Dr. Frank Lawlis, Supervising Testing Director for American Mensa, will tell us the signs your child could be gifted / have a high IQ. In this interview you will learn the signs your child may have a high IQ, the difference between having a high IQ and being a genius, how a young child can test into Mensa, the challenges that gifted children face and the benefits of Mensa membership for gifted youth.
Full Interview Transcript
Kelly: Dr. Lawlis, thank you so much for being here today. what is a genius?
Dr. Lawlis: A genius is basically a journalistic term. Let me just read my favorite definition of a genius. It’s an exceptional natural capacity of intellect manifested in a unique culture creation or scientific terms. Basically, we have a very small group of people that would be identified by using this definition. We’re talking about maybe 25 within the population of the United States, very small group of people that we would classify under this definition as a genius.
Dr. Lawlis: Now, in Mensa, we don’t test for geniuses. Basically, we test for intellectual capacity, which is more of a statistical term. We identify these people with testing by having them reach higher levels in 2% of the population. You can figure out that from a statistical point of view that we’re talking about a much larger group of people, maybe 50,000 or 60,000 people that could qualify for Mensa.
Kelly: I know that Mensa doesn’t test until 10 years old, but how can you tell if a very young child might have abilities? Or can you even test or have an inkling of a child very young with high intellectual ability?
Dr. Lawlis: The main one ability that seems to be the most general is that of intellectual vocabularies. They may be able to carry on conversations at a very high level. They may have the ability to understand abstractions at other level. Basically, they begin to act like an adult.
Now, there are parts of this that are really fun to think about because if you have a child that smart, then you can begin to carry on more mature conversations. On the other hand, they don’t act like kids. They act more like adults. They may actually miss a lot of the cutesy things that more average children often do.
Kelly: Can you tell us how you can test in to Mensa at a younger age?
Dr. Lawlis: We use mostly paper and pencil test, which are administered as a group. That usually doesn’t work for children that young. They need to have a more customized individual assessment for their IQ.
There are several tests that we accept like the Wechsler test in which you would go to a private licensed psychologist and just have them test. That sometimes goes down to around two years old. There are other tests, but Mensa doesn’t use those tests because we have to have a certain rigid structure for our testing, and kids just don’t work for them.
It’s easy enough and we just got done recommending a child that was about three years old get in to Mensa.
Kelly: What does that test look like then for someone that age?
Dr. Lawlis: Well, it’s basically mostly has to do with finding the special skills that they’re very good at. In this case, and in most cases, it has to do with vocabulary and verbal abilities. She could read at a very high level. She could use high levels of vocabulary and expressing yourself. She also found abstractions easy for her to understand that were common among words. That would qualify her for Mensa membership.
Kelly: What about things like musical genius and physical capabilities? How do you do tests for that as well? How can you test a child for those?
Dr. Lawlis: Most of these, what we call abstractions, are things that have to be customized around to get to an accurate estimate of their intelligence. Mostly we refer those people out to individual licensed psychologists.
Kelly: What are the benefits? When someone gets tested, can they fail a test? Let’s say, age 10 and then go back a few years later and pass it again? Or does that ever happen?
Dr. Lawlis: Well, actually it happens a lot. What happens is that the brain [00:28:00] starts developing very fast when you’re born because it has to learn a lot of things. Then you get a tremendous growth. Let me just digress here a little bit. As your brain grows, it grows in different rates. It’s kind of an uneven growth rate.
Consequently, the most unstable part of your brain is in the beginning. You may have a very good score or you may have kind of an average score. Again, the brain develops until age 25 supposedly.
The idea here is that as you grow, as your brain grows, it develops more and more capacity. It goes through changes for example in adolescence. It tends to prune itself and specialize. Consequently, you get another boost along the way that basically gives you different kinds of opportunities to mature.
Of course, I would also say sometimes your lifestyle issues will deflate some of these growth spurts. For example, if you get involved with drugs like marijuana or something like that, that freezes your intellectual capacity sometimes permanently.
This can be not a happy occurrence. I don’t want to encourage anybody to do that by any means. But the idea here is that your brain will increase in capacity and wisdom in a natural kind of way.
Kelly: I know a lot of high IQ children have a stigma that maybe they’re socially inept or have a weakness in other areas. Why is that?
Dr. Lawlis: Well, high intellectual ability, we like that, and that’s what Mensa stands for is to increase the mission of higher levels of intellectual capacity for all of us. But the downside of having a high level of intelligence is sometimes you lose friends. Consequently, most of the people who have a lot of intellectual curiosity don’t have very many friends because they don’t have the same scope.
I see a lot of kids that are kind of lost in their world, and they find other people. I want to talk about the social development and how important that is for a person with high IQ.
You find that a lot of our Mensa friends, for example, actually formed the Mensa organization in order to gain some relationships with people who they can understand each other. You’ll find that children who have high intellectual capacities often get along better with adults than they well with their own age group because of their different abilities to understand each other.
For example, a lot of our Mensa friends have some difficulty in terms of understanding, or their friends understanding their jokes. The basic rule here is the more you deviate from the average, the more isolated you become. Some of the aspects of higher intellectual capacities sometimes have its cost.
Kelly: Those are the main issues that they face, is the friendships and the social area. Can they excel in a public school or do they have to go to some kind of a special school?
Dr. Lawlis: Well, oftentimes, that’s a huge controversy. But mostly kids get very bored with the kind of intellectual challenges that they have in school. What happens is that they often get promoted to higher levels of achievement because of their interest, their excitement, and their stimulation. But as I said earlier, they get further away from their own social groups. There’s some real controversy in terms of whether as how far away do you get away from that your own social group of your own age.
Kelly: How do you solve that?What kinds of services does Mensa offer to kids then to help kind of build with the social connections that they might not be getting at school?
Dr. Lawlis: Well, that’s what Mensa does. It gives you the opportunity to have social relationships with people who understand you that have a certain humor that you have and a certain energy that you would get in terms of, for example, having similar hobbies or similar games that they like to play and feel kind of the richness of having a good competitive partner. For example, it’s not much fun if you play tennis with somebody that really can’t hit the ball. You don’t get any better yourself. You kind of get disinterested.
It’s the same with intelligence. If you are playing a fun game like with chess and so forth and somebody on the other side has that same kind of equal ability, then it’s fun.
I’m obviously big on Mensa. I just want to say that you’ll probably never meet a greater group of people with a tremendous personality than you will in Mensa because they’re so caring for each other. It is a real brotherhood, sisterhood, or community that really helps the development of a child with high IQ.
Kelly: I appreciate you coming on and sharing all your wealth of knowledge and tips.
Dr. Lawlis: Well, you’re more than welcome. Thank you.
About Dr. Frank Lawlis
Dr. Lawlis is the supervisory psychologist for American Mensa - a national organization whose members have scored in the top two percent on an accepted, standardized intelligence test and and chief content adviser to the Dr. Phil Show. Dr. Lawlis has been a pioneer in clinical and research methods of the mind-body relationship since 1968 when he received his Ph.D. in Psychology with an emphasis in medical psychology and rehabilitation. He has been awarded the Diplomate (A.B.P.P.) in both Counseling Psychology and Clinical Psychology. He has also received the status of Fellow from the American Psychological Association for his scientific contributions to the field of clinical psychology and behavioral medicine, as well as many other awards for his pioneering research in this field. For more information about American Mensa, visit www.AmericanMensa.org.