McGuffog, C., Feiring, C. & Lewis, M.
Vol. 10, No. 2
This article by Carolyn McGuffog, Candice Feiring and Michael Lewis presents the diverse profiles of extremely gifted children under the age of four. Examples of some of the multiple factors beyond IQ, such as emotional characteristics, social knowledge and relationships and environment, that have an effect on young gifted children's skill performance are highlighted. The case studies presented in the article illustrate that the profiles of extremely gifted children show no singular pattern. However, the predominant factor in these children's behavior was their superior skill performance.
Profiles of extremely gifted children under the age of four are
presented. Examples of the multiple factors beyond IQ that have impact on the young gifted
child's skill performance and adaptation are highlighted. Examination of the cognitive,
social and emotional profiles of these extremely gifted children suggest that no singular
pattern characterizes their functioning.
Carolyn McGuffog (Ph.D.), is Adjunct Assistant Professor, Candice
Feiring (Ph.D.), is Associate Professor of Pediatrics; and Michael Lewis
(Ph.D.), is Professor of Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Psychology and Chief, Division of
Child Development at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School of the University of Medicine
and Dentistry of New Jersey in New Brunswick.
Inherent in the study of gifted behavior are a complex set of
theoretical issues regarding the definition and development of intelligence. Intelligence
has been conceptualized as a single factor (g) by some (Terman, 1906; Spearman, 1904)
while others reject the notion of "g" and posit that intelligence consists of
disparate but loosely related sets of skills (Thurstone, 1938; Cattell, 1952; Guilford,
1956). The model of intelligence to which one subscribes would be an important determinant
in formulating one's assessment battery and the definition of giftedness one posits.
The stability of intelligence over time has been another area of
inquiry. The traditional model of general intelligence held the "g" remains
stable over the life span (Terman, 1925). Even theorists who conceptualize intelligence as
a set of skills may suggest that prediction should be possible within skill areas so that
early motor development, for example, should predict subsequent physical aptitude. While
infant intelligence scales have been found to be lacking in predictive validity (McCall,
1983; Honzik. 1983; Lewis & McGurk, 1972; Lewis & Sullivan, 1986), what we do know
about prediction is that the less time that elapses between testings the more similar the
scores should be and the older the child is at the time of testing the more closely
childhood IQ should resemble adult IQ (McCall, 1983; Honzik, 1983). In spite of the
problems of predictive validity that plague early intelligence testing, it is important to
keep in mind that assessing the overall developmental status of a child reveals important
information about that child's level of functioning at the particular time of testing.
Another theoretical issue which impacts on one's conceptualization of
giftedness concerns the age old nature vs. nurture debate. Some theorists have argued for
a biological explanation of intelligence, one which places heavy emphasis on the genetic
contribution and less weight on environmental contributors (Terman, 1975; Scarr-Salapatek,
1976). At the other extreme, one may interpret the "super baby syndrome" as
suggesting that any child can be gifted given the proper stimulation and early teaching.
Most of us probably take a midline position between these two extremes and consider that
the identification and understanding of giftedness requires inspection of both child
characteristics and environmental factors. The child's behavioral style in interaction
with the environment's response has been suggested as likely to account for a portion of
the variance in growing up gifted (Lewis & Michalson, 1985; Lewis & Coates, 1979).
In addition to the standard definition of giftedness set forth by the
U.S. government - "individuals who display outstanding performance or potential in
one or more of the following areas: general intellectual ability, specific academic
aptitude, creative or productive thinking, visual or performing arts, leadership" -
there are important domains of function and factors which need to be considered when
attempting to understand how gifted individuals adapt and perform.
Areas such as affective characteristics, social knowledge and social
relationships, family interactions and environment as well as demographic variables all
may play an important role in understanding the course of -gifted development. We have
suggested that multiple factors, beyond superior skill performance, must be considered in
our approach to the profiles of a gifted child (Lewis & Michalson, 1985). The task we
have set in this paper is to present examples of the multiple factors beyond IQ that have
impact on the young gifted child's skill performance and adaptation to social and
nonsocial types of situations.
General Aspects of Giftedness
Over the last three years, we have evaluated a large number of children
under the age of four in the Gifted Child Clinic. A large percentage of those children
have been identified as gifted, either with regard to their overall performance or their
performance in a given skill area. As can be seen in Table 1 (see page 19), the
distribution of children according to total IQ Score on the Stanford Binet indicates that
58% of our sample is at least two standard deviations above the average in ability. It is
also of interest that 8% of our sample is over four standard deviations above the norm,
this also is statistically far beyond the rate one would expect to find in the general
Given that the large majority of our referrals come from parents, this
high true positive rate of identification and assessment suggests that some parents are
accurate observers of their children's behavior. What are those child factors which
contribute to parents' perceptions of their children as gifted?
In order to consider this question, data from parent questionnaires
were utilized. The questionnaire, among other things, asked parents why they believed
their child is gifted. Table 2 (see page 19) presents these data. In the gifted group (IQ
132-163), 60 parents gave 216 responses, in the extremely gifted group (IQ 164+), 10
parents gave 38 responses and in the nongifted group (IQ 105-131), 50 parents gave 210
responses. The reasons parents give are considered in terms of percentages based on the
total number of responses given within a group.
For all three groups of children, parents report that memory and
expressive language are two reasons they think their children are gifted. Since there is
not much difference in parent report between groups who are or are not gifted, these
factors do not appear critical. Abstract thinking appears to be a child attribute which
distinguishes the groups; the parents of the gifted groups report that their children show
this factor more. Of interest are those reasons only mentioned either by the parents of
gifted or nongifted children. Parents of the gifted group, but not the parents of the
nongifted, mention curiosity, learns quickly, and motor acuity as reasons why they think
their children are gifted. Curiosity is a motivational factor while learns quickly is a
cognitive style factor. For the parents of the nongifted children, word recognition, early
interest in books, and music are uniquely reported. This suggests parents of nongifted
children use reading as an important cue for giftedness more than do the parents of the
gifted. Since our emphasis in this paper is on the extremely gifted group, it is of
interest to note that for parents of these children, memory followed equally by expressive
language, abstract thinking, and spatial knowledge are the reasons most likely given for
the belief that their children are gifted. It is important to note that it is not reading
ability which distinguishes these highly gifted children in their parents eyes, rather it
is spatial ability and more cognitive style variables such as curiosity and learns
Profiles of Some Extremely Gifted Children
Having had the opportunity to observe gifted children, it is of some
interest to consider those children whose overall IQ makes them "extra"
ordinary. As we found and will report, the environments of these children vary
considerably as well as the children themselves either because of unusual family
circumstances, the ability to compensate for a deficiency in a certain skill area, a
behavior pattern indicative of an emotional disturbance concomitant with superior
intellectual capacity, or cultural and language factors discrepant from the norm on which
our tests are standardized. Case descriptions of some of these children will be presented
both to provide more information about such gifted children (and their families) and to
demonstrate that multiple factors are related to the expression of giftedness. The
children discussed below are exceptional in that they scored four standard deviations
above the mean of the general population, IQ of 164 or better. It should become evident
from the profiles of these children that giftedness does not fall within any particular
stereotype of behavioral or familial pattern. Rather, gifted children and their families
are as likely to violate stereotypes as they are to perpetuate them.
Very often parents will be heard saying, "I don't want my child to be a genius,"
because the expectation is that along with genius comes a host of behavioral and emotional
problems. Certainly, exceptionally gifted people have been plagued by the stereotype that
they are odd, unusual, and a little weird. In our sample of highly gifted children, we
found only one child who now shows signs of an emotional problem. We have chosen to
describe him because we found it remarkable that given the level of emotional distress he
experienced, he was able to achieve, maintain and demonstrate such incredible intellectual
Paul was evaluated at the Clinic when he
was three years of age. He was referred by his parents who reported that he showed
advanced reasoning and problem solving ability. At the time of testing, Paul was an only
child although his mother was pregnant. Both parents were professionals and reported that
they had attended gifted classes as children. Paul had attained language milestones and
motor milestones early. He had been attending a nursery school program for one year at the
time of testing. His teacher commented that Paul is a bright child, however, he is
disruptive and aggressive in class and does not get along well with other children. His
parents reported that Paul seemed to be obsessed with themes of death, violence and
Paul was a challenge to test. He was
active, distractable and impulsive throughout two testing sessions. It was necessary to
help Paul focus his behavior on each and every task. Paul responded well to reinforcement;
however, it was impossible to get any compliance without the promise of a reward. Paul was
capable of learning scanning strategies i.e., "Look at all the pictures before you
choose one ... look at this one and this one and this one ... now which picture shows a
group?" Nevertheless, he was unable to generalize the use of these strategies from
one task to the next. Paul exhibited a high anxiety level throughout testing. He was
frequently concerned about the whereabouts of his parents, he seemed frightened to try new
and challenging things, and he made a number of comments about how "tough" he
was. Paul was more manageable on language activities than other tasks; however, overall he
became increasingly uncooperative and out of control as items presented became more
Play Behavior and Parent Child Interaction.
Paul demonstrated an
advanced capacity for symbolization. Yet, in spite of the fact that Paul clearly had the
capacity to carry out complex imaginative themes, a good deal of his play was fragmented
and aggressive. For example, he threw things around the room, waved a mop in his mothers
face, put things in his mouth and threw himself on the floor. Paul's play vacillated from
looking like play of an 18 month old child to play characteristics of a five year old.
Paul's parents were completely at a loss when it came to controlling
him. They were clearly embarrassed by and uncomfortable with his regressive behavior. One
got the sense that any intervention they had tried in the past only escalated the
situation so now they sat back helplessly and watched. On the other hand, they were very
comfortable with his play when he was being creative. They actively participated in his
imaginative games, perhaps assuming too much control over the play, in their well
intentioned desire to engage with their son and foster his intellectual development.
Results of Testing.
In spite of his difficulties in attending and
concentrating, Paul earned an IQ score of 164 on the Stanford Binet. His mental age was 5
years and 8 months, more than two and a half years beyond his chronological age. Although
Paul scored above age level in all skill areas, language was the area in which he really
excelled. Paul scored lowest in the skill areas of spatial aptitude and gross motor
coordination. Tasks in these two skill areas caused tremendous anxiety for Paul. Paul
scored above age level on short term memory tasks, however, the examiner felt that it was
impossible to accurately measure Paul's memory ability because his attention was fleeting
and memory tasks, perhaps more than other test items, require undivided attention and
disallow repetition on the part of the examiner.
Paul's parents welcomed the news that their son was
extremely gifted and when mention was made of their son's difficult behavior, they were
quick to blame Paul's emotional problems on his advanced intelligence. They suggested that
perhaps he was bored in school and this was the reason for his poor behavior. The examiner
explained that Paul regressed when confronted by challenging tasks. Thus, it seemed
unlikely that Paul's acting out behavior resulted solely from a lack of challenge. Paul
and his family were referred for treatment. Although a complete explanation of the extent
of Paul's psychological distress is beyond the scope of this paper, hypotheses concerning
the relationship between giftedness and emotional disturbance can be offered.
It is plausible that in some highly intelligent children a discrepancy
may exist between their intellectual development and their social emotional development.
These children may be flooded with knowledge that they cannot incorporate into their
underdeveloped psychological structures. We have discussed elsewhere a hypersensitivity
that has been noted in several gifted children (McGuffog, 1985). It may be that gifted
children are particularly perceptive and as such pick up on subtle cues that may go
unnoticed by children of average intelligence. However, our experience does not suggest
that a high IQ and a poor social-emotional development go together. Rather, the majority
of our gifted youngsters are very well adjusted; the typical gifted child is advanced in
both intellectual and social-emotional development. Nevertheless, it is important to keep
in mind that the course and manifestations of a psychological disorder are influenced by
cognitive factors and so extraordinary intellectual capacity does add an additional
dimension to the problem.
There has been extensive controversy around the issues of cultural bias in testing, as
well as around the disadvantage created when children are tested in English, when it is
not their first language. A full discussion of culturally biased testing is beyond the
scope of this paper and since the majority of the children evaluated in the Clinic have
been white middle class this was not an issue we had to address. At least not until we met
Dean is a Chinese boy who was three years
and two months at the time he was evaluated. Although he lived in America since birth, he
had never attended any school program or had any American friends so the only exposure he
had to English was from his parents who did not speak fluent English, although his
father's English was better than his mother's. Since birth, Dean had never been separated
for any length of time from his mother. Chinese was the primary language spoken in the
We had explained that the evaluation would be done in English since no
one on our staff spoke Chinese and that the procedure required that the parents be
interviewed in one room while the child is tested in another. The parents said they
thought Dean would be fine and they understood that he might not score as high as he would
if he were tested in Chinese.
Dean's acquisition of language and motor milestones were reported as
average. His parents reported that he began reading Chinese characters at a round 15
months of age and that he had always been able to remember them immediately. Dean also
could write many Chinese characters. In addition, it was reported that he could read and
write English words.
Play Behavior and Parent Child Interaction.
Dean engaged primarily
in learning activities during the free play situation. He spent a lot of time creating
letters out of the blocks. His parents were very involved with his play. They were highly
directive, structuring the activities into an organized teaching session. Dean complied
happily with their direction and was very positive and interactive with his parents. He
appeared to enjoy his parents challenges and their teaching behavior. After the play
session, his parents told him that they had to go into another room and he was to remain
with the examiner. He complied graciously and at no point did he show any anxiety about
his parents whereabouts.
Dean was totally cooperative throughout the
testing session. He sat quietly, talking only when he had to answer a question. He was
very persistent in problem solving, but not upset by failure. It was evident that speaking
English was a struggle for him, yet it was astounding how well he understood complex
sentences and how he managed to relay his responses. Dean was very polite and he had no
difficulty sitting and attending for over one hour.
Dean's IQ score was 164 on the Stanford Binet and his
mental age was 6 years. On the McCarthy Scales, Dean's performance in the skill areas of
perceptual, quantitative and memory exceeded the 99.9 percentile, while his verbal score
fell at the 94th percentile. Dean's fine motor coordination and his drawing skills were on
a 9 year level. Dean was able to read in English on a 9 year 4 month level and his parents
said that he read better in Chinese. Dean's lowest score was in vocabulary, particularly
when he had to verbally define a word. On the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, hits score
placed him in the 94th percentile.
While a testing situation is not a familiar experience
for most of the young children we see, for none could it have been quite as foreign as it
must have been for Dean. He had never separated from his mother before, had never been
solely in the presence of an unfamiliar adult, had never spoken English to anyone other
than his parents and had never been in a situation in which only English was spoken to
him. What was perhaps more familiar to Dean than to the average child was the structure
and directiveness imposed on him by the testing experience.
Deans parents were very invested in his development and they seemed to
have spent a great deal of time teaching him. We were impressed with the parent's teaching
skills. They were creative and seemed to know intuitively how much to challenge Dean
without taxing him. Still, it is difficult to imagine any amount of teaching that enables
a 3 year old child to read on a 9 year level in his non-native language. The parents
reported that no one in either family was gifted. The father had a bachelors degree and
the mother was a high school graduate. It is also surprising that given the high degree of
control the parents maintain over Dean's play, he was compliant and respectful. Most of
the other children we have seen who have highly directive parents have issues around
control, yet, Dean displayed no rebellious behavior.
Our expectation is that girls should score higher on language tasks and boys should score
higher on spatial tasks (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974). While there is some data supporting
this profiling for older children, at the Gifted Child Clinic the majority of the children
we see are advanced in language development, regardless of whether they are boys or girls
(Lewis, Feiring, & McGuffog, 1986). This is probably due to the fact that most
children are referred to our clinic by parents and parents are more aware of language than
they are of perceptual abilities. In spite of this bias, we have seen a few children who
excel in spatial aptitude. The three and one half year old girl who will be discussed not
only excelled in spatial ability, but earned an overall IQ score of 173 and did so in
spite of a speech-language problem.
Carla was referred to the Gifted Child
Clinic when she was three years and four months of age by her parents who reported that
Carla was imaginative and creative and very interested in shapes and drawing. Carla was a
first born child. Her brother was seven months old at the time she was evaluated. Carla's
parents were both professionals, although her mother was not working outside the home at
the time. The parents reported that Carla was seldom verbal. She had some problems
articulating certain words and it was often difficult for others to understand her. This
might have been related to the chronic ear infections that Carla had suffered the first
two years of her life (Kavanagh, 1986). Even so, she attained language milestones early
and motor milestones at age appropriate times. Carla had food allergies and was colicky as
an infant. She had an imaginary friend who she often spoke to and she spent a lot of time
drawing and doing puzzles.
Behavioral Observation .
Carla was very cooperative throughout
testing. She was persistent and demonstrated an exceptionally long attention span. The
examiner had some difficulty understanding Carla because of her poor articulation. Carla
showed no overt signs of frustration when she had to repeat herself, however she became
much more engrossed in manipulative tasks than in those requiring verbalization.
Carla earned an IQ score of 173 on the Stanford
Binet. She passed language items up to a six year level and passed spatial items up to a
nine year level. Carla's fine motor skills were very advanced and her drawings were
A number of possible suggestions can be offered to
explain the discrepancy between Carla's verbal and perceptual skills. It is particularly
provocative that Carla should demonstrate superior spatial aptitude in light of research
that suggests that boys are more likely to excel in the perceptual domain while -iris are
more likely to excel verbally (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974). One possibility is that
Carla's strong spatial aptitude emerged because a verbal outlet for her advanced intellect
had been blocked by her early hearing and articulation difficulties. Even if the hearing
loss was not dramatic enough to impede language development per se, it is possible that
Carla's frustration in attempting to hear and make herself understood, led to a lack of
interest in language activities. Such a frustration problem with lesser skill areas may be
seen in the gifted learning disabled child (Feiring & Taft, 1985). One wonders whether
Carla would have excelled so dramatically in drawing had verbal communication been as easy
for her as artistic expression?
A second possible explanation of ability differences is related to
environmental and educational factors. Carla's father was a dentist and her mother taught
high school math and science. Because her parents were both in fields that are
perceptually/spatially oriented they may have provided Carla with more opportunities for
perceptual/spatial expression and play than parents who are more language oriented.
A final explanation that could be offered is genetically based. Carla
may have inherited her spatial aptitude from her parents. It should be noted however, that
while Carla's parents had many impressive accomplishments to their credit, neither had
been identified as gifted and neither demonstrated any particular interest or aptitude in
drawing. Clearly, genetic and environmental explanations are not exclusive and so both may
play a role.
Marvin and Craig
We have so far seen three families in which more than one child has been identified as
gifted. We suspect that over the years we will see more of this since the majority of the
children we have tested thus far have been first borns. One family in particular, reflects
the problems we wish to examine. This family had two children, both males, 15 months apart
in age, and both ultimately were identified as extremely gifted. One of the unusual
aspects of the evaluations was that the mother first brought the younger child in for
testing. We will begin with discussing the younger boy and then discuss our evaluation of
his older brother. In addition, we will describe the siblings' relationship and contrast
the behavioral and skill profiles demonstrated by each, emphasizing the effects each
sibling had on the other.
Background of the Younger Sibling.
Marvin was three years eleven
months at the time of the evaluation. The interview with the mother began with her
discussion about how this child was extraordinary. She reported that he read the alphabet
by 16 months and was reading sentences by 30 months of age. He was described as a very
aggressive, outgoing child and the mother seemed to be quite proud of these traits. She
explained that Marvin won every race he ran against his older brother, not necessarily
because he was faster, but because Marvin would do anything to win. In spite of her praise
for Marvin's aggressive nature, Mother reported, "Marvin and I have a hard time. He
doesn't listen to me. He may stick his tongue out at me or spit." Marvin was enrolled
in preschool class two mornings per week. His preschool teacher had never commented on
either his behavior or his advanced abilities. Mother reported that Marvin's teacher was
not a good teacher.
During the testing, Marvin was very
cooperative. He demonstrated a long attention span and was thoughtful and careful when
responding to items. He was eager to please and always seemed to be interested in
achieving high scores. When Marvin was confronted by a language, reading, math, or memory
task that was too difficult for him, he calmly responded that he didn't know the answer,
however, failures on spatial and particularly drawing tasks, aroused high anxiety in
Marvin. Marvin never once mentioned his brother.
Marvin's IQ score was 164 on the Stanford Binet. His
mental age was 6 years 10 months or three years beyond his chronological age. Marvin's
strengths were in the skill areas of language, memory and reading. His vocabulary was on a
7 year level, he passed memory items at a 7 year level and his reading was at a 9 year
level. In reading recognition, he scored 9 years 4 months and in comprehension 9 years 2
months. Marvin's math skills were at a 6 year level, whereas his spatial and fine motor
skills were age appropriate.
Background Information on the Older Sibling.
Craig was five years
and three months at the time of the evaluation. He was brought to the Clinic only after
the examiner who evaluated his brother suggested to his mother that from her comments it
sounded like Craig also might be advanced. Craig began reading at age three years of age.
He was described by his mother as a quiet, withdrawn boy who has no friends and idolizes
his younger brother. Although Craig was the older brother, his mother explained that he
always lost fights to his younger brother who was much touchier. The mother had been
getting reports from Craig's preschool teacher that he was a behavior problem in school
and did not get along with the other children. Craig also was a problem at home.
Craig was very cooperative throughout the
testing session. He demonstrated a long attention span, an eagerness to please and
persistence in attempting tasks. Craig was particularly persistent in trying to sound out
new reading words and failures in reading caused Craig a higher level of anxiety than
failures in other skills areas. Craig talked about his brother five times during the
session and one time answered a question about what he liked best to eat for lunch with
the answer "Marvin loves hot dogs."
Craig's IQ was 165 on the Stanford Binet. His mental
age was 8 years 2 months or three years beyond his chronological age. Craig's strengths
were in the skill areas of language, memory, spatial and reading. His vocabulary was on a
9 year level. He passed memory items and spatial items on a 9 year level. In reading
recognition, he scored at a 9 years 2 months and in comprehension 9 years 5 months.
The most apparent irony in this family was that the
older brother was equally as gifted as the younger brother, however, because of their
different personality styles, the mother perceived only the younger son as gifted. The
mother also identified more strongly with the younger son who she saw as "...a bright
kid but a terror, just like I was." In reviewing the behavioral observations in light
of the test results, it is interesting that Marvin was most sensitive to failures on
spatial and fine motor tasks, which are the two skill areas in which he performed least
well while his brother excelled in these areas. Craig on the other hand, was sensitive to
failure in reading, even though his reading level was far above age expectancy, but he was
reading on the same level as his younger brother.
Both boys displayed anxiety around their need to compensate for their
perceived deficits. Marvin compensated for feeling less than Craig with regard to drawing
(and probably size and age and other areas that were not tapped in the testing) by
becoming; very competitive and aggressive, while Craig compensated for this perceived lack
of ability and parental attention by withdrawing and idolizing his brother. The profile of
this family demonstrates not only how powerful underlying family dynamics are in shaping
self-esteem, but it also suggests that self representations may effect how specific
behaviors are interpreted. We also see how issues of behavioral style, identification and
one's comparison group come into play in determining who gets identified as gifted.
Most of the families seen in the Clinic are middle class and the majority have at least
one parent who has some college experience. There is a bias in our sample skewed toward
middle to upper socioeconomic status created by the fact that there is a fee for service.
We would like to discuss one set of parents however, who did come from a low socioeconomic
background. These parents came to the Gifted Child Clinic saying they did not think their
daughter was gifted but they recognized that she was not like other children her age
(three years nine months).
Marie was described by her parents as a
'hyperactive" baby. She reportedly slept only six to eight hours as an infant and
when she began walking at nine months she was "wild" running around the house.
She achieved both language and motor milestones early. Mother commented that she thought
Marie's thought processes were different from other children. She was never satisfied with
an answer, she always had to know more. Mother reported that she often felt inadequate as
Marie's mother because she did not feel smart enough to provide a satisfactory explanation
to her questions. No one in either family had been identified as gifted or had attained
more than a high school education.
Marie was very cooperative and she engaged
in a lot of fantasy play throughout the sessions. She was focused and her responses to
test items were thoughtful. Marie was very feminine in her behavior and played a lot with
her "baby" doll that she had brought with her. She was not upset by failure and
engaged in much conversation with the examiner.
Marie scored 175 on the Stanford Binet and her mental
age was 6 years 9 months. Her skill profile revealed that she was advanced across skill
areas with language being, her strongest area. Marie had no prereading or premathematics
Marie's parents were shocked to hear about the advanced
intellectual capacity of their daughter. They could not figure out where her extreme
intellect came from and they were certain that they were not responsible because they had
never even taught her the letters of the alphabet. We explained that learning letters has
little to do with fostering intelligence and tried to assure them that they had provided a
positive environment in which Marie had flourished. These parents were unlike other
parents we generally see in that, even though they had come to the Clinic, they were
astonished to find that their daughter was gifted. As the mother put it, " At least
now I know what has been going on with her these past three years." This seems to be
one of those cases that suggest that children are not pushed into giftedness, rather some
children bring their parents along with their interest and curiosity.
For the most part, the gifted children we have seen tend to be advanced across skill
areas, although some show uneven skill development. Gifted children are sensitive to their
areas of strengths and weaknesses and are often more anxious about failures when they
occur in an area of weakness. Two kinds of profiles can be observed. In the first, the
child shows an uneven pattern even though all skills are above mental age level. For
example, the young girl with an articulation problem scored above age level in language.
The second profile involves skills which are much more uneven and where some skills are
be- low age level. We have seen one young boy who was superior in his language, memory and
reasoning ability, but who was delayed in his fine, gross motor, and perceptual
Jesse was referred to the Clinic by his
parents when he was two years seven months of age. He was described as a very verbal child
who loved to talk about anything. Jesse reportedly attained language milestones at an
early age. He was described by his parents as having been very interested in repeating
sounds since he was five months of age. His acquisition of motor milestones was age
appropriate. His parents were college educated and they reported that no one in either
family was gifted.
Jesse was basically cooperative throughout
the testing session. He responded quickly to the questions asked when he knew the answer.
He was not terribly persistent on difficult tasks, rather he usually became quite
frustrated and gave up. This was particularly true on spatial and motor tasks. Jesse was
notably awkward when holding a pencil and he was clumsy even when just walking.
Jesse earned an IQ score of 164 on the Stanford Binet
with a mental age of 5 years and 1 month. Jesse's language memory skills were on a 5 year
level while his spatial and fine and gross motor skills were on a 2 year level.
It was not surprising that Jesse became overwhelmed
with frustration at times as his experiences vacillated tremendously between being
extremely easy for him and extremely difficult. Had this child simply been given a single
test rather than a battery of tests he may have been identified simply as extremely
gifted. Whenever possible, Jesse was already using his verbal skills to compensate for his
less developed skills, however, early recognition of his areas of weakness is as important
as is recognition of his strengths. This case speaks to the importance of conceptualizing
intelligence as a collection of skills and abilities, rather than as a single factor.
It was noted that this family focused on the child's strengths and in
fact played down his weaknesses by saying "No one in the family is much of an athlete
and he can always type instead of write."
Impact of Assessment on Parenting
Although a full explanation of the parental component of the evaluation
process is beyond the scope of this paper, a comment on what types of information we
provide to parents is relevant. We do not simply report the child's IQ score and a
determination of gifted or not gifted, rather we provide a skill profile so that parents
become aware of the skill areas in which their child is demonstrating exceptional
strengths, as well as those areas in which their child is performing average or below
average. We make recommendations for activities that are targeted to the child's level of
cognitive functioning within each skill area, rather than encouraging parents to target
activities to their child's chronological age level. We educate parents on the normal
developmental sequence so that they do not attempt to teach skills out of sequence,
resulting in frustrating the child, and we offer suggestions for moderately challenging
though not over taxing the child. Finally, we sensitize parents to their child's emotional
style and encourage them to become aware of how their child's temperament comes into play
in his or her approach to learning situations. On a practical level, we provide parents
with a resource and referral list of relevant programs, activities and agencies that can
help them to foster further development in their child. In general, parents have reported
that the evaluation offered them a deeper understanding of their child cognitively,
emotionally and behaviorally.
Through case descriptions presented here we see that the profiles of
extremely gifted children show no singular pattern. Children functioning four standard
deviations from the norm differ from each other in as many ways as do children of normal
intelligence. Extremely gifted children may have emotional problems or they may be well
adjusted; they may be gifted across skill areas or they may be gifted in only one skill
area. In fact, they may be gifted in certain areas and delayed in others (Lewis, 1985;
Feiring & Taft, 1985). Extremely gifted children may have parents or relatives who are
gifted or they may be the first member identified as exceptional; they may come from
families that stress achievement and learning or they may come from families believing
that their children should grow at their own pace.
In reviewing these cares, it is tempting to conclude that the
predominant factor in these children's lives and behavior was their superior skill
performance. Indeed we have selected to review these cases in part because of the
childrens' outstanding capabilities. However, they were selected also because of the
diversity of family back- ground and environments, and the personality or behavior style
of the child. It is important to remember that gifted children react to their experience
and are perceived by others not only in terms of their special talents but also in terms
of their social skills and emotional make up. In fact, a myriad of factors interact with
intellectual giftedness in influencing the course of development. Consequently, themes of
sibling rivalry and parental identification and expectations, such as Craig was struggling
with, are the types of characteristics that come to play a major role in an individuals'
development whether one is gifted or not. Similarly' aggressive modes of dealing with
frustration, as was true for Paul, or a facility for adapting to new situations and being
able to trust an unfamiliar person, as in the case of Dean, play a critical role not only
in the expression of one's gift but in the potential and expression of one's life course.
In regard to the role of environment and genetics in the development of
giftedness, the picture that emerges is complex. On the other hand, these cases provide
evidence for the argument that regardless of the environment, superior skill can be
manifested by children. In the cases of Paul and Craig, extreme giftedness was noted
despite environmental and personality characteristics that would have been expected to
inhibit its expression. On the other hand, the cases of Dean, Carla and Marie are examples
of supportive environments, intellectually and emotionally, which play a role in the
development and nurturance of general and special skills. The evidence here can shed no
information on the extent of the biological or environmental contributions to giftedness.
Other data, however, does seem to indicate that later outcomes especially in terms of
fulfilling ones potential, are related to life events such as family environment and
personality style (Feldman, 1982).
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