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Too Smart For Their Own Good?

Too Smart For Their Own Good?Child prodigies are often faced with tremendous challenges that can isolate them from the world around them, says a nationally-renowned Tufts expert.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.13.02] Throughout history, child geniuses have been treated with both fascination and skepticism as the public marvels over their remarkable accomplishments and looks for their shortcomings and failures. As a result, many exceptional children can become isolated and feel like outcasts, says a Tufts expert.

"History suggests that the lives of children with prodigious intellects or extraordinary talents are rarely easy," reported the New York Times. "Indeed, in a world where such children stand out like Gulliver among the Lilliputians, they are often filled with difficulty."

The problem, says Tufts' Dr. David Henry Feldman, stems from the way the public views people with mental gifts.

"There seems to be a deep contradiction in how we feel about matters of the mind," Feldman told the Times. "On the one hand, we believe that working hard is the way you become whatever you want to become, one the other hand, that I.Q. is inherited and you have it and that's that."

Often, the public focuses on finding the children's faults and shortcomings.

"[When a child prodigy appears] it makes us feel uneasy and ambivalent," Feldman, a professor of child development at Tufts, told the Times. "Nobody likes to feel that someone else is flat-out better. And almost always what people say is: 'Is it fraud? Is the child happy? Is the child normal?'"

In many ways, genius children are not normal. Their mental talents and gifts propel them into an adult world while they are still children.

"The talent changes everything," Feldman told the Boston Globe in 1999. "We can't make them into being just like us except for having this talent. It's just not true -- it's irresponsible. We celebrate diversity, but somehow or another this kind of diversity we just can't grasp. It's just different. It's like being in a different culture."

And it's easy to become isolated.

"Dr. Feldman and other experts said children of remarkable abilities often feel like aliens themselves, traveling at warp speed through a slow-moving world," reported the Times.

It is often up to the children's parents to help them find a path that satisfies their intellectual curiosity with disconnecting them from the world around them.

"It is crucial for their parents to find the right teachers to guide them," reported the Houston Chronicle. "People who work with prodigies, Feldman said, must encourage but not demand. They must mold talent but not squash creativity. And they must, above all else, remember that their children are still children and not just miniature adults."

The pressures can be overwhelming.

According to the Chronicle, "Only one thing is certain, Feldman's research has found: All child prodigies go through a tough time on the way to maturity, often questioning their own gifts and in some cases even abandoning them."

But there are success stories.

Norbert Weiner -- who graduated from Tufts in 1909 at the age of 15 -- is one such example. After completing his studies at Tufts, "[Weiner] went on to develop the branch of science known as cybernetics, which deals with the relationship between communication and control in the human brain and in machinery," reported Newsday.

But Tufts' Dr. Feldman suspects that many child prodigies have a difficult time living up to their promise.

"Generally speaking, it's a treacherous path," Feldman told the Times.

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