I was recently asked to present a keynote address at the Qld Association for Gifted and Talented Children (QAGTC) annual conference. The topic for this address was the impact of COVID on gifted youth. Added to whatever has befallen families through the pandemic, there has also been the impact of floods on many families.
The message in my presentation was that the impact of these events has been nuanced with some students flourishing and others decimated by their experiences. Jay Belsky, Professor of Human Development at the University of California, has conducted extensive research and described individuals as 'dandelions' – i.e., individuals who flourish even in harsh conditions, or 'orchids' – i.e., individuals who flourish when they are in optimum conditions but wither when they experience stress of any kind. Recently, Belsky described many individuals as 'mosaics' who demonstrate mixed response patterns, describing these response patterns as dependent upon circumstances and experiences. Belsky's research is with the general population, not specifically about high ability students. Consider that these gifted students are influenced by the 'lens' through they which experience everything.
High ability youth tend to be very sensitive and intense – the combination of these characteristics having a multiplier (rather than an additive) effect. Everything is amplified. At the conference, I spoke about how pre-existing patterns were exacerbated: those with a positive outlook became more positive, and those with an established negative response pattern become more negative.
Belsky celebrates individual differences: “Vivre la difference" he says. The world is richer and more varied when there are different types of responses. We need both the 'dandelions' who flourish under challenging circumstances and the 'orchids' that are delicate and must be carefully nurtured if they are to bloom and grow optimally. Belsky helps us to understand that the same circumstances may impact on people differently. This is the message I shared during the keynote address at the conference. The same experience has varied impacts on different people. I explained that the response to the pandemic was varied and nuanced among high ability students. There are many factors that impact but one of these is the pre-existing response pattern that an individual has developed.
Recent research conducted by Camp Australia illustrates that although some students had negative reactions and many missed regular contact with friends, three quarters of the parents who provided responses for this research believed their children had become more resilient and independent during the pandemic. Vivre la difference! A sense of connection and belonging is important for all of us and providing this is critical for the well-being of all students.
© Michele Juratowitch