‘Giftedness‘ can be defined in many ways, but basically it describes individuals with a high cognitive potential, broadly speaking with an IQ in the top 1-2% of the population (an IQ of 130 or higher). The IQ range differs amongst specialists and specific tests are used to determine an individual’s intellectual profile. Apart from producing a score – which in isolation is not very useful – these tests deliver tremendous value through specialist reports about the individual’s emotional, sensory, social and educational needs. This information is pure gold and well worth the sometimes very high price.
I have heard gifted children and adults described as: interesting, intelligent, difficult, intense, sensitive, quirky, unusual, clever, exceptional, impossible and different. No two people are exactly alike and this is certainly true of the gifted community. Gifties – adults and children – think and processes input differently to 98% of the population and they interact with people and information in a unique way. While this can result in tremendous creative or intellectual output, it is often also coupled with significant challenges as they struggle to socialise, learn in traditional schools, work in traditionally neurotypical industries or simply try to ‘fit in‘.
Gifted is not the same thing as talented, highly able, high-performing or academic excellence (although a gifted person may fall into one or more of these categories). While it is true every person in the world has their own gift and contribution to offer, ‘gifted‘ is a specific term used to define those who have an exceptional intellectual potential, assessed using specific tests. While this implies an academic capability, it actually brings with it a raft of complications regarding their specific needs in terms of education, stimulation, social interaction and advocacy.
Some gifted children do not excel at school – standardised tests do not work for them as both their intellectual development and their learning styles are asynchronous. They are inately adept at seeing things from more than one perspective, so their thoughts complicate solutions and offer plausible alternatives when a simple multiple choice answer is required. They also may be able to solve problems and puzzles several years ahead of their age-peers, but their social and emotional development may be the same, or even behind their age group. High IQ often comes with ways of thinking about the world that are difficult to express using language, leading to high levels of unique creativity and visual-spatial thinking, both of which can be viewed as ‘an acquired taste amongst’ employers and schools.
Gifted people are often misunderstood. But they aren’t going to change the way they think, feel or react by undergoing training or psychotherapy – put simply, they can’t. It’s how they are made and there is nothing wrong with that. Exceptionality brings with it certain other characteristics such as intensity, emotional sensitivity, sensory seeking/avoidance or socially challenging behaviours. Becoming aware of these and understanding how to work with them in practice opens up potential and communication.
“2e” or twice-exceptional, is another term you will come across in this arena. 2e people are those who are gifted and who also have a registered disability (for example, anxiety, ADHD, ASD). They sometimes use their giftedness to mask the disability, leaving it undetected for a long time and rendering them misunderstood as problem children – difficult, naughty, painfully shy or impossible. It is crushing when people fall through the cracks without the support they need to reach their full potential.
If you are a giftie or are raising gifted kids, you are not alone! There are some truly wonderful groups and people out there who do understand and who offer incredible resources and support. These are just a few I’ve encountered on my journey:
- GATCA WA – Gifted and Talented Children Association of WA
- MENSA – a worldwide organisation of members who qualify on the basis of IQ score. They are a wonderful organisation for networking, friendships and meeting like-minded individuals, activities, events, youth programmes and much more. Local groups are active, so get in touch and make some local contacts.
- AAEGT – Australian Association for the Education of the Gifted and Talented
Interviews with Femke Hovinga-Tiller:
- Fiona Smith, director of the Gifted Minds practice, shares her insights about having a 145+ IQ.
- Gifted Guru Lisa Van Gemert talks about the intensity of ‘life elevated’ and the pain that results from having a 145+ IQ – understanding this can help you understand those who think differently.
It is also important that we don’t make those dealing with giftedness feel judged, as though they are claiming some form of smug superiority. They aren’t. Theirs is a journey that can only be understood from the inside and many find it more of a burden than a blessing. The word ‘gifted’ is an unfortunate label that might be better changed to ‘asynchronous’ or ‘alternative-thinking’. We doesn’t negatively judge individuals with special needs of any other kind, so being born with the educational, social and intellectual needs of being gifted should receive the same compassion.
Whatever your experience, please be kind to families of gifties – they face challenges every day and just want to be able to get on with it like everybody else.
Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, nor do I claim to have accredited expertise regarding giftedness or associated characteristics. My experiences are anecdotal, from what I have learned through psychologists, support literature, seminars, books, workshops, groups and what I have experienced living as a gifted individual and raising gifted children. Any views expressed here are based on my own understanding and are not necessarily those of the organisations I recommend in the links.