Dear SENG: “Gifted Adults” – A Personal Experience

Author: Helen Prince
Citation: First published in the SENGVine, Gifted Adult edition, January 2012

Recently, I was surfing on the Internet in search of an article about adult giftedness and came across “Gifted Adults” on the SENG website. As I was reading the article, a surge of normalcy swept over me. What a great sensation it is to feel “normal” when one often feels like an eccentric recluse who can’t seem to get where everyone else is at. I believe that knowing one is gifted is as great a gift as the giftedness itself. I wish to share with you my own experience as a gifted adult, how I came to be aware of my own giftedness, and the impact it has had on my life.

I come from a family of nine. My father was illiterate and worked as a labourer. My stay-at-home mom had attained a Grade 6 education. They worked hard and were caring parents with high moral standards. They were a humble people, who were unconcerned with social status. They went about their lives in a simple, unassuming manner, yet did not meet community approval. I concluded that we were average, and that others seemed rather odd in comparison. I’m not sure when the tables turned, but at some point, I found myself believing that others were average, and that it was I who was odd.

I dropped out of school after Grade 9, got married, had a son, and worked in a variety of clerical jobs. Ten years later, being consumed by a burning desire for knowledge, I enrolled in a university program. (It did not occur to me to finish high school first.) I completed a Bachelor in Theology (Civil), a Bachelor in Theology (Ecclesiastical), a Bachelor in Education, a Master of Arts (Religious Studies), Foundational Studies in Philosophy, a Specialist in Religious Education, a Certificate in Catholic Education Leadership, and the professional principal’s program. I taught at the primary, junior, intermediate, senior, and adult divisions, as well as coordinated Additional Qualification courses for teachers. The majority of my teaching career was in the area of World Religions and Philosophy. I wrote an interactive play about World Religions, and a teacher’s manual, student workbook and storybook on how to teach World Religions at the junior level. I sat on committees, coached volleyball, designed showcases, and volunteered to participate in anything innovative in education. A few years ago, I changed career paths, and entered into Adult Basic Literacy which is, without doubt, my true love. At a personal level, I enjoy opera, theatre, philosophy, meditation, quantum physics, computers and the study of human diversity.

I became a teacher first and foremost because my heart ached for my dad, who was not given the opportunity to learn to write his own name; and second, because I am intrigued by all things intellectual. I often wonder if the two reasons are not intimately interconnected. While I love teaching, I am somewhat disappointed in the lack of intellect that I have found in the field of education. Furthermore, despite my qualifications and absolute passion for the study of religions, I was not successful in attaining a department head position; and, despite being a qualified principal, I was never considered for even a vice-principal job. While there may be many reasons for this, I find myself not at the top of the likable list other than with family, close friends, and Mensans. My heightened sensitivity to air quality, light, noise and other stimulation makes me appear fussy and self-centered. I try my best to say as little as possible, but there are situations where I am so overwhelmed that I sometimes slip up and ask for a window to be opened or the sound to be turned down. There is doubtless a bit of panic in my voice, and the request seems excessive to many, and I suffer a sense of shame for not being able to assimilate. As well, I have an overactive sense of duty and morality. I am demanding on myself and others, and am absolutely unwilling to do anything that I feel is morally questionable. My solid moral stance can be quite inopportune because, in the end, my conscience must rule even over my supervisor’s preferences, and that is not a favourable position to find oneself.

At the age of 57 and despite four university degrees and a very active and happy career‚ albeit without promotion, I had convinced myself of my own mediocrity, and even wondered if I might be a little less than average. As a teacher, I thought a better understanding of my own psycho-educational profile could assist me in better serving my adult students, many of whom have similar backgrounds to me. I completed the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale and was astounded when it revealed an I.Q. score that placed me in the top 2% of the population. Even after the psychologist informed me of this, it took me one year to join Mensa because I was afraid that there was some sort of error and I would soon be found out.

My discovery of giftedness left me to wonder why I was not previously informed. I was a cooperative and respectful student, who learned new concepts easily, worked very hard and was a high achiever. Yet not once can I recall being told that I was even adequate, let alone gifted. As a teacher today, I look back at my childhood and reflect that perhaps poverty is one of the reasons that giftedness might be overlooked. I think that even with today’s heightened social awareness, we continue to favour the children of the affluent for academic programs, and suppose that only the doctor’s or professor’s children can be gifted. I believe there is a deep-rooted error in a still classist society that robs many gifted children of the awareness of their giftedness; and so we are doomed to enter adulthood, as probably did our parents, believing in our own mediocrity. I know this occurs not only because it happened to me, but because in the three years that I have been teaching adult basic literacy, I have identified three students I believe to be gifted. With a grade nine education, they read and write at a university level. Their thinking contains that profound insight associated with giftedness. There is a sparkle in their eyes that cannot be mistaken. There is confusion in their lives because they are not aware that they are gifted. What a great loss of human potential that could well have achieved great things for the betterment of our world. Yet, there they are, wondering why they can’t achieve a high school diploma and why they feel so odd. What a pity!

Since discovering my own giftedness, life is so much more comprehensible and pleasurable. I get it, now; I am the odd one out. I try so much more to adjust myself accordingly, thus not offending the majority. I go about my work compassionately and seek out creative ventures that will benefit others and my own creative cravings. I do my work quietly and without fanfare so others will not take notice. I socialize more with others like myself so I can have a sense of normalcy as often as possible. I make certain that I take time to play within the boundless boundaries of my own mind. I have come to really like who I am, and to be very thankful to my parents who gave this gift of giftedness to me. Despite the hassles that come with the territory, I wouldn’t give up my giftedness for all the kingdoms in the world. The gifted adult need not merely survive, but can flourish so long as one is aware of one’s own giftedness and celebrates it in one’s own unique way. 

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