So many children are identified as “gifted” in school. Some go on to Ivy League colleges and great achievements, sure – but others settle into a comfortable nine-to-five job, or stay home to raise children. Do these gifted kids simply stop being gifted and become, well, merely average?
Not according to the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development. For the past three decades, ISAD has explored what it means to be a “gifted ex-child.” Giftedness, according to ISAD, is not just about doing well in school, reading above grade level, or achieving greatness. It’s about a greater sensitivity to the world around you, about compassion and a drive to bring justice and fairness to the world. (Does that sound like any Care2 readers you know?) Dr. Linda Silverman, director of ISAD, puts it this way in her article “The Universal Experience of Being Out-Of-Sync“:
The marriage of cognitive complexity and emotional intensity, and the enhanced awareness and moral sensitivity born of that marriage, render gifted individuals vulnerable. When advanced cognition brings information into awareness for which the child or adult is emotionally unprepared, vulnerability is the natural result. But we must be careful not to equate emotional fragility with immaturity. Dabrowski (1979/1994) found morally and emotionally advanced adults gentle, delicate, nonaggressive, likely to withdraw rather than retaliate, “heroic” in their sensitivity. Most of world’s treasures are delicate and need to be handled with care, like fine china, crystal, paintings. All delicacy is at risk in crude and aggressive environments. As the organizers of this conference acknowledged, it is the vulnerability of the gifted that requires special provisions.
Complexity, intensity, and heightened awareness are lifelong attributes of the gifted. These qualities often result in extraordinary conscience, a need to make the gift of life mean something in the overall pattern of existence. Lost potential to be an artist or a great scientist or statesman is surely harmful to the individual and to society, but loss of courage to take a stand against injustice causes much deeper suffering in these sensitive souls.
ISAD currently publishes the yearly Advanced Development Journal, the only peer-reviewed journal dedicated to questions of adult giftedness. Last April, they even held the first-ever Symposium on Adult Giftedness. And in 2012? They’re hosting the 10th International Dabrowski Conference, aimed at helping gifted adults and the parents of gifted kids.
Kazimierz Dabrowki was a Polish psychologist who came up with the theory of positive disintegration, which essentially states that difficult experiences, whether from a traumatic event or merely the routine struggles of highly-sensitive individuals, will help a person reach higher stages of personal development. This theory has been embraced by the gifted education community.
The Dabrowski conference is going to be held in downtown Denver, Colorado this July, and “is designed for all those who want to delve into issues of advanced moral development, overexcitabilities, temperament, and giftedness.” Anyone with gifted children who’d like to learn more about them or themselves would be well-served by giving ISAD’s site a look. There’s also a wealth of information about children’s issues as well, including school choice and academic advocacy.
Photo credit: Todd Binger