One of the most famous long-term studies of giftedness was conducted by Lewis Terman. From 1925 through 1959, he personally followed the lives of 1500 people who were selected as children because their intelligence exceeded an I.Q. score of 140 (the upper 1 percent of the population). After Terman’s death, his colleagues have continued his research and plan to follow every one of his research subjects until their death.
Terman’s study has served to debunk some of the myths about giftedness that were pervasive at the time he began his research. One was the myth of “early ripe, early rot.” This myth held that early intellectual maturation resulted in an early decline or burnout of abilities by the time a child reached adulthood. Another myth is that high abilities create a vulnerability for mental illness. We’ve all heard it said that “genius and insanity go hand in hand.”
This simply is not true. Contrary to many popular notions, Terman’s research found that gifted individuals are physically, socially, and psychologically healthy, much above average in all of these domains. Following school, most continued to be high achievers in their chosen vocational pursuits. Interestingly, most of his subjects never became famous.
The two most recognizable names were Ancel Keys and Jess Oppenheimer. Keys, a physiologist, developed the military rations first used in World War II (named K rations in his honor) and also played a central role in the discovery of high cholesterol in coronary disease.
Oppenheimer was the creator, head writer, and producer of “I Love Lucy.” Equally interesting, two of the children screened out of this study because their intelligence did not meet the minimum standard did well enough in their careers to win the Nobel Prize.
Do you have a truly gifted child? According to Heward and Orlansky who have also conducted extensive research in the area of giftedness, there are several tell-tale signs. (1) A tendency to dominate discussions, both at home and in class. (2) An impatience to proceed to the next level of a subject or a task. (3) A resistance to rules, regulations, and standard procedures. (4) A tendency to get “off the subject” in class discussions. (5) A tendency to become bored by repetitive exercises. (6) Frequent shifts of attention and interest. (7) A tendency to insist on knowing the logic behind required tasks and activities.
Raising a gifted child can be extremely challenging and extremely rewarding at the same time. Providing appropriate stimulation and encouragement is a must. Equally important is helping your child be patient, respectful, understanding, and kind to the rest of us who have ability but must work harder and slower to realize our potentials.