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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In our success-oriented culture, optimal development of giftedness often is construed as fulfilling one’s potential for greatness. 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. The goals of inner development involve deepening the personality, overcoming conflicts, and actualizing one’s potential for becoming one’s best self. Many parents of the gifted complain that their children are the ones exerting the pressure. Their speed of learning and quest for knowledge often exceed their parents’ comfort level. The purpose of parent guidance is to foster “optimal development” through early intervention and prevention of social and emotional problems. Assessment can act as a prelude to family therapy. Family therapy usually involves a commitment to several successive sessions to deal with family interactions.
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.
When one knows what to look for, giftedness appears in unanticipated places, expressed in unexpected ways: plaintive graffiti, a very clever reason for not having one’s homework, a really good joke, a fascinating question, a turn of phrase, painstaking absorption in an activity, a drawing of the inside of the pumpkin instead of the outside, an abiding passion, the courage to defend the underdog, stillness in the midst of chaos. Highly intelligent children who live in rural areas are often unseen. Learning style can pose a barrier to the recognition of high abilities. A remarkable number of gifted individuals suffer from disabilities, and both their gifts and disabilities may be hidden. Disabilities come in a variety of shapes and sizes: dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, central auditory processing disorder, Asperger Syndrome, disorder of written expression, and more. More often than not, the child is graced with a combination of these labels.
The gifted have always been with us; it’s just science that entered late in the game. The grandest experiment occurred in the 16th century: Suleiman the Magnificent established a palace school for the education and upbringing of gifted youth. Even in modern times, giftedness in reference books is frequently defined as an “endowment”. A developmental framework proved to be an effective means of measuring accelerated development in gifted children. By studying the profoundly gifted, Hollingworth understood giftedness in a profoundly different manner. She documented their difficulties negotiating the social and educational world, their early philosophical interest in origins and destinies, their uneven development, their imaginary worlds, their need for meaning, and their loneliness. In order to serve the gifted population in a healthy manner, mental health workers need to guard against their own prejudice, the prejudice of the press, and the common misperceptions in society.
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.
Comprehensive assessment enables us to recognize, document, and understand atypical development. It involves evaluation of intelligence, achievement, affective development, and various other elements, depending on the presenting issues. Assessment is indispensable for measuring the extent of learning disabilities. Parents of gifted children decide to have their children assessed for a wide variety of reasons. Some parents who sought assessment at the Gifted Development Center (GDC) responded briefly, for example, to confirm our suspicions that she is gifted. Other parents wrote lengthier responses, revealing more about their children and the issues they faced. Comprehensive assessment of giftedness is an essential first step for advocacy. The best evaluators of gifted children utilize some aspects of qualitative assessment. The talent searches illustrate that what appears as “a relative strength” on one test can turn out to be an astronomical strength on a test with a higher ceiling.
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.