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Building Social Skills in Gifted Youths? 1319

Posted by Cliff
from the creating-smart-extroverts dept.
UNOStudent asks: "I'm currently a Biotech undergrad at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and have spent the past several semesters mentoring gifted youngsters and have been presented with a challenge this semester. My student is unbelievably smart, however has very limited social skills, is unable to cooperate with peers, doesn't understand why they make fun of his uncombed hair, etc. Since many of us may have grown up in a similar circumstance, I'm looking for suggestions from my fellow geeks on ideas for how to challenge him mentally, while building essential social skills." How would you build social skills in someone more concerned with math, science and computers?
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Building Social Skills in Gifted Youths?

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  • Surely You're Joking (Score:5, Informative)

    by evilad (87480) on Monday March 08, 2004 @10:48PM (#8505559)
    Give the kid a copy of "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman."

    He comes across as an arrogant bastard, but I sure did enjoy the chapter about the intellectual challenge presented by learning how to pick up chicks.

    N.b.: Feynman's technique was probably valid in the 50s, and is definitely not useful now. The valuable part is getting this kid to treat "learning social skills" as an intellectual exercise.

    I.e., what makes these stupid apes TICK?
  • Re:One word - Karate (Score:5, Informative)

    by wankledot (712148) on Monday March 08, 2004 @10:48PM (#8505567)
    As flipant as this the parent is, martial arts might be a real decent way to build some confidence in pysical activity, and get him/her interacting with people. Sports are generally a good way to do it, and martial arts are far more geeky than the usual football/baseball/soccer stuff, plus it can be competitive or not, depending on preference. Seems like all the geeks these days are little japanese culture fanboys who are into anime, and this is a natural transition.
  • Outdoors Groups (Score:3, Informative)

    by toxic666 (529648) on Monday March 08, 2004 @10:52PM (#8505611)
    See if you can get him or her to join a group outdoors activity like camping. Not necessarily something as formal as scouting. In fact, the less formal, the better.

    Nature offers some fun science and a chance to develop other areas of interest. Being a part of a camping group is a good way to learn to interact, because everyone has a responsibility (get water, collect wood, etc.) and kids learn their individual responsibilities contribute to the groups well-being. Good adult guidance is a must.

    Worked great for the English as a Second Language class that joined my high school outings. And most of them came to the midwest from much warmer climes.
  • Re:One word - Karate (Score:4, Informative)

    by d.valued (150022) on Monday March 08, 2004 @11:02PM (#8505756) Journal
    If you want another reason to nudge towards physical activity: Exercise promotes brain function.

    Beyond research showing that exercise alters the function of the brain in a beneficial manner, just simple biology will tell you that increased cardiovascular activity leads to increased oxygen capacity in the blood, which can carry more of that precious O2 into your greymatta and increase mental function.

    The ancient Greeks had a point in training minds and bodies.
  • Teach Social Skills (Score:3, Informative)

    by circusnews (618726) <steven@nOSpam.stevensantos.com> on Monday March 08, 2004 @11:11PM (#8505856) Homepage
    One of the many hats I wear is that of the direcor of Simply Circus (www.simplycircus.com), a youth circus program in the Boston area. As such this is something I have more than a little first hand experiance with. I am going to list a number of bullet points for you. Not all will apply, but they should be a good place for you to start.
    • Do not make the mistake of trying to diagnose the students problem. Let the doctors and other experts in the field do that.

    • The basis of most social skills is found in play. You often need to teach kids (especially young kids) how to play in order to teach them social skills (look for "You Can't Say You Can't Play" by Vivian Gussen Pailey(sp?))
    • Don't stop with the basic social skills. The toughest kids I have ever worked with were also some of the smartest kids I have ever worked with. Teaching popularity skills in addition to basic social skills can make a world of difrence to many kids.
    • Teach physical skills too. Far too often the physical side is left out, and smart kids end up falling far behind there peers. This only further hurts there social skills.
  • by gregor_b_dramkin (137110) on Monday March 08, 2004 @11:15PM (#8505897) Homepage
    "Asperger Syndrome or (Asperger's Disorder) is a neurobiological disorder named for a Viennese physician, Hans Asperger, who in 1944 published a paper which described a pattern of behaviors in several young boys who had normal intelligence and language development, but who also exhibited autistic-like behaviors and marked deficiencies in social and communication skills. "

    By Barbara L. Kirby
    Founder of the OASIS Web site (www.aspergersyndrome.org)
    Co-author of THE OASIS GUIDE TO ASPERGER SYNDROME (Crown, 2001)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 08, 2004 @11:15PM (#8505904)
    funny mods don't earn karma.
  • Re:One word - Karate (Score:5, Informative)

    by I_Want_This_ID (678839) on Monday March 08, 2004 @11:29PM (#8506045)
    Another good martial art is Aikido.

    Aikido isn't a "get in your face" type of martial art, it's more of a "take your opponent down as fast as possible with adding as little of your own energy as possible" kind of art. EVERYTHING is taught by example and partner/group work.
    Very cool stuff. Here [aikidofaq.com] for more information

  • by Wes Janson (606363) on Monday March 08, 2004 @11:39PM (#8506142) Journal
    Hehe, Feynmann's methods were not at all what you're thinking ;) Think A Beautiful Mind, but in more detail. He came close to devising genuine rules of dating for men, mostly along the lines of denying women what they want to make them want it more. Highly amusing read.
  • by t0qer (230538) on Monday March 08, 2004 @11:43PM (#8506184) Homepage Journal
    How did this get modded insightful?
    Isolating children from peers and reality is not a good way to impart social skills. Communicating to them from a young age that they're special and better than other people is a negative towards producing functional adults.

    My wife had very large breasts in high school. Wasn't her fault, it was those damn hormones. She had the biggest boobs in school.

    High school boys would routinely try and make "3 pointers" down her blouse at school. It got to the point where she begged her mother to let her enroll in an all girls private catholic school.

    At the all girls school, nobody kicked anyones ass, unless they wanted suspension. Everyone wore uniforms so there were no "fashion cliques", no "Jocks", no "nerds" Everyone was study focused and oriented, balanced with studies on religion and philosophy.

    After that she never had any problems again. Before I met her I always thought it was bad to send kids to private schools, being that I went to all public myself. After hearing her experience though, I would have to agree with her. I wouldn't hesitate to isolate my daughter from a "problem" group
  • by Poplin1911 (760412) on Monday March 08, 2004 @11:49PM (#8506234)

    I will point you to a well-reasoned essay by Paul Graham entitled Why Nerds Are Unpopular [paulgraham.com].
  • After being a "gifted" child for quite a while now (I didn't set it myself, it's a label assigned to me by the school district), I have found that being in groups such as the one you suggest don't work. Think about it: you're surrounded by people who probably know half about the topic as you do. All they want is you to get them points or whatever. Most of them are quite open with their words in telling you that basically they like you on the team only because you're "smart." That doesn't at all enforce a positive view of the social world upon the kid. I personally feel that to get the kid in a social position, you need positive reinforcement of the benefits of social interaction, not the negativities.
  • by Roydd McWilson (730636) on Monday March 08, 2004 @11:54PM (#8506294) Journal
    That may be kind of true, but I suggest: Get him or her involved in real, intellectually-stimulating work. I don't know if you are involved in undergraduate research at your institution, but if not, do so, and bring your young friend along. Both of you will find that real work requires a lot of social interaction, yet it is in a structured and meaningful environment, and hence less awkward for shy gifted youth. Many of the researchers may even have gone through a similar phase in their own life, and will be able to relate better with your young friend than some of his age-peers may. Often, and as it appears to be in this situation, the problem for bright youngsters is that they are much more intellectually mature than others their age, not more mature, or sometimes even less mature, in other respects. Interesting work should make your friend want to interact socially with people that can be very positive role models, and as a consequence, also learn more about social interaction. Even if he or she is reticent to adapt based on osmosis alone, witnessing the intellectual similitude should build trust in your and other co-workers' advice about social situations and advancement. It may be a real eye-opener that even in science, being appealing, a bit of a joker, and generally getting along really helps to advance your ideas.
  • Asperger's Syndrome (Score:2, Informative)

    by ALeavitt (636946) <aleavitt@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @12:57AM (#8506787)
    I know that this has already been mentioned, so I'll probably be modded redundant, but here's my two cents:

    I've always been too smart academically and awful socially. Recently I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome (I'm 21 and I was diagnosed 2 years ago.) This essentially means that I struggle to develop an effective theory of mind and lack a certain amount of human empathy. One strategy that has really helped me is to try to understand, to make myself understand, that people are just like me, with thoughts and feelings all the time. I know that this sounds silly and childish, but it works. Actually, the biggest help was "social stories" (and an understanding girlfriend who just happened to write her thesis on Asperger's.) One of the best things that you can do for anyone who is really that socially maladapted is to suggest that he get tested for Asperger's. With the correct diagnosis, assuming that there is a medical reason for his social difficulties, new strategies will open up to him and there will be more resources to seek out.
  • by Lendrick (314723) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:00AM (#8506806) Homepage Journal
    I really hate to see this post modded Funny... Apart from the irony of a bunch of Slashdotters pointing at someone and saying "HAHA! YOU NERD!!", I think everyone's missing out on the fact that this post is largely correct.

    I got into D&D early on in high school, at a time when I felt like I had very few people to hang out with. It helped me meet new people and, yes, develop social skills. It also showed me that there were a lot more nerds out there than I originally thought. A lot of us spend a long time thinking that we're the nerdiest person around until we meet other people who we can relate to. Just understanding that there are other people out there who share your interests is a confidence boost.

    Oh, and I'm 25 and going to be married next May... and out of the people I play D&D with, half are happily married, and none are virgins.
  • An alternative (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anglos (755282) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:02AM (#8506816)
    An alternative to some kind of martial arts that focuses on both disicpline, physical fitness, and education is the Civil Air Patrol [cap.gov], if you're interested in the military. It's for ages 12-21 for the normal cadet program, and if you're any older there's a senior program.

    The higher rank kids, regardless of age help the lower rank kids, and it's a good way to earn scholarships if you're home schooled or can't currently earn one in your sittuation.

    You do all sorts of neat stuff, important emergency response missions, and recreational things.

    Come this April, I'm gonna get to fly in a Jet Re-fueler and watch them re-fuel planes in mid-air. If I remember right, it's a KC-135.
  • Re:One word - Karate (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:13AM (#8506888)
    I have to agree. As a geek who has studied multiple martial arts (both un-armed and weapons), I can say that it is a great way to learn social skills and how to get along with people. You can learn a wide range of skills both social and physical, and have a lot of fun while your at it.
    Use a bit of caution when choosing a dojo however, many of the schools have (unfortunately) become overly commercial - as long as you show up and pay your fees, you can expect to advance "on schedule" - I've seen kids (and adults) with black belts who show none of the maturity and skills that should be present at that level. Others have become clubs for people who seem to think that everything you need to know can be learned from watching Jet Li movies, when this is a weapons class, it's a Darwin Award waiting to happen.
    That said, there are many very good schools out there. Visit them, talk with the Sensei and sit through a couple of classes before signing up.
    A couple web sites to check out as a place to start:
    http://www.geocities .com/toyamanewsletter/index.ht ml

  • by Muhammar (659468) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:13AM (#8506889)
    German highland folks tended to be thick-necked, slow and im...docile because of cabbage overeating and lack of iodine (cabbage is a strumogen)
  • by GeorgeTheNorge (67545) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:13AM (#8506895) Homepage
    It is the adult's responsibility to create the social rules in a situation. Whatever you deem to be OK, and do so with conviction, the kids will accept.

    You want to get this kid out of his shell? Try accepting him for who he is. He is in his shell because he is scared, and not even the grownup (you) in the situation accepts him.

    You have even gone on slashdot to ask us geeks how to make a person change. What if this kid finds out you have done this? I would dare say that of all of the people in this situation that are not accepting this kid for who he is, you are on the top of the list.

    I think you should instead work on learning how to accept this person, and give him the space to grow up at his own pace. He will naturally find a sport/activity he likes sooner or later.

    The best favor you can do this kid is to try to remember your own childhood. Did you get teased for not combing your hair? Do you have unresolved pain from a painful "not fitting in" situation way back when?

    If you don't do this, then these situations will keep popping up. This is because something deep inside you will cause them to repeat themselves in the people around you. This will continue until you no longer need them for your personal development.

    Once again, you are responsible for the social environment. If YOU cast this kid in a negative light in your own mind, then the other kids are going to do the actual dirty work of letting this kid know that he isn't accepted by you.

  • by Glonoinha (587375) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:44AM (#8507083) Journal
    If I was completely wrong, but was on key enough to bring you to set the record straight and bring to us the facts - was my post completely worthless?

    That said, mild cases of Autism (when caught early and properly medicated) not crippling, in fact I know a young boy that has been diagnosed with mild autism (and is being treated and medicated) that is going to dominate every scientific / tech based competition he ever enters. Done just right, to a point, it is actually an advantage in our world - how many 8 year old children do you know that can grasp the concepts to both the bubble sort and the insertion sort after having it described to him verbally one time? Then go program a perfunctory example in visual basic ... I was pretty proud just to know him after watching that.
  • by Glonoinha (587375) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:47AM (#8507103) Journal

    That said, you are right in that he may never be able to run a household by himself, but he is going to be a bad ass programmer one of these days.
  • McDojos (Score:3, Informative)

    by NarrMaster (760073) <dfordyceNO@SPAMmix.wvu.edu> on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @02:13AM (#8507265)

    90% of TKD schools are McDojos (bullshido.com) [bullshido.com], so my advice to anyone who thinks of learning TKD: MAKE SURE YOU DO NOT GET HOSED. There are some really crappy schools out there. Make sure you learn self defense, not how to dance. Click the link to find some good advice. And yes, I speak from personal experience. Thank god for Jeet Kune Do.

  • Re:One word - Karate (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dusabre (176445) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @04:43AM (#8507886) Homepage
    We're discussing a genius. Sticking him behind a food counter is like connecting a Ferrari to a cart. A dangerous waste. I would freak out from boredom after a day and I'm only very smart. Or not.
  • Re:Cross Country (Score:4, Informative)

    by Lotharjade (750874) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @06:40AM (#8508219) Homepage Journal
    Actually my parents made sure I was in many sports and team events. Swimming, Karate, Gymnastics, Running, Basketball, Football, Hockey, etc... Just being around so many people forces good interpersonal skills.

    It is best at first if it is an EVERYONE PLAYS team so the kid also gets a chance to learn the sport as well.

    OH YEAH, don't forget the great non-athletic team/social groups. Such as Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Brownines, and Girl Scouts. Not only do they teach interpersonal skills, but they also try to build integrity and values in young ones.
  • Try Gate (Score:1, Informative)

    by motiv8x (658048) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @07:33AM (#8508368) Homepage
    See if there's a local GATE chapter. When I was in it as a kid, they did outings to different places, like the Exploratorium in San Francisc, the Bay Model in Sausalito, and quite a few other education/science oriented outings/classes. Here's the California Branch [ca.gov]. I couldn't find an official national page, maybe I'm not that gifted anymore :-(
  • Repeat after me... (Score:3, Informative)

    by pmc (40532) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @07:36AM (#8508382) Homepage
    It's "losing", not "loosing".

    "Losing you mind" is going insane. "Loosing you mind" is pulling you brain out of your skull through your nose with a large rusty hook.

    Where did this bizarre confusion come from anyway? I'm sure that these words were not confused with such regularity a year ago.

  • by AsianWolfman (758355) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @11:53AM (#8510163)
    I haven't read everyone answer to this question. However I can tell you what family did and I did. 1st off is to know and understand that being a geek is not a bad thing. However, sciance and math are in every aspect of life. Music is a huge thing, reading music has a large mathamtical attribute. And I am not just talking classical music, but rock or rap. I for example learned to play the drums, now I DJ at a nightclub part time. It is a great way to meet the women, and it forces you to take a bit of pride in your apperance. Another things is my friends tell me I am a pool shark, because I am so good at it they don't want to bet against me. Well guess what Pool or billards uses physics. Also you have to play with others and talk to as well. You start with talking about things like music, Movies, which actoress or actor (depending on your sexual preforance) is the hotest, or which band do you like. This is the way I avoided the hassles of being made fun of. Also learning to deal with people is not a easy thing. Just like all things in life, we have to learn how to do it. And those who say that computer people or geeks or even sciance people don't have to deal with people are wrong. Our life and world is built off a community, that means we all have to learn how to interact with that community and what is required to fit into that community. This means takeing baths, this does mean not eating a clove of garlic and then breathing in peoples faces. If we value our privicey and what to be treated a certin way that means we should treat others that way. *sorry my soap box* As one of my teachers said to me "Don't be a sciance nerd, take the time off form the lab or the computer to enjoy the world around you. Learn to apprcate the things that make life worth living, i.e. art, music, laughter, and family and friends." By the way this teacher was one of the top in the Microbiology field.
  • by RealAlaskan (576404) on Tuesday March 09, 2004 @01:34PM (#8510999) Homepage Journal
    ... if you can't socialize with your peers.

    Here's a thought: the people who can't understand him, and don't care enough about him to try, aren't his peers!

    Peer doesn't mean ``same age'', peer means ``one's equals''. The people he's having troubles with (if he's as bright as everyone here seems to be assuming) aren't his equals, and he shouldn't be socializing with them. He should be socializing with intelligent, mature adults. By spending time with them, he'll learn, by example, to be an intelligent, mature adult.

    The kid in question also needs to learn to interact with his mental inferiors (I'm assuming that the description you were following is correct) without discomforting them. He shouldn't be trying to learn to be a stupid, immature jerk, so he can fit in with the kids his own age.

When it is not necessary to make a decision, it is necessary not to make a decision.