Gifted Children: Nurturing Genius (Part Two)

Turning genius denied into genius fulfilled.

Posted Jul 22, 2010

gifted pic

Realizing your child is gifted or profoundly gifted, it is not always easy to engage in conversations with people about what to do next. Suffice to say the reasons are many.  Similarly it may be difficult to get reliable information that can help guide you, in a timely way, as you must sometimes make important, on-the-fly decisions regarding your child’s development, not to mention, draw conclusions and take actions that will help sketch your child’s future—as well as yours.

I mentioned in my first post, Gifted Children: Squandering Genius (Part One) that “statistics show that 85% of public school educators already agree that more needs to be done for gifted students.  And many are doing the best job possible given the circumstances. 

But nonetheless, for as much as the world has benefited from the contributions of gifted individuals, it is disturbing to realize that the population least likely to learn and achieve its potential is the highly gifted.

In an effort to assist parents, teachers, and particularly these uniquely talented children, I have attempted to composite enough information in this article to get us all going. To this end, I recently spoke with Jill Adrian, Director of Family Services at the Davidson Institute.

A bit of background from the Davidson website:  The Davidson Institute, formed in 1999, is a private operating foundation funded by Bob and Jan Davidson to serve profoundly gifted young people under the age of 18. Profoundly gifted students are those who score in the 99,9 percentile on IQ and achievement tests. These students often share the following characteristics:

1.      An extreme need for constant mental stimulation

2.      An ability to learn and process complex information rapidly

3.      A need to explore subjects in surprising depth

4.      An insatiable curiosity; endless questions and inquiries

5.      A need for precision in thinking and expression-often answering questions with “that depends...”

6.      An ability to focus intently on a subject of interest for long periods of time

7.      An inability to concentrate on a task that is not intellectually challenging, including repetitious ideas or material presented in small pieces

The Institute also provides information and educational opportunities for teachers, school administrators, school counselors, pediatricians, psychologists, psychiatrists and other professionals.

Sharing ITS gifts from coast-to-coast, the Davidson Institute provides a wide and impressive range of programs:  the Davidson Young Scholars Program offers free consulting services for the profoundly gifted from ages 5 – 18; the Davidson Fellows program awards $50,000, $25,000 and $10,000 scholarships in Mathematics, Science, Literature, Music, Technology, Philosophy and Outside the Box; The Davidson Academy a free public school (housed at the University of Nevada)  for profoundly gifted middle and high school students; THINK (a summer institute allowing students to earn up to 6 transferable college credits); and the Educators Guild, offering free online consulting and other programming to educators.

So you may see why I was excited to speak with Ms. Adrian.  I considered our interview an attempt to begin a dialogue on Dr. James R. Delisle’s question:  “What can we do to transform genius denied into genius fulfilled?” Dr. Delisle, first mentioned in Part One, is the author of the Gifted Kids Survival Book—BTW, another good resource for teachers and parents.

The first question I asked Ms. Adrian was something I’d been wondering about and gotten various takes on for some time. “At what age should parents begin to address the needs of a gifted child?”

Jill Adrian is passionate about the work she does.  She refers to her work as a privilege.  You can hear this attitude in her voice.

“Well with the parents we work with,” she slowly explained, “they notice that there’s a difference with their child the moment the child is born. So from our perspective it’s never too early.”

Rather than competing with the child’s needs by preassembling a path for their child, “parents can offer up opportunity for the child as he or she develops,” Adrian suggests, whatever that may be—for the child in the moment— supporting them with having appropriate reading material at their level at home at all times, taking them to a museum on weekends, things like that.”  Good advice for any parent and child, at any level, I think.  This brings to mind the whole idea of intrinsic reward—flow—what intrinsic reward is; why it is important, psychologically, neuro-psychologically and neuro-physiologically; as well as paradigms for establishing and sustaining flow. Intrinsic reward—this is what it’s all about, gifted or not, I thought. You can see further ideas on flow and reward in my earlier post MUSIC ON YOUR CHILD’S MIND: Learning across Time and Flow.

Adrian diced her point down to more specifics. “Once we get them in a school setting,” she added, “then it’s about advocating and trying to find an educational fit for them, which can vary obviously.  Acceleration is a possibility.  It’s also about having extended learning at home in an area of interest the child is not getting at school.  We help set up a lot of families with mentors.   If their child is ready, we help them find challenging summer programs.  Often times, if they can’t find their education challenging enough during the school year, summertime is when they get that.”

I liked the amount and type of parental involvement that was implicit in her examples. This kind of participation is not about getting in the way.  It’s about walking behind the child and paying a lot of attention.  It’s about knowing your child and facilitating where he or she needs to go.  As a big proponent of Self development, I liked what I was hearing a lot.

I asked the question many parents want to know more about.  “And so what are some of the first signs of giftedness?”

“Gifted children ultimately hit developmental milestones at an early age,” she said.  Overall, they demonstrate a constant need for mental stimulation. [Emphasis here is on the word constant]. They can learn at a much quicker pace; they often times can understand the larger picture earlier than their age peers, things like that.  Often times they understand or ask larger life questions, they put 2 and 2 together at a much earlier age.”

“You’re also referring to the complexity and depth of their questioning, right?”

“Yes, the purpose of life? Is there a God? Things like that?” With gifted kids these questions seem to pop up earlier.

Again trying to think more like a father than a writer I asked, “What are some things parents can do to advocate for their child?”

Stay tuned.  We will explore the answer to this question in depth throughout Part Three: What Happens Once Your Child is in the System

Notes: For a scientific adventure into the world of human attention see my newest book [amazon 1601630638].  

Image: Davidson Institute