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Lets talk about giftedness

Let’s Talk About Giftedness | Anne-Bénédicte Damon MSc., Clinical Psychologist

How do I know if my child is gifted ? Or if I am myself?

The first answer to both questions is…you don’t. Actually, most people who come for an evaluation say: “I’m sure I’m not gifted, but…” or “I’ve been told I’m gifted, but I don’t believe it.” That said, it is a very legitimate question, and more and more people wonder about it. Let’s try to clarify a few facts about giftedness.

1. Giftedness does not exist.

False: giftedness is defined by an IQ above 130 on a Wechsler test – or some of the indices above 130, a non-arbitrary threshold (more precisely, on a bell curve, 130 is mean plus two standard deviations). It is not enough to have certain characteristics to call oneself gifted. However, it is certain that giftedness is generally accompanied by certain characteristics. Giftedness is not “intellectual superiority” – it’s a different way of thinking and seeing things.

 2. I can call myself gifted without taking a test, since my shrink told me so

Sure, but you have one person’s opinion. Imagine your doctor telling you “you have diabetes – no need to take a blood test, I know it.” Do you believe him or her ? I wouldn’t. The IQ test is the blood test. That being said, beware, giftedness is not a disease. Therefore, the tests we have are painless! It is quite possible to consider that the Wechsler tests – the most commonly used IQ tests – are not a perfect measure of all types of intelligence – clearly they are not. That said, they are still the only valid scale we have.

3. I am hypersensitive, therefore I am gifted

False. Hypersensitive individuals account for about 30% of people, and only 2% of  people are gifted so it doesn’t work. There are also some gifted people who are not hypersensitive. Moreover, there is still no reliable tool to measure hypersensitivity. There are some emotional intelligence tests, yes, although they are generally not validated everywhere in the world, but emotional intelligence is different from hypersensitivity. Hypersensitivity remains a nebulous, unscientific and unproveable notion.

4. Giftedness is a new “fashionable” concept.

False. Simply, a name has been put on it, a more appropriate name than “genius”. There have always been gifted individuals. However, psychology is a young science. The first studies on intelligence date back to the end of the 19th century. But it has always existed – just as there were Alzheimer patients before Alzheimer, and anorexics before social networks. Although again – giftedness is a personality, not a disease.

5. Professionals “specialised” in giftedness are scammers, seeking to take advantage of suffering patients.

This is both true and false.  Yes, there are some professionals and organisations that over-inflate their fees. There are also some who claim to be professionals and are not. And there are rumours that some practise “customer-driven” diagnoses to please patients. Let’s be clear – an IQ test is a minimum of five hours of work for the professional, more likely six hours. All work deserves a salary. This assessment must include three sessions with the patient and a written report. Any other practice deserves to be questioned.

6. So in the end, my official assessment of giftedness is useless, unless I want to frame the report and put it on my wall.

False. After more than ten years of practice, I have never met a single person who regretted having taken the test. Regretted that they didn’t do it earlier, yes. The feeling of recognition of one’s individuality, the understanding that they are  not crazy, bipolar, borderline etc., one’s self-confidence, .all of this is important.

7. I became gifted.

False. You are born gifted, you will end your life gifted. You don’t become gifted because of your education, even if you have been spoon-fed knowledge from your infancy. You don’t become gifted because one or both of your parents (usually your mother) is neurotic. You can be gifted even if you don’t have an education. One can be gifted while living in any country.

8. So that means my child can be gifted.

True. It does. Before six, the test, although it exists, is not really reliable, and can yield false negatives and false positives. There are, however, hints that a toddler might be gifted. Maybe s/he learnt to talk, walk or read early – those can be signs, although not necessarily required. Maybe s/he’s not even in primary school and already bored. Another way we usually describe very young gifted children is “memory of an elephant,  eyes of an eagle”. They see everything, and remember everything.

9. My child is disruptive in class, he/she is gifted.

False. Some gifted children disrupt the class, some stay quiet and “disappear”, some are perfectly adapted.The answer is “if my child disrupts the class, there is a problem that needs to be investigated”.

 10. Gifted people are underachievers/depressed/alcoholics etc.

False – no study has ever shown that (although there was an American study in the 1930s, which showed that some gifted kids could have difficulties which led to  them being . But this was 1930!!!!).

11. If we are gifted, we have to deal with it.

True and false. Yes, we shouldn’t try to change ourselves. But we can make life easier for ourselves. We can find arrangements so that gifted kids don’t have to suffer through the school system. We can choose a lifestyle that suits us. We can find the right people to be with.

If you have questions about yourself, or a family member you think may be gifted, the only way to get a professional assessment is to find a psychologist in your city who is licensed to offer the Wechsler tests. Any other means of testing giftedness is not officially recognised.

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