Treating high abilities is one aspect of therapeutic and psychoeducational intervention that is often overlooked when talking about children’s well-being. However, this area of work is fundamental for thousands of children whose psychological characteristics give them surprising skills, but also needs to be taken into account by parents and educators.

Now… what is known in Psychology about the phenomenon of high abilities? On this occasion we talked about it with an expert on the subject, Matías Miguel López Ruiz, a psychologist and member of the Barnapsico psychology centre in Barcelona, so that he could talk to us about the subject based on his training and professional experience.

Interview with Matías López, psychologist from the Barnapsico High Capacity Area

Matías Miguel López is a general health psychologist specialized in Evaluation and Treatment of High Abilities and in child and adult psychology, among other things. He is also a psychologist and coordinator of the team of the Atlantida Program of Emotional Intelligence for High Ability Children and of the Parents’ School.

He works at the Barnapsico psychology centre, located in the Les Corts neighbourhood of Barcelona, where he attends to many cases of families with children with advanced abilities and various forms of intellectual precocity. In this case she answers our questions about high abilities in childhood.

In psychology, what do we mean by high abilities? Is it the same as intellectual giftedness?

The concept of high intellectual capacities encompasses a group of people who present intellectual characteristics that are qualitatively and quantitatively superior to the majority of the population in one, several or all of the areas of intellectual aptitudes (verbal, non-verbal, mathematical reasoning, memory, creativity…).

Intellectual giftedness would be a subtype of high ability, as can intellectual talents,

How is the detection of high capacity cases carried out, and how important is it for the diagnosis to be made early?

In principle, an initial screening is performed with the aim of identifying possible candidates who may require the diagnostic identification phase. There are various screening questionnaires according to age, and they can be administered at the diagnostic centre or in schools.

If the initial detection is positive, the diagnosis is made individually by a specialized and qualified professional. An exhaustive study like the one we do in our centre usually includes cognitive tests, personality and creativity tests, and educational responses at a personal, school, social and family level. In this study we usually ask for the participation and involvement of the school and the family.

On the other hand, I think, like other professionals, that the earlier the detection is made, the better, in order to determine the educational needs of these students, and thus be able to give the most appropriate response that facilitates the maximum development of their capacities and potential.

There are tests from 3 years onwards. In young children it is usually a question of intellectual precocity, later on and once intelligence is more crystallized, it would be advisable to carry out a study again to verify if and how high capacity continues.

In this way, it is possible to offer the student the school treatment most appropriate to his or her educational needs according to his or her cognitive and personality profile.

What are the special educational needs of children with high abilities?

According to the guide of high capacities, these are usually the curricular adaptation, which tries to establish a great number of links or transversal relations between the contents of the same area or of several; the adaptation plus curricular amplification by means of exposure to the stimulus, development of competences and deepening; and the compaction, which allows each student to advance in the curricular material at the speed that he is capable of avoiding unnecessary repetitions and maintaining the attention and motivation in the work in the classroom.

As methodological strategies there are also grouping by capabilities, random enrichment, work by flexible programming, cooperative work, metacognitive training, flexibility, partial acceleration…

In my opinion, the affective and communicative bond between tutors and students is the first step to create any kind of specific school treatment.

In your professional experience, what are the types of cognitive skills that people with high abilities tend to excel in?

The cognitive skills in which people with high abilities tend to stand out the most are verbal reasoning, which is the ability to reason, above what is expected for their age, with verbal content, they tend to have a rich vocabulary and reasoning that draws attention. Their memory skills are also striking.

However, depending on the person with high abilities, he or she may present talents in a certain area other than verbal.

In your psychology centre you have designed a programme of activities and workshops for children with high abilities. What does it consist of and what is its objective?

In the center we work with the Atlantida Program, which is a program formed by psychologists and pedagogues designed to cover part of the specific needs of the children of High Abilities.

In addition, parents and children interact in a space of information, communication and knowledge, finding constructive and positive answers and solutions to the social-emotional factors that favourably affect the adequate family and school education required by students of High Abilities.

What is the role of the family in the face of visits to the psychologist by children with these characteristics? How can they help and support their children?

Families are part of the treatment, since work is done at a systemic level with the child, the family and the school.

First, it is recommended that the family accept that this is an opportunity for the personal development of their son or daughter and not a problem. Some parents often come to the consultation concerned, because some of these children may present, like other children but in a different way, emotional disturbances and difficulties in their social and family interactions.

In these cases I think it is best that the psychotherapeutic and school treatment be carried out by competent professionals in high capacities.

Finally, what kind of cultural changes would be needed throughout society to make it more inclusive of people with high abilities?

Currently, there are laws that protect children with high capacities so that their educational needs are properly covered.

Changes are being made to sensitize the school community and to facilitate an inclusive education, which includes the differential aspects of each student, since high cognitive capacities also exist, for the good development of their personality, abilities, skills and potential.

This concept has the function of developing pedagogical methods and resources that are accessible to all students, thus breaking down the barriers that could prevent the participation of one or another student due to their respective individuality. One of the objectives of school inclusion is to raise awareness and involve society, especially the school community.