A few years ago, I wrote these words as part of our 100 Words of Wisdom about giftedness project:
We did not hear the word gifted as a child. We thought we were odd. Even as we age, it is difficult to say aloud, “I am a gifted adult.” We realize the differences in our reasoning, but mostly in our feelings. When loved ones hurt, we feel physical pain. A breathtaking sunset brings tears to our eyes. We lie awake at night, wishing we could set things right in the world. We labor to internalize the wisdom of Candide to tend our own garden; and, when we do so, it is with an intensity that could ignite the universe.
The responses I received to those mere one hundred words were an impetus to my own reflections on the many gifted adults and gifted elders that I have known and who have touched my journey so deeply. My mentor, Annemarie Roeper, in her book Beyond Old Age, wrote of her experience as an aging gifted adult:
Much has been said and written and researched about gifted children. Gifted adolescents also have a place in the consciousness of researchers. But it seems that there is a dearth of information when it comes to the gifted adult and giftedness in old age has not, as yet, caught our attention as a worthwhile subject of investigation. All elders have the task of keeping their minds carefully trained, and to keep on using them.
Because of efforts of colleagues, such as those of Annemarie, to highlight the needs of our elder gifted individuals, SENG is beginning a new initiative as a subcommittee of its Diversity Committee – The Gifted Elders Initiative. SENG, through the SENG Gifted Elders Initiative, dedicates itself to learning more about, and thus helping, those who have nurtured so many. Our aging gifted individuals have blazed trails for us in giftedness, in education, and in all fields. They are a treasure we must continue to nurture. We intend, through research, publications, presentations, advocacy, and networking with related organizations, to reap their wisdom, to support their needs, and to nourish their spirit. We hope that, as a result of our efforts, our gifted elders can use their minds, spirits, and ample skills to the fullest extent possible. By assisting them, we will learn about our very selves, as we inevitably take their places.
The goals of the SENG Gifted Elder Initiative include the following.
- To identify the needed areas of research regarding gifted elders (e.g., the needs of aging gifted with dementia, the needs of gifted seniors in residential facilities).
- To identify needed areas of research regarding diverse gifted elders (e.g., different cultures, disabilities, orientations).
- To disseminate existing and new findings regarding the elderly gifted population.
- To grow awareness of the needs of older gifted individuals in the many places we find them – in isolation, in families and communities, within organizations and governmental agencies – and to advocate for differentiated services for the elderly gifted.
- To invite others to collaborate with us in advocating for gifted elders.
SENG invites you to become a part of our work! If you are interested in working with us to advocate for this very special population, please contact the SENG office.
Joy Navan, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus of Murray State University and president of Navan Consultation Services, LLC. She provides services in Spanish and English to gifted children and their families through assessments, SENG Model Parent Discussion Groups, professional development, and educational planning. She is a member of the SENG Board of Directors.