Sensitive. Gifted. At Risk.
by Lucas McGrannahan, PhD.Who are the gifted? Gifted
individuals are identified first and foremost by their intensity and sensitivity. These are the primary traits that
drive their intellectual and creative abilities, the
prominent features of their personality and temperament, consistent across a lifetime (Daniels &
Piechowski 2009). However, it is precisely these traits that are often a source of social, emotional, and behavioral problems, including isolation, extreme emotional sensitivity, unhealthy perfectionism,
harsh self criticism, under-achievement, and depression. As a result, gifted students
frequently become lonely, bored, frustrated, and disengaged in a traditional school setting (Neihart
et al 2002; Grobman 2006; Renzulli & Park 2000). Moreover, because of their intense psycho-motor
activity and sensitivity, gifted students are at risk of being misdiagnosed with
disorders such as ADHD, autism and other pathologies, causing them to receive inappropriate drug treatments
and/or become labeled as “behavior problems” (although this is complicated by the fact that
it is possible to be both
have other conditions) (Hartnett et al 2003).
Learning Center’s Mission is to serve the social and emotional needs of gifted youth. But “giftedness” is
a widely misunderstood category. Crucially, we recognize that while gifted learners have an impressive capacity for academic
success, giftedness is not always synonymous with high academic achievement. This
capacity must be unlocked in an environment that supports their particular needs.
Without an appropriately structured learning environment, gifted youth
are at heightened risk for social alienation, emotional problems, and dropping out of school.
The cultivation of gifted youth is imperative, not just for the well-being
of the gifted individuals themselves, but also for the communities they inhabit.
Studies show that in low-income communities and communities of color, gifted youth are far less likely
to be recognized than in more affluent or white communities (Swanson 2006). Even worse, students in
these communities who display behaviors typical of the gifted are at risk of being routed into what
experts are calling the “school to prison pipeline” where student misbehavior is criminalized so that students become institutionalized from a young
age since misbehavior in these populations is much more likely to be treated in
a criminal manner (Whiting 2009).
Gifted LGBTQ youth also face special challenges due to
their need to manage two forms of difference from their peers (Hutcheson 2012). Properly serving the
gifted in these communities should be viewed a matter of social justice, which helps to lift up these communities as
Baywood Learning Centers serve the gifted through educational programs designed to engage the
passions and interests of gifted learners. In our Alternative School, the curriculum is individually
tailored to meet each learner’s specific academic needs and special interests. Educational decisions are made
collectively by the Learning Team, consisting of the learner, the parent(s), and a mentor who works closely with the learner in order to provide academic, social, and emotional support.
Learners are held responsible to state standards in the core academic areas of reading, writing and
math, but we place special focus on feeding passion interests through enrichment workshops that
are offered in an intensive small group environment by experts from a variety of fields
spanning the sciences, humanities, arts, and more. Enrichment workshops are made available to the
general public and home-school community on an “a la carte” basis.
Daniels, S., and M. Piechowski. 2009. LIving with Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity,
Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults. Tuscon: Great Potential Press, Inc.
J. 2006. “Underachievement in Exceptionally Gifted Adolescents and Young Adults: APsychiatrist’s View.”
Prufrock Journal 17, no. 4: 199210.
Hartnett, D., J. Nelson, and A. Rinn. 2003. “Gifted or ADHD? The possibilities of misdiagnosis.”
RoeperReview 26, no. 2: 7376.
Hutcheson, V. 2012. “Dealing with Dual Differences: Social Coping Strategies of Gifted and Lesbian, Gay,
Transgender, and Queer Adolescents.” Master’s Thesis. The College of William & Mary.Neihart, M., S. Reis,
N. Robinson, and S. Moon. The
Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children:
What Do We Know? Waco: Sourcebooks, Inc.Renzulli,
J., and S. Park. 2000. “Gifted Dropouts: The Who and the Why.” Gifted Child Quarterly 4, no. 4:
Swanson, J. 2006. “Breaking through Assumptions about LowIncome,Minority Gifted Students.”
GiftedChild Quarterly 50, no. 1: 1125.
Whiting, G. 2009. “Gifted Black Males: Understanding and Decreasing Barriers to Achievement and Identity.”
Roeper Review 31, no. 4: 224233.
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