Thursday, November 16, 2006

Of Giftedness, Intensity, Sensitivity, & Idiosyncracy

In my experience, giftedness tends to be framed in terms of intelligence and achievement. That frame not only leaves many things about it invisible and unexplained, but makes many other characteristics common across gifted children appear to be incongruent with their giftedness. Such interpretations position gifted individuals to be bewildered by why they are the only people among their peers who seem to respond to their circumstances so intensely.  Such interpretations position those who spend time with them to wonder why people who are "so smart" or "so talented" can't figure out how to just relax and go with the flow. The "obvious" explanation is that it must be the result of a lack of maturity or self-control. This "obvious" answer causes the gifted to question why they can't seem to change successfully, even when they really want to do so. That, in turn, evokes deep doubts about the veracity of the labels that have been attached to them, which destabilizes their faith in themselves to the point that it can impede their ability to accomplish even the simplest of tasks.

Thus, after reading this summary of Dabrowski's ideas on the subject (be sure to explore the related links to specific sensitivities once you read through the bulleted lists), I was almost sad—wondering how it could be possible that I’ve lived my whole life without understanding some of these things, wondering how it could be possible that in spite of my many experiences with giftedness--friends, my teacher training, the 13 years I spent as a teacher who had many gifted students in her classes--that I never put it all together quite like this before!

Other websites contributed useful pieces to my understanding as well. Although Parenting Emotionally Intense Gifted Children focuses primarily on the emotional dimension of the sensitivities described on the page above, I find it interesting that the sensitivity is, in part, attributed to physical roots. “ Emotionally intense gifted children exhibit a super sensitivity of the nervous system that makes them acutely perceptive and sensitive, more discriminating of external stimuli and more analytical and critical of themselves and others.” It is easy to see how such sensitivity would affect every aspect of one’s existence. I liked the microscope analogy from the section entitled Differences on the Helping Your Highly Gifted Child web page, and appreciated the concept of Multiple Ages as a way of explaining some of the paradoxes of giftedness. This asynchronous development is reinforced in the paragraph titled Gifted Child Development Center and helps to explain (for me, at least) the ways that common characteristics of giftedness “clash” with one another in ways that produce problems. The entire paragraph on School is useful, particularly the first sentence, the elephant analogy, and the idea that sometimes the highly gifted may look “less capable” instead of more capable than their peers. Finally, the paragraph on Lack of Fit seems to summarize many of the key issues inherent in giftedness.

In short, the idea that “intensity” is often the result of profound “sensitivities” to certain aspects of experience not only illuminated my own experiences with gifted children, students, and adults, but also helped me to understand the idiosyncracies of people in general in important new ways. After all, the scriptures teach us that everyone has at least one gift or talent. What if instead of viewing idiosyncracies as problems, we approached them with the perspective that they might be clues that would help us to identify the gifts of those around us?