by Cheryl Ackerman

In a society that largely considers gifted adults to be those who have achieved some significance in their field, and which focuses almost all of its attention (when it pays any at all) on gifted children, it is challenging to think about gifted adults in other ways. Even among professionals working with the gifted, there is a lack of attention paid to gifted adults. Because of this lack of attention, most information available on gifted adults focuses on those who have achieved great eminence. However, the gifted adult community is much broader than that.

But who are gifted adults? Are they the grown-ups who were involved in gifted programs when they were in school? Are they the ones who were considered prodigies in math, music, or some other culturally valued endeavor? Are they the people who live next door to you and appear to live a normal lifestyle? The answer, as you might have guessed, is: Yes. They can be any of these people. It is important to remember that just because a person was not identified as gifted when they were in school, doesn’t mean she isn’t a gifted individual. In addition, something that may seem as benign as whether or not a person was identified as gifted can have significant effects on the development of his self-concept and self-esteem. While the fundamental characteristics of gifted adults are the same regardless of whether or not they were identified earlier in life, those who were not identified face the challenge of making sense of their gifted characteristics without the gifted label to guide them in any way. Those who were identified are challenged to make sense of themselves in light of that label.

While there is limited literature available on gifted adults and how to help them understand and manage their social and emotional needs, there are three articles on the SENG website that address these issues. Each focuses on something different and compelling.

Tolan’s article, Discovering the gifted ex-child focuses on the developmental trajectory of gifted individuals from childhood to adulthood. She also addresses some of the challenges gifted adults experience, such as:

  • Emotional intensity,
  • Moral issues, and
  • Social realities.

Lovecky, in her article Can you hear the flowers sing? Issues for gifted adults, describes five characteristics of gifted adults:

  • Divergency,
  • Excitability,
  • Sensitivity,
  • Perceptivity, and
  • Entelechy,

and includes both positive and negative aspects of each. Lovecky also offers recommendations for self-growth – nurturing the self and nurturing interpersonal relationships.
Lind offers suggestions on how gifted adults can develop their own giftedness in her article Fostering adult giftedness: Acknowledging and addressing affective needs of gifted adults. She focuses on five important social and emotional needs:

  • Acknowledging your own gifts;
  • Nurturing your identity development;
  • Giving yourself permission to be a growing, changing imperfect person;
  • Taking advantage of and coping with overexcitabilities;
  • Learning practical coping skills (recognizing and dealing with stress and learning and using effective communication skills).

Also of interest is her brief discussion of how adults often become more in-tune with their own giftedness when they begin addressing their children’s giftedness, in some cases, discovering their own giftedness, which was never identified during their school years.

While limited, these three articles provide excellent information if you are looking to understand yourself better in light of your existing or emerging identification as gifted. The material may also be useful as you try to understand other adults, or help your children as they transition into adulthood.

Cheryl Ackerman is the President of SENG, and has served 3 years on its Board of Directors.

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