Gifted 101

Now that I have been writing this blog for a few weeks I have received some private messages from friends, family and others who have read my posts with interest and asked me questions pertaining to its general content matter; that of being a gifted adult. As raising awareness was partly the purpose of starting the blog in the first place I feel it is best if I address their questions publicly.

Comments have ranged from a genuine desire to learn more about something that is unknown to the person through to having no idea but having an opinion anyway (a very human trait) and include such things as “but what actually IS gifted?” “Wow, I can so see myself in some of your writing, maybe I’m gifted too”, “Love your blog Bear, please can you tell me where I can find more information about…” and my personal favourite: “I believe we/children/people are all gifted in our own way”.

So here it is fellow blog readers, Gifted 101.

Let me start with that last comment as it is the one that actually riles me, leaves me feeling frustrated and offended and like the whole advocating for gifted children is a waste of time. It is also 100% inaccurate and akin to saying we are all Olympic athletes in our own special way, or that we are all a little bit autistic. Whilst we may be able to identify with one or two particular traits of autism, or be a little bit better than others at one or two sports, this does not make everyone autistic or Olympic athletes.

Continue reading and you will see why this statement can be so inflammatory.

Gifted as defined by The Columbus Group, 1991, cited by Martha Morelock, “Giftedness: The View from Within“, in Understanding Our Gifted, January 1992:

“Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.”

Lets break that down a bit more.

“Asynchronous development” means that while a child might be physically developed at a level with his or her age, say 7 for the purpose of demonstration, they may have an emotional maturity of a 10yr old, the social development of a 5yr old, intellectual development of a 12yr old. Imagine parenting such a child.  Now imagine teaching one! Children with asynchronous development require unique structures for learning and socialisation, which is just not possible if people (particularly educators, health professionals and parents) continue to ignore the fact that these children even exist. It also diminishes and undervalues their unique and individual experience and perspective of the world.

“Advanced Cognitive Abilities”. This statement refers to more than being intelligent. It describes the ability to make connections, see patterns, and think in many layers at a time. Gifted people will often have difficulty articulating a thought or an idea as they don’t see or think it in a singular dimension. They have images, charts, pictures, spiraled thought patterns and auditory cognition to try and distill into a two dimensional form of speech. It isn’t easy, and this can also give insight into the frustration and irritation demonstrated by gifted children who have yet to learn strategies of putting all those different processes happening in their brains at the same time into order. In many, many ways the resulting intelligence is just a side-effect of the way the gifted brain processes information.

Which brings us to the next one; “heightened intensity”. Do you remember how irritating it was when you were a child and someone kept poking you, and the more you reacted the funnier they seemed to think it was? Wearing socks with seams is like this for a gifted person. Or tags on clothes, or seeing people upset or in pain, or having phenomenal amount of energy and nowhere to expend it, or lumpy mashed potato, or being in a room full of people, or having a world inside your head that is so colourful, fun and interesting that the ‘real’ world pales in comparison, or having to pay attention to the ‘101’ of a subject that you knew, processed, understood, applied and developed years ago, yet still being expected to sit in your seat and listen carefully. Intensities according to current scientific research, fall into one of five categories: Sensual, imaginational, emotional, psychomotor and intellectual. I won’t go into all the details here, as that’s a whole series of other posts, but more information can be found on this website:  http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/sensitivity.htm

The next part of the definition states that these three things all combine to “create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm”. It is hardly surprising when all these things are put together that the experience of the world from a gifted persons perspective is quite drastically different from the perspective of someone who is not gifted. It goes on to say that “This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity.” Research is not clear yet whether it is the asynchrony causes the higher intellectual ability of vice versa, but it IS clear that the more gifted they are (yes, there are levels) the more disjointed from the world around them gifted persons report feeling.

The last sentence though is perhaps the most impactful of this definition.                                              “The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.” While educators, professionals, parents and society have issues with ‘tall poppy syndrome’ (which is particularly bad in Australia unless you are sporty, and even that’s debatable), and try to deny that giftedness even exists, we are potentially damaging one of our worlds most valuable resources, not to mention creating whole worlds of pain for our gifted children whose needs are not met, leaving them feeling constantly as though they do not belong, are not valued and are just ‘too weird to be allowed” as one student (10 years old) expressed to me a few weeks ago.  He then followed up saying he should kill himself and donate his brain to science so they can figure out what went wrong and make sure it never happens again to another kid.

This simple sentence, while said half in jest, expresses a vulnerability, pain, differentness and experience of disassociation the young boy feels with society, his classmates and family. If his family knew truly who he was, and had done a little research, his experience would be radically different.

There IS such a thing as gifted, we are NOT all gifted and to say otherwise simply denies our world’s gifted children a chance to grow, be engaged, stimulated, truly valued and appreciated. They are left feeling as though there is no place for them in the world and it sucks the joy and pleasure of learning and of life out of our gifted kids.

By denying their existence we are killing them.

5 thoughts on “Gifted 101

  1. I enjoy your posts Paula and have observed some difficulties ‘gifted’ children come across, particularly during Primary School. Having two boys who have completed Primary school, I have seen how some (many) parents and teachers resent a parent who claims their child is ‘gifted’. It’s a sad reflection on human nature that one parent does not like to believe another parent’s child is ‘gifted’ and their’s is not. The end result is that the ‘gifted’ child is the one who suffers. I can’t help but wonder if the term ‘gifted’ is the right term?

    1. Hi Rebecca,
      Yes it is sad and the irony is that a child that has as many of the intensities and asynchronisity as can be displayed by a gifted child, will find being gifted as debilitating as some disabilities. I do believe it is a HUGE misnomer, but the the question arises, what do we call it instead?
      Thanks for reading my blog and taking time to comment,
      Paula

  2. Paula – I hadn’t read your blog before – will have to go back and read everything – good on you – it’s wonderful – keep it up.

    1. Thanks Maggie. It’s great to get feedback, both positive AND constructive. There is also a function where you can ‘follow’ the blog as well, and are notified of new posts. I aim to post at least once a week. Thanks again for your comment, Paula.

  3. Wow, excellent post Paula! It would be good if all the people our gifted kids associate with could read this. It might help people to understand and to reduce the work we have to do just to get acceptance of our kids, let alone help the kids with the issues they face daily!!! I agree with your comment that some of these issues can be as debilitating as some disabilities – if only we could get help dealing with it more easily…

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