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Gifted Daughter Is Overly Sensitive
Q: My daughter is highly sensitive to smell and sound. If there is a bad smell, I might say something like, "What stinks?" while my daughter would be trying to keep herself from throwing up. She also hears things before I can hear them, like a train that is still far away. Do all gifted children have some sort of physical sensitivity?
Also, I haven't had her tested yet. Is there a recommended test for giftedness?
A: A Polish psychiatrist and psychologist, Kazimierz Dabrowski, studied gifted, creative, and eminent people during the last century. Much of his Theory of Emotional Development centers on the greater capacities of gifted persons to respond to various stimuli. He called this capacity "overexcitabilities." Others have theorized that the gifted have hypersensitive nervous systems that give them an expanded awareness of the world around them.
According to Dabrowski, these individuals may exhibit their supersensitivity in the physical, sensual, imaginational, intellectual, and emotional arenas. They may be more sensitive to the tags in their clothing, have food allergies, be distracted by noises that are barely perceptible to us -- like the hum of an air conditioner, or show little need for sleep.
A good summary of Dabrowski's theory can be found in the first chapter of Linda Silverman's book, Counseling the Gifted and Talented.
Regarding testing, there are a variety of tests that are used to assess giftedness in children. In fact, psychologists often recommend that the best way to determine if a child is gifted is to look at their performance in a number of ways. These might include group or individual tests (both achievement and intelligence), interviews with parents and teachers, samples of work, behavior, and other indications of high ability or performance.
It's also important that the tests that are selected relate to the kind of program in which the child might be placed. For example, if the gifted program has a heavy emphasis on creative thinking, the tests should include some measure of creativity. Or, if the program accents leadership, more should be evaluated than just academic achievement.
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Rita Culross is Associate Dean, College of Education, and Adjunct Professor of Psychology and Curriculum and Instruction at Louisiana State University. Culross has served as the consulting school psychologist for a public school elementary gifted program, and has written a book and several journal articles on gifted education.