The Common Room Couch
Our dorm boys born across the globe
Arrive with multiple passports,
Foreign place of birth;
Arrive with expectations of friendships
Across boundaries cut by men on Earth.
Our melting pot grows warm each fall
As boys learn to pile like puppies
On the common room couch
With hearty laughter and brotherly love
Before bedtime and sweet dreams.
The first snow arrives,
Sparkling against the night sky.
Flakes soon pressed into small, white balls,
Thrown joyfully by hands of many colors
And hearts of many lands.
Graduation throws our puppies to the world,
Military service compulsory for some,
Roommates’ countries in tense relations,
Study visas denied due to diplomatic failures.
Our boys now pawns of men in power,
Parents unable to comfort
The puppies we saw piled happily
On the common room couch.
by Wenda Sheard
I wrote this poem in September 2014 after spending five years teaching and dorm parenting with my husband at TASIS The American School in England, an international boarding and day school outside of London, England. During our five years there, 2009-2014, we had as many as 16 different nationalities represented by the 19 boys who lived with us in the dorm.
The poem begs to be published today, November 12, 2016, in our increasingly anti-globalization era. I oblige the poem, ever grateful to my TASIS dorm students whose wisdom and warmth gave rise to the poem.
Note: This article is adapted from talks I’ve given in churches in four states. I have declined to give this talk on public school property, mostly because public schools don’t need anyone complaining about their invited speakers.
My rational, scientific husband has had difficulty dealing with my fascination with certain mysteries. When I first told him my topic for this talk, he asked whether he would be able to handle it.
I reminded him that I enjoy reading the Skeptical Inquirer, and I am grateful for the work of “bad science” critic Ben Goldacre in England. We both recognize that science itself is sometimes an iffy proposition: What is considered scientific truth today may change after new discoveries in the future.
For avid researchers who want to delve deeply into the philosophy of scientific change, I recommend reading Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), or, for lighter fare, this excellent 50th anniversary article about Kuhn in The Guardian: Thomas Kuhn: The Man Who Changed the Way the World Looked at Science.
Science is not static; scientists seek to solve mysteries, and the solving of mysteries can change our view of the world. The non-rational and non-scientific mysteries of today may be considered scientific truth in the future.
I don’t usually speak or write about my favorite mysteries. Why? Because it’s risky to speak of non-rational, non-scientifically explainable phenomenon in the rational circles of our society. When we profess belief in mysteries outside other people’s comfort zones, we risk being dismissed or ostracized. Today I feel compelled to speak, nonetheless, because children deserve adults who will respect them and their experiences, however mysterious.
The Mysteries of High Intelligence
The main mysteries I’ve encountered in my life come from my work with profoundly intelligent children. By “profoundly intelligent,” I mean those rare children with intelligence off the charts. Assuming current IQ tests could measure high enough, I mean children with IQs over 160, and some with IQs up over 200. (The outdated WISC IV had extended norms; I have not yet seen extended norms for the WISC V (2014) or any other current IQ test.)
Over the years, I’ve encountered three types of mysteries surrounding profoundly intelligent children:
(1) The mystery of their high intelligence.
(2) The mysteries they experience.
(3) The mysteries they explore during their lives.
In sections that follow, I will discuss each of those three types of mysteries. First, though, I need to say a few words about the nature of profoundly intelligent children.
The Nature of Profoundly Intelligent Children
By “profoundly intelligent children,” I do not mean children who perform well in school. Some do, of course, but intelligence is not solely about verbal and math ability. The same brain biology that makes a person quick in verbal and math realms can make the person quick in emotions, in the senses, and in the physical realm. For more information, see The Gifted Brain (2016) by the team at the nonprofit organization Gifted Research and Outreach, see Developmental and Cognitive Characteristics of “High-Level Potentialities” (Highly Gifted) Children (2011) published in the International Journal of Pediatrics, see Annemarie Roeper’s chapter titled “Giftedness is Heart and Soul” in High IQ Kids (2007), and see Overexcitability and the Highly Gifted Child (2000) by Sharon Lind.
The brain appears to work best as a unified whole. The best mathematicians use many areas of their brains when solving problems. In mathematically gifted adolescents, the entire brain is involved in the “fast, well-insulated, efficient” biological stuff of high intelligence. See Interhemispheric Interaction During Global-Local Processing in Mathematically Gifted Adolescents, Average-Ability Youth, and College Students (2004) available through the National Institutes of Health. Popular media have perpetrated right-brain, left-brain nonsense, but cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman upends that misconception with this excellent rant: The Real Neuroscience of Creativity.
Profound levels of intelligence affect all parts of the brain and all aspects of a child including academics, emotions, body, and more. The “more” includes many mysteries.
(1) The Mysteries of High Intelligence
In my work with profoundly intelligent children, I’ve heard babies speak full sentences, I’ve met seven year olds successfully taking college courses, and I’ve taught preteens who surpassed doctoral students after just one game theory lesson. I’ve seen five-year-olds read 250-page books. I’ve seen a shocked math teacher remark to himself after an introductory calculus lesson to curious children ages seven to eleven, “I just taught four weeks of math in one hour.” I’ve seen preteens who appear to have been born knowing math; they can pass an end-of-year high school math test without taking the course or looking at a textbook for more than a few hours. I’ve known students who mastered musical instruments so fast that music contest organizers challenged their answers to “how many years have you played?”
The abilities of profoundly intelligent children are mysteries to me. Why and how do extreme levels of intelligence exist in humankind? I do not know. If I had not seen and heard those displays of intelligence mentioned above, I might not have believed them possible.
Because envy pervades our society, bravery is required in order to talk about the seemingly mysterious abilities of profoundly intelligent children. Parents of such children quickly learn to keep their mouths shut, as Juliet Thomas wrote eloquently in Hard Won Truths. For an excellent scholarly article on the topic of envy, see Envy and Giftedness: Are We Underestimating the Effects of Envy? by Catharine Alvarez. I wholeheartedly agree with Alvarez that, “The problem of dealing with other people’s envy is one of the central problems of gifted development.”
Envy isn’t the only problem facing profoundly intelligent children. In his 1869 essay On Liberty, 19th Century philosopher John Stuart Mill recognized that individuals with high levels of intelligence have a tendency to exhibit originality in thought and action, and that originality often exceeds the comfort zone of others:
People think genius is a fine thing if it enables a man to write an exciting poem, or paint a picture. But in its true sense, that of originality in thought and action, though no one says that it is not a thing to be admired, nearly all, at heart, think that they can do very well without it.
Mill explained in his next paragraph, “In sober truth, whatever homage may be professed, or even paid, to real or supposed mental superiority, the general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind.”
Fortunately, not all is gloom and doom. Whenever I meet children with high levels of intelligence, I encourage their parents to find other families with children of similar abilities. All children benefit from feeling a sense of belonging, and all parents benefit from having safe places to talk with other parents.
For many profoundly intelligent children, finding true peers is life changing, and possibly life-saving. For more information about the necessity of finding true peers, see Bright Star — Black Sky: A Phenomenological Study of Depression as a Window Into the Psyche of the Gifted Adolescent by P. Susan Jackson, founder of the Daimon Institute for the Highly Gifted. Luckily, the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, and similar organizations provide financial and other support to many highly intelligent children who need help accessing specialized summer camps, conferences, and other events.
(2) The Mysteries That Profoundly Intelligent Children Experience
Profound intelligence, by itself, is mysterious, and the experiences that some profoundly intelligent children have reported to their parents and others intensify the mystery. In Nature’s Gambit: Child Prodigies and the Development of Human Potential (1986), psychologist David Henry Feldman wrote about mysterious experiences of some of the child prodigies he studied:
During the years I have conducted my study, several of my subjects have reported incidents that have made me reflect on a possible connection between prodigies and unknown forces or influences. This chapter presents some examples of occurrences that suggest that there does remain an element of mystery and uncanniness to the prodigy. Perhaps this element helps account for why prodigies and prophecy have been linked throughout history. (From page 187, Chapter 9, titled “Beyond Coincidence.”)
During the summer of 2001, I led a summer institute workshop for parents of gifted children. I felt comfortable enough with the seven participants to mention unusual experiences associated with gifted children. Surprise, surprise–three of the seven families told me that their children had experiences that cannot be explained by science. The experiences recounted by those families included visits from recently deceased relatives, knowledge of what would happen in the future, and feelings of tragic emotions before the tragedy happened.
After that workshop, my ever-scientific husband reminded me that coincidences exist; I reminded him that mysteries exist, too. Some of the stories I’ve heard over the years include what I call “truth markers”–those little bits of information that a child could not possibly know unless the unbelievable–or at least an exceptionally unbelievable coincidence–had happened.
The tragedies of September 11, 2001, occurred shortly after that summer workshop. In the days and hours before those tragedies, more than a few profoundly intelligent children shared uncanny premonitions of the tragedies with their parents.
I was as mystified by those reports of premonitions as I was horrified by the tragedies themselves. I desperately wanted to understand the premonitions. I wondered whether time itself has “bow waves” like those waves that precede the bow of a ship on the water. I wondered whether profoundly intelligent children, with their extra sensitivities, might have the ability to detect bow waves of time. I questioned my sanity for allowing my wonderings to wander beyond reason.
Fortunately, the unusual experiences that profoundly intelligent children have reported are not limited to tragedies. Some children and teens have reported knowing the minds of others so well that their minds feel connected. Newbery Honor Book winner Stephanie S. Tolan based part of her novel Welcome to the Ark on an experience she had with a group of six profoundly intelligent children whose minds appeared to communicate together in silence during a workshop she offered at one of the early gatherings of families with such children. In an interview available on her website, Tolan recalls: “They didn’t realize they hadn’t talked it out. Their ‘telepathic’ interaction had felt so natural to them that they didn’t even realize they were doing it until I pointed out that not one of them had said a word aloud. I’d been in the room with them the whole time. There was no talking. The process had somehow taken place only in their minds.”
As I’ve searched for explanations, I’ve wondered whether profoundly intelligent children have enhanced senses of intuition. Perhaps an extra strong dose of intuition can mimic what some call “mind reading” and “premonition”? Might information about intuition somehow connect the mysteries with science?
I am a firm believer in intuition. In every field I’ve entered, I’ve run into top professionals who write or speak about the importance of intuition in that field. When I volunteered at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center in the early 1970s, when I went to law school and practiced law, when I taught in the Ohio University College of Business, when I learned about politics and political science, when I learned about public administration, when I taught high school and middle school students. Everywhere I’ve been, without exception, experts in the field have recognized the importance of intuition.
Even if an extra strong dose of intuition can mimic what some call mind reading and premonitions, might I be able to connect the mysteries with science? Doubtful. Why? Because science knows precious little about intuition.
(3) The Mysteries That Profoundly Intelligent Children Explore
John Stuart Mill, quoted above, wrote that genius, in its true sense, is originality in thought and action. That originality in thought and action extends to explorations of the mysterious.
The history of science has shown that many great discoveries have come from those who were shunned during the discovery process. Galileo was held under house arrest until his death. Darwin was attacked by the churches of his time. Orville and Wilbur Wright felt great skepticism. More than a few Nobel Laureates have suffered forms of ostracism during the initial years of their great work.
Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) once quoted another astute scientist as follows, “Every triumphant theory passes through three stages: first it is dismissed as untrue; then it is rejected as contrary to religion; finally, it is accepted as dogma and every scientist claims that he had long appreciated its truth.”
We must support children when they buck the system with new ideas and later when they are threatened with loss of tenure or loss of funding for exploring mysteries that others think are hocus pocus or even the work of the devil. We must teach children about the history of science and the importance of bravery in the face of skepticism. All children deserve adults who believe in them, and adults who help them navigate a world that may be unready to welcome their experiences and ideas.
Two Bits of Feedback: All Children & Other Cultures
When I’ve given this talk to audiences that did not necessarily include parents of profoundly intelligent children, I’ve used my favorite mysteries as illustrations to encourage people to embrace whatever mysteries they have experienced in their own lives. Embracing mysteries involves a combination of belief, acceptance, awe, and integration into one’s own religious beliefs. Two audience responses merit sharing here.
One woman, a deeply spiritual person with a long teaching career, commented that all children, not only profoundly intelligent children, are capable of experiencing the mysterious until we beat it out of them in our public schools. I wonder whether we hear more reports of mysterious experiences from profoundly intelligence children simply because they learn to talk at earlier ages? Regardless of whether all children experience the mysterious, I sense that the mysterious affects profoundly intelligent children more than it affects other children.
Another women, a Native American living on tribal lands, came up to me afterwards with tears in her eyes. She explained that my stories touched on a large part of her culture that other people simply do not understand. Her tears seemed to be a combination of joy that I was accepting the mysterious, and sadness that so many people do not understand her culture.
Embracing Your Own Mysteries
Maybe you have your own secret bits of non-rational beliefs. Maybe you have experienced having a dream that later happens, or receiving a message via dream or otherwise from a dearly departed loved one, or feeling an animal read your mind, or knowing who is calling before the telephone rings. You might chalk all that up to coincidence, or you might hide that little bit of weird feeling in a quarantined section of your mind, hidden from your rational mind, and hidden from those people would might ridicule you if they knew your truth.
I believe that we should embrace mysteries. By “embracing mysteries” I mean we should not hide them in the far corners of our minds, and trot them out only in hushed tones to close friends. We can and must simultaneously enjoy and question the mysteries we experience. We must also support those who share their mysterious experiences with us.
Let’s embrace the mysterious. Let’s support others who embrace mysteries. Let’s advocate acceptance of one another as part of a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Lastly, let’s remember that today’s mysteries might result in tomorrow’s ground breaking scientific discoveries.
Acknowledgements and Credits
I thank Stephanie S. Tolan for her bravery in being one of the first advocates for gifted children to speak openly about the mysterious. For a large collection of her essays about gifted children, I highly recommend her latest non-fiction book, Out of Sync: Essays on Giftedness (2016). Although I’d read many of her essays in the past, when this book arrived in my mailbox, I couldn’t stop reading. The book includes essays I’ve long loved, along with some I missed meeting over the years. The book differs from other books about the gifted experience because Stephanie not only provides us with thought-provoking knowledge; she also poignantly shares how that knowledge has affected her personally. Stephanie provides us with information, but more importantly, she provides us with a model of how we might integrate evolving knowledge about giftedness into our own belief systems. I love the respectful, inclusive, and clear nature of her writing. The book is a true gem!
Many thanks to Kiesa Kay and Jennifer Engle Rix for helping me with a draft of this article. I greatly appreciate all their excellent feedback.
The photos are my own, from various locations in Southern California in January and February of this year.
This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page June 2016 Blog Hop. I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page for their inspiration and support leading up to this Blog Hop.
Please click on the following graphic created by Pamela S Ryan to see to the titles, blog names, and links of other Hoagies’ Blog Hop participants.
If you would like me to give this talk for your congregation or organization, please fill out this form. You may also use this form to send me a private message. Thank you.
I am proud to announce the January 15, 2016, release of a major report by Potential Plus UK (the operating name of the UK’s The National Association for Gifted Children) about the emotional and mental health issues of high learning potential children in the UK. The report includes the same high quality work that I greatly appreciated during my years (2010-2014) serving as a trustee of that organization while I was living in England.
From the press release about the report:
“The report, ‘Too Much, Too Soon’ is based on a survey of 338 children and parents between 2010 and 2015. It found that the number of high learning potential children with emotional and mental health issues is on the increase. In particular:
In 2010, 7% of these children were extremely concerned about things that in the past hadn’t concerned them. By 2015, that figure had risen to 30%.
In 2010, 28% of children had experienced no fun at all during the previous week playing with other children. By 2015, that figure had risen to 40%.
In 2010, 10% of children felt they were lonely a lot. By 2015, that percentage had doubled to 20% of high learning potential children.
The youngest child reporting emotional health issues was four years old.
58% of children recognised that ‘people seem to accept lower expectations of me than I do of myself’ and 27% said they felt strongly or extremely strongly that ‘If I fail at school I am a failure as a person.’”
The 38 pages of the report include nine key recommendations, many of which are relevant to education systems and families in the USA and in other countries. I highly recommend the report, and hope the research leading to the report will be replicated in the USA. Please let me know if you are a researcher interested in replication.
Many thanks to Denise Yates, Rebecca Howell, the Potential Plus UK Trustees, and others who made this report possible.
Note: I created the graphic above and posted my remarks here mainly for purposes of social media sharing. Please share the report further in whatever manner you find best for your audience.
To help you survive the holidays, here’s a new version of my original Naked Holidays post. I wish you the best as you make choices about how far you wish to strip your holidays naked in order to survive the holiday season.
1. Choose Your Holiday Purpose
As I write this post, cyberspace is filled with shopping deals and with news of the United Nation’s Climate Change Summit in Paris. Talk about mixed messages! Are we supposed to shop till we drop, or are we supposed to reduce our carbon footprint?
To answer that question, I recommend we each choose a purpose for our holidays. Your holiday purpose can include as much or as little of shopping and environmentalism as you wish. You can delve as deep or as shallow as you wish into the reason for the season. Religion? Family? Food? Decorations? You choose.
2. Choose Your Gift Giving
If you choose to include gifts as part of your holiday, please choose those gifts wisely. Here I’m not just talking about the environmental impacts of the manufacture, shipment, and disposal of things. I’m helping you make sure you won’t regret any credit card bills and storage locker fees that might follow a mountain of gift-giving. For low stress at holiday time and year round, too, make wise gift choices, ok?
3. Choose Your Visitors
To survive the holidays, choose your visitors and visits carefully. But please, as a special favor to me, include grandparents in your holidays. I speak both as a grandmother and as person who misses her own dearly departed parents and grandparents. I also speak as a person who believes that family togetherness is a core purpose of holidays. Whatever you do, though, remember that you have the power to make your own visitor and visit choices from among your family and friends. Here’s a comic I created to help you with your choices:
4. Choose Your Decorations
If you have children, they might insist on holiday decorations. You, on the other hand, might remember the work involved in decorating and later taking down decorations. You have a choice to make here. You can decorate, or you can ban decorations, or, surprise: you can allow your children to do all the decorating. If you don’t trust your children to take down the decorations in a timely and tidy manner after the holidays, I suggest you require a decoration deposit.
5. Choose Your Food
I’m guessing you don’t want to gain weight or live with sugared-up children bouncing off the walls this holiday season. Right? If so, you have choices to make. And those choices start with your grocery list. Here’s the thing: If you don’t bring sugary treats into your home, you and your children won’t eat them.
Instead of splurging on holiday treats, how about splurging on those nutritious items that cost more than you’re usually willing to pay? Go ahead, buy the ingredients for the salad of your dreams, or the fruit arrangement of your wildest imagination. I promise your kids will survive. Who knows, they might even enjoy your nutritious grocery store splurges!
6. Choose Your Events
You have the choice to decline holiday invitations. Invitations are choices, not commands. You don’t need to attend zillions of holiday events. Except, of course, if the events include your children. Then sorry, you’re stuck. There’s simply no escaping school holiday concerts and piano recitals involving your kids, except, maybe via earplugs.
Let’s all aspire to serenity-filled, relaxing holidays. We have the power to choose how much to strip our holidays naked, down to their relaxing cores. I leave you with this holiday prayer:
Acknowledgements and Credits
I created the comics via the Comic-O-Matic website of Nina Paley and Margo Burns. (Thanks!)
This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page December 2015 Blog Hop on Surviving the Holidays. I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page and elsewhere for their inspiration, support, and suggestions.
Please click on the graphic below (created by Pamela S Ryan–thanks!) to see to the titles, blog names, and links of other Hoagies’ Blog Hop participants.
In this article, I offer comics illustrating what some smart kids feel during kindergarten and later school years. You’re welcome to use the comics to start dialogues with your children. Perhaps ask if the situations depicted in the comics have ever happened to them. Perhaps ask how the characters in the comics could have handled the situations differently.
I hope you learn as much from discussing these comics with your children as I learned recently while discussing the comics with my favorite kindergartner.
Kindergartners everywhere begin school with high expectations for learning. Unfortunately, some who burst at the seams with curiosity and knowledge soon feel that good behavior counts more than good learning in kindergarten.
When I showed this comic to my favorite kindergartner, the sarcasm and irony of the comic escaped her. Instead, we discussed how the teacher and the student could have handled the situation differently. We also discussed how teachers try to give all students equal time, and how if a child ever feels left out, the child should share those feelings with the teacher and with the child’s parents.
I believe my favorite kindergartner benefitted from our discussion. It’s good for children to know it’s ok to talk to teachers and parents about feelings. It’s also good for children to understand classroom dynamics not just from their own points of view, but also from the teacher’s point of view.
The Homework Conscience
I was surprised to learn that my favorite kindergartner occasionally has homework. Yes, paper and pencil homework, complete with due dates.
That’s not the kindergarten of my youth, nor the kindergarten of my children’s youth, but what can I do? Nothing much, except create this comic for sparking discussion:
When I showed this comic to my favorite kindergartner, we first had to discuss the concept of conscience. Thanks to Jiminy Cricket of Pinocchio, we mastered that concept sufficiently to move on.
Next, we discussed the purpose of education–learning! When and if any homework feels like an unnecessary burden to my favorite kindergartner, she now knows to politely and respectfully discuss the matter with her teacher and parents.
I’ll leave it to those adults to figure how to respond to a polite and reasonable young voice trying to buck an entrenched feature of educational institutions worldwide. Yes, that’s a tall order.
Hopefully the adults in question will encourage the child’s advocacy efforts, will release her from doing truly unnecessary homework, and, at the same time, will teach her that in life it is sometimes easier to “just do it” rather than argue the merits of orders handed down from above.
The Jumping Donkey
A long time ago, a teacher told me that my then six-year-old child hurt said teacher’s feelings by enthusiastically finding a flaw in a math problem that the teacher created for enrichment purposes.
I explained to the teacher that my child meant no harm, but was overjoyed that she knew enough to find the flaw in the problem. I complimented the teacher for giving my child the challenge. At the same time, I agreed to talk to my child about the teacher’s feelings. Crisis averted.
I created the following comic to give parents and children a chance to discuss what can happen when a child’s display of learning disappoints a teacher.
As an added bonus, the comic gave me a chance to discuss the word “jackass” and its double meaning with my favorite kindergartner. She not only enjoyed the vocabulary lesson, but also enjoyed knowing that she’s not the only kindergartner who is sitting through a year of learning letters and letter sounds that she learned years ago.
Notice that the teacher in the comic interrupted the child’s wandering mind? If you share this comic with your own child, be sure to read Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming published in Frontiers of Psychology. The lead author, Rebecca McMillan, is a wise friend of mine who realizes the value of mind wandering. Bottom line: mind wandering time is not wasted time.
Please let me know if the comics spark discussions in your household. I love to hear from readers about how my work might have helped others.
If you and your children want to explore options for accelerating their learning, you might enjoy reading a major report released last spring. The report, A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students, “informs educators, parents, and policy makers of current research on acceleration, how that information has been applied to educational policy throughout the nation, and how educators can use the findings to make decisions for their brightest students.” I highly recommend the report and its predecessor, A Nation Deceived.
Deleted “Scenes”: Bedsheet Math
I deleted this comic from the main part of article for two reasons. First, the comic is about older children, not kindergartners. Second, a friend of mine who previewed the comic suggested that not many people would understand it.
But here’s the thing—it really happened!
The cartoon recounts a conversation that occurred while I sat with one of my children in the headmaster’s office of a private high school. Although my child was cool as a cucumber during the headmaster’s absurdity, I vowed to make sure my child would have the opportunity to learn calculus, with or without a hands-on calculus curriculum. (Mission accomplished.)
I created the comic because I want to warn parents that sometimes educators who tout hands-on-learning fail to understand that once kids grasp concepts, the hands-on-learning of those same concepts becomes unnecessary. Please, please, do not let educators convince you that educational methods can substitute for academic content. Both method and content are important, but substituting bedsheets and sledding hills for calculus? No way.
Acknowledgements and Credits
I created the comics via the Comic-O-Matic website of Nina Paley and Margo Burns. (Thanks!)
This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page November 2015 Blog Hop on Ages and Stages of Giftedness. I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page and elsewhere for their inspiration, support, and suggestions.
Please click on the graphic below (created by Pamela S Ryan–thanks!) to see to the titles, blog names, and links of other Hoagies’ Blog Hop participants.
What happens when a neuroscientist, a psychotherapist, an aerospace manager, an organizational behaviorist, and a public policy specialist get together? They raise money and begin an ambitious research effort to examine the sensory, cognitive, metabolic, physiological, neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and genetic characteristics of individuals with high intelligence.
Gifted Research & Outreach (GRO), a new 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in California, has begun research and outreach on a multidisciplinary level not seen since 1925 when Louis Terman and others published Mental and Physical Traits of a Thousand Gifted Children. In the preface of that volume, Terman wrote:
Our positive knowledge of the physical, mental, and personality traits of such children has been extremely limited, and until this knowledge is available there can be no basis for intelligent educational procedure.
When Terman and colleagues examined 1,000 gifted children nearly a century ago, scientists lacked fancy computerized tools for looking inside brains. Examinations of metabolism, hormones, enzymes, gut bacteria, the endocrine system, and the central nervous system were similarly limited. Today, with medical technology unimaginable a century ago, scientists can better examine the mental and physical traits of gifted children, and can link physiology to psychophysiological reactions and behavior in all children.
Despite the existence of new medical technology, our knowledge of the physical, mental, and personality traits of children with high intelligence is still limited. Although Terman craved that knowledge primarily for purposes of “intelligent education procedure,” today we crave that knowledge not just for educational purposes, but also for social, emotional, and medical purposes.
GRO’s Multidisciplinary Efforts
GRO plans a multidisciplinary effort to research the depth and breadth of intelligence. GRO will then share its research results through open access articles, through outreach efforts targeting parents and professionals, and through writings easily accessible to the general public. The two prongs of the GRO mission–research and outreach–are equally important, according to those involved with the new organization.
The founders of GRO share Terman’s belief that a multidisciplinary approach is necessary for studying children of high intelligence. Psychotherapist Dr. Joanna Haase, who has 28 years of experience working with gifted individuals and their families, explained, “Many psychological theories touch on the physiological, but with our current trend to medicate children as a first response, we need to be very careful to understand what is ‘normal’ in the physiological and psychological make up of gifted children. It is only by having a full and integrated understanding of the ways the brains and bodies of these children differ or do not differ from the norm that we can offer effective support and interventions for gifted children and their families.”
The GRO founders believe that understanding all aspects of highly intelligent individuals will help us understand neurodiversity. Organizational behaviorist Sharon Duncan emphasized, “The fact is that much research has been done on the physiology and psychology of individuals with developmental delays, but not enough research has been done on individuals on the other end of intelligence spectrum. The study of outliers helps us increase our knowledge of all humans. As a society aspiring to an unbiased body of research, we should not allow charges of elitism to dissuade us from studying highly intelligent individuals.”
Dr. Haase agreed that by learning more about the brains and bodies of people with high intelligence, we’ll learn more about everybody. Dr. Haase explained that AIDS research taught us not only about AIDS, but also taught us about medicine in general and about social behavior. She notes that we grew as a society as a result of insights gained during the AIDS research effort.
Barmazel noted: “Many children have experienced problems in school because their behavior was brought into question rather than understanding that their physiological needs were not being met. For example, a child may be labeled with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) when he or she holds their hands over their ears. It may be perceived that the child doesn’t want to listen when if fact they are protecting themselves from the pain of noise. When a child is repeatedly punished for self-protection, he or she can become confused and resentful and turn into a behavioral problem. Arming parents, educators and psychological professionals with knowledge and tools to address such behaviors would contribute to a better academic experience.”
GRO’s Research Efforts
Neuroscientist Dr. Nicole Tetreault, GRO’s Director of Research, specializes in neurodevelopment and neurodegenerative disorders. Her prior research efforts include studies in autism, the sensory impairments in Parkinson’s disease, and the development of the visual system. Her experience examining sensory and other physiological correlates of neurological conditions matches GRO’s efforts to find correlations and possible causal links between the brain and other aspects of human physiology.
Dr. Tetreault is close to completing Phase 1 of GRO’s research work. For Phase 1, Dr. Tetreault used her neuroscience background to conduct an extensive literature review of research on the brain and on the genetics of highly intelligent individuals compared to those of general intelligence. The results of the Phase 1 literature review will be posted on the GRO website in the near future.
Phase 2 will involve an in-depth review of literature of the potential associations between high intelligence and allergies, metabolism, hormones, social anxiety, autoimmune diseases, and gastrointestinal dysfunction. Those results will be posted on the GRO website after Phase 2 is complete.
GRO decided to perform its literature review of the brain and genetics first for two reasons. One reason is that brain and genetics research articles are plentiful and well validated. Another reason is that the brain is the source of human cognition.
As part of her Phase 1 research efforts, Dr. Tetreault met with leaders of intelligence research from around the world including Richard Haier, Robert Colom, Timothy Bates, and David Lubinski. She also recently attended a talk by Robert Plomin. She plans to communicate with other scientists as GRO’s research efforts proceed.
When interviewing GRO members for this article, I was happy to learn that GRO, for its outreach purposes, currently uses the Columbus Group’s 1991 asynchronous development definition of giftedness. As I expected, most of the studies that Dr. Tetreault reviewed during Phase 1 of GRO’s research used traditional measures of intelligence such as the WISC, WAIS, and Ravens tests. Using the traditional measures will allow GRO to integrate data across multiple studies and disciplines. Because many factors beyond intelligence can contribute to an individual’s achievement, Dr. Tetreault was careful not to use studies that relied on measures of achievement to determine intelligence.
GRO’s Outreach Efforts
The five people involved with GRO bring an impressive variety of credentials and experience to the organization. Dr. Haase and Dr. Tetreault bring their experience in the fields of psychotherapy and neuroscience, respectively. Marc Montgomery, GRO’s Board Chair, brings 35 years of aerospace leadership to GRO. Michelle Barmazel, GRO’s Director of Development, brings an understanding of public policy, business administration, and nonprofits. Sharon Duncan, GRO’s organization behaviorist, worked for 26 years at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in project and line management positions.
GRO intends to communicate complex technical and scientific ideas to general audiences. As GRO moves forward, research results will dictate the direction of GRO’s outreach efforts. Dr. Haase hopes to share GRO results not only with educators, but also with doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, allergists, and other practitioners. She explained, “GRO wants to take conversations about giftedness to practitioners who run across gifted individuals.”
In the spring, members of GRO, working with a southern California university, are planning to conduct a continuing education conference for psychologists, school psychologists, and other professionals about misdiagnoses and other issues affecting gifted individuals. At the event, Dr. Haase will explain how gifted children sometimes experience intense emotions and existential depressions at early ages. According to Dr. Haase, “Because those emotions don’t disappear with age, practitioners need to help children understand that those emotions are part of who they are, and help them learn how to manage their intensity across their lifespan. Medication is not always a bad intervention, but it should not be the first and only one.”
Duncan acknowledged that although we have anecdotal and case study evidence of the emotional, sensory, imaginational, intellectual, and physical intensities of gifted children, the scientific evidence has not been fully developed, integrated, and disseminated. Duncan believes that GRO’s future research will shed light on what those who work with gifted children have observed. She explained, “Parents often report that their gifted children behave and react differently than their age mates, yet there is little physiological research to support why this is. On a practical level this information will help parents obtain effective social, emotional, and educational assistance for their children.”
Dr. Tetreault hopes that GRO’s research and outreach efforts will provide a map for parents who have precocious children, and help parents learn how to keep their children growing and how to be within their rights to do whatever their little bodies need to be doing while learning. Dr. Tetreault aspires to provide parents and educators with the support they need to give children opportunities to succeed. She notes that in light of the current trend toward standardization in education, “it’s very important for every child’s healthy development that we be able to identify and satisfy their needs.”
Through her research into autism and other neurobiological disorders, Dr. Tetreault has learned that physiological differences often accompany neurobiological disorders. For example, some individuals with autism experience gut issues, some individuals with dyslexia experience nausea, and a subset of individuals with Parkinson’s experience olfactory impairments. In the same vein, GRO hopes that its research on the physiological differences that accompany high intelligence will help us learn more about all people.
Bring GRO to Your Neighborhood
On December 13, 2015, GRO members will travel to Santa Monica, California for a dinner to raise funds for Phase 2 of GRO’s research plans If you are interested in attending the dinner and hearing the results of GRO’s Phase 1 research, contact GRO as soon as possible for a reservation. If you would like host a GRO fundraising dinner in your community, please let GRO know. GRO members, including neuroscientist Dr. Tetreault, are willing to travel. The GRO website includes this contact form.
A Personal Note
As gifted advocate with over three decades of experience, I recall a watershed moment at the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented conference about 15 years ago. One session title in particular drew me to Houston: The Neurobiological Correlates of Intelligence. At the time, I was hungry to hear scientific evidence of what others insisted was a mere “social construct.” I went to Houston remembering the near blackout of anger I experienced a few years earlier at a general education conference in Ohio as I sat in shock while listening to a presenter tear apart the very existence of gifted children.
The presentation room in Houston overflowed with people hungry for scientific evidence that gifted children exist. People sat on chairs, sat on the floor, and leaned against the walls. Still other people packed themselves tightly far into the hallway, straining to listen. The presenter spoke for noticeably longer than her allotted time, but few moved a muscle. We were thrilled to learn that researchers had started to find correlations between high intelligence and certain brain characteristics.
I believe that GRO’s scientific research and outreach missions will go a long way towards improving public and political opinion about the unique needs of children with high intelligence, as well as about the links between the brain and physiological conditions. Please join me in supporting GRO’s efforts.
I thank photographer Steve Duncan of Avian Resources for granting permission to use the photograph he took of the Milky Way. For more of Steve’s stunning images, see http://avian-resources.artistwebsites.com/
I could not have written this article without the generosity of the GRO Board of Directors. They granted me interviews, reviewed drafts of this article, answered all my questions about their research efforts, and provided me with a photograph of the five of them to include in this blog. Thank you!
Lastly, I thank my friends at Gifted Homeschoolers Forum for their inspiration and support, both online and in person. Although my children are all grown, I’ve written this article as part of the October 2015 Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop. Clicking on the graphic by Tara Hernandez (Thank you, Tara!) below will lead you to the titles, blog names, and links of other Blog Hop participants. Thank you for supporting my fellow blog hoppers by visiting their blogs.
Once upon a time, my child gazed happily into my eyes, and we sat hour after hour, breastfeeding contently. Giftedness was the furthest thing from my mind. All I saw was a baby, full of joy, uniqueness, and growth. I fretted about sniffles and rash bumps, not about schools and teachers.
My child’s toddler years, spent happily at the Ohio University Child Development Center under the care of experts, went swimmingly well. My child was free to choose activities, ask for stories, and select playmates. Kindergarten under the guidance of an expert teacher was a breeze. The teacher excellently cared for the needs of each student. Lessons weren’t obviously lessons; what was obvious was the teacher’s love for her students. That’s what really matters to children: above all, they want to be loved.
Stormy Clouds and Deep Water
In first grade my child’s tiny life changed from sunshine and smiles to stormy clouds and deep water. The school’s curriculum, when viewed next to my child’s accomplishments to date, looked remarkably like a recipe for distress. Imagine already knowing how to read, and being forced to spend a whole year pretending to learn how to read.
Do we expect adults to spend year after year of their lives pretending to learn? Of course not! Do we expect adults to bury their real thoughts and needs in order to conform to what a school district prescribes are the needs of every other adult born within the same twelve-month period? Of course not!
By October, my child’s life looked bleak. Stomach aches and refusals to go to school started happening. Other parents couldn’t understand why my child couldn’t just sit respectfully and wait for their children to catch up. In apparent efforts to drag me and my child back to a level playing field, some parents and some teachers spouted now-disproven yuck about multiple intelligences, a mere theory now disproven by cognitive neuroscientists, but still taught in some teacher education colleges and conferences.
Time to Find Kindred Spirits
When you see your child suffering at school, and when you feel others trying to drag you back to their ideas of level playing fields, it’s time to find kindred spirits on Home Planet—an affectionate term for all the places we parents of gifted children feel safe to speak honestly about our children, their needs, and their challenges. It’s time to learn all you can from the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page place for newcomers, from the Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted resource library, from various Facebook Groups, and from real people, too. It’s time to drink from the grail of giftedness.
When you drink from the grail of giftedness, you’ll find compassion, understanding, and downright love among other parents facing similar journeys through today’s educational systems. If you become active as a leader in the gifted community, you’ll see parents cry at presentations, have epiphanies about their own childhoods, and relax when they realize they’re not alone. You’ll find Home Planet; you’ll find your tribe among a mix of people from various religions, races, ethnicities, political persuasions, and sexual orientations. A broad swath of humanity, all with children too different from the norm to fit well into today’s education system. Parents driven by love, who believe that their children’s love and happiness are more important than their children’s seat time in school.
You’ll also learn that giftedness isn’t only about education. Giftedness is about whole lives that are different from the norm, including brains that are different from the norm, and experiences and reactions that are different from the norm. In response to what you’ll learn, you’ll probably change your parenting to the point where your parenting, too, will be different from the norm.
You might hesitate to join us. You might think: Do I really want to enter the world of giftedness, with its perceived tints of inequity and inequality? Do I really want to become an advocate for gifted children, and thus risk the ire of 95% of the other parents in my children’s schools?
Years or decades later, in retrospect, you might ask yourself: Did I really want to explain until I’m blue in the face that gifted education is not elitism, but rather about meeting the unique needs of individual children, needs which include not just academic needs, but also social and emotional needs? Did I really want to spend thousands of dollars on dues, conference registrations, and books over the course of several decades?
I admit that I would have preferred a life without accusations of inequality, without risks of ire from 95% of the other parents, without advocating until I’m blue in the face, and without added expenses. Wouldn’t you?
The Good News
The good news is that my children are grown and happy. More good news is that along the gifted path, I’ve met hundreds of kindred spirits, many of whom have become good friends. We still travel long distances to see each other, and to marvel that somehow we managed to raise our unique children to the point where many of them, oblivious to our sometimes Herculean efforts along the way, see no reason for our interest in giftedness…
…until they themselves have children facing school. Then they call us for advice, and we help them navigate through stormy clouds and deep water to find their own kindred spirits.
Acknowledgements and Credits
This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page August 2015 Blog Hop on “Gifted 101.” I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page and elsewhere for their inspiration, support, and suggestions.
The “my child” in the article is an amalgamation of all my children. I didn’t want to pick on any one of them in particular.
The photographs are my own, taken in 2015 in Athens County, Ohio and in Polk County, Wisconsin.
Please click on the graphic below (created by Pamela S Ryan–thanks!) to see the titles, blog names, and links of other Hoagies’ Blog Hop participants, or cut and paste this URL into your browser: http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_gifted_101.htm