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Andrew S. Mahoney & Associates

Chicago, Illinois area (Main office located in Park Ridge, Il)
Downtown Chicago (loop) consultations available upon request

350 S. Northwest Highway
Suite 300
Park Ridge, IL 60068
Phone: 312-624-9815

Andy Mahoney puts talent,
experience to good use

By Allison Bourg, abourg@altoonamirror.com
Tuesday, January 09, 2007

BEDFORD — When Andy Mahoney was 2 years old, his parents realized his talent for art.

“I just drew constantly,” said Mahoney, 45. “My father couldn’t keep me in construction paper, so he bought me a chalk board.”

But once he reached school age, he ran into problems many gifted children face.

“It was more of a challenge dealing with feeling different because I was an artist,” Mahoney said. “I was also using my talent to avoid where I was vulnerable academically, as a lot of gifted people do.”

Today, Mahoney, a licensed professional counselor, is one of a handful of therapists in the country to specialize in counseling gifted and talented individuals of all ages.

“Giftedness doesn’t go away,” Mahoney said.

The Danville native, with offices in Bedford and Pittsburgh, has clients from as far as Alaska and keep in touch through videoconferencing.

“It’s a new specialty,” Mahoney said. “I do think it will grow as more people start to figure out that gifted people have needs, and often very complex needs.”

The nationally renowned Mahoney holds a master’s in family and marriage counseling and sees clients from all backgrounds. But his focus is on the gifted.

“When I first became a counselor, I started off feeling like this was an interesting field, but I didn’t know where it was going to take me,” Mahoney said. “Then it emerged into a whole new discipline. There’s an enormous void for helping the gifted and talented with social, emotional and educational issues.”

As the headmaster of the Chicago-based Arts and Sciences Academy for gifted children, Dr. Mary Christensen gets many calls from parents seeking help for their children.

“And I just don’t have a list to give them,” said Christensen, who met Mahoney about 15 years ago through the National Association of Gifted Children.

Mahoney does periodic consultations at the academy, and Christensen said he develops an instant rapport with clients.

“He’s a good mix between being very gentle and saying, no, this behavior is not going to get you where you need to go,” said Christensen, who’s also director of gifted education at Dominican University in Chicago. “Students know he gets it.”

A frequent problem Mahoney sees in clients is an undiagnosed learning problem that prohibits them from achieving success.

Tests might not detect the problem, “but at the same time, the person has all the signs and symptoms of a learning disability,” Mahoney said. “So you have very bright kids with high-level expectations who aren’t meeting their potential.”

Other times, gifted children struggle to fit in with their peers.

“Their development tends to be kind of out-of-sync,” he said.

A child might be emotionally mature, but lagging behind in motor skills; intellectually brilliant, but unable to get along with classmates.

He said in these situations, everyone feels overwhelmed the school, the parents and the gifted child.

“Ever since I’ve been in the business, I’ve made a commitment to helping to build the relationship between the family and the school, to help everyone and remove that adversarial relationship,” Mahoney said.

Kristen Linfante realized her son, Hale, was gifted early onóhe taught himself to read at age two and skipped kindergarten.

When the Linfante family moved to Pittsburgh from Cleveland last year, she sought Mahoney’s help in making Hale’s transition a smooth one.

“When we first started looking online, we couldn’t find anything,” Linfante said of her search for a therapist who works with gifted people. “There was literally no one else. [Andy] was like striking gold.”

Now seven, Hale is what’s known as “twice exceptional”; he’s gifted and has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

“Andy became our guru,” Linfante said. “He’s really the glue that held us together.”

Hale struggled with making friends, feeling anxious and being bored in school. Thanks to Mahoney’s mentoring, he’s now thriving in the third grade, Linfante said.

But many issues that gifted children face won’t just disappear come adulthood, Mahoney said. A gifted adult who gets promoted at work might suddenly face performance problems because he or she isn’t advanced in all areas.

“There’s this idea that just because someone is gifted, they’re able to do it all,” he said. “That’s a myth.”

Other gifted individuals neglect their talent once they grow up, some returning to it eventually, others leaving it behind forever.

Mahoney gave up art in college and only came back to it eight years ago.

“It was the most painful experience I ever went through,” said Mahoney, a landscape pastel artist whose work dots the walls of his East Pitt Street office. “It was emotionally difficult. What was hard to do was allow myself to be so expressive again.”

Last fall , he hosted a workshop called Reclaiming Your Genius for adults who abandoned childhood talents.

“I think you need to come to terms with all the issues related to why you didn’t pursue it earlier in life,” he said.

Friends sometimes try to encourage Mahoney to enter his work in contests or juried arts shows, but he isn’t interested.

“That would take me back to where I was as a child,” said Mahoney, whose trademark tractor image surfaces in much of his art. “I don’t want my work to be tied to performances.”

Feeling like he needed an escape from D.C. life, he bought his weekend home in Bedford after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“I just fell in love with it,” he said.

For Deirdre of northern Virginia, Mahoney is well worth the five-hour round trip to Bedford. Her gifted son, now 15, has been seeing Mahoney for three years.

“I absolutely marvel at his abilities,” said Deirdre, who did not want her last name published for privacy reasons. “He empowers the individual in a very healthy way. He’s emphasized self-esteem and self-confidence that’s given my son a better quality of life.”

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