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How far are gifted people from the norm on the intelligence spectrum? (Counselling Articles)

I sometimes talk about how far gifted individuals are from the norm when I meet with my gifted clients. I will share that “giftedness,” which is at the high end of the intelligence spectrum, is as far from the norm as is “Intellectual Developmental Disorder,” which is at the low end of the intelligence spectrum. Intellectual Development Disorder used to be referred to as Mild Mental Retardation in the diagnostic manual used by psychologists, which is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Text-Revised, 4th Edition, also referred to as the DSM-IV-TR.

Giftedness is defined as having an IQ in the top 2.5% of the population when assessed using standardized tests such as the WAIS (Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale). A diagnosis of Intellectual Developmental Disorder is made when a person’s intelligence is assessed to be in the lowest 2.5% of the population using the same tests.

These two extremes of the distribution on the intelligence spectrum make up almost 5% of the population. Telling my gifted clients they are as far from the middle of the intelligence spectrum, or “the norm,” as those with Intellectual Developmental Disorder gives them a framework that allows them to see their differences from a completely new perspective.

The farther away an individual is from the middle of the intelligence spectrum in either direction, the greater that individual’s psychological differences are from the norm. Perhaps not surprisingly, the farther an individual is from the norm in either direction, the less often they will be able to find others like themselves.

Alienation from the norm, or social exclusion, is a serious risk for both the gifted and for those with Intellectual Developmental Disorder. Gifted individuals likely feel this exclusion more intensely, however, because they are more aware of how they are perceived. Read more about how gifted children struggle in classrooms.

Gifted individuals that are aware of their differences from their peers often struggle to form a meaningful sense of identity, to derive meaning from their experiences, and to form connections with others. For example, despite a gifted individuals efforts to to try and fit in, it is often difficult for someone with average abilities to completely comprehend a gifted person’s sense of humour or vocabulary.

Another example of when it may become difficult for a gifted individual to fit in can occur when that gifted individual applies for a job, but is not hired because they are perceived to be ‘too intelligent.’

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Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta

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