Do theories of giftedness in children apply to adults?
Category : Gifts
So….ummmm…what is a ‘gifted adult’? Since there is so much more information about gifted children compared to information about gifted adults, and, working under the assumption that there is a connection, that gifted children become gifted adults, I figure I will start by considering what gifted children are.
So then: what’s a gifted child? Even though there isn’t consensus about what a gifted child is, there are some established streams of thought. The most commonly accepted view of gifted children is: Some children demonstrate behaviour that is quantitatively different than their peers. For example, a gifted children may speak sooner and/or with greater complexity. They may have knowledge of things that are atypical of other kids their age – either to a greater degree or simply an unusual interest. Generally speaking, the intellectual development of gifted children can be measured as quantitatively different from their chronological peers. And it’s possible to measure a child’s deviation from the standard as developmental psychology has mapped out a tremendous number of behavioural norms. Thank you Mr Piaget.
Cognitive processing or, put another way, knowing a lot of information before other children of the same age, seems to get a lot of attention. What seems to have had less attention is theories regarding personality traits and behaviours associated with gifted children. However, there is some awareness that a child’s broader social and emotional development is also differentiated if their cognitive experience varies from the norm. Linda Kreger Silverman’s Asynchronous Development articulates the intuitive underlying premise of gifted education: that intellectual and emotional development may not be aligned. For example, a child might have the language skills of an 18 year old, the physical abilities of a 12 year old and the emotional skills of a 10 year old and a chronological age of 11. By acknowledging this asynchronicity, Dr Silverman introduces questions beyond intellectual development: what expectations does society have of a child like this? What frustrations might asynchronicity create in a child?
I find the idea that intelligence potentially has implications beyond cognitive processing/education very interesting. There are other theories about behaviours of children that might be associated with having high intelligence. For example, there is a theory that gifted children need to engage in debate simply to reflect their cognitive processing. Hence, the theory that a gifted child’s love of argument for argument’s sake produces little lawyers. As a parent I am very familiar with my childrens’ love of debating because they do it ALL THE TIME. I am so used to how my children interact, I lose perspective – I assume that ALL children constantly need to question and challenge EVERYTHING. It’s my experience that all children challenge and question to a degree so I forget that not all children are predisposed to litigate EVERY single instruction (and most observations), and I do mean EVERY single one, until some bystander comments on it on my children’s constant questioning or they wear out somebody not used to their unrelenting, high intensity kind of interaction.
So back to my question: what is a gifted child? Generalizations are so problematic because for the concept to make sense, by definition, it would need to apply universally. And yet, whenever I read anything about giftedness, I think: “would this apply to all gifted children?” So today, I’m working within this framework: giftedness is based in a differentiated cognitive processing that would tend to be associated with some personality traits. (And I’m leaving aside, for now, the difficulty in quantifying ‘differentiated cognitive processing’). Recently I heard a speaker, Jason Dorsey, talk about Generation Y and how they interact in a multi-generational workplace (hiliarious and brilliant presentation, by the way). When he started speaking, everyone in the audience was on the defensive, resistant to being labelled and generalized. But he carefully defined his terms and suggested that the characteristics associated with each generation were CLUES not absolute statements. And of course, he was bang on with every “clue”, accurately skewering all of us and 15 minutes in, everyone’s heads were nodding in recognition and we were doubled over in laughter. I feel the same way about ‘characteristics’ of giftedness – I resist the idea of being generalized; however, I recognize myself, as well as my gifted friends and family in the descriptions.
And, at the same time, I’m left to ponder the many questions spinning through my brain. Like, the validity of the IQ test itself. Like, really, how different is it to be in the 97th percentile versus the 98th – does this really produce a distinct experience that can be catagorized? When I read through the personality characteristics associated with giftedness(child or adult), there are so many, often contradictory, characteristics listed, they seem to capture just about everything and everyone. As someone I know said, “I recognize myself in it but I also recognize myself as Libra in the newspaper horoscope”. So how useful are these ‘gifted characteristics’ lists? Does asynchronicity in childhood shape us as adults? Have I mastered my ‘little lawyer’ in adulthood or, like my children, do I continue to challenge constantly? And here’s my biggest question: how does the traditional, developmental idea of giftedness in children apply to giftedness in adults? If the personality characteristics of giftedness are based in differentiated cognitive processing, and if a gifted child is gifted because they are ahead of their peers, what happens when development ultimately evens out? A child who can read fluently at three is exceptional. An adult who can read fluently at 23 is not. Performing ‘ahead’ of our peers does not apply the same way in adulthood. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why there is less information about gifted adults: the conventional understanding of giftedness in children cannot be applied to adults in the same way.