Difference begets loneliness.
And while I’ve always had a positive spin on difference, why was I the only person who cried in history class in high school? One might look to emotional sensitivity about the horrors of war, or an academic understanding of the lingering impacts of trauma in communities. I happen to think it was more my wildly creative imagination (or what Dabrowski calls “over-excitability”), a sense that all things are possible. I knew that the world did not have to be that way, and it was heartbreaking. It was also crazy-making to find that I was the only one crying.
Throughout my adolescence, I read about the peace-workers of the 1960s and 1970s, and it seemed like there was a core group of great friends. Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Berrigan brothers had a rich exchange of visits and letters with each other and other peace-builders. Ah, I wanted a similar circle of friends. Thankfully, my imaginational over-excitability served me well here: I alternately believed I was King Arthur amongst his knights, St. Francis amongst his brothers, and Kierkegaard amongst his books.
In middle school, I went to the library before cross country meets and avidly read a compilation of landmark cases of the U.S. Supreme Court. During that period, I also read that lawyers needed to thrive in the world as it was, and I decided that was not for me. (I was precocious in my reading but not yet wise: I didn’t consider how landmark cases do bring about change). In 2000 during my first year of college, I saw Ralph Nader speak and wrote in my journal of lectures, “He is so smart. I am going to law school.” From both the peace movement and progressive politics, I was looking for companionship. I was looking for depth and intensity in how people experienced the world. This depth and intensity is directly related to my giftedness.
Fortunately, I am now able to share my understanding of difference and potential resulting loneliness with my clients. For four years, I have worked with a boy I’ll call Terry, now 12, who is profoundly gifted. When I first met him, his eyes watered because I had recognized a part of him that longed to be mirrored: I had seen his developmental potential and passion. I assured him that there were other kids like him, and I asked if it was important to meet them now or enough to know that they exist.
He said it was enough to know they exist; that knowledge gave him comfort that he would one day be surrounded by true peers and not just age-mates.
Kids need to know that there are other kids who share a sense of passion, though the passions do not need to be aligned. One can love Shakespeare and another building their own computers. They recognize each other by a certain glint in their eyes. Some may also have a slightly pause-filled cadence of speech as they search for the perfect word because they are twice-exceptional and are also on the autism spectrum; others are not. Some may have intense sensory preferences in food and clothing; others go camping just fine.
They know each other when they find each other.
That said, it may be hard for significantly gifted kids to find each other in traditional schools, not that they wouldn’t be immediately apparent, but there just aren’t enough of them around.
For some families with gifted children, school is not a useful strategy. Terry’s family found a way for him to thrive with differentiated instruction in schools and enrichment activities out of school, supplemented by sessions with me to talk about his social-emotional development while learning how to juggle or playing board games. Terry’s family has given him the acceptance and freedom to pursue whatever his passions may be. He faces intense multi-potentiality, as he can easily write science fiction novels, play the guitar, or design and manage an amusement park. My hope for him is that he continues on his developmental path by trying many things, and continuing to pursue his passions.
All things are possible; he does not have to be alone in this.