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Gifted - The Wiring Manual

Recently I completed a post graduate paper on Sensory Processing for Diverse Populations. Being the sucker I am, I decided to focus on gifted children. Let me tell you, there really is a lack of coordinated scientific research regarding helping gifted children to understand their Overexcitabilities and identify strategies to manage these in the classroom. In my practice, I see children each week who struggle to cope with the demands of the classroom environment either because they have difficulty coping with the sounds or lights, or they find sitting still all day difficult. Keeping in mind Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities, is it any wonder???

“Dunn (2009) points to the paradox that is created for clinicians when working with gifted children; sensory sensitivity is the foundation for strengths that we find in gifted children… The goal should always be to maintain a child’s strengths, including the capacity to create, problem solve and innovate. These skills are based on sensory experience!”

Along with the information regarding Overexcitabilities, there is a wide range of literature pointing to the structural differences between a gifted and non-gifted brain (for those of the thinking – yes, a new name for giftedness would be really helpful here!). Some of the differences identified include:

What difference does all that make?

Gere et al (2009) noted that gifted children score significantly differently from non-gifted same-age peers on the Sensory Profile 2. They also suggest that these differences may be a reason for gifted children’s rapid, meaningful learning. If this assessment is carried out by a clinician not experienced in working with gifted children, typical Overexcitabilities may be incorrectly identified as sensory integration issues. Worse, they may be considered an indication of Autistic Spectrum Disorder or ADHD/ADD. It is important to note that most gifted children will never need to be referred to an occupational therapist or other clinician. Those that are likely find sensory experiences overwhelming, or are having difficulty staying engaged in school, social activities or play.

Dunn (2009) points to the paradox that is created for clinicians when working with gifted children; sensory sensitivity is the foundation for strengths that we find in gifted children, therefore, the role of an occupational therapist should be to work alongside gifted children (and the adults who support them) to assist them to do what they need and want to do within their sensory experience, rather than reducing their sensory sensitivity. The goal should always be to maintain a child’s strengths, including the capacity to create, problem solve and innovate. These skills are based on sensory experience!

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How do you help gifted children who are overwhelmed by their sensory experiences?

Gifted children, along with many other children, benefit from learning to identify their sensory preferences, signs they are becoming overwhelmed and strategies to bring themselves back to a comfortable state of arousal, particularly if their sensory experiences alter their engagement in learning and play. This requires a significant level of education. Programs such as the Alert Program® can be helpful in providing a structure for this.

It is recommended that a program focused on sensory modulation, particularly accommodation and compensation, is used when working with gifted children (Shrive, 2013). Strategies may include altering classroom layout, using fidget toys or wobble cushions, or allowing children to chew gum or chewellery in class to maintain attention. Having knowledge of the child’s sensory processing is essential, and it is extremely helpful to have an understanding of the application of sensory modulation techniques when working with children with Overexcitabilities.

Clinicians working with gifted children must be able to pick apart Overexcitabilities from sensory modulation or sensory integration disorders, along with differentiating these from diagnoses such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder or ADHD. Experienced clinicians will also be able to recognise children who are twice exceptional; in this scenario, gifted with sensory modulation/integration disorder, ASD and/or ADHD.

References

Dunn, W. (2009). Invited commentary on “sensory sensitivities of gifted children”. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 63(3)

Eide, B. & Eide, F. (2004). Brains on Fire: The Multimodality of Gifted Thinkers. New Horizons for Learning. Retrieved from http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/Exceptional%20Learners/Gifted%20Learners/Articles%20-%20Gifted%20Learners/brains_on_fire.htm

Gere, D., Capps, S., Mitchell, D.W., & Grubbs, E. (2009). Sensory sensitivities of sifted children. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 63(3)

Helmbold, N., Troche, S., & Rammsayer, T. (2006). Temporal information processing and pitch discrimination as predictors of general intelligence.* Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60*(4), 294-306. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.op.idm.oclc.org/docview/200363679?accountid=39660

Li, Jordanova & Lindenberger (1998). From good senses to good sense: A link between tactile information processing and intelligence.  Intelligence, 26( 2). Retrieved from (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160289699800579)

Vaivre-Douret, L. (2011). Developmental and Cognitive Characteristics of “High-Level Potentialities” (Highly Gifted) Children. International Journal of Pediatrics. Retrieved from http://doi.org/10.1155/2011/420297

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