Turbulent, acting up in class... could it be that my child is gifted? It's a possibility, but it could also be that they're just... difficult. For neuropsychologist Gabriel Rafi, a specialist in gifted children and adolescents, it's sometimes the parents who have a problem. We spoke with Dr Rafi.
Trying to make sense of behavior patterns and talents in children often sparks many fantasies about a child's capabilities. Gabriel Rafi is a neuropsychologist specializing in children and adolescents. In his two offices (in Paris and Dubai), he sees children who are suffering. Sometimes they're suffering because they are gifted and have difficulty adapting, sometimes it's because they are not gifted but they are subject to excessive expectations from their parents. An opportunity to take stock of such profiles.
Young geniuses, atypical, turbulent... there are a lot of ideas bandied about concerning gifted children. Can we finally agree on a definition?
One does not become high potential (HP), one is born high potential. When a child presents atypical abilities, clearly above average in several areas, and has an IQ above 130, then he or she is gifted. In France, we also speak of intellectual precocity. It is more or less the same thing. There is now something fashionable about it all, but I see deep misapprehensions and many false beliefs on the subject circulating.
My child does poorly at school. Could he be gifted without us knowing it?
Many parents and teachers think that because a child with HP has to be good at everything, get 20/20, close to 100% on all their exams, that they have to be great when it comes to their studies. They must also be able to adapt to everyone. This is totally false! Most HPs have an average of around 50 or 55%. They think that if they have the minimum level, they will be left alone. However, many are failing in school because they don't follow the rules.
According to your definition of precociousness, some parents may be tempted to think their offspring are gifted...
Parents often have extremely high expectations of their children and, as a result, these kids go completely off the rails when they can no longer meet them. A five-year-old child who doesn't want to stay at the dinner table for one hour is not gifted, he is just five years old! Or he does not respect the rules imposed by the parents and defies the authority of the parents. In this case, he is just difficult! Or he has additional needs. In this case, it's the adult who isn't managing to successfully implement an educational model with the child.
What kinds of clues should I look for to see if my child is atypical?
There are many clues: specific interests, such as dinosaurs, stars or the lives of presidents; an appetite for reading; a thirst for intellectual stimulation, at the risk of feeling like a waste of time; very good memory and reasoning skills. Most often, we also see a good verbal level and a very good speed of execution to find the right reasoning.
And on the emotional level?
Most of the time, the child presents severe generalized anxiety, especially in the area of performance. And this can be a problem for them. They may have extremely expressive or extroverted behaviors, and will provoke the adult to test them. Or, conversely, they may be extremely inhibited. The anxiety stays inside and they may act out in immature ways.
At what age can we begin seeing these signs?
Very early on, from the age of three or four. However, the diagnosis is more easily established from the age of four, because the child is in school or preschool. We can observe their interactions with other adults and children of their age, and whether or not they respect a framework imposed by the teacher.
We often say that such children are highly sensitive. Is this true?
Psychologically, gifted children have a tendency to be hard on themselves, and they lack self-confidence. Added to their high levels of sensitivity, the smallest remark is perceived very violently. It's like shining all the lights in a stadium onto something that's wrong. For them, it is very hurtful and very hard to live with.
What would you like to tell parents who want their children to be high potential?
That they have a problem! Being high potential is not a gift, but rather a handicap. I'm not afraid to say it. Especially when the child or teenager is still in school. You have to have in mind the image of a salmon going upstream, against the current, through school. To want that for a child is clearly off the mark.
And if the parents don't give up, insisting their child is a little genius?
What we must remember is that the only way to identify a child with high potential is to give them a test. It will confirm their abilities, regardless of the parents' expectations or observations.
This interview has been translated from French.