Prison Pete

Saturday, August 20, 2005
  Now I See the Problem, So How Do I Fix Me?
The following article appeared in the special "Education Life" section in the Sunday New York Times (July 31, 2005):

How To Identify A Gifted Child

Discerning gifted children, long an imperfect science, is even tougher in today's label-prone culture. James T. Webb, a clinical psychologist and author of "Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults," explains what can go wrong.

Q. Parents throw the word "gifted" around. What does it mean, really?

A. Gifted comes in different forms and degrees. Gifted children excel in such areas as general intellectual ability, specific aptitudes like math, creative thinking, visual or performing arts. Most have I.Q. scores between 130 and 155. Above that range are the profoundly gifted -- a tiny fraction of the group. Over all, the gifted represent about 3% of our population.

Q. Why would gifted children be tagged as having psychological disorders?

A. Behaviors of many gifted children can resemble those of say, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Most teachers, pediatricians and psychologists aren't trained to distinguish between the two. Most gifted kids are very intense, pursuing interests excessively. This often leads to power struggles, perfectionism, impatience, fierce emotions and trouble with peers. Many gifted kids have varied interests, skipping from one to the other -- a trait often misinterpreted as A.D.H.D.

Q. You write that these misdiagnoses are common.

A: About a quarter of gifted children have their giftedness misinterpreted as a disorder and aren't recognized as gifted, another 20 percent are misdiagnosed. Among children referred to me with a bipolar diagnosis, almost 100 percent have been misdiagnosed, as are 70% of those with obsessive-compulsive diagnoses and 55% of those with A.D.H.D.

Q. What's a parent to do?

A. Parents should educate themselves about the characteristics of gifted children: intense curiosity, unusually good memory, a remarkable sense of humor, exquisite sensitivity to others and extensive vocabularies. And identify them early. Children's attitudes toward learning get set before age 10. Preschool and the early grades generally turn off gifted kids: they are told to stop asking so many questions and wait their turn. They need an appropriate learning environment. If not the seeds for underachievement are sown.

Have you ever read a novel and find a character's traits that seemed to match you to a 'T'? Well this article certainly describes me. I will need to get his book to see what the solutions are.

While I feel I have learned to deal a little bit with my giftedness, I still could use some more help. Prison is certainly not a place to appear too smart. I have learned that the hard way, in that it has at times made me a ready target for physical abuse. I am talking in prison. Before my arrest, I was always subject to ridicule growing up and never really did figure out the 'problem' until recently. The article mentions "trouble with peers." I was always feeling that no one liked me, and did not really have many close friends while I was growing up.

One of my closest friends through grade school, up to grade five, was the editor of this blog. His father was a teacher, and I have very fond memories of his dad's willingness to talk to me and answer my questions. At the time of course I was not identified as 'gifted' and since we are talking the 1960's, the A.D.H.D. label was not yet invented. So I was an oddball, but no one knew why. I think it was the way the editor's father would treat me that made me feel comfortable in their home. The way his dad treated me rubbed off on the way the editor treated me.

It was not until the beginning of the seventh grade that I was finally tested and found to have an I.Q. over 140. While I did spend the seventh through the twelfth grades in a private school geared to gifted children, it was overwhelming and I do not think I was able to take full advantage of all the resources that were available. The article mentions that attitudes toward learning are set by the age of ten, and by the time I entered the seventh grade I was twelve. Two years past the chance of being saved.

The article speaks to how us gifted types can often be misdiagnosed but offers little in the way of information to help children (and adults) deal with this misunderstanding and the frustrations that it leads to.

The misunderstanding I am referring to is the labels of bi-polar, obsessive-compulsive, and A.D.H.D. It is amusing now, how as a young child, my peers, (those lovely grade school years) could see that I was 'different'. According to the article I was part of a very small minority, "about three percent of the population." My peers saw that I was different, I suppose it did not help that I also possessed a large head for my body size.

Since I have had the 'luxury' of moving into a 'new neighborhood' on February 1, 2005, I was able to use some of the new skills I have developed through my six years of one on one counseling with the psychologist down at Club Fed. When it comes to relationships with others, it is certainly never easy to get people to change their perceptions of an individual.

While I was able to deal with a lot of my 'rough spots' in the counseling, most of the comfort I was able to feel was in being able to deal with the way staff and inmates treated me, not have them treat me differently.

Now that I had the ability to start with a clean slate, I was determined to not make the 'errors' I had made in the past. Instead of waiting for people to 'get tired' of my 'uniqueness,' I was able to deal with them up front and explain to them why I would do certain things. Instead of the usual isolation and ridicule, it has become a mutual joke when I start go off `the deep end,' so to speak.

A practical application of this was when four of us were playing Spades. Three of us had been here for a month or so and playing together, and I now had a newcomer as my partner.

The prison version of Spades usually has a few extra 'spades' added to the deck. Most times it is in the form of the two jokers and the two of diamonds which are all used as higher ranking spades than the Ace, King, and Queen of spades. In my opinion this waters down the thinking portion of the game and makes your hand more dependent on the cards you are dealt.

I like to use my brain when playing, keeping track of which cards have been played, how to throw down certain cards so that my partner will know what to play etc. This is more important when playing without the wildcards. It takes some convincing to play without the wildcards.

When a hand is done and I would start to explain to the newcomer, my partner, what he did wrong, the two other guys would be quick to start ribbing me and explain to the newcomer not to take me too seriously. I take the ribbing in the spirit it is intended, and work hard at not being too obsessive.

The 'new' Pete, now knows where my 'weak' spots are, ask for help from others to keep me on track and not go too far a field. This way I save my 'smarts' for times when they are called on by others, instead of always exerting my intellect and pissing everyone off. So far it appears to be working!
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