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Exceptionally and Profoundly Gifted Students:
|Mildly (or basically) Gifted||115 - 129||1:6 - 1:44|
|Moderately Gifted||130 - 144||1:44 - 1:1,000|
|Highly Gifted||145 - 159||1:1,000 - 1:10,000|
|Exceptionally Gifted||160 - 179||1:10,000 - 1:1 million|
|Profoundly Gifted||180+||Fewer than 1:1 million|
Several researchers over the last 70 years have proposed that the number of children who score in the extremely high ranges of IQ exceeds the theoretical expectations derived from the normal curve (Terman, 1925; Burt, 1968; Silverman, 1989; Gross, 1993). Even the most generous over-prediction would affirm that exceptionally and profoundly gifted children comprise a tiny minority even among the gifted.
Although, as discussed earlier, the majority of teachers tend to view gifted students as a fairly homogeneous group, researchers have noticed profound differences between moderately gifted and exceptionally gifted children on almost every cognitive and affective trait that has been studied. In the realm of intellectual capacity alone, a profoundly gifted child of IQ 190 differs from his or her moderately gifted classmate of IQ 130 to the same degree that the latter differs from an intellectually handicapped child of IQ 70.
Even the earliest studies of exceptionally and profoundly gifted children reveal that these children differ strikingly from their age peers in their unusually early acquisition of speech, movement, and reading.
Numerous researchers have noticed the early development of speech, which is typical of even moderately gifted: children. Whereas the average child utters her first meaningful words (other than "mamma-dadda" babble) at about the age of 12 months (Staines & Mitchell, 1982), moderately gifted children start speaking, on average, two months earlier. However, my study of 53 Australian children of IQ 160+ found that the average age at which these extremely gifted children began to speak was 8.6 months, while several spoke as early as 6 months. By 13 months Emma had a vocabulary of more than 80 words, including complex words such as flower, sunshine, spaghetti, pineapple, and raining. Before her first birthday she was already linking words into pairs (Gross, 1999). Adam spoke his first word at 5 months of age and two months later was talking in three-and four-word sentences, regularly producing a running commentary on the grocery items as his mother wheeled him past the shelves in the shopping cart! Hollingworth (1942) noted that several of her subjects of IQ 180+ began to speak in sentences before their first birthday; the average child does not even begin to link words into pairs until around the age of 18 months (Jersild, 1960).
The speech of some exceptionally gifted children demonstrates quite remarkable complexity. Ian of IQ 200 knew all the words of "My Grandfather's Clock" by the age of 23 months, and shortly after his second birthday he announced to a family friend, "You know, my father is a mathematician and my mother is a physiotherapist" (Gross, 1993). A frequent comment by parents of these children is that their children's speech was phonetically clear and grammatically accurate from the earliest months. The mother of Hadley, also of IQ 200, notes, "His early speech, which began at the age of 6 months, was very clear and people frequently remarked on this. In fact, his early speech attempts were remarkably accurate, and on the few occasions that Robert or I did correct his pronunciation or his use of a word he seemed to note and apply the correction immediately" (Gross, 1993, p. 92).
Nonetheless, it is not unusual for the speech of extremely gifted children to be delayed. Probably the most famous example of this is the case of Einstein, who did not talk until 3 years of age and was suspected of being learning disabled (Goertzel & Goertzel, 1962). The absence of early speech is not therefore, an indication that the child is not highly gifted. However, the very early development of speech, coupled with an unusually speedy progression through the stages of speech development is a strong indicator that the child may well be highly gifted.
The development of movement tends also to arrive early in the extremely gifted, and as with speech, the stages of its progression are unusually accelerated. Emma sat up alone at 4 months of age, stood alone at 7 months and walked upstairs unaided at 11 months (Gross, 1999). Theman and Witty reported on a girl, "B,” of IQ 200, who took several steps by herself at the age of 8 months "under the excitement of running after a dog" (1943, p. 168). The majority of children in my study were walking independently before the age of 12 months, three months earlier than the norm (Gross, 1993).
Reading, a third and significant source of knowledge acquisition, also tends to develop at remarkably early ages. Terman found that one of the few variables, on which the exceptionally gifted children in his study differed from the moderately and highly gifted, was the very early onset of reading (Terman & Oden, 1947). Hollingworth (1942) also noted that it was the early development of reading which most clearly differentiated exceptionally and profoundly gifted children from the moderately gifted. All Hollingworth's 12 subjects of IQ 180+ were reading before school entry, while four were reading at age 2, three at age 3, and three at age 4.
VanTassel-Baska (1983) studied 270 students aged 13 and 14 who had achieved scores of at least 630 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test-Mathematics or 580 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test- Verbal in the Midwest Talent Search. These scores place them above the 90th percentile on a test standardized on college-bound seniors. VanTassel-Baska found that 80% of this group was reading by age 5, and 55% by age 4. Of the IQ 160+ children in my study, 95% were reading before the age of 5 (Gross, 1999).
This precocity in speech, movement, and reading among extremely gifted children is not reported merely as a curiosity; it has profound effects on the children's early cognitive and socio-affective development. Both early movement and early speech contribute significantly to the highly gifted child's capacity to acquire and process information and to relate to other people within and outside his or her family. Through early speech and reading, the young Child has access to an "information bank" normally reserved for children some years older, which may have a lasting effect on her values, attitudes, and interests. Teachers who have such children in their classes in the early years of school are often surprised at their wealth of knowledge on topics that are more usually the province of much older students.
Differences between moderately and extremely gifted children are not, of course, confined to the cognitive domain. Hollingworth (1926) defined the IQ range 125-155 as "socially optimal intelligence." She found that children scoring within this range were well-balanced, self-confident, and outgoing individuals who were able to win the confidence of age peers. She claimed, however, that above the level of IQ 160 the difference between the exceptionally gifted child and his or her age-mates is so great that it leads to special problems of development which are correlated with social isolation. These difficulties appear particularly acute at ages 4 through 9 (Hollingworth, 1942).
DeHaan and Havighurst (1961), examining the differences between what they termed second- order" (IQ 125-160) and "first-order” (IQ 160+) gifted children, reinforced Hollingworth's findings. These findings suggested that the second-order gifted child achieves good social adjustment because he has sufficient intelligence to overcome minor social difficulties but is not “different” enough to induce the severe problems of salience encountered by the exceptionally gifted student. Janos (1983) compared the psychosocial development of 32 children aged 6-9 with IQs in excess of 164, with that of 40 age peers of moderately superior intellectual ability. The findings of Janos emphasized that the social difficulties experienced by this highly gifted group did not stem from a pre-existing emotional disturbance, but rather were caused by the absence of a suitable peer group with whom to relate. There are virtually no points of common experience and common interest between a 6-year-old with a mental age of 6 and a 6-year-old with a mental age of 12.
The influence on the gifted student of his or her awareness of being different, and the resultant pressure to underachieve for peer acceptance, can hardly be overestimated. Research suggests that the more highly gifted the child, the greater becomes the social pressure to moderate his or her achievements (Hollingworth, 1926; Silverman, 1989; Gross, 1993, 1994). Terman and his colleagues observed this even in the first few years of their landmark study of 1500 gifted children in California.
“Precocity unavoidably complicates the complexity of social adjustment. The child of 8 years with a mentality of 12 or 14 is faced with a situation that is almost inconceivably difficult. In order to adjust normally, such a child has to have an exceptionally well-balanced personality, and has to be well nigh a social genius. The higher the IQ, the more acute the problem” (Burks, Jensen, & Terman, 1930).
Furthermore, the awareness that one is different from one's age peers can arrive much earlier than is often realized. As Hollingworth (1942) noted, social difficulties arising from this can appear as early as 4 years of age. As children move through the preschool and primary years, the egocentricity of early childhood gradually gives place to an awareness of the opinions, attributes, and abilities of others. The child moves from a self-referenced perspective, in which she measures her achievements against the level of her previous performance ("I couldn't do that yesterday, but I can now!) to a norm-referenced perspective from which she compares her achievements with those of other children (“Kate is 6 but she can't do that yet, and I could do it before I started school!”). This shift in perspective is much more closely linked to mental age than to chronological age; thus, a highly gifted Child of 4 or 5 may already have reached a stage of norm-referenced behavior which her age peers of average ability may not reach until the age of 7 or 8.
Because of this, gifted children may become aware, at an early age, that they are different in many ways from the other children around them. However, contrary to popular myth, this rarely leads to feelings of conceit or superiority. Rather, gifted children may feel acutely uncomfortable about their "difference” and may act swiftly to change their behavior to conform to the social or behavioral norms of their age group.
As discussed earlier, the majority of highly gifted students enter school with the reading accuracy and comprehension of children several years older. If the teacher does not recognize this precocity, and respond to it appropriately, the gifted young child may stop reading, or deliberately decrease the quality and quantity of his reading, after a few weeks in school. My study of exceptionally gifted Australian students (Gross, 1993) has found that more than 70% of early readers radically modify their in-class reading performance, or stop reading altogether in class, within the first month of school. Indeed, when asked, in later childhood, to discuss their first memories of school, many of these children recalled, as a powerful and uncomfortable memory, the feeling of strangeness, even alienation, that came with the realization that no one else in the class, except the teacher, could actually read!
The pressure to conform, and in many cases the disturbing realization that even assiduous conformity does not result in social acceptance, can sometimes result in the exceptionally or profoundly gifted child deciding that the gamble of attempting to deny one's interests, one's values, and indeed one’s very nature, is no longer worth the attendant cost of beginning to dislike oneself. Children who come to this conclusion may, reluctantly, become social isolates, preferring their own company, in which they can at least be honest with themselves about themselves, to the company of children with whom they have virtually nothing in common. This social isolation results from an absence of congenial companionship rather than from a tendency to misanthropy on behalf of the exceptionally gifted. This is demonstrated by the fact that where socially isolated children have been accelerated to be with intellectual peers the isolation has disappeared and the exceptionally gifted have been able to form warm and supportive relationships with their older classmates (Hollingworth, 1942; Pollins, 1983; Gross, 1994).
The 53 children who are members of my longitudinal study are young people of truly remarkable intellectual potential. Their schools have recognized a minority as such. In the considerable majority of cases, however, the children's teachers have remained unaware of their extraordinary intellectual potential or, where psychometric evidence of this has been made available, the school has refused, on ideological grounds, to develop any form of differentiated curriculum for the gifted child. The majority of these extremely gifted children have spent, or are spending, their elementary school years working through a lockstep curriculum in a heterogeneous classroom without access to other gifted, even moderately gifted, students.
However, 11 of the 53 children have been radically accelerated and are undertaking part or all of their schooling with students three years older (Gross, 1993). In each case the grade-skips and subject matter acceleration have been carefully planned and monitored, addressing the children’s social and emotional maturity as well as their academic achievement. No child has skipped more than one grade at a time; the skips have been spaced appropriately as the child progressed through school, with at least one year of consolidation between each skip. Guidelines were followed for grade advancement of precocious children as advised by Feldhusen, Proctor and Black (1986). Each student was psychometrically assessed to establish his or her intellectual capacity and to ensure that the child would be able to perform at a level considerably beyond the average for the receiving grade. In each case, it was understood that acceleration would be undertaken on a trial basis, and the children knew that they had the option, at any time, to return to their earlier placement. In every case, however, the acceleration has proven overwhelmingly successful.
In each instance the children's parents and the children themselves were involved in the planning and monitoring of the acceleration program. Indeed, in the majority of cases the initial grade-skip or early enrollment was proposed not by the teachers but by the parents who had familiarized themselves with the research literature on appropriate educational provisions for the gifted. In several cases the school was extremely reluctant to permit any form of acceleration and concurred only when it had become obvious that retaining the child with age peers, with a token provision of in-class enrichment or pullout, was proving quite inadequate to the child's academic and social needs.
The common perception of the extremely gifted as eager, academically successful young people who display high levels of task commitment has been refuted by research. This research demonstrates that many highly gifted children underachieve seriously in the regular classroom and that by the end of elementary school, many have almost completely lost the motivation to excel (Pringle, 1970; Painter, 1976; Whitmore, 1980; Gross, 1993).
The majority of the extremely gifted young people in my study state frankly that for substantial periods in their school careers they have deliberately concealed their abilities or significantly moderate their scholastic achievement in an attempt to reduce their classmates' and teachers' resentment of them. In almost every case, the parents of children retained in the regular classroom with age peers report that the drive to achieve, the delight in intellectual exploration, and the joyful seeking after new knowledge, which characterized their children in the early years, has seriously diminished or disappeared completely. These children display disturbingly low levels of motivation and social self-esteem. They are also more likely to report social rejection by their classmates and state that they frequently underachieve in attempts to gain acceptance by age peers and teachers. Unfortunately, rather than investigating the cause of this, the schools attended by these children have tended to view their decreased motivation, with the attendant drop in academic attainment, as indicators that the child has "leveled out" and is no longer gifted (Gross, 1993).
By contrast, the children who have been radically accelerated, and their teachers and parents, believe strongly that they are now much more appropriately placed, both academically and socially. These students display higher levels of motivation, and they report that pressure to underachieve for peer acceptance has significantly diminished or disappeared completely. Although the curriculum which they are offered does not address all their academic needs, it provides a challenging and stimulating intellectual environment when enhanced with ability grouping, enrichment, or mentoring. The radical accelerants have positive attitudes towards school and believe that they are warmly regarded by their teachers. They have a greater number of friends and enjoy closer and more productive social relationships than they did prior to their acceleration. They have significantly higher levels of social and general self-esteem than do children of equal intellectual ability who have been retained with age peers or who have been permitted only a single grade-skip.
Educators concerned for the academic and social needs of the intellectually and physically disabled often argue that these children should be placed in the "least restrictive environment." This usually means inclusion in the regular classroom, where the child may interact in work and play with age peers and is exposed to a broader and more enriched curriculum than might be possible in the environment of a special class or special school. Ironically, the regular classroom is not necessarily the least restrictive environment for the intellectually gifted, and for exceptionally and profoundly gifted students it is probably the most restrictive environment. Hollingworth, in her landmark work on children of IQ 180+, warned that extremely gifted children must learn to accept that the majority of people they will encounter in life are very different from themselves. "The highly intelligent child must learn to suffer fools gladly-not sneeringly, not angrily, not despairingly, not weepingly-but gladly if personal development is to proceed successfully in the world as it is" (Hollingworth, 1942, p. 299).
No matter how appropriate the interventions that are made for extremely gifted students in school, they will live as adults in a world where the vast majority of people they encounter will find it difficult to relate to their remarkable intellectual capacities, atypical interests, and different values and perceptions. This does not mean, however, that our schools can absolve themselves from the obligation to assist the extremely gifted child in forming facilitative peer relationships in school. A child who receives affection and approval from other children is learning and practicing the skills that will assist her to form sound relationships in adulthood. A child who is ostracized by his peers has little opportunity to practice these skills.
Our task as educators, therefore, is to place the extremely, gifted child in the environment that will least restrict her opportunities for socialization. Research suggests that the inclusion classroom, with age peers, may not be the most appropriate environment.
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Originally published in Understanding Our Gifted, Winter
Reprinted with Permission, Open Space Communications, 800-494-6178.