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Profoundly & Exceptionally Gifted Youth



What is “Exceptionally and Profoundly Gifted”?



“The child of 160 IQ (top 0.01%) is as different from the child of 130 IQ (top 2%) as that child is from the child of average ability." Leta Hollingworth – ‘Children Above 180 IQ’ (1942)


UK Government policy on the ‘Gifted and Talented’ is focused upon a broad spectrum of childrUen falling into the top 2%, 5% or even 10% of the school population – in other words the ‘top children of the top set’. Yet this fails to acknowledge that there are degrees of giftedness, and that real differences exist between children who are moderately or highly gifted, and those who are exceptionally or even profoundly gifted.


This tendency to group all gifted children together under one blanket term pervades even the gifted literature, and gives rise to a mistaken belief that the difficulties of educating gifted children may be addressed by a ‘one-solution-fits-all’ approach.


To set this into context: a profoundly gifted 10 year old child with an IQ of 180 would have the mental age of an average 18 year old, and may well be capable of learning at that level. By contrast, the gifted 10 year old child with an IQ of 130 (top 2%) would have the mental age of an average 13 year old.


This clearly makes a huge difference to the educational requirements of each individual child. While the child with an IQ of 130 may well be catered for to a certain extent by a combination of extension and enrichment within the normal classroom, the child with an IQ of 180 may well need a level of complexity, depth and pace normally only expected of an undergraduate student—in a child who has not yet left the primary school system.



Exceptionally gifted’ (EG) and ‘profoundly gifted’ (PG) are not hard and fast terms (nor indeed are the terms ‘moderately’ or ‘highly’ gifted), but the following definition has won some international acceptance*:


IQ                    Classification                  Rate of Occurrence*                            %-ile  

130-145           Moderately Gifted               Approximately 2 in every 100                   98  

145 -160          Highly Gifted                      Approximately 1 in every 1,000                99.9  

160-175/180     Exceptionally Gifted **       Approximately 1 in every 10,000               99.99  

175/180 +        Profoundly Gifted               Approximately 1 in every 1,000,000          99.9999  


* Over the last 90 years various researchers have found more people at the highest levels of intelligence than would have been predicted statistically, and now it is generally accepted that the true numbers of exceptionally and profoundly gifted children may be several times higher than originally thought. The figures in this table may therefore be understated.


In other words:


Exceptionally Gifted (EG )**


- occur at about a rate of 1 in 10,000 people

- are in the top 0.01%

- have an IQ of 160 or more (as measured by a test with a mean score of 100 and standard deviation of 15 or 16)

- are four standard deviations away from the mean IQ of the population.


** 'Exceptionally gifted' should not be confused with the term 'exceptionally able', used in UK government and education circles to mean the top 5%, or sometimes 10%, of school children


Profoundly Gifted (PG)


- occur at a rate of one in a million

- are in the top 0.0001%

- have an IQ of 175 or above

- are five standard deviations away from the mean IQ of the population.




Neuroimaging Studies and the EG/PG Child


Neuroimaging research is beginning to confirm that children with exceptional intellectual giftedness differ in brain activation from their age-matched non-gifted peers, and that their thinking resembles that of much more mature students. John Geake (2006) pulls together a number of key facts (summarised below) based on neuro-imaging studies of young mathematically gifted 13 year olds in the USA:


‘The PET [Positron Emission Tomography] profiles of the brain activations of the mathematically gifted 13-year olds [while solving SAT-M problems] were significantly different from their age-matched peers, but very similar to the 20-year old math-major college students, despite their marked differences in age and experience (Haier & Benbow, 1995)’;


Furthermore, the mathematically gifted adolescents have ‘superior levels of brain activation in their right parietal area, as well as the frontal lobes when compared to age-matched, average ability peers’. In other words, Geake states, they appear to be handling the process of solving problems differently, using the right hemisphere more than their peers for basic information processing, and the frontal lobes more prominently to mediate their high levels of mathematical ability.


UK studies by John Duncan at Cambridge have also shown that these ‘same frontal areas on both sides of the brain are involved in a great range of general high intelligence tasks, including reasoning, memorisation, and linguistic expression (Duncan and Owen, 2001)’


Geake also points out that the frontal cortices appear to be crucial in sup-porting analogical reasoning, the integration of complex interrelations, figural reasoning and creative thinking in general, citing a number of recent studies from around the world (USA, Germany, Canada).


Geake adds that ‘intriguingly, autopsies performed in Russia on the brains of gifted people have found that the same frontal areas of the brain...have up to double the density of brain cells compared with normal brains (Orzhekhovskaia, 1996).’


Neuroimaging studies of eg/pg children are rare - mainly, one suspects, because of the difficulty of securing access to a pool of children to take part in the research. However, it is reasonable to suppose that - just like the extremely gifted young mathematicians in the American studies above - eg/pg children (whether linguists, scientists, mathematicians or whatever) would also use their frontal cortices in a more sophisticated fashion than was usual for their age-peers, and that their brain activations would match those of students many years their senior. This would strongly reinforce the implications of the IQ results of eg/pg children stated above: they really do think in a way that is 6-8 years ahead of their peers, and their education must therefore be tailored appropriately.







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