I wrote the following in response to some questions I recently received:
Definition of terms:
Someone who has changed the world through a quantum leap in thinking, moving human civilization forward in some way – such as Einstein, Da Vinci, etc – by this definition, NO child can be termed a “genius”
A brain that is wired differently (in a neurological sense) than most people (“most” defined as per Gaussian statistics or approximately 96% of people in general) to enable faster thinking and/or the ability to make lateral connections that are not apparent to most people – this generally amounts to about 2% of the population in general (the other 2% that fall outside the Gaussian “most people” are those on the opposite end of the spectrum, or the learning challenged). It is important to realize that giftedness is an actual neurological difference and not just a matter of perception (latest brain science research confirms this). Gifted children are typically identifiable by their asynchronous development – asynchronous development means that they develop at different rates in different areas and are consequently different ages at the same time – to put this in layman’s terms this means they are several different ages at once – they may be 7 years old according to their date of birth, but able to read with the fluency of an adult, do maths like a high school kid, have the handwriting capability of a 7 year old but the typing capability of a teenager, and yet still be struggling with toilet training, for example. There could be many different combinations of how asynchronicity displays itself, but it will definitely be present.
In addition to the accelerated learning capacity, giftedness also typically comes with enhanced sensitivities. In gifted literature, these are known as Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities, named after the Polish-Canadian psychologist who first studied this. These overexcitabilities encompass five broad areas: psychomotor, emotional, sensory, imaginational and intellectual domains. You can liken it to a TV set – average TV sets can receive a handful of channels through their regular antenna, but a satellite equipped TV can receive hundreds of channels. A gifted individual with overexcitabilities has enhanced sensitivities in certain domains and is able to detect nuances that average people cannot. This capacity is inherent and present from birth.
Where giftedness is an inward state of being, talent is an outward manifestation of giftedness. As such, a gifted child may or may not show themselves as talented, depending on whether or not they have been given the opportunity and/or encouragement to develop their inherent potentials. Also, some talents are not necessarily associated with giftedness, such as the ability to spell or the ability to balance a stack of objects on one’s forehead! Yet these are undoubtedly talents in and of themselves.
But there are talents that are associated with giftedness of course, such as a talent in music, mathematics or any other domain. In this sense, we can think of a talent as an outward manifestation of giftedness. Also, intellectual giftedness is typically the one that causes problems in school because school is necessarily targeted at the majority, who are by definition average developers. A child who is only musically gifted or athletically gifted for instance does not face the same challenges as they are typically not forced to fit in with the majority but are given room to develop at their own pace as these domains are typically pursued privately. The issues arise because intellectually gifted children are typically forced to keep in step with their classmates in compulsory schooling and have no choice in the matter. Such children, who are wired to learn quickly but are artificially forced to learn slowly, find themselves struggling to cope. Think of it this way: it’s like putting a fish in a swimming class with ducks. Both can swim, but the fish has a natural pace of its own and would be hard pressed to keep the same pace as the ducks…
Answering some of the questions:
1) Is my child extremely naughty or an actual genius?
No child is an actual genius. I have made this clear through my definitions.
So the question would now be “Is my child extremely naughty or is he/she gifted?”
An explanation has already been given with regards giftedness. Naughtiness does not factor in it. Naughtiness is an adult’s perception – if by “naughty” you mean asks a lot of questions and etc, all children do this by nature, not only gifted children. Typically, this natural human trait is stamped out by strict authoritarianism on the part of caregivers (parents, grandparents, nannies, teachers) as they force the child to conform to whatever behaviour standards they decide upon – “naughty” children are called such when they do not comply to such adult rules. Any child may refuse to comply, gifted or not.
2) How can I nurture my child to bring out their genius?
As I said, by definition no child can be a “genius”.
So the question now becomes “How can I nurture my child to develop to their fullest potential?”
Giftedness is a matter of nature (i.e. heredity trait) in combination with nurture (how the child is raised). Each child is born with a certain potential – think of it as a range. Proper nurture will allow the child to blossom and grow into their inherent potential. Repressive or suppressive upbringing will prevent this free development. But a child is more than just their intelligence – their temperament, displayed through their personality, is independent of their intelligence. The combination of intelligence, temperament and upbringing will mold the child into the adult they will become one day. Obviously, by definition, not every child will be gifted. And also by definition far far fewer will ever grow up to become genuises. However, EVERY child deserves the chance to develop to their fullest potential. And the best way to do this is to allow the child to develop freely, according to their own interests and abilities – never being forced, cajoled or coaxed towards parental goals and ambitions. If each individual child were allowed to follow their heart’s desires, and this should be from the very beginning, we would see far more people achieving excellence in a variety of domains. All kids are born with an innate desire to learn, to experiment, to explore. This is what true creativity and innovation is all about. But adults force kids to follow their own (adult) agendas, and thus choke these inherent potentials. Although most children will not be gifted, in the sense that they will not be able to master several different domains at a pace that bewilders most people, most children WILL be able to achieve excellence in some area that they love if only given a chance to do so. And if the child is gifted and given this same consideration, then the child will be free to achieve excellence in whatever area they choose, as typically gifted children will have multiple interests and the capacity to develop these as well.