Growing up gifted in Ireland

SpunOutter Clara speaks of her experience of growing up as a gifted teen in Ireland.

Written by Clara Barry


As a gifted teen growing up in Ireland it has always annoyed me that there was no online information about growing up gifted in Ireland. From the perspective of a gifted teen in the same situation, there was no information from anyone that I could relate to. I still remember when I was fourteen going through intelligence testing and just wishing that I could have more information about the effects being gifted would actually have on my life if it came back that I was gifted.

I would have had a better idea of what it actually had the power to change in relation to my mental health, the likelihood that I would experience bullying in my life and my perspective on the world in general if had actually found someone or somewhere online where I could ask someone my own age who was going through the same thing. So, in the spirit of activism and empowerment SpunOut implies, I've decided to change it and write an article about what it's actually like to be young and exceptionally able in this country.

Being a teenager is not an easy task, probably the most misunderstood qroup of people there is, but growing up gifted is perhaps even more of a challenge. As a general rule gifted teens are exactly the same as everyone else and we're contented, perfectly run of the mill people. Sadly it's certainly not the case for all of us. Social isolation is a major problem for many of us – it's difficult to connect with ordinary peers because our interests are often very different, there's little common ground. The things I'm deeply passionate about, the jokes I understand and the way my mind processes thoughts are all wildly in contrast to the majority of my classmates for example.

Pressure from parents and teachers to achieve is quite possibly the most real issue for gifted teens though, right here and now I am dispelling the myth that all exceptionally able teens are high achievers. Bogus! Lies! Not true. Not one bit. Intelligence is not measured by exam results, no matter what the Irish education system tries to tell us.

Another challenge is that due to the fact that we tend to understand concepts faster then our peers it's common to be bored in class, it leads to many gifted teens becoming disruptive in a classroom setting and in some cases misdiagnosis of conditions such as ADHD and Asppergers. Even more acute an issue is the fact that it is possible for teens to be "twice exceptional"  ie. to have a learning disability as well as being gifted.

The fact that these teens are gifted is very often ignored in the Irish education system and they can feel frustrated because special educational resources are provided for them to assist them with any difficulties they face in the classroom as a result of their learning disability but there are no resources provided in relation to their giftedness.

Irritation regarding the lack of resources for gifted teens is not exclusive to the twice exceptional. In fact the majority of people like myself call for giftedness to be recognised in legislation as a special educational need and for resources to be allocated to gifted teens.  

Bullying is a major problem for teens like myself and I have no honest answer why. I experienced bullying in two of the three schools I've attended and many of my friends who are also classed as gifted have similar stories to mine. I've heard stories I couldn't repeat about disgusting acts of physical and verbal abuse towards gifted teens, simply because they have an elevated intelligence level. It's heartbreaking, it's really not acceptable. If you are being bullied (gifted or not!) please seek help.

My way of dealing with the challenges I faced was to use the only palpable resource available to gifted teens in this country, in fact that's what the intelligence testing was all about – I went to CTYI (Centre for Talented Youth Ireland). If you just so happen to be a gifted teen or a teen who thinks they might be gifted you should know about CTYI.

It's a camp for young people with "exceptional academic ability", you can attend residentially or commute to campus, and you attend college style courses in subjects not seen in second – level education, eg. Japanese, law and behavioural psychology, on the DCU campus for three weeks in late June to early July (Session 1) or mid July to early August (Session 2).

I didn't know it when I stepped onto campus that first day but CTYI became the one place in the world I could really express myself and be who I wanted to be. It was -and still is!- filled with wondeful, caring intellectuals who taught me that I can be confident, I can have people skills and I don't have to hide who I am to fit in the real world. Gone were the days where I would cower away from social interaction, prefering to be alone with a book in my own mind.

It helped me to get over any social anxiety I had. I still have the amazing friends I met my first day and I make more every summer I return. My new found confidence meant I returned to school and got a million times closer to the group of friends I was developing at the time. I became happy and I have CTYI to thank for that. It became my second home, my homeland and my safe place (where I think about if I'm feeling low) for the 50 weeks of the year I'm not there. This summer will be my third on campus.

I think you'll see the importance now of a place like CTYI, where gifted teens have a place to go and be with people who are experiencing the same daily challenges, where we can go and be completely ourselves. Where we can go and embrace our beloved traditions and friends – most of all though, CTYI is a place of complete acceptance. Sadly, no government funding is provided for CTYI and they rely on public donations to provide any necessary financial aid to students who wish to attend the programme but can't afford the expense.

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