The nature of adolescence is such that the brain has developed adequately to ask piercing questions but life experience and wisdom lag in their ability to provide answers. With the gifted adolescent, the overlay of existential concerns can raise stress levels and compound the intensity of the questions bubbling up in their consciousness.
It is a challenge often overlooked by educators, who view such concerns as off topic or, worse, attempts to change the subject. Unless your gifted teen is in an accelerated program, such treatment cuts to the core of self-confidence. Your child wonders why he or she is the only person pondering such concerns as life after death, causality in the universe, the nature of meaning, and the very purpose of life. Even in supportive academic environments, oftentimes the gifted adolescent struggles quietly to make peace with existential concerns that apparently are of no significance to other classmates.
When your adolescent is also at the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, which we used to refer to diagnostically as Asperger’s syndrome, the angst and alienation can remain locked inside to an even greater extent. They manifest in withdrawn behavior, preference for solitude, and intense acting out in frustration.
Often, working with a counselor who understands the nature and implications of intellectual giftedness as well as autism is a tremendous gift you can give your adolescent. There may be initial resistance to such a suggestion, but if you approach it in a matter-of-fact manner, you may be able to convince your adolescent that seeking such help is not an indication that there is any underlying pathology.
After all, you hire a CPA to manage your books and a gardener to maintain your flowerbeds. It is simply a matter of enlisting the assistance of an expert for assistance in an area in which one has no personal expertise.
If you are looking for a therapist for your child, be certain to ask about the therapist’s experience with and understanding of the combination of intellectual giftedness and high-functioning autism. It may be a challenge to locate such a specialist in your area, because this is a narrow clinical specialty.
However, if you select a therapist who is not aware of the nature of this combination, you are at risk for setting your child up for a disappointing experience which may result in the choice of refusing any further attempts at working with a therapist— or the sentiment, “all therapists are the same, and they don’t understand me any better than my teachers do.”
The therapist directory on GoodTherapy.org is a good place to start. Also, ask your school counselor if there are any therapists whom they can recommend. Parents of other gifted teens might also know of someone who could be helpful to you.
Take your time. It is better to wait until you find the right therapist than it would be to risk an encounter that leaves your teen feeling that not even the world of psychotherapy understands his or her experience in this world.
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