What is giftedness? Educators, researchers, developmental psychologists, and parents of gifted children alike have found it difficult to answer this seemingly basic question. Is it something innate or something learned? Are individuals gifted whether or not they achieve or find eminence?
There are many definitions of giftedness, none of which are universally agreed upon. IEA advocates for the definition penned in 1991 by the Columbus Group, made up of parents and professionals well-versed in the needs of the gifted learner:
“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 emerged from the need to describe the innate developmental differences experienced by highly and profoundly gifted individuals. The group was originally composed of IEA Senior Fellow Stephanie Tolan, Dr. Christine Garrison (now Neville), Kathi Kearney, Martha Morelock, and Dr. Linda Silverman. They derived the term “asynchronous development” as it relates to giftedness, and the term has been a popular and effective way to explain this unique developmental reality of gifted individuals. (Off the Charts)
Similar to how a student can experience a gap 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 manifestation may occur with 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.
See Other Definitions of Giftedness
Giftedness has often been conflated with achievement and accolade, with success being the primary identifier of a truly gifted child. This is a narrow perspective, considering the thousands of underachieving and at-risk gifted students across America, for example. It also fails to account for the notion that gifted children don’t develop in a linear, synchronous way. Parents often speak of their gifted child embodying many ages at once, oscillating from an “old soul” to an emotional 3-year-old from one minute to the next. Imagine, for instance, the gifted child who spends her weekends learning computer languages like Java and C++ but who falls to pieces if asked to perform a repetitive task like copying vocabulary words ten times.
While no two gifted children are the same, research has shown that most gifted learners exhibit many common characteristics and behaviors. The following are common characteristics of gifted children, although not all will necessarily apply to every gifted child:
Gifted young people are often more aware of, stimulated by, and affected by their surroundings. Children who feel things with great intensity experience the world in a different way. Emotional or physical reactions to events can last longer than expected and are often replayed in the child’s mind. These experiences of heightened stimulation observed in many gifted individuals are referred to as intensities or overexcitabilities.
Intensities can be characterized by:
One of the greatest frustrations for parents of gifted children is the assumption that giftedness means performing 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. Although there are many reasons gifted students underachieve, the most common are:
When possible, it is important to recognize underachievement early and address it quickly. If your children think that learning and school require little to no effort, they may continue to slack off and may not ever learn to challenge themselves and work to their full potential in higher level thinking (Winner, 1996).
Learn more about how to understand, spot, and address Underachievement in Gifted Children
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While no two gifted children are the same, research has shown that most gifted learners exhibit many common characteristics and behaviors.