Gifted Kids, Rainforest Minds — Still Misunderstood After All These Years

photo courtesy of London Scout, Unsplash, CC
photo courtesy of London Scout, Unsplash, CC

Way back in the later 1970’s, I was teaching in public schools in N. America and feeling the heat of the Does-Giftedness-Matter-Debate.

You know what I’m talkin’ about.

I remember the superintendent at the time saying: “There are no gifted children in our district.” Really? None? Oh boy. But schools in Pennsylvania were mandated to identify their gifted children and meet their needs. In spite of the superintendent, gifted children were, in fact, found. I had the fabulous job of teaching them.

But there was controversy. Discomfort. Misunderstanding. Defensiveness. Anger. Hurt. Bullying. Sadness. Frustration.

And, after about 35 years, there still is. Controversy. Discomfort. Misunderstanding. Defensiveness. Anger. Hurt. Bullying, Sadness. Frustration.

A big concern is this: If some kids are gifted, then others are not. If some children are included in a gifted program in school, others are left out. And being excluded hurts. We want all of our kids to feel special and cherished.

This has been a conundrum for all of the years that I’ve been in the field.

But why label people at all? Why determine that some are gifted? Why not say that we’re all the same? All equal?

Here’s the thing.

We’re not all the same. And isn’t that grand? We have different strengths and weaknesses. Different skills and abilities. Different sizes, shapes and colors. Different beliefs and values. Different languages and religions.

But we’re all equally human. We all deserve respect, compassion, love and opportunity. To be special and cherished.

And: We all know children who are faster and deeper learners, thinkers and feelers. Kids who learn to read when we’re not looking. Who know things we’ve never taught them. Who correct our errors. Who feel our pain. Who perceive sounds or sights or textures or emotions or tastes or intuitions or patterns that the rest of us miss. Who ask questions we can’t answer. Who are wiser than we are.

What do we do with those kids?

Because their particular differences mean that regular schooling may not work very well. That the usual parenting and teaching methods may fail. That some normal life experiences may be overwhelming or disturbing or confusing or devastating.

What do we do with those kids?

First: We all need to calm down. Second: We agree on what’s obvious. That we love all of our children and want the best for them. Third: We use my people-as-ecosystems model to explain their differences and similarities. Then we celebrate all of our kids and determine what they need to thrive. Maybe they have meadow minds, desert minds, river minds or rainforest minds. All of these minds are valuable and beautiful. One mind isn’t better than another. We determine what each of them need to thrive and we give it to them.

And last: We appreciate those intense, complex, super-sensitive rainforest (also known as gifted) minds. We stop cutting them down. We let them do what they’re here to do. Be who they’re here to be.

We will all breathe easier.


To my bloggEEs: Thank you so much for your support! Let us know what you think of the label “gifted” and how you think we can resolve the controversy.













Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

23 responses to “Gifted Kids, Rainforest Minds — Still Misunderstood After All These Years”

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  1. How I Ignored My Impostor Syndrome to Create a Career Working with Smart People – YOUR RAINFOREST MIND

    […] “What’s a gifted child?” Obviously, I wasn’t one. But I ended up in a job teaching gifted kids in a pullout program in a new middle school in a different state. I had freedom to design the […]

  2. EwaB Avatar

    I never understand why it is such a difference between gifted mentally/intelectually/emotionally and physically. If you are good at a certain sport it gets stimulated, nobody even thinks about bullying the start atlete.
    Over here in the Netherlands kids of 11 years old get scouted for soccer and go to special schools where 50% of the time is soccer and 50% is real teaching. That those kids if they dont make it in soccer have no real education isnt important clearly because the schooling is a joke. but they do learn how to kick a ball.
    Why is giving the smart kids the same special treatment unfair? I think 90% of the dutch boys would love a school that was 50% sports and 50% school. and most girls to?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Such an important question. I wonder if there’s anywhere in the world where intellectually gifted children are understood, appreciated and get their academic needs met. It is confounding to me how so many people worship athletes and their elitism! Thanks for sharing EwaB.

  3. rootedgypsysite Avatar

    Thank you. I have found parenting a child that falls into this grouping is surprisingly isolating and people are so apt to treat it like a unicorn…as if it’s something some people imagine but does not truely exist.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Interesting, your unicorn experience. I’d never heard that but it makes sense. So isolating. Thank you for sharing, rootedgypsysite!

  4. Your Gifted Child And School — Ten Suggestions For Parents | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] — Explain to your child what it means to have a rainforest mind. […]

  5. Linkables  – The Questing Child

    […] Still misunderstood […]

  6. Homeschooling2e Avatar

    I love the rainforest term/analogy because it’s positive without being critical of others, and not as clinical or negative as the term asynchronous. I dislike the label gifted mostly because of the kneejerk response that it gets from others. Any replacement term faces an uphill battle though 🙁

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I imagine that the word “gifted” will still be the term most used. But maybe more and more people will use the rainforest analogy as a way to understand what gifted means. Thank you for writing!

  7. FredB Avatar

    A story to read for these times is Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut. He wrote that story in 1961.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Ah, yes. That’s a good one. Thanks FredB.

  8. Jade Rivera Avatar
    Jade Rivera

    As a person who works with gifted/2e children I sometimes need to be reminded of why I ever started. The work is controversial as you state, and sometimes the odds seem insurmountable. Your post was a good reminder. Thank you. <3

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Jade. Keep on doing your wonderful work. You’re making a difference for many kids!

  9. Robin Henry Avatar
    Robin Henry

    Thank you for posting this. It has always been a mystery to me why most people can accept that there are gifted athletes who are faster, stronger, or can jump higher than the rest of us, but it is not okay for people to be smarter than other people. I don’t get it, but reading your blog has helped validate my thoughts and feelings so that I don’t feel like I am the only one who sees the problem.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, Robin. You’re not alone. Thanks for being here.

  10. Antarmukhi Avatar

    Hey Paula, thank you for the post & the posts. I am working with two gifted kids & possibly 4 rainforest adults. All came for therapeutic services for other difficulties. Who would have thought I would meet so many of them! It’s been a privilege & a huge learning! I live in a country & city where mental health help is unregulated & full of poor expertise. So all the things you mentioned just are so rampant. sometimes it’s very discouraging. It’s only due to learning more about it is helping me identify the gifted & help parents to view them differently. My work is just a drop in the ocean. It’s easier to identify children as gifted, adults are a far cry. For me this blog, books are an ecosystem. The only way I can bring awareness.. I am hoping I can help build an ecosystem here itself that is sustainable & may be children & adults won’t just wither away for the want of being seen for who they are..

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I bet that you’re doing great work, Antarmukhi. I’m so happy to be able to help in some small way. Thank you for sharing your experiences here. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you.

  11. KtCallista Avatar

    Thank you! With school starting and the OATAG conference coming up education is the forefront of my mind. This year my oldest is starting an all gifted program for 90% of her day (she still has band and PE with the general population) she couldn’t be happier! This is the happiest she’s been since we moved away from our charter school. My other two I had to pull from public school. I just couldn’t let the school continue to damage them. Especially my 1st grader who lost his love of learning AND all of his math skills over the school year. . . 2 days into homeschooling and he’s adamant he needs to learn to multiply (his skills in addition and subtraction aren’t up to learning it, but I’m so happy he wants to now).

    I’m taking a lot of flack for our education decisions – that they won’t know how to deal with “stupid people.” and that by catering to their educational needs I’m pampering them. That someday they’ll have to integrate into the regular workforce in an office somewhere, but the thing is I never have. I’ve never needed to dumb down myself for my job – I may have slacked off on a few, but never was I forced to. Here’s hoping that their forests flourish this year after 2 years of onslaught from unaware educators who saw little need to differentiate. ( I know I wish I’d had the option )

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I really have trouble with those arguments about not knowing how to deal with “stupid people” or integrate into the regular workforce. When kids get an appropriate education, it allows them to maintain a positive sense of self which supports their ability to be compassionate and creative with others in multiple situations. I get the argument that kids need to deal with adversity to build their resilience and self-confidence. But not the daily adversity of an inappropriate education. Thanks for sharing!

  12. telperion1214 Avatar

    Of course we are all given different sets of gifts, and that is as it should be!

    I am still encountering this on a regular basis as an older adult. I recently entered two items into the State Fair textiles competition. Both of them had points taken away because of things I intended, things I chose deliberately as artistic elements. That is so funny to me!

    What continues to help me is to find ways to take life less seriously, to have a bit of detachment in my approach, and to learn something from each encounter. I cannot always do it in the immediate moment, but eventually I do. With the State Fair entries, it made me smile right away. I got lucky there!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Sounds like your artistic elements were misunderstood. Sounds like great advice: taking ourselves less seriously! Good to hear from you!

  13. Mary Ann Hawke Avatar
    Mary Ann Hawke

    Bravo Paula! Thanks for providing such an innovative way of conveying the concept of “giftedness” through your ecosystem model. There was an article published Sunday in the San Diego Union Tribune about our school district’s GATE identification policy and it had quotes from district administrators and a long-standing Board of Education trustee, who said things like “intelligence is malleable and not a fixed trait” and “It is more important to educate and challenge every child than it is to categorize them or segregate them”. Sigh. I’m sending them a copy of your post!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Great, Mary Ann. I hope it helps. Thanks!

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