What Happens When Gifted Kids Grow Up?

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.


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Photo credit: Todd Binger


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago


Daniel A.
Danield A5 years ago

Although the dna may determine the propensity for giftedness, intellectual ability, or other outstanding traits, it is still the environment which is the garden in which these traits may flourish or wilt. It is up to parents, teachers and others in society to recognize these children and help them develop their potential, for they are the ones who will determine much of the future of humanity. I have a friend who has Asperger's who is an absolute genius in calculating and sorting, and classifying. He worked for an educational system on the organizational level, and made the work of teachers and administrators so much easier. We all learned to respect his ability and imagination, and paid no attention at occasional outbursts and noises. We also didn't pay attention when other people combed their hair or blew their noses. it was just their thing. The importance of this person overrode whatever others thought of as a "disability". Individual quirks should not matter where intellectual or physical endeavor and results count.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams5 years ago

Try Asperger's syndrome combining an above average IQ with less social sense than the average dog and extreme physical clumsiness. I found out at age 65 that Asperger's is what I have rather than the Schizophrenia I was misdiagnosed with at age 18.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams5 years ago

Thanks to Prince Anawele Odor, I rethought my willingness to let fossil fuel firms keep their present subsidies PROVIDED they invest them in sustainable energy production. I reached the same conclusion; only clarified my reasons: 1) If Global Thermostat (name of manufacturer)anywhere near fulfills its claim to extract CO2 from ambient air cost-effectively, it is technology for the capture half of carbon capture and storage—with CO2 as hydraulic fluid in Enhanced Geothermal Systems (http://geothermal.inel.gov ) to generate base-load electricity as storage. Enhanced Geothermal Systems can store and make good use of as much CO2 as we are likely to need to store to mitigate global warming. 2) Now that in the United States corporations have the privilege of buying all elections with campaign donations, trying to get money from fossil fuel firms to pay for cleaning up their mess is more like trying to take a nice bunch of bananas from a troop of 800 pound gorillas than like trying to take candy from a baby. If corporations ever lose that election buying privilege, then maybe fossil fuel firms can be forced to pay something towards cleaning their mess, but not now. 3) The need to mitigate global warming is too urgent to waste any time picking a fight with fossil fuel firms. Those who stand to gain from the mitigation of global warming compared to business as usual need to calculate how much each degree of global warming will cost them and thus how much it is worthwhile f

Grace Adams
Grace Adams5 years ago

Try Asperger's syndrome--a combination of above average IQ and less social sense than the average dog, with a fair amount of physical clumsiness thrown in. I finally found out at age 65 that this is what has been wrong with me most of my life--NOT schizophrenia--that is a common misdiagnosis for victims of Asperger's syndrome.

Terry Vanderbush
Terry V5 years ago

Many thanks

Ruby W.
Ruby W6 years ago

The article failed to note what I have noted in the lives of many of my genius friends - they struggle with depression and mental illness. Many have won that struggle. Others did not. Some continue to struggle and probably always will. A greater sensitivity, a greater range and depth of emotion, can be a huge drawback in the workplace and in dealing with ordinary ups and downs and problems. Also the sorrows of other people, the tragedies of the world, can weigh down the more compassionate until they break, or nearly.

Walter G.
Walter G6 years ago

some contribute, others think teh world owes them a living, and many times the gifted but poor child feels that a career in crime is the only to make it to the top.

Juliet D.
judith sanders6 years ago

Here's what's happening with my gifted Daughter: She just called from JMU to say that after she gets her STEM degree, she won't be staying in Virginia, and will probably be looking for a job overseas. Thanks a lot, all you anti-woman, anti-science jerks in state and federal jobs. I'd like to beat you all over the head with a copy of 'Flight of the Creative Class.'

She went to Governor's School for 3 years, but pulled out because she couldn't get the electives she needed (art) for the career she wants to get into, computer modelling & simulation. Programs for gifted children often have a hard time recognizing that children can be gifted in areas other than math and science.

Andrea A.
Andrea A6 years ago