Since giftedness does tend to run in families, it is reasonable to assume that it is, at least partially, genetic. However, we must not forget that values and habits are also passed down from one generation to the next in much the same way that our DNA is. So, should more credit be given to nature or nurture? Moreover, what happens to a gifted mind without proper nurture?
Most psychologists and educators would agree that giftedness, to some degree, is characterized by a certain above average innate ability, most often credited towards genetics and/or neurodivergence. On the other side of the spectrum, mutations in the DNA are credited with contributing to mental and emotional deficits. While the Human Genome Project is complete, and we know that DNA plays a role in brain development, we still don’t know which genes affect brain development and to what extent.
Our DNA cannot be changed, but the wiring of our brain can and does.
Our DNA cannot be changed, but the wiring of our brain can and does. From birth until puberty, synaptic pruning causes neural restructuring that has vital consequences for brain function. While some studies attest that synaptic pruning may continue into your 20s, the bulk of the brain’s development occurs during childhood. Seemingly “wasteful” neural connections are eliminated to make room for more *important* connections. Over-active synaptic pruning is thought to be related to schizophrenia whereas “inefficient” synaptic pruning is thought to be related to autism. Stimuli in one's environment help the brain to decide which synapses may be more important than others.
Sensory deprivation can have a dramatic effect on brain development. Our five (primary) senses are sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. We know, for example, that newborns who do not have enough human contact during their first days of life outside the womb may develop a resistance to touch. A child who only experiences unpleasant stimulation during development, for example, will only learn to react to unpleasant stimulation. As such, this may cause the child to react negatively to pleasant stimulation later in life. A child who lives isolated from human contact from a very young age will not learn human language. A child raised in the wilderness, apart from humans, will begin to adopt the habits and language of the animals around them, rather than of humans. Indeed, a child in these circumstances may genetically have the potential for human language and success, however, without proper nurture, the ability to speak and act “human” fails to emerge. In prolonged situations, children may struggle to ever learn human language and habits after returning to society.
DNA might provide for certain allowances or limitations on brain development, however, without stimulation and exposure, knowledge and skills cannot be acquired. Children cannot learn how to multiply unless they have been taught, or at the very least they have seen the process somewhere. A child who knows how to add might pick up on the concept of multiplication when trying add large groups of items. For example, if you spilled 100 colored pencils, a gifted child might begin to group the pencils into groups of 2s, 5s, or 10s, to make the process more efficient. However (s)he would never know what to call this process without being informed in some way. A child who never sees written letters will never learn the correlation between spoken words and written words. Letters would continue to hold the same value, in the child's mind, as meaningless scribbles on a page.
Biologically, our brains may be programmed to develop differently -- to react and adapt to certain stimuli with varying degrees of intensity. However, without stimulation, the brain is left thirsty -- dehydrated -- suffering. Our gifted children have more complex neural connectivity. As such, they need more stimulation to adequately quench the brain’s thirst for stimulation to reach their fullest potential.
However, without stimulation, the brain is left thirsty -- dehydrated -- suffering.
When our gifted children suffer from chronic boredom in school, they may begin to -- quite literally, wither away brain power. The brain needs stimulation to mature and develop. When this stimulation isn’t present, brain development is handicapped. Moreover, when the brain becomes accustomed to boredom, it begins to adapt in ways that are less than ideal. The child either learns to cope with the boredom and becomes accustomed to a lack of stimulation, resulting in a sort of “lazy brain syndrome,” or finds other outlets to unleash energy. Over the years, I’ve seen many gifted children fall victim to anxiety, depression, and other behavioral/psychiatric issues when they are no longer able to cope with chronic boredom.
It is imperative that we provide our gifted children with adequate stimulation to ensure that they reach their fullest potential and become successful gifted adults. Different options work for different children. Some options may include: