Can You Successfully Treat Sensory Issues in Gifted Kids?


The short answer is:  Yes, sort of.

The long answer is that without understanding the source of the sensory issues as a brain difference instead of a brain disorder, you will not make the gifted child’s functioning better, and you could contribute to lowered self-confidence and performance.

Gifted individuals process their world slightly differently than other people.  Their brains process sensation and thought differently.  Not necessarily dysfunctionally, unless they are twice exceptional.  The classic example would be the gifted person who also has ADHD.  Their distractibility to sound or complex visual input is more likely to be related to their ADHD than their giftedness.

The gifted brain notices more information, and processes more information more quickly.  Connections are made at lightening speed and are more complex.  The harsh overhead lighting in a classroom may still irritate a non-gifted child, but they don’t have the bandwidth for it to register at the same intensity.  They will not perceive the effect of squinting or visual fatigue on their focus or enjoyment in class.   Like a tiny pebble in a shoe, the gifted child will be more likely to notice that a tune is off-key or a tennis racket is poorly strung by the tone made when the ball hits the strings.


What can be done?

The same sensory modulation strategies we use for children with other neurological differences in occupational therapy can make a difference.  Gifted children can learn about their brain difference and apply daily living adaptations and management principles independently at a level beyond their chronological age.  They will not be “cured” because their brain will always be wired this way.  This is an issue that is managed, not fixed.  That means that progress is measured in successful adaptation more than eradication.

Gifted kids need to hear that they are not “too sensitive” or “too active”, and know that their difference is not a negative.  They already know that they are different in some ways from their peers.  Developing a sense of pride and confidence is important for all children, including the gifted child.

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This means educating parents and teachers as well.  And that means dealing with the entrenched stigma surrounding giftedness.

A few words about stigma:  There is a great deal of stigma attached to giftedness.

Resisting the idea that some people are gifted by saying “Everyone has gifts” minimizes the true needs and measurable abilities of the gifted.  Thinking that being gifted means having no needs at all is a veiled attack on gifted people.  Assuming that gifted people believe they are better, more entitled people because of their abilities is another veiled attack mode.  Anyone that is 2 standard deviations from the mean on any test is exceptional.  Being on either side of the bell curve tells us that this person has needs.


By Cathy Collyer

I am a licensed occupational therapist, licensed massage therapist, and certified CBT-i sleep coach in private practice in the NYC area. I have over 25 years of professional experience in adult and pediatric treatment. It has been a joy to help people of all ages improve their ability to grow and thrive! Occupational therapists are focused on enhancing a client's functioning in everyday life. We are practical healthcare providers, interested in teaching, adapting actions and environments, and building a client's useful skills for living their best life, regardless of their challenges. I am the author of five books, including "Staying In The Room: Managing Medical And Dental Care When You Have DID" and "The Practical Guide To Toilet Training the Autistic Child". I lecture on many subjects, including sleep, trauma, and development. Contact me to learn more about how I can help you achieve YOUR goals!

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