The “On” Switch : Intellectual Intensity

I wrote recently about seeing my son on, and thought I’d follow up with a post of what I meant. How can I tell when my gifted child is on? And why do I care?

Here are some telltale signs: my child  intensely talking about a particular subject, with attention to every detail, and continually wanting to discuss a specific issue, or idea. Pacing around the family room as s/he talks about it (we have a well-worn carpet area around our coffee table.) The excitement that comes with realizing that they’ve found something that speaks to them, that sings to them, a brilliant light that pours dark chocolate over their soul (OK, maybe the chocolate part is just me.)

It’s a thing of pure beauty to witness, a gifted person being on. It’s pure intellectual intensity.

I know these moments come around maybe once a day if we’re lucky. The rest of life is a bran muffin, a tofu salad, or an apple. Necessary, to be sure – and what doctor doesn’t love a good apple – but not the spark and ignition of the “on” switch.

It’s also demoralizing for me to see them NOT on for several days – or even more sadly – months. It sort of creeps up on me if I’m not careful, thinking back to the last time I saw them really excited, with that sparkle in their eye, talking as fast as they can to me about their idea, or realization, or what they just learned.  Initially, I start to make excuses in my mind: they’ve got a lot going on; it’s the middle of winter; or they’ve been fighting with their siblings.

Eventually, though, I have to accept that fact that they are, indeed, off.

Why do I care?

E had a year of school a few years back where she turned off about 4 months into the school year. She was happy on the surface, not complaining, and going to school. She was already in a full-time gifted program, plus a year of additional acceleration, so we thought we had a great plan for the year. She was probably where she needed to be at the beginning of the school year, but we missed the change partway through. She started to disengage and eventually tuned out. By the time we met with the teacher later in the year, the damage was done. E wasn’t interested in her schoolwork or learning new things. She still performed well in school, but she didn’t grow. She was content to read the same books over and over, and play video games.

Her switch had turned off. And so had her intellectual intensity.

Dave and I poured an enormous amount of energy that summer into getting her reengaged. We pushed her intellectually to try things, learn about topics she was interested in, and nurtured her intensities. She loved it, especially having one-on-one time with Dave to discuss all of her intellectual questions. We were ultimately successful in getting her switched back on by mid-summer.  She was the E we knew again, intellectually intense, bright-eyed and curious, making balled fists and pacing around the coffee table more often when she was excited. Her other intensities were more heightened, too.

During our discussions with E, I realized that I had personally been off for a while, too,  in my professional position. I had been practicing as an outpatient physician for about 10 years, and things were enjoyable and routine. Intellectually, though, there wasn’t much challenge from day-to-day. I made a decision to move a practice with more complex patients – more intellectually interesting – and which also allowed for more flexibility.

Why do I care? Dave and I have both, as gifted children and adults, been off before, and we didn’t want that life for any of us. We both know how it feels: empty, hollow, and shallow. We wanted to create a life where intensities, including intellectual intensity, could be given space to grow.

So that’s how we came to where we are today. We’ve had to let go of some things that were honestly not that important to begin with in order to get to this place. We’re all happier as a result, and our basket of intensities is growing and blossoming. It’s an incredible amount of work, but it pales in comparison to the amount of energy it would take to hoist all those intellectual intensity switches from off to on every time.

One response to this post.

  1. Your story touched me as we have experienced this as well. Thank you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: