Which one of these people is gifted – Harry, Ron or Hermione?  Did you choose Hermione because she’s a typical high achieving, teacher’s pet, library lizard?  Now what if I told you there are different types of giftedness?  Would your answer change?  Today let’s talk about the nuances of giftedness, and how academic achievement ISN’T a guaranteed sign that someone is gifted.

Contrary to popular belief, a gifted person is not simply a smart person, or someone who did well in school. The word “gifted” is kind of an anemic, inexact word that (for some reason) we’ve all agreed to use to describe a very particular neurodivergence. 

Giftedness is not about what you know or how well you take tests.  The gifted brain processes information differently than everyone else’s brains.  We actually interact with the world more deeply.  Our brains notice more detail, process incoming information faster, and make connections and synthesize all that information more quickly. So we see more, we realize what we’re seeing faster, and we connect all the dots more quickly to come up with deeper conclusions and out of the box solutions. 

But, gifted people are not a monolith. We’re not all the same, and we’re not all really good at every possible thing someone could be good at.  We have a general capability to understand quickly, then we each use that capability in combination with our own specific skills and talents to excel in certain areas – but not ALL the areas.  So it’s possible to be gifted, but not academically successful, or gifted, but not a great painter, or not good at math, and on and on.  

Let’s use athletic talent as an example to understand the nuances here.  Athletic talent can also be described as being more physically coordinated than other people.  People with this capability have better control over their bodies than the rest of us – their hand-eye coordination is better, their balance is better, their muscles fire faster.  But this general capability doesn’t automatically make them good at every possible athletic activity.  A person who’s a naturally talented basketball player will not necessarily also be a talented figure skater and an elite mountain climber.  Within the larger category of “athletic talent,” each person also has specific skills that allow them to excel in specific areas, but not ALL the areas.  So for example, someone who’s very tall and thin can use their athletic talent to become a world-class marathon runner, but they are not also going to automatically be able to become an Olympic power lifter.  It’s not an across the board thing – it’s a baseline talent that when combined with other aspects of your mind and body, can take you in a variety of directions. 

So, to apply that logic to giftedness, a person who has that special type of intensely perceptive brain that interacts with the world more quickly and more deeply MAY end up using that skill for high academic achievement, but that’s not how EVERY gifted person will manifest that capability. 

There are somewhere between five and eight different types of giftedness, depending on which expert you believe.  Dabrowski calls his types “hypersensitivities” and his list includes intellectual, emotional, sensory, psychomotor and imaginational giftedness.  Gardner calls his categories “multiple intelligences” and he includes verbal, logical, spatial, kinesthetic, musical and interpersonal intelligence, along with some squishy extra categories for naturalist and existential intelligence, which have met with a lot of pushback.  There are a number of other experts who’ve also weighed in, but there’s no commonly accepted consensus, so for the purposes of today’s discussion, I’ve grouped some of the similar categories together, just so we can get an overview of the directions giftedness can go in. 

Most gifted people will have one primary type of giftedness and maybe one or two secondary types, but there is no one who has all the types.

 

1. Intellectual giftedness – The first type of giftedness is the most well-known, the intellectual/academic expression of the intensely perceptive brain.  These are people with an intense “need to understand,” people who are driven to search for answers and meaning in the world around them.  Folks with this type of giftedness are avidly curious, fierce concentrators, and earnest problem-solvers.  They love thinking about thinking, they’re fascinated by theories and facts, they instinctively question how things work, and they always want to know why. These folks are also very, very logical.   Intellectual giftedness is not the same as intelligence, however.  Intelligence is a measure of the body of knowledge that you hold in your head, while intellectual giftedness is a method of thinking and an enjoyment of learning.  So you can ​actually see this type of giftedness in young children who haven’t learned much yet.  AND, intellectual giftedness doesn’t automatically equate to academic success, because as we know, schools are tricky places where tests don’t always test what they’re meant to assess, and peer pressure and underachievement and home life can come into play, so intellectual giftedness and academic success don’t automatically go hand in hand.  Keep that in mind … grades are not the best predictor of giftedness.  Good examples of intellectually gifted people you might know are Marie Curie and Stephen Hawking.

2. Creative giftedness – The second type of giftedness is the creative / artistic / imaginative type.  People with creative giftedness have very vivid imaginations and can generate waterfalls of ideas at the drop of a hat. They’re like idea factories. These folks design complicated and innovative inventions, they have vivid and original dreams (that they can recall in detail), they’re natural storytellers and frequently use metaphors in their discussions, and they tend to have a very clever sense of humor.  They may daydream or retreat to their favorite imaginary world when they’re bored, or they may prefer the company of fictional friends to real life people. They’re also spectacular problem-solvers, because their creativity allows them to dream up unusual, out of the box solutions.  Some creatively gifted people include Leonardo DaVinci and Walt Disney.

3. Verbal giftedness – The third type of giftedness is the verbal communication type.  Verbally gifted folks are extremely articulate and persuasive, as you would expect, and they have a natural sense of how to get their point across very precisely.  They differ from the creative folks in that their medium is words – they love reading, they love languages, vocabulary, wordplay and puns, and they craft their communication as opposed to just letting thoughts spill out.  Their medium is the word.  Verbally gifted people often also have a strong memory for words, phrases, and details, and can easily recall quotes, passages, or specific language patterns. This kind of giftedness can sometimes be secondary to creative giftedness, and you see that in people like author l JK Rowling, or it can be its own primary type of giftedness, as you’d see in a talented orator like Barack Obama, or speechwriters or translators.

4. Sensory giftedness – The fourth type of giftedness is the sensory type.  People with sensory giftedness are intensely tuned in to what they can feel, see, hear, smell and taste, to the point where they can sometimes get distracted by their own senses. This type of giftedness is strongly linked to the high sensitivity that characterizes most gifted people (so it’s a common secondary type), but it’s expressed physically more than emotionally. Folks with sensory giftedness can become amazing chefs, for example, because they can taste subtle differences and instinctively know how to combine new flavors, or they may become fantastic sculptors or musicians, or wine sommeliers, or visual artists.  You’ll also often find people with synesthesia in this category as well. Synesthesia is an unusual phenomenon when a person will experience two senses at the same time … like seeing colors when listening to music, or seeing shapes when smelling certain odors, or perceiving tastes when looking at words. Synesthesia itself is not a predictor of giftedness, but many people with sensory giftedness also have synesthesia. Some people with sensory giftedness include David Bowie and Temple Grandin.

 

5. Emotional giftedness – The fifth type of giftedness is the emotional type. Emotionally gifted people are defined by their passion.  They feel all the feelings from one end of the spectrum to the other, from absolutely ecstatic to desperately distressed.  Everything is a big deal, from happiness, to anxiety, to loneliness, to concern for others.  And sometimes these folks are described as “overreacting,” but they’re actually intensely empathetic. They feel exactly what everyone else feels, so at times it seems like they’re channeling other people, or reading minds.  They can identify so closely with the feelings of others that they may cry just because they see someone else crying.  Emotionally gifted people understand how to connect with other people to an intense degree, and you’ll see them excel in the fields of healthcare and psychotherapy, but also in the areas of drama, animal care, and even writing.  There are a lot of ways to express emotional connection, and some emotionally gifted people you might know include Maya Angelou, Jane Goodall and Princess Diana. 

 

6. Social giftedness – The sixth type of giftedness is the social type.  People with this type of giftedness are often described as having magnetic charisma, and they often become popular leaders because they instinctively know what other people want and they know exactly how to connect with them – what to say and how to say it – to make other people feel seen.  So there’s some overlap here with emotional giftedness, which is understanding other people very well, and with verbal giftedness, which is communicating ideas very well, but people with social giftedness have the extra element of charm which endears them to other people and makes their message irresistible.  And this type of giftedness can be used for good, when it manifests in someone like Oprah, who has made a career out of encouraging people to live their best lives, or it can be used for more nefarious purposes, when it appears in someone who is lacking a conscience, like a cult leader or a politician who is driven by the need for power rather than the need to serve.  

So to recap, we have the thinkers, the idea generators, the communicators, the physical sensors, the emotional sensors, and the people connectors. 

Now let’s go back to the question I asked you at the beginning of this post. Which one is the gifted one: Harry, Ron or Hermione?  Well, turns out all three of them are displaying giftedness in different ways.  I’m going to crown Hermione with the intellectual giftedness label, because she’s clearly a thinker with an intense need to understand how things work, and I’m also going to include Ron in that category as well. Surprised? If you remember, despite his lackluster academic record, it turns out he’s a champion chess player, which makes him the perfect example of a very logical intellectually gifted person whose gifts aren’t reflected in his schoolwork.  Harry, on the other hand, I’m going to say is creatively gifted, because his innate strength is creative problem-solving on the fly.   How many scrapes has he gotten himself into, only to save himself at the last minute with some clever, daring action? Giftedness comes in a lot of interesting packages!

 

So those are the six types of giftedness that all fall under the umbrella of the intensely perceptive brain. As I mentioned, you can show signs of more than one type, but normally there will be one area in which you excel (sometimes complemented with one or two others).  I’d love to hear in the comments whether this list has changed your view of your own giftedness, and whether there are other types of giftedness you think should be added to this list.   

And if you’re struggling with being a gifted adult, whether you’re frustrated with the path you’re on, or you’re bored or marginalized at work, or you feel like you never reached the level of success you expected a gifted person should reach,  I’d like to invite you to join my private Facebook group. Wayfinders is a supportive online community of former gifted kids who are all trying to find a path where our gifts and passions align with our purpose. 

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