Giftedness 101 in Sweden

In May, Linda Silverman’s book, Giftedness 101, was translated into Swedish. This led to a flurry of articles in Swedish newspapers, psychology journals and online media. Here is one of the interviews that emerged from this new interest in Sweden.
Interview Questions for Linda Silverman from Asa Lantz, Swedish Journalist
February 2016
  1. You have been working with gifted children for very long. How come? 

    This is my life’s work. My calling. I have been passionate about this field since I was 17. I have always felt drawn to help others understand giftedness.

  2. Tell me about your own background. Were you a gifted child? Do you have someone talented in your nearest surrounding? 

    I was placed in Special Progress (gifted) classes in high school. I found the students in these classes fascinating. My interest stems from my own experience. 

    I started school young, as an early entrant to Kindergarten, and then was placed in the high track. In seventh grade, I was placed in the average track. I had no idea why. Another girl from the high track was placed in the average track as well. In the average track, I made lots of friends and didn’t have to work hard. I remember Ms. Andler yanking me by the arm in the hallway one day for talking, scolding me in front of everyone. She told me that I had been placed in the average track “as an example” for the others, and I was setting a bad example. That was how I learned why I had been moved. 

    In high school, college-bound students took 5 “solids”—difficult subjects. I petitioned to take 6. I was placed in the Special Progress classes in my sophomore year (2nd year of high school). When we took the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) in our junior year, I did not do well. I read slowly and often lost my place while reading. (I’m sure I needed vision therapy.) While many of my friends became National Merit Scholars as a result of that exam, I was once again kicked out of the gifted program. I had to petition to get into it in my senior year. I was glad I did. I took the most difficult Special Progress English course. We had to learn 250 vocabulary words every week. We had a weekly quiz on them. We had to write college-level research papers. We had to memorize long poems. We had to write essays and present them to the class. Very rigorous. After that course, I took the real Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and my Verbal score jumped over 100 points!! I ended up winning a New York State Regents scholarship. This experience was a catalyst for me. I realized that scores were not set in stone. They could be improved through study. After two years of teaching, I developed a Scholarship Preparation Course for gifted junior and senior high school students. At this time, most people believed that it was not possible to improve SAT scores by studying.

    I began college at Buffalo State Teachers College at the age of 17 and earned my undergraduate degree in 1961 in three years and three summers. I was teaching by the time I was 20. While I was in undergraduate school, I wrote all my papers on gifted children or gifted education. For geography, I wrote a paper on the comparison of gifted education in The United Kingdom and the U.S. My professor said it was an A paper, but it had nothing whatsoever to do with geography!

    I was married in 1960 at the age of 19, and moved to California in 1962. I enrolled in a graduate program at San Fernando Valley State College with Dr. John Gowan, a leader in the area of counseling the gifted. When I was 22 years old, John Gowan hired me to become a demonstration teacher in a summer enrichment program for gifted children, teaching mathematics and science. I taught in the program for 10 summers. It was hard to be taken seriously at 22! I was demonstrating to teachers twice my age.

  3. Has the approach to the gifted changed during this time? If yes, how?

    When I was growing up, we had tracking. The brighter students were placed in the high track. Average students were in the middle track. Poor students were in the low track. In high school, we were tracked into college preparatory programs and vocational education programs. 

    I finished high school in what is called “the Sputnik era.” The Russians launched Sputnik, beating the Americans to outer space, which was considered a national disgrace. This gave birth to programs for the gifted all over America. My interest in the field was kindled during this movement. Children were accepted to programs on the basis of IQ tests only. They had to be in the top 1% or 2% (99th or 98th percentile).

    The flurry of interest in the gifted was short-lived in the United States. We did not make steady progress. Instead, it was a roller coaster ride. First, gifted were applauded, then they were completely neglected. This happened over and over again throughout my career. Sometimes, I remained a steadfast lone voice in a field that had disappeared.

    Today, IQ testing is not popular. Multiple intelligences took center stage for awhile. Many leaders define giftedness as high achievement or potential for high achievement. 

  4. Children who are introverted, girls, and the second eldest child in a family are more likely to be missed as gifted. Why? And children in the countryside?

    Introverts, girls, second children, children from rural environments (the countryside) are more likely to hide their abilities to fit in with others and be accepted. Extraverts, males, firstborns, and urban children seem to take more risks and garner more attention.

  5. We should not search for the gifted children via ”talent competitions.” Instead we should look in shops where they sell Lego.

    Talent competitions locate competitive children. There are many noncompetitive gifted children who have no interest whatsoever in winning competitions. Children who play with LEGOs do it for their own intrinsic enjoyment. They are not competing; they are challenging themselves to see what they can create FOR THEMSELVES. It is not for someone else’s approval. We watched an interesting new movie the night before last, “Beautiful Young Minds,” about contestants in the Math Olympiad. Two of the most gifted children left the competition. Competitive children often are not as empathic as noncompetitive ones. Highly gifted children tend to be empathic. Competition fits a lower level of giftedness.

  6. Men and women tend to look at giftedness in different ways. How?

    Definitely. Men are more achievement oriented. They are judged by their productivity. They are more competitive. Homemakers, usually mothers, are the caretakers who notice their child’s emotions, social connections (or lack of them), developmental advancement, curiosity, and other characteristics of giftedness. Strangely, in recent years some women have endorsed the achievement orientation to giftedness. There are many reasons for this. Some of them work with older students who were discovered in Talent Search programs. Some are studying a more achievement-oriented population. Some are very hard working, high achievers themselves and value hard work. Some primarily work with the gifted in school settings and perceive gifted children through the context of productivity. I work with mothers—many of whom have given up their careers in order to devote themselves to their children. I see gifted children very much like the mothers see their children. Mothers see inherent differences in the development of their children and they become worried that their children will not fit in and that they will suffer. 

  7. How do parents cope with the new myths about the talented?

    Many parents become confused by the mixed messages in the media, in their families, in their cultures, and in the field of gifted education. Some feel the need to push their children to work harder. I feel that parents need to become their children’s advocates. I am very child-centered.

  8. To be very different can be hard. How does one help?

    Appreciation of differences, of individuality, is the best way to help. 

  9. To be seen as gifted you often have to be successful. So - you may have been a gifted child but when you grow up - not being successful - what happens then?

    Giftedness is not success. It is not the potential for success. It is when these two concepts are confused that people are emotionally damaged. Gifted individuals who are raised to succeed in a competitive environment and do not reach the level of success as adults that they set for themselves or others set for them become disillusioned, bitter, insecure, unhappy people who brand themselves as failures. I find the equation of giftedness with success destructive. I wrote a blog about this, “The Right to Struggle.”

  10.  A gifted person may have problems making decisions, because he/she sees all possible consequences of every choice. How can that person be helped?

    This is very complex. When an individual sees so many ways to be wrong and very few ways to be right, decision-making is painful. Therapy may help. I do an exercise where I ask the person to think of a situation that is worrisome, then think of the worst possible outcome. I have them place that image in their non-dominant hand and make a fist to make sure it remains there safely. Then I have them imagine the best possible outcome and to place that image in their dominant hand and make a fist. Then I have them clap their hands together in the middle of their body and picture an outcome that is neither the best nor the worst, but something in between. I ask if they could live with that outcome. Most of them say yes.

  11. Explain ”Who do you want me to be today?”

    Gifted people who are pleasers (many of them are) want to make everyone happy with them. They turn themselves inside-out, mirroring other people’s reactions, personalities, ideas and language in attempts to gain acceptance. This is often at the expense of understanding their own feelings.

  12. To be a parent of a gifted child is often hard. Maybe you have to fight both with the school, and with your child…

    Yes, parenting the gifted is very difficult. Parents often do end up fighting with both the school and the child. They turn into the “Homework Enforcer,” trying to get the child to capitulate to the school’s demands. Some parents give up and homeschool their children. This may ease the tensions between the parent and the child. It is very important to continue to believe in the child and to offer unconditional love to the child, regardless of the child’s performance in school.


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