(Image from Arlington Magazine)
Many people do not realize that the category of “gifted” also falls under the broad umbrella of Special Education. Many gifted children reveal themselves before the school years, but others do not. Unfortunately, unlike the girl in the image above, children do not come with labels that explain them.
As both a former Special Education teacher and the mother of a gifted child, I can tell you that gifted children create quite a challenge. My daughter mumbled a few syllabic words like “dada” and “baba” and then refused to verbally communicate until she spoke in perfectly constructed full sentences.
I once knew someone who was gifted and when he learned to speak as a child everyone thought he was babbling nonsensically. His mother took him to an expert who recorded him and slowed down the recording. Not only was this guy speaking in full sentences, he was speaking so extremely fast that no one could understand him. It was like his brain was in hyper-drive. At times he was speaking perfectly constructed sentences in reverse order as well. The expert hypothesized that he was just bored because no one could understand him so he was playing with the sentence structure. Once he learned to slow down, people could understand him so he no longer spoke sentences backwards. Speech can be one of the first introductions to a gifted child’s ability. Often gifted children will use words and express ideas well beyond their years.
I knew I was in trouble when my 2 1/2 year old started asking me questions that I couldn’t answer and asking about things far beyond her years. No parent wants to admit that her toddler is actually smarter than her mother! At 2 1/2 my child told me things like she wanted to study the pyramids of Egypt in depth. I brought home movies and books from the school library on a middle school level for my child to watch and was promptly informed that the material didn’t cover enough information. She then discovered PBS and other educational programming and couldn’t get enough of it. Since I didn’t want her parked in front of the TV every waking moment, I made sure to get her out into the community and took her to all sorts of educational exhibits and events. In addition to learning about ancient civilizations, my child was very scientifically curious. Again at 2 1/2 she wanted me to explain things to her like why water from a drinking fountain came out in an arc rather than shooting straight up or outwards. She wanted to know everything about everything. She learned to read early and I couldn’t keep up with her demand for books. She learned to love the library! At around 3 or 4, my child was doing vision therapy to avoid developing a lazy eye. The vision therapist’s office used a reward system where tickets were earned and then used to purchase toys and various other prizes. My daughter exploited a weakness in the system to get tickets and thus earn the bigger/better prizes and finally was told she couldn’t have so many tickets because they thought she was cheating (!). She also exploited a weakness in a similar reward system at Chuck E. Cheese but they never caught on to her method; inventive. (That weakness in the system still exists, by the way.) By the time she was in elementary school she was already doing math at a level well beyond my capability. Her first grade teacher once told me that she had to constantly remind herself that my daughter was just a child–since she often communicated and acted like an adult. She was reading at college level in elementary school and read classic books such as Moby Dick for her book reports (I don’t even know any adults who have actually finished that book!). Around 4th or 5th grade, my daughter scored in the top 1 percentile of a national standardized test–and that got the attention of the school district. I didn’t need a test to tell me what I already knew about my daughter. Did I think she was brilliant? Of course! All parents think their kids are brilliant. However being a Special Ed teacher, I knew this went far beyond just being proud of my daughter-and it was both exhilarating and frightening!
This book, which covers just about everything I’m talking about in this post, may have been helpful to me had I known of it’s existence at the time:
I never pushed the school district to place my daughter in gifted classes. Yes, I wanted her challenged on her academic level, but I also wanted her to actually be a kid. This is a hot topic in the lives of gifted children. There are other gifted children in my extended family. Some of them have been skipped several grade levels ahead. In one case a child should have been skipped up significantly by grade level but his mother also worried about his socialization and still wanted him to have exposure to other children near his own age, so he only skipped 2 grades despite the school’s pleas to move him higher up. Gifted children can appear to be so adult like that a teacher (or parent) can forget they are dealing with a child. They still need time to develop emotionally and socially.
Many gifted children, my daughter included, develop tempers which I believe are created by frustration. They may understand things significantly beyond their years in the academic realm, but they may not be aware of social rules and may in fact have missed learning them (by things such as being skipped ahead multiple grades). They also haven’t had time to develop emotional maturity to contend with social rules. For instance, we’ve all heard about child geniuses that have completed doctorate programs before their teens. A child like this functions (and is expected to behave as a college student) in a college environment but may have never learned things the rest of us think should be obvious–such as not answering every question before someone else has a chance, sharing, consideration, being sensitive to other people’s feelings, respecting personal space, being compassionate to people less fortunate than yourself, etc. You’ve probably heard of (or can think of) people that are very intelligent, but seem to have no common sense. There’s probably a reason for that. Highly intelligent people were likely accelerated in some areas too fast. They actually need time to catch up!
There is a movie called Gifted* which explores a gifted child’s need to just be a child vrs. exploiting their abilities. I highly recommend this movie!
Other gifted children may not reveal themselves via speech or academics. Many gifted children get poor grades in school because they are simply bored and fail to see the point of doing things like homework when they already understand the concepts far beyond what is being taught. Gifted children may have been difficult to potty train because they just didn’t want to stop doing whatever had their interest at the time and go.
Another helpful book to go along with this concept is:
Teachers are trained to identify other aspects of giftedness such as creativity which may come out in art, for instance, and express concepts far beyond a child’s years or it may be unexpected for a child’s age and experience. I remember a story the Mister told me about when he was in the first grade. The teacher had given her first graders a picture of a duck to color. Most of the children colored their ducks yellow, but the Mister perfectly colored a Mallard Duck! Now imagine all those ducks taped up in a line across the room. One duck stood out. This is often the type of stuff teachers must be constantly looking for. The Mister was one of those students who didn’t particularly see the point of school. (Fortunately through the efforts of many alert teachers–and his parents who were also teachers, he did develop a lifelong love of learning.)
Gifted children may share certain attributes, but all children are unique. A gifted child may have just some of the characteristics listed below or they may have other unique characteristics which are not listed. The list below is only meant to give indicators.
According to the National Association for Gifted Children some common characteristics of gifted children are:
- Unusual alertness, even in infancy
- Rapid learner; puts thoughts together quickly
- Excellent memory
- Unusually large vocabulary and complex sentence structure for age
- Advanced comprehension of word nuances, metaphors and abstract ideas
- Enjoys solving problems, especially with numbers and puzzles
- Often self-taught reading and writing skills as preschooler
- Deep, intense feelings and reactions
- Highly sensitive
- Thinking is abstract, complex, logical, and insightful
- Idealism and sense of justice at early age
- Concern with social and political issues and injustices
- Longer attention span and intense concentration
- Preoccupied with own thoughts—daydreamer
- Learn basic skills quickly and with little practice
- Asks probing questions
- Wide range of interests (or extreme focus in one area)
- Highly developed curiosity
- Interest in experimenting and doing things differently
- Puts idea or things together that are not typical
- Keen and/or unusual sense of humor
- Desire to organize people/things through games or complex schemas
- Vivid imaginations (and imaginary playmates when in preschool)
Another fascinating book that Dewey Hop readers may find interesting is:
This is a fascinating book that explores childhood geniuses and the changing role of parents and counselors across centuries. The book also explores the feelings and psychological concerns with highly intelligent children. Many famous and not so famous (but still important) child prodigies are included in this account; recommended reading.
Do you know any gifted children? Do you have ideas about how gifted children can express themselves but still be kids?
*The move Gifted is not currently available at the Fulton County Public Library. However, if you are interested in seeing it, we can order it for you through the Evergreen system. For those of you outside the state of Indiana, the Evergreen system is a coalition of libraries throughout the state of Indiana that shares library materials which include movies, books, magazines, and various other items.