Are Gifted Minds Wired Differently?

I didn’t really know he was gifted.  I didn’t really know I was gifted.  He was always my little brother — and I was always me.  It wasn’t until school started that I realized that he — we, were different  He was always a bit more outwardly different — absorbed in his own thoughts and ideas about the world — never ending questions of why, and jumping from one idea to another as if there was a connection.  I’m sure there was — we just couldn’t see. 
 This was, in many ways frustrating to him.  As much as we saw that he didn’t understand the world around him — and the world didn’t understand him — I think he internalized this even more.  We stubbornly fought to find a place for him, though over the years, I’ve come to understand that, like my little brother, a small percentage of the world seems to operate on a different frequency, neither understanding or being understood by the masses of humanity.  

This is a notion which I often contemplate as I reflect on my own life experiences and relationships — the feeling of loneliness and misunderstanding not rooted in any sort of teenage angst, but rather in the careful observation of the world around me and my compulsion to analyze social happenings, rather than to simply let them happen.  

My observations are the foundation of my theory, becoming more fine tuned over the years — a theory on what makes highly gifted individuals so precocious — not the habits, but rather an inquiry into the causative factors.  As a society, we constantly debate the merits of nature-vs-nurture.  I believe that this is highly dynamic, founded in our neurobiology and flourishing with proper nurturing.  We know that there are neuro deficits in those with more pure disabilities — mental incapacities; but how does that same science apply to our highly gifted individuals — persons with a higher acuity to see connections where others do not — those who learn more rapidly and with more efficiency — who possess a sort-of nonstandard creativity to correlate long term memories, experiences, and knowledge to new found information?  

John Geake, co-founder of the Oxford Cognitive Neuroscience-Education forum, once asserted that giftedness was “presumably due to neuropsychological differences that affect efficiency.”  He went on to assess, through multiple studies, that “gifted subjects have greater interconnectivity between different areas of their brain” — rooted in several neurobiological differences including: a thicker cerebral cortex, superior cognitive control, greater working memory, and better spatial and temporally coordinated neural networks — a suggestion that gifted minds are, indeed, wired differently.

When I found his research, I was enthused to discover research that supported so much of what I’ve said — dismayed to discover that he passed away some years ago, and almost nearly frightened at the implications though I’ve long sought after such evidence.  If gifted minds are wired differently, which I do believe to be true, what are psycho stimulants and suppressants doing to gifted minds?  

Gifted minds demand higher levels of input and a deeper understanding of real-life implications. 

Gifted minds, Geake assesses, demand higher levels of input and a deeper understanding of real-life implications.  It wouldn’t be a far stretch to assert that this may come off as an attention deficit.  While Geake asserts that gifted minds have high levels of task commitment — the ability to stay on task, wouldn’t it be reasonable to assess that when these minds are not being exercised, this leads to wandering minds? Wandering thoughts?  Seemingly unrelenting movement that we’ve diagnosed as fidgeting?  

Geake also writes that, gifted minds may be more inclined towards emotionally affected decisions, rooted in bilateral use of the prefrontal cortex. Does this, perhaps, come off as certain mental health abnormalities? That, perhaps, the best prescription for these minds is not to sedate or suppress, but rather to unleash the potential — to nurture their creativity — to provide our gifted children with an outlet to exercise their minds, to reach their full potential — so that they may feel less trapped in their own minds?  That the best ‘medication’ for such minds is not a psycho-stimulant or suppressant, but rather an appropriate academic environment?  That these drugs may be worsening the problem, as we do not know how such medications affect a brain that is wired in a non-standard way?  

So, you see, while I’ve long sought after such evidence, it is the implications of such research that are rather daunting.  Is it possible to determine an assessment that measures such levels of cognitive function and creativity while such abilities tend to prompt answers which others may not understand — connections which, even amongst gifted minds, others might not see?  The true test of giftedness is not the answer itself, but rather the collaborative insight which uses memories, knowledge, skills, and inquires to contribute to an analogous solution.  

The true test of giftedness is not the answer itself, but rather the collaborative insight which uses memories, knowledge, skills, and inquires to contribute to an analogous solution.  

When pattern memes filter through social media, most users seek out the “solution” — as if there’s only one correct solution.  However, the gifted mind experiences a profound debate to determine which of the multiple solutions is being sought off by the creator.
One might suggest that the pattern in the following sample is:

1 + 4 = 5
5 + 2 + 5 = 12
12 + 3 + 6 = 21
Hence, 21 + 8 + 11 = 40

1 + 4 x 1 = 5
2 + 5 x 2 = 12
3 + 6 x 3 = 21
Hence, 8 + 11 x 8 = 96

I can also see a few other valid proposals for the “Right solution” to this problem.  I’m also sure that some might see a pattern that I’ve yet to recognize.  

Geake presents the following example,

“What is the London of the United States?”

To most people, the answer might seem “obvious.”  Yet, for the gifted individual, there’s no pure answer to be found.  He assesses that, ‘plausible responses include “Washington, DC, because it is the capital; New York because it is the largest city; Los Angeles because it is the center of the national film industry,” and so on.’

None of these answers are wrong, albeit some answers may be more creative or plausible than others.  

It is this difference in thinking — the fluid analogies that draw from past experiences, knowledge, and intuition to understand new information and questions, that, I believe, is so tragically misunderstood in our gifted population — the trait that many teachers, and even parents, find difficult to manage or understand.  

If we ask a child what shirt they’d like to wear, the average child might answer rather quickly with a simple answer — a specific t-shirt or sweater.  Yet, a gifted child, may not answer so quickly — not because of a slow processing speed, but rather because (s)he is processing more to make an informed real-world decision.  When did I last wear that shirt? What color is that shirt? What is the temperature outside?  What is the probability that it might rain? Where are we going?  It is not any one specific question or answer that will assist in the decision making, but rather a collection of many questions and answers.  

When a typical primary child is asked the question 2 – 3, the desired answer is usually “No Solution,” because the class has yet to learn integers. However, a gifted child may recognize that there just has to be something below 0.  This inquiry, in turn, might make answering the question quite difficult.  

Who was faster, the tortoise or the hare?  I suppose, that to some, this might have an obvious answer.  However, this question might create an internal dilemma for the gifted individual.  Are we calculating the average velocity or the instantaneous velocity?  The hare, by nature, is “faster.”  Yet, the tortoise, had a higher average velocity so, in the end, he made it to his final destination faster.  Who really cares what their personalities were like? The answer, to a gifted child, is really never quite as simple as “the tortoise” or “the hare.”    

In each of these instances, the gifted child’s answer may be construed as “incorrect” or, worse, as an act of defiance.  For the gifted child, nearly every decision utilizes higher order thinking, weighted with complexities that the average population might never be able to see.  It is a weight, perhaps even a burden, to bear.  Yet, it is this same creativity that lies down the foundation for new research, innovative technologies, and forward thinking.  Perhaps, rather than trying to fit these children into a box, we should simply accept that these children add diversity to our world — that they view the world through a different lens — a lens that, quite possibly, not so simply adds another dimension to our society. 

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