Heidi Hankins, who resides in Winchester, England, has become the newest member of the uppity prestigious group MENSA. With an estimated IQ of 159 (the average adult has an IQ of 100, and the vast majority of the human population falls within 90 and 120), she is certainly qualified to be a member of the snobby select intellectual group that only accepts members whose IQs fall within the top 2% of the population. There’s only one catch:
Heidi is only four years old.
Heidi’s parents noticed early on that there was something different with their child. At the age of one, she could boot up the computer and navigate through applications. At eighteen months she could play chess. And at the age of two, she was reading on the same grade level as your average eight year old.
I was happy if my children took their afternoon nap at that age…
Heidi is not the youngest joining member of MENSA, however. In fact, there was a child three years ago, Oscar Wrigly, who joined the group at the age of two. His IQ was 160. Heidi and Oscar are not alone, either. TIME reported that England boasts of 90 children who belong to the English chapter of MENSA.
Of course, these IQ estimates are just that—estimates. There are, in fact, no IQ tests developed to accurately gauge the IQ of children under the age of ten. Psychologists who attempt to assess the IQ of a child at this tender age must adapt the IQ tests and questions to suit the knowledge base of a pre-schooler. There has been, at this juncture, no consensus or standardization of these adaptations between psychologists.
Then there are questions regarding the definition of ‘membership’. Can someone actually fulfill the rights and responsibilities of membership in MENSA when they might not even be of an age to understand their own intellect? Will Heidi be joining the monthly local meetings, which often involve dinner and cocktails? Is she considered a voting member? These questions remain unanswered. It is almost certain that she will not be partaking of the exclusively offered credit card or insurance programs, since she is not of legal age.
And what of Heidi’s future? Just as we know that labeling a child with a developmental disorder or delay young in life can stigmatize the child and lead others (including teachers) to treat these children differently, we can assume the same can be said for children who are labeled as exceptionally gifted. In fact, we’ve seen plenty of anecdotal examples of gifted children being treated to a diet of flashcards, rote memorization of state capitals and presidents, high-brow fiction of two hundred years ago, and high stakes school competitions. Which—I will admit– when compared to how child celebrities deal with life, could be a blessing.
This leads me to question if children should be evaluated to estimate their IQ at this young of an age, if minors should be allowed to join MENSA, and if it is just better to focus on the child’s emotional development and relationships with peers, and not their intellect. I’m of the opinion that there are plenty of chances later in life to focus on one’s intellect, but not many chances to play around with other kids your age. What say you?