Have you ever met a child, or perhaps you have one of your own, who is rebellious, argumentative, selfish, stubborn, and independent, yet is incredibly intelligent or even gifted? Sometimes socially undesirable characteristics and creativity or giftedness go hand in hand. Of course not all rebellious kids are gifted, but most gifted ones are often stubborn and independent. They exhibit independence of thought, a willingness to take risks, and greater perseverance.

If their creativity is suppressed, these children have problems at school, because teachers are seldom appreciative of disruptive classroom behavior or poor social skills from their students. According to a study of 400 eminent creative individuals, 60% admitted to having serious problems when they were in school. But it is not that teachers are consciously against creativity - when asked, they say creativity is extremely important; however research shows that creativity is not fostered in classrooms. In fact, teachers may ignore or sometimes even punish creative behavior.

Creativity and Underachievement
Creativity predicts future accomplishments better than intelligence or school grades. In social sciences, for example, creativity explains more variability in performance than reasoning capacity, speed, or memory. Unfortunately, although creativity can lead to great accomplishment it can, far too often, lead to underachievement.

Many creative and gifted children perform below their ability level. Don't get me wrong, they still get above average marks compared to their peers, but a gifted child (or any child, for that matter) should not be compared to other children, but to him/herself only, focusing on self-improvement, rather than social comparison.

Can Creativity Be Mistaken for ADHD?
Many traits associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are similar to the traits of gifted, talented, or creative children. Teachers may even misidentify energetic and unconventional students, a description that fits many highly creative students, as having ADHD. Research shows that students with ADHD are highly creative, and gather and use more diverse, nonverbal, and poorly focused information, compared to their peers without ADHD. Therefore it is possible that a highly creative student is labeled as having ADHD and is medicated, which in turn will certainly impede his/her creativity.

Neuropsychology of Creativity and Underachievement
Creative underachievers show defocused attention with a lower level of frontal lobe activation. In an average person, the low level of cortical arousal is present during an inspirational phase of a creative endeavor (e.g., thinking of a story), but not during an elaboration phase (i.e., writing down the story). Thus, creative underachievers exhibit the potential (lower level of frontal lobe activation), but do not use materialize that potential into a creative outcome.

From social to cognitive to even neuropsychology, there is evidence that a highly creative child is different from his/her less creative peers, and requires a special kind of understanding and environment. From personal experience as an AmeriCorps teacher of 3- and 4-year-olds, I know it can sometimes be overwhelming to have a classroom full of loud energetic children, where our primary responsibility is to keep them safe. But teachers need to become aware that children's creativity, especially of those who are gifted or highly creative, can greatly suffer if they are not allowed to express themselves. Teachers are encouraged to understand what types of behaviors are associated with creativity, and not ignore or punish such behaviors.

About the Author

Darya L. Zebelina, M.S.

Darya (Dasha) Zabelina is an NSF Graduate Research Fellow at Northwestern University studying cognitive processes, affective processes, motivation, personality and creativity.

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