My Grayson

IQ remains remarkably unchanged

Once we reach the age of eight, IQ is a very stable psychometric measure, remaining remarkably unchanged as people shift from gifted children into gifted adults. Outside of traumatic injuries or experiences of tremendous stimulation deprivation, it is just a stubborn thing that doesn’t tend to move very much. 

Even if you’re not a huge fan of IQ tests, per se, it seems intuitive to believe that people’s intellectual abilities don’t change significantly—there just aren’t commonly-heard anecdotes about people who struggled in school suddenly becoming college professors, just as there aren’t any of people who were once brilliant but now have only average intelligence (outside of Daniel Keyes’s “Flowers for Algernon,” which includes both such dynamics). It stands to reason, then, that as we grow up, we generally become… more of who we were to begin with. 

Where, then, do all the gifted children go? There are millions of them in programs all over the country and around the world, but just as all successful people are not intellectually gifted, neither are all gifted people eminent and successful. What happens to them after they graduate from high school and from college? 

The answer is both simple and complicated: they become gifted adults, of course. 

What characterizes a gifted adult?

We have all met people who have tremendous intellectual firepower, and others who do not. That’s simply because the variability in intelligence that our teachers attend to in school (ideally) is also stable: kids who were fast learners become adults who are fast learners, generally speaking. 

Just as we have described gifted preschoolers as being inherently gifted long before schools identify them, gifted adults are simply what those children are when they grow up—sensitive, curious, intense, and often wildly insightful and funny. Also, of course, there is not one “type” of giftedness in adults, just as there is not in children. Some are gifted in math, while some have exceptional verbal abilities, others have extraordinary visuospatial skills, and still others have seemingly endless divergent thinking capacities. 

What gifted adults do seem to share, however, regardless of their passions, is their voracious appetite for intellectual challenge and discovery.  

Gifted adults in the wild

We know that giftedness doesn’t go anywhere once we reach adulthood. It’s still there, but the context around it is often so different that it may be harder to recognize: “I can’t quite do the same things I did when I was in my teens and twenties,” a Grayson parent, who grew up pushing intellectual and physical limits by downhill ski racing, says. “The riskiest stuff I do now is less likely to result in as much personal harm. But feeling fully alive and engaged has been a strong theme for my entire life.” Now employed in “a field that is pretty often thought of [as] taking care of the sickest of sick babies, I find that I am always intellectually challenged [and] surrounded by curious, creative, brilliant people.” 

Gifted adults benefit from this kind of birds-of-a-feather circumstance in which they are surrounded by people with similar educational attainment and similar skills and interests. With age comes the benefit of much more agency in their lives and the choice of what activities to pursue, including college and jobs thereafter. These choices necessarily put them in the company of people with either similar interests or skill levels; there is no longer a requirement for those who hate math to do math, much less for a prescribed number of minutes per day, just as those who love high risk/high reward situations may seek out similarly exhilarating professional opportunities.

Continuously seeking challenge

It is important to remember, though, that intellectual giftedness is not the same thing as achievement or high performance, whether we are talking about children or adults. Even among accomplished peers in careers that require complex thinking and problem-solving, a gifted adult may find that their whole gifted self is not entirely being well-fed — the programmer who also writes poetry or the salesperson who can while away whole afternoons tinkering in their garage may still need to look outside of their work environment to find the full measure of stimulation that their busy, hungry minds need.  

Another Grayson parent describes a childhood in which he “spent hours each day improvising on our upright piano, discovering new sounds and teaching myself how to notate them. My parents found me a composition teacher and I became even more obsessed. It wasn’t long until I was writing music that was being performed by professional musicians.” 

This parent graduated from Oberlin Conservatory with a degree in music composition, then “stopped composing and instead focused on something that could earn a salary–teaching.” The decision to backburner tremendous talent for practical purposes is one many creatively gifted adults must make, and figuring out how to nurture these gifts in spite of logistical challenges requires its own ingenuity: “I compose[d] in my spare time, during my lunch break or on summer break.” Now working and parenting full time, his “short bursts of time become even more productive out of necessity.”  

But, he says, “my children love to express themselves musically, and I’m able to share my passion with my family.”  

A gifted mind is not quieter or less interested in learning just because it no longer belongs to the body of a child or a teenager, and it is our job to foster our children’s talents so they feel confident to continue exploring them as they grow into gifted adults. 

A big part of my job is education, and I love finding ways to bring out curiosity again from the brilliant young doctors I am surrounded by. How can I light a fire of curiosity for this super special group of kids in the doctors in training around me? How can I help my colleagues teach these doctors even better?  Thinking about how Grayson creates such an incredible environment that encourages curiosity, and bravery, with incredible psychological safety, sets a bar for what I would love to create in the environments where I shape education at work. Still work to be done, but seeing it in living color unravel at my kids school everyday is an inspiration. 

— Grayson Parent

Learn more about The Grayson School Community

[1] Fagen, Robert.  (1981). Animal Play and Behavior.  Oxford University Press.  

[2] For more detail on this implicit social acculturation, see “Play and the Development of Social Engagement,” by Sergio M. & Vivien C. Pellis (in The Development of Social Engagement: Neurobiological Perspectives, Peter J. Marshall and Nathan A. Fox, eds., pp. 247-274.  Oxford University Press, 2005.)

[3] For the purposes of this article, the presumption is that “recess” means free time to play, not time to engage in structured, adult-directed activity, though those two ideas may not be interchangeable at all in some school settings.

[4] One article, “Recess in a Middle School: What Do the Students Do?” seemed promising but was disappointing: the county in which the students lived had “a policy against recess” (!), so most of the observed middle school students had never experienced recess before (pg. 230). As such, the observations about these students’ behaviors likely reflect middle school students learning how to use recess for the first time rather than how a student accustomed to daily recess behaves differently in middle school than in elementary school. Jarrett, O. S. & Duckett-Hedgebeth, M. (2003). Recess in a Middle School: What Do the Students Do? in Lytle, D. E. Play and educational theory and practice (pp. 227-242). Praeger Publishers.

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