Gifted Adults from an Elder’s Perspective

    We did not hear the word gifted as a child. We thought we were odd. Even as we age, it is difficult to say aloud, ‘I am a gifted adult.’ We realize the differences in our reasoning, but mostly in our feelings. When loved ones hurt, we feel physical pain. A breathtaking sunset brings tears to our eyes. We lie awake at night, wishing we could set things right in the world. We labor to internalize the wisdom of Candide to tend our own garden; and, when we do so, it is with an intensity that could ignite the universe.

 An Elder’s Perspective

   I wrote the words above shortly before my 70th year as part of a SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) initiative to share different perspectives on giftedness from different authors in the field. Five years later, much has happened in my life (an only grandchild, struggle with cancer, a new career). I look back on my words, which remain a confirmation that it is the reality of being a gifted adult that brings a heightened intensity to the perspective and the courage we draw upon to face life’s maladies and victories. Do you feel that way too?

    My friend and mentor, Annemarie Roeper, never ceased to remind us of emotional giftedness as the heart of this psychological construct that we call gifted. When we performed qualitative assessments together, she consistently looked for the emotional richness of the child, which she believed was the key to the individual’s level of giftedness. The deeper and more intense the emotional facets, the more gifted the child.

    In childhood we note that the complexity of intellect in gifted children is most often accompanied by a depth and intensity of emotions. When I entered the field as a resource teacher for gifted students in the early 1980’s, it was commonly believed by parents and educators that individuals grow out of giftedness. In the middle or high school years, most schools melded previously identified gifted students with other highly functioning students in honors or Advanced Placement programs. I considered the administrators in our school district as visionary when they created a position for a resource teacher for grades seven through twelve intending that the gifted receive qualitatively different learning experiences. More recently, we are expanding the literature in the field to include gifted adults, and yes, even gifted elders. Giftedness is a lifelong phenomenon.

They Come Back

    A few days ago, my five year-old grandchild fell asleep in my arms while I was reading to him – the first time this has happened in a long while as he no longer naps on a regular basis. I treasured that moment with an intensity that I still feel physically as a warmth in my chest that then spreads through the body. Moreover, I will continue to treasure that sweet experience as I tuck it into my mental memory box of life’s special moments

    The intensity I felt both physically and emotionally as I sat with a sleeping child reminds me that they come back. “They Come Back: Overexcitabilities in Older Adults,”  was the title of a presentation a colleague and I gave on intensities in later adulthood several years ago. In the talk, we shared our belief that as we enter adulthood, many gifted individuals may develop filters, such as coping skills, that soften our intensities and help us to navigate a world in which our intensities are not understood. As we age, it is my experience and my research is demonstrating, the filters dissolve and we begin to experience intensities with a renewed vigor. 

I Do What I Am

    I recently heard a quote, attributed to Freud, “I do what I am,” which resonated strongly in my thinking.  “Yes!” I told self, “That is my professional trajectory as well.” In my thirties, when I began the journey of giftedness in education, I studied, wrote, and presented on best educational practices for gifted students. In my forties, I progressed into a doctoral program in educational psychology with a specialization in giftedness and my studies opened my mind to my own giftedness. Thus, my dissertation focused on gifted females. In my fifties and sixties I was a college professor who wrote and taught about the psychology of the gifted. Now, in my seventies, I study and advocate for gifted elders. I do what I am.

Things I wish I knew back then

In my next post, we will continue to explore gifted elderhood as part of the next Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop, Things I wish I knew back then.


Navan, J. (2013). 100 Words of Wisdom: Joy Navan. 

Photo: Post by Dagmar Luhringova on Flickr (Public Domain).

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This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page May 2018 Blog Hop on Gifted Adults. I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page for their inspiration, support, and suggestions over the  decades. You can see blogs of others here.

9 thoughts on “Gifted Adults from an Elder’s Perspective

  1. I not only appreciate this post and its perspective, Joy, but it zapped me personally with a sudden understanding of the place where I happen to be in my life–where everything is intensified all over again. Same place on the lifespan, and yes–the intensities comes back!


  2. I am seventy this year and, although I know myself a lot better these days, I still continue to experience emotions in an extreme way. I had anxiety attacks for months before and after said birthday, for example. That you for reminding me that we will always have strengths and weaknesses and they are often the same thing.


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