Whether you have a child or student who has recently been identified as gifted, know a child who may be gifted, or have encountered a child who is gifted and have questions, you may need a place to start, a place that gives you the most basic information about what giftedness is and what it means. Here are some of the essentials we think you should know when embarking on this journey to learn more about the gifted child.
Defining “Gifted”: Asynchronous Development
There are many definitions of giftedness, none of which are universally agreed upon. However, IEA advocates for this definition:
“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.” – Columbus Group, 1991
Similar to how students can experience gaps in learning (for example, a student enrolled in calculus who is unable to solve basic geometry problems), children who develop asynchronously may experience “gaps” between their intellect and other parts of self. One such occurrence is found in learners who encounter psychomotor setbacks with coordination or writing skills, despite their deep intellectual capacity. Often, gifted learners experience frustration and a widening gap between their intellect and their social and emotional behavior. Because asynchrony often creates these developmental gaps, it is crucial to provide appropriate resources and opportunities that best identify, challenge, and assist each gifted child’s specific needs.
Intellectual and emotional intensity is an extremely common characteristic in gifted children and adults. Children who feel things with great intensity experience the world in a different way. Gifted young people are often more aware of, stimulated by, and affected by their surroundings. Emotional or physical reactions to events can last longer than expected and are often replayed in the child’s mind. Kazimierz Dabrowski coined the term “overexcitabilities” to describe intensities in five domains: intellectual, imaginational, sensual, psychomotor, and emotional.
More than Achievement
It is a common myth that gifted children automatically perform well in traditional school environments. Gifted children are not intrinsically motivated by good grades; they are more passionate about the acquisition of knowledge than performing rote tasks. This causes a problem when the school structure and grades rely on repetition and memorization. Bored, unchallenged students may disengage from the learning process, which can lead to underachievement or academic failure.
More than a Test Score
Though testing can be a helpful source of information to assess students’ abilities, it does not give a full picture of who the students are, what they care about, and what they are capable of accomplishing. Many factors, including learning disabilities and developmental asynchronies, can profoundly affect a student’s scores. It is important to look beyond GPAs and IQ scores when assessing a child’s gifts.
Feeding their Minds
Gifted students learn differently from their age mates: they learn at an accelerated pace; delve into topics of interest with greater complexity, scope, and depth; and approach learning from a more intuitive and sensitive point of view. They thrive on discovery for learning and the flexibility for exploration to feed their ravenous hunger for knowledge. Just as the human body needs nourishment to survive, the gifted child’s mind needs to be fed. When gifted kids are not learning, they often become anxious, worked up, and tired.
Highly gifted kids will typically change educational environments several times over the course of their K-12 education in an attempt to find the right accommodations or fit between the school system and the student. When a highly gifted child is successful in a single school system, it is often thanks to acceleration.
Acceleration is an extremely viable option for students who need additional challenge in the classroom. This can take several forms, including grade-skipping, single-subject acceleration, or classwork performed in more depth or at a quicker pace. Advanced online resources are also becoming a more viable option. If your child’s school will allow use of such resources, take them up on it.
Needs beyond the Academic
Gifted children are more than their minds. While intellectual challenges are necessary to keep one engaged, gifted children need more than intellectual stimulation to thrive. Along with advanced intellectual capacity, these individuals also have social, emotional, spiritual, and physical needs. Children with unusually advanced intellectual abilities are uniquely vulnerable to social and emotional challenges stemming from their asynchronous development, which can make it difficult to navigate a world that does not readily understand them.
Gifted students not only think differently, they feel different from their age-level peers. Children who are significantly different from the norm are in need of differentiated programs designed specifically to meet their unique needs.
Gifted children need intellectual peers and gifted peers. They notice differences between themselves and their classmates; they have different vocabulary, different interests, a deep passion for learning, and endless curiosity that they don’t see often in their age mates. This can be confusing to them, especially during the early years of school. It is important, therefore, for them to be with other gifted children and understand that they are not alone.
Understanding and acceptance of giftedness – and the unique joys and challenges that accompany it – is crucial during childhood and adolescence, as these are critical stages of development.
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