Reviewed by a Davidson Institute for Talent Development.
Chapter 7 of Once Upon a Mind: The Stories and Scholars of Gifted Education, titled The Social and Emotional Needs of Gifted Individuals, is a wonderful resource for professionals and parents who would like to better support the gifted children in their lives. Delisle packs this chapter with gifted education history, stories, advice and strategies to assist those who work and live with profoundly intelligent young people.
"Giftedness is not something you do. Giftedness is something you are." This quote sums up the chapter in a nutshell. Gifted children are unique individuals with unique needs. They are different, whether they want to be or not. When thinking about what it means to be "gifted," people usually think of intelligence or perhaps talent. Rarely do people think of unusual personality traits or the social and emotional characteristics that a gifted person might possess. Yet, as Delisle points out, if asked to describe a gifted individual that they know, people almost always list personality descriptors. A common desriptor that emerges is intensity. Intensity of thought, intensity of purpose, intensity of emotion, intensity of spirit, intensity of soul. A gifted child must learn to channel this "intensity" and the adults in his/her world should learn to help.
A great deal of history is discussed in this chapter to give the reader background information on gifted education and the different schools of thought on how to help highly intelligent young people reach their full potential emotionally, socially, and intellectually. Leta Hollingworth was one of the pioneers of gifted education and the first person who truly tried to understand the special needs of the profoundly intelligent. Delisle details Hollingworth's very interesting life and tells the story of how she became dedicated to helping gifted children. She followed the lives of 12 profoundly intelligent individuals and in doing so, realized the importance of focusing on their social and emotional development.
Hollingworth found through her studies that "children of 140 IQ waste half their time. Those above 170 IQ waste practically all their time in school." Wanting to do something to stop this waste, she started the first school for the gifted in 1922. She did not focus solely on the intellectual aspects of development, but rather incorporated what she considered even more important: "...elements of an exceptional education--challenge, fun enthusiasm, and new adventures." She found that extremely precocious children were bored in traditional school and that is why they tended to act out.
Delisle also explains that highly intelligent young people have problems with finding friends because their age mates often do not share the same interests. Yet, their intellectual peers may not wish to form friendships with a much younger child, even though they mare share the same interests. Schools for the gifted, such as those started by Hollingworth, offer a place where age mates can also be soul mates: "Like minds, like bodies, like fun."
Another social issue that Delisle addresses in this chapter is that many times highly intelligent young people seem to have a negative attitude toward authority. They tend to correct their teachers or peers which may cause embarrassment or be interpreted as socially unacceptable. Delisle states that gifted children need to learn patience and tolerance towards those who may not be as intellectually gifted if they want to be accepted by others and develop friendships.
A last social issue that Delisle discusses in this chapter is the fact that children of profound intelligence tend to question big issues at an early age and the adults around them may not be willing or able to deal with such profound thought and questioning. These young people will not be satisfied with a "that's just the way it is" answer, or a typical busy parent's "because I said so!" response. The need to know and understand the reasons behind things can be frustrating and difficult for teachers and parents to deal with.
In explaining some of the theories of why gifted individuals are so different socially and emotionally from others of average intelligence, Delisle introduces a variety of professionals who have studied the gifted and developed theories on this topic. Some of the ideas he discusses are Dabrowski's theories on overexcitability and Piechowski's work with this theory to make it more understandable. Delisle explains the five aspects of overexcitability that make up this theory and provides examples. He also talks about Silverman's involvement in working with the gifted and her theories and emphasis on working with each child as an individual.
The chapter concludes with suggestions on how counselors, teachers, and parents can help gifted young people to understand themselves and to develop their social and emotional lives in a healthy way. Delisle discusses resources for both professionals and parents as well as hitting on key points to help gifted individuals during difficult stages of development. A variety of studies are discussed in this section which will help professionals and parents to better understand the social and emotional differences of these young people. Delisle also discusses the importance of peer grouping, reading books (both fiction and non-fiction), learning from and about other gifted individuals, and mentors.
Overall, Delisle describes the process of social and emotional development as a journey. This chapter offers direction and inspiration to those who are dedicated to improving the lives of profoundly intelligent young people.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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