Whether a child's spatial orientation is age-appropriate can be demonstrated by comparing performance on the verbal and nonverbal sections of an IQ test. If the nonverbal result is more than 10 points below the verbal result, psychomotor training is recommended. Drawings, games and sculpting can help a child learn to coordinate his movements and improve spatial orientation. This kind of training is also most effective when begun by age five or six.
If the discrepancy between verbal and nonverbal IQ tests is greater than 20 percent, family therapy should also be considered, to improve interaction among family members. During the sessions, the therapist will try to assess how the child has developed and how the testing discrepancy might have arisen. Sometimes a child with motor or orientation problems will be afraid of simple daily tasks, such as tying her shoes. She knows she will probably make mistakes and have to start over--perhaps enduring ridicule from siblings, parents or friends. If the parents try to help, they are unwittingly increasing her dependence on Mommy or Daddy. Yet if they are not around, she will quickly feel abandoned. To help the child regain her sense of independence, the therapist will try to get her to understand that failure is a normal part of life and not a catastrophe.
Child prodigies may also distort their own personalities to the point where they become unrecognizable. Psychiatrists call this the development of a false self. This problem may occur because these extraordinarily sensitive young people often feel deeply the subtle reactions of family members. As a result, they may overinterpret even the slightest sign of dissatisfaction. To please their parents, they deny their own needs and behave in a way they think matches their parents' expectations. They all but disappear behind a mask of compliance. To prevent this development of a false self, parents should offer a highly gifted child several varied activities and accept without judgment whatever the child chooses to pursue. It is important to encourage a child's special interests so that she does not lose motivation or a willingness to work.
Knowing the potential pitfalls within a child prodigy's world, and how to counter them, can significantly improve each girl and boy's chances for success with their double-edged gifts. And society will be more likely to benefit from their future contributions, whether in art, science, public service or wherever their brilliance leads them.
This article was originally published with the title Watching Prodigies for the Dark Side.