Giftedness. Genius. Brilliant Minds. This is a topic I have been wrestling with for a while. Why the conflict? When I embarked on this early development journey with my two boys, I had embraced the idea that any child could be made into a genius with the right nurture. Yet, as I observe the way each of my sons have developed, I cannot deny the natural grace with which they each uniquely acquire their individual skills. Some things came easily for one and harder for the other and vice versa.
Is genius born or made? Nurture or nature? It’s a hot debate even among the professionals but the conclusion, if you ask me, sounds pretty much like “a bit of both”. Exactly how much of each? Well, it appears not to be set if you watch the National Geographic documentary “My Brilliant Brain” where they explore three types of geniuses – “Make me a genius”, “accidental genius”, and “born genius”.
There is no denying that some are born with a potential for greatness in a field that is as natural as an instinct. If not, how could you explain people like Marc Yu, Akiane, and Magnus Carlsen? And yet, the same has to be said that if these prodigies were not given the opportunity to develop their talents, would they even be where they are today?
So it would seem that there are elements of both – nurture and nature.
Why am I exploring giftedness? Because I’ve been wondering if Aristotle is gifted. What does it matter whether he’s gifted or not? Isn’t it more important that he learns the value of effort, determination, and perseverence? Besides, intelligent kids always manage to find their way so they’ll be fine, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t always the case. Gifted children who turn out okay may do so because their profiles were favourable to the environment they were in. Usually, gifted children may have just as much trouble in school as a child with learning difficulties. In fact, some gifted children have learning problems. Therefore, gifted children need just as much attention as children on the opposite end of the spectrum. The problem is that they rarely get it because most people have the misconception that they don’t need it.
Is Aristotle gifted? The thought has been suggested to me by a number of people who have met him. I have never bothered to explore the idea before because I believed that he was bright but gifted? Aren’t gifted children like the kids you read in the papers who are speaking in sentences when they are 1 year old? Besides, it was my opinion that any child, given the right nurturing, could demonstrate the kind of development that he has. Even if he was gifted, it didn’t matter anyway because there was no intention of doing things any differently from what we were already going to do – so knowing or not knowing made no difference.
Actually, if anything, I thought it would be better not to know because I feared that the label might make him arrogant. Gifted or not, everyone needs to apply effort and I felt that there is more acceptance to the need to apply effort if you believe you need to. When I was rock climbing, I started climbing with a group of climbers who were all naturally better climbers than I was. It felt like I had to work twice as hard to just to keep up with them. I believe that I was more dedicated to training my climbing skills because I had accepted that I didn’t have the “talent” for it. And because I was willing to train hard for it, I was able to attain a level in rock climbing I had formerly believed I was incapable of reaching.
If anything, being “naturally” good at something makes you more vulnerable because you get used to the idea that things should be easy. Eventually you get to a level where it becomes necessary to put in the work and you won’t know how to because you’ve never had to. Even among the gifted, practice, training and effort is required. I remember reading about the Polgar sisters who were reknown Chess grandmasters and it was said that “the one believed to be the most talented in chess was the one who was motivated to practice the least. As a result, she was the weakest link among the three sisters.” This was the pitfall I didn’t want Aristotle falling into.
Everything was fine until we started having all those problems at school. Aristotle, in my opinion, is not a problem child. If anything, he has always been the opposite. He was sensitive, thoughtful, considerate, sympathetic – yes, I know I could be talking from the point of view of a biassed parent but after having Hercules, I know I’m not because Hercules is not like that. Hercules lives in the moment – he acts first, thinks later. He doesn’t notice when he accidentally hurts someone because he doesn’t get hurt easily.
Aristotle defied all the typical developments that we were told to expect. When I had trouble getting Aristotle to conform to certain routines, I was reassured that he would “fall in line” once he started going to school. Yet, when he started school, he did not conform. He continued to do his own thing and he followed the crowd only when it suited him – not because that was what everyone else was doing.
But I digress… I explored his behaviours at school, researched tactics for dealing with him, implemented methods that promised better behaviours and we still keep coming back to problematic behaviour. Finally, one mother sent me a link on gifted children referring to the traits of gifted children and I could not deny this was Aristotle – especially the overexcitabilities and supersensitivities of gifted children. When I went back to the traits in young gifted children – those, too, were present in Aristotle when he was little.
Is he really gifted? I cannot say but I do know that he fits the profile. Although he can be tested for giftedness, testing for giftedness when a child is too young is unreliable. The earliest a child can be tested is at 6 years old and I am not entirely sure how reliable that is either. And if he is gifted, my biggest fear is that he will succumb to the dark side of giftedness.
How do you handle a gifted child? I’m still figuring that one out and I’m out of time for now. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts on giftedness, feel free to share them in the comments.