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It’s brain awareness week!

I just found out that it’s Brain Awareness Week, and brain awareness – a 21st century awareness if ever there was one – has its own Facebook page.

And just in time for BAW, a little bit of the gifted community squeaked into mainstream psychology with Allen Frances’s post entitled “Giftedness Should Not Be Confused With Mental Disorder.” Those of you who don’t know much about the politics of giftedness probably think that it would be, ahem, crazy to think that a brainy person would be confused with an insane one. However, research shows that gifted children are at a great disadvantage – they are more likely to be diagnosed with disorders they don’t have, and less likely to be diagnosed with disorders they actually do have.

The important book, Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults, by Webb et al offers a detailed analysis of how this happens, but check out Frances’s blog for Marianne Kuzujanakis’s shorthand version of why this happens. Kuzujanakis is a pediatrician and a Director of SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted), an amazing organization that is fighting for the mental health of gifted children and adults. Since by definition gifted children are a minority (depending on where you draw the line, from 1 to 10% of the population), it’s not surprising that they don’t get much attention from mainstream psychology and psychiatry.

But what attention they do get is quite shocking: Gifted children are more likely to be misdiagnosed with such disorders as ADHD, bipolar disorder, and autism because of the unusual characteristics that may accompany their giftedness. A gifted child, for example, might become belligerent when bored… and might be bored often in our modern test-obsessed educational system. Or a gifted child might exhibit what gifted psychologists call psychomotor overexcitability – in other words, the need to move around when they are intellectually stimulated. In both cases, teachers and administrators might push parents to pursue a diagnosis of pathology, when the child’s behaviors are actually indicative of a positive trait.

Recognition of the traits of gifted children is a low priority in the mental health field – few psychologists and fewer psychiatrists have any training in giftedness. It may be an even lower priority in mainstream education, where any child who acts differently from the norm might be tagged as ADHD by overstressed teachers, who, not coincidentally, are unlikely to have training in giftedness.

I have the greatest respect and appreciation for Kuzujanakis and SENG and all the others who are trying to get this message out: Different doesn’t mean wrong. Different doesn’t mean bad. Different doesn’t always have to be fixed or medicated.

During Brain Awareness Week, let’s express our appreciation and affection for all the different brains that made our world the way it is: Einstein, Ghandi, Mozart. Charles Schultz, Gary Larson, Art Spiegelman. Margaret Sanger, Emma Goldman, Louisa May Alcott. Mary Shelley, Boris Karloff, Ann Rice. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Abraham Lincoln, Socrates. Johann Sebastian Bach and his son, Felix Mendelssohn and his sister, Ann Landers and her sister. How about Steve Jobs, Hedy Lamarr, Nicolas Tesla? Heck, if we’re celebrating different brains, I’d like to include my childhood friend Sharon who knew the entire history of the British Royal Family, the entire team of men who remodeled our house and each of whom, it turned out, had diverse skills in poetry, philosophy, or art, and pretty much every homeschooler I’ve ever met.

None of us is “normal” or “typical” and the human race is stronger for this. This week, let’s give thanks for different brains.

If nothing else, be thankful that Nicolas Tesla isn’t in charge of the Federal Reserve, Emma Goldman isn’t charged with making sure our garbage gets taken out on time, and I am not in charge of enforcing brevity in blog posts…

have fun. learn stuff. grow. (And that’s from yet another different brain I know…)

Posted in Culture, Psychology.


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