Social & Emotional Issues: What Gifted Adults Say About Their Childhoods

Deborah Ruf, PhD
8 min readDec 22, 2020

by Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D. 2022

I recently attended a school conference that included the school psychologist, principal, classroom teacher, district gifted and talented coordinator, parents of the gifted child, and other interested parties.

Five minutes into the discussion I wanted to shout, “I already have a tape recorded copy of this meeting!” Predictable camps of the debate espoused the same arguments, platitudes and attitudes that usually emerge in these discussions.

Although the research is done and the information is available, few people in the trenches even know what giftedness is, let alone what to do about it.

Because I believe that giftedness is an inborn trait, and the demonstration of it requires emotional and environmental support, I also believe the qualities of giftedness are present throughout people’s lives, even if they are underachievers or hide their abilities.

It follows, therefore, that I believe former gifted children become gifted adults. Adults have experience and hindsight. I asked gifted adults what they thought of their childhood experiences at home and in school.

Case Study Feedback from Highly Gifted Adults

I gathered detailed case study information from 41 adults who scored in the 99th percentile and were between the ages of 40 and 60 in the early 1990s (Ruf, 1998).

The following excerpts illustrate some of the feelings and conclusions that subjects had depending on their exposure to ability grouped classes, explanations about intelligence, and emotional support from family, schools and friends.

Knowing I’m Gifted

Although gifted people usually know they are smart they often do not know the many ways their intelligence affects them emotionally and socially. Just a few excerpts from subjects reveal how easily gifted people are both confused and hurt by lack of enlightenment about their giftedness. A woman who became an attorney wrote,

I just don’t know I fit in.
Deborah Ruf, PhD

High Intelligence Specialist & Writer, Dr. Ruf writes about highly intelligent people from birth to very old age.