Sunday, April 5, 2015

Seeking Professional Help for Your Gifted Child

There may come a time when you find it necessary to seek professional help for your child. The reasons are varied but can include seeking help for social-emotional issues, for mental health reasons or a professional determination of giftedness for educational purposes. I will discuss this last point in a separate post.

When to Seek Professional Help

Knowing when to seek professional help for your child is a very personal decision. Many people tell me that as a parent of a gifted child, they feel alone and conflicted by the advice of friends, family and even their child’s teachers. I have found that if someone hasn’t traveled down this road, it’s difficult to understand what parents face on a daily basis. Professionals who don’t understand giftedness or have had no experience with gifted individuals will show little empathy for a parents’ plight.

If you are struggling with issues surrounding your child’s heath or well-being, seek professional help. There is no reason to go it alone in today’s world. If you can’t find help in your local area, many professionals offer services via phone consultations or Skype. You would not hesitate if your child was physically ill; so don’t delay seeking it now.

As a parent of an atypical child, you may be fearful of the outcome of consulting a professional. Don’t be. Failure to act when the situation warrants it can have devastating consequences for your child. The struggles won’t go away on their own.

Where to Find Professional Help

Once you realize that you do need help, where do you find it? Far too often, this is the hardest part of the process. Lack of professionals trained in gifted is a major problem. As Tiombe Bisa Kendrick-Dunn, current president of SENG, recently wrote, 

“[Mental health] professional’s graduate education includes an abundance of knowledge relating to pathology and related treatments, but lacks the same for gifted and talented individuals. Unless a major shift occurs, they [the gifted] will continue to be misdiagnosed and at high risk for inappropriate treatment, which can cause irreparable harm.”

Hopefully, the list above (see new tab) of professionals who deal with gifted individuals will be a start. They are self-elected. The list is provided as a guide. I do not personally make recommendations; legally, I can’t. You will have to determine that for yourself. Use the list as a starting point and then use the information in this post to aid you in your search. The list will become a permanent part of this site and will be frequently updated. Below you will find links to articles to help you in the decision making process as well as links to lists on other sites.

What Type of Professional Do You Need

First, you have to decide what type of professional will best meet your child’s needs. There are psychologists, psychiatrists, family therapists, counselors, social workers, personal coaches; all providing very different types of services. I will provide a brief description of what each one does:

  • Psychologists: There are basically two kinds of psychologists from which parents of gifted children can seek help; clinical or counseling psychologists and school psychologists. Clinical psychologists must have a PhD or PsyD in psychology or hold a state license to practice. They generally do not prescribe medication. They have extensive training in psychological testing, scoring, and interpreting tests. School psychologists, on the other hand, can be certified by boards of education with an education specialist (EdS) degree. Specific requirements vary by state.
  • Psychiatrists: Psychiatrists are licensed physicians. They generally take a medical approach and can prescribe medication.
  • Family Therapists: Therapists will have post-graduate training in human behavior, relationships, and with individuals. These professionals would be helpful when looking for solutions to family issues related to your gifted child.
  • Licensed Mental Health Counselors: largest group of mental health providers in the US; help people who have normal cognitive processes cope with difficult life circumstances. 
  • School Counselors: School Counselors, formerly referred to as guidance counselors, were once only used for academic or vocational guidance but today are increasingly used to help students with social-emotional issues both individually and in groups.
  • Social Workers: Social workers generally possess a Masters degree (M.S.W.) in social work and are trained to treat emotional and behavioral problems. They work with both individuals and families. Some schools have social workers on staff.
  • Personal Coaches: Personal coaches receive training in helping individuals to find direction and set goals through a variety of strategies.

Questions, Questions, and More Questions

Knowing what to look for in a professional and what questions to ask is no easy task. What should you look for in a professional? First and foremost, you should feel comfortable talking with whoever you choose. Are they empathetic to your situation? Does your child feel comfortable with them? Are they at ease when asked about giftedness? If you answer “no” to any of these questions, it is best to look elsewhere.

Here’s a checklist of questions to ask anyone you are considering working with:

  • What experience have you had in working with gifted children?
  • What is your personal philosophy concerning giftedness?
  • Has your professional training included what giftedness is and how to recognize it?
  • What do you see as major issues in the gifted population?
  • How have you modified your approach to therapy when working with the gifted?

Listen carefully when your potential provider answers your questions. Are they sincere? Do they refer to asynchronous development, peer relations, overexcitabilities, multiple exceptionality perfectionism or issues you are personally seeing in your child? Or do you feel like you are talking to someone who thinks ‘all children are gifted’? Are they smart? Research has found that this is a key factor … the person you choose needs to be able to keep up with your child both cognitively and intellectually. Remember, you are seeking help for your child; someone who relies on you to look after their best interest.

And one last thing to consider … Aimee Yermish, a highly respected therapist in the gifted community and owner of the da Vinci Learning Center in the Boston area, shares this sage advice, 

“Anyone who frames giftedness as being part of the problem, anyone who defines the intensity and drive and perceptiveness and differentness and post formal reasoning as “the thing that’s wrong with you,” leave and don’t look back. The goal is not to get our kids (or us!) to act like everyone else.  The goal is to help us figure out who we are and how to act like ourselves, just in an adaptive way.”

Just Do It!

Take your time in choosing professional help. If you don’t feel comfortable with your first choice, move on. Their advice can have profound implications for your child’s future. Consider it an awesome responsibility; not just another item on your to-do list.

Your thoughts …

So what do you think? What has been your experience in finding professional help? What tips would you add for locating a professional experienced with gifted individuals? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


100 Words of Wisdom Tiombe Bisa Kendrick-Dunn SENG Vine, March 2015 


A Place to Start: Is My Child Gifted? from Davidson Gifted (Includes lists of questions to ask potential professionals) 

Assessing/Testing for Giftedness Malone Family Foundation 

Graphic by Lisa Conrad.