Another Side of Giftedness
Usually this blog focuses on the academic side of giftedness. The main purpose of the Rochester SAGE group is to promote gifted education options in Rochester Community Schools.
The somewhat hidden side of giftedness is the nonacademic side. The intensities. The emotional attributes. The qualitative differences in perception. Why are these so rarely talked about?
First, many people have a hard enough time accepting the intellectual differences of gifted children. Telling them that many gifted children have heightened senses, emotions, or energies would be truly unbelievable to most. Many parents of gifted children are worried enough about being seen as bragging when we try to explain how our children are different academically.
Second, not every gifted child has these traits and not every child who has these traits is gifted. I’ve known profoundly gifted children who are not emotionally intense, have low energy, and have made no mention of heightened senses. Some of them are just introverts not revealing these sides. Some are just at different points on these continua.
Third, these are often the no-fun side of giftedness. Having children who need clothing labels cut off, who are mistaken for having ADHD because of their intensity level, or who cry for days because they read a book on cancer is not fun. We often don’t want to tell people lest we be viewed as babying our children and be told to toughen them up. All kids – and all people – are different and sensitivities and overexcitabilities are just as real and life-altering as allergies and ADHD even if they are less understood.
Fourth, these are not well understood by most parents of gifted children. To us, our children are typical. This what we are used to. We may even be very similar. I very much understand when someone has an extreme sensitivity to cold, wind, noise, or light. It is much more unusual to me when someone doesn’t. It is only when we compare them to other children that we can observe the differences.
Are there differences? Recent functional brain magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has shown some neurological differences in brains of gifted individuals. Some have described the fMRIs as looking like a “brain on fire”, with bright red blazes of high metabolic activity bursting out all over the scan. These brains show planned and complex orchestration of activity requiring the coordination of diverse visual, spatial, verbal, and sensory areas of brain. The authors of the study, Brock and Fernette Eide, consider gifted brains to be hyper-sensitive, bringing both gifts including prodigious memory and greater analytic ability and drawbacks, such as oversensitivities, distractibility, and personal disorganization. The same neural pathways that allow greater interaction between centers of the brain and grant gifted children abilities also over-enhance stimulation for them.
A study by the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation also showed that gifted children have significantly higher rates of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. This can cause problems with stimulation such as heat, cold, or touch being either unnoticed or unbearable. It can also cause issues such as clumsiness, a oft stereotyped feature of the nerd. According to some studies, rates of SPD were 3-7 times greater in gifted children than in the general population.
Back in the 1970s, Dr. Kazimierz Dabrowski researched these traits in highly gifted individuals and classified five overexcitabilities: Psychomotor, Sensual, Intellectual, Imaginational, and Emotional. Gifted persons may have more than one of these or none at all. About these he wrote, “One who manifests several forms of overexcitability, sees reality in a different, stronger and more multisided manner.” Dr. Dabrowski and other experts in the field created strategies to work with these overexcitabilities when they become frustrating.
Research into giftedness and overexcitabilities continues, albeit at a much slower pace than many fields. As this area of neuroscience progresses, parents, teachers, and gifted individuals themselves can learn to understand themselves better.
Thank you for reading Rochester SAGE. Together we can make a difference for gifted children!
Errata: In the original version, the author of the study was listed as Paula Jarrard. This has been corrected to the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation.