Gifted Children Choosing to “Dumb Down”
By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D
Our son just turned 4 years old in the beginning of September and just
started PreK. He is starting to exhibit some behavioral problems in
class and I believe it has to do with him being gifted. We haven't had
him tested yet. I'm meeting with his Pediatrician on Monday to go over
some options. Here are some examples to show you where I concluded the
giftedness. He was sight reading by 14 months. He is extremely sensitive
and responsive to others emotions. He now says he cannot read and only
reads books backwards. He tires easily of mundane tasks. He'll watch 13
minute videos on how to change a car tire and his interest will be held
the entire time. He can't handle loud noises. He lines up his toy cars
in perfect rows. He has issues with authority. He obsesses over one
subject that he takes interest in.
He wants to communicate with adults all day long. He doesn't enjoy
playing with his peers. He purposely "dumbs" himself down to play with
peers. He talks about his peers as if they are babies....he doesn't see
himself as belonging to the same group. He's had an uncanny ear for
music since he was 1.5 years old....and the list goes on. He is not a
normal 4 year old boy. Most 3-4 year olds are jumping off furniture and
are not very vocal. Ours will talk your ear off and is not interested in
riding a bike. Most characteristics of gifted children are also
characteristics shared by high functioning autistic children....I'm just
not sure who to turn to first.He is peeing himself only in school. And
when he comes home with his crafts, there are only little scribbles on
paper....he knows how to draw faces and write many letters.....why is he
choosing to "dumb down"?
From your description, it clearly shows that your son has
characteristics distinct to gifted children, at the same time some that
gear towards high functioning autistic behaviour. It is also very
interesting that you brought the term “dumb down” which has been around
for a while but only in the recent years applied more and more for
gifted children. Briefly, this is a term that is referred to masking of
natural intellectual abilities.
It is known that gifted children get attuned to their surroundings quite
quickly, and their heightened sensitivities may make them feel different
from the other children. Feeling and being different may lead them to
feeling less accepted by peers. Therefore, in order to fit in with
peers, some gifted children will try to be at the same level as their
friends in school. They may intentionally read badly or pretend not to
be able to read, answer questions incorrectly when they know the answers
so well and so on.
Your son appears to exhibit these behaviours because he probably learnt
at a very tender age that he may be different from his peers and also
learnt quickly how he should cope in order to be accepted. Hence the
dumbing down could have happened as he learns to cope. What you need to
do is to see a good psychologist as your son may be twice exceptional
(or maybe not). Let the psychologist do some observation and help you
decide how to take it forward from there on.
On nurturing, awareness is crucial and I can see that you are very aware
of your son’s progress and/or decline in all aspects of this behaviour
so you are indeed on the right track. Perhaps you need to explain to him
analogically (maybe using a story) that children are different – some
can read, some not just yet, some run faster than other, etc. This would
help him feel that difference come in many forms and each child is
special in her or his own way. He needs to understand that there is
nothing wrong with him being the way he is, which is what most young
minds probably think when others are not like them. For them, the norm
is accepted so they want to fit in the norm. We can allow this to happen
with our special children.
You also need to speak to the teachers and explain his behaviour and the
reason he is acting differently at school. At times, young advanced
children (and extroverted ones) have so much to say on everything and it
can really rub teachers and peers the wrong way! Then again, it is very
hard to teach children about how to display their knowledge, skills and
interest in the right way, more so for very young children. At the same
time, teachers may find it hard to get other children to accept the
over-enthusiastic contributions of advanced children in the classroom.
Especially in preschool, this is really hard. It would be helpful if the
teachers were trained to handle advanced children. You may want to print
out a few articles to help the teacher understand such children. It is
crucial that his class teacher understands his needs and helps him open
up in class. Have frequent meetings with his teachers to monitor his
progress and behaviour.
On activities, get him into music since he appears to have interest in
it. Go along with his interests and you will find that he have amazing
strengths in some. He also needs to socialise with children who are
mentally similar or older for conversational type activities. For other
activities, especially physical, get him to socialise with peers. Even
though he is jumping on furniture or riding the bicycle, try to
encourage him into doing more physical activities. At his age, being
active is crucial for a balanced development and it would help him with
his social skills as well.
Keep up the great work and keep observing his progress. All the best!
Replied from reader:
Thank you so much for your response! I was so thrilled to see your email
waiting for me tonight:) I took my son in to see a new doctor and after
5-8 minutes conversation with him, said he agreed to get his IQ tested.
He said typically children his age show narcissism, (normal for age) but
my son does not. He understood adult humor and said he was fairly
The doctor was excited to meet him and said he was happy to be on this
case. He set us up to see a child psychiatrist....psychologist??? I
forget which one, at the University of Michigan.
Apparently they're an old colleague of his. He said they would be the
best fit. I'll keep you updated. Any advice to take with me on the
appointment? Things to make sure doc is doing....
what would be considered a TRUE IQ test for his age? Things to take with
me.....things I should ask the doctor?