Touched by an Angel

Gifted children are otherworldly, Linda Silverman says. The challenge is helping them thrive here on earth.

Linda Silverman began with the vocabulary, working from the high end of the IQ test, using words so obscure that even she, with a Ph.D., would have trouble with them. And yet the six-year-old boy sitting across from her defined most of them correctly.

"What do you do?" Silverman joked. "Memorize dictionaries?"

"Yes," replied the boy, Justin Chapman.

Jay Bevenour
Practice what you teach: Linda Silverman has devoted her life to gifted kids.
Practice what you teach: Linda Silverman has devoted her life to gifted kids.

Silverman felt the blood drain from her face.

Then she administered the abstract-reasoning questions. Again, the boy aced them.

"How does he know this?" Silverman asked Justin's mother, Elizabeth Chapman.

"He likes them," she said. "He plays with them."

Silverman had spent forty years in gifted education. She had given thousands of IQ tests, evaluated thousands of exceptionally bright children. She was so good at her job that she could predict a child's intelligence quotient simply by using the scores of that child's grandparents.

But this boy was different. Not only had he mastered the highest levels of the test, but with each correct answer, he'd grin from ear to ear and slap a "Silly Slammer" toy that proclaimed: "You're a genius! I agree! How do you do it?"

Finally, Silverman unleashed a complex algebraic and geometry equation with two possible answers. The boy could not use a calculator. He could not use a pencil. He had to perform the calculations in his head. The time limit: Five minutes.

He took ten seconds

Eventually, Justin -- and Silverman -- needed a break. As the boy ambled away, Silverman turned to her husband. "This is going to be the fastest test in history. This is going to be the highest score in history, and no one is going to believe me," she said.

She was half right. Justin scored off the charts, at 298-plus -- an unbelievable but undeniable achievement that ranks him as possibly the smartest boy in the world.

"When I saw his score, everything I thought I knew went right out the window," she remembers. "I said, 'I know nothing. I am an egg.'"

They are angels, Silverman believes, children so intelligent, sensitive and spiritually aware that they seem otherworldly. The toddler who answers, "Hamburgers!" before his mother asks what he'd like for supper. The five-year-old who wonders, "Who's God's next-door neighbor?" The six-year-old who performs square-root equations.

Silverman has spent her life among them, as a psychologist, educator, author and director of the Gifted Development Center. At her Capitol Hill offices, she has opened doors for thousands of children who might otherwise slip through the cracks of an educational system that does not understand them.

She has helped found over twenty organizations, clubs and support groups for gifted children and the people who work with them. She has published hundreds of articles and two books -- Counseling the Gifted and Talented and Advanced Development: A Collection of Works on Giftedness in Adults -- and has written yet another, Upside Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner. She has edited numerous journals, delivered dozens of keynote addresses around the world and sat on as many boards and committees.

She has been a guide, an advocate and a protector for some of the most brilliant children on the planet. And at the same time, she and her husband of 41 years have opened their hearts and their home in Coal Creek Canyon to wayward teenagers.

At sixty, Linda Silverman has no plans to slow down.

"This is my calling. This is my mission. This is what I was meant to do with my life," she says. "I'm on a grand magic carpet ride."

Now, she believes, that ride is about to take a breathtaking turn. More profoundly gifted children are being born today than ever before. Silverman and her staff have identified 631 children with IQs above the genius level of 160. More than a hundred have exceeded 180; thirty have topped 200. Within the next ten years, Silverman says, these children could change the world. And they won't wait for adults to do it.

"These are not like kids I met twenty years ago," she says. "We call them 'The New Children.' We've never seen anything like them. The impossible is becoming possible. In my heart of hearts, I believe we're witnessing the evolution of human consciousness."

As a schoolgirl in Buffalo, New York, Silverman wanted to be popular. Not because she really wanted to join the right social circle, date the right boys, attend the right parties and make the right friends, but because she wanted to fit in at a place where she often felt alone. By junior high, she'd succeeded.

"My social life was ten times more important to me than school," Silverman says, recalling passages from her diary. "I never studied until 11 o'clock at night. I talked a lot about hairdos, boys, cleaning the house and my friendships, but not about school. Homework was not important to me."

Even though she herself had tested in the range of what would later be known as "gifted," she teased the students who took school seriously, joining the chorus of kids who called them nerds. But at age fifteen, Silverman started taking classes with the smart students she'd taunted. .

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Linda Silverman is a joke. It boggles the mind that she retains any credibility after the fiasco with Justin Chapman.