Young children, particularly preschoolers, usually strike us as bright, full of wonder, eager to learn, and artistically inclined. They delight us by asking questions like little philosophers or by making playful, aesthetically pleasing paintings that sometimes resemble the work of 20th-century masters. Assuming a normal brain and home environment, these gifts are nature’s largesse to most children. Occasionally, however, we observe a child whose abilities so far outstrip those of the typical toddler that we realize not all preschoolers are genuinely gifted. The more extreme the gift, the rarer the child.
Sadly, we know far less about such exceptional children than we do about those with exceptional deﬁcits: retarded, emotionally disturbed, and learning-disabled children. Psychologists have attended far more to these deﬁcits than to strengths. An interesting recent movement in American academic psychology, spearheaded by Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, calls for more emphasis on “positive psychology.” Positive psychology is now studying subjective well-being, positive character traits such as honesty and hope, and the nature of giftedness and how to nurture it.
What is The Meaning of “GIFTED”?
Most use it interchangeably with “high IQ.” However it more broadly to refer to precocious levels of ability in any domain: abilities that are verbal or mathematical (those measured by IQ tests), musical, graphic (drawing), spatial, mechanical, athletic, or that relate to leadership or morality, and so forth. Gifted children reach developmental milestones in their area far earlier than do typical children, they learn more easily and rapidly than do typical children, and they reach levels that their peers never will.
How rare are these children? A child who scores 130 or above on an IQ test is typically considered gifted—about 2 to 3 percent of all children. Only about one in a hundred children have an IQ of 140, and it is estimated that only one in a million, or perhaps fewer, children score 160 or higher, a score indicating an extreme gift. But this low estimate has been disputed by Linda Silverman of the Gifted Development Center in Denver, CO, who ﬁnds that the tiny percentages grow larger when the proper IQ tests are administered, tests without artiﬁcial ceilings that fail to differentiate among children in the upper one percent. These estimates do not tell us how many gifted children there are, however, only how many have superior verbal and mathematical abilities. We do not know how many children have exceptional gifts in music, the visual arts, or any other area. All we can say with certainty is that gifted children in any domain are rare, and the more extreme the ability, the rarer the gift.
Precocity seems to be associated with two other characteristics. Gifted children have intense drive (call a “rage to master”) in their area of gift. These are not children whose parents push them to work hard. They push themselves; their often-astonished parents run to keep up. You cannot get a typical child to spend hours reading musical scores or playing math games; you cannot tear a gifted child away from these favored activities.
Gifted children are also creative. Here there is a sharp distinguish between “Big-C” and “little-c” creativity. Big-C creativity refers to revolutionary creativity of the sort that changes domains. We see this in Beethoven, who permanently transformed the domain of Western classical music. Studies suggest that it takes at least 10 years of hard work before a creator can make a domain-changing discovery. By deﬁnition, then, children cannot be Big-C creative. But gifted children are creative in the little-c sense: They think and solve problems in their heads often in idiosyncratic ways. They need virtually no adult support to learn.
The Brain Basis Of Gifts
Scientists have explored whether the brains of gifted individuals compared with typical brains are larger (either overall or in certain areas), have more (or more complex) neural connections, ﬁre more rapidly, or operate more efﬁciently.
Keyboard players were found to have enlarged areas in the cortex for motor control, compared with nonmusicians.6 Similarly, string instrument players were found to have larger and more complex cortical representation of the ﬁngers of the left hand than nonmusicians. This difference was strongest for those who began to play early, before age 12.
In typical brains, the left side of the planum temporale, an area containing auditory association cortex, is larger than the right. This asymmetry is greater in musicians with absolute pitch than in musicians without it and in nonmusicians. Again, we do not know whether this difference is present at birth or develops with training.
Einstein and Other Mathematicians
Einstein’s brain was no different in weight or size from other men’s brains, but Sandra Witelson of McMaster University in Canada recently reported that the region related to visual-spatial cognition, mathematical thought, and motor imagery (areas where he excelled) was atypical. His inferior parietal lobes were 15 percent wider than normal on both sides. In addition, his supramarginal gyrus (within the inferior parietal lobe) was not divided by a major sulcus (as in typical brains). The lack of division may have allowed for more efﬁcient axonal connectivity, which may be a neuronal correlate of high ability. Witelson argues that these structural aspects of Einstein’s brain developed early.
Efficient Energy Processing
Richard Haier of the University of California, Irvine, showed that when playing a spatial computer game, people with high spatial intelligence metabolize less glucose overall in their brains, but more in focal areas, than do those with lower spatial intelligence, suggesting that the brains of those with gifts process information more efﬁciently. But we cannot know whether efﬁcient use of glucose reﬂects a learned ability to perform well or whether, from birth or early childhood, these individuals metabolized glucose more efﬁciently.
Cortex Matures Faster In Individuals With Superior IQ
Youth with superior IQ are distinguished by how fast the thinking part of their brains thickens and thins as they grow up, researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have discovered. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans showed that their brain’s outer mantle, or cortex, thickens more rapidly during childhood, reaching its peak later than in their peers perhaps reflecting a longer developmental window for high-level thinking circuitry. It also thins faster during the late teens, likely due to the withering of unused neural connections as the brain streamlines its operations. Drs. Philip Shaw, Judith Rapoport, Jay Giedd and colleagues at NIMH and McGill University report on their finding.
The other study said that myelination is a sensitive indicator of functional brain maturation. Across at least the first two decades of development myelination consists of a broad increase in overall white matter density as well as a more region-specific progression, proceeding from posterior to more anterior regions. In magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) studies, maturation of relatively restricted regions of white matter has been found to correlate with the development of cognitive functions such as working memory capacity (left frontal regions), reading ability (left temporal lobe) and even with IQ (bilateral association areas. In a study of 100 children with evidence of delayed development but otherwise normal MR-scans, Pujol and colleagues were able to show a reduction of myelination (in part asymmetric). Also, at the other end of the lifespan, white matter damage due to axonal loss that occurs in normal ageing has been found to correlate with working memory performance, even after controlling for age. This suggests that working memory performance may be particularly dependent on complex networks, which in turn depend upon white matter connections. These studies conclude that there is a positive relationship between the density and organization of myelinated fibres and the efficiency (maturity) of cognitive function.
A deficient supply of lactate for oligodendrocytes in the developing nervous system slows and reduces the synthesis of fatty acids required for the synthesis of myelin. As we know, the myelin is a sheath of axon that can help to propagate the nerve impulses more rapidly. Poorly myelinated axons would transmit action potentials more slowly, accounting for inefficient integration (coherence) between brain regions. It occurs in youth with ADHD that the brain matures a few years late, but follows normal pattern.
What Have We to Do?
It’s easy to see how students’ gifted abilities might be missed. They are so bored in school that they become disruptive, do no work, and are diagnosed as retarded, ADHD, or autism. It’s also worthwhile noting how often secondary social, emotional, or behavioral problems erupt making the sources of school underachievement difficult to identify.
We must develop a close relationship to know them closely who have advanced conceptual ability, abstract reasoning, self-initiated creative activities in the presence of otherwise lackluster academic performances.
So, for the last we must help them by giving the advanced classes in their area of high ability.
Written by Catherine Maname Uli
The References :
- Catching Up with Gifted Child. Available from the URL: http://www.dana.org/news/cerebrum/detail.aspx?id=3042
- Cortex Matures Faster in Youth With Highest IQ. Available from the URL: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060330083935.htm
- Response Variability in Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Neuronal and Glial Energetics Hypothesis. Available from the URL: http://www.behavioralandbrainfunctions.com/content/2/1/30