Gifted children with intense interests - what is typical? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 14 Old 08-12-2013, 08:39 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm looking for some insight on the topic but first a bit about my son.  Sorry if this is long! DS just turned 5 and we (along with his teacher) believe he is gifted.  No formal testing has been completed yet but he certainly meets many of the typical markers i.e. knew letters/numbers by 16 months, strong interest in letters/numbers, has a remarkable memory, speech was early and spoke in sentences at a young age, continues to speak very well with a large vocabulary, early with most fine motor and gross motor milestones and currently reading at a Grade 2 level.  DS also has many other atypical characteristics that I'm learning can also be a part of being gifted...but I know they can also be signs of other exceptionalities.  He has some sensory issues (i.e. covers ears for hand blowers and public toilet flushes but no other loud noises, doesn't like tags in his shirts, is ALWAYS moving and likes to hang upside down off our couch).  I'm addressing the sensory issues by doing some heavy work activities with him which helps a bit.  Socially - he loves hanging out with other kids.  He is always asking me if he can play with his friends and really enjoys their company.  That being said - I do find that during play dates he will sometimes go off on his own to play and needs some gentle reminders that his friend is over to play with him and then he will right away go over and ask them to play hide and seek or some other engaging activity.  Imaginary play is something he has struggled with a bit - but through demonstration from me/DH or watching other kids at school (he is the oldest) he seems to have made some great progress there.  His teacher has no concerns with him at all and her only comment she has made is that he is a "bit wiggly" and at times when he is very focused on an activity he does not seem present with the rest of the class.  DS is very intense.  He tires DH and I out as he moves from one activity to the next and his presence really does dominate the house.  He is always reading and telling us facts he has learned and for some reason (maybe its just part of being 5?) he constantly asks us questions about things that he already knows the answer to!  I've started just turning those questions back on him :)  He is a perfectionist and is EXTREMELY hard on himself.  No amount of praise or encouragement I give him will help when he feels he has not done a good job on something.  He has a wide range of interests (space/the solar system, dinosaurs, books (right now especially the Mr. Men series of books...he loves drawing the characters and making up new stories with them), writing short little stories, cars (various makes/models), doing word searches, playing games on the computer and loves riding his bike and playing baseball with DH in the backyard).  He is really drawn to numbers and seems to find interest in anything that involves numbers.  Everything he is interested in he puts his whole self into it.  Nothing is a casual interest - its "lets learn every possible thing I can about the subject" not just a casual flip through a book.  And there is no one thing he is interested in more than the rest (although when something is new he might be ultra-interested for a few days) and he often goes back to re-visit old interests on a regular basis.  That being said he has one interest that is a bit different and others don't understand why it interests him.  He is really interested in buildings.  He finds it very interesting to look at a building from the inside and then the outside to try and figure out which window leads to which room.  Also he loves looking at buildings that have numbered doors (e.g. schools). If we come across one on a walk he will make me walk around the outside with him finding all the numbered doors.  Then at home he will build schools with his lego and will number the doors as well (we have lego that has numbers on it).  Yesterday when we went for a walk my younger son had pooped and needed a diaper change so we were rushing home and I would not  let him walk around the school to look the numbers and he got really upset and angry with me.  I've never seen this before - he normally has no issues at all with transitions or changes to our plans.  It just got me thinking at what point are these strong interests/passions of gifted children something to be concerned about?  At what point is it an indicator of something more going on?  Is what I have described typical?

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#2 of 14 Old 08-12-2013, 10:48 AM
 
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I don't know what "typical" is really... each child is an individual and we all have our own things that make us frustrated, etc. I would hate to have permission to get upset about something if that is the way I feel.

 

Your son really wanted to do something, and didn't understand why his baby brother's diaper situation should take precedence over his interest. I wouldn't get into the habit of judging certain things worthy of interest, and other things not. What if he was really interested in genes, and didn't want to be pulled away from figuring out the last set of base pairs in a DNA sequence? Or the last few notes in a  Bach piece? I think we are all guilty of thinking that certain things are worthy of obsession from a cultural perspective... but other things are not. When especially for kids it is the same kind of thinking and organizing. Only it is something that he has encountered in his world. It is real for him, experiential. That is really important.

 

Have you heard of the book Spark? It has a lot of really interesting profiles of creative people, and how a lot of their lifetime works began as weird obsessions. Really good read.

 

Also, here is a book your son will love: http://www.amazon.com/Building-Big-David-Macaulay/dp/0618465278  Sounds like he will love all the David Macaulay books. The Way Things Work is a classic.

 

Your son sounds really awesome!


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#3 of 14 Old 08-12-2013, 11:29 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you forestmushroom! joy.gif I'm so happy to read what you wrote and actually I'm mad at myself for getting so worked up over these things.  But honestly, I've had so many people (mainly "well-meaning" relatives) who ask me questions about DS's interests and actions that it has really started to wear on me.  Just last weekend my DH's aunt asked me "so does he have ADHD or something...seriously what is wrong with him?".  I got really defensive and told her how wonderful he is and that there is nothing WRONG with him.  But then of course when I'm lying in bed that night I start thinking about what was said and second guessing myself thinking....maybe she was right - maybe what he is doing IS weird!  I hate that I do that!!!!  My son is great...amazing actually!  I hope my post didn't come off as negative.  I was writing it while bouncing my DD on my knee so was typing quickly :)  Maybe I just need a thicker skin??

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#4 of 14 Old 08-12-2013, 12:18 PM
 
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No, it is hard when even well meaning people have their opinions. I think you can just say thanks! and take them with a grain of salt. One thing I would be sensitive to is people shaming him about his interests... because a lot of gifted kids are very sensitive and do pick up on people's judgements and such. He shouldn't be ashamed of what interests him.

 

You were fine!  I could kind of sense that maybe you were picking up on other people's vibes... but really follow your sense. If you feel like something is wrong, talk to professionals. But otherwise, gifted kids can be super intense and kind of freak other people out.
 


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#5 of 14 Old 08-16-2013, 09:48 AM
 
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I think its normal for gifted kids to be kind of quirky. And to have uneven development (for example, high academic accomplishments but lower emotional maturity) My 15 yr old and 17 yr old are both considered gifted. They also both have Aspergers Syndrome and at least one has ADHD, I think the other probably does too, it just manifests differently. Honestly, its hard to tell what label is responsible for what behavior some days. They all overlap! So in the end, I remind myself that it really doesn't matter. They are just names people give a collection of symptoms. When it begins to matter in our house is when it starts to interfere with their ability to function and get along with others at home or school. Then no matter what you call it, we need to work on it so they can be their best selves. So whether my 15 yr old talks incessantly because he is gifted and has a bunch of ideas he's bursting to share with the world or because he has Aspergers and doesn't notice that everyone around him is becoming exhausted and annoyed with him, or because he has ADHD and his mind is whirring at a high rate of speed 24/7 - and probably all are true to a certain degree - point is we work with the behavior to help him out so his ideas can be heard and appreciated and he can fit in better socially in our family and with his peers. I think, while it can be painful, it is important to take other people's viewpoints into consideration because it gives us a somewhat objective outside viewpoint of our child and maybe consider areas that we can work with that will help them. Sometimes small quirks in early childhood can become barriers to success in the preteen and teen years. We learned this the hard way when our 15 yr old started high school. I got phone calls the second day of school from the principal saying that "a few teacher have come to me concerned that J is different. He's not like other kids his age" and I suppressed the urge to say "Thank God!" but instead just said, "Yes, he is. He's really really smart and his mind works differently. Is there a problem with his behavior in class?" The answer was no, he's just different and different can = problem in some people's minds, even when it really isn't. But I did want specifics so we could work on it if it was hindering him in some way. It turns out it really wasn't anything specific so we just moved on. Most people find my DS delightful. I am sure you will encounter similar things as your DS grows! Its kind of par for the course with exceptional kids. 


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#6 of 14 Old 08-16-2013, 10:28 AM
 
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There is nothing that I read in your question that makes me believe that your child is displaying atypical behaviors.  Everything you described sounds fairly age appropriate for a five year old.  In terms of quirkiness, I have never met a five year old who did not show some signs of being quirky.  I don't think that this has anything to do with being gifted.  However, if you continue to have concerns regarding your son's behavior, I think that the only one that can give you a sound opinion is his pediatrician.

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#7 of 14 Old 08-22-2013, 08:31 PM
 
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I meant to reply earlier because this struck a chord with me and my own gifted DS6. My own son has strong interests that he can sustain for a long time- it can look a bit obsessive to other people, but he does eventually move on to something new.

Re: your son's interests in building (door) numbers- I suggest that it's a bit of a a ritual (perhaps something he came upon accidentally due to his general interest in buildings). He may derive some comfort from it, much like kids do when they try not to walk on a crack. If it were me, I wouldn't draw attention to it by discussing it, but I wouldn't resist, if possible. I would also watch to see if he exhibits any signs of anxiety or ritualistic/inflexible behaviors (out of the normal range). If he seems fine otherwise, he will probably move on.
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#8 of 14 Old 10-02-2013, 07:27 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks CamMom - I know I've read some of your other posts and thought that our sons sounded very similar!!   My DS does show some signs of anxiety in certain situations.  He has developed a couple of fears (specifically toilets in public restrooms that flush on their own and hand dryers in public washrooms) and these fears literally can paralyze him.  It all started when we went to a public washroom and the toilet  flushed on its own (very loudly) while my son was still sitting on it.  It scared him so much that he started to cry.  Then about a week later we were in a public washroom again and I accidentally backed into a hand dryer, turning it on.  This again scared my son (who was still dealing with the last incident) and the tears started again.  Ever since then public washrooms have been a huge source of fear and anxiety for him.  I literally have to peel his hands from his ears to enable him to pull his pants down because he is so scared that the toilet or hand dryer will turn on by itself.  We are working on this and I'm trying to talk about how these devices work in hopes that he will outgrow this fear.

 

As for the counting door numbers - if I don't let him do it (if we are in a rush) then he will get very angry at me.  He doesn't have a complete meltdown but he will yell at me and tell me that I am "mean" or something similar and be angry with me for a good while afterwards and will perseverate on the issue for at least a good half hour.  When it comes to this little ritual he has I've been trying to not talk about it or bring attention to it.  If he wants to look at them I let him - but I limit it to one time and then ask him to not talk about it again.  Do you have any other ideas for this?

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#9 of 14 Old 10-02-2013, 12:29 PM
 
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Oh my gosh! Yes, my son was terrified of automatically flushing toilets. I remember the poor kid "holding it" on frantic car ride home because he refused to use a public toilet that flushed automatically. I don't have great tips except 1) don't interrupt him if you can possibly avoid it and 2) don't lecture or question him too much about it. The first will cause a meltdown and the 2nd will make him feel bad. My son has no idea why he does the things he does. When he sensed my concern and disapproval, he went "underground" with some behaviors- it caused us both to feel bad. 

 

Now, I handle things as pragmatically as I can, and I do ask him gently if he is fearful of something (when he was putting toilet paper on the toilets at home). We had a brief discussion of germs, how they are spread, and that most aren't harmful. 

 

The good news with my DS is that he is growing out of it- becoming more rational when interrupted and has fewer anxiety behaviors. 

 

Back to the number counting- maybe you could confront it head on- let him know that you understand he is interested in the counting. State, in advance, that he won't be able to count the doors on a particular outing because there is a rush to be somewhere. It's brainstorming, but with my DS, the anger/anxiety arose with "interruption." If he doesn't begin the process, then there is nothing to interrupt. Maybe make a special time visit a place where he can count? 

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#10 of 14 Old 10-02-2013, 01:46 PM
 
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Oh my god, the hand dryer anxiety phase - if it is any consolation, you actually do forget about it once they grow out of it and it only comesback to you when you read about similar kids with similar anxieties.

DS1 at around four sounds very similar to your kid. Quirky, anxious, sensory issues, head on the floor, delays in imaginary play, the incredible activity level, the sudden need for alone time, the need for control of his environment manifesting at the oddest moments and the oddest situations - he still is/does/needs all of these things, but he has matured so much it does not impair his functioning at home and in school, most days. I wonder how old his baby brother is - getting used to a sibling in the house put DS1 under a lot of stress the first time, and the anxiety and control issues and the perseverations were how they manifested themselves.

Sounds very much like a typical intense, sensitive giftie to me. No, they aren't all like that, but a lot of them are and it takes out a lot of us. Hang in there, it does get better. From five to six, DS1 showed an amazing spurt in maturity and with early entry into 1st grade, leaving younger kids behind at his mixed age  playbased preschool and moving towards a modicum of intellectual challenge and classmates somewhat older than him, a lot of things came together for him.


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#11 of 14 Old 10-03-2013, 07:36 AM
 
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I wanted to second Tigerle--my DS showed *a lot* of improved maturity between 5 1/2 and 6 1/2. He still does not like to be interrupted, but responds rationally to countdowns, warnings, etc. Also, the most worrying anxiety symptoms subsided through kindergarten. He's still "who he is" don't get me wrong, but he has much better coping skills. 

 

I know that there are probably some "laid back" gifted kids. I just believe from hearing my friends (who also have some extraordinarily bright children) that what you're seeing is quite common. Anxiety, perfectionism, hyper focus, sensitivity/sensory issues, and intense emotions seem "normal" within this group. 

 

My only caution is that when behaviors go on for a long time, or it's affecting the child or whole family in a negative way, it's time to seek some expert help. I'm parroting some articles I've read, but  gifted kids can be "misdiagnosed" because of some concerning behaviors that get better with maturity. *Or* gifted kids often have "dual diagnoses"-- ASD, ADHD, anxiety/OCD, and learning disabilities are well represented in the gifted population. The thing with the "counting" (for me as a parent) wouldn't concern me over much. It's more worrying if it grows into other things, where it's hard to have a smooth day because you're constantly accommodating anxiety/obsessiveness. 

 

There is also a book called "The Explosive Child" by Ross Greene (love...Ross Greene). His basic premise is about compromise--what I mentioned above (finding "free time" to count). He is very practical about helping parents find a way to collaborate with their children (before the problem arises and they are "in the zone") to produce better coping skills. 

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#12 of 14 Old 10-03-2013, 10:15 AM
 
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Sorry, hadn't realized that the thread about that completely useless K teacher was yours, too. Forget what I said when i wondered about what was stressing him, baby brothers or what not...the school situation appears to be closing in on intolerable, and it is probably to a large extent responsible for the uptick in anxiety, manifesting itself in rigidity and control issues.

it is just inbelievable that teachers will still come up with stuff like ASD or ADHD before lack of challenge and disengagement as reasons for whatever behaviour it is that is bothering them is even considered.

I'll try to come up with something helpful in your other thread...it's not easy...poor kid.


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#13 of 14 Old 10-04-2013, 03:06 PM
 
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I remember the fear of the auto flushing toilets and the hand dryers (DS still hates the dryers)..  However I have a "fix" for the toilets.  Just carry post it nots.  Cover the optic on the potty with a post it note.  The toilets are schedule to flush a few seconds after the thing that blocks the optic (your body) moves.  So it you cover the optic with a post it, you can do your business, straiten your clothes, unlock the door, and then pull off the post it as you get away from the toilet.  It works like a dream.


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#14 of 14 Old 10-06-2013, 07:20 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Cammom- thank you for your advice.  My DS is very sensitive and definitely senses my disapproval or dislike of things even if I don't say it outright and I've often regretted things I have said or done when it comes to some of these different behaviours/activities.  You are so right that I don't in any way want him to feel shameful for what he does and actually today I had a big talk with DS about how these things do not make me unhappy and that there is nothing wrong with it.  He really seemed to enjoy hearing that from me so I feel a lot better too!!  So far any of his worries, anxieties or interests/rituals have not impacted our day or his day at school and I am hoping that he also experiences a real growth in maturity this year.  If anything changes or if he is getting closer to 7 and these issues are hanging around I will certainly look into a referral for an assessment.

 

Tigerle - yes...that other post was mine as well!  I wrote this one in the summer when things were good at school.  Unfortunately, fast forward a couple of months and school is a bit of a struggle too :( I was so excited last year to go into the interview and not hear one (not one!!!) negative point or concern about my son.  So obviously hearing the teachers long list of concerns this year had me really feeling down.  I'm hoping he develops a bit more this year so she can appreciate and enjoy him a bit more...I hate the idea of him having a less than enjoyable time at school every day :(

 

anj_rn - great tip!!  Thanks!!!

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