Sunday, 3 November 2013

Homeschooling My Gifted Kid, Part 2: What the Bleep is PG!?

In this second part on our convoluted journey to homeschooling, I'd like to talk about the crazy slippery slope of figuring out what 'gifted' and 'PG' actually mean.

This is not meant to be a definitive guide for people trying to discover more about gifted kids, or IQ. This is just our personal journey, and a few of the curious signposts along the way.

What is high IQ?

This is actually pretty tricky to define. Is it ability? Talent? Potential? How do you define it? What does it mean? Is there more than one type of intelligence? Western society has been tying its metaphorical knickers about this for over a hundred years, and there's still no end in sight.

The common (mostly accepted) definition of giftedness is a standard score at least 2 standard deviations above the norm on a norm-referenced  psychologist-administered IQ test.

I know it doesn't look controversial, but believe me, even that statement is grabbing the bull by the horns! For a start, it's assuming intelligence can be measured, and that a test will measure it. It's also assuming that there is one type of intelligence, rather than multiple intelligences a la Gagne's Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent (or the now widely accepted CHC model for another). Even the assumption of a normal distribution has been hotly contested over the years.

In fact, I had planned on writing a little bit more about the history of IQ measurement and testing, but the field has been toxic and partisan for so long, that the more I learned, the less I wanted to go anywhere near poking it. Even with a very long stick. It's the kind of career-destroying debate that needs a large "Beware: Humans" sign, and leads me to want to go all Mercutio at a fast run in the opposite direction.

Even so, with all these problems, there are literally dozens, if not hundreds of valid tests.

So, what is PG?

Conventionally, high IQ is usually broken down into the groups - Moderately Gifted (MG) (2+Standard Deviations) , Highly Gifted (HG), Exceptionally Gifted(EG) and Profoundly Gifted(PG) (99.9th percentile).

I would love you give an IQ number or range for the following definitions, but where each of these definitions kick in is of course, also up for debate. Depending on what you read, its publication date and what it's used for, these numbers vary widely - they also vary based on the test used! In fact, you can't actually compare results from different tests - or even results from earlier versions of tests with the current versions!  For example, did you know that profoundly gifted kicks in at the 3rd Standard Deviation from the norm, or is that the 4th?

This is because the older tests used a ratio IQ method - which gave results of 180+ and had a reasonably high ceiling. (It was in common usage for HG+ kids until the 1990's). The newer versions of the tests (which use norm-referenced standard IQ scores), like the Weschler tests ( WPPSI IV / WISC IV /WAIS IV) and the new Stanford-Binet V (SB-V) also initially had ceilings of 150 and 160 respectively, because they used a different method to calculate IQ. Basically, they couldn't test any higher than those numbers - and most people tested at the HG+ range clustered around the 3rd Standard Deviation, with little ability to tell the different groups apart.

This has now changed again, with the introduction of extended norms for both tests. But these IQ numbers are still unlikely to be as high as on the previous standard for high-IQ testing, the SB-Form L-M, because of the different, more modern methods of calculation (This paper is an excellent discussion of the problem).

So where do you find these kids, and how many are there? Well, everywhere, and more than you think (and more than a standard bell-curve distribution predicts but exactly what that curve is instead, is up for debate! Pick an option - trimodal (three bumps/maxima), or skew-symmetric  (off-centre with fat tails) )!

I must admit, all of this kinda makes me want to pull my hair out by the roots!

But, what do the numbers mean?

Basically, these kids are wired differently. This is usually given the label of asynchronous development. I'm going to borrow the definition from Duke TIP :

Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching, and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.
 --Linda Kreger Silverman

Translated, this means these kids:
  • Have trouble interacting with other kids their age  - kids at different ages talk differently, and usually have different expectations of their friendships. A preschooler might want friends to play chase, a primary-school kid someone to 'talk to'. Put a child with primary-school aged mind (often with the emotional maturity of a preschooler) with a group of preschoolers and watch the disconnection fun.
  • Are able to comprehend ideas and material that they are not emotionally ready to handle. (Oh boy do we know about that one! One example:  C happily discusses the economics of supply and demand, but still freaks out at the thought of sharing the Duplo with his sister '...but that's mine!'. Yup, got that one covered. )
  • Can think of how to complete an activity, but their body isn't able to do the movement. (With ensuing emotionally mature response ...)

Then there are Dabrowski's Overexcitabilities, also called Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration, or as one of my favourite bloggers terms them, the Dabrowski dogs:
  • Psychomotor OE - Keep moving, keep moving, keep talking and talking, can't sleep, gotta sing! And can you Please Stop Fidgeting. 
  • Sensual OE - the shirt hurts, the shoes pinch. You did them up too tight. No I can't eat that. Must Touch Everything.
  • Imaginational OE - thinker, dreamer. Did you hear me? Creates entire worlds with all the details, all the details. Did I mention the details?
  • Intellectual OE - must learn, learn, learn. More reading, more depth, more puzzles. That's easy! More!
  • Emotional OE - I got a scratch! Arrgh! It's the end of the world, I'm dying! Crying at drop of a hat, laughing so hard they gets sick...
Actually, it doesn't end there. Did you know there's actually an optimum IQ, and that there is a strong correlation between high IQ and social isolation ( To list a few of the studies: Burke, Jensen, & Terman, 1930; Hollingworth 1926; and Gross 1986.)? FYI, optimum IQ is usually in a range from bright (but not gifted)  to just into the highly gifted range.

Often these characteristics are mistaken for disabilities, as Webb et al. discuss in their book from 2004, 'Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults'. Worth a read. Or you could just read this abstract, or watch this video. This is a topic I will talk about in another post soon!

Don't worry though, it's not all bad news. The good news is that these kids learn fast. They're quite capable of learning at twice to three times the speed current pedagogy says children learn. They rarely need to hear things twice. They have excellent memories - excellent, long, exact memories. And they argue like mini-lawyers. Exageration is a dangerous pastime for a parent, therapist or teacher to indulge. Trust me.

In fact, when given a chance, these kids are quite capable of doing university level work by 13. Though it's sometimes stretched out for a few more years. Just don't talk about what happens to these kids in a school system that won't accelerate. It's heart-breaking. (Miraca Gross's longitudinal study of PG kids in the 1980's and '90's in Australia is a must read. Particularly if you are 30-40 years old and went to an Australian school. If you have dry eyes and an even temper at the end, you're doing better than I did.)

But don't get me wrong, these kids are a joy. They're out-of-the-box, and wickedly funny. And you never know what they're going to do next...

If you've stayed with me this far - awesome. There is more, but I think that's enough to be going on with for the moment. See you next time!


  1. Wow, a very passionate post! Thought provoking too.

    As someone who was recently administered an IQ test by a psychologist, I am absolutely confident in saying that the end score means very little, if anything at all.

    It appears to me that it is nothing more than a highly generalised method of which to assess a neuro-typical intellect. It is becoming more apparent that a very significant percentage of the populace cannot be accurately assessed under the standard IQ test model.

    I have been the recipient of a few IQ tests over the years, and have been assessed as having an intellect over 130 and then had other tests say 116. The variance is considerable in anyone's book and makes it quite obvious that the way to grade intellect is significantly flawed.

    Testing intellect is not without purpose, however. It assists in emphasising the peaks and troughs of an intellect which in turn makes it easier to identify specific areas that require focused development. Interestingly, each of the IQ tests I have received have identified similar peaks and troughs.

    To skip ahead towards the latter part of your post if I may, the points you raise about Dabrowski's Overexcitabilities and PG are interesting. The 'superstimulatabilities' are essentially the exact same behavioural traits that are used to assist in identifying Autism Spectrum Disorders and specifically, High Functioning Autism or Asperger's.

    What is interesting is that Dabrowski passed away in 1980. The 'modern' conception of Asperger Syndrome came to be in 1981 and didn't become standardised as a diagnosis until the early 90's.

    The similarities in research are undeniable. I am definitely not convinced that Dabrowski's Overexcitablilities or Aspergers people have to have high IQ. It is without doubt a common factor, but I am not sure it is a defining one.

    In many ways, research has a long way to go. With Dabrowski's Overexcitabilities and ASD, it appears as though we haven't gotten to far beyond the 'recognising that some of us are not neuro-typical' stage. A vast amount of research needs to be conducted in to how we can best facilitate the upbringing, education and social and emotional development of our non neuro-typical kids.

    I know the education system failed me dismally. I certainly do not want to see it happen to my kids. As a result, we are active in working together with the school to ensure that we can get the best possible outcome out of an inherently flawed education system. Time will tell how successful we are.

  2. Thanks for such a thoughtful response. You are right about the difficultly in 'grading' intellect. It is difficult. From my reading, I've found that usually, a test is considered ' what you could do on the day' and the only hard and fast rule is that you can never get accidentally 'higher' scores, but you can always get lower! It's even more murky than that though - there's been recent evidence in neuroscience to say that most of the way we think we think is actually flawed - because the researchers kept sampling university students from western society, and thought the traits were universal - it's now being completely re-evaluated!
    I will be talking about the link between PG and ASD in my next post, but I know that it's treated pretty seriously by the science researchers - there's currently a research project trying to isolate if there's a genetic link between prodigies and their relatives with ASD.

    1. I look forward to reading your next post :)


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