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earthduzt's avatar

Is being gifted learned?

Asked by earthduzt (3215 points ) May 26th, 2010

My 5 year old daughter just had a reading test done at school and I knew she was good at it as we work with her all the time, but they said she is close to a 3rd grade reading level. I didn’t know it was that high though. My daughter also seems super sensitive to “things” such as clothes (she finds some clothes itchy and clearly they don’t seem itchy at all, not like we are making her wear wool sweaters, she also has a thing for the seams on the socks if they aren’t right they bother her as well as tags on shirts all have to be cut off. So I was reading up on gifted children and it said hypersensitivity was one trait common in gifted children. My question is though, is gifted learned? I was have a discussion with someone and we were kind of arguing about it. He said any child can be gifted it’s just the way you raise them. I don’t agree, I think it is more something they are born with but of course you have to nurture it to bring them out to their full potential. So I just want to know if anyone knows if it is something you are born with or do you actually teach a child to become “gifted”, can any child turn gifted?

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19 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

Generally most of these kinds of traits are a result of heritability plus environmental forces. Not everyone is educable to become gifted; not everyone with the potential to be gifted is educated.

janbb's avatar

I think the concept of being gifted implies an innate quality, but it can be either encouraged or suppressed.

Jeruba's avatar

The gift of intelligence is no more learned than the gift of height, the gift of beauty, or the gift of grace. But all natural abilities can be strengthened and enhanced.

My children seemed to be born with verbal precocity, to judge from how early they spoke, how large their vocabularies were by age 2, and how readily they mastered the language. But if I hadn’t been talking to them all along, shaping their language abilities, enlarging their vocabularies, and reading to them, their innate capacity would have gone undeveloped or underdeveloped. It’s always going to be a matter of nature + nurture.

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Primobabe's avatar

I really dislike the way that children get labeled as “gifted” or “slow.” They get branded for life. Children grow and mature—physically, intellectually, and emotionally—at different rates and times. A child might be advanced in one aspect while lagging behind in some other way.

Example. I’m 5’ 7.5” tall. I’ve been this height since the age of 12. Back then, I towered over all of my classmates, and everybody predicted that I’d grow up to be a giant. Not at all; I grew early and ahead of the average age, and my peers eventually caught up with me.

Example. I went to graduate school with a 17-year-old. She’d skipped high school and gone directly to college. Was she a genius? No, she was a so-so student and quite ordinary. But, she’d been extremely advanced at the age of 13. Again, the rest of the world caught up, and she became an average person who’d once been called “highly gifted.”

ETpro's avatar

Gifts like the ability to play the piano can be learned. Gifts like being Bach cannot. You can learn to be a marathon runner, but you can’t learn to win it unless your DNA favors that happening.

Research on identical twins separated at birth shows that many things we take for granted as being part of our learning process, things we believe we do or think because of what we have experienced, are actually hard-wired into the unique architecture of our brain.

Some oddball for-instances.
1—A very small percentage of people always back into the ocean when they enter it. They never walk in facing away from the shore. Identical twins, regardless of whether they grew up together or separately, will almost always share this proclivity. If one does it, the other will as well.
2—A small number of people have the habit of flushing the toilet both before and after using it. Again, if one twin does, the other will too.
3—There are a few people that find it amusing to fake a sneeze in a crowded elevator just to see the fellow passengers react. Identical twins share this rather annoying habit as well.

If we truly inherit a soul as Cartesian Dualism posits, then God must pre-program it with an amazing list of habits. That’s not to say that a great deal of our behaviors and abilities are not learned. They are. Otherwise, there would be no use going to school. But of our behaviors more than we think are part of our inherited DNA. And being exceptionally gifted at a thing is one of those that is DNA determined.

Just to be clear, there is no gene for backing into the ocean. But there is something unique about brain architecture that DNA determines, and that then causes us to prefer that particular way of taking a plunge.

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earthduzt's avatar

Yeah I know, I hate the labels also..it always seems to set a child’s expectations. I just couldn’t think of any better term for it, and beside unfortunately that is what the education system seems to label them as. Now my daughter is no Mozart but her vocabulary and reading skills is well beyond that of a typical 5 year old. I was basically wondering what makes a child“gifted” or not. Is it IQ? Parent raising? or what, how do they determine this. I remember back when I was in elementary school I took one of those nationwide standardized tests. Well I scored a perfect 100% on it, after that I had teachers and counselors all over me and my mother to be put in “gifted” classes. After that I was always expected to perform well, or if not it was always “well you are gifted you can do better than that.”

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Bastion's avatar

Being gifted is simply the potential to become an exceedingly talented individual. Sensitivity to one’s surroundings, heightened reading skills, and some issues with social interaction as the child grows older are all signs of it. People tend to have a gift and it isn’t learned, they simply have it. But turning into a talent, or doing something with it is a learning process. I, for example, was reading at a 2nd grade level while in the first grade and at a college level while in the 6th. But before that, I had severe trouble with reading. And as for drawing, i’ve always had a knack for coming up with imaginative ideas, but it took all of my life up until now where I could eloquently share them with others.

Primobabe's avatar

@ETpro Gifts like the ability to play the piano can be learned. Gifts like being Bach cannot. You can learn to be a marathon runner, but you can’t learn to win it unless your DNA favors that happening.

Very well put. Sadly, this is something that parents can easily forget. People think that their sons can be the next Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle—if only the boys would work harder and be more dedicated to playing baseball, and if the parents would just push them more.

I have a cousin who plays the piano beautifully. She’s never had a single lesson in her life, and she can’t even read music. She composes lovely songs (she pays someone to transcribe her works into sheet music). That’s a natural ability.

My mother-in-law has played the piano since she was very young. She spent her entire childhood practicing diligently and taking the best lessons that money could buy. She plays terribly. She hits the wrong notes and keeps stopping and restarting. If she knows, in advance, that she’ll be playing a certain piece, she’ll spend hours practicing it and maybe do ok. But, the natural ability simply isn’t there.

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Cruiser's avatar

I kind of agree with your friend as this gift may be perceived as a birth right but a lot has to do with the parents and the nurturing provided the child at a very early age that fosters learning and discovery skills and lots of it. Advanced reading itself is not always a reliable indicator of genius levels either as my older boy is at that super smart level and hates to read yet is straight A.

But by the description of these reactions your daughter has she is born special in that she is hyper sensitive and my youngest is exactly the same way especially with sock seams. He easily has a 100 pairs from hand me downs and can only wear maybe 10 pairs but only if the seams are put on just right! My youngest son has Sensory Processing Disorder and is also super smart but just hyper sensitive.

Here is our resource site
http://www.sensory-processing-disorder.com/

Kayak8's avatar

I love some of the answers above. Sensory processing disorder is one thing, there is also the notion of folks being highly sensitive. This link might provide an alternative viewpoint.

wilma's avatar

I also think like @janbb said, “the concept of being gifted implies an innate quality, but it can be either encouraged or suppressed”.

@Kayak8 thank you for that link. It describes me perfectly.

ETpro's avatar

@Primobabe & @earthduzt I understand your concern about labeling people, as it can be used to great harm. But it is really impossible to live in a world without labels. Imagine a dinner party where all the guests could only say things like, “Would you pass me that stuff over there?” or inviting someone to the movies with “Would you like to go see that thing that somebody acts in?”

Labeling gifted and talented students is vital to giving them the type of education they uniquely can profit from. One size fits all is incredibly bad policy for public schools. If you take “No child left behind.” seriously, the only way to achieve it is to dumb down all classes to the level an idiot can handle. And I am not using idiot as a pejorative. It has a specific meaning in IQ, and that is how I mean it.

Now, I hope you will forgive this bragging. Yes, I am proud as a peacock of my gifted child, but I think his success is germane to the what might be best for your daughter.

My youngest son is profoundly gifted. His IQ qualifies him for Mensa. He began spontaneously reading just as he turned 2. We did nothing special to try to teach him how to read, he just started reading. Because he would be 5 in 3 months and was “ready”, they let him into kindergarten at 4. For Columbus Day, the teacher assigned a show and tell on Christopher Columbus. He brought in a book from the public library. He chose it himself. It was only about 75 pages and included some great full-page pictures he could show the class, but it was written for advanced middle school and high school kids. He read the history of Columbus to the class.

That got him immediately bumped to first grade. Virginia Beach had a great program for gifted and talented kids. He went to the G&T Program at Old Donation Center through grade school, Kemps Landing G&T for Middle School, and shocked all the educators by splitting his time between Ocean Lakes Math and Science Magnet High School and the Governor’s Magnet School for the Arts, where he studied viola performance (he had been playing since he was 5) and music composition. He ended up making first chair in the National Youth Orchestra and performing with them at Carnegie Hall!

He has now graduated Berkley College of Music with a double major in Film Scoring and Viola Performance as well as completing RTOC at Northeastern University. He’s a 1st Lt. in the Army and is also starting work on an MBA from Harvard. Much of this would likely not have happened if he had not been labeled as gifted and shunted into a special educational program that nurtured his innate abilities to the max.

I don’t know if it relates, but he could care less about the seams in his socks. Me, I have to clip the tags out of lots of shirts. And sock seams are a problem too. They drive me nuts. But I could have spent my whole life learning an instrument (i was a drummer in the marching band) and never have gotten on the stage of Carnegie Hall, much less first chair.

augustlan's avatar

I have three children. They were all born within a four year time span, to the same parents, and in the same environment. Two of them are gifted and one is not. While the third is quite bright (above grade level, honors classes, etc.), the differences between the gifted kids and the bright kid are compelling and were apparent at a very early age (well before kindergarten). It’s definitely innate. Of course it’s still up to us as parents to nurture whatever gifts our children may have in order to help them reach their full potential.

About labels… while they may be distasteful, in this case I think they’re necessary. If I had a child with learning disabilities, would I shun the label and decline to put them in a program that would help them get the most out of their education? No way! Likewise, an intellectually gifted child should also be put in whatever educational program best meets their needs.

A side note about hyper-sensitivity… one of my gifted kids is very much like that, and she was definitely born that way. The other hasn’t ever had an issue with it.

dogsbe's avatar

I am struggling to see how being “gifted” can be suppressed. To me, it is a way of being that is dependent on a type of neurological architecture. In the right environment, a gifted person can be in balance, which results in a highly innovative “out-of-box” thinking problem solver. As a result, they can use their “gift” and be highly productive. However, if they are in the wrong environment, they can quickly become underachievers. In either case, their “giftedness” is the overwhelling force in their life, it is not suppressed.

To me, the trick for successfully harnessing the powers of the “gifted” is first for gifted individuals to be identified. Once identified, it is important for them to understand how they are different to “bright” individuals, with they are going to have a chance of fitting into mainstream socieity and be productive. It is also improvement for their teachers and/or employers understand that they have special needs. They are highly sensitive emotional and physical stimuli. They are filled with self-doubt, but at the same time often struggle to understand why others do not see the connections, which are very obvious to them.

The point being, a gifted person is gifted regardless of their nurturing. However, their environment is critically important in determing if their “gift” results in a balanced or unbalanced individual.

Supacase's avatar

I never knew about the connection between gifted children and sensory processing disorder. I kind of suspected my daughter had a bit of spd because she is extremely bothered by itchy clothes, but I never connected her sock seam issue. She drives me batty over the toe seams.

My mother, my daughter and I are all considered gifted, so I have to believe there is a strong hereditary factor. It also stands to reason that gifted children are often being raised by gifted parents. Does IQ tend to increase by generation? If so, I wonder if that has anything to do with it. My IQ is about 6 points higher than my mom’s and my daughter’s is about 6 points higher than mine. (Her IQ was not officially assessed. It is an educated guess by a doctor who studies things like that who is familiar with her, my husband and me.) Perhaps it is just my family’s particular circumstances, but it makes me think being gifted can be nurtured into something more.

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