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Does Giftedness Decline with Age?

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I am actually not the parent but the child, wondering about her own identification. I would greatly appreciate your time for any insightful answers to a couple of questions/things I am unsure of.

I had been identified as gifted by my school district early on in elementary school but I do not know my score nor have an idea of what to expect to be the extent of my abilities.

Now, in high school, I have begun to doubt my giftedness for some inexplicable reason and there are a few things I would like to know more about:

  • Is it normal to feel like you're 'plateauing' at a certain age? When I was younger I could remember events and stories with great accuracy and connect things that I saw with other things that I learned, but now it doesn't seem like I do that as much any more.

  • If so, will the 'plateauing' pass and will I be able to use my mind with the confidence I had before? (I apologize if that question was a bit unclear)

  • Is it normal to be identified as a 'bright' or 'hard working' student if you're gifted? I have been called bright and talented and occasionally gifted, but the line between gifted and bright/talented seems to get fuzzier for me day by day. I used to never study for tests and rarely paid attention in class yet still got good scores, but I'm not so sure if that's still true now.

Thank you so much for your time Dr. Sandhu!

A: Very interesting query! I would think that if the school has identified you as being gifted, there should be provisions made to cater for your educational needs at school. I am sure you would be placed in a special program to enhance your gifts. Your query appears a little unclear but I'll try to answer based on my understanding of your letter. I believe you mean that as you are growing older, you feel as if you are at a stage of “plateau” which is a stage when something, in this case, your gifts, is still/stable or stop changing (i.e., no improvement or increase).

Whether there is a decline in intelligence with age, is something that is being debated to date. We have two forms of intelligence; fluid and crystallized. Briefly, fluid intelligence is tied to biology and deals with one's ability to make on-the-spot decisions that are not dependent on experience. On the other hand, crystallized intelligence is the amount of information a person has absorbed and accumulated from a community and culture over time. Research indicates that crystallized abilities are generally high regardless of age but there is a tendency of fluid intelligence to decline.

Having said that, it is also believed that as we grow older, the two forms of intelligence become more integrated, so that older adults can still perform well, especially in an area in which they are interested and/or an expert in. Hence, the ability to use information to solve problems or make decisions is one of those skills that draw from both fluid and crystallized intelligence. Furthermore as children, there is little interference from previous knowledge, but as adults, the interference is much more so memory declines over time. This is more of a memory problem due to sensory storage problems in the short-term rather than long-term memory processes. Older adults (not at your age for now but we all get there!) tend to learn more slowly and perform less well on tasks involving imagination and memorization than do younger adults, but what older adults may be lacking in terms of specific mental tasks, they make up for in wisdom, or expert and practical knowledge based on life experience (crystallized intelligence). Some influence and decline is there as we grow older.

Environmental stimulation, personality, and temperament are variables that can promote or strangle giftedness but cannot create giftedness out of normality. So once gifted, forever gifted! It is also true that some child prodigies may not grow up to become exceptional adults, and exceptional adults may not have been extraordinary children. Therefore, talent is not a stable characteristic but may wax and wane throughout the life span, affected by many variables. So when talent in a certain area appears to have decline, it is generally not because the gift is lost but most probably because the passion for developing it has ceased to exist. In this case motivation alongside with innate ability is strong in people with highly developed skills.

It is possible that you may not be very motivated and perhaps lost interest causing to not being able to remain as you have been previously. Whether it will pass really depends on your will. You would need to make learning at high school meaningful and interesting for you. Try doing projects that interests you rather than the usual popular ones. Motivation is crucial here so you need to be motivated. As you get into higher education, skills used in the past may not be applicable to the same extent and you need to master new skills. Hard work is no exception whether you are gifted or not especially when you are in higher grades.

As for the terms – gifted, talented, bright, hardworking – these are merely man made terms to ease educational provisions and guide us better. But as we grow older, these terms may not help much. I would advise that you not be too concerned with the terms and do the best you can. Though, just based on your query, I believe you are indeed gifted. I am sure you will succeed as you have so far. Maybe just don't analyse too much and go with the flow!

You may find the following read on gifted adults useful. Best of luck!


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