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Giftedness Not Unwrapped—We All Lose

Unwrapping your children’s unrecognized giftedness

Giftedness Not Unwrapped - We All Lose

“The most common commodity in this country is unrealized potential.”

~ Calvin Coolidge

Unwrapping Children’s Unrecognized Giftedness

If giftedness is not carefully nurtured it may not blossom. Failing to identify and support children’s gifts can limit their access to future careers in scientific, artistic, or other academic pursuits that could give them great joy. Discovering and developing gifted children is not only critical for them, but also vital for society.

Unfortunately school funding reductions have resulted in great cutbacks in identifying gifted and talented students. If there is a process for identifying these students, many school districts have narrowed the qualifications for gifted programs to those who receive a specific score on a standardized test which only evaluates one type of cognitive strength and may not even do that with enough accuracy to be valid. Programs called Gifted and Talented rarely have provisions for seeking, evaluating, and nurturing talents beyond the single cognitive test measure. Even when identified, funds are often not there for the enrichment opportunities and mentoring needed to build upon children’s gifts.

Unconventional Learners

Identification is also hampered when children with unusually profound talents or cognitive abilities also have unconventional ways of cognitive processing of information. When children with learning disabilities such as dyslexia or dyscalculia, attention disorders, and those who are English language learners, or are from low socio-economic groups, are not recognized and encouraged for their giftedness, the loss to society is profound. If a child who is extraordinarily gifted in math or spatial concepts is not identified, encouraged, and given the support needed to build motivation and perseverance, the loss of a scientific discovery that saves lives or an architectural breakthrough impacting environmental restoration can be profound.

It is not unusual for academically gifted children to learn differently, such as processing information with executive functions that are unusual for their age. These executive functions may be seen in their ability to analyze, reflect, connect, conceptualize, synthesize, deduct, and find innovative solutions to problems.

Behavior Problems as Symptoms of Boredom and Giftedness

The advanced cognition of some gifted children may even be overshadowed by what appears to be behavioral problems, but are in fact the brain’s reactive response to sustained or frequent boredom. Frequent boredom is a brain stressor that can shift cognitive processing away from the higher reflective prefrontal cortex down to the lower reactive brain. In that reactive brain state, in which other mammals are limited to fight/flight/freeze responses, children are similarly limited to reactions not in voluntary control. What appears to be acting out, “zoning out”, hyperactivity, disruptive behavior, or low effort may be a cue to see if unchallenging classes bore a gifted child.

Identification More Difficult in Middle School

If gift identification and interventions are missed in elementary school, the challenge becomes even greater to unwrap gifts in middle school. During adolescence, with its dramatic hormonal fluctuations and peer pressures, their brains have not yet developed full decision making capabilities based on logical rather than emotional responses. Middle school is a time when a child's choice to adapt and adjust to peer conformity, rather than pursue a course of proactive striving, can limit future opportunities.

Some children who have not grown up aware of or encouraged in their gifts may gradually develop coping skills to deal with the disconnect between what they can do and what they think they should do. If hormonal assaults and academic boredom result in failure to recognize and respond to their unique gifted needs, they may not receive the specialized interventions that their gifts need to thrive. These children may avoid the challenging courses that prepare them for the upper level math, science, language arts, or social studies honors or AP classes that are needed for acceptance in the best suited college programs.

Parent Interventions

If your child is gifted and there are no opportunities for further identification and intervention in school, you can share reading and discussions to increase his or her comfort about being different. Shared reading about the real life challenges they face as “different” in intellect, gifts, or talents can guide children to respect their unique skills and abilities and help them become more comfortable about their higher cognitive processing of information, profound talents, or extraordinary skills.

Read and discuss biographies of other people who were challenged by classroom conformities or peer differences, yet found strategies and support systems to achieve their goals. Discussions can also include questioning traditional stereotypes and reading about people your children admire for their unique gifts who also had learning or physical differences and challenges.


Mentors can be your friends or associates with similar gifts as those your children possess. Mentors can share their recollections of feeling overwhelmed by restraints on their talent or cognitive creativity and encourage your children to extend their dreams and expand their goals.

Mentors can also provide opportunities for your children to shadow or participate in high-interest area activities and experience real-world correlations between school and professions that build motivation and perseverance.

Extra Curricular Boosts

Extra curricular activity participation in school and community clubs, teams, and organizations helps increase children’s confidence in pursuing higher goals by first building their confidence areas of strength and interest within their comfort zones. This confidence boost can then carry over such that once they are successful in the extra curricular activity they become more confident taking on academic and other challenges appropriate to their gifts. Taking time to discover your children’s unique interests and exposing them to new ones, from chess or computer graphic design, is a powerful stimulus their connecting with gifts.

These extra curricular activities may also provide friendships with children with similar gifts and interests who become sources of support and encouragement.

Proud Ownership of Gifts

Achieving proud ownership of profound talent or intellectual gifts is a challenge. Help your children recognize the value of their giftedness and gain the confidence to enrich and build on their gifts and pursuit of their goals, even when external forces may push them to disown these gifts and dreams.

You can nurture your children’s strengths beyond the classroom if they are too self-conscious to be identified by classmates “smart”. Encourage them to write down their thoughts or responses to class discussions in which they are too reluctant to participate. These can be shared with you at home as they gradually they can grow in confidence to become class participants.

When you increase the opportunities for your gifted children to become more comfortable embracing their gifts, you help them build the resilience and knowledge to take on our society's future needs and be tomorrow’s leaders, policymakers, and visionaries.

More from Judy Willis M.D., M.Ed.
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