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Gifted, Creative, and Highly Sensitive Children in School

29 Jun

Gifted, Creative, and Highly Sensitive Children in School

Posted By: 
Kaitlyn Guay

Heidi Hass Gable takes the TED-x stage in Langley, saying, “about sixteen years ago, I started a long-term up-close action-research study... called parenting.” Gable has three kids who are all gifted, creative, and highly sensitive in different ways. In their adolescence, they began to struggle immensely in school. This is her story.

Gable tells us, “Gifted students are identified by their performance on a cognitive test… what I’ve learned about Gifted is, I think that intelligence piece is just one symptom, or one dimension of what is really going on. It’s a bigger picture. It’s about intensity. It’s actually a physiological difference in the brain, where the brain is more intense; you feel things more intensely.”

Through her extensive work with psychologists, Gable was able to study the five areas of over-excitability, a psychological term that typically affects gifted children. The first area is intellectual. It encompasses the student’s drive to learn and understand. The second is psychomotor, or physical, basically, “the need to move and do things.” The third is creativity. It entails “this huge imagination, and this ability to see how things are alike and make connections.” The fourth is sensory intensity. Gable’s example of this is: “The seam on my shirt is going to drive me insane.” And the fifth and final factor is emotional. And this, as Gable states, is one of the big ones. Gifted students tend to feel so deeply, the world can be overwhelming. All of these factors mashed together began to create an untenable environment for her kids in school, regardless of how excellent the program was.

Gable describes, “I saw them become so anxious. Just… didn’t want to go to school anymore. Stomachaches. Headaches. Calling in the middle of the day: ‘I’m in the bathroom; I’m not going back to class; come get me, please, please, please, come get me.’”

For her middle son, it was the worst. So Gable made the bold choice to take him out of school. She tried to find ways to continue his learning, but his system had been overloaded, and nothing seemed to click. After a year of what Gable called “de-schooling” where her son couldn’t be around others, didn’t even want to see Grandparents or friends, because it was too much, he was able to go back to school.

Now, Gable smiles, “He’s in a different type of school where it’s entirely self-directed… the adults are there to support learning and to provide lots of rich opportunities, but kids aren’t forced to do anything.”

So why is this personal agency so important in educating Gifted and/or Highly Sensitive students? Gable maintains that “Particularly with these intense kids, for so long, you’ve had this message: you’re too loud, you’re asking too many questions, you don’t fit in. And even if nobody says that to you, you have a sense of it in yourself... That child’s sense of self has been compromised. When we look at anxiety, it’s different than existential crisis. Anxiety would have been: he doesn’t want to go to school, we have to show him it’s okay to go to school, we have to show him there’s nothing to be afraid of… but for my child, there was something for him to be afraid of. He would have had to swallow so much of himself just to fit in, to do what he was told. He just couldn’t do it.”

The primary ethos of Christa McAuliffe School of Arts and Sciences is giving students like Gable’s son a safe space to discover their personal agency and grow their unique genius. Our student-centered, self-paced approach offers students the opportunity to use their interests to build lasting knowledge, and our online school design offers the flexibility to do so without being confined by another’s timeline or restricted to an uncomfortable physical space. All courses are mastery-based to delineate learning as more than just a test score, and our unique program offers students the option of working with instructors to create their own course, should they desire.

At the end of her TED Talk, Gable goes on to say, “The assumption that the best way for kids to learn is from an adult is not necessarily true. Kids do amazing stuff on their own, when we give them opportunity and help them do that.”

Here at CMASAS, we couldn’t agree more. 

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