There is a wonderful, probably reasonably obscure book by Rafael Sabatini called “Bellarion the Fortunate” where the intellectually gifted Bellarion is sent out into the world by his abbot because his reading and reason have lead him to believe – with the certainty of an intellectual who has read all the literature and thought hard about it in his convent – that evil and sin are a construct and do not exist.
“But to all the weapons of his saintly rhetoric Bellarion continued to oppose the impenetrable shield of that syllogism of his which the abbot knew at heart to be fallacious, yet whose fallacy he laboured in vain to expose. ” 
The book is not a treatise on the reality of good or evil, but an adventure book which ends with a very worldly Bellarion who is very much more aware of his fellow humans after leaving his ivory tower of thought.
But I am not writing today to talk about Bellarion and the nature of his discussions on good and evil. I am instead going to write about the work, so far, of Dr Clementine Beauvais, and her blog entries on ‘The Giftedness Project’ .
Much like Bellarion’s abbot, I do not expect to be able to make much of an impression on Dr Beauvais as she has her armour of academic credentials, and the raft of knowledge collected from many thousands of academics discussing ideas among themselves with little reference to the outside world, and that armour is very strong. She has also made clear that she is not interested in the reality of giftedness, which she believes to be largely a construct of society.
So how do we define whether an idea is a social construct? When does it cease to be a construction and start to be considered ‘real’? Using this kind of definition I could say that disability ‘doesn’t exist because it’s a social construct‘. If a child has trouble walking because they have cerebral palsy , is their disability a ‘social construct’? Or lets get very meta and say, if everyone had cerebral palsy and motor control problems, would that mean it then wasn’t a disability? How would our society look? Would we expect that all children are unable to climb and jump? And what of the children who happened to be born without cerebral palsy – would they be considered neuro-atypical because they desire to climb and jump? Does that somehow ‘make’ cerebral palsy a ‘social construct’ despite the vast amounts of medical and scientific research that says its a real and measurable condition with physiological and behavioural effects?
Or what if everyone had sensory sensitivities, just like gifted people, as explained by Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration and over excitabilities ? Such things as the inability to walk into shopping centres because of fluorescent lighting – can we say that isn’t a disability, because lighting in supermarkets, designed for neurotypical people is a ‘social construct’? That an inability to cope with loud noises is a ‘social construct’ because we live in a society that builds environments that are designed for less aurally sensitive people? That the inability to emotionally cope with news bulletins, emotionally-intense movies and witnessed social injustice is just a ‘social construct’ because our society doesn’t make allowances for emotional sensitivity? How about the need to be physically moving in order to think – in environments that expect thinking to be a sedentary activity?[See Note A]
These are real physiological conditions with real-life consequences for people who have to live with them – gifted people. Which is why the Columbus Group  use this definition for giftedness:
“Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching, and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.” 
which you can read about more extensively with the Columbus Group’s book, “Off the Charts: Asynchrony and the Gifted Child“
Of course, Dr Beauvais doesn’t leave it there, but goes on to assert that these ‘mythological’ gifted children have few mental or financial difficulties:
“Currently, it is fair to say, the consensus among researchers seems to be that children identified as ‘gifted’ are not more likely than average to have mental health issues either in childhood or in adulthood (there is some evidence that they are in fact less likely to). Furthermore, unsurprisingly, children identified as ‘gifted’ tend to do better financially in future life than ‘normal’ children.”
There are a number of longitudinal studies on gifted children:
- There is the one by Dr Lewis Terman, which followed a selected group of gifted children through to adulthood. A study, ground breaking in it’s day, but full of problems due to the fact that Terman’s criteria for selecting gifted children were biased (possibly based on his ideas about eugenics),
“ As a group, they were overwhelmingly white, urban and middle class. Nearly all lived in California.” 
He also had problems where his emotional attachment to his subjects undermined the scientific validity of his results :
“To the group he always called “my gifted children” — even after they grew up — Terman became mentor, confidant, guidance counselor[sic] and sometimes guardian angel, intervening on their behalf. In doing so, he crashed through the glass that is supposed to separate scientists from subjects, undermining his own data. But Terman saw no conflict in nudging his protégés toward success, and many of them later reflected that being a “Terman kid” had indeed shaped their self-images and changed the course of their lives.“
- But it is far more likely that Dr Beauvais is referring to the John Hopkin’s University Longitudinal Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth . Which on the surface seems like a less-biased study – unless you actually read the paper, rather than trusting to news articles and journalists’ reporting. This is because participants in the study were selected on the basis of SAT scores administered between the ages of 12 and 13. As the SAT is rarely given to children at age 12, the fact that the test was administered implies that there was someone, whether a parent, teacher or other adult mentor who ‘pushed’ for testing to be carried out. As sitting the SAT also generally requires a fee to be paid, but fee waivers are not applicable for students who are officially enrolled in grades lower than 9th grade , this condition implies that poor students without financial support and/or supportive home and school environments are at best going to be under-represented in the population sample.
All this leads to the me to conclude that we can’t actually say, as Dr Beauvais claimed, that “children identified as ‘gifted’ tend to do better financially in future life than ‘normal’ children.” because many of the most prestigious studies are either biased in their selection towards an initial higher socio-economic status, are biased in their methodologies, or biased towards subjects who have pro-active adults with financial means interested in their development.
“I’m extremely doubtful that there is to such and such task that (lucky them!) happen to be socially valued“ reality to the idea that some children are simply ‘born with’ ‘objective’ qualities that predispose them
Of course there is another disturbing narrative that is developed within Dr Beauvais’ work – though not explicitly developed on her blog – yet.
“I’ll write about ‘pushy parents’ another time, because it’s a very complex question.”
And that is the idea that ‘pushy parents’ create gifted children. If this sounds like a familiar narrative, that’s because it is – within the history of Autism research in the 20th Century.
During the 1950s, Dr Kanner observed that many mothers of children with characteristics that we would now describe as Autistic appeared to be emotionally distant and ‘insensitive’ to their children . This observation was expanded on by Dr Bettelheim, who concluded that Autism was ’caused’ by ‘refrigerator mother syndrome’ and insensitive mothers ‘created’ Autism in their children through their emotional unavailability. These theories have been completely discredited and today autism is a recognised disability that can be diagnosed with psychological test batteries, behavioural observations and fMRI scans. For more details, please consider reading Pediatrics Perspective Autism in 1959: Joey the Mechanical Boy, By Dr Baker .
There is extensive work being done on the ‘theory of brain’ as Dr Temple Grandin succinctly puts it in her book, ‘The Autistic Brain‘ , in which many of these behavioural characteristics are now, with the help of fMRIs, beginning to be causally linked to brain wiring. To paraphrase Temple Grandin, ‘It’s not in the mind, it’s in the brain’. Or possibly even in the genes.
For those less familiar with the field of profound giftedness and it’s links to autism and autistic behaviour, I’m going to recommend two studies – one is the case study,
“Profoundly Gifted Girls and Autism Spectrum Disorder, A Psychometric Case Study Comparison“ 
Which studies two girls, one profoundly gifted (PG), the other profoundly gifted with Autism (ASD). After being put through a battery of psychological, and behavioural tests, the only difference the specialists were able to find was within the ASD battery – the PG+ASD child had social isolation and social dysfunction, while the PG child had social isolation which looked like social dysfunction.
This was a small scale study in response to Dr J. Webb’s research on misdiagnosis of gifted children .
As well as these studies, there is the work Dr Joanne Ruthsatz  on the link between prodigy and Autism.
Her team is also currently working on finding genetic links and isolating potential gene clusters that are similar between prodigy and autistic populations .
Whether the genes linking these two conditions will be found is yet to be determined. But none-the-less, these studies in genetics, neurology and behavioural psychology rather undermine the idea that there is a ‘consensus’ of researchers who believe giftedness is a ‘social construct’.
- The people looking know what to look for in gifted poor populations
- You aren’t starting with the assumption that it’s socio-economic privilege and don’t bother looking in socio-economically deprived populations.
For more information, it’s worth reading the NAGC’s article on this topic, “Identifying and Nurturing the Gifted Poor“.
For an example of how this can be done right, I’m going to link to a little-known IQ test that is used in Australia called the Coolabah Dynamic test .
This test is designed to be able to identify gifted children within the Aboriginal populations in Australia. It has had to be carefully designed to overcome the cultural bias and the ‘forced-choice dilemma‘ in at-risk gifted populations. There are then two rounds of testing, separated by a period of remediation work to help students who have disadvantaged background and as a result may not test well on the first test.
These are the kind of tests that need to be created for disadvantaged minority communities if our society is to have a chance of finding and helping these children. Then we can start to implement invaluable programs such as the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME)  initiative in Victoria, which is designed to help gifted Aboriginal children find mentors in their field of interest who have also come from situations of disadvantage.
But these kind of tests, conversations and programs aren’t even being started in many places – because of dialogue and misrepresentation that giftedness is a sociological construct and that it only exists within advantaged populations And it’s this kind of muddled thinking that can do plenty of real world damage to vulnerable populations.
My hope is that Dr Beauvais actually reads and understands some of the scientific papers and initiatives I have presented here. That she has a good hard look at some of the assumptions about what giftedness looks like – not just in the literature, but also in her own head. Maybe even actually going to the effort of engaging in the real world; contacting parents, teachers and organisations that are engaged in helping gifted children, and actually going and meeting a few profoundly gifted children.
As she is in the UK, I am going to recommend she starts by contacting organisations such as:
With that knowledge, she may then be able to look at her research in a new light and, much like Bellarion, actually gain experience from walking around in the real world.
The first evidence of a genetic link between prodigy and Autism has been found by a team at Ohio University, lead by Dr. Joanne Ruthsatz . The researchers found both have shared genetic markers on chromosome 1. The results can be read in the Journal of Human Heredity,
“Molecular Genetic Evidence for Shared Etiology of Autism and Prodigy” by Ruthsatz et al . For those unable to access journals behind a firewall, Science Daily has done a brief summary of the results, “Autism and prodigy share a common genetic link” .
A. These OE characteristics are not uniformly present across the gifted spectrum, but most gifted children exhibit them to a greater or lesser degree. The higher an individual is on the gifted spectrum, the more frequent and intense these characteristics can become. The point at which these characteristics cease to be just characteristics and spill over into clinical disability is a question that has troubled parents and medical clinicians for quite some time. See  and  for further details.
GHF also has a large number of articles on ‘Are All Children Gifted?’. Please consider reading.
- Bellarion The Fortunate, R. Sabatini http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks13/1304051h.html
- The Giftedness Project (1): Popular conceptions of giftedness, Dr Clementine Beauvais http://www.clementinebeauvais.com/eng/2014/09/20/the-giftedness-project-1-popular-conceptions-of-giftedness/
- “Enhanced brain connectivity in math-gifted adolescents: An fMRI study using mental rotation“, J. Prescotta et al.
- “Mathematically gifted adolescents use more extensive and more bilateral areas of the fronto-parietal network than controls during executive functioning and fluid reasoning tasks“, M. Desco et al.
- “An fMRI study of nonverbally gifted reading disabled adults: has deficit compensation effected gifted potential?“, J. Gilger et al.
“Neural correlates of intelligence as revealed by fMRI of fluid analogies“, J. Geake et al.
- “Brains on Fire: The Multinodality of Gifted Thinkers”, by Brock Eide and Fernette Eidehttp://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/Neurosciences/articles/Brains%20on%20Fire/
- “What Brain Imaging Shows Us About Gifted Learners”, by Tamara Fisher http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/unwrapping_the_gifted/2010/02/what_brain_imaging_shows_us_ab.html
- “Cortex Matures Faster in Youth with Highest IQ” from the National Institute of Mental Healthhttp://www.nimh.nih.gov/news/science-news/2006/cortex-matures-faster-in-youth-with-highest-iq.shtml
“Intellectual ability and cortical development in children and adolescents“, P. Shaw et al.
- “Are we really that far from ‘normal’?”http://yellowreadis.blogspot.com.au/2014/06/are-we-really-that-far-from-normal.html
- “Overexcitability and the Gifted”, by Sharon Lindhttp://www.sengifted.org/archives/articles/overexcitability-and-the-gifted
- “The Columbus Group”, by the Gifted Development Center
- Off the Charts: Asynchrony and the Gifted Child, edited by by Christine S. Neville et al. http://www.amazon.com/Off-Charts-Asynchrony-Gifted-Child/dp/0898243807
- “The Giftedness Project (2). Giftedness and the (Un)happy Child”, by Dr Clementine Beauvaishttp://www.clementinebeauvais.com/eng/2014/10/25/the-giftedness-project-2-giftedness-and-the-unhappy-child
- The Vexing Legacy of Lewis Terman, By Mitchell Leslie, Stanford Alumnihttps://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=40678
- “Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth After 35 Years”, by D. Lubinski and C. Benbow
- “SAT Fee Waivers, What are they, and who is eligible?”http://sat.collegeboard.org/register/sat-fee-waivers
- “Parenting Children that don’t exist”, by Dr Doresa, AKA DAJeduhttp://youtu.be/KVy5m9gZRhs?list=UUWJAZEPQHt53zErrQxFudIA
- “Pediatrics Perspective Autism in 1959: Joey the Mechanical Boy”, by Dr J. Baker
- “The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum”, by Dr Temple Grandinhttp://www.amazon.com/The-Autistic-Brain-Thinking-Spectrum/dp/0547636458
- “Profoundly Gifted Girls and Autism Spectrum Disorder, A Psychometric Case Study Comparison” by S. Assouline, et al.
- “Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children”, by J. Webb et al.
- Dr Joanne Ruthsatz, The Ohio State University at Mansfield
- “Child prodigy: A novel cognitive profile places elevated general intelligence, exceptional working memory and attention to detail at the root of prodigiousness“, by J. Ruthsatz and J. Urbach
“Putting practice into perspective: Child prodigies as evidence of innate talent”, by J. Ruthsatz et al.
- “Identifying and Nurturing the Gifted Poor“ by P. Slocumb and R. Payne
- “Coolabah dynamic assessment: identifying high academic potential in at-risk populations“
by G. Chaffey and S. Bailey. from the book, “Diversity in Gifted Education: International Perspectives on Global Issues“
- “The pursuit of excellence or the search for intimacy? The forced-choice dilemma of gifted youth”, by M. Gross
- Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME)
- Potential Plus, UK
- Gifted Ireland
- British Mensa
- “Molecular Genetic Evidence for Shared Etiology of Autism and Prodigy”, by Ruthsatz et al.
- “Autism and prodigy share a common genetic link”, Science Daily