School Counselors Light-Up the
Intra- and Inter-Personal Worlds of Our Gifted
talented and gifted children, broadly defined as the top 16% of the bell
curve (Silverman, 2002a), often find few programs, elusive funding and few
specially-trained professionals. One reason gifted children have special
needs is that they develop asynchronously, or unevenly. A child may soar
in his or her ability to intellectually comprehend matters far exceeding
their chronological age, while the necessary development has yet to occur as
to enable them to process the same matter emotionally. Annemarie Roeper
advocated that gifted children are integrated for who they are and society
needs to accept them without assigning yet another label.
Kazimierz Dabrowski, a Polish psychologist and psychiatrist, developed a
hierarchical theory of personality development called The Theory of Positive
Disintegration (TPD). Regardless of giftedness, a term not specifically
defined in Dabrowskis work, children prone to advanced personality
development often exhibit over-excitabilities (OEs) (Tillier, 2001).
These OEs can be found in five realms: psychomotor,
sensual, emotional, imaginative and intellectual. Over time, these
OEs or intensities have become regarded as possible indicators of giftedness
(Webb, 2000; Webb, 2001). The earliest proponent of
applying OEs to identify the gifted was psychologist Michael Piechowski, one
of Dabrowskis original students (Mendalgio, 2002). While
every gifted child may not exhibit each OE, gifted children almost always
exhibit higher than average intellectual and emotional intensities.
Dabrowski called having high levels of intensities the
Tragic Gift (Tillier, 2001). To the unsophisticated observer, these
intensities might be perceived as psychopathological rather than indicators
of a strong potential for advanced personality development. The intensity
of the gifted has, unfortunately, resulted in some highly gifted individuals
being improperly labeled as severely mentally disabled due to an
inappropriate assessment (Funk-Werblo, D., personal communication to Susan
In reality, gifted children are not inherently more at
risk than their non-gifted peers for developing psychopathology as defined
by the DSM. As to DSM diagnosis, only mood disorders appear with
greater frequency within the creatively gifted population.
Despite the many myths, there exists no hard data that gifted
individuals, absent extenuating circumstances, are more likely to commit
suicide, use drugs or drop-out than the population at large (Delisle,
One area in which the gifted have been identified as being at risk is in
the domain of learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder. In
2002, Silverman (2002a) presented study results reflecting a sample of 4,000
children tested over a 22 year period by her and her colleagues. The study
concluded that up to one out of six children studied had a learning
disability, attention deficit disorder or other neurological
condition. While this number may be higher or lower in a different
sample population, it remains a significant potential area of risk
(Silverman, 2002a). Unfortunately, to the untrained, such
disabilities termed a dual-exceptionality or 2E - often go undiscovered
and unaddressed. A spin-off of this problem is when a 2E child crafts
their own compensatory strategies thereby masking their gifts. Even the
youngest gifted children are so sophisticated that they develop their own
compensatory skills allowing them to function at least as average in the
When gifted children have unmet or unrecognized needs, when they do not
feel accepted and or are isolated, when a sense of universality or normalcy
is absent, when appropriate educational and social opportunities are
lacking, where there is introversion and internalizing, and when there are
cultural or language barriers, the risk level increases (Moon, Niehart,
Reis & Robinson, 2002). Regardless of whether a gifted child
is intense, has unmet or unacknowledged needs, has a learning disability, is
asynchronous or even has a neurological condition, intervention is
necessary. Early intervention might inoculate this group from some
potential risks or minimize others. Unfortunately, there is not enough
research on every possible risk and each risk needs to be evaluated on a
case-by-case basis. (Moon, Niehart, Reis & Robinson, 2002). Counselors
should either obtain training enabling them to identify and work with this
population, or to cultivate a basic understanding of characteristics
indicative of giftedness and then refer them to a specialist. Counselors
choosing to work with gifted children should be proactive,
prevention-oriented and capable of being challenged by what others might
regard as a recalcitrant or temperamental child. Prevention builds
resilience, social skills and self-efficacy. Furthermore, as most
childrens difficulties arise from group interactions, they are also best
solved in groups. (Corey 2004). Working with gifted children in a group
setting presents a further opportunity for counselors to identify, resolve
or even prevent problems.
Silverman (2003) opined that the optimal time to reach
out to all gifted children is upon their entrance into formal
Many gifted children receive
a good foundation for self-esteem within their families. Then something
happens: they meet other children. By the age of five or six, openness and
confidence are frequently replaced with self-doubt and layers of protective
defenses. Being different is a problem in childhood. Young childreneven
gifted onesdo not have the capacity to comprehend differences. They have
difficulty understanding why other children do not think the way that they
do. They equate differentness with being "strange" or unacceptable, and this
becomes the basis of their self-concept.
(Silverman, 2000). This is a terribly oppressive experience
for children. It is exacerbated by the fact that, in most school systems,
identification of the gifted, and for that matter, learning disabilities,
does not occur until third grade when standardized tests are first
administered. By then, many gifted children have learned that, in order to
gain social acceptance, it is best to hide their gifts or to dumb down.
These children may lose their drive to learn or to display their abilities,
at least while in the school environment, thereby resulting in
under-achievement. A few of the many reasons cited for under-achievement
are a fear of failure or success, being either unaccepted or
unsupported by peers, having undetected learning disabilities and, most
importantly, being placed in an educational setting that does not generate
opportunities for taking calculated risks, building resiliency, developing
effective study skills and experiencing socially acceptable
competitiveness. (Silverman, 2004).
These are not new problems or challenges. It is one born of
a long history of teachers receiving nominal formal education in giftedness
and little, if any, related in-service training in addressing the gifteds
academic, social and emotional needs.
Even a teacher well-trained in gifted pedagogy may find it difficult
teaching a differentiated curriculum to a socio-economic, cultural and
racially-diverse classroom in which there exists a 70 and, in extreme
circumstances, a 100 point IQ spread. Meeting childrens intellectual needs
at either end of the bell curve -- plus those who are 2E or even 3E --
requires extensive differentiated curriculum. The outliers at either end
of this IQ range may also complicate meeting the social and emotional needs.
As a result, the average classroom is not the ideal
environment to identify a gifted student, let alone one who is
underachieving, dumbing down, learning disabled or socially isolated. In
fact, it is more likely that the bright children will be viewed as gifted,
and the gifted viewed as problematic (Szabos,
For these children, and all other gifted children,
counselors, in an era of educational budget cuts, can provide sorely needed
support in the public and private school sectors. To date, both gifted
children and adults have been under-served by the counseling profession.
The problem begins in our graduate schools
in which counseling
students currently receive no standardized instruction in the unique needs
of the gifted. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related
Educational Programs (CACREP) is currently reviewing and up-dating its
accreditation standards for 180 graduate counseling programs to hopefully
require that giftedness be taught commencing in or after 2008. School
counselors are currently required to take only one class in psychopathology,
and none specifically related to psychopharmacology or learning
disabilities. The current curriculum is the product of the traditional
role of the school counselor, which is to offer guidance, to be supportive
and promote personal growth, and to assist with career and college choices.
This historical pattern need not continue. With proper
training, Counseling in schools can be envisioned as either remedial or
developmental. In remedial counseling, the emphasis is on problem-solving
and crisis intervention. With this approach the counselor is a therapist who
helps correct problems. In developmental counseling, the counselor also has
a therapist role, but the primary function is to establish an environment in
school that is conducive to the educational (cognitive and affective) growth
of gifted students. (Colangelo, 2002). Counselors can become more cognizant
of gifted students unique needs by attending conferences, taking on-line
coursework, reading journals and other written material, watching videos and
observing or assisting at a private school or camp for gifted children.
Learning about the gifted will empower counselors to understand that the
gifted are no different than any other potentially at risk population and by
employing basic Rogerian skills, such as unconditional positive regard and
being congruent, they can support gifted children in the educational
setting, regardless of whether they too are gifted. In this regard,
it is important to mention Gardners theory of multiple intelligences. Even
if a counselor is not intellectually gifted, it is almost a certainty that
having made it through a rigorous academic graduate program, that the
counselor will possess strong gifts in the interpersonal and intrapersonal
This position is endorsed by The National Association for
Gifted Childrens (NAGC) Counseling and Guidance Division. The NAGC (2003)
found that a partial solution to the impediments and lack of supportive
personal in the school setting can be found by cross-training counselors to
work with the gifted. More specifically, the NAGC concluded that:
- Identifying very
young gifted children may preclude the need for later counseling services;
- Counseling is
effective with gifted middle childhood students; and
- There are specific
techniques that are known to benefit gifted students, including
earliest recollections, music therapy, family systems therapy, Gestalt
psychology, control theory applications, Bruners growth principles,
Dabrowskis theory applications, group dynamics, structured guidance
intervention, biofeedback, and intermediate strategic intervention.
Based on its findings, the NAGC recommends that school
designate one full-time counselor per school dedicated to
meeting the affective and counseling needs of gifted adolescents. This
counselor is responsible for group and individual interventions for
adjustment and motivational difficulties, career counseling, and college
placement/guidance for all identified gifted and high talent students in the
school. Another full-time counselor should be designated to conduct
regularly scheduled group affective sessions with both elementary and middle
school children. Counseling gifted children, from a group
perspective, should focus on a proactive, preventative role (NAGC, 2003).
For instance, group sessions would allow children to express
themselves and find other children having similar views, interests and
feelings, thereby negating perceptions of being odd or different and
fostering universality. This type of counseling intervention reduces the
possibility of at risk children from developing emotional problems requiring
professional intervention in the middle school years.
A critical secondary benefit of discussion groups is
promoting social affiliation. Initial contacts made in discussion groups may
grow into genuine relationships that continue into the childs everyday
world. Andrew Mahoney (2003) stated that there are four constructs
in counseling gifted children starting with validation, affirmation,
affiliation and affinity. Mahoney (2003) noted:
affiliation, secondary relationships (i.e., peers, siblings, colleagues,
etc.) become highlighted. These relationships enhance the individuation of
the self by encouraging separation from the family of origin and from the
parent. In this way, affiliation supports individuation and the development
of a healthy and whole self. Included in this process is recognition of the
need for belonging and feeling that "who I am" has a place and meaning.
Gifted affiliation provides a forum in which individuals are appreciated and
accepted for their uniqueness. For example, with appropriate affiliations, a
gifted child will not have to deny their giftedness in order to make
Mahoney (1998) cites the following example:
offer one form of socialization. David never had the opportunity to talk to
a peer about how badly the kids made fun of the things he said. By joining a
counseling group of highly gifted 8- to 10-year-old boys, David began to
understand how to deal better with the kids at school. He found the group to
be a place of safety and support that enabled him to survive in his world.
By reaching out to gifted children in a genuine, sensitive manner,
employing unconditional positive regard, a counselor can support gifted
students as they develop, maintain or enhance their self-concept.
Self-concept or ones own perception of self arises from both internal and
external factors. Self-concept is an emotional gauge of emotional affect
and motivational level. The end product is self-worth (Hoge
and Renzulli, 1991).
Through-out the educational process, Renzulli and Hoge
(1991), in a paper published by the National Research Center on the Gifted
and Talented (NRC/GT), concluded that gifted students retain an enhanced
academic self-concept through-out their education. When tested at
the 5th, 8th and 10th grade levels,
academic self-concept was slightly higher in a regular classroom then in
a magnet program. Renzulli identified two variables that might alter
self-concept. First, labeling a child seems to positively affect
self-concept. Second, moving a child from a regular classroom to a magnet
program resulted in a decline in self-concept. Some variability was noted
in the program-focused studies (Hoge & Renzulli, 1991). Colangelo and
Assouline (1995, 2000), in a later study also published by the NRC/GT, which
focused on children with IQs exceeding 160, concluded that at the
elementary school level improper placement will precipitate a noticeable
decrease in interpersonal self-concept. It is important to
recognize that, if given the opportunity, children at this level
could complete the entire elementary curriculum in one year.
For all gifted children, by or in high school,
self-concept and interpersonal skills decrease, while anxiety
and isolation increase. For some gifted children, self-concept relative to
peer relations diminished as they progressed through school.
(Colangelo & Assouline, 1995, 2000). Positive
self-concept can be correlated with challenge-seeking, willingness to do
hard work, take risks, and effectively evaluating personal performance.
(Neihart et al., 2002). Learning to cope internally and respond to
others makes all the difference, as emotional intelligence, not IQ, is the
dominant factor in predicting overall success (Lardner, 2004).
By working with the gifted in the school setting, counselors
nurturing universality and affiliation, can boost self-concept and
self-efficacy thereby increasing emotional intelligence.
Once a school counselor establishes an expertise in
giftedness and a rapport with the gifted children, the counselor can then
branch off to provide other needed support services. Two areas where
support services could be delivered would be by providing in-service
training to teachers and other professionals, and modeling effective skills
in the classroom that benefit the gifted, as well as the classroom as a
whole. If these services are accepted, a counselor may then find
teacher-initiated consultation occurring. Caplan
(1970) provided one of the more popular definitions of consultation, by
stipulating that consultation is both a voluntary and nonhierarchical
relationship between two individuals who are professionals from differing
occupations, such as a counselor and a teacher. Consultation is most
successful when initiated by the consultee, in this case, the teacher, for
the purpose of solving a work-related issue. (Robinson, 2002).
Another area in which counselors may become involved is
consulting with parents, sending home information and hosting informal and
interactive parent and family groups. This starts a positive holistic
process whereby the teachers, the counselors, the parents and, most of
all, the childrens self-concept and self-efficacy are all enhanced.
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Lardner sits on the Michigan Alliance for Gifted Educations Board of
Directors, is an officer of the Macomb County-based Advocates for Developing
Academic Potentiall and is a Masters level counseling student at Wayne
State University. Cindi has developed a program for teaching counselors how
to identify K-2 and work with K-8 gifted students. In addition to coaching
and advocating for gifted children, Cindi is the single mother of four
gifted children aged 6 through 15. Cindi was formerly a practicing attorney
and is twenty-one year member of the State Bar of Michigan. She can be