I last reviewed this book in November 2015. However, my perspective has changed significantly, and I wanted to revisit it.
Finding and making friends has always been really hard for me. My constant refrain as a child was “I don’t want to make new friends, I like the ones I have.” Even after an interstate move when I was ten, I tried to force my old friendships to stay the same as they had always been; I refused to make the effort to meet new people and make new friends. But, of course, that didn’t work in the long run: We grew apart, the distance made it hard to see each other, and after a while we didn’t really have much in common. I became lonely, and I resented my friends for changing – not realizing how much I, too, had changed. The problem, of course, is that friendships aren’t static – people change, move, grow apart, get into arguments… we are, after all, only human. Recognizing and accepting that was one of the hardest lessons I had to learn.
Once I entered college, I at least made an effort to make friends with my classmates, but I didn’t really know how. I had essentially been born into a friend circle, spending time with the other smart, quirky kids of the software engineers who inhabited the Silicon Valley in the late 1990s. Thus, as a small child, I didn’t have to work very hard to make new friends: I just played with the kids who got dropped off at my house, or whose house I got dropped off at. I also looked very much like the thirteen-year-old I was when I entered college, and that was likely off-putting for some of the classmates I approached and tried to talk to. As a result, the years after I moved to a small, rural, anti-intellectual community were filled with loneliness – and bewilderment, because why did I seem to be so different from the other kids at the various homeschool groups I attended? Why didn’t the other kids want to talk to me? What was wrong with me?
Writing Your Own Script, by Corin Barsily Goodwin and Mika Gustavson, MFT (co-authors of Making The Choice: When Typical School Doesn’t Fit Your Atypical Child), was the answer to those questions, and illuminated for me the efforts my mom went to for me all those years. There is nothing wrong with me. The other kids didn’t want to talk to me because I was different. I am twice-exceptional (2e) – gifted with other exceptionalities (in my case, ASD, SPD, APD, food allergies, and a variety of health complications). My brain is qualitatively and quantitatively different from those of the kids I tried to talk to – the neurotypical ones. We can even say in what ways gifted brains are different, as Corin Goodwin (one of WYOS’s authors), Sharon Duncan, Joanna Haase, and Sarah Wilson do in their Neuroscience of Giftedness article series.
Gifted brains develop differently from typical brains; and so gifted children develop differently from neurotypical children. Additionally, the more significant the deviation from the norm, the greater the gap between any two neurodivergent children. Writing Your Own Script explains why and how these differences matter, including overexcitabilities, asynchronous development, and obscure interests. Even more importantly for parents, Goodwin and Gustavson provide a guide for supporting gifted children in their social development.
Friendship for gifted children doesn’t always look like friendship between neurotypical kids. The adjective I have heard most often used to describe gifted people is intense. This applies to friendship as well. When other kids are looking for “play partners” with whom to share toys and play, gifted kids may already be seeking conversation partners; the other children may shun the “weirdo” who tries to talk to them about books, the history of fashion, or astrophysics. Finding people with whom your child can engage in those conversations can be a challenge. When I was about six, I became passionate about realistic historical reenactment. While my friends wanted to play house and be mommy and daddy, I wanted to play house and wash doll clothes by hand and have one-room schoolhouse lessons. As a result, the other kids rarely wanted to play with me – but my mom (after being rejected by several people) found a sewing teacher who could and would hold a detailed discussion of the effects of corsets on women’s physiology with a seven-year-old.
Many gifted kids find that they get along better with older kids or adults, and so develop close relationships with teachers and mentors while having few friends their own age. Alternatively, they may become good friends with another kid their age who shares their interests through online classes or summer camps, and stay in touch via email or other online platforms. These friendships are valuable, and should not be discounted; what Goodwin and Gustavson don’t touch on, though, is the sorrow kids may feel at missing out on what they may perceive as important experiences for their age: sleepovers, birthday parties, dances, and other in-person social activities. While there is little parents can do to fill in those gaps, they should recognize the validity of their child’s feelings of missing out, and provide what emotional and other support they can.
Friendship does not automatically happen just because two people with similar interests are put together, however. While many people seem to pick up on social cues intuitively, gifted kids are not “many people.” Appropriate behavior, theory of mind, and social interactions can seem a mystery or a maze of pitfalls for the gifted child, and left to their own devices, they can be their own worst enemy when trying to make friends. The parent’s role, then, is not simply to find potential friends – they may also need to act as a guide or coach, explaining the unwritten rules of social interactions and providing insight into other people’s thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.
I was born in 1996. When I moved states in 2006, most of my friends had one or two desktop computers in their house; even if they had email, they didn’t check it very often. I got my first laptop about two years later; most of my friends didn’t have those yet. Facebook was just taking off as I started college in 2009. I made a few friends online, in the FooPets discussion forums, during those years – all of them significantly older than me. Since then, I have made friends through college, grad school, and volunteering; I’ve turned 21 and can now go to bars, though mostly I just go for trivia nights (I’m terrible at most pop culture questions, but have won every Harry Potter trivia night I’ve gone to). Some of the best friends I’ve made I met through (what are supposed to be) dating apps – where I get to chat with and get to know them before meeting in person.
I started teaching for GHF Online in 2015 and became the director in 2017. I also founded my own tutoring and mentoring business, Exceeds Expectations Learning. In my work with gifted and twice-exceptional kids through these two places, I have borne witness to the enormous changes the internet has made in enabling these kids to findfriends. Many of my students exchange email addresses before the end of class; geography no longer isolates as it did when I was their age. This summer I taught a class that included students from Ontario, Canada; Maryland, U.S.; England; and China. These particular students have taken many classes with me over the last few semesters, and it has been a pure joy to watch them become friends and hear about their email exchanges.
One of the main challenges to finding friends for your gifted child (or for yourself, the gifted adult) is the feeling of looking for a specific type of needle in a haystack. Not only do you have to find a needle – another neurodivergent person – they have to be the RIGHT needle/person for a friendship to form. The internet has shrunk the world, and provided something of a search function: you can reduce the odds of finding the right people if you find the existing gifted communities. This does not make Writing Your Own Script less relevant, however. Rather, it makes it more relevant, helping you find the right people for your child and guide their social and emotional learning and growth in the way that works for them.
This post is part of the GHF August 2018 Blog Hop, The Scoop on Gifted, Homeschooling, & Education: Our Book Reviews.