Last week we talked about gifted children, children who are very intelligent, intellectual, creative, thoughtful, and advanced. Many children with special gifts or talents are often misunderstood to have behavioral and mood disorders because of their behaviors in certain environments such as the classroom. Gifted children are gifted based not only on IQ, but also creativity and maturity. Gifted children can appear very unintellectual in certain settings and highly intellectual in others. This was exactly my problem! Put me in front of an SAT test and I could appear very inadequate. However, place me in a college class discussing the economy, forensic science, or psychology and I could surpass my peers.
Labels are highly subjective & unscientific
Trying to understand the genetic makeup of gifted children has taken a backseat in the mental health field. As a result, kids who are bored within the classroom and tend to act out are often labeled ADHD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Kids who are very thoughtful and mature, are often considered depressed or anxious. Children who worry a lot and appear very concerned about adult matters, tend to be labeled Asperger’s or OCD. The biggest evil of this confusion is, as stated previously, the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). The remaining fault lies in the laps of mental health professionals who pathologize everything.
What are the signs of a gifted child?
Authors Webb, Amend, Webb, Goerss, Beljan, and Olenchak (2005) state that there are very similar behavioral characteristics of children that truly have behavioral problems and children who are simply gifted. They offer us the following list of behavioral characteristics of gifted children:
- Usually large vocabularies and complex sentence structure for their age
- Greater comprehension of subtleties of language
- Intensity and sensitivity
- Wide range of interests
- Highly developed curiosity and limited questions
- Interest in experimenting and doing things differently
- Tendency to put ideas or things together in ways that are unusual, not obvious, and creative (divergent thinking)
- Learn basic skills more quickly, with less practice
- Largely teach themselves to read and write as pre-schoolers
- Able to retain much information; unusual memory
- Have imaginary playmates
- Unusual sense of humor
- Desire to organize people and things, primarily through devising complex games
Who is gifted and who is not?
This list is exhaustive and also highly subjective. The definition of a gifted child has continued to change over the years and may change again in the future! The current definition of gifted children from the National Association for Gifted Children is “show, or have the potential for showing, an exceptional level of performance.” This very narrow definition tells us nothing more than the individual must be “exceptional. Where I have a slight problem with this definition is that children with Asperger’s Syndrome can be “exceptional and so can individuals labeled socio-paths. How do we differentiate these things? No one knows!
As you can see, labels are very controversial, ineffective in most cases, and very subjective.
Take away message
The lesson here: be open minded and consider that you or a loved one could be labeled incorrectly. You might have a child or know a child who does not actually have ADHD or Autism, but rather, is gifted. It is up to mental health professionals to become further educated to this and learn better ways to recognize, define, and refine the definition and “diagnostic tools” for understanding giftedness. Until them, it is up to those of us who are knowledgeable, to bring this to the surface when necessary.
All the best!