A Wrinkle in Time: A Case Study of a Gifted Family
A classic American novel, loved by bright people all over the world is a "Wrinkle in Time," by Madeleine L'Engle. It's a wonderful sci-fi/fantasy novel, about a gifted girl, and her gifted family. Like many of you, she and her family had various intensities (overexcitabilities), and neurodiverse quirks that were beautifully portrayed in the book. Maybe someone in your family can relate to Meg, the gifted, heroine of this story or one of the other characters. Additionally, if your family is anything like Meg's, everyone has overexcitabilities (intensities) that both compliment and provoke each other.
Meg and her three younger brothers aren't just any children. They are the children of two brilliant scientist/inventors. Both parents have intellectual and imaginational intensities that drive them to create and work on their scientific inventions all of the time. The father has disappeared and the mother is left to care for Meg and her brothers, while continuing her own dedicated, scientific work. The children have been IQ tested by their parents multiple times, and determined to be "more than okay".
Meg, the main character, is considered unattractive, is bullied at school and struggles academically due to her disinterest in subjects like geography and English, which she is failing. She is emotionally sensitive, stubborn and not afraid to stand up to anyone who challenges her. Under all of this, she is highly gifted in mathematics and science which is overlooked at school because of her perceived shortcomings.
Like many gifted children, Meg feels different, and believes she is stupid because she doesn’t fit in socially or academically. Meg is also the victim of a family trauma, the disappearance of her father, which heightens her emotional vulnerability.
Meg's five year old brother, Charles Wallace, is also considered to be highly intelligent. He didn't speak until the age of four, but spoke in full sentences. He is kind and very quiet. Many of the older children at school bully him and call him a baby. Meg and their other brothers get into fights standing up for him. He has an emotional intensity which makes him highly empathetic and able to connect to the feelings of others, as well as having a heightened sensory experience of the world. It is Charles Wallace's unworldly empathy and sensory awareness that ultimately saves Meg and Charles Wallace during their complex adventure.
Sandy and and Dennys are Meg's ten year old, twin brothers. Unlike Meg and Charles Wallace, they are not known for their intellect or emotional sensitivity. These two have a physical overexcitability and are athletic. Sandy and Dennys do not adventure on in the book with Meg and Charles Wallace. They stay home with their mother, and continue with their day to day lives without incident.
By the end of the story, with the support of Charles Wallace, her friend Calvin, and three magical beings, Meg learns her “faults are her gifts”. When she embraces her differences she becomes powerful and uses her gifts to help others. By the end of the story she has gained perspective, self love and respect.
If you are a gifted person, or the parent of a gifted child, you likely know this story all too well. So often, bright people struggle to fit in to the molds schools, communities and social groups have established for them. Many times I have worked with people who tell me their peers don’t understand them, school isn’t for them, and perhaps no place on earth is for them. They feel hopeless, and worthless. This doesn’t have to be the story, and in fact when they are able to embrace their strengths, like Meg, their stories change.
We all struggle with self esteem and to find our place in the world. This natural part of human development can be made more difficult when you are different and others don’t understand you, especially if you are getting the message everything about you is wrong. What if that message were to change? What if people were given the message they are accepted and are the contributors of something meaningful, instead?
A gifted person not getting their needs met, can take on many personas. They could be a shy person who withdraws from everyone and everything, a bored trouble maker, someone who shows up and checks out, lacking all motivation, or even someone who blends in and seems average because they are never challenged. With the right support, however, each one of these people could become a leader, and the hero of their own story.
As parents, we can help our children by advocating for them at school, and helping them to get their emotional and social needs met. One way to help is is to recognize your children’s strengths, and to teach them their struggles and mistakes are opportunities to learn, rather than personal failures. Because gifted people learn more quickly and are often good at many things, they may have a low tolerance for mistakes, an avoidance of trying new things and will likely feel like failures if something is difficult. Gifted people are often perfectionists, with a harsh inner critic they are dealing with that may prevent them from going outside of their comfort zone, trying new things or interacting socially. These self-critical tendencies are reinforced by teachers, coaches and peers who misunderstand them, by labeling them as lazy, trouble makers, or weird.
Seek out activities that play to their strengths, and do new activities with them to give them the support needed to try something different. When trying something new, be casual and accepting of your loved one, whatever happens. If they are shy and struggle with social situations, encourage them to do the activity with someone they know, and help them to plan an exit strategy for parties, play dates and other social situations that are anxiety provoking.
It can also be helpful to learn more about how you interact as a family. Some gifted traits family members have can both support and aggravate each other. Learning more about each other's intensities and other quirks can help in creating a warm and accepting home environment.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help from an experienced and knowledgeable professional in your area! After all, we are all in this together!
About the Author:
Christy, is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, practicing in San Diego, California. She has nearly 14 years of experience working with children, teens, parents, families, couples and individual adults with complex psychological and relationship problems. She specializes in the needs of gifted, bright and high achieving people, the LGBTQ+ community, as well as those who have suffered past trauma. Christy uses an eclectic approach, meeting the needs of whomever she is working with. Her work addresses the needs of the whole person, incorporating mind and body.