Touched by an Angel

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

Justin has written every member of Congress and discussed his ideas with Hillary Clinton and New York Governor George Pataki. By year's end, he hopes the project will become a nonprofit organization.

Justin and Elizabeth moved to Denver this summer so that Justin could attend the Brideun School for Exceptional Children in Lafayette. By the time he turned eight in July, Justin had written two books, Education Solutions to the New Millennium and It's Okay to Be Gifted. He's studying twelve languages. He'd presented lectures. His greatest influences are Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr. and Eleanor Roosevelt, who made what's become among his favorite statements: "One of the most important things for young people to learn is the difficult art of being at home in the world. Ahead of them lies the gigantic but infinitely rewarding task of learning to know and understand other peoples, and the equally difficult task of helping other peoples to know them."

Despite Justin's impressive resumé, Elizabeth says her son spends "90 percent of the time doing kid stuff." That includes fooling around with Play-Doh, Legos and puzzles, Rollerblading, watching Disney movies, camping, doing tae kwan do and participating in Boy Scouts. And no matter how hard he studies, Justin makes time to explore museums, visit parks and jump over rain puddles. Mostly, though, he loves to swim. One day Justin hopes to set a world record in the 1500-meter freestyle.

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.

"When you see him, you can see he's a kid," Elizabeth says. "His main thing is to keep having fun and to keep learning. He doesn't see himself as a genius. He's just Justin."

And like any other eight-year-old, Justin is shackled with household chores, including cleaning his room, doing laundry and washing dishes.

"Oh, he lost that childhood sense of orderliness really fast," his mother says. "Just because he's a little more academically advanced doesn't exclude him from chores."

Elizabeth tries not to become overwhelmed by her son's abilities and to keep in mind that he's still a boy. Scholastics are important, she says, but so is pretending to be a spy on the playground, wrestling with his grandpa and attending church group. "The academics will take care of themselves," she says. "He will find a way to learn. It's important to provide him with a balance."

At times, that can be difficult. Justin has a central auditory processing disorder that makes it hard for him to understand spoken language. He also suffers from allergies and a sensory integration problem that makes his skin so sensitive that he often cannot walk in bare feet. Caring for him is a full-time job -- but one Elizabeth welcomes.

"I just try to let Justin follow his interests and goals," she says. "Follow the lead of the child. They'll let you know. Just try and make opportunities available."

And when opportunities don't knock, Justin has another favorite saying: "Build a door."

It began as an Internet affair, Silverman says. She heard about Justin Chapman two years ago, after a friend discovered the boy's Web site, called Knowledge Quest, which he crafted one night without his mother's permission. The elaborate site ( features an IQ chart, Justin's best swim times, sample columns, inspirational songs, a list of intellectual virtues and his favorite quotations.

Silverman was "bowled over," she remembers. Before long, she and Justin were engaging in "heavy-duty, profound and abstract" conversations about reincarnation and the origins of intelligence. Silverman was so charmed by Justin that her husband practically rolled his eyes whenever she emerged from another e-mail session with the kid who'd calculated his mother's taxes at age five. "Okay," Hilton would joke. "What wonderful thing did Justin say today?"

"He just blew my mind," Silverman says. "His sense of humor. The questions he asked. The way his mind worked. I've never seen anything like it."

After administering Justin's IQ test last year, she was forced to re-evaluate much of what she knew about giftedness. At six and a half, Justin had the mind of a person more than three times his age -- and his score might have been even higher, but he was so excited about the test that he'd barely slept the previous two nights. With proper sleep and proper auditory processing, "there's no telling how high he could go," she says. "I couldn't figure out how he knew what he knew. I didn't know intelligence like that was possible. I have no explanation."

But she does know that Justin brought magic into her life at a time when she badly needed some. The Silvermans have always struggled financially, and times are particularly tight at the center these days. So Silverman and Justin attend conferences together and, when time permits, "just hang out," she says. One recent afternoon, Justin was just hanging out in Silverman's living room, rolling around on a large exercise ball, poking his head into her study to announce that he was searching for Shadow, his stuffed dog. Silverman smiled at Justin as though he were her own grandchild.

"I don't know what the connection is," she says. "But it's powerful. It seems like we've known each other many lifetimes."

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