What are gifted children? Are not all children special and given talents and gifts we have to help develop and cherish? Yes, this is true! Gifted children are special as all children are, but they have special skills and needs!
Certainly all children are special, but some have been born with special talents or special cognitive skills and intellectual abilities which often do not really help them flourish, but hinder them during their development. This simply because their special talents, skills and cognitive abilities are not acknowledged by the community, thus making the gifted kids stand out from their age group because they are obviously different and act different than their peers. Did you know that more than 5% of all people are highly gifted or talented?
True giftedness is still an under-researched and under-published sensitive topic in society and even in the educational environment, and as thus not openly acknowledged and discussed. The special needs of this specific group in the population are rarely addressed and unfortunately most of the currently very popular integration and inclusion programmes are underdeveloped in this regards.
Results of standardised intelligence assessment tests which are often applied when children who 'struggle' at school are referred to an educational psychologist are often frowned upon. Instead of creating opportunities for the positively tested gifted child to thrive and in a wider context inspire, motivate and uplift not only themselves, but the whole community around them, are neglected.
When parents receive the news that their child has been diagnosed as 'gifted' there hardly is further support available. Often society including the educational sector, and sometimes even family and close friends, have difficulties to understand this diagnosis.
We also should remember that giftedness does not diminish with age and 'does not go away', it is part of the individual and will manifest throughout all ages. Therefore, we all have to learn to deal with the challenges of giftedness when dealing with 'different' people as part of our diverse society.
There is no standard definition of giftedness. High performance or achievement capabilities in the various areas such as intellectual, artistic, creative or leadership capabilities are recognised manifestations of such giftedness. Several standardised tests of intelligence and cognitive abilities are available to professionals which rank the individual abilities, among them the renowned Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales, the Wechsler Intelligence Scales or the Woodcock-Johnson III assessment, but although there a many other screening tests available, several are providing less accurate measurements than these full assessments. These tests all measure individual abilities and provide information of 'gifted' persons as being among the top achievers in the relation with average achievers.The majority of professional assessments rank giftedness in scores of 130 or more, (score of 100 indicates average ability) but usually it means that a gifted person belongs to the top 2%-3% achievers in the population.
Giftedness has no age limit and does not increase or diminish with age. Giftedness is an inherent trait regardless of gender, race, socioeconomic background or culture. Gifted children often display already early on certain characteristics which makes them stand out as 'different' and occasionally leads to psychological or educational assessments where then giftedness might be confirmed. Schools usually will only recognise giftedness and provide support if children are academically extremely strong and are two or more classes ahead of their peers. Unfortunately, however, many gifted children are underachievers in school due to their different learning style which usually is not supported, disinterest in rote learning, demotivation resulting from traditional teaching methods and repetition as well as a perceived 'negative' attitude.
There are various kinds of giftedness, which are usually manifestations of being gifted and talented:
As mentioned above, giftedness manifests in many different ways. So how do we recognise if your or another child, a pupil, a friend is being gifted?
Children who are gifted often display different likes and dislikes than their peers such playing strategy games and reading non-fiction books or watching history movies. Reading early on instead of playing with their peers or reasoning and discussing topics with adults instead of conversing within their age group as well as strong concern for fairness or showing compassion are common signs with gifted kids.
Parents and teachers might realise early that the child is different in attitude and behaviour and need to intervene when a child is displaying advanced maturity either in academics, emotional or physical conditions. Undiagnosed gifted children who might be able to speed read at a very young age but still have learning disabilities such as dyslexia and thus are 'twice exceptional' (2e) are almost unsupported. It is a common occurrence, that these children might have difficulties in producing written content, but can mask this disability successfully and might manage to gain average marks instead of excelling in the subject. Look out for these common manifestations in the child's behaviour.
Children who are gifted often:
Gifted children tend to be more vulnerable and often children not fitting in are not accepted and sadly they are subsequently are often bullied by their peers. Giftedness is often only acknowledged when gifted children display unhappiness to attending pre-school, school, after-school activities and educational support is asked for. Often when these children are bullied (by coaches and teachers as much as by their peers or even well-meaning family and friends) due to displaying different behaviour than their peers, educational psychologists are called who then ideally assesses the child also for giftedness.
There are certain steps which help to overcome the challenges when dealing with a gifted child:
Not all gifted children thrive in a standard school environment. Many gifted kids display, as described above, high intensity and sensitivity in addition to the advanced intellectual abilities. Children with high cognitive abilities usually do not conform well with rote learning and get frustrated easily within tradition learning environments. Most school teachers are not trained in working with highly gifted children and see these pupils as trouble makers due to the fact that these children often act as 'class-clowns' because they are bored or 'weirdos' and 'nerds' who are bullied and lack confidence and thus are seen as negatively impacting the class atmosphere and teaching time.
Inclusion trends in mainstream schooling often do not support special needs teaching for high-ability children, but generally focus on the deficiencies more than on the strengths of the children's age-specific groups. Although inclusion is advancing in regards to including pupils with a range of physical and psychical disabilities, acknowledgement of giftedness and thus inclusion of specific gifted programmes is rarely attained. Special schools for children with a high IQ are a rare occurrence all over the world, although in Canada and the USA the awareness is certainly greater and more support is provided than anywhere else.
In most countries, there are hardly any initiatives and educational projects supported by the governments and education departments to increase awareness of giftedness in education. Additional training in gifted education and assistance for teachers to understand the implication of giftedness in the school environment is of high importantance. Insufficiently trained teachers and staff will only further the asynchron development in gifted children and lead to more frustration.
Therefore, homeschooling is seen by many parents as the best way to individualise the learning experience and accelerate learning. Then it is also possible to promote or intensify learning experiences in subjects which are often under-represented in mainstream schooling. Individual tutor lessons often help identify specific problem areas and provide support where additional input is needed. Also the emotional and social needs of gifted children are often better catered for in small learning groups and homeschooling environments as well where meetings with like-minded children can be sought and encouraged.
Great resources to read about this topic, get insights and find help:
Regina Gräff is the founder and editor of ExpatCapeTown.com and Kids-World-Travel-Guide.com and co-author of the 'Living in South Africa' handbook. Born and raised in Germany, she has a MA phil degree in languages and intercultural communication. Regina is a serial expat and has worked as a teacher and educational consultant in various countries including the USA, Australia, Singapore and the UK. Since 2005, she lives with her family in Cape Town/South Africa.
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