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Transitions in Gifted Children Are Related to Persistence Not Autism or ADHD

After reading my website and/or my books on gifted children, parents call me all of the time, asking almost verbatim, “Are problems with transitions indicative of autistic spectrum disorder? My child’s teacher has suggested that our son is on the spectrum. I can see that Henry has problems changing activities when he is doing what he wants to do. It is extremely difficult, often impossible, to get him to follow directions. Henry could spend all day doing his own thing. Henry thinks he knows it all.”
Transitions are very difficult for gifted kids, who are very single-minded and love to concentrate on what they want to concentrate on. Teachers and friends may find their intensities and behavior out of their comfort zone and inappropriate. This personal story from my own childhood family sheds light on the transition issue. I remember very clearly how much my older brother Alan, a world-renowned solar physicist at NASA, used to love to go the the Mojave desert in the 1950s and shoot off rockets with his friends. My cousins and friends thought Alan was very strange. But my twin sister and I enjoyed the family trips to the desert and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the sand.

Margie and I really knew our brother was a nerd and that other people had a hard time with the intensity of his interest in outer space. He always had his slide-rule with him no matter where we were going. Remarkably, our mother didn’t see him as over-involved in outer space; rather, she promoted and bragged about his giftedness and how he was in the “opportunity class,” the forerunner to the gifted class of today. My mother let Alan do whatever he wanted to do, which helped him develop his brain and set the stage for his under-developed social skills. Today, without a doubt, psychologists, educators and teachers would say my brother was definitely on the autistic spectrum. His ability to transition from his scientific studies to other school work was very marginal and shoddy. Relatives spoke up as well. Our genius brother embarrassed our whole Jewish family by not studying for his Bar Mitzvah. Our uncle, who was the Rabbi, shunned him in front of our congregation for inadequate preparation.

My mother always made excuses for my brother’s behavior. Even though transitions are stressful for the family of the gifted child and of course the child. The gifted child needs more time to explore on their own. You will definitely have problems getting your talented child to follow the rules if they are overly constricted by too many demands in areas of disinterest or actual challenges—where they are not gifted. In saying this I want to underline that I am not saying anything goes. There is a time for your child to listen to you and to the teacher. What my dear misguided mother did with my older brother limited his ability to connect with others and to develop deep relationships. His stellar research may be astonishing and valuable to the planet’s survival, but it was a cost to himself and our family.

Accepting that your precocious child is having difficulty with transitions is the first step toward resolving your child’s listening problems. Find an expert who knows the personality structure of precocious children. The fascination of the gifted child is very different than the lack of social attunement that autistic children struggle with on a day to day basis. The social issues of the gifted child are related to feeling ignored, out of sync with peers, or misunderstood by parents, teachers and relatives. When you find other children who like to play what your son or daughter likes to play, your child will listen better to your rules. If you explain briefly your point of view and present the consequences of not listening, transition frustration will gradually diminish. You are not an unreasonable tyrant if your consequences include reduction of screen time, time out, or doing chores that are boring.

Here are some strategies for getting your son or daughter to listen at home and at school.
    1.  Structure your home life as carefully as the teachers do at school. Doing this will make transitions a natural part of your child’s day.
    2.  Avoid chaos as much as possible. When the schedule of the day needs to change, forewarn your child. Predictability makes life more manageable.
    3.  Establish time frames for play time, bed time, bath time, family time, meal time, story time, etcetera.
    4.  Point out when transition time is about to happen. Quietly evaluate your child’s ability to follow your rules. If need be, gently make corrections using an empathic stance.
    5.  Make social situations with children, adults and teachers as frequent as possible.

Posted on Wednesday, November 15, 2017 at 06:55PM by Registered CommenterBarbara Klein, Ph.D., Ed.D. | CommentsPost a Comment

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