Giftedness and Mental Health: How to Find a Professional That Can Help

Sometimes trying to differentiate between giftedness and mental health diagnoses and/or learning disabilities can be remarkably difficult. Just like the milestones in baby books, things can get a little more complicated when giftedness is taken into consideration, or, more often, when it is not. So, how is it possible to tell if your child has adhd, high-functioning autism, bipolar disorder etc. or if the symptoms they’re displaying are a result of giftedness, lack of accommodation and/or environmental factors? How do you find a medical professional that will take their giftedness into account? One who will look at your child holistically and provide a thorough and complete consideration of their needs – and take a detailed case history that will be comprehensive enough to provide the thorough differential diagnostic process that your child requires? The answer starts with you and self-education. When it comes to your child you really are the expert.

Before you refer your child for a mental health assessment it’s thoroughly recommended that you read James Webb’s book Misdiagnosis and dual diagnoses of gifted children and adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger’s, depression, and other disorders. This book takes Webb’s many years of experience of working with gifted individuals within the field of psychology, and packages it all into one book that is both accessible and indispensable for anyone with a gifted child who is going to be assessed within the mental health system.

Also, think about your child in light of endogenous and exogenous factors. What would you describe as their natural state, without external influences? How do they behave in different environments and situations? How were they prior to starting school, for example? Could their irritability and uncontrolled outbursts be a result of anxiety, rather than simply defiance? Their impulsiveness due to boredom? Or could their social problems be a result of their giftedness interfering with their ability to relate well with kids who are the same age as them? Together, with your mental health professional, questions like these are ones that are important to consider. A gifted child’s interpretation and reaction to the world is often very different to same-age peers.

If you are more desperate for help, or just want to know some quick suggestions for how to find a professional who will work well with you and your family, you may find this leaflet, written by SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted), of use. It outlines the questions you should ask any health professional who is going to work with your child. And this interview with James Webb is also packed full of information.

Most importantly, acknowledge that this is an area where medical professionals may not have a wealth of knowledge. However, as is the case with advocating for your child at school, self-education will empower you to find a mental health professional who will work with you to provide the best possible support for your child.

For further information in this area, also see the page ‘misdiagnosis and dual-diagnosis of the gifted‘ and its associated links.