Minding the Details: Attentional Issues and the Exceptionally Gifted Child

Living in the world as an exceptionally gifted individual can sometimes be a little tricky. There are adults/children who have been identified as gifted who in fact have issues relating to attention.

There is talk about attention – is the child attending to the demands of the immediate environment? There is talk about will power: is the child focusing on the tasks at hand with determination and intention? Before we make assumptions about what our children are paying attention to (and what is motivating them) we might consider the way exceptionally gifted people take in stimuli.

At any given time, our kids (we) may be responding to:

  1. actual stimuli,

  2. stimuli evoked from affective memory,

  3. and prospective stimuli (looking ahead to aims, ideals and future development yet to be accomplished).

Their rich inner worlds are awash in responses to (seemingly) neutral stimuli. In fact there is VERY little neutral stimuli in the perceptual set of the very gifted.

These issues manifest as troubles with sustained focus and spotty attention to task, that precludes productivity.

Regardless of their innate and idiosyncratic gifted style they also have attention troubles.


This does not necessarily mean they have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

They might.

But they also may be in the throes of a complex anxiety arc fed by under-stimulation and over-stimulation, in uneven measure. Sometimes the world they live in is grossly inadequate to feed their hungry mind and heart. Sometimes their inner world is so rife with ideas and feelings – unfed and unexpressed – that they are felled, psychologically clear-cut.

This extreme lack of fit, intellectually, socially, or emotionally, can be disastrous and severely interfere with their capacity for attention.

This begs for a nuanced and differential diagnosis, and a valid treatment plan based on broader, in-depth understanding of the complexity inherent in mental health for gifted individuals.

It requires a commitment to teasing out the multiple layers inherent in any person’s psychology, and a readiness to take a hard look at the contexts they inhabit.

“Our intelligence cannot wall itself up alive, like a pupa in a chrysalis. It must at any cost keep on speaking terms with the universe that engendered it.” William James 'A Pluralistic Universe'

About the Author: P. Susan Jackson, Founder of The Daimon Institute for the Highly Gifted in White Rock, British Columbia, Canada. This international institute offers service to highly and profoundly gifted children and adults, supporting the learning needs and overall development of this exceptional population. Her clinical work spans 25 years, comprising over 40,000 hours of psychotherapy wholly with this exceptional population. She is the author of numerous articles and chapters in the gifted education literature. Her Integral Practice for the Gifted™  model addresses multiple aspects of human functioning – cognitive, emotional, spiritual, physical, and talent-based dimensions – and explains how advanced cognition influences all these elements, the Self, and the expression of talent. In 2010, she produced a short documentary entitled “Exceptionally Gifted Children”, which she received wide acclaim internationally.  In 2013-2014, the Daimon Institute produced “Rise:  The Extraordinary Story of the Exceptionally Gifted” – a 60-minute film on the lives of 12 exceptionally and profoundly gifted persons from all over the globe. Sue served as the Chair of the Parents and Curriculum Networks Communications Committee and Counseling and Guidance Network (National Association to Support Gifted Children), and is a member of the advisory board for SENG.  She is recognized as an international expert in the field of the Exceptionally and Profoundly Gifted and regularly presents with other leading experts at the international conferences. She is a (nascent) photographer, poet, and nature lover with a passionate interest in advanced development, optimal health and well-being for the Profoundly Gifted populace