5 Dollars

My life as an at-home momma of 3 amazing kids...it's kind of like shoveling snow in a blizzard.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Is your child gifted?

Kristin Scott at Blogging Baby recently wrote a post titled "Is Your Child Gifted." My reply resembled "the great American novel." Since I spent so much time on it, I thought I'd share it here as well.

Keithen has been identified as gifted by the school system. He will be changing to a new school this week so that he can be in a class that is only for gifted children. Only the top 5-7% of each grade level is admitted to this program. There are two such classrooms (one year-round and one traditional calendar) at each grade level (grades 2-5) in the district. To be considered for admission to the program, the students take a non-verbal IQ test (Naglieri), a math test, a reading comprehension test and produce a writing sample. The administrators also look at teacher recommendations and a set of forms that the parents fill out.

Having a gifted child doesn’t just mean you have a child who does well on test. (As a matter of fact, not all gifted children test well!) In many ways, having a gifted child is like having a child who is in special education...just in the opposite direction of the spectrum.

Society recognizes that the intellectually handicapped student has learning needs which are different from those of his or her age-mates of average intellectual ability, and the further such a child is from the average the more we acknowledge that he or she needs a special educational setting. We may mainstream a child with an IQ of 60 or 70, but few educational systems would propose mainstreaming a child with an IQ of 40. Yet the majority of children who are 60 or more IQ points ABOVE the mean are in heterogeneous classrooms. What happens to them?

Gifted children have needs outside the norm of what is provided in the classroom. Their needs cannot easily be met in a normal classroom situation. If their needs are not met and they are not challenged, they can easily become bored in the classroom. Then they may shut down and turn off to school or they may become trouble makers in the classroom. (Keithen, who is 7 years old and going into 2nd grade, scored a 137 on the NVIQ test. This score is already high enough to qualify him for Mensa. This child NEEDS special services in order to keep him engaged in school.)

Imagine how frustrating it must be to have to listen to the teacher spend so much time teaching and reteaching a concept to others that you either already knew or were able to grasp the first time it was presented! Gifted kids NEED special services, unfortunately it’s not always easy to get them and not all schools provide them. (President Bush has even cut funds to some programs for gifted kids!) Just like special needs students, gifted kids need their parents to be advocates for them to insure that they receive the services that they need to reach their full potential.

Most gifted kids have what is called “Asynchronous Development,” especially if you compare their intellectual (mental) ages versus their chronological or emotional ages. They may be highly precocious cognitively, while demonstrating age-appropriate or even delayed development emotionally or socially. In early childhood-they will discuss Einstein's theory of relativity with you one minute, but kick a younger sibling in the shins the next! This can be confusing and frustrating for both the child and parent.

Yet such discrepancies represent perfectly normal development for the extremely gifted child, and should be accepted as such. Leta Hollingworth, a pioneer in the study of highly gifted children, described the issue this way, “It is especially to be noted that many of these problems are functions of immaturity. To have the intelligence of an adult and the emotions of a child combined in a childish body is to encounter certain difficulties. It follows that (after babyhood) the younger the child, the greater the difficulties, and that adjustment becomes easier with every additional year of age. The ages between four and nine are probably the most likely to be beset with the problems mentioned.”

As Linda Kreger Silverman (Director of the Gifted Development Center) so aptly describes it "...gifted children develop in an uneven manner, ... they are more complex and intense than their agemates, ... they feel out-of-sync with age peers and 'age appropriate curriculum,' ... the internal and external discrepancies increase with IQ, and ... these differences make them extremely vulnerable."

We knew that Keithen was smart before he ever entered school. He was a highly proficient computer user at only 3 years old. He was reading by the time he was 4 years old. By the time he started Kindergarten, he was already reading at approximately a first grade level. He got glasses the same week he started school. In just a couple of months he was reading at a 3rd to 4th grade level. (Not JUST reading at this level…comprehending and retaining what he read.) By spring break of first grade he was tested and shown to be reading at a 6th grade 2nd month level. His first grade teacher, in her 30th year of teaching, had never seen a student like him. She did her best to challenge him, but in a classroom of 22 students of varied abilities, those who are already ahead of the game aren’t a high priority. As for asynchronous development, he’s small for his size, physically uncoordinated (although improving here), still wets the bed every night, and like many gifted children, Keithen is a perfectionist and can be highly emotional.

As the past school year progressed, he began to shut down because he wasn’t being challenged. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize this when it was happening, only as an afterthought. I recently went through his papers from this past year. At the start of the year he was engaged in his work and completed everything. As they year progressed, he completed less and less work. His behavior at home became more and more of a problem. Looking back, I now wonder if he has been acting out in frustration and boredom. As the school year progressed, homework became more and more of a struggle. He had just spent 7 hours at school being bored by work that was too easy for him. Why would he want to cooperate with doing homework that he mastered at least a year ago? It was all pointless busywork to him. Keithen essentially spent the entire first grade school year doing nothing but improving his handwriting skills.

Maybe this will help others understand what it is like to be a gifted student in a normal classroom. Imagine that you have signed up to take a class about astronomy. You are really excited about this class and want to learn more about this subject. The first day you go to class and discover that the first month of class will be about stuff you have already known for a long time. The course will barely touch on information that is new to you at the very end of the semester. You must sit through this class in order to move on to a more advanced one. But you’re bored and not learning anything new right now. This is how school is for most gifted students.

Gifted kids don’t all exhibit the same characteristics, but there are several traits that do tend to be common. Gifted children learn new material faster and at an earlier age than their age-peers. They remember what they have learned forever, making review unnecessary. (Which means that all the review that now goes on in schools where they “teach to the test” in order to comply with No Child Left Behind is mind-numbingly boring to gifted kids.) Gifted students can deal with concepts that are too complex and abstract for age-peers. They tend to have a passionate interest in one or more topics and could spend all available time learning more on that topic if allowed. They may not need to watch the teacher to hear what is being said but instead can often operate on multiple brain channels simultaneously and process more than one task at a time. (In other words, they can often think and multi-task in the same manner as adults.) Gifted children may have advanced vocabularies and think and talk more like an adult than like their age-peers.

Gifted students are often identified as “underachievers.” Many times this is because they are bored in school. It may also be that they purposely do less in order to fit in with their age-peers.

(And now Blogging Baby is providing further evidence of my comments about gifted students purposely doing less in school in order to fit in. Poor kid.)

In 1970, a congressional mandate required the Commissioner of Education to determine the extent of programs for G&T students. Published in 1972, the Marland Report noted that, “The boredom that results from discrepancies between the child’s knowledge and the school’s offerings leads to underachievement and behavior disorders affecting self and others.”

In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education published A Nation At Risk. Speaking specifically to the education of gifted students, the commission concluded that, “Over half the population of gifted students do not match their tested ability with comparable achievement in school.”

According to National Excellence: A Case for Developing America’s Talent (1993), exceptional talent is viewed suspiciously in America. It is seen as a valuable resource, but it is noted by many as a “troublesome expression of eccentricity.” (In other words, being different is seen as ‘bad” which is why many gifted kids may “underachieve” in order to “fit in” better with their age-peers. This is especially true of gifted girls.)

Gifted kids also make friends differently than most of their age-peers. They tend to be more like adults in their friendships, only have a couple of close friends as opposed to a large group of friends. They also tend to prefer friends of different ages, often older children. I have definitely seen this in Keithen over the past two years of school. Each year he has had one single close friend that he talks about and wants to spend time with.

We’re just beginning our journey into gifted education here. As I said, Keithen will be starting a new school year in a special gifted program later this week. We’re looking forward to seeing him immersed in a gifted classroom this year and receiving work that will actually challenge him and help him to learn new things. We expect it to make a big difference in all areas of his life. Once his needs are finally being met in the classroom, we expect to be able to see him spread his wings and reach his full potential.

Recent research indicated that in many cases siblings are within ten IQ points of each other (Silverman, 1987, November). If one child is highly gifted, it is quite possible that the other children are gifted, too. In many circumstances, it is beneficial for families to have all of the children evaluated.

Kaylee is absolutely artistically gifted, but I’m not sure about academically yet. She is starting Kindergarten this week. She is in a completely different place than where Keithen was at this age. I expect to see huge changes and growth in her this year. At the end of her first grade year, she’ll also be tested to see if she qualifies for gifted education.

I imagine Ruby will also end up being identified as gifted when she is old enough for school because she is very much like her older brother. She’s 3.5 years old and can spell and write her own name. She recently asked how to spell everyone else’s name in our family and wrote them all out (see my blog). She wants to learn to read and already knows most of her letter sounds. She can tell you if words start with the same sound and she understands the concept of rhyming words.

Some books on gifted education:

When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers: How to Meet Their Social and Emotional Needs by Jim Delisle, Ph.D. and Judy Galbraith, M.A.

Losing Our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind by Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.

Stand Up for Your Gifted Child: How to Make the Most of Kids’ Stregths at School and at Home by Joan Franlin Smutny

Some links on gifted kids:

FAQ: The Gifted Child

Gifted Children

Hoagies’ Gifted Education

Gifted Resource Guide

Assessing Gifted Children



Gifted & Talented Children

Rhode Island G&T

National Research Center

Recommended books

National Assn for Gifted Children

Gifted Development Center


  • At 7:52 PM, July 17, 2006 , Blogger Granny said...

    Excellent post. I'm so glad you're in a school district that makes provisions for gifted kids as well as for kids like mine.

    Yours shut down because the work was too easy. My two were almost lost because the work was too hard.

    No matter which end of the spectrum, the result is often the same. Another child lost to the bureaucracy and to the idiocy of NCLB.

  • At 12:23 AM, July 18, 2006 , Anonymous Kristin said...

    Thanks for taking the time to write such an eloquent comment here, and on Blogging Baby...it's valuable info to many people, I'm sure.

  • At 10:35 AM, July 18, 2006 , Blogger David said...

    By spending 30 minutes a day teaching my son to read he has completed kindergarten reading several grade levels above. If I had an hour a day he could be reading at an even higher level. Mathematics, music, art, etc. is also easily learnable / teachable at a rate far advanced to what ordinary classes do. Many children, including my wife and uncle, are simply skipped several grades to compensate for what achieving accelerated learning. Yes the kid may feel special when this happens but later in life they will have trouble keeping that above average emotion going. For some jobs, like scientist, an early start is somewhat advantageous. But for most occupations there is really no societal support for a child with an advanced education. For a doctor, lawyer, politician, salesman employers just don't care how academically advanced you are.

  • At 11:00 PM, July 18, 2006 , Blogger margalit said...

    I read your comment on Blogging Baby and came her to see what else you had to say on giftedness. I'm very happy that your son is going to be starting a school that will hopefully fulfill his needs. In my state, MA, there is no such thing as giftedness. Really! All children are gifted, so there is absolutely NO gifted education or accomodationwhatsoever. My son, who is almost 14 and entering his junior year in high school, could only be radically accelerated. There was no other choice. He skipped 2 grades and started a year early so he is at least 3 years behind his grade peers agewise, but still academically advanced. Unlike your son, mine is profoundly gifted (over 180) and no school can accomodate a child like this. He went to Phillips Andover for a year, and the school was great but the social issues were daunting because there is a HUGE emphasis on sports.

    Now, my kid isn't geeky at all. He's a serious rock n roller, plays guitar, loves movies and TV, isn't a science and math kid at all, as his talents lie more in English and History and languages, and he plays quite a few sports. But when a kid is 12 and a freshman in high school, he cannot compete in any team sport due to size and weight. My boy still hasn't hit puberty, so competeing in any sport isn't fair to him. It's as if sports are stacked against him. He would love to play both soccer and baseball, but at 5/7 and 130 lbs, he's just too small. That is the real downside of being radically advanced. It isn't the social stuff. He's had girls interested in him for years and they think he's 'hot', nor is it about friends, as he has plenty, it's that some of the most important aspects of high school don't accomodate him.

    My son will be out of high school before he turns 16. He plans to take at least a year off to work between high school and college because he doesn't want to start too early. But he's itching to take some classes at Harvard right now.

    My son is 2E. He is bipolar, ADHD, and dysgraphic. He can barely write. And that's being generous. He's never learned cursive, for example. But he was reading at 3.5, read Harry Potter in kindergarten, and now only reads non-fiction books about politics. He's brilliant, but he's totally and completely NORMAL. Pics and lots of posts about him on my blog.

    I HATE when people make assumptions abut giftedness, like david did above. It irks me that they don't get it, nor do they understand that every GF kid is different, just like every person is different. My son is a twin, his twin is moderately gifted but has SEVERE LDs. She'll never be academically advanced but she's an excellent student and loves school. If you met her you would never know she was eiter gifted or learning disabled. She's an average kid with her brain in a constant battle. Having two identified (tested up the wazoo at the GDC) gifted kids that are remarkably different has taught me to be a lot less judgemental about giftedness.

  • At 5:29 PM, July 20, 2006 , Blogger thordora said...

    So long as he isn't bored. I spent my early years in school waiting for everyone else to catch up, and being told that there was nothing "extra" for me to do. It sucked, and I dropped out of school later twice because I was bored out of my skull.

    Sounds like things have begun to change a bit. Good to see.


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