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Gifted and Vague

By Lesley K Sword,
Director, Gifted & Creative Services Australia Pty Ltd

Recently a friend who works with gifted children came to visit. He started telling us about the children he works with but soon the conversation switched to himself. His boss has been complaining about his perceived lack of organisation. She is very neat and tidy, plans her day in detail and has a place for everything. She says that he is vague and often appears not “with it”. This struck a chord in me and has prompted me to share some observations from my own experience and from my work with gifted adolescents and adults.

I have always been “vague”. I am now over 50 and my mother still tells stories of how I always lost my coat when I was young: she was forever finding it or replacing it. My husband complains that “for someone so intelligent, how come I have to tell you things so many times?” At a recent course I listened intently to the teacher explaining the group task, only to form my group and say ”what was it he told us to do?”

If you are the parent or teacher of a gifted child, does this sound familiar? Are you frustrated beyond belief by an extremely intelligent child who has difficulty with the practical things of life and who often seems to be somewhere else? Have you ever wondered what is going on with these children?

It seems that vagueness is associated with extremely high intelligence and an introverted personality type. The nature of introversion is that people with this personality type process the world and what is happening in it through themselves and their own experience.  This is rather like having a large 3 dimensional theoretical framework of  who I am and my personal life experience in my head. Everything I experience in the world outside myself is taken in and compared and contrasted with what I already know and have experienced. If it has a logical and meaningful place in my framework I slot it in. If it doesn’t, I play around intellectually with it and my framework; adjusting or altering both the experience and the framework to make the experience meaningful to me and to preserve the integrity of my framework. This way of operating necessitates withdrawal from the world into myself for however long the process takes. While the process is occurring I simply do not take in further information from the outside world. So I appear vague and "not with it" for a period of time.

For people who have an introverted way of operating, the world inside their heads is often more interesting than the world outside. This is particularly so if they have very high intelligence.

Once an idea occurs to me or if a problem presents itself, I will play around with it in my head, making connections, trying to figure it out. Often this process occurs unconsciously and I am not aware of it. It is not until the answer pops out that I realise that part of me has been inside working on it. Of course, if what is being presented to me in the outside world is not intellectually stimulating and therefore boring, I will withdraw, again often unconsciously, into my head and provide my own intellectual challenge.

Also I am inclined to concentrate on or put effort into only those things that I decide are important. And what is going on in my head is always important to me!

Of course, this behaviour is frustrating for people who have to interact with me.

So, what can you as a parent or teacher do about it?

The first thing is to realise that we don’t grow out of it. I have been vague all my life and I am still vague. However this hasn’t stopped me from working productively for over 30 years and completing many formal courses of study. It is pointless to tell us to grow up, pull ourselves together or to exercise more self-control.   If we could, we would.

Teach us organisational skills, as habits, from a very early age. After all we have the intellectual capacity to handle this. An example is that I have trained myself always to put my car keys and my purse in the same place at home to avoid driving all the people in the house crazy looking for them. Similarly, I prepare at night for the following day to ensure that I have everything I need for the day and to minimise forgetfulness. These behaviours are now habitual and I perform them without thinking about them.

When you want our attention, touch us on the shoulder and ensure that we make eye contact with you before you speak to us. In this way we will actually hear what you have said. If it is important to you that we do something, tell us so. Usually we are considerate of others and will want to please.

Above all, understand that vagueness is usually an unconscious process and that we are not going out of our way to drive you mad. At the same time do not "rescue" us from the results of the vagueness. If we forget to pick up after ourselves, don't do it for us. If we go to class without something, let us experience the consequences of our actions. We are very intelligent people and it won't take long for us to learn that we are responsible for ourselves.

Copyright Lesley K Sword
Gifted and Creative Services Australia Pty Ltd
www.giftedservices.com.au

Thanks to Gifted & Creative Services Austrailia for allowing us to reproduce this article.

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