Gifted Adolescents: Challenges and Opportunities for Connection, Meaning and Purpose

Gifted adolescents don't always have the easiest time finding each other. That's why Marei Pryde, a gifted adolescent in Canada, has started an InterGifted Adolescents Community. In this interview, Marei shares with us why she started the community and answers our questions about the unique challenges and opportunities of gifted youth of today. Read as she discusses how the neurodiversity movement has helped provide hope, inspiration and positive change for gifted youth, and how gifted adolescents are finding meaning and connection in the climate emergency. 

An interview with Marei Pryde

How did you become interested in leading the InterGifted Adolescents Community? 

I wanted to find a space where I could interact with other adolescents that were going through the same unique struggles that I was going through - not feeling like they fit in with any particular group, and feeling as though they stand out from others due to perhaps advanced ways of thinking and different ways of experiencing the world. My mom has been a part of the InterGifted community for many years and would often talk about her connections with other gifted people - the types of conversations that made me feel like I really wanted connections like that as well.

Gifted adolescents seem to be few and far between (in my experience anyway, as I was not a part of any gifted programs in school), and creating a space that is solely for us made me excited. There is opportunity for everyone to really speak in depth about things that they care about without judgement from people that may not think as deeply or broadly.

How do gifted adolescents find a sense of connection and authentic belonging at this time? What are the obstacles? What are the unique opportunities?

For me, I find connection and authentic belonging within my subjects of interest. For instance, I’m deeply interested in literature, and will attempt to connect with people who have this same interest. The challenge, or obstacle, is that gifted people are few and far between. It's easy to find subjects that interest us, but it can be difficult to find peers who not only have the same interests but also feel as deeply as we do about them. It can be quite lonely and disconnecting for me when I read a book on a specific topic and have no one to talk to about it, or find a topic that is incredibly interesting to me but not to anyone else.

Fortunately with social media, I have had some opportunity to connect with others who have similar interests and speak about certain books or authors. I think social media and online platforms offer gifted people (who are often rare in our schools and communities) a unique opportunity to connect in meaningful ways and find a sense of belonging. In these spaces we can connect with each other around our deep interests, talk about fields of study in ways we often don’t get to, and even make broader connections between these subjects and the real world. I also feel it would be really valuable to be able to connect with gifted peers to talk about some of the unique challenges and opportunities of giftedness. Personally, I think I would learn a lot more about giftedness and my own way of thinking and experiencing the world. That, too, is an important part of authentic belonging.

What do you suggest for gifted teens struggling to find connection and meaning?

Firstly, I think it’s important for gifted adolescents to develop self-awareness. What I mean by this is getting to know giftedness and the full spectrum of what it is, as well as what giftedness is for yourself. I have a couple of peers who I suspect are gifted yet have not been identified, and they are really struggling with their lives, especially emotionally and existentially. Fully understanding giftedness and its meaning for you personally can help you better understand how your mind works and how to make the best decisions for your life. One aspect I have found important for fully understanding giftedness is understanding it within the context of neurodiversity. Giftedness does not necessarily mean that you are academically advanced; there are a lot of emotional needs and struggles that gifted people have, such as anxiety and depression, as well as even other exceptionalities such as autism or dyslexia. This kind of self-awareness is really helpful for being able to find authentic connection and meaning.

Once you have a better understanding of giftedness, it’s a bit easier to recognize that there is always going to be some level of disconnect between your mind as a kind of minority and non-gifted minds. This doesn’t really help you feel more connected, but it does help with realizing that there isn’t anything wrong with you. In this way, understanding what doesn’t work for you can also help you better understand what does work for you when it comes to connecting with others. I’ll borrow a metaphor from one of my favorite TV shows, Friends, to explain this. It’s like your whole life, you think you’re a shoe - you’re told you’re a shoe, taught how to be a shoe, and interact with other shoes. And then one day, through understanding giftedness better, you discover you’re actually a hat! Even though hats are not as common as shoes, it’s much easier to recognize and connect with other hats when you’re not trying to be a shoe.

How are you experiencing the impact of the climate emergency? Is this similar or different to what you see for other gifted peers? If so, how?

The impact of the climate emergency makes me feel extremely anxious and unsettled, as the future of life on our planet is called into question. Earth to me is starting to feel like a ticking time bomb, and I feel very pressured to create changes in the world because of the things that generations before us have caused. At the same time, it is deeply upsetting that people in positions of power today are in denial about this emergency and that so many people disregard it because they either believe there isn’t a problem or that they won’t be around to see the more serious effects of the climate emergency so it therefore doesn’t matter. How can people not see what is happening?

Something that is very hopeful for me is seeing gifted peers like Greta Thunberg use their voice and passion to protest and spread awareness about the climate emergency in peaceful, yet articulate and tenacious ways. I believe that having a space like InterGifted where gifted adolescents from around the world could come together around topics like the climate emergency and share feelings and ideas could be very powerful for working through the anxiety and upset and maybe even finding ways to create change.

Where and how do you and your peers find a sense of meaning and purpose - especially in the face of the climate emergency?

I feel as though the climate emergency itself is giving us a sense of meaning and purpose. My peers and I have a cause for change, and we can passionately inform others in order to work together for a better future - one that embraces biodiversity and interconnectedness. Aside from this, because I’ve not had the opportunity to really connect with many gifted peers, I can only speak for myself in saying that I feel like I’m still looking for a sense of purpose. I find great meaning and inspiration in stories about people in minority groups embracing their uniqueness and overcoming adversity. Autobiographies such as John Elder Robison’s Look Me in the Eye as well as in fictional accounts like Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse are a couple of my favorites. I also love biographical films like Bohemian Rhapsody that exhibit the same themes. In September, I will be attending university at a small liberal arts school to study psychology as a way of finding my greater purpose and weaving together the ideas and themes that inspire me. I also hope that the gifted adolescent community in InterGifted will be an opportunity to further explore where and how my peers find a sense of meaning and purpose.

What is it that gifted teens today can uniquely contribute to their communities, online and offline (that perhaps was not the case for previous generations)?

More and more now, diverse minds are being recognised for their innovative way of looking at the world and creating the changes needed to make it a more inclusive, sustainable place. To the extent that communities are open to their ideas and ways of seeing things, gifted teens are in a unique position to make contributions. My generation of gifted teens in particular has access to other neurodiverse minds and their unique ideas and contributions due to technology and social media use. As I mentioned earlier, Greta Thunberg’s work and message is an excellent model of how a gifted person can use their strengths and passion in a positive way. Gifted teens can use these models as ways of taking their own strengths and passion(s) and sharing those online through social media or offline in their communities.

At the same time, I feel it’s important that gifted people not feel obligated or pressured to make a significant contribution or change to society. The term “gifted” can often lead parents, teachers, and other adults to put pressure on young gifted people because it’s seen as something special and ‘special people should be doing special things’. I feel very strongly that all people should be able to find and live a life that is meaningful for them and brings them happiness however they define those things for themselves.

Where and how do you wish you could have more (or a different kind of) guidance and support from the adults in your world?

I wish that there were more adults that understood neurodiverse minds, who could help nurture and support gifted people in a way that will help them find meaningful success, however they define it for themselves. Understanding different kinds of minds and being able to recognize the unique and varied ways that different minds learn and thrive is not only beneficial for gifted and neurodiverse adolescents, but also for adults such as teachers, parents and employers, who will be able to support and accommodate the many different kinds of intelligence. I’ve been very fortunate that my family has an understanding of giftedness and has supported me immensely in finding my way and navigating gifted challenges. Outside of my family, however, I have struggled a lot to find this same level of support and understanding.

I also wish more adults in my world were more supportive of adolescents in a collaborative rather than authoritative way. Adolescents, particularly gifted ones, have a much deeper understanding of themselves and the world than adults often give them credit for. Encouraging and supporting them to find their own path in their own way - a line of work or field of study that they themselves find meaningful - is much more constructive than trying to push us onto a career/life path that we would not choose ourselves.

Finally, I wish there were more adult role models who could share and highlight their struggles along the path of giftedness in ways that would be helpful for gifted adolescents. I’d love to hear their stories, their struggles and triumphs, what they’ve learned, what advice they would give, and so on. I think a lot of gifted adolescents would benefit from these kinds of stories tremendously.

Given your own gifted self-discovery journey so far, how would you sum up your advice for your fellow gifted peers who are just starting on theirs?

Advice that I would give to gifted peers would be most importantly to discover who you are and find places where you can be yourself. It can be hard when you're surrounded by non-gifted people at school everyday to identify your characteristics apart from others. Sometimes, you can start acting like the people around you to fit in without even realising you're doing so! Other times, we do realise it and are purposely trying to be someone we're not in order to fit in with a certain group and feel accepted. Pretending to be someone you're not to fit in can be extremely draining, and it's best once you know who you are and what you're interested in to connect with people - even if it's just 2 or 3 people - who appreciate you for all of your sensitivities and unique ways of thinking and being. I hope that the adolescent community in InterGifted can provide this space for people.

In terms of discovering who you are, I have found it really helpful to get coaching and support from people who understand giftedness and could help me better understand myself and the unique way I experience things. This kind of support is something I would definitely recommend for the gifted self-discovery journey.

I also think it's important to engage in self care activities. Although many people think that self care is selfish, if you continue to work and push yourself by way of social interactions or school work without taking care of yourself, then you are draining your inner battery of tolerance. Just like anything that requires batteries, we can't function once our battery has drained. Self care routines, which can be anything that you do for yourself and find nurturing, are activities such as listening to music, journaling, meditating, or spending time in nature. These kinds of activities can replenish your battery and give you sustainable energy for more effectively completing school work and managing socialization.

How can a gifted or twice-/multi-exceptional adolescent know if they'd fit well in your InterGifted Adolescent Community? 

If they are looking to connect with other gifted or twice- or multi-exceptional peers in a harmonious, constructive and productive way, then they would be a great fit. Our community is new, so it is still very small, and there is a lot of room for our members to help us shape the community as it grows, depending on what they hope to find there and the social needs they are aiming to meet. We meet on Facebook in a secret group, and I know many adolescents are not active on this platform, but it's worth creating a basic account to be part of our community. Not everything we do happens on that platform, but that is the "central" part of our community. It is there that you can meet and get to know other peers, with whom you might end up connecting on other platforms, or if you're lucky enough, in real life. If you are unsure about fitting into our community, you can send me a message, and I can help you evaluate whether you'd fit with us. I'd love to meet you!

About Marei Pryde

Marei is the creator of InterGifted’s Adolescent Community. She is a 17-year-old gifted and autistic adolescent from Canada who is studying psychology and wants to help her gifted and twice-/multi-exceptional peers to learn about themselves and connect with like minds. Join her community here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.