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Social Factors That Make Gifted Students Fall Behind

By Mayflor Markusic

Why do gifted students fall behind and eventually quit school? Several studies have shown that there are social factors that compel gifted and exceptional students to perform poorly in school and subsequently to drop-out of school.

Social Challenges of the Gifted

Gifted and exceptional students who become underachievers and sometimes quit school face many social challenges. In a study conducted by Hansen and Toso (2007), fourteen gifted students were asked why they quit school. The study revealed that certain social situations led to the eventual surrender of these gifted and talented students. They gave up on school because they met social challenges that they could not overcome.

When these social situations form, the first sign is that the gifted student begins to fall behind. As the situation worsens and no teacher or concerned adult offers significant help, the gifted student simply stops caring about school. Below are some examples of these situations.

Economic Status

Research about gifted and talented students shows that those who stay in school belong to families who have enough financial resources to support their special needs. Most of the gifted students who fall behind are those who need to work and support themselves. Often, the stress from work can compel these students to simply let go of their studies. This implies that there is a need to provide financial support for gifted students, even though they are still in middle school and high school. Then, these gifted students should be prepared when they enter college.

Interpersonal Relationships

Giftedness does not always come with a high social aptitude. Emotional intelligence, after all, is acquired and honed. The gifted students who quit school usually have interpersonal relationship issues. Some would stop going to school simply because their best friend was expelled. Some would avoid school because of break ups. And some would intentionally get failing scores in order to empathize with friends.

Experience of Loss

One surprising discovery of the research about gifted and talented students is that the gifted students who fall behind have experienced loss, such as the death of one family member or the divorce of parents. After such loss, these gifted students don't receive counseling or any kind of meaningful help. Their special education teachers would focus only on the task of teaching gifted students and would not reach out to other aspects of their lives. Without help, these students are likely to form their own conclusions about death, with some of them attempting suicide.


Many gifted students don't easily form friendships. Gifted students who fall behind don't associate with the group of high achievers usually because the achievers normally conform to school structures that gifted students find either irrelevant or cumbersome. Some gifted students are unidentified and they are placed together with students who have lower intellectual abilities. When they find no sense of belonging, these gifted students conclude that there is no reason to stay in school and may drop out.