The very definition of profound giftedness includes the extremely individual nature of the development of these children. We can discuss this development in general terms, however, much of what we discuss will apply differently to each profoundly gifted child. Being familiar with the basic structure and function of the human brain will prove invaluable as we seek to understand how we might nurture profound giftedness.
Nature and Nurture
It has been established that at birth nearly all human infants come equipped with a marvelous, complex heritage that contains some 100 to 200 billion brain cells. Each neural cell is in place, ready to be developed and used for actualizing the highest levels of human potential. Such a structure will allow us to connect cells to process trillions of bits of information in our lifetime. However, it is estimated that we actually use less than 5% of this capability. How we use this complex system is guided by the patterns provided by our genes, the element within the cell nucleus that transmits a hereditary character and forms essential parts of our DNA that become critical to our development of intelligence, personality, and the very quality of life we experience as we grow. However, genes do not make specific bits and pieces of a body; they code for a range of forms under an array of environmental conditions. Moreover, even when a trait has been built and set, environmental intervention may still modify inherited effects. Enriched education can increase intelligence. Genes provide us with a structure or pattern but are dependent upon the environment for the particular characteristic that they will express. Whereas genes provide us with our own unique menu, the environment makes the actual selection within that range of choice. It is misleading to think of either genes or the environment as being more important: Genes can only express themselves in an environment, and an environment has no effect except by evoking genotypes already present. Siegel (1999), medical director of the Infant and Preschool Service and associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles concludes, "Genes contain the information for the general organization of the brain's structure, but experience determines which genes become expressed, how, and when" (p. 14).
Levels of Giftedness
The area of gifted education recognizes three levels of giftedness, the moderately gifted students that comprise the major group of gifted learners, the highly gifted persons who are as different from this major group as the moderately gifted are from average learners and the profoundly gifted learners. The highly and the profoundly gifted learners tend to evidence more energy than gifted individuals; they think faster and are more intent and focused on their interests. They exhibit a higher degree of ability in most of the traits we have identified with giftedness. Such children are less able to benefit from regular classroom experiences, and modifications to their educational programs need to be more comprehensive and developed to a much higher degree to meet their needs than is necessary for less gifted learners.
Studies of the profoundly gifted learners suggest that they differ significantly from highly gifted students as a result of differently wired neurons that allow more complex and efficient neural highways for transmitting information. They seem to have different value structures, which usually allow them to cope with the dissonance they find between their perception of life and that of the average person. They tend to be more isolated by choice and more invested in concerns of a meta-nature (e. g., universal problems). They seldom seek popularity or social acclaim.
A pressing issue is the provision of an appropriate education for profoundly gifted students. Typically, schools offer these students little; some educators suggest that tutoring with eminent authorities or homeschooling would be a far more productive educational plan. The higher the expressed intellectual ability, the more difficult will be the problem of finding a match between the school programs and the child. Although many school settings give limited priority to differentiating learning experiences for gifted students in general, even less concern is given to the highly and profoundly gifted student.
Characteristics of Profoundly Gifted Individuals
Profoundly gifted individuals seem to be characterized by their uniqueness; each is different from others their age and from others who are highly and profoundly gifted. There are, however, some characteristics that seem to be common among such children. These include both marvelous traits that provide joy and fulfillment to the individuals and those that result in deep frustration and despair as they confront structures that have no space for them and attitudes that have no understanding. Some of the most often found characteristics are:
A Summary of Clues from Brain Research for Educators at Home and School
There are exciting clues in brain research that can help parents optimize learning experiences for their youngsters. The following summary of ideas will help parents get a better idea of how to use the information:
An Enriched Environment
As we have seen, intelligence is dynamic. As relevant as the axiom "Use it or lose it" is when applied to abilities and talents, when it focuses on the profoundly gifted learner it is critical. They and we have so much to lose.
For Further Reading
For further insight into profoundly gifted learners, the reader may wish to consult the work of M. Diamond, D. H. Feldman, L. T. Goldsmith and M. U. M. Gross.p>
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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