Thursday, July 21

"Gifted" or Not?

I wrote this today in response to a friend's request for info and realize that it fits into the category of topics-I-get-asked-about-often-enough-to-preserve-for-future-use and so am posting it here. This particular friend was wanting more information on giftedness because she couldn't figure out what was going on for her 9 year old son and was beginning to the look at the possibilities of giftedness because she'd read that it sometimes masqueraded as giftedness. She wanted an basic intro into the concept and realities of giftedness.

Giftedness can be simple to define, if you think in terms of IQ:

· Mildly Gifted -- 115 to 129
· Moderately Gifted -- 130 to 144
· Highly Gifted -- 145 to 159
· Exceptionally Gifted -- 160 to 179
· Profoundly Gifted -- 180

Most people dislike defining it in this way because it's so limited and so label-y. Still a kid's test results can often provide insight; the further they test from the average 100 IQ the more specific their needs will be, and the less well they will fit in with a typical grouping of kids, both academically and socially. Some people reject the idea of giftedness based on the fact that, occasionally, even gifted children don't test well in spite of (or sometimes because of a very high degree) of traits usually associated with giftedness.

There is also the huge problem of terminology which manages to turn of critics of "giftedness" and even "gifted"-oriented parents and professionals; The word "gifted" is an irritating misnomer. Critics accurately point out that all kids are "gifted" and of course that is true!! The problem is that the word as used by those of us who have no better word for what we mean, generally is referring to intellectual advancement or unusual academic requirements. In some the unique requirements best suited for highly or profoundly gifted learner are as extreme as the special needs of severely handicapped child in the other direction. IQ outliers require radical differences in learning; In my opinion all kids need, or at least really benefit from, individualization but kids on the high end of the giftedness scales often need much, much more, and not receiving it can be damaging in a myriad of ways.

I think this list is a very good indictor of giftedness (in spite of testing results or in the case of no testing) and it matches my experience of what "giftedness" looks like:

· Extremely Curious
· Intense interests
· Excellent memory
· Long attention span
· Excellent reasoning skills
· Well-developed powers of abstraction, conceptualization, and synthesis
· Quickly and easily sees relationships in ideas, objects, or facts
· Fluent and flexible thinking
· Elaborate and original thinking
· Excellent problem solving skills
· Learns quickly and with less practice and repetition
· Unusual and/or vivid imagination

Linda Silverman, the director of the GDC, has a nice page on identifying gifted kids here, and her list overlaps with the one above:

This is another good checklist comparing bright and "gifted":

Linda and other experts consider that the two subcomponents of IQ testing most strongly correlated with, and indicative of, IQ/giftedness are Verbal Comprehension Index (VCI) and Perceptual Reasoning Index (PRI). Often these traits are strong in highly verbal or auditory-sequential people but she's also done research to show that many gifted kids are highly visual-spatial.

Here's a basic intro into gifted visual-spatial learners:

Giftedness can be mistaken for ADD/ADHD especially, imo, in schools where the academic/intellectual offerings are just too slow for the gifted child. James Webb who is another great resource on gifted issues says:
"Many gifted children are being mis-diagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The gifted child's characteristics of intensity, sensitivity, impatience, and high motor activity can easily be mistaken for ADHD. Some gifted children surely do suffer from ADHD, and thus have a dual diagnosis of gifted and ADHD; but in my opinion, most are not."

The chart part way down shows which characteristics might be interpreted negatively.
One of the things I've heard as a differentiator is this: If your child seems to have a difficult time maintaining focus on most things, that may be indicative of ADD/ADHD whereas a gifted child will be bored and seem unfocused if the content is too easy or irrelevant to him but will be highly focused in areas of curiosity, challenge or fascination.
Perfectionism (fear of failure) are often found in gifted kids because they've been told how smart they are so often that they get attached to the idea and don't want to prove it wrong. This is not a gifted book per se but I think it's a great resource for helping kids to develop an image of flexibility vis a vis their intelligence and skill. The author, Carol Dweck, dismissed the idea of giftedness when I heard her speak in person, which I wholeheartedly disagree with (beyond the specific word) but I think this book is great in terms of helping children develop a positive "mindset" towards themselves and their learning.

As for testing, yes there are lots of people who offer testing in the bay area though it's almost the topic of another full email. Here's an overview of the some of the different types of testing:

IQ testing; usually one of the Weschler set of tests and usually the WISC IV, for ~4-16 years of age, I believe:
This test ceilings at 160.

Achievement testing: for the purpose of evaluating degree of knowledge and proficiency (ie grade level) in an area or set of areas; GDC uses the Woodcock-Johnston battery.

Qualitative Testing; this was developed by AnneMarie Roeper and she has a protege in the Bay area who does this kind of testing. Some people see this to be in the all-kids-are-gifted camp but I know some local families who have received useful qualitative information from QA.

Neuropsychological assessment; evaluates brain-based impairment and functioning; often used for kids who have extreme disfunction or brain-based problems.

This is just a small tip of a big iceberg and I hope it helps in some way. Let me know if I can help in any other way.

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