Rebecca Howell, of NAGC UK, helps us to get to the heart of the matter.
What is at the Heart of Giftedness?
A back to basics question; here is my explanation about what giftedness essentially is, and why some of the common characteristics that gifted children share exist.
Gifted children, even if they also have a special need of some kind, all share one characteristic in that they are able to learn quickly. Being able to learn at a fast pace comes about because gifted children have an excellent memory plus an understanding of the world around them, meaning that they are able to take on board information, understand it, remember it and be ready to move on to the next level very quickly.
Their different profiles of abilities, opportunities and interests mean that the things gifted children learn quickly vary, and a special need may hinder in learning some areas (such as dyslexia hinders learning to read and spell). If a young gifted child is interested in numbers, he or she will advance quickly in maths; if he or she is interested in letters and words reading will be learnt; if his or her passion is for space, planets and stars will be where the child shows his or her advancement.
Having the ability to learn quickly results in a need for information to absorb at a fast pace. This is why many gifted children ask a lot of questions and want to know more, more, and more. This is also the reason behind gifted children tending to think in a deeper way; they grasp and understand basic information very quickly and are ready and excited to use information in different ways (higher order thinking). Parents of gifted children will testify that their offspring seem to need to be constantly engaged in activities from being awake to going to sleep; their minds are always working.
Children whose minds are constantly working and need information input at a fast pace find it difficult, for example, to listen to a set of instructions being repeated. Simply listening to someone asking them to do something they have heard before does not grab their attention enough to keep them engaged in the task. For some, this means they experience anxiety and a loss of self esteem; because perceived expectations about what they can do are low, their own aspirations are lowered and they dumb down. For others, the need to have information input overrides their self control and they fidget and fiddle or set their minds onto other things. Sometimes this kind of gifted child does the fidgeting and fiddling (or thinking or doing something else) to aid concentration, astounding people by later being able to recall everything that happened even though looking as if he or she wasn’t paying attention.
For a young child whose brain is working quicker than others, having to work with others (and this is almost everyone!) who do not grasp things as quickly as they do can be immensely frustrating. Their reasoning ability means that problems can be seen with great clarity, and a possible solution thought of, before others have a chance to catch up. Often these solutions are thought through logically, and if put to others in the right way would be accepted. However, the young gifted child may yet lack the communication skills to be able to ‘sell’ the idea to others. The frustration of this sometimes overspills and causes them to act out or become upset.
The reasons why gifted children behave in the way they do are not easy to decipher, because they do not all act in the same way. To understand the reasons behind a particular gifted child’s behaviour, it is important to start from the pace of learning of that individual and how this affects him or her.