Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Optimum Intelligence: My Experience as a Too Gifted Adult...

by Carolyn K.

This week is Parenting Gifted Children Week, thanks in large part to SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) . One thing I've noticed is that gifted kids tend to grow up to be gifted adults. Yes, I'm talking about you, ducking in the back, blaming your spouse for the kids' giftedness, and you, at your desk, arguing that you were gifted as a child, but now you're a regular adult. While we may grow and learn up to hide our gifts, moderate our speech and vocabulary, hopefully find places to work with folks more like ourselves, and generally "look" normal, we are still what we are: gifted adults. And in parenting my gifted kids, I've learned a lot about adult giftedness, about friendship, and about myself.

The original question asked, "In the book, Guiding the Gifted Child, by Webb, Meckstroth, and Tolan, the authors suggest that there is such a thing as optimum intelligence (OI). They state that this "OI" is between 125 and 145 IQ and that most of our "cultural leaders" probably have IQ's in that range, They are thinking that IQ's above that range probably alienate that person from his peer group / society."

One response assumed, "... by the time a person becomes an adult, he or she understands about different types of giftedness & has learned to make friendships without discrimination. I disagree with the assumption that society rejects extremely gifted individuals. Many gifted adults reject society long before society is ever given a chance to make amends for their childhood!" 

I disagree...

Long before I read "Guiding the Gifted Child" or any other book on gifted, or knew anything about levels of giftedness, or had kids... I worked. I work in a place where most of my co-workers are gifted, if not all. Software and hardware engineering tends to attract people like that. Worse, within a few short years I was asked to join a group that some people teasingly called "the unmanageables." Take your choice: either we didn't need management, or we wouldn't take management. It seemed to me a little of both. 

Meanwhile, I just did my job. I was low man (so to speak :-) on the totem pole. I got some of the less glamorous jobs in the projects. But I did them with the same effort that I applied to everything I did (OK, this often meant messing around while others were getting up to speed, but then finishing ahead and winning awards I didn't think I deserved... Impostor Syndrome is another subject entirely).

In return, some of my peers were good friends. As I had kids and they started into the educational system with problems, some understood. Others listened, but explained that their kids were nowhere near as smart as my kids. Knowing their parents, I wasn't convinced, but perhaps they are right. I still don't know. And still others ... well, I'm not sure how to describe what happened. 

Even in this place where literally everyone is gifted, I became an outcast without trying. The only other two women, both moms of kids around my older child's age, just couldn't imagine what I was dealing with or talking about.  But I didn't realize that, not at first. 

At first they thought I was making it up (thankfully, there was another older woman in the next department, who started handing me articles and materials on raising profoundly gifted (PG) children, back before I even knew what PG was - I still don't know how she knew - but I thanked her often, later, and I am still thankful for Jane in my life and my work). Later people thought I was "pushing" my children. I even had one mom from another department ask how I managed to teach my child math at age 3 - 4. I'm afraid I had a pretty blank look when she asked - I didn't teach my child - she just knew!  And I didn't realize that all children didn't just know!

In short order, it became clear that other moms were allowed to talk about their kids, but my kids were not to be discussed in this place. And no, I'd never had any trouble making friends before. 

At the same time, a few of the men made some snide comments when our group was asked to work with another group on a project. I did my research, and knew my assigned areas going into meetings. We were all supposed to do that. But not everyone did, or ever really knew their subject, or their audience - their customers. And I got comments, to my face, like "you know too much about everything." No man ever told a man that at the conference table, even the very bright ones - they were complimented on their knowledge - but I was called out. I started to shut down and hide what I knew in meetings, on business topics, too.

Worse, I was also a teacher. I was often called on to create classes when there was a need. Sometimes the classes were on topics I didn't already know. But no problem, I'd just learn it and write the class, and then teach it. And co-workers, managers, secretaries, everyone raved about my classes and my teaching. Again, I won awards - these I thought I deserved - well, most of them - I'd usually worked hard to make the class right for the audience.

But this, too, made two things happen: 1) students (co-workers) would call me anytime, interfering with my job, to answer and support them on topics related to my classes. And 2) people felt I knew everything, knew too much. It was not appreciated.

Now perhaps there is something I was doing wrong. I certainly changed what I was doing after these things happened: I stopped talking about my kids at work, entirely. I stopped volunteering information at meetings, to some degree. And I stopped working with some people... what was the point? They just wanted to hear what I knew to pick on me for knowing it. 

I was still called on by people all over the company, from management down, to solve problems. But I no longer interacted with most of the people I worked with in a social fashion. I even avoided the lunchroom and walking trail. I tend to avoid pain, and these places were often the sites of painful conversations, where I could only listen, and my speaking up was outside the boundaries of "normal." I stopped running to the local kids stores with the women at lunch. And I even stopped running to the computer stores with the men at lunch.

Here, in a haven for gifted people.

It was worse in the neighborhood. The neighborhood pediatrician pointed out (at least she was pleasant!) that my kids and I were way above the doctors she trained with, at least most of them. There were a few, she was always envious, and everyone knew who they were... And she was my closest peer in the neighborhood; I had to guard my words with everyone else. Talking about my kids, and their needs, or worse, their accomplishments, was totally off base. 

We're in a new neighborhood now, and things are mostly better. Again, a doctor lives here, and he and his wife "get it." But he has recently joined the practice we use (it is not comfortable having your neighbor as your doctor, I can tell you, but he's the brightest guy I know, and more and more of the neighbors are seeing him as their physician. Why give up the smartest doctor I’ve ever met?  And the other doctors in the practice sometimes talk to me to get information on gifted children, when they run into a child who is being teased to the point of abuse due to their intellectual differences from other children, or other situations. 

The rest of the neighbors accept that our kids are different, but they still accept them... and I'm allowed to talk about them at Ladies Night Out, just like everyone else.  And there's only one neighbor pushing me to tell my daughter's SAT scores, so that she can "prove" my child is smarter than her.  I haven't shared those scores, even though I'd love to brag, "Hey, my child made SET!"  And worse, that neighbor may be one of the smartest people in the neighborhood, another engineer, with a profoundly gifted brother... but that's another story.

Between these years, before I moved to this new neighborhood, I met other people with kids like my kids, initially through the On-Line Support community for gifted families on the Internet. It was with them I could finally talk about my kids and their needs.  It was with them that I finally learned to understand the Impostor Syndrome that I was suffering from as an adult. And it was there that I found my first “best girl friend” since elementary school.

Perhaps my experiences are unique; perhaps not. I don't know my IQ, to know if it falls in that Optimum Intelligence range. But I suspect not. The results Webb, Meckstroth, and Tolan, and others, describe, did in fact happen to me, as an otherwise happy adult.  Without any pre-conceived notions of optimum IQ, or a "chip" on my shoulder.  They just happened, as soon as I had kids.

It is easy to say that I should have learned by now to make "friendships without discrimination." I think I have. But what is a friendship when I cannot reciprocate?  I cannot talk about my kids, while the other person can; I cannot talk about my concerns, my daily struggles, my life, while the other person can. Friendships are based on common interests. My children are a big part of my life, as they are for most parents. If we cannot share that common interest, because my children fall outside of someone else's comfort zone, then... what is there to base a friendship on?

As for leadership, again, people consider my children when considering me. I was declined as a Girl Scout leader by our service unit because of who my child was. No other reason. My husband and I were black-balled right along with our child, without our even knowing or realizing until nearly a year later, when our child was suddenly prohibited from scouting.

Our child is back in scouts now, in a different troop, in another school, where they appreciate her... well, at least they appreciate the money she brings in as high cookie sales person every year, though they never mention it (I learned recently that they do talk about it amongst themselves). And my youngest is in a troop, in yet another school, where the leaders appreciate us both... she is high cookie sales scout and I am cookie mom. But I'm not sure I'm appreciated by the other parents for knowing the way the badges are supposed to be positioned on the vests - didn't anyone else read that? The placement is in the book, and came drawn on the tag. Again, I know too much. I remember too much. I learn too quickly. I make people uncomfortable. And it is hard to hide these things. I try. But it is hard to spend your life hiding...

The people you list as brilliant and respected - Einstein, ... I agree. But how many of them were respected in their lifetimes? I'm not very concerned about how people feel about me after I'm dead. I need to live now. I need friends now. I need people to talk to about my whole life, not just little pieces that I find are safe to discuss. I need to have true friends, just like my kids.  And I've learned, mostly by accident, that it is easier to find those friends among folks with similar IQs.  Even if they don't know their IQ, as I don't know mine.

But whatever my IQ is, it doesn't seem to be an optimum IQ...

"Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate to others the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible . . . If a man knows more than others, he becomes lonely."  Jung, 1989, p. 356.

"Have no friends not equal to yourself." Confucius


I eventually did find a peer group, where I can talk openly, without guarding my words, where I can share things about my kids, and even brag once in a while, when something terrific happens.  And while I didn't intentionally search it out, I found this phenomenal peer group in an unusual place... on the Internet.

©2012 by Carolyn K.
May not be republished without permission.


  1. Dearest Carolyn. I love this. It is so much of my world too. Sometimes I feel so immature worrying about how my peers are reacting to me and what they are saying behind my back. The only time I feel like I can say whatever I want and people get it, are on the internet. Even teacher/parents of gifted kids(like myself) seem to look at me strangely, like why is she speaking up? I am so grateful for the resources and articles like this that make me feel like it's the rest of the world that doesn't get it and I feel at home. Thank you for sharing your experiences and feelings.

  2. Thanks April! I do understand. And welcome home!

    Have you looked around for a local gifted group for your kids, of course, but in the process you may find community for yourself...? Check Organizations, and scroll all the way down fro state and local groups. But know these aren't the only ones. Organizations

  3. Well said, Carolyn. I have so often wondered how much more I could accomplish if I wasn't always censoring my words and behaviors. It's like speaking a foreign language every day amongst foreigners. Every once in a while, you would need to speak your native tongue amongst others of a similar culture just to relax and feel at home. I have thankfully found a peer group among the parents of the children at my daughter's school. It is a private school for gifted children and it has been a godsend for not only her, but me as well.

  4. Carolyn, Thank you for writing this article. It is sure to become a classic. It is wonderful to know someone who understands! We need to move to your neighborhood...