Gifted is more than High IQ, Let’s talk about the gifted brain!
Today we’re talking about a body of research about the gifted brain from Gifted Research Outreach (GRO), who are a non-profit based in the USA.
This research helps us understand why gifted kids have high IQ’s and how the behaviour of your gifted child is impacted by the way their brain is wired.
In the episode you’ll hear about the 6 key differences in the gifted brain compared a neurologically typical brain:
- Increased regional brain volumes
- Greater connectivity across brain regions
- Brains operate more efficiently &
- Expanded brain areas that respond more actively to challenges
- Greater Sensory Sensitivity
- Expanded brain areas dedicated to emotional intelligence
Tune in to hear more!
Hit play and let’s get started!
“In the the first phase of research, GRO is reviewing existing peer-reviewed studies on the physiological differences in the gifted brain.
Our review is revealing that many studies provide a potential physiological rationale for the intensities commonly experienced by gifted individuals including intellectual, emotional, motor and sensory processing.
These differences also help explain gifted traits and behaviors that parents report their child experiencing, but professionals often dismiss or misdiagnose.
While GRO believes that this is just the beginning of understanding how the physiology of gifted individuals differs from the norm, as it progresses in its mission, we will not only have a better understanding of the physiology of this group of outliers, we will contribute to the better understanding, diagnosis, and the development of better medication and treatment protocols for ALL individuals.” – GRO
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Sophia Elliott: [00:00:00] I think as a parent of gifted kids, Some of the biggest gains I’ve had in my parenting, where I’ve made the biggest progress has not been where my kids have suddenly started doing something they didn’t do before or reached a milestone or anything like that. It often come with my own shift in a mindset.
[00:00:27] Somehow my own perspective on something has changed. It’s allowed me to approach a parenting situation differently, and that in itself has resulted in big shifts in that parenting relationship and those day to day outcomes. And what I want to share with you today was a really big piece in the puzzle of understanding my gifted children..
[00:00:56] And that is the why the why behind gifted, if you’re like me and you were trying to understand what giftedness is all about. No doubt you have done a lot of research and, and maybe you were also searching for the reason why gifted kids have all of these similar characteristics and traits, because that didn’t add up to me.
[00:01:24] Okay. Gifted kids have similar characteristics. There’s a whole bunch of stuff, traits that they have. Why? Why? There’s gotta be something behind that. And there is yes. You know, I’d heard superficially it’s all about the brain and the way the brain works, but that was, yeah. That was all I found until probably about a year ago, which really isn’t that long ago I came across an organization called gifted research outreach or GRO, G R O they’re an American not-for-profit.
[00:02:05] And their mission is to promote a comprehensive and accurate understanding of giftedness through research and outreach. And it was just one of those things. I stumbled across this website and I started digging and I think it changed everything because what we’re going to go through today, uh, the six reasons or the six things, I guess, that GRO, have found so far in their research on how the gifted brain is different.
[00:02:41] And that’s huge. So. I’ve been talking to folks at GRO for a little while now, and they are super cool and awesome. It is definitely out there with one of my all time favorite organizations. And I said, I’m so excited to have found your work. Thank you for doing it. And I’m desperate to share it with everyone.
[00:03:03] Is that okay? Um, which is obviously okay. One of the great things about grow as a not-for-profit, they’re all about. Communicating this to the world. If you go to their website, which I will include in the show notes, or is GRO, gro-gifted.org, you will find all that information for free. And so we’re going to talk about it on the podcast, and there’s also free resources on the, our gifted kids website as well.
[00:03:35] So the gifted brain. First of all. Let me tell you how GRO have ended up doing the work that they’re doing. There are a bunch of folk after conference on gifted education who got together. No doubt, probably with a few glasses of wine. I don’t know. Don’t quote me on that, um, to talk about how do we move things forward and it occurred to them, but throughout history, Major changes in the psychological and educational professions often came as a result of advances in medical knowledge.
[00:04:16] So GRO became this organization about researching gifted physiology. So the body, they created this organization to use scientific findings, to break through those barriers that are preventing the needs of gifts. Children and adults from being addressed. So GRO says there is plenty of evidence to suggest that gifted individuals, bodies respond differently.
[00:04:50] It’s kind of like that assumption that men and women’s bodies respond in the same way. And actually research shows us that men and women, our bodies work differently and respond differently. And it’s the same with a gifted community.
[00:05:08]So there are a lot of studies out there that go into this. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
[00:05:14]So grow uses a multidisciplinary perspective to better understand the physiological differences in gifted individuals and how these differences impact their lives, physically, emotionally, and behaviorally. So in the first phase of their research, they did a thorough review of existing peer reviewed studies.
[00:05:38] And. Have come up with these six differences in the gifted brain.
more Transcript here
[00:05:44]And the review is revealing that many studies provide a potential physiological rationale for the intensities commonly experienced by gifted individuals, including. Intellectual emotional motor and sensory processing. These differences also help explain gifted to traits and behaviors that parents report their child experiencing, but professionals often dismiss or misdiagnosed.
[00:06:13]So let’s get into it. We often think that the right brain and the left brain to of describe the source of artistic and scientific strengths, but actually it’s a complex interplay of the brain network that allows individuals to navigate through the world. There are 28 regions of the brain involved in intelligence.
[00:06:35] The brain does not grow at a consistent rate across all areas. And this leads to that asynchrony that us parents will be very familiar with sometimes great strengths, but also great challenges. Different parts of the brain develop in different ways at different times. And one area or another may gain greater influence this correlates to quirks in learning, thinking behavior and more significant overexcitabilities or comorbidities.
[00:07:11] What does that mean? If you particularly have a young gifted child, you will notice that there are different parts of the brain in play and still developing.
[00:07:24] So grow have compiled, a vast quantity of research to deduce the following six key differences in the gifted brain compared to neurologically typical brain. First of all increased regional brain volumes, greater connectivity across brain regions, brains operate more efficiently and expanded brain areas that respond more actively to challenges, greater sensory sensitivity.
[00:07:58] And expanded brain areas dedicated to emotional intelligence. So let’s have a little chat about what that means. First of all, increased regional brain volumes. So individuals with higher IQ have increased gray matter in some areas of the brain. The gray matter is a part of the brain use to compute information.
[00:08:25] These increased regional brain volumes may account for the ability of gifted individuals to make decisions quickly, especially decisions involving large volumes of information. So the areas with increased volume is the frontal lobes where complex decision-making and a hypothesis testing are memory, attention, motivation, executive function, language, mood, personality, self-awareness social, emotional reasoning.
[00:08:55] There’s a lot going on in the frontal lobe. The temporal lobes, which is the auditory processing and language interpretations, the parietal to lobes, which is your taste temperature and touch. Also the integration of information recognition, visual spacial abilities, environmental cues, and sensory perception, and the occipital lobes, which is your visual information, your link with memory.
[00:09:23]So there’s also greater connectivity across the brain regions. That was number two. So the gifted brain has increased white matter. The white matter is what relays information across the brain. So they think that this may explain why processing speeds can potentially be faster, but also slower. In gifted kids, um, because that white matter is also all about processing speed and information transfer.
[00:09:58] Now, if there’s more white matter, you would think will processing speed and information transfer would be quicker. However, imagine you have a road going from a, to B one road. There’s one way to go. And if there’s one car it’s going to get that quickly and imagine now you have a hundred cars on that one road going from a to B, what’s going to be traffic jam.
[00:10:35] Right. And that’s, that’s true. Your pathway being flooded with ideas so that all those ideas may actually slow down that processing. Another way to look at it is imagine getting from a, to B there’s actually 40 different ways to get from a to B you know, imagine it’s not just one road, but there’s like a network of roads.
[00:11:02] There’s a whole map. And you’ve got to consider the best way to get there, so that could potentially take longer as well. And I think this is a really great example of something that’s not fully understood yet. And I think with all of this kind of research that we’re talking about today, this is what we know now. Imagine what we’re going to know in 10 years time, some of this may still apply.
[00:11:37] There may be other researchers or breakthroughs that shed different light on this. So take this like anything else with take from it. What helps you is my usual approach. And I think this kind of increased white matter and that impact on processing speed is a great example of. You know, an idea, not yet fully explored or understood.
[00:12:05] So number three, number four, brains operate more efficiently and there are expanded brain areas that respond more actively to challenges. So this I think is actually really interesting.
[00:12:21]So intelligence can be measured by how efficient the brain. In terms of working efficiently, not harder. And there’s actually research around the brain using glucose and the way that it uses glucose and efficiently using glucose as being an indicator of an efficient brain and a gifted brain is very efficient in terms of this research and this particular measure.
[00:12:51]And they also respond more actively to challenges. So for example, research has shown some with high IQ will use less glucose once they’ve mastered a task, therefore they’re not operating at potential. Once they’ve mastered that task. This is potentially why gifted kids resist repetition. They need only one to two.
[00:13:17] Uh, sort of repetitions to learn something as opposed to perhaps a typical child of the same age needing maybe eight to 10. So efficiency equals that ability to use regions of increased volume in a qualitatively unique way.
[00:13:37] It will result in different approach to challenges and problem solving. And those brains actually engage in flow. Now, if you’ve come across the term flow before, here’s a new definition for you. And I really liked it. Flow is working at high capacity as a coordinated unit. So imagine those 28 regions of the brain involved in intelligent working at high capacity in a coordinated way.
[00:14:07] So I kind of visualize. Um, some kind of extreme sport where you’ve got 10, like just mega athletes working at their peak in this absolutely coordinated way. And it’s this thing of beauty. So this excited brain may overflow into movement. So they think that that in that sort of tendency to pace or fidget or appear in attentive when the bodies are actually just mirroring that neurological activity and brain scans actually show like the, the gifted range as being on fire, because everything’s kind of happening.
[00:14:47] And, and this brain is, uh, You know, it is working at this high capacity in this coordinated unit. It just looks like it’s on fire and this fire overflows into the body and creates movement. And this sense of flow may also explain that rage to learn. That’s often a hallmark of gifted kids that, that, that need, and that dry.
[00:15:16] So we talked about the way that the gifted brain responds to challenges, but of course, challenge is relative. It’s all about stage, not age, uh, and you can see the emotional and behavioral issues lessened or eliminated when that gifted brain is challenged appropriately. And this reminded me of an interview that I had actually with Lynda McInnes from Dara School , way back at the beginning of the podcast where she talks about, and this is from Linda.
[00:15:49] When you have a relevant curriculum that’s relevant to that child, then all their issues disappear, boredom, disruptive behavior disappears, which also makes me think that. Uh, always makes me think of the quote from Maria Montessori, who was like from the early 19 hundreds. And she is quoted, has of saying one test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.
[00:16:21] And what I love about this research from GRO is the way that it’s actually mirroring some of these. Uh, not just quotes and beliefs or observations that are out there. Um, but also, uh, Dabrowski’s Over Excitabilities which we’ll talk more about in a minute. And it’s, and the research is kind of backing out these observations that people have had over time.
[00:16:51] So number five, that greater sensory sensitivity. So I think now’s a good time to bring in Dabrowski . He was a Polish psychologist and psychiatrist who created the theory of positive disintegration. The gifted community has embraced a portion of his work because it provides a vocabulary and framework to describe experiences, common amongst gifted individuals.
[00:17:21] You may have heard the term overexcitabilities before, and it’s an innate tendency to respond in an intensified manner to various forms of stimuli, both external and internal. Essentially this means a person has a stronger reaction than normal for a longer period of time to a stimulus that may be small or imperceptible two others.
[00:17:48]Research on the brain actually references Dubroski is overexcitabilities. What we’re talking about is the way we experience the world and the fact that we all experience it differently and that gifted.
[00:18:04] Children and adults will have that lived experience in such a way that you can actually quantify it. So it’s quantifiably different lived experience, and that’s really important, important when you’re parenting or teaching to really get that. And I know that this was an aha moment for me, just in appreciating that when we’re dealing with our kids or students that.
[00:18:31] You know, their reaction might be very reasonable to them, even though you’re looking at it going, what are you going on about actually to them, that’s a very real, and I think it’s an opportunity to stay, take a step back and just appreciate that that’s their lived experience. And from that perspective, managing a situation differently, maybe being less dismissive and more compassionate in those moments.
[00:18:56]So the overexcitabilities Dabrowski’s is framework.
[00:19:00]Provides that vocabulary for us. And as I said, it’s actually been, I guess, backed up by this research from GRO . So let’s look at those different areas. We’ve got the psychomotor, which as we’ve already mentioned, Gifted brain is in flow and all the different parts of the brain are working at peak performance together.
[00:19:25] And that energy overflows into our body, all that stir brow skis, psychomotor overexcitabilities those kids that are constantly active, high energy talk fast, need vigorous physical activity. That’s your psychomotor. Overexcitabilities. In terms of the sensual. So our sensory input includes hearing, smell, touch, taste sites, and they may be enjoyable, or they may be powerful.
[00:19:59] You may have an amazing pellet for food and become a great, you know, food, taster and critic, or you might found find food really difficult because it’s not pleasurable. They’ve also found in some research. The gifted brain, actually, he is sounds faster and louder. And for longer than a neuro-typical brain touch, different textures can be very irritating.
[00:20:32] The potential for sensory processing disorders, so that neurological traffic jam preventing certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. So there’s more happening and it’s more intense
[00:20:49]and because it’s our own lived experience. It’s easy to be unaware that we’re any different from anyone else. We can always just assume that everyone experiences the world the same way we do, but sometimes we need to dig into this a little bit deeper. Sometimes an occupational therapist or an audiologist might be helpful in determining how far that goes.
[00:21:13] If that’s becoming a real issue. So the intellectual over at overexcitabilities is that desire to gain knowledge, search for understanding and analyze and the emotional overexcitabilities are those intense feelings, complex emotions, empathy, and deep expression. Dubroski is imagination.
[00:21:36] Overexcitabilities refers to that imaginative play fantasy, the dreamers and the tendency for gifted kids to have imaginary friends.
[00:21:46]Now that intellectual overexcitabilities that desire to gain knowledge and search for understanding. Is actually mirrored in the research that GRO have found in terms of that expanded brain areas dedicated to emotional intelligence. So there are brain areas essential for processing emotional information, they expanded and enhanced connectivity across those areas.
[00:22:11] This could account for that intense drive to satisfy that intellectual curiosity, the gifted brain uses that emotional information differently. Emotional information permeates all areas of intellectual functioning. They process through an emotional filter. So that frequency of heightened emotional responses, including depression and anxiety.
[00:22:40] There’s some suggestion in the research that both drive and anxiety may well be hardwired in the gifted brain. But as I said before, this is emerging research. So please don’t take away from this, that anyone who’s gifted will automatically have anxiety issues. I think it just suggests that this is something that we can look out for and provide some strategies and tools around if it becomes an issue.
[00:23:08]Grow does in their research. Talk about a body of research that explored the possible connections between anxiety, worry and intelligence, and found that verbal intelligence is a unique, positive predictor of worry and rumination severity. The potential for a link to be between that verbal intelligence and that tendency to worry and really think about things.
[00:23:36] So again, I think it’s an opportunity for us as parents, not to, not to worry, don’t worry, but to be prepared, and, and just be aware that, that tendency to worry that for anxiety. Could be an issue for our gifted child and to, to reach out, to get assistance and help when it’s needed, when we need help to build those strategies and tools for our kids to reach out to a professional, to a psychologist, to help us meet those needs.
[00:24:11]So the gifted brain and the sort of areas dedicated to emotional intelligence, , Also suggest this is where we get that intense demand for truth and justice, which is why gifted kids want schoolwork to mean something and gifted adults search for meaning there’s also this empathetic link to other studies showed deep capacity for empathy, even at an early age, also being hardwired.
[00:24:40]So our gifted kids may be more sensitive to the emotions in the room. They may read content above their emotional ability to handle it because of that. Asynchronicity, it may impact friendships and they may take it personal. They’ve got big emotions. So we’re going to need those tools and strategies to help us navigate, identify those emotions and learn to manage that emotional regulation.
[00:25:07] And I strongly suggest the help of a good psychologist who really gets gifted and neurodiversity when you need it and not to be afraid to reach out and to looking at the different options out there, uh, for, for help that you can get, if money is an issue. The gifted brain has this whole two-part learning thing going on. So what does that mean? It means the tendency to look at that big picture, but not yet the details. So it’s a child who sees those big issues through an emotional lens, but they’re having trouble breaking it down into emotionally manageable pieces.
[00:25:46] And this can lead to existential depression. And parents of gifted kids. Like you may already be familiar with this, but again, I think it’s good to be aware that this is a possibility. Uh, and, and should you see it unfolding? Understand? This can be typical of our gifted kids and, and to know, to reach out, to get assistance in those times where you might need assistance.
[00:26:16] So let’s dig into what that means a little bit better, and there’s this great quote, which I’ll read so Holt apart, learning describes the child who can understand large concepts, but does not have the underpinning concepts. For a child who sees bigger issues through a filter of exceptional empathy, the level of emotional intensity can become just too much to handle homelessness, climate change.
[00:26:43] And even the unfairness of being unheard, simply because as a child, they are not considered worth listening. May combine further with the inability to break these issues down into emotionally manageable pieces and thus lead back to that existential depression.
[00:27:03]So, um, gifted kids where they’re expanded brain areas, dedicated to emotional intelligence, experienced the whole world through this lens of empathy and emotion. It’s like filters through everything they do. You know, as an adult, if you’ve ever been told you’re too sensitive to emotional, we can just say, well, I’m gifted them because this is a part of the gifted brain.
[00:27:28] And it’s good to understand that because I think that they can be a superpower. Shouldn’t just be a weakness. I think that that then leads into that tendency for truth and justice and empathy for others. And I think those things are needed in the world.
[00:27:45]So they were the six different areas of the gifted brain that grow, have
[00:27:51]deduced from the research that they have done in terms of looking at all of the, the research on the gifted brain that is out there. So that was the increased regional brain volume. And we know that that relates to computing information, that greater connectivity across the brain regions. So that’s that relaying of information brain’s operating more efficiently and those expanded brain areas that respond more actively to challenge.
[00:28:21] So we’re talking there about being engaged. Yeah. Flow that flow overflowing into our bodies that need for challenge on a stage basis, uh, because his brain is, is one that, that works efficiently. That that, that flow working at high capacity as a coordinated unit, I think is a great visual
[00:28:45]and number five, that greatest sensory 17 sensitivity. So in, in real life, experiencing the world in a different way, and maybe that. You know, any of our senses, sound, touch, sight, smell all of these different senses being heightened. So we also have this expanded brain areas dedicated to that emotional intelligence.
[00:29:15] Meaning, we experience the world through that emotional lens. So it’s crucial to understand gifted as a result of a neurologically different brain through this understanding, we can more appropriately meet the needs of gifted kids and adults in education, healthcare, and psychology, and a big part of Grow’s mission is actually to ensure that.
[00:29:42] Gifted children, gifted adults are understood in all of the domains, whether it comes from the healthcare psychology or education that we understand that we take our brains with us into all of these different areas and this giftedness, and, you know, these impacts of this brain wiring needs to be understood in those contexts.
[00:30:07] 42 years ago, report to Congress in the USA, noted gifted children can suffer psychological damage and permanent impairment of their abilities to function well, which is equal or greater than the similar deprivation suffered by any other population with special needs. So to by the office of the educator, similarly, not that long ago in Australia.
[00:30:33]In a conversation we had recently on the podcast with Deb Newton about why parents chose a selective school for their gifted kids. We talked about gifted and talented students benefiting from rigorous relevant and engaging learning opportunities based on the Australian curriculum content. However, a review undertaken by a national Senate inquiry.
[00:30:58] In 2000, I code the results of a similar inquiry. 1998, affirming gifted children have special needs at school that many unknown having those needs met that many experience, underachievement, boredom, frustration, and psychological distress as a result. And that action was required.
[00:31:20]So we know this, and this is not new information. We have known it for some time and that additional information from grow around the brain, I think puts these things into context. And yet the majority of medical educational and psychological communities are not aware of how giftedness impacts a person’s overall health and wellbeing.
[00:31:46] The concept of giftedness is still limited to an understanding around achievement in education, but needs to be understood as a whole person experience this misunderstanding results in mistaken misdiagnosis, medicating, and pathologizing gift. Prescribing treatments that could and undermine the development of gifted children so we can do better.
[00:32:15] So instead let’s help them learn about flow. The way that their brain works at high capacity, as a coordinated unit, let’s help them learn about asynchronous development. Their brain will mature, but at different parts, diff develop at different times and different parts may have greater influence at different times.
[00:32:34] That giftedness includes both advantages and challenges. Let’s help them learn about managing emotional flow and intellectual excitement. That their bodies may mirror their minds in activity. They may learn quickly, but may need practice shifting from whole to part learning or into the uncomfortable space of not knowing, not being perfect.
[00:32:59] And that perfection is a hustle knowing when to go deep and complex and when to keep it simple. Has helped them learn about that rage to learn and it’s hardwired, but something we need to learn sometimes to moderate in life. The, our brains are wired to be challenged and how to find that sweet spot.
[00:33:25] Just feel their comfort zone throughout life. But the way they experienced the world is different and yes, you may hear taste, touch, smell, and see things distinctly differently. And this may be pleasurable or painful. You’re not imagining it. You’re not making it up. You’re a bit different.
[00:33:46]Let’s help them see that you see and experience the world through an emotional lens. You’re not too emotional. You’ll emotions are heightened and this can be a strength. You may need tools and strategies to help prevent your emotional experience of the world from developing into anxiety or depression.
[00:34:06] And these are things that we can all learn and implement, and everyone has bad days. So reach out when you need to and find your support network. Let’s help them learn to embrace your imagination as a source for great ideas. Be they scientific discovery or artistic creations strengthen this muscle, as it will provide inspiration in your life.
[00:34:32] Your deep empathy and sense of social justice can be a superpower. It’s okay to require a sense of meaning to your life and follow a path that holds value to you. And you’re not here to please others. Giftedness is who they are, not what they do. For example, they are not mathematically gifted, but mathematically inclined gifted children.
[00:34:55]Some of those, the last bits were my thoughts. I just realized I should probably make that clear. Uh, so in our conversation today, I have talked a lot about the research of grow and about the brain and ended on a note there. And some of the things that I think we can take away from that as a public nonprofit grow depends entirely on donations to complete its mission.
[00:35:22] The folk at grow are just super lovely, and I look forward to diving deeper into this topic in future podcasts with them and continue to share this crucial information about gifted. To find out more, there are direct links to the articles and grow in the show notes, as well as a series of videos I’ve recorded that talks about their research in more depth.
[00:35:44] If you like videos all free online, it’s really important that we get our heads around this and like grow. I agree with this understanding that giftedness is actually in neurological. Qualitatively different lived experience. I think we can all learn better. And ideally we have a world where we’re not looking for a doctor or a psychologist who gets gifted.
[00:36:13] It’ll just be everyone gets it. Everyone knows that whether you’re at school, you’re getting counseling. Or your seeing your GP, that the way your brain is wired is going to impact the way you experience the world and the help that you need and the support that you need and the understanding that you need.
[00:36:36] So thank you for listening today.
[00:36:39]Please check out the, our gifted kids website for more details on this podcast. And I look forward to seeing you again in a couple of weeks with a podcast that we have from Dr. Alan Thompson on intuition and giftedness. So there’s a little teaser, a little sneak peek. Thank you very much. And from our gifted kids, we will talk with you again soon.