children and adults are in the minority means that they are going to be outsiders. Just how much of an outsider they'll be depends largely on the degree of giftedness.

Hollingworth (1926) found that “socially optimal intelligence” ranges from IQ 125-155. These individuals were generally found to be emotionally healthy, out-going individuals that had no trouble finding same-age friends or winning the appreciation of teachers.

If your child has a higher IQ than that, he or she is likely to encounter trouble socially and less likely to find true intellectual peers, something that is so important to a person's well-being. If your child has an IQ of 135, for instance, she'll have an intelligence level that occurs once in a hundred people. If your child has an IQ of 158, it's much harder to find someone else with the same intelligence level — this occurs approximately once in 10,000 individuals.

So, what social problems might gifted children run into? Here are a few:

  • No available age peers share the child's interests or even understand what he's talking about, leading the child to feel isolated and misunderstood.

  • Teachers define the child as difficult to handle or a “trouble maker” because he's bored and acting out because of it, or because his deeper thinking is classified as disobedience. 

  • If the giftedness was adequately identified and teachers and peers know about it, they may see the child as “stuck-up”, or someone with a superiority complex.

  • If the child is constantly told how gifted they are, the “imposter syndrome” might develop. The child develops a real fear of failure because their self-worth depends on living up to pre-set expectations. “Any day now... they'll find out that I am not really that smart” — the child might think. This “imposter syndrome” actually leads to under-performance.

  • The child learns to hide his real self to please others — peers and teachers — and is miserable because of it.

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