Sunday, March 28, 2010

Exploring Giftedness

  • Conversations with gifted adults 
  • Discussions with friends about the problems of their highly sensitive children
  • Personal interest in creativity, improvisation, innovation, and productivity
  • Questions about the differences between "bright" and "gifted"
  • Questions from gifted students about how to manage professional and social interactions
  • Questions from student teachers and mentor teachers about how to motivate gifted students (especially underachievers and “fast finishers”)

The quotes that follow highlight some of the issues that impact people who are gifted, along with some of the tensions they encounter as they try to make sense of their lives within the social and cultural contexts in which they find themselves embedded.

Talents ~ Time

“Although they try to cram 27 hours worth of living into a 24-hour day, there simply isn't enough time to develop all of the talents and interests that they may have" (Webb, 2009, p. 9).

Intensity ~ Isolation ~ Intimacy
"Gifted adults commonly have the experience of being 'out of sync' with others but not understanding why or how they are different.  Jacobsen (2000) describes how people came to her in her clinical practice with a vague sense that they were different; others had told them repeatedly that they were 'too-too'--that is, too serious, too intense, too complex, too emotional, etc." (Webb, 2009, p. 19).
"From the moment she arrived, it seemed that none of her co-workers was interested in making her acquaintance.  Conversations never included her; in-jokes left her completely in the dark; people fell silent when she came near a table in the lunchroom or a fountain in the halls.  At first--and still--she tried to believe that it was because she was young, she was frail, she did not make friends easily.  But actually, right from the start, she knew it was because she was an ambitious woman with remarkable scores from the best school on the planet; because she was curious and wanted to learn and wanted to be excellent, which would threaten all of them, make them all look bad (Card, 1978/1987, p. 207).

"But without a real friend, it was only a pretense, and I never could let my playmates know anything about me.  I studied them and wrote stories about them and it was all of them, but it was only a tiny part of me” (Shiras, 1953, p. 29).

". . . it is a Soul-devastating experience to sacrifice one's authenticity in order to belong" (Silverman, 1988).

“It’s wonderful to be able to talk to another person my own age and have them get everything I say, snap!  Just like that!  No matter what I talk about . . . . She doesn’t know exactly the same things I do, of course, but she understands everything” (Shiras, 1953, p. 56).

Complexity ~ Creativity ~ Contradictions ~ Constraints

"For gifted children, nothing is as simple as it seems.  They see clearly that the answer depends on the context--they see endless shades of grey" (Gifted & Talented Services of Australia, 2007).

"Sensitivity . . . without a developmental outlet turns into irritability” (Mika, 2002).

“The external structure that they are steeped with becomes contradictory or meaningless when confronted with articulate, conscious individual experience” (Webb, 2009, p. 11). 

“They may also find themselves feeling angry because they feel powerless to make the changes that they see as needed” (Webb, 2009, p. 16). 

Depth ~ Defense Mechanisms ~ Dedication

“Control kept him from showing any emotion at all, though he longed to cry out with the agony that tore at him inside.  My walls are deep, but can they hold this? he wondered . . .” (Card, 1978/1987, p. 180).

“‘Ansset, what is your song?’  He looked at her blankly.  Waited.  Apparently he did not understand.  ‘Ansset, you keep singing our songs back to us.  You keep taking what people feel and intensifying it and shattering us with it, but child, what song is yours?’ . . . . The object of Control was not to remove the singer from all human contact, but to keep that contact clear and clean.  Instead of a channel, Ansset was using Control as an impenetrable, insurmountable wall.  I will get over your walls, Ansset, she promised him silently.  You will sing a song of yourself to me.  But his blank, meaningless face said only, You will fail” (Card, 1978/1987, pp. 48-49).

“‘Oh you sound so sweet.  I can see where Ansset learned it.  A machine teaching a machine.’  ‘You misunderstand,’ said Esste.  ‘It is pain teaching pain.  What do you think the Control is for?’” (Card, 1978/1987, p. 42).

Development ~ Disintegration ~ Depression

“One must first disintegrate before one can reintegrate at a higher level, . . . .” (Webb, 2009, p. 14).

“However, this new mental schema may be only partially successful; these individuals may find themselves aware of inconsistencies and pretenses within their new way of thinking, though they may try desperately to convince themselves otherwise. They experience, then, only the dissolving part of the process—without reintegration at a higher level—leaving them with negative disintegration and the accompanying conflicts and negative emotions. Worse, they are unable to return to their previous unthinking way of being (“the rung bell”)” (Webb, 2009, p. 12).


The following video clips, webpages, essays, and books highlight some of the challenges and experiences associated with giftedness.
  • Apple (posted by PeterGreen125).  (2006, April 26).  Think differentYouTube.  Retrieved from

  • Onodera, Shun.  (2008, April 4).  Gifted.  Retrieved February 14, 2010, from
  • Orion Pictures Corporation.  (1991).  Little man tate 2Little Man Tate.  Retrieved February 14, 2010, from

  • Tolan, Stephanie.  (1996).  Is it a cheetah?  Retrieved June 24, 2009, from
    • Some studies indicate that the brains of gifted individuals may function more efficiently as a result of differences in structure and organization.  For example, more dense gray matter in the prefrontal cortex and more white matter tracts may facilitate attentional control, critical thinking, decision-making, working memory, and other executive functions (Navas-Sanchez, et al., 2014; Nestor, et al., 2015; Sousa, 2009; Tetreault, Haase, & Duncan, 2016). A thicker corpus callosum (Barbara & Kerr, 2009) may enable a more efficient use of cognitive resources and more integrated cognitive processing across the two hemispheres of the brain (Jaušovec, 2000Jin, et al., 2006), while thicker myelin sheaths around individual neurons and more synaptic connections may facilitate faster cognitive processing.
    • Some research suggests that people who have been classified as "gifted" may be especially sensitive to certain kinds of stimulation.  These sensitivities have been classified into five major domains:
      • Emotional (often displayed as deep emotional attachment, extremes, or intensity)
      • Imaginational (frequently expressed as a penchant for fantasy, imaginative play, inventiveness, and visual forms of cognition such as imagery or metaphor)
      • Intellectual (regularly exhibited as high levels of concentration, intense inquisitiveness, metacognition, and abstract thinking that focuses on analysis, synthesis, or theory-building)
      • Psychomotor (typically manifested as excess energy and enthusiasm, impulsivity, rapid speech, and physical expression of emotional tension through competitiveness, compulsiveness, nervous habits, or workaholism
      • Sensual (often visible in attention to aesthetics, the derivation of pleasure from sensory input, and overindulgence during periods of stress) (Fielder, 1998; Webb, 2009)
    • These "heightened levels of awareness, energy, and emotional response" are a NORMAL part of the developmental trajectory for "gifted" individuals (Azpeitia & Rocamora, 1994; Tolan, 1996; Webb, 2009). However, the feedback that many gifted individuals receive while living life on a daily basis tends to send the message that much of what is at the core of who they are and what they care about is completely abnormal (Tolan, 1994).
    • This message is reinforced by the fact that the development of "gifted" individuals often occurs asynchronously, with intellectual development typically preceding social and emotional development.  Thus, these individuals are frequently "out of sync" with the rest of the world in general, and their same-age peers in particular.  Although most gifted individuals are very aware of this fact, many blame this lack of synchronicity on personal deficiencies or idiosyncracies rather than recognizing that it is a very "normal" part of giftedness (Clark, 2002Fielder, 1998; King, 2009; Tolan, 1994; Webb, 2009).
    • Educators also frequently fail to recognize the psychosocial tensions that such asynchronous development produces.  Teachers typically focus on qualitative differences between the knowledge and skills of gifted individuals and those of their peers, failing to realize that they are physical manifestations of less visible phenomena, such as marked differences in the focus of their interest and attention, in their energy and concentration levels, in the rationales underlying their goals and motivations, in their thoughts and interpretations regarding the world, and in the way they represent their understandings (Shavinina, 2008; Tolan, 1994).  Educators who do not recognize these qualitative differences between gifted individuals and the other students in their classes may adopt approaches to managing gifted students that require them to do more difficult work, in larger quantities, at a faster pace or of higher quality that that required of their peers.  The needs and behaviors of gifted individuals are also frequently misinterpreted for similar reasons, and both teachers and employers may find such individuals difficult to engage, difficult to manage, and difficult to understand.
    • The personal challenges associated with the heightened sensitivities that many gifted individuals experience include managing intense emotional reactions to daily events, finding outlets for an overabundance of creativity and/or energy, inadequate intellectual or sensory stimulation, insufficient emotional intimacy, intense perfectionism and self-criticism, and setting appropriate boundaries for self and others (Azpeitia & Rocamora, 1994; Perrone, et. al, 2007; Rinn & Bishop, 2015; Streznewski, 1999; Tolan, 1994; Webb, 2009).
    • Major life events or stresses frequently catalyze displays of hypersensitivities in most people, but such displays tend to occur more frequently, last longer, and manifest more intensely in gifted individuals.  This often intensifies the aforementioned difficulties with interpersonal relationships among family, friends, teachers, and employers, and may even lead uninformed health care professionals to misdiagnose these individuals with attention deficit disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, neuroses, or other psychological problems (Azpeitia & Rocamora, 1994; Mika, 2002; Streznewski, 1999; Tolan, 1996).  
    • A number of studies have noted a strong correlation between giftedness and perfectionism.  Gifted individuals frequently set goals for themselves based on their intellectual capacity rather than on what may be developmentally appropriate or realistic given their chronological age.  They may also evaluate their performance in comparison with that of their associates (who often tend to be older or more accomplished than they are), irrespective of the criteria that would be considered realistic given their lack of experience with the particular field they are exploring.  They may also become so accustomed to success at an early age due to their well-developed cognitive skills that they question their own intelligence when confronted with failure--a phenomenon known as "the impostor syndrome" (Perrone, et. al, 2007).  However, when the “positive energy” of perfectionistic tendencies is harnessed in productive ways, such tendencies can become great resources for personal development.  Some research suggests that the ability of gifted individuals to accomplish this is tied to whether or not they adopt a resilient approach to failure (King, 2009; Perrone, et. al, 2007; Silverman, 2007).   
    • The hypersensitivities that typically accompany giftedness are especially problematic for females, many of whom are keenly aware of the gap between who they are and what society expects them to be.  The message that their "appearance and sociability" are the primary source of their value to society pervades historical traditions, permeates the media, and is perpetuated by textbooks in which well-known male "experts" blatantly characterize women as inferior.  Gifted girls are socialized to believe that they are less capable than men, and many begin to lose confidence in both their abilities and in the validity of their perceptions as they reach puberty.  Such perspectives are often further reinforced as high-achieving women interact with competitive men in male-dominated fields and workplaces.  Gifted women also lack widely-recognized, high achieving female role models to counter that message, and those who are courageous enough to ignore the message face strong social sanctions when their interests and behaviors deviate from traditional roles and expectations for females (King, 2009; Perrone, et. al, 2007Silverman, 2005; Tolan, 1994).  Thus, gifted females are often faced with a continual choice between intellectual fulfillment and social acceptance.
    • Finally, it should be noted that although the characteristics of giftedness persist throughout the lifespan, the lives of many gifted adults do not necessarily manifest those characteristics (in terms of career accomplishments, eminence, salary, or personal achievements) (Rinn & Bishop, 2015; Streznewski, 1999).
    • In summary, gifted individuals frequently experience the world in qualitatively different ways from their same-aged peers. Their extreme sensitivity to their environment, their capacity to handle conceptual complexity, and their resultant skill in a variety of domains enables them to absorb vast quantities of intellectual, emotional, and sensory input.  As a result, they require adequate challenge and stimulation in order to avoid boredom and frustration.  Additionally, the sensitivities of gifted individuals kindle a variety of interests, fuel a passionate commitment to pursuits they value, and spark intense reactions to life’s events.  On the other hand, such sensitivities (in conjunction with the perfectionism that tends to be highly correlated with giftedness) position gifted individuals to be acutely aware of incongruity between their own beliefs and actions, as well as injustice in the world at large.  When their vision for the future or themselves exceeds their existing ability to implement it, they may become discouraged or even clinically depressed.  Furthermore, because few others are likely to share their passions and intensities, gifted individuals (especially females) may feel forced to sacrifice who they are in pursuit of emotional intimacy or social relationships.
     References/Further Reading:
    • Azpeitia, Lynne, & Mary Rocamora.   (1994, November).  Misdiagnosis of the giftedMensa Bulletin.  Retrieved January 24, 2010, from 
    • Barbara, A., & Kerr, B. A. (2009).  Encyclopedia of giftedness, creativity, and talent.  Sage Publications, Inc.
    • King, Lance G. (2009). The importance of failing well: An exploration of the relationship between resilience and academic achievement. The University of Waikato. Retrieved March 28, 2010, from
    • Shavinina, Levinia V.  (2008).  A unique type of representation is the essence of giftedness:  Towards a cognitive-developmental theory.  The International Handbook on Giftedness.  Dordrecht, the Netherlands:  Springer Science & Business Media.
      • Sousa, D. A. (Ed.). (2009).  How the gifted brain learns.  Corwin Press.
      • Tetreault, N., Haase, J., & Duncan, S.  (2016).  The gifted brain.  Retrieved from
      Other References

      • Card, Orson Scott.  (1978/1987).  Songmaster.  NY:  Tom Doherty Associates.

      Sunday, March 21, 2010

      Dance Lessons

      Trust is quite the dancer-- 

      Slow, smooth, tiny steps. 

      Then suddenly, a spin, a dip . . . 

      When you least expect!