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The Wiley Handbook of Genius by Dean Keith Simonton

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15 Child Prodigies and Adult Genius A Weak Link

Ellen Winner

Gifted children surprise us with near-adult level skills and interests. Some pick up reading with very little instruction at the age of 3; some turn everyday experiences into mathematical problems and teach themselves algebra before their peers can add; some draw realistically by age 5 or play a musical instrument like a skilled adult musician (cf. Feldman & Goldsmith, 1991; Radford, 1990; Winner, 1996). When children show abilities way beyond their years, they challenge us to come up with an explanation, and sometimes evoke disbelief. (Much of the content of this chapter is drawn from Winner, 1996, 2000a, 2000b.)

These children seem to have enormous promise and are often expected to go on to become adults who make major contributions in their respective areas. However, only a small minority of these children become adult geniuses. This is the puzzle that childhood giftedness presents.

Gifted children have three atypical characteristics. First, they are precocious. They show abilities far earlier than average, and they learn more rapidly. Second, they march to their own drummer. By this, I mean that they learn in a qualitatively different way from typical children, they devise new ways of solving problems, and they need minimum scaffolding to learn and often simply teach themselves. Because they devise new ways of solving problems, they are by definition creative. But it is important to distinguish between little-c ...

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