Why Gifted Adults May Not Have Been Identified During Childhood

One of the characteristics of giftedness is the ability to think in different ways and at a high level.

Ways of thinking fall into two basic categories – visual spatial (in images) and auditory sequential (in logical order).  The easiest way to understand these concepts are to remember that when we look at a picture (visual) we see the whole thing (spatial), and when we listen to words (auditory) we hear them one after another (sequential).

A lot of gifted adults are good at using both of these kinds of thinking. When it comes to surviving in school, since a lot of the time we are listening to the teacher talk, we do well because our auditory processing carries us through.  We are more likely to be identified as gifted because our marks are high and we participate enough in class to be visible.

But there is another kind of gifted adult who excels in thinking like those in the first group do,  but who leans much more heavily on the visual spatial thinking side than on the auditory sequential side.  This kind of gifted person may actually struggle in school on many occasions because he or she is always looking for and finding the big picture in his or her learning.  (Think of the person who absolutely knows the answer to a complex question in a short amount of time but has a hard time telling you the steps he or she followed to arrive at the answer.)  These people respond much better to visual cues, and since school usually offers pictures and visual activities much less often than speaking and listening activities, this kind of gifted adult’s brilliance can easily get swept under the carpet.

As described in the article I Think in Pictures, You Teach in Words the very dominant visual spatial gifted person often has characteristics like the following:

  • Likes complex ideas and tasks and does well on them, yet often fails at simple things
  • Is physically sensitive, often has acute hearing and intense reactions to loud noises
  • Has difficulty finishing tasks/school work
  • Has poor handwriting or difficulty keeping in the lines, or grips the pen very hard and presses on the paper when writing
  • Loves Lego, puzzles, jigsaws, computer games, television, making things
  • Likes art and/or music
  • Has a poor sense of time
  • Is extremely sensitive to criticism
  • Is emotionally very sensitive
  • Has difficulty with spelling/times tables
  • Can remember the way somewhere after going there only once
  • Has a vivid imagination and/or disturbing dreams
  • Is distracted
  • Is very disorganised
  • Has poor listening skills and often seems not to be listening

With all of these tend-not-to-be-so-successful-in-school traits, these highly visual spatial people are still definitely gifted.  Their gifts just don’t fit into a standard school situation.

So if you’re wondering if you’re actually gifted since you so often can’t easily give the ‘right’ answer (like sequential people do) because you see that there can be a multitude of answers achieved in many different ways (as spatial people see), you may truly be very gifted after all.

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  • Hélène B.

    ok. and now what?
    I know that I fit in this description 97% and i m actually starting to think in working in the big data field to do data visualisation because since a while it has been attractive to me. but otherwise, once you have the diagnosis, what does it change for me in my everyday life?

    I’ll still feel ill-fitted and have issues getting organised. i believe an article about how to live with it could be helpful.

  • Garry Blinch

    I also see myself in about 95-97% of the above. It is a great relief to start to understand why i have felt like an outsider with my brothers & sister and why I struggle so much to fit in. I have learned to fit in in social situations but I feel incredibly lonely.