Two Different Branches of the Same Tree: Mental Retardation and Giftedness

Published: 2021-09-29 07:20:09
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Category: Mental Health

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Two Tails of the Normal Curve, Similarities and Differences in the Study of Mental Retardation and Giftedness was the collaborated efforts of three developmental psychologists; Nancy M. Robinson, University of Washington, Edward Zigler of Yale University and James J. Gallagher of the University of Chapel Hill.
In this study, they discuss the many areas in which the fields of mental retardation and giftedness have in common, and where they part company. One of the most common elements that both have in common is that there is a deviance from the norm. Standard intelligence tests have been the most common way to measure and identify an individuals difference. There is often a desire on a person in either group to fit in and not be considered different. Both the mentally retarded and the gifted may try to hide their differences to be considered just like everyone else. Gifted individuals have been known to dumb down and hide their gifts and talents so that they do not stand out among their peers.The guidelines for the field of mental retardation are much more developed than in the field of giftedness, because it is easier to discover what is wrong with someone, than what is right or better than right. High levels of ability in different areas are more difficult to measure and recognize, making testing more difficult to develop. There are many methods for determining the level of mental retardation, and there are tests that determine the ability to cope and adapt to everyday situations.
In most child development journals, information regarding mental abilities at a certain age is vague or nonexistent. Most child development is observed and measured in an educational (school) atmosphere. Early intervention into children with mild retardation has shown some small change in their improved ability to learn and adapt to the school environment, but may only raise their intelligence level very slightly, if at all. This creates problems as the mentally retarded stay at their same level and others move ahead at an average or accelerated rate. There is also a problem of mainstreaming these children in schools and having these children attempt to work together in the classroom. As their age increases, the differences in abilities become more pronounced as the diversity in abilities becomes more pronounced. The teacher is now faced with instruction on too many levels. Schools are called upon to solve the most basic problems of a society, while providing a positive educational experience for all of our children.
Intelligent and highly capable students may become bored or frustrated with repetition and lose interest, while the mentally retarded child is more comfortable with what is familiar to them. Because of this and their patience to perform certain tasks over and over, their skill at certain tasks may be greater than someone with a higher level of intelligence. How well each of these groups develops is often based upon how well they are able to use their abilities. The factors that influence this are, living conditions, interaction with parents, teachers or peers, and their ability to handle success or failure when given certain tasks. Co-author Zigler has argued that for people with limited intelligence, motivation may be the key factor in determining performance. Those who have experienced many failures in life may be leery of rising to a new task or challenge. A gifted or intelligent person may just assume that if more time or effort is given to a task, they may be able to succeed, however, if they are under challenged or given multiple difficult tasks to perform, they may tend to avoid challenges and begin to doubt their abilities.
It has recently been discovered that the gifted are not immune to psychological disorders as once thought, although they have a slightly better prognosis than their average or below average peers. Three areas noted are learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders and bi-polar affective disorder. Diagnosis is often difficult due to the gifted childs abilities to compensate.
Another problem shared by both fields is how to best educate both types of children. If mentally retarded children are placed in special classes; there are low expectations and a lack of role models to emulate. Gifted children are placed in a classroom setting with their average peers, where the pace may be slow for them, they are not challenged, and there are no role models for them on a higher level. If these gifted children were separated from all the average or below average student would not have the benefit of learning from their talents. Mainstreaming does not improve the quality of education at either end of the spectrum, and does not have to be more expensive. Gifted children do not require more resources than their average peers, just more appropriate ones. Families of children who participated in early intervention programs for the mildly retarded who had more resources and higher expectations of their children, tended to raise more competent children.
Research in both fields is the same in striving to achieve the most effective methods of education and enhancing performance. Available funding drastically favors research for the mentally retarded, while virtually ignoring the needs of the gifted. It is generally felt by society that the gifted can take care of themselves, so we must address the needs of those who are unable to help the less fortunate. In the 1990s, approximately $.02 per $100 of K-12 educational funds were spent by states and local districts on gifted and talented education. In comparison, approximately $12.72 of every $100 was spent on special education for children with disabilities.
As a society, we try to protect and help our children. Since gifted children are viewed as able to fend for themselves, we tend to underestimate the damage and cost to them in terms of reduces motivation and achievement. The authors conclude with five suggestions and challenges to improve and develop educational systems that serve both fields equally to help them achieve their fullest potential.

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