So here the authors are, caught between two worldviews. In one camp, they have educators and academics, attempting to overthrow the “old guard”—those of them who define giftedness through the narrow lens of IQ tests. They are hoping to establish a raison d’etre for gifted education—a field with a wobbly foundation. In the other camp, the authors have parents and the psychologists who specialize in working with the gifted, railing against the externalizing of giftedness. They want the inner world of the gifted to be recognized and appreciated. Controversy has dogged the study of giftedness since its inception, and is likely to continue into the foreseeable future. Multiple views will somehow have to learn to coexist. The psychology of giftedness is a fledgling. An impressive number of people think they know more about the gifted than one does and they are delighted to share their opinions.
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The purpose of this book is to dispel many of the myths about the gifted, define the term in a nonelitist manner, explore how it manifests in individuals, describe why it is important, consider its origins, examine its psychological implications, and provide guidelines for its recognition, assessment, and development. It provides a cohesive conception of the psychology and development of a group with special needs. This perspective was shaped through 50 years of concentrated study and is informed by the author’s experience as a teacher of gifted elementary students, a counselor of gifted adolescents, a teacher educator of graduate students in gifted education, a psychologist specializing in the assessment of giftedness, a clinician with gifted clients, the creator of a refereed psychological journal on adult giftedness, and a researcher. In humanistic psychology, optimal development has been conceptualized differently. Self-realization can be understood in terms of Maslow’s self-actualization, Dabrowski’s secondary integration, Jung’s individuation, or other theoretical perspectives of human development. Families, educators, and psychologists can support inner development or they can act as agents of socialization, exhorting the gifted to "work harder" to attain external trappings of success.
Students and professionals in the field of psychology are encouraged to understand diverse populations. Life scripts are formed in childhood, and feelings of alienation seeded in their early years can haunt the gifted throughout their lifespan. Gifted individuals need professionals who understand their striving, their search for meaning, their yearning for connection, and their complexity, sensitivity, and intensity. They need professionals alert to the issues of giftedness—who use this template to help their clients develop greater self-awareness. Those who are interested in success equate giftedness with eminence. The Great Divide in the field of gifted education and psychology stems, in part, from polarized perceptions of IQ testing. Gifted behavior occurs when there is an interaction among three basic clusters of human traits: above-average general and/or specific abilities, high levels of task commitment, and high levels of creativity.
It is time for a psychology of giftedness—time to recognize the developmental differences, personality traits, lifespan development, particular issues and struggles of the gifted, as well as the consequences of not being acceptable. The focus on eminence ignores the exceptionally gifted, the twice exceptional, underachievers, gifted preschoolers, women who chose parenting as the main expression of their gifts, gifted teachers, gifted elders, self-actualizing volunteers—the gifted whose names shall never be known. Gifted babies tend to be responsive infants, sometimes smiling early, which elicits the best from their parents. As the concept of mental age has been abandoned in psychology, there is little awareness that gifted children’s friendship patterns and social conceptions are more related to their mental age than their chronological age. Acceleration and home-schooling can ameliorate the social alienation of exceptionally gifted children. And gifted children demonstrate higher intrinsic than extrinsic motivation.
This chapter explores the incidence of giftedness, the parallels between degrees of delay and advancement, giftedness as an organizing principle, different levels of giftedness, typical characteristics throughout the lifespan, and why it is important to recognize advanced development as early as possible. Educators forgot the integral role of psychologists in the development of the gifted, and psychology abandoned the gifted. The 21st century holds promise of reconnecting gifted education with its psychological roots. Giftedness is a psychological reality—the opposite end of the spectrum from Intellectual Developmental Disorder, as it is referred to in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). When a psychologist evaluates a child and concludes that the child is gifted, it often has a ripple effect on the parents’ self-perceptions. Gifted adults, perhaps more than any other group, have the potential to achieve a high degree of self-actualization.