Thursday, January 19, 2006

Gifted Adults

The Davidson Institute reports that they get a reasonable number of queries from grown-up gifted kids who say they never knew that was what was "wrong" with them. (See this article by D. Lovecky for a round-up of the personality characteristics -- positive and negative -- many gifted adults display.) Some schools are simply uninterested in figuring out why the quiet kid in the back is bored with school, or doing anything about it. If parents don't know how or can't nurture their children's gifts, and if the child doesn't speak up or find mentors or teacher that do understand, then the kid can grow up thinking "learning isn't for me."

That's a sad situation. Fortunately, adults can control their lives in ways children can't. That means that adults who realize that maybe they weren't dumb, or weird, but just weren't being challenged, can create situations where they can feed their brains. Many, as the Lovecky article notes, become entrepreneurs. When you create the work rules, after all, you don't have to play by the ones you never liked in school. You can seek out creative fields and workplaces, especially ones that tolerate difference. You can create environments with intellectual peers by joining organizations such as Mensa and participating in their forums and activities. You can form book clubs and philosophical societies that draw people with intellectual interests. And you can always seek out activities like crosswords and auditing college courses or taking them online to keep your brain buzzing.

I'm curious if other people have suggestions for adults seeking to nurture their gifts.


jason Smith said...

Recent studies have shown that many gifted adults would not have been identified as gifted in school even if tested. For example the famous studies of identical twins separated at birth found a very high correlation of twins as adults (~ 0.7 - 0.8) in IQ, but lower as teens, and much lower as young children (<0.4). A popular interpretation of these studies is that when given the opportunity gifted people actually create an environment that allows them to develop their aptitudes. If not provided with that environment their giftedness can be almost completely suppressed (including in IQ testing - despite its alleged independence on environment).

Some IQ theorists have even argued (e.g. Flynn, Ericcson) based on this evidence that a key requirement for giftedness may be an intense interest in specific intellectual pursuits - that allows latent aptitudes to be developed to their fullest.

So based on these studies I would recommend any adult finding themselves in this situation to pursue whatever interests them - at least statistically their interests are the best guide for developing their aptitudes.

jo_jo said...

I had to go through a grieving process when I realized what was "wrong" with me. As I have big overexcitabilities, this was a pretty intense time in my life.

I think it's important to realize that gifted people can actually feel defective or bad because of their gifted traits. Why then would they speak up, as kids, or even as adults? No one likes to draw attention to what's wrong with them. Learning to celebrate these gifts and follow their urges can be a big challenge. Working with a helping professional such as a counsellor, coach, or therapist who is knowledgeable about gifted issues is one option to consider.

Mary Vanderkam said...

Mathcounts, a competition for middle school students, is a wonderful place for gifted adults to volunteer. This organization made a difference in the lives of our three children by giving them opportunities to work cooperatively on challenging problems in math.

There probably are many volunteer opportunities with gifted children that others may want to share.

Laura Vanderkam said...

Hi mom! Good idea.

Emily Taylor said...

I think it goes even beyond actually identifying children as being gifted.

Both my husband and I were identified as gifted in grade school, and we each had completely different lives and experiences. My husband denied and ultimately forgot about the gifted part, and continued on with life. It wasn't until we had kids that he and I both became aware of how this "giftedness" played a role in both of our lives, and the things we accomplished that were merely accredited to "luck". Especially, now that we have 5 gifted children (two being exceptionally gifted), with all different levels of ability and interests.

Any adult wishing to break out of the self-imposed "other self" that was full of guilt, and intense emotions really should just consume any news about giftedness and the highly gifted. It will open your eyes, and create a shift in your reality, as things start making sense and you finally feel you are home.

Anonymous said...

There is an email list for gifted adults seeking a supportive environment for exploring these kinds of issues.