While in graduate school majoring in chemistry, I also took classes in child psychology. One such psychology class was “The Gifted Child.” What was so amazing for me, was that I truly didn’t understand the term “gifted,” when used to define an individual with extraordinary skills and abilities, and its implications and, of how it differed from the definition of the term, “highly intelligent.”
The term “gifted,” is interchangeably used with the term “highly intelligent”, in our daily conversations. And, although gifted children are highly intelligent, the reverse is not true, that is to say, not all highly intelligent children are gifted. Surprised?
Although the results may be surprising and perhaps confusing to many parents, let’s be clear that both types of children’s intellects are extraordinary and should be recognized as outstanding. However, depending upon the criteria used, research has shown that a highly functioning straight A student may not necessarily be ”gifted.” One criteria often used is explained in an article written by Janet Szabos Robbins of the State Gifted Association for the Maryland Council for Gifted and Talented Inc. This association has disclosed that the differences between an intelligent child and a gifted are notably distinct, based on certain unique characteristics of each, and how they each approach their school work.
You may ask, “why is knowing this difference important?” It is important for a parent to be able to distinguish the difference a “gifted” and a “highly intelligent” child in order to better assist their children in choosing the best schools and enrichment programs specific to their needs. As Robbins points out, the intelligent child knows the answers, while the gifted child questions the answers. Moreover, the gifted child may quickly look for alternatives to the answer and often finds them. This is a very significant point. This type of critical and/or abstract thinking separates the gifted student from the intelligent student in that, while the intelligent student may select the correct answer, the gifted student may select an alternative answer based on how they perceive the question while knowing the answer which is expected of them. In other words, the gifted student thinks outside the box and can see beyond the correct answer to other plausible answers. If not understood, this may cause confusion for parents, in that their gifted child may not always earn the grades in school as may be expected. With understanding and coaching, the gifted child may learn to express himself or herself, while also accomplishing tasks, as expected. Conversely, as both intellectual types advance from childhood and are confronted with more complex subjects, such as advanced chemistry, physics and calculus, the intuitive nature for creating alternatives leads the gifted student to make discoveries, such as those made by remarkable inventors, scientists and engineers. These students may be our future innovators. This is another important point to consider while assessing our children’s intellectual abilities.
Another area that should not be overlooked in determining whether a child is gifted or highly intelligent, is the extreme artistic or creativeness that a gifted child often possesses that surpasses those abilities common to other children in their age group. Many gifted children are very interested, if not accomplished, in the fine arts, such as music, dance, sculpturing, painting, drawing and designing, to name a few. Their creative works, in a similar area, may rival some adults. A parent, where appropriate, may want to consider seeking out more professional accommodations and/or private lessons for a child who appears to excel in a particular talent.
It is this innate ability for critical thinking and creativity that separates the very smart from the “unusually” very smart. I deliberately used the term “unusually” here, to bring up a subject that should not be overlooked. While the gifted child may excel academically, as well as in other areas, they also often possess nonconforming qualities that give room for pause to those observing them. The gifted child may often be considered eccentric to his or her peers because of his or her intellect, interests, mannerisms, taste in clothes, etc., and, therefore, may have problems integrating and socializing with classmates. For this reason, it is not unusual for a gifted child to seek out or to be drawn to the company of adults, instead of to children his or her own age. Also, sadly, a parent may not appreciate a gifted child’s idiosyncrasies, as gifts of uniqueness and may even try to stop or squash the behavior or thought processes of the child. A gifted child, while being encouraged and taught to recognize cultural or societal “norms,” should not be criticized for his or her unique qualities or what may be perceived as, quirks.
Moreover, it is important to recognize in each of our children, their uniqueness and seek out appropriate schools, enrichment programs, educational camps, etc., that will work with our children academically and help to enrich their cognitive strengths and creative abilities. Therefore, the activities and curriculum should be geared towards enhancing a child’s unique abilities, not stifling or hindering them.
Thus, while being highly intelligent has its own rewards, and rightly so, it should not be confused with being gifted, as a person who is highly proficient in his or her ability to learn or play an instrument, albeit exceptional, may not demonstrate the extraordinary abilities of Leo Tolstoy or Beethoven, who were considered, to have been gifted individuals.
It is very important that all children be commended for their intellectual abilities regardless of the levels and for their accomplishments, as well as appreciated and applauded for their individuality and uniqueness. Finding the right program will aid each child in expanding his or her unique capabilities. All children, with their vast capacity, differences and abilities will bring to the world, future generations of artists, judges, scientists, mathematicians, engineers and the like.
Polymer Chemical Examiner
January 28, 2015