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  • Writer's pictureThe Knox School of Santa Barbara

Excerpt from The Unique Inner Lives of Gifted Children

By: Linda Kreger Silverman, Ph.D. at the Gifted Development Center

"Why do you make everything so complicated?" "Why are you so sensitive?" "Why is everything so important to you?" "Why does it have to be perfect?"

These are among the most common indictments of the gifted. Why, indeed. The answer should be "because I'm gifted." These are the personality traits that distinguish the gifted from others.

To be gifted is to be different. That's the nature of the beast. So the next time you hear-in a saccharin tone of voice-"All our children are gifted," it's OK to cringe. All children are a gift to the world-each child is unique and a blessing, but to say all children are gifted is akin to proclaiming, "All our children are retarded." You can't sweep away developmental differences with political ideologies. Only in Lake Wobegon are all the children above average.

In the rest of the world, there are immense individual differences. And these differences need to be recognized, evaluated, understood and accommodated through differentiated services and programs. Giftedness, like its counterpart, retardation, is a 24-7 lifelong condition. It is not something that comes and goes depending on the economic and political climate of the nation or a particular school district. It is not something that appears when you are in third or fourth grade, and then disappears when you get to middle school or graduate from high school. It is not dependent upon public acclaim.

Characterizing giftedness as the potential for future fame makes their early identification impossible; one would need a crystal ball to decide which children require differentiated provisions. The equation of giftedness with the potential for eminence is the legacy of Sir Frances Galton (1869). I call this the "posthumous" definition of giftedness, because you have to wait until the person dies and see how many biographies were written about him before you can declare that he was gifted (Silverman, 1986).

Then what is giftedness and why are the most gifted among us the most allergic to the term? Many of the definitions of giftedness are achievement oriented (Bland, 2012). Few gifted adults consider their achievements sufficient to warrant that term. Other people may call you "gifted," but it is hubris of the highest order to refer to oneself as gifted. What arrogance! "Do you think you're better than everyone else?"

When giftedness is defined in terms of recognized accomplishments, it is understandable why an obviously gifted adult would completely reject the idea. But there are other ways to look at giftedness. When it is perceived as abstract reasoning or developmental advancement or asynchronous development, the term is more palatable.

Parents who read descriptors of giftedness in children often muse, "I'm like that, too. Does that mean I'm gifted?" Yes!

Recognized achievement is culturally determined; therefore, all definitions of giftedness that stem from achievement models are culturally biased. Some cultures do not prize individual recognition. Individuals in these cultures use their gifts for the good of the group or to better the lives of the generations that will come after them.

In all cultures, there are children who progress through the developmental milestones at a faster pace than children their age, who have remarkable abstract reasoning or problem-solving ability, and who develop unevenly and feel out-of-step with others. Combined, they create a qualitatively different life experience.

Linda K. Silverman, Ph.D. is the founder of The Gifed Development Center (GDC) in Colorado, which services as a resource center for developmentally advanced children, their parents, and for gifted individuals of all ages. 

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