Years ago, I had a conversation with a graduate student in education. Knowing that she was rotating between areas of educational specialty, I asked, “What area are you working in right now?” She said she was studying “behavioral disorders and gifted and talented” and that struck me as odd. She clarified that behavioral problems are taught in conjunction with GT because, “They are the same kids.”
Wait, what? Are high IQ kids the ones with special needs?
A decade of psychiatric practice with teens and college students has convinced me that the educational system has it right. High IQ people are different.
High IQ folks may have the expected social oddities- they may be awkward or have trouble understanding social norms. But high IQ seems to be more than a social issue. Patients in my practice with high IQ fall into three distinct categories of psychological/psychiatric difference. That’s not to say that they are routinely disordered, but they appear different, and those at the far end of the scale may be severely impaired. GT traits impair functional skills- they keep young adults from finishing school, leaving home, or starting careers.
GT as a functional disability flies in the face of the current tendency to glorify intelligence. Kids who test high for IQ are infused with the expectation that they will achieve greatness. But are we setting them up for disappointment? The research on the subject shows that increased IQ is only beneficial up to a point, but then as IQ scores reach numbers further and further from the mean, life success starts slipping. I often refer to this phenomenon as “Gifted and Talented Disorder.” (Don't bother checking the DSM, it’s not in there). Here are the 3 types:
Type 1 Gifted and Talented Disorder: The Creative-hyperactive Type. GT programs seem to be designed for kids with high IQ, high energy, and creativity. In the extreme, this type of individual can seem hyperactive, impulsive, and unbridled. When his/her talents are channeled, this is your basic creative genius, the kid all parents wish they could have. When creative genius types find a passion, they might pour their energies into it. But the problem is that some passions, for example 15th century European literature, don’t provide many career opportunities- especially without academic discipline. I’ve seen people who spend hours each day in pursuit of a narrow interest, yet cannot attend to basic responsibilities like school or work. This individual can end up being the isolated genius living in Mom & Dad’s basement at age 50.
Type 2 Gifted and Talented Disorder: The Meticulous-perfectionist-detail type. GT provides a safe haven for these little guys, but it isn’t quite cut out for their personalities. Meticulous-perfectionists have an uncanny talent for staying on task and minding every little detail. In fact, these people may become obsessed with details. They may not tolerate imperfections. And then they can lapse into anxiety and panic symptoms when everything is not “just so.” In adulthood, being an uber perfectionist can stop a person from trying anything new. It can be hard to tolerate working, even for bright people with prestigious educations, when nothing is ever flawless enough to meet their approval.
Type 3 Gifted and Talented Disorder: The Combo. Maybe the most difficult of all, the hyperactive, high energy, perfectionistic, detail-oriented person is caught between the desire to speed through life at 100mph and the desire for absolute perfection. In extremes, these folks look positively OCD- lopping around relentlessly in circles of creativity and self-flagellation. It can be hard to function in the world when caught in a quagmire of perfectionism and creativity.
Maybe its time we rethink the glorification of intelligence, and instead encourage our kids to gain competencies and skills that everyone needs to thrive in adulthood.