BUT WHAT IS GIFTED REALLY?
Parents and guardians should feel encouraged to reach out to their child’s teacher to ask about gifted services. Part of the District’s responsibility is to articulate what its gifted programming is and what it is not. Along these lines, parents and school staff often have misperceptions about the traits of gifted students. Some of these misperceptions about gifted students include:
- That gifted students are often bored in class. FACT: gifted students are not bored in school more or less than other students due to being gifted. In fact, many students experience boredom from time to time in and out of school.
- That gifted students must be accelerated. FACT: While acceleration is necessary for certain students, ideal gifted programming relies on both enrichment as well as acceleration.
- That gifted students can be gifted in certain subject-areas but not others. FACT: Students often prefer certain subjects and can show strengths in some areas. Giftedness, however, is best thought of as an exceptionality; students who are gifted have patterns of strengths and weaknesses that show up at school, on the playground, and at home. Gifted students require specially-designed instruction (SDI) in order to meet their full potential. To state that a gifted student is only gifted some of the time, or under certain circumstances, however, is improbable and unrealistic.
Some of the common traits of gifted students do include the following:
- Ability to comprehend material that is significantly above their same-age peers;
- Emotional depth and sensitivity, even at a young age;
- Strong sense of curiosity;
- Creative problem solving;
- Absorbs information quickly;
- Deep awareness of self, others, and social issues.
It is important to note that these traits do not define all gifted students and do not on their own warrant more comprehensive testing for gifted determination. However, these traits, when not properly identified can be perceived negatively. One working theory comes from Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902-1980) who identified five areas in which children exhibit intense behaviors, also known as "overexcitabilities,” or OEs for short. They are psychomotor, sensual, emotional, intellectual, and imaginational. Gifted children tend to have multiple intensities, although one is usually dominant.
The psychomotor OE is common in gifted children. It is characterized primarily by high levels of energy. Children with this OE seem to constantly be on the move. Even as infants, they need less sleep than other children. As adults, they are able to work long hours without tiring.
Children with this OE also may be misdiagnosed as having attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But while they can be active, they are quite capable of focused concentration unless they are insufficiently mentally stimulated. The lack of mental stimulation can be a challenge for these children in school.
The primary sign of this intensity is a surplus of energy. Characteristics of children with a dominant psychomotor OE may include:
- Compulsive organizing
- Compulsive talking
- Impulsive behavior
- Physical expression of emotions
- Preference for fast action and sports
- Nervous habits and tics
- Rapid speech
The primary sign of this intensity is a heightened awareness of all five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. Children with a dominant sensual OE can get sick from the smell of certain foods or, as toddlers, might hate to walk on grass in their bare feet. The pleasure they get from the tastes and textures of some foods may cause challenges.
If your child has sensual OE, you may notice several of these traits:
- Appreciation of beauty, whether in writing, music, art or nature, including the love of objects like jewelry
- Craving for pleasure
- Need or desire for comfort
- Sensitivity to pollution
- Sensitive to smells, tastes, or textures of foods
- Tactile sensitivity (bothered by the feel of some materials on the skin or clothing tags)
- Intellectual Overexcitabilities
This intensity is the one most recognized in gifted children. It is characterized by activities of the mind. Children who lead with this intensity seem to be thinking all the time and want answers to deep questions. Sometimes their need for answers can look disrespectful or be perceived as challenging to authority figures. They may exhibit several of these traits:
- Analytical thinking
- Asking probing questions
- Avid reading
- Concentration, ability to maintain intellectual effort
- Deep curiosity
- Independent thinking
- Love of knowledge and learning
- Love of problem-solving
- Theoretical thinking
The primary sign of this intensity is the free play of the imagination. Their vivid imaginations can cause them to visualize the worst possibility in any situation. It can keep them from taking chances or getting involved in new situations. You may notice that your child exhibits:
- Detailed visualization
- Fear of the unknown
- Good sense of humor
- Imaginary friends
- Love of fantasy
- Love of poetry, music, and drama
- Magical thinking
- Vivid dreams
The primary sign of this intensity is exceptional emotional sensitivity. Children with strong emotional OE are sometimes mistakenly believed to have a psychological disorder or other emotional problems. They are often the children about whom people will say, "He's too sensitive for his own good." Your child may show these traits:
- Concern for others
- Extremes of emotion
- Feelings of guilt and sense of responsibility
- Feelings of inadequacy and inferiority
- A heightened sense of right and wrong or injustice and hypocrisy
- Need for security
- Physical response to emotions (stomach aches caused by anxiety, for example)
- Problems adjusting to change
- Strong memory of feelings
- Timidity and shyness
As you might see, gifted students, in the absence of specially-designed services, are apt to face significant challenges particularly of the social, emotional, and behavioral type. For this reason, it is at least as important to provide gifted students with the psychological and counseling support that they need as it is to provide them with appropriate levels of enrichment and/or accelerated learning thought to be at the core of gifted programming.
It is important to know that OEs are part of a working theory. They may help to capture some of the traits exhibited by gifted students, but not all and not perfectly. The model does help educators and parents understand that giftedness is not just about being “good at school.” In point of fact, a more realistic framework for understanding gifted students takes into account their social-emotional needs alongside their academic needs.