The Unique Wiring of the Gifted Brain

How many times, as the parent or educator of a gifted child have you heard the old gem “All children are gifted”? It’s something parents and educators of gifted children hear too often. But what if I told you that gifted children are actually neurologically different? Could people still claim that all children are gifted? Maybe this would also explain why our gifted children need accommodations in how they learn, why they need to move or are annoyed by sound, and why they seem to remember random information.

Multimodal Processing

Eide & Eide (2004) carried out functional MRIs on gifted and neurotypical children. The fMRIs showed the gifted brains lit up by a greater number and spread of metabolic ‘explosions’, where the brain was activating when stimulated, where the neurotypical brain was more localised.

“As a result of these special brain characteristics, gifted thinkers typically enjoy benefits including more vivid sensing, prodigious memory, greater fund of knowledge, more frequent and varied associations, and greater analytic ability. However, these same neurological characteristics carry a number of potential drawbacks, including sensory, emotional, and memory overload, sensory hypersensitivities, personal disorganization, sensory distractibility, delayed processing due to “analysis paralysis” (or getting “lost in thought” due to an excess of options), and mental fatigue.”

This suggests that the gifted brain is able to store and retrieve information from many parts of the brain to make sense of something, giving a greater depth of understanding. For example, if we were to show a flashcard with the word ‘CAT’ on it to a neurotypical child, they may light up in the visual and linguistic areas of their brain. Meanwhile, a gifted children may also light up in the tactile area (feeling of the fur), olfactory area (smell of a cat), auditory area (cat purring/meowing), long term memory (a friend’s cat, or a situation where they played with a cat), and emotion (fear, joy, relaxation, love).

More Glial Cells, More Dentritic Branches and Thicker Myelin

During a seminar in 2010, Barbara Clarke stated that:

“Cells have developed more dendritic branches creating more possibilities for synaptic connections. There are more connections among the cells that have been developed. More glial cell production results in more myelination of the axon and faster synaptic exchanges. The result is that the Gifted Brain needs higher levels of complexity, depth, novelty, and acceleration in learning experiences.”

Which explains this next part…

Density of White Matter

The white matter (middle of the brain) is where neurons (brain cells) connect with each other so that information from one area of the brain can be linked to information from another part of the brain, or be processed and made sense of. This study found that mathematically gifted children have significantly denser white matter than neurotypical children, proving that they have more paths linking their different parts of their brain to each other. This supports the observation that gifted children have more dendritic branches and thicker myelin.

“In a whole-sample analysis, IQ showed a significant positive correlation with FA, mainly in the corpus callosum, supporting the idea that efficient information transfer between hemispheres is crucial for higher intellectual capabilities. In addition, math-gifted adolescents showed increased FA (adjusted for IQ) in white matter tracts connecting frontal lobes with basal ganglia and parietal regions. The enhanced anatomical connectivity observed in the forceps minor and splenium may underlie the greater fluid reasoning, visuospatial working memory, and creative capabilities of these children. Hum Brain Mapp, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.”

Cortex Maturation

In a study of MRIs of children with high IQs, it was found that their cortex (the grey, outer part of the brain where information is stored) thickens more slowly, then prunes out unnecessary connections later. Effectively, gifted children have a wider window in which to organise their brain.

Crikey - that’s a fair bit of information. It really does make the “all children are gifted” argument redundant!

And keep our 2e children in mind - many children are twice exceptional, meaning that processing can be slowed, organisation or language processing can be impaired due to a learning or other difference, so we need to be prepared to consider that children can have some of these neurological differences which are masked by other neurological differences.