Early Gifted Traits: Foundations of Excellence

Early Gifted Traits: Foundations of Excellence

Certain early gifted traits catch people’s attention because they are unexpected, different, or pronounced (e.g., perfectionism, intensity, heightened sensitivity, need for change and challenge). Unfortunately, to the uninformed or misinformed observer, these traits often lead to faulty interpretations that can hinder development: (1) the behavior, question, reaction is excessive and wrong, (2) such behavior needs to be eliminated or at least kept to a minimum.

For example, although perfectionism is one of the first noticeable traits of giftedness, the typical response to a child’s perfectionistic expressions of frustration elicit contradiction or invalidation from adults. When a young child creates a drawing and subsequently gets upset and crumples it up, most grown-ups think it is necessary to say to the child something like, “Oh—don’t do that! It’s a beautiful picture!” If the child complains that it is not good and continues to be upset, adults usually continue to insist that the child’s view is utterly wrong. What is going on here? From the gifted child’s perspective, the mental picture of what was intended as the outcome for the drawing is very far off, and therefore disappointing and upsetting.

This is quite common during the development years of giftedness when “asynchronous development” is occurring—when the child’s capacity to imagine a particular outcome outpaces the skill necessary to produce it.

Hence, when the child is directly faced with this gap between what is imagined and what can be produced at the time, frustration is the natural response. Yet if this type of response is repeatedly invalidated by adults who are supposed to serve as models and the voices or reason, gifted children learn one unfortunate lesson: My views and feelings must be wrong”; the royal road to self distrust and the development of a socially acceptable false self.

In an effort to rethink the early signs of giftedness, a long-term view is essential because it reveals the eventual purpose and value of these traits. Below is a chart with sample gifted characteristics that are all too often perceived as excessive or intentionally exaggerated just to “get attention”. When looked at in this way the critical and negative interpretations seem very out of place. Consider the following early signs of giftedness as they relate to the development of character, leadership, and the pursuit of excellence:



Skips from one interest to another

Flexibility as the essential ingredient in creativity;
capable of developing multiple areas of expertise;
capable of considering complex issues from many angles;
quickly adapts to new situations and challenges

Seeker of truth

Easily upset by unfairness and fairness; Humanitarian benevolence;
intolerance of injustice;
moral leadership;
ethical change agent

High energy and intense focus

Perseverance in the face of adversity;
strong leadership and model of excellence;
determined to make a positive difference

Heightened sensitivity and emotional reactivity Empathy, compassion;
motivates others toward altruism;
brings people together around a common issue

One Comment

  1. Randall says:

    Hi, I am writing to attest to the phenomenon of the “creation of the false self.”

    In my case, I was aware that I was creating a false self (although without this particular vocabulary at the time) – which I now refer to as “fake Randy”. I put “real Randall” into the background, promising to bring him back into the foreground after he left home. This was not a full-blown formation of a separate split peronality – due, I believe, to my capacity for meta-cognition.

    There did occur an unhappy unforeseen consequence of this decision: The whole time “fake Randy” apparently benefited from parenting and schooling, it was always received with the exception that “this doesn’t really apply to me, because these adults do not really know who I am”. This resulted in a childish and stunted “real Randall” having to fend for himself in a confusing and alien adult world.

    I found the heavy social-engineering aspect of the public school system in which I was raised to by profoundly repugnant. I could not understand how my classmates and my teachers could unquestioningly go along with a system which rewarded stupid busyness at the expense of appropriately challenging projects cogent to the real needs of humanity. The elephant in the room – which was not explicitly explained to me – but the falsehood of which was as obvious to me as was the nakedness of the emperor to the boy who spoke up at the end of The Emperor’s New Clothes – was the philosophy of performance-based-education.

    As far as I understand it, performance-based-schooling is an unnecessary solution to a problem that does not exist – the imagined problem that citizens are not yet equal, and thus must be forcibly made equal. If, in fact, we hold the truth that “All Men (old, young, male, female, differently abled) are Created Equal”, then that is a premise – and not (as performance-based-education would have it) an as-yet-unattained goal. I know in my heart that We Are All Created Equal, that every one of us necessarily completes Creation, and that every one of us bears “gifts” into this world. (This is an authentic description of my own experience. For this reason, if you – the reader – has a different experience, then I accept your experience as necessary, and I will not defend what I have written as one would defend an opinion. Defensiveness attracts attack, and I find no need to invite conflict.)

    In light of the belief in universal gift-bearing, I do not identify myself as “gifted”. Instead, I describe my particular flavor of human experience as “developmentally asynchratic.”