A personal note, written primarily for my relatives and for those interested in child psychology.
Way back in the 1980’s, during my college years in Manila, my favorite psychology subjects were psychological testing (psychometrics), projective techniques, psychopathology, mental hygiene, theories of personality, experimental psychology and seminar on exceptional children. In projective techniques, the student learns the rudiments of administering and evaluating personality tests. Throughout these courses, the student begins to be confronted with the question of personalities, the reality of individual differences, inborn and acquired traits, the nature of intelligence in all its theoretical aspects.
A college freshman is faced with these basic questions: First, what is personality? Second, what is intelligence? And then you slide into the third: Is there a direct correlation between personality and intelligence? Do intelligent people have more pleasant personality than less intelligent ones or is there no direct correlation at all between these two factors? The next thing that confronts the student is the relationship between high intelligence or genius and insanity? Is this true that geniuses are prone to mental illness and personality disorders whereas the normal ones not? Or is this just a myth or a hollywood invention? And then comes this simple issue: Are intelligent people practical and independent?
Well, four years of basic psychology studies will not give you instantly the answers to these questions and give you peace of mind. I have learned that my favorite subjects had only given me a good starting point to continue the inquiry. One thing that I have learned after all these years is that everything is a matter of definition and the context to which this definition is being applied. Or, even better, let the context offer the definition of such things as intelligence, normalcy, perfection, etc. The other thing that has taught me more is experience. Experience gives you a solid understanding or even doubt about the subject. My years of experience in observing psychiatric patients have no doubt taught me more than anything else to evaluate roughly a person almost at a glance: Is he/she a schizophrenic, a psychopath, a drug dependent, an alcoholic, a manic-depressive one, a borderline personality, suicidal person or a sexual deviate; or, to evaluate indirectly by way of any available product of that person: a written piece, a drawing or illustration, etc.
But intelligence is something else. It requires more to gauge it. A mere glance cannot tell me if one is an average, genius or retarded (except for genetic abnormalities as Down syndrome, etc.). But this time, through indirect way, i.e. by way of a written piece or work of art, etc., I could tell more about the intelligence of the person.
On the other side, my experience has shown me how tricky this aspect is: For example, relying on school performance alone does not give you the real intelligence of a child or a youth. Behind an average or even below average performing child could be a gifted one. It is in the extremes of appearances that we have to exercise caution and observe more. But in general, we can say that a child is intelligent if it grasps abstract relationships within a short time than other children and translates his ideas successfully into concretely observable results for the observers. But what if this translation doesn’t occur, or if the child consciously – or even unconsciously – distorts this translation? It follows that our picture of the child is also distorted.
Then it’s time that we observers, parents or educators must look at ourselves. Are we competent enough to make the right judgment(evaluation) and do we have the necessary experience in this area?
I always recommend observing the child who has problems at school in the totality of his behavior and when needed to send the child to a recognized testing institution for aptitude and intelligence test. Ideally, school – pubic or private – should have also a team of counsellors which includes one or more school psychologists to help troubled parents and children.
In my neighborhood, I have given advice to concerned and troubled parents this way and even offered my on – the – spot analysis of the child’s personality and general mental aptitude drawing out of my experience in this field. I admit, that though it’s really hard to determine the child’s intelligence, still I can say that experience gives me a solid ground to base my guess or intuition. I was right in many cases because these grown-up children are now high achievers, out of the initially hopeless situation when they were in the elementary years.
But now, we come to my experience of this subject within the four walls of my home, an experience that has given me doubts about what I know and challenges that almost went beyond our limit as parents. And that is when my second son, Samuel, came into our life. From birth, I already sensed that he is intelligent. As a child he rarely cried, was very quite, curious and independent in his ways. At age three, he was reading until three in the morning that at times I had to switch off his bed lamp so he would sleep. At this age he had memorized the books he had in his room, performed weird chemistry experiments, etc. He protested by crying when we brought him to a play group but showed great joy when we brought him to a painting group for children.
His week, together with his older brother Cyril, was full of activities already before the age of five: music group for pre-school children and, a few months after, violin lessons where he always astonished his teacher for his excellent hearing, private English, French and cooking courses every Saturday for several years and swimming where he also excelled. Later on he switched to piano and about the same time he started with hip-hop dancing course from a known dancer and teacher and won second place in the Swiss dance team competition. With 16, he started teaching this dance style, now with 18, he resumed his Thai boxing lessons and intends after graduation this summer to go to Thailand for Muay Thai boxing teacher course.
Before entering primary class, he underwent a thorough intelligence and aptitude tests in a private human potential evaluation clinic that took the whole morning with a short break in between. The results showed him belonging to the top 2% of the population of children of his age group. The effect was that he jumped directly from kindergarten to Grade 2 and parallel to normal schooling, he had to attend special courses for gifted children organized and supported by the city of Zürich where they learned other supplementary subjects as chemistry, mathematics, physics, philosophy, etc. This satisfied all of his “mental needs”. During this time, at age 9, he was admitted to Mensa-Switzerland whose only criterion for membership is an IQ score in the top 2% of the general population on a battery of standardized intelligence tests (“normally” from above 130 IQ scores). But this too went not without a little problem because he was “under age”, which means below 15. But they readily made an exception to the rule. And so it went that he became the youngest member in the history of Mensa-Switzerland.
Parents can only be proud of this story but we had our own worries. His normal schooling went on not without problems for he showed little interest in his homework and in most of his teachers in the public school who were not trained for such a child with a different quality of perception. In fact, some of his new teachers in the primary school considered him below average. He was – and is even now – behaving like that so that, at age 12, I let him undergo another intelligence and aptitude test, this time administered by the school psychologist in that private school we found for him after we pulled him out from the Volksschule. I was there again to observe as he made his written and oral examination for hours. From the answers to the oral tests I heard and the awed facial expressions of the psychologist , I knew already that he was still in his “old” intellectual status. Hence, nothing was changed only that he needed the right environment that suits his needs.
But he remained an ordinary boy before the eyes of our friends and relatives and with time we got used to this fact. Only a handful of his friends (who are gifted themselves) realize and appreciate the gift that is in him. Same feathers flock together? Intuitively, I observed, they do.
With 15, he was turned down by many firms as he applied for apprenticeship because of his not-so-shining secondary school grades. Again, another problem for all of us. Until he was admitted to a Swiss Federal Institute of Technology or ETH (Einstein’s alma mater) spin-off IT firm. There his mentor, an ETH IT lecturer, himself a very intelligent man, has told us that “no doubt, your son is very intelligent”.
So, what’s the problem? Samuel will graduate this summer at age 19 as IT specialist. /