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Intellectual giftedness

Intellectual giftedness is an intellectual ability significantly higher than average. Gifted children develop asynchronously; their minds are often ahead of their physical growth, and specific cognitive and emotional functions often are at different stages of development within a single person. Gifted individuals form a heterogeneous group. Because gifted children are intellectually ahead of most of their age peers in at least one major subject area, they frequently require gifted education programs to reach their potential and avoid boredom. Gifted individuals experience the world differently and more intensely, resulting in unique social and emotional issues. The concept of giftedness has historically been rife with controversy, some even denying that this group exists.

Identifying giftedness

The formal identification of giftedness first emerged as an important issue for schools, as the instruction of gifted students often presents special challenges. During the 20th century, gifted children were often classified by the use of IQ tests, but recent developments in theories of intelligence have raised serious questions about the appropriate uses and limits of such testing. The fact remains that there are children who are academically beyond their peers and may be unable to fulfill their academic potential within the standard schooling system. Many schools in North America and Europe have attempted to identify these students and offer additional or specialized education for them in the hope of nurturing their talents.

Because of the key role that gifted education plays in the identification of gifted people (children or adults), it is worthwhile to examine how that discipline uses the term "gifted".

Definitions of giftedness
In Identifying Gifted Children: A Practical Guide, Susan K. Johnsen explains that gifted children all exhibit the potential for high performance in the areas included in the United States federal definition of gifted and talented students:[1]

The term "gifted and talented" when used in respect to students, children, or youth means students, children, or youth who give evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities." (P.L. 103–382, Title XIV, p. 388)

This definition has been adopted in part or completely by the majority of the states in the United States. Most have some definition similar to that used in the State of Texas, whose definition states

[The phrase] "gifted and talented student" means a child or youth who performs at or shows the potential for performing at a remarkably high level of accomplishment when compared to others of the same age, experience, or environment, and who
exhibits high performance capability in an intellectual, creative, or artistic area;
possesses an unusual capacity for leadership; or  excels in a specific academic field." (74th legislature of the State of Texas, Chapter 29, Subchapter D, Section 29.121)

The major characteristics of these definitions are (a) the diversity of areas in which performance may be exhibited (e.g., intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership, academic), (b) the comparison with other groups (e.g., those in general education classrooms or of the same age, experience, or environment), and (c) the use of terms that imply a need for development of the gift (e.g., capability and potential).

Identification methods
Many schools use a variety of measures of students capability and potential when identifying gifted children.[1] These may include portfolios of student work, classroom observations, achievement measures, and intelligence scores. Most educational professionals accept that no single measure can be used in isolation to accurately identify a gifted child.

One of the measures used in identification is the score derived from an intelligence measure. The general cutoff for many programs is often placed near the sigma 2 level on a standardized intelligence test, children above this level being labeled 'gifted'.

Some IQ testers use these classifications to describe differing levels of giftedness. The following bands apply with a standard deviation of σ = 15 on a standardized IQ test. Each band represents a difference of one standard deviation from the mean.

Bright: 115+, or one in six (84th percentile)
Moderately gifted: 130+, or 1 in 50 (97.9th percentile)
Highly gifted: 145+, or 1 in 1000 (99.9th percentile)
Exceptionally gifted: 160+, or 1 in 30,000 (99.997th percentile)
Profoundly gifted: 175+, or 1 in 3 million (99.99997th percentile)

Unfortunately, most IQ tests do not have the capacity to discriminate accurately at higher IQ levels, and are perhaps only effective at determining whether a student is gifted rather than distinguishing among levels of giftedness. Although the Wechsler tests have a ceiling of about 160, their creator has admitted that they are intended to be used within the average range (between 70 and 130), and are not intended for use at the extreme ends of the population. The Stanford-Binet form V and the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children—Fourth Revision, both recently released, are currently being evaluated for this population. Mensa offers IQ testing but these are only suitable for persons over the age of ten and a half years. Younger children need to be assessed by an educational psychologist to find out their IQ score. Also, those who are more gifted in areas such as the arts and literature tend to do poorly on IQ tests, which are often more science- and mathematics-oriented.

While many people believe giftedness is a strictly quantitative difference, measurable by IQ tests, a number of people have described giftedness as a fundamentally different way of perceiving the world, which in turn affects every experience had by the gifted individual. These differences do not disappear when gifted children become adults or leave school.

Gifted adults are seldom recognized as a special population, but they still have unique psychological, social, and emotional needs related to their high intelligence.[2]

Savants are people that perform exceptionally in one field of learning. 'Autistic savantism' refers to the exceptional abilities exhibited by autistics or people with developmental disorders. In a 1978 article in Psychology Today, Dr. Bernard Rimland introduced the term 'autistic savant' to describe this condition.

Characteristics of giftedness
Generally, gifted individuals learn more quickly, deeply, and broadly than their peers. Gifted children may learn to read early and operate at the same level as normal children who are significantly older. The gifted tend to demonstrate high reasoning ability, creativity, curiosity, a large vocabulary, and an excellent memory. They often can master concepts with few repetitions. They may also be physically and emotionally sensitive,[citation needed] perfectionistic,[citation needed] and may frequently question authority.[citation needed] They sometimes perceive teachers and authority figures as their peers or even as inferior to themselves.[citation needed] Some have trouble relating to or communicating with their peers because of disparities in vocabulary size (especially in the early years), personality, and interests.[citation needed] As children, they may prefer the company of older children or adults.[citation needed]

Giftedness is frequently not evenly distributed throughout all intellectual spheres: an individual may excel in solving logic problems and yet be a poor speller; another gifted individual may be able to read and write at a far above average level and yet have trouble with mathematics. It is possible there are different types of giftedness with their own unique features, just as there are different types of developmental delay.

Some gifted individuals experience heightened sensory awareness and may seem overly sensitive to sight, sound, smell and touch. For example, they may be extremely uncomfortable when they have a wrinkle in their sock, or unable to concentrate because of the sound of a clock ticking on the other side of the room. Gifted children are often bothered by the seams in socks and tags on clothes. Hypersensitivity to external stimuli can be said to resemble a proneness to "sensory overload," which can cause persons to avoid chaotic and crowded environments. Others, however, are able to tune out any unwanted distractions as they focus on a task or on their own thoughts, and seem to seek and thrive on being in the midst of lots of activity and stimulation. In many cases, awareness may fluctuate between conditions of hyperstimulation and of withdrawal. These conditions may appear to be similar to symptoms of hyperactivity, bipolar disorder, autism-spectrum conditions, and other psychological disorders, but are often explained by gifted education professionals by reference to Kazimierz Dabrowski's theory of Positive Disintegration. [3]

Social and emotional issues

Isolation is one of the main challenges faced by gifted individuals, especially those with no social network of gifted peers. Hoping to gain popularity, gifted children will often try to hide their abilities to win social approval. Strategies include underachievement (discussed below) and the use of less sophisticated vocabulary when among same-age peers than when among family members or other trusted individuals.[4] This is often more common in gifted girls.

The isolation experienced by gifted individuals may not be caused by giftedness itself, but by society's response to giftedness. "In this culture, there appears to be a great pressure for people to be 'normal' with a considerable stigma associated with giftedness or talent."[5] To counteract this problem, gifted education professionals recommend creating a peer group based on common interests and abilities. The earlier this occurs, the more effective it is likely to be in preventing isolation.[6]

Gifted educational programs in schools also greatly contribute to the isolation of gifted students, when as long as through high-elementary to high school they stayed with the same students, though growing large bonds with fellow gifted students, being extremely unfamiliar with other students and thus mingling and socializing rather badly.

"When perfectionism refers to having high standards, a desire to achieve, conscientiousness, or high levels of responsibility, it is likely to be a virtue rather than a problem. Perfectionism becomes a problem as it frustrates and inhibits achievements. Perfectionism becomes desirable when it stimulates the healthy pursuit of excellence."[7]

Perfectionism is another common emotional issue for gifted individuals. D. E. Hamachek identified six specific, overlapping behaviors associated with perfectionism. They include (1) depression, (2) a nagging "I should" feeling, (3) shame and guilt feelings, (4) face-saving behavior, (5) shyness and procrastination, and (6) self-deprecation.[8] As with isolation, perfectionism is more common in females than in males.

There are many theories that try to explain the correlation between perfectionism and giftedness. Gifted children may have difficulty with perfectionism because they set standards that would be appropriate to their mental age (the level at which they think), but then can't meet them because they are trapped in a younger body. Perfectionism is also encouraged by the fact that gifted individuals tend to be successful in much or all of what they do because their abilities have not been challenged, and consequently try to avoid failure.

Another problem often associated with giftedness is underachievement. Many gifted students will continually do well on achievement or reasoning tests, but will fail to turn in assignments or attend or participate in class. Overall, they will be disengaged from the educational process. This can result from under-challenging schools, peer pressure for conformity, social isolation, and family dysfunction.[9] In other cases it can result from other factors within the individual, including depression, anxiety, failure-avoidance, rebelliousness, irritability, nonconformity, or anger.[10] In addition, such failures may also result from learning disabilities which have gone undiagnosed due to the myth that one cannot be gifted and learning disabled (generally a difference of 1σ between scores constitutes a learning disability even if all of the scores are above average). One apparently effective way to attempt to reverse underachievement in gifted children includes enrichment projects based on students’ strengths and interests.

It has been thought in the past that there is a correlation between giftedness and depression or suicide. This has not been proven. As Reis and Renzulli mention, "With the exception of creatively gifted adolescents who are talented in writing or the visual arts, studies do not confirm that gifted individuals manifest significantly higher or lower rates or severity of depression than those for the general population...Gifted children's advanced cognitive abilities, social isolation, sensitivity, and uneven development may cause them to face some challenging social and emotional issues, but their problem-solving abilities, advanced social skills, moral reasoning, out-of-school interests, and satisfaction in achievement may help them to be more resilient."[9] Also, no research points to suicide rates being higher in gifted adolescents than other adolescents.[11] However, a number of people have noted a higher incidence of existential depression, which is depression due to highly abstract concerns such as the finality of death, the ultimate unimportance of individual people, and the meaning (or lack thereof) of life. Gifted individuals are also more likely to feel existential anxiety. [12]