How Parents Should Proceed When Gifted Kids Need Counselors

Parents can work to find the right therapist for a gifted child

Boy taking part in psychological therapy session
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Gifted kids sometimes have problems that require the help of a counselor. Such children can be a mystery to parents and consulting parenting handbooks isn't always productive. For one thing, unless a parenting handbook is written specifically for parents of gifted kids, it won't cover issues that relate specifically to such children, such as asynchronous development and intense emotional sensitivity.

Also, books can only provide so much help. There may be a time when parents need to seek professional help for children and when that time comes, it's important to find the right professional.

When to Seek Professional Help

Every child gets sad and angry, so seeing signs of sadness and anger in a child doesn't necessarily mean it's time to look for a counselor. However, if those signs last for more than three weeks, it might be a good idea to seek professional help. Remember, too, that those signs would be changes in your child's normal behavior.

If you have an introverted child, he may not be very outgoing. He might even appear to be somewhat withdrawn. However, since introverts often like to spend time alone, appearing to be withdrawn is not necessarily a sign of depression. What you want to look for is a change in normal behavior.

Kids might have other issues they need help with besides depression.

They may be perfectionists and their attempts to do perfect work can lead to anxiety. Perfectionism itself is not necessarily a problem, but when it affects a child's ability to function, it is a problem. They may also have a hard time making friends or interacting with other kids. Some kids are happy with one or two close friends and those friends need not be their classmates.

Again, if interpersonal interactions are a source of stress and anxiety for your child, then it might be a good time to seek professional help.

Getting the Right Diagnosis

Too few mental health professionals get any training specific to gifted children. That means that they are no more likely to understand the special needs of gifted children than anyone else in the general public. They are also just as likely to have the same misconceptions about gifted kids as others. And if they don't understand gifted kids, then they may see traits of giftedness as problems that need to be corrected. They may, for example, see a gifted child with psychomotor overexcitability as a child with ADHD. This kind of misdiagnosis is not uncommon.

To get the right kind of help, we need the right diagnosis. A gifted child who is misdiagnosed with some disorder may end up being given drugs for a disorder he doesn't have.

The Importance of Finding the Right Counselor 

Finding the right therapist is as difficult as finding the right person to test a gifted child.

It may be more practical to find a therapist who is also qualified to administer tests. The reason is that having your child tested can give you quite a bit of information, more than an IQ score. And if the person who will be counseling your child is also the one who tested him, that person already has a rapport with your child and some insight into his behavior. However, if you need to travel some distance to find a tester, you probably don't want to travel too far for regular counseling sessions.

So how do you find a counselor or therapist? One way is through your network, if you have one. Ideally, you have met other parents of gifted kids in your child's school, perhaps through your child's friendships or by attending school functions like back-to-school night. If not, you might want to talk to the gifted coordinator or specialist for the school or school district. Another option is to contact your state's gifted organization. They often have contact with people across the state and may have some advice.

If you are still unable to find someone who specializes in working with gifted children, you'll have to find the next best thing -- someone who is open-minded and willing to learn. To find out how open-minded and willing someone is to learn about gifted children, you will want to set up an interview so that you can ask some questions. Aimee Yermish of the DaVinci Learning Center has some excellent advice on finding a therapist for a gifted client.

The best kind of questions to ask are indirect ones. For example, rather than ask if the counselor understands gifted children, ask, "What do you believe are some of the more significant problems gifted children encounter?" You could also ask, "How do you think asynchronous development affects the interpersonal relationships of gifted children?"

In other words, come up with questions that only someone who genuinely knows and understands gifted kids would be able to answer.

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