Monday, December 30, 2013

The Importance of Psychotherapy in Conjunction with ADHD Medication: an NIMH Study

Photo Courtesy of Mauro Barsi
     A recent study supports what I have been saying to parents for a long time: it is a mistake to assume that a prescription for a medication in a child diagnosed with ADHD is sufficient unto itself.
     It is my clinical opinion that ADHD medications quiet the mind and settle the child enough so that the work of psychotherapy can take place. It clears the space in the child's active mind for reflection and for understanding new conversations and topics. It allows for discussion of new and beneficial behaviors.
     Given my bias that many gifted children are misdiagnosed with ADHD in the first place, simply because they are different from the other children in a classroom due to boredom or creative and unconventional approaches to classroom material, I think this study is important for parents to read.
     To quote:
     "20-year-old study, funded with $11 million from the U.S. National Institute of Mental            Health, concluded that the medications outperformed a combination of stimulants plus skills-training therapy or therapy alone as a long-term treatment. But now experts, who include some of the study's authors, think that relying on such a narrow avenue of treatment may deprive children, their families and their teachers of effective strategies for coping with ADHD, The New York Times reported Monday."
     Here is the link to the report:
     I welcome comments or questions on this topic. It comes up regularly with gifted children and their parents.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

It Really Is Your Genetics: You are Smart because You Were Born That Way

Photo Courtesy of Mauro Barsi
     New research indicates that the battle between nature and nurture may well have been resolved when it comes to intelligence. In a study of 11,000 identical and non-identical 16-year-old twins in Great Britain, results indicate conclusively that nature trumps nurture in determining how well these students performed on standardized examinations.
     The study is reported here in Science Daily: Differences in Educational Achievement Owe More to Genetics Than Environment, Finds Study of UK Students.
     What does this study mean?
     It suggests that native intelligence can triumph, even when home environments are less than ideal.
     Certainly, enriched academic and home environments have the potential to create stronger study habits, greater personal discipline, and a more purposeful sense of direction in growing children and adolescents. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that graduates of private high schools and public high schools in affluent neighborhoods perform better in college than their less fortunate peers.
     However, the good news is that even with impoverished or sheltered upbringings, even with dysfunctional families with alcohol or substance abuse, a child whose native intelligence is high still has a good shot at performing well enough on standardized tests to move forward into colleges and universities and change their personal environments to a more favorable place in which they can thrive and grow - and break the chain that tied them to the lack of opportunities presented to them in their early years.
     If you find this hard to believe, do some research into successful individuals who overcame great hardships in order to make their place in the world. They are legion. Some are famous. Some are not.
     Some are just like the kid in the back of the classroom who is always late because his alcoholic mother makes his life a living hell every morning before school, and who always gets top grades in spite of this.
     This British research gives hope to all children and adolescents growing up in less than perfect families.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Two of my Articles Are Published on

Photo Courtesy of Mauro Barsi
     They may be a drop in the bucket of the literature on the topic of intellectual giftedness, but I'd like to share two articles of mine which were recently published in the web site, which is part of
     The first article is entitled Intellectual Giftedness at War with Itself: All I Want is a Good Night's Sleep....
     It deals with aspects of existential dread faced by some of my clients when they consider the possibility of the obliteration or annihilation of individual consciousness at the point of death.
     The second article is entitled On Being Gifted and Talented. This article is actually a page from my professional psychotherapy web site, which I wrote as a manifesto behind my intention of choosing to specialize in working with intellectually gifted children, adolescents, and adults.
     It is my goal to spread the world regarding the importance of paying special attention to this population because it is my belief that in the field of psychotherapy gifted individuals are misunderstood and underserved.
     In Seattle, I meet monthly with two other therapists who specialize in working with intellectual giftedness. We consult on cases, but we also support each other.
     This is challenging work, and the three of us are grateful for the support we can offer to each other. We imagine that we feel the same way our clients appear to feel when they relax into the sofa and exhale, as if to say that they have been heard, understood, and respected, sometimes for the first time.
    Our work may be like the pebble making small waves in the quiet pond above. But small waves are better than no waves at all, especially to the lone pebble that is making the marks on the surface of the water. Our clients are like that pebble. A small splash at least proves that the pebble exists, an existential question often raised by our clients in the broader context of their life experiences.
     I recommend and as resources for gifted and talented individuals. You are not alone.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Your Gifted Adolescent and the Emotional Subtext of Family Holidays

Photo Courtesy of Mauro Barsi
     Your halls may be decked. Your carols may be playing. Your home may smell like cinnamon and ginger. Festive, right?
     If there is an emotional issue in your household that is being put aside until after the holidays or just plain repressed by all concerned parties, guess what?
     Your gifted adolescent is going to cut straight to the emotional undercurrents in the environment and view all your decorative efforts as if they were tinsel hanging on a dead curbside fir.
     And that adolescent is going to feel as if there's a chair on a lonely beach somewhere with his or her name on it.
     There is no person more sensitive to ambiguities and ambivalence, text versus subtext, overt versus covert, than your gifted adolescent. This is the age when the great questions come to the fore, and it is also the age when living with non-answers can be viscerally painful. The brain has developed enough to ask but not to answer. It wants certainty, though it is coming to see that in this world there really is no such thing. The gifted adolescent needs a nest, a home base. If your home is wrought with tension, which can be exacerbated by the facades of jolliness that pervade our culture at this time of year, the scene is set for a meltdown.
     Before you blame yourself for every little kerfluffle that may arise during the holiday season, understand that I am speaking of much greater issues than cousins bad mouthing cousins or pumpkin pies that were inadvertently broiled instead of baked (I am personally guilty of this one, though I doubt my own daughters recall).
     I'm saying that if there is tension in your household before the holiday season approaches, it will shout more loudly and more clearly to your sensitive adolescent now because the chasm is so great between what we are force-fed to believe as the ideal family holiday and what is often the more mundane and sometimes tawdry reality: the drunk uncle, the nasty sister, the passive-aggressive grandmother whose estate everyone hopes to inherit.
     If you can bring up the topic of this disparity in a convivial manner, including yourself in the aspects of disillusion that we, as adults, often experience between the ideal the the actual, you will be doing your adolescent a favor by providing at least a sense of hope that these initial bouts of despair can gradually be tempered by time and good humor.
     If the underlying currents are more malignant, such as impending divorce or a serious illness in a parent, you have another matter at hand. These are visible emotionally to your child. Don't think for a minute that because they don't know the details, they don't know something is amiss. They do. And they will add your disinclination to discuss it openly to the pile of grievances they are storing and packing to take with them when they seek that lonely beach chair.
     I know there is a time for every thing under heaven. I know there are things that you are not prepared to discuss with your teen at this moment. But perhaps you might consider offering comfort by addressing the fact that there are some things going on that you are unable to discuss at present, but that you will be free to talk about soon. This will relieve some of your teen's anxiety, but not all of it. If you can give a hint toward content, please do. If not, please offer as much reassurance as possible.
     Then prepare yourself to be completely rejected.
     Your teen has an attraction/repulsion relationship with that beach chair. Your teen suffers with ambiguity and enjoys the intensity of angst - at the same time.
     When the balance tips toward angst that is beyond your teen's ability to manage, please step in. As I said, you may be rejected, but rejecting you is actually part of what your teen needs to do right now. Yes, it is painful. Yes, it is a horrible time of year for this sort of thing,
     The fact that it is a horrible time of year for this sort of thing is precisely the reason your adolescent is upset in the first place.
     Be gentle with yourself.
     Be gentle with your adolescent.
     Sing this song in your heart.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 via The Byrds:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hypersensitivities in Children during the Holidays

What your child may be telling you during a blowup.
     Here they come! Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Christmas...and you want to duck. For good reason, if memory serves you right.
     Your gifted child may have what we call overexcitabilities or hypersensitivities on the most ordinary of days. When you add the chaos that surrounds the holidays in our consumerist culture, your child's feelings of being out of control can ramp up significantly, and be well beyond his or her ability to contain.
     It is at this most difficult of points that you are asked to remain the most serene, as it is your serenity that is the most likely antidote, and, as you know, even that is not a surefire success.
     I posted this photo as a reminder to all parents that when a child acts out, there is always the underlying message of conflict represented by the sign. The temptation to blow when your child blows can be great - after all, parents are not immune to holiday chaos, either. But you know in the wisest part of your heart that what your child needs is a hug or a quiet moment without advice, without discussion, without contradiction - and the blowup which attracts your attention is also a confused statement that the private emotional interior life of your child is not begging for interpretation or understanding in that particular moment: it is a private sign, and you are not meant to read it.
     What are you meant to do? Witness it. Hug your child. Keep your child from harm's way. Wait for the storm that is the holiday season to blow over. It will. It does every year.
     Once it is behind us, and signs of spring begin to emerge, you can breathe deeply again. And so can your child. The disorganized energy he or she has been taking in during the holidays has waned. Now you return to your regularly experienced bumps and detours. But you understand those as they have an air of predictability about them - you know which situations and places are likely to upset your child, and you have learned to avoid or manage contact with them.
     Remember, also, that your child learns from each of these explosive episodes. You will have opportunities to discuss the emotions suggested by this sign once the storms subside. Then your wisdom and your child's growing wisdom can meet.
     In the meanwhile, remember that all episodes of outbursts do not require immediate attention beyond a hug and acknowledgment that things must feel rough.
     Reading - and interpreting - the private sign can come later.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Consider This when a Child Says: "I Don't Like Math"

Photo courtesy of Mauro Barsi
     Think about when you were first learning mathematics as a child. Arithmetic. Did you like it? Many children do not.
     Odds are it’s because they can’t figure out its purpose, function, or application. More importantly,  unless they are in the hands of an enlightened teacher who takes the time to provide context, they are never really told how all the parts fit together, and that math is progressive: arithmetic, algebra, geometry plane and coordinate, trigonometry, the calculus…
     When I work with children who claim they don’t like math, I help them break things down by using the metaphor of the ocean.
     I start with a simple question, “What is the ocean?”
     Most often, children reply that it’s a large body of salt water. Some are more detailed by mentioning the large expanse, or the waves; the creatures that inhabit the waters, or sandy beaches.
     That’s where we start. We then talk about the ocean as an ecosystem.  Children generally understand questions about habitats and are able to discuss the interrelationships between various animal and plant communities. Older children can participate in discussions of the chemistry of salt water or the physics of compression or deep water vents with their unusual communities of anaerobic bacteria.
     The next step is to help these these children see how mathematics is like the marine ecosystem, which involves a series of interrelated bodies intertwined in such a way that they are all necessary to each other in order to support the entire structure that is the ocean.
     From there, conversations about the mathematical underpinnings of nature (the Fibonacci sequence, for example), of music (rhythm, chording), of architecture, of automotive engineering, of the digital world of computing are all logical outcroppings.
     I have seen children who don’t like math learn to embrace it as the tool that it is: a pathway toward understanding the complex world around us, a key to unlock secrets of otherwise elusive concepts.
     Once children have the opportunity to explore the reasons for studying mathematics, sometimes a fire can ignite within them that is stupendous to behold.
     It’s a lifelong gift to help a child realize that mathematics does not exist on a shelf by itself, but rather forms the basis for our understanding of diverse fields of human endeavors.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Preparing Your Gifted Child for a New School Year

Photo courtesy of Mauro Barsi

     I know. It's still summer. But if you look carefully, you'll notice that the shadows are a little longer, the days not so long. In short, autumn is on its way. Your gifted child may not be talking about the fact that if autumn is coming, so is school, but s/he is aware of it in every body cell.
     For some children, this brings a frisson of excitement: they love the challenge, the thrill of approaching new subjects and new ways of thinking, the possibilities that a new school year represents.
     For others, they are dreading Labor Day the way many moms dread making school lunches, another project looming on the horizon.
     Why would a bright child dread the start of a new school year? Because for some sensitive children, the love of learning new things is overshadowed by the dread of meeting new kids, facing the social changes in the school environment (especially if there is a change of schools involved, such as the transition from elementary to middle school, or middle to upper).
     You know how your child responds to change, or the mere suggestion that change may be coming. You are your child's best ally in easing this transition. Younger children will appreciate a frank discussion that might give words to their unstated and unacknowledged uncomfortable feelings related to going back to school. You can help them understand that life resembles the photo above in that the path is clear where you are standing on it, but you cannot always tell what is around the bend. You have to have faith that the path itself will be as smooth and comfortable as it is right where you are standing right now, and that when you round the next bend, you will be prepared and comfortable with the path that you once could not see.
     Some children who are a little older may resist your efforts to bring up this topic because for them it is now drenched in the sudden flow of hormonal changes that have caught them completely unaware: all the parent talk in the world is inadequate to help a pre-teen know what it will feel like when these hormones actually begin to surge. You might get resistance. You might even get some rude behavior in the form of slammed doors, rolled eyes, and whatevers.
     It is still worth it to bring this up for discussion, even though you may feel is is more of a monologue than an actual conversation with older kids. They will hear you, whether they acknowledge it or ignore you in the moment.
     Your words may come back to them just when then need them most: when they're standing in the hall of a new school surrounded by new kids with a new academic program and they can't even seem to find their own lockers.
     Mama said there'd be days like this, goes an old song by the Shirelles from the 1960s.
     I believe it is better that your child can at least recall that you tried, than to face fears with no warning, and therefore no armor whatsoever.
     Just be prepared for those rolling eyes. Have you met many pre-teens who want to admit to listening to a parent's advice?
     It's still worth the try. You are planting seeds of comfort, though you may not be present in the moment when those seeds germinate and take root.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Giftedness and Artistic Blocks: Too Many Ideas

Photo courtesy of Mauro Barsi
     I see clients who come to me with what is often referred to as writer's block. They are in the middle of a large literary project. Their ideas are clear in their minds. But just as they can visualize a complex fabric that is woven tightly and seamlessly, they encounter something - something that they cannot name - that keeps them from conveying this fabric from conception to manifestation.
     They fret. They worry. They think they will never write again. In fact, they know they will never write again. They suffer from depression.
     Sometimes, they junk an entire project in despair.
     What is going on?
     With gifted and creative individuals, the flow of stimuli from ambient environment to brain can be overwhelming. That brain now feels under siege from outside as well as from within (You should be writing! You're a hack! You can't even keep track of your own ideas!) - and that's when the low-grade panic sets in and becomes the air these writers breathe.
     Is it any wonder they can't finish their projects?
     Creative expression, particularly in the form of a long manuscript (a novel), requires a certain kind of mental tenacity that is unusual and difficult to explain to the nonwriter. A writer must - simultaneously - hold concepts, story arcs, characterizations, psychology, the sound of words, the grammar of language, half-formed ideas, possibilities...  And in some manner, the writer must get this herd of cats to conform to a pattern on the computer screen that makes some kind of sense, while remaining open to the fact that as writing a novel progresses, characters, scenes, entire story lines change, disappear, or suddenly take sudden stage.
     Writers do this without acknowledging the complexity of the task they are undertaking, because they often suffer the delusion that everyone can write. We all hear people say, "I should write a book!" or, "If I had the time, I'd write a book, too." For writers, these comments feed their deepest fears: that they are doing nothing special. Actually - though writing is nothing special - they are not doing it. They are blocked. They are pretenders. That's why if you ask your writer friends how their books are coming along, you're as likely to get a snarl as you are to get a smile.
     With my clients who come in under this sort of duress, one of the main goals we set is creating a sacred space that contains the writing. This often involves such rituals as lighting a candle during writing time, and blowing it out with consciousness of changing from the act of writing to the phase of writing which is generative, the part of writing that John Lennon immortalized this way: life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.
     Much of writing also happens when you're busy doing other things. If you can allow yourself to have time when you are not writing, by establishing strict boundaries around the time when you actually are engaged in the process of writing, you can create room in your teeming brain for dormant ideas to break into bud.
     It is a matter of sorting out the sense that everything is happening now. This is a tall order for the creative person who experiences life as a constant series of overwhelming, multiphasic "nows."
     But, with practice and intention, it is possible to create this space in your life. And this is the space where writing - or any other creative act - becomes possible. Let it flow - but let it flow, like a waterfall, within contained boundaries.
     And give yourself permission, at times, to say, "I'm not writing at the moment. I'm thinking."

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Gifted Mind: Forests and Forests of Thoughts

Photo Courtesy of Mauro Barsi

     Among the topics that come up repeatedly in psychotherapy sessions with gifted clients is their experience with the realization that most others do not process information in the same way they do. Often, this is a shocking disappointment. Often, a sadness ensues as the implications of this realization begin to emerge.
     I am talking about the gifted individual's basic way of apprehending and making sense of the world around us. The native curiosity in the gifted mind leads to an ever-growing learning tree that over time creates an entire interior world of forests. These individuals come to conversations with others with the assumption that all minds are as forest-rich as their own.
     This, they learn, is not the case.
     They learn that what they assumed was a lack of interest in a certain subject was instead a lack of comprehension of the question; that what they viewed as a witty retort was a defense mechanism tossed conversationally as a means of diverting an impenetrable discussion; that others may appear to be quicker in their thoughts because they are thinking in a less, not more, complex manner.
     And there is denial. The existential loneliness that ensues in the realization of being such an outlier that your native way of thinking sets you apart is something many individuals would prefer to avoid. This can lead to hiding the light of giftedness under a bushel basket. And, of course, this process fails.
     The analogy of software to mental processing is so commonplace that I hesitate to mention it, but in the case of intellectual giftedness, it is particularly apt. With giftedness, the hardware is equally significant. Just as the complexities of the operating system create the environment in which the computer performs its functions, so to the hardware sets the physical limitations of the capabilities of the operating system.
     This is true with the human brain and human intelligence, also. The brains of gifted individuals are capable of high-level processing, and the thoughts made possible by that brain are the expressions of it.
     You can use less of your computer's operating system at any time, but you cannot use more. You can use fewer of the functions available on your laptop, but you cannot use more. These are the limits of the software and the hardware. The more powerful the hardware/software combination, the more powerful the system.  The same is true in exploring the limits of the human brain and of human intelligence. 
     I counsel clients in their attempts to make peace with the different ways in which their minds work. I work to help them see that their gifts are unique, and that the manifestations of their gifts - their work, their conversations, their thoughtful relationships with others - are the extensions of those gifts into the world.
     I help clients see that letting their lights shine is the highest use of their gifts, because it is the way they share their gifts with others in a natural flow of energy from themselves into the world around them. This is not showing off and this is not "being different."
     It is being authentic.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Every Day is New Year's Day

Photo courtesy of Mauro Barsi
     Today is the first day of a new year.
     It is one out of 365, but it feels different from the other 364. Why? Why does it feel different?
     I believe it is the one day of the year when we are able to see the line of demarcation clearly between what was and what is to be. It is a day on the threshold. It is the bridge between the past and the future, and it feels full of possibilities.
     The truth is that it is full of possibilities.
     One day each year we are free to cast off old thoughts, old habits, old chains, simply because the day feels different from the other days in our year. It is the one day in our busy lives when the moment - the now - is pre-eminent. We have consciousness of the passing of time. We have consciousness of the uncertainty of the future. We have consciousness of the preciousness and fragility of our lives.
     We do not know where the new year will take us. But we are not filled with fear, as one might possibly feel when facing the unknown. Not on New Year's Day. On this one special day, we are filled with hope. We sense that we create the future. We sense that pure potential manifests into this world exactly the way we choose to manifest it. We believe for a few suspended moments that we create our own lives.
     And, of course, we do. But as the days turn into weeks and into months, we lose the sense of our own power to build our lives as we lose the sense of freshness that arrives with midnight on January first. Too often we find ourselves slogging along in a rut established so long ago that the path lacks not only a name but also signposts. Slog. Fog. Sameness. And our years slip through our fingers like fairy dust that was put to no purpose.
     Look into the path in this photo. Trees surround it, offering comfort, shade, security. Sure, there could be dragons just offscreen. But light also emanates from all sides, offering us assistance as we find our way. And note that the path curves. There is no life that follows a straight line. There is no path of any interest in this world that follows a straight line. Allow for the curves. Expect them. Trust that there is more light just around the corner, just as there is in this photograph. Take a step at a time. Use the light that falls on your path as a guide. And trust yourself to get to where you want to be. Trust yourself to create the path that is beyond the range in this photograph, that path that is suggested by it but not shown.
     Trust yourself to create the continuing path of beauty, happiness, peace, love, and trust that you want for yourself. Follow your path. Trust it.
     Trust yourself. You are the creator of your life. You choose how to respond to the world around you. You choose.
     Keep the New Year spirit alive. Let every day feel like the first day of a new year. Because in a very real sense, it is.