Does Giftedness Matter?

by Scott Barry Kaufman, August 27, 2016 in Blog

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On August 23, 2016, Farrah Alexander, a writer and mother, published an article on the Huffington Post, entitled “Maybe My Child is Gifted. Maybe Not. Maybe It Doesn’t Matter” To which she concluded,

“Every child is gifted and talented. So let’s stop distinguishing which children are gifted and start celebrating our children’s unique gifts. How is your child gifted.”

Well, naturally this stoked the ire of large segments of the gifted and talented community, who already feel as though they have to constantly justify the existence of gifted and talented  programming in school. Fair enough. If you were fighting for the unique rights of children with autism, or dyslexia, for instance, and someone wrote a piece arguing that “every child has autism”, and therefore “let’s stop distinguishing which children have autism and start celebrating our children’s unique autism”, you would probably be pretty peeved.

In her response, Heather Boorman, a writer and licensed clinical social worker who advocates for awareness and support for gifted and talented individuals, wrote that Alexander’s piece doesn’t make her mad, but instead makes her feel sad:

“I’m sad because the misconception of giftedness is so rampant.  I’m sad because giftedness continues to be thought of only in terms of education and intellect, when in truth, it has very little to do with education.  It has to do with living and experiencing life more intensely.  It has to do with being wired differently.  Which, trust me, has some great benefits and some great disadvantages.”

This response is really interesting, and I’d like to reflect a bit on this debate. The thing is, the whole concept of giftedness was, from the very beginning of its inception, tied to educational outcomes. When Lewis Terman invented the concept*, he made giftedness synonymous with high IQ scores (on his own test, of course), and linked it to high achievement (genius).

What seems to be going on here (and I document this trend in my book Ungifted), is that a sizable proportion of the gifted and talented community– mostly clinicians who actually work with such children on a daily basis– fundamentally conceptualize giftedness as something very different than high achievement, and often also very different from high cognitive ability.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I could get behind this newer conceptualization of giftedness. What this particular segment of the gifted and talented community seem to be describing as giftedness– exquisite sensitivity to the environment— certainly is a particular dimension of human variation that is important, and most certainly has substantial variation, like the rest of human personality differences.

But here’s the thing: I think in order for this new conceptualization of giftedness to be tractable, it should have more clearly delineated properties, better measurement, and it should also be more clearly tied to particular educational interventions. What can you specifically do to support children who “experience the world intensely”? How do you identify that unique population in the first place, independent of IQ tests, academic achievement, and other very non-experiencing-oriented assessments? From a scientist’s point of view, and even from a pragmatists point of view, I don’t know what to do with this new definition of giftedness. How do you know what other people really feel, or how intensely they feel it? You know your own qualia, and that’s it.

Now, we could say that all children who self-report feeling emotions extremely deeply would fall within the class of the “gifted child”. Interestingly, this appears to be a dimension of personality that is orthogonal to cognitive ability. For instance, a large part of my doctoral dissertation was attempting to isolate something I referred to as “affective engagement“– a person’s subjective depth and breadth of feeling (both positive and negative). Yes, I found that this was a substantial source of variation (i.e., some people did score more highly than others on this trait). And yes, it mattered (I found it correlated with other important characteristics, such as aesthetic sensitivity, imagination and compassion). But intriguingly, affective engagement was wholly uncorrelated with IQ (the correlation was .01). Similarly, Elaine Aron tells me that her “highly sensitive person” test is uncorrelated with IQ test performance.

This contradicts a widespread belief in the gifted and talented community that the higher the IQ, the higher the morality and depth of emotions a child will experience (see here for an example of this meme). I’m not sure how this meme started, or how it could even be true from a face validity perspective. When you look at an IQ test, you see a potpourri of cognitive tests, from reading comprehension to mental rotation to holding various bits of abstract information in one’s head and integrating them on the spot. Yes, these skills do a great job of predicting academic achievement. But there is not a single item on an IQ test that measures someone’s capacity to “live and experience life more intensely”. 

Let me be very clear. I am not criticizing the idea that the concept of giftedness should evolve beyond Terman’s original conceptualization (which was indeed tied so heavily to educational outcomes). I’m not even criticizing Heather Boorman’s response, or even saying I agree with Farrah Alexander’s post.

In fact, I think there is a grain of truth to all of these perspectives, as well as some myopia. Boorman is right that there are multiple manifestations of giftedness. Intellectual giftedness is different from creative giftedness, which is different from leadership giftedness, which is different from motivational giftedness, and so on. But her argument is logically fallacious- you can’t acknowledge that there does indeed exist unique ways of being gifted and then also say in the very same breath that we should stop differentiating giftedness. Either you differentiate on a dimension or you don’t. You can’t have it both ways.

Likewise, Boorman is right: some people do seem to be more sensitive than others to their environment, and tend to feel things more deeply. I found that is true in my doctoral dissertation. But she is misguided in saying that’s all there is to giftedness, and in so confidently stating that other conceptualizations of giftedness– such as those that tie giftedness to educational achievement– are the incorrect conceptualizations. Who made her (or anyone else in the gifted and talented field) the arbiter of how giftedness is defined? Of who are the truly gifted and who aren’t? It rubs me the wrong way whenever someone in the field argues that others are wrong because they don’t define giftedness the way they do.

Look: I don’t have the answers by any stretch of the imagination. I do believe that giftedness matters. But if the field of gifted and talented education truly wishes to broaden conceptualizations of giftedness beyond academic achievement, or even cognitive ability as measured by IQ tests, it won’t hold water to say things like: “the gifted child lives and experiences life more intensely”. There is indeed a way of scientifically operationalizing this hazy definition, but I should hope that if we truly care about supporting exquisite sensitivity to the environment, as well as any other dimension of giftedness, we could do better to define the terms, define the measurement, and define the interventions, so that we can give help to the specific population of children who would really benefit from the support.

© 2016 Scott Barry Kaufman, All Rights Reserved

* After all, there was no explicit commandments sent to Moses indicating who were the truly gifted children and who weren’t.


18 Responses to “Does Giftedness Matter?”

  1. Really appreciate your clarity. A lot more research is certainly needed to understand the social and emotional aspects of giftedness. One of the dilemmas is that even though many gifted children may exhibit some of these emotional features, it does not necessarily mean that they are exclusive to the gifted. This is most apparent in articles about perfectionism among the gifted, where it is listed as a given. Yet the research has shown that gifted people are no more likely to be perfectionistic than others. This does not mean that some, or even many, gifted people do not suffer from torment of perfectionism – just that sweeping statements and labels can be problematic. Nevertheless, articles published in widely read publications like Huff Post can perpetuate misconceptions, and advocates for the gifted have labored long and hard to dispel them – hence the anger in the gifted ed community. Anyway, thank you for your thoughtful insights.

    • Scott Barry Kaufman says:

      Thanks, Gail. I agree there are a lot of misconceptions going around (even within the gifted ed community), and I resonate with the frustration over this.

  2. Gayle Roege, Ed.D (Gifted education policy, planning & leadership) says:

    Even the research doesn’t provide all the answers, because the experts themselves cannot agree on a definition of giftedness, or creativity, nor on what the purpose of schooling should be for high ability students…As long as the deficit mentallity guides how we educate students, (focusing on fixing what is wrong with students instead of looking for their potential), and negativity toward high-ability students continues in the school system, it really doesn’t matter who’s gifted because we aren’t providing adequate conditions for them to grow their potential anyway. It’s worse to know who they are and still deny them them adequate opportunities. When we can get beyond the “whose right?” stage, worying less about labels, and putting more effort into actually looking at all children in terms of what must be done to support whatever their individual potential is, no matter where they are on the learning spectrum, then we can begin to provide educational and life experiences that are equitable, not equal (exactly the same); and bring benefits to both individual and society.

    • Gayle Roege says:

      By the way, I appreciate the commentary and the perspectives. I think the conversation needs to continue around giftedness and talent development, not only in education and creativity circles, but broadly. Differences of opinion/perspective without judgment, can be enlightening if we allow it to.

    • Scott Barry Kaufman says:

      The lack of consensus about how to define giftedness isn’t necessarily a problem; there are multiple forms of giftedness. I think things become confusing, however, when people use the term “giftedness”, but mean something different by it. I would rather people put a modifier (e.g., academic) before the word giftedness if they must use that term. And in terms of big-picture thinking, I’m right there with you on a society that is less about labels and more about helping each child get his or her needs met. Unfortunately, that’s just not tenable right now (hopefully someday).

  3. Donna Terrell says:

    I have always been in giftedland. I was identified as gifted at age 7, my husband was as well. All three of my children are identified as gifted, and I currently teach gifted students in school. I can tell you this, not through research, but through experience. Gifted children- gifted people (using the traditional meaning of high IQ) are vastly different from each other. Some are extremely sensitive, some are perfectionists, some have an insatiable need for justice, some are intensely focused and motivated, and some develop the art finding the very least amount of effort they must exert to reach their own desired outcomes.

    However, apart from the ability to do well academically, there is another commonality. When my students walk through my door, and are finally in a homogeneous group, it’s as if they can each finally breathe. They are suppressed all day by well-intended teachers who like them to keep a low profile. These kids learn how to hide their intelligence from their peers. Other teachers aren’t so well-intended and seem to have a genuine resentment- especially if their gifted students “own” their intelligence in a public way.

    I have also taught “regular” classes with a mix of abilities including gifted. Most gifted students, in my experience, show very little of their personalities or abilities in those settings compared to the gifted setting. Yes, they still “stick out” among the other students, but they are unleashed when they get together in the gifted classroom.

    I bring this up because with all of the discussion of various types of giftedness (which I support and believe should be discovered), I would hate to see the intellectually gifted lose services in school. Intellectual or academic giftedness is real, though the children are very different in every other way. But that commonality alone provides difficulty in school- not difficulty to do the work, but difficulty to embrace who they are and have their giftedness celebrated and nurtured.

    I appreciate that you consistently recognize that having a high intelligence is real, even though it is not always discovered by our testing systems. I believe we need to do a better job as educators to discover, recognize, and nurture the variety of “giftedness” we see in all of our students. I would hate for us to use it as an excuse to stop serving and meeting the needs of our highly intelligent students.

    • Scott Barry Kaufman says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Donna. It does seem to me that academic giftedness is a real thing that should not be ignored. I do not have a cart in this race. Actually, I don’t think it should be a race. All horses belong at the same table. (Sorry, I’m terrible at analogies). The purpose of my post was simply to bring more precision and clarity to this debate.

    • Judi Kroboth says:

      Donna,

      Thank you for your insight. I work with students who are gifted and I have gifted children of my own. I have experienced on a daily basis for 16 years in school exactly what you describe. I also have a separate classroom where my students are grouped together.

      Interestingly to me, the people who understand the young and the gifted the most are the gifted students themselves. All of this discussion neglects the voices of the students, however unscientific it may be, all one really needs to do is have a conversation with these students to get an understanding that yes, they know they are outside of the environmental norm we establish at most schools and because of this they are not challenged or engaged, motivated or inspired on a daily basis. They readily recognize themselves as different from other students.

      Perhaps as adults we spend more time arguing how to define giftedness because that is easier and less expensive to simply use common sense and employ resources to help these children when they need it the most-during their formative K-12 school years. We may struggle with the definition, but we cannot struggle with the reality that the bell curve for intelligence, creativity, sensitivity, high rates of acquisition and retention exists and that there are human beings on BOTH sides of that curve. The most cogent point being that we have no trouble recognizing that some individuals have learning disabilities, autism, etc., etc. and we readily spend money to help them so what is the issue with providing the same support to those on the other end?

      Psychologically and as a nation of “all men are created equal”, perhaps we find ourselves cringing at the thought of supporting those who tip the balance. The problem is within us, not them.

      Whether or not there is a quantifiable scientific study to prove any of this is really irrelevant. For these students, their whole is greater than the sum of their parts. Perception is reality for them and if just take some time to listen to them, we will quickly recognize that they are different and need support and we must realize that we are not being elitist if we spend time and resources on them.

      We don’t do this so they can all be Noble Prize Winners or CEO’s or individuals who will save the world, we do this so they can successfully navigate an environment that was not created with them in mind.

      A last argument- the Olympics have just recently concluded. Collectively we have no problem recognizing athletic talent and prowess in this country and we continually celebrate and financially support this type of giftedness with nary a blink of an eye nor further discussion of what defines a gifted athlete.

      A little common sense goes a long way.

  4. Kristen Bury says:

    An interesting study I recall from my professor/mentor, Dr. Bernice Bleedorn, which she shared from her professor/mentor, Dr. E Paul Torrance, was a longitudinal study about testing creativity and gifted. The study demonstrated that somewhere in the ninety percentile of young children around the age of five which took his creativity tests, were considered creative and gifted. By the time this group or this age reached 18 years, a very small percentage of this group still tested into the creative and gifted. Her passion was to change the system of education so that it fosters whole brain thinking, creative thinking, innovation, and problem solving. These studies and work have done little to reach mainstream education and impact the shift toward reaching a differentiated and creative thinking based learning environment. Her courses made an impact on my life work in systems models & impacting education from a social entrepreneurial perspective. It is only now, twenty-five years after I took her first course, that I have decided to teach in a classroom setting. Fortunately, I teach at a very unique public Montessori magnet school with plenty of flexibility to teach with a pedagogy that fosters such an individualized and creative, whole brain and systems thinking, environment within a diverse demographic. Mainstream education should be built on a foundation on which to see that each person has the opportunity to thrive and flourish their giftedness, even using some of the very approaches used within the gifted and talented pedagogy.

  5. Douglas Eby says:

    In his book “Your Own Worst Enemy..”, psychologist Kenneth W. Christian, PhD delineates some of the most prominent patterns of thinking and behavior he has found that may lead to undermining and underachievement as adults.

    “Without explicit demands and support, being labeled ‘bright’ or ‘gifted’ is akin to being conferred an aristocratic lineage — a heritage that exists independently of what you do with it.

    “The difference is that the labels ‘bright’ and ‘gifted’ come with implicit demands, and when appropriate explicit demands are lacking, the labels sit there like ticking bombs.

    “On the one hand, these labels tell you that merely being bright or talented is enough, but on the other hand, the longer you go being praised for talent alone, the more anxious you become about the time when you will be required to deliver.”

    From my article Living Up to the “Gifted” Label – Or Not http://highability.org/72/

  6. Carolyn K. says:

    Scott, while I agree that we need more research on the unique sensitivities of giftedness, there is one aspect that we have a great deal of research on: academic gifted achievement. And among that research there is overwhelming evidence that one Intervention, available in over 20 variations, is exceedingly successful.

    Academic acceleration of academically gifted children works.

    And yet, over the decades educators have used these free forms of improving the education of the gifted child less and less, instead blaming un-researched theories for the potential failure of these methods.

    Today, kids of low socio-economic background are almost completely overlooked for gifted intervention in education. Kids with co-existent disabilities are ignored in most states and districts. Only the upper middle and upper class “squeaky wheel” parents get their kids anything approaching the well-researched gifted educational options.

    Where is this research, you ask? Carefully compiled and nearly packaged for you in A Nation Empowered, http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/nation_empowered

    While this is far from comprehensive research on the differentness of the gifted, it thoroughly covers one of their differences: their academic needs. That would be a great start!

    • Scott Barry Kaufman says:

      Thanks for your comment, Carolyn. I agree that we know so much more about how to help academically advanced children than we know about how to help children who are exquisitely emotionally sensitive. The purpose of my post was simply to bring more precision and clarity to this debate, not to favor any particular form of giftedness over any other. I think all forms– including academic giftedness– deserve attention. In fact, in a school context, academic giftedness probably makes the most sense to help support, considering the standard programming. Although, of course, there are social-emotional needs that may also come along with academic giftedness (but those needs are more state-like, a result of not having needs met, which may go away given the proper intervention, such as acceleration). Regarding your point about low income parents, or parents of children with learning disabilities not getting as many gifted and talented resources, I completely agree, and have been personally trying to help out with that as well.

  7. Dear Professor Kaufman,
    I appreciate your article and taking the time to continue the conversation in the comments. I think questions about what giftedness is, whether it is a useful label, and what (if any) interventions are beneficial are important ones. Psychologists like Carol Dweck and Claude Steele and others raise very important issues about the use and abuse and effects of labeling. So, I appreciate your having this conversation.

    Your post is what I hoped Ms. Alexander’s would be. There ARE a lot of open questions and ambiguities that need to be examined, discussed and debated.

    The title of her post is thought-provoking: “Maybe My Child is “Gifted”, Maybe Not, Maybe It Doesn’t Matter”.

    Yes: maybe it doesn’t matter. Or maybe it matters, sometimes. Or…

    I was intrigued. I was curious what she had to say. Then I read the piece.

    While there are a few lovely sentences that seem to be invitations to celebrate all children and to treat each child as an individual rich with potential (who can argue against that: certainly not me), the piece as a whole is not an examination of what “gifted” might mean or whether or when it might be a meaningful/useful categorization.

    Her piece doesn’t discuss or debate: it largely debases and derides. And I think this bears discussion.
    My reason for writing is not because I object to her conclusion. I have questions myself about the gifted label and how it is used and understood. No, I am writing because she mocks (with no sign of empathy or curiosity) and dismisses any parent that wonders: “Is my kid’s highly age-atypical cognitive development a need that needs addressing or accommodation?”

    Her piece simply cannot be treated as a reasoned or even whimsical examination of issues.
    With snarky smugness, she dismisses anyone who might think that giftedness (just gotta say that though I am using the term, I think the whole language of giftedness lends itself to misunderstanding) might ever matter. At the same time, she stereotypes them as parents wanting acknowledgement of their “special snowflakes”. There may be annoying parents of gifted kids that say such things about their kids, but I haven’t personally encountered any in actual life. Annoying, braggy parents can be found of all ilks.

    What I have encountered are parents of kids whose development is so age-atypical that schools refuse to accommodate their needs. Parents that have to decide whether one of them will need to quit their job and become their child’s full-time teacher because their local public school essentially refuses to educate their child. (What I mean by educate is this: put a child in a learning environment where they are generally being presented new material and skills that they have not already mastered and where they have access to deeply relatable peers.) There aren’t very many of these kids. And most teachers won’t encounter one in their lifetime, but they exist. In any major metropolitan area there are at least hundreds at any given time — many languishing in classrooms bored to tears and identified as a troublemaker because they are the equivalent of a fifth grader (or higher) stuck all day in a kindergarten class. And, sadly, some of these kids eventually lose all interest in school. There are only so many years that you can sit unchallenged without losing respect for the whole notion of institutional learning.

    What I have also encountered in real life are kids that love learning and intellectual exploration. Kids not hothoused or pushed in any way by their parents. Kids that are consumed with the life of the mind and who spend their school days bored and scorned. Kids that cry daily, expressing to their parents the wish that they “just want to be normal.”

    Parents of these kids don’t talk about them as “special snowflakes”. They aren’t likely to mention their kids school experiences at all with anyone except parents of similar kids (which only happens if they are lucky enough to know any).

    Many of these kids and their parents, don’t even realize what is going on. It isn’t uncommon for highly age-atypical learners to think of themselves as damaged. My mother wasn’t proud of being able to read chapter books in kindergarten: she kept it hidden from her teachers and her classmates because she thought it meant something was wrong with her.

    Ms. Alexander wouldn’t have parents of these kids humble brag. She wouldn’t have heard them talk about their kids at all for fear of being accused of bragging. Such parents say to each other “I wish that I were able to talk about my kids trials and tribulations the way that other parents do without being made to feel like I am bragging. But I can’t. So, I don’t.”

    These parents often meet nothing but resistance from schools when they try convince a school that their child’s needs can’t be met in a class determined by birth year rather than actual ability. Schools understand (although maybe only sorta, kinda) that kids with developmental delays can’t be tied to the same timelines as developmentally typical kids. But they all too often make no accommodation for those whose natural development is radically accelerated.

    Organizations like NAGC and SENG exist because there are a great many (even if it is an exceedingly small percentage of kids) kids whose academic and social-emotional needs are not met in our age-segregated classrooms. One can ask whether those organizations are effective or are fully-current with current scientific understanding, but I don’t think one can question the sincerity of their mission or the need for organizations to be questioning current education policy. Education policy in this country is firmly-rooted in age-based classes and learning milestones rather than in a dynamic view (one where the dictum is to make sure that each student is learning something new daily).
    Parents like Ms. Alexander probably think a kid has it made if they enter first grade reading at sixth grade level. “Woo hoo, they can coast until seventh grade.” What she doesn’t consider is that it is soul-crushingly stressful for a kid to sit for hours a day watching other kids get to learn — especially if you really love to learn.

    (As an aside, there are kids that have both age-atypical cognitive development and a learning disability, so-called 2E kids, and getting their needs met is even harder.)

    Not all kids labeled “gifted” are this way. Most are not. But some are. And the only way for the parents of such kids — given our current educational climate — to be able to advocate for their kids is for them to be aware of their kids’ differentness.

    Ms. Alexander says (snark alert): “Unclutch your pearls from your white knuckled grasp. I just said it doesn’t matter if my child is “gifted” or especially “smart”. It doesn’t matter if yours are either.”
    For parents of the kids I’ve described, regardless of what term you use to categorize their child’s need, I think the answer is clearly: it matters that their kid’s cognitive development is atypical enough that a standard classroom is not providing them daily challenge. It matters, because without understanding the need, one can’t address it.

    Honestly: I’d almost prefer that the label be “nerdy” (ok: I don’t really think that) so that could not accuse a parent of a “nerdy” kid of bragging or thinking of their kid as a special snowflake.

    Ms. Alexander smirks that she doesn’t care about giftedness: she cares about effort.

    The galling implication is that the parents of highly age-atypical (i.e. “gifted”) learners care about the “gifted” label and devalue effort. There may be some that feel that way — but more than likely, parents of these kids want their kids to have a growth mindset and are asking themselves: “how can my kid acquire a growth mindset when they are stuck in classes where they already know the material or are given new material at such a glacial pace that there is no challenge involved.” And, yes Ms. Alexander, there are kids like this.

    We develop an appreciation for effort, perseverance, grit, growth mindset at least in part through experience: by being given opportunities for effort, perseverance, growth mindset to pay off. Some of the parents that care about whether their kids are gifted care because they are trying to figure out why their kid is so resistant to developing a growth mindset. Hint: getting A’s and plaudits for things you’ve known for years doesn’t help.

    Ms. Alexander dismisses anyone out of hand that cares about the issue with no consideration for why they might think it matters. She announces to the world that the whole notion of age-atypical cognitive development (aka academic giftedness) has been debunked (based on a single study whose findings she misrepresents).

    There are certainly questions to be asked (and you do a good job of summarizing them), but she doesn’t ask those questions.

    She mocks and snarks and belittles and indicates no interest in understanding those that think giftedness might (at least sometimes) matter.

    And this is why I am writing. There is a word for people that mock and belittle and congratulate themselves while doing so: bullies.

    It is easy to mock and bully –especially when the object is a small poorly understood population that most won’t encounter directly. And that was what bothered me most about Ms. Alexander’s piece.
    That is why I am posting. I don’t think that bullies should be allowed to get away with their behavior without being called out.

    I want her and others to think about understanding a population and its feelings before mocking it.
    There is much to be questioned and debated. Studies to be discussed and interpreted. Folklore inside and outside the Gifted Ed community to be examined — and discarded or refined as needed. But all that needs to happen in a context of understanding, compassion and reason.

    Respectfully,
    Edward

  8. Robin Retzler says:

    I am gifted (although never “officially” identified) as are my two sons, ages 14 and 11. My older son was identified at age four, and our journey into “giftedness” officially began. The three of us meet the intellectual definition of giftedness, and since we can all qualify for membership into Mensa, I think I’m pretty safe in saying that we would qualify as gifted under just about any standard. Therefore, I feel that I have a unique insight into “giftedness” (although not so unique among the gifted community itself.) I have done a lot of research and reading about giftedness so that they don’t have to have the struggles that I did.

    We also have a few of the emotional aspects that some identify with the gifted. Each of us has several of Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities. Kazimierz Dabrowski’s research into what he termed “Overexcitabilities” indicates that these OEs can be found in a higher percentage of the gifted population, although not all those who are gifted have OEs, and some who are not gifted do.

    I also wonder whether the Columbus Group didn’t cause some confusion when they tried to define giftedness in 1991. Instead of just looking at high IQ, they added the emotional aspect as well: “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. (The Columbus Group, 1991)”

    I don’t necessarily think that there is anything wrong with this, and in fact, I believe that as gifted people we are a lot more than just our IQs. I also think that it has been shown that there are a lot of similarities in the emotional aspects of the gifted, so one should look at the whole – the intelligence and the emotion together when talking about giftedness. Yes, there will be outliers. When we look at a child on the opposite end of the spectrum, I don’t think we try just to look at their IQ without looking at the emotional qualities that they also have in common. Some of those qualities may even be shared with the gifted – Dabrowski’s Sensual Overexcitability comes to mind.

    I have always thought that the term “gifted” was a misnomer and caused a lot of confusion and misinformation. Of course, those who are not educated about the gifted may take offense to someone saying that their child is not gifted, while I doubt that anyone would take offense to someone saying that their child was not autistic. Perhaps the term “genius” should still be used to describe those who have a high level of intellectual ability (read high IQ). I would like to see the gifted community come to a consensus and call giftedness something else. Maybe instead of using the word genius, we should use the word “Terminism”. I feel certain if the word “terminism” were used to describe this condition of high IQ, we would have fewer articles written about how all children are “termanistic.” I doubt that Farrah Alexander would have had any reason to write her article if that were the case!

    I can honestly say that it is not a gift to have a high IQ for many reasons. I have struggled my entire life to find challenges. I don’t believe I ever truly learned how to learn, and I see the same thing happening to my children. I am almost as powerless today to help them, as I was to help myself when growing up, although I am quite a bit more educated about the situation now. I think the biggest challenge that I have ever had in life was to try to overcome giftedness – to try to turn off my brain, to try not to have to know everything about a subject, to try not to have to keep my mind occupied. Regardless of whether I embrace giftedness or try to overcome it, the result is still the same. I was very successful in a career that was mind-numbingly dull to me, and I have far too many passions to try to figure out what I want to be when I “grow up.”

  9. KP says:

    The litmus test of IQ is placing a normal iq child in a classroom designed for a child with a below normal iq.

    What would you expect to happen for the normal iq child ? How would they cope with the repetition of concepts? The slow learning
    pace ? What behaviour issues would you expect ? What learning engagement ?

    So, what happens when you place a gifted child (variously 95th or 98th percentile) in a classroom paced for children who are normal ? It’s the same distance on a bell curve ….

    Do you expect behaviour issues ? Boredom ? Disengagement? Underachievement?

    Apparently it’s ok for a gifted child…because after all it’s just a number and all children are gifted. They all learn at the same pace …..

    But it’s not ok to place a normal child in a classroom for a child with a low iq …because they’d be bored, they’d learn to underachieve, they wouldn’t learn to learn.

    It’s not rocket science; learning at a pace that meets your ability is going to give you the best chance in life.

    Unfortunately if you’re gifted you’re not entitled to this opportunity; you must wait and wait and wait and be well behaved and not complain and not act out and not be ungrateful.

    Next time you’re wondering what it’s like to be 8 and gifted and in a classroom delivering really boring stuff you already know; go and sit in a remedial English class or maths class and see how happy, contented and engaged you feel.

    Welcome to the world of being high IQ. Where appropriate education is only for normal kids.

  10. Soraya Greer says:

    Yes, it does matter. I am the mother of a gifted child. I won’t bore you with how I identified him. But, I will tell you: 1) It wasn’t a magical path to a wonderful realization. And 2) The reason I thought he was gifted was HIM! It defines who he is in more ways than one. It explains his quirks and the vastness of his thinking, his reasoning and his mind. It explains why he had social difficulties in his previous school and why he is at ease in his current gifted class. Why he prefers to hang out with older kids, adults and those who “get him”.
    And all this matters. It matters because after this experience I have been able to look at me, at my own family, at my never identified gifted sister. My sister who has an economics major, two masters and a mathematics degree and who thinks she is not good enough. My sister whom I grew up seeing struggle. Her homework never neat or complete. Her teachers always disappointed. Her selfsteem always shaking. The sister I had to rescue from a failed marriage that she allowed to continue as a way of self-harm. She was never told she wasn’t neurotypical. She was never identified, so she was never able to understand that her quirks and the vastness and excruciating depth of her thinking came from the way her brain was wired. She had few friends in school. When she was finally accepted by a group of girls she tried to be like them. She pretended to be neurotypical. She did everything they asked of her to fit in. Including getting in a disfunctional and abusive relationship….
    I think the more we know who we are. The more we can find tools for improvement and acceptance of who we are.

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