Few people understand the challenges that come with raising a gifted child. If your 2-year old is reading, or your 6-year old is doing algebra, others might accuse you of hot-housing the child, pushing the child to go beyond his or her true intellectual capabilities.
However, the only way to truly discover the gifts in your child is to explore them in earnest. In other words, if your 2-year old child is displaying a particular acumen in reading, then the only way to see how far the child can go is to allow the child to read more books, with increasing difficulty. That, however, might come across as insensitive to other parents with different parenting styles.
Not only do you have to deal with this judgment, but gifted children also tend to be a bit “more” than other children — more active, more curious, more emotional, and more disobedient. It would appear that they experience life at a deeper, more vivid level.
Inappropriate educational environments can make things even worse. While one might think that a child with a high IQ would naturally do well in school, this isn’t always the case. In fact, some gifted children are never identified as such because they don’t fit the typical profile of a high achiever.
Let’s continue to look at some of the challenges that gifted children and their parents may face, along with potential solutions to these problems.
Boredom, Acting Out, and Underachievement
A gifted child may need only a cursory explanation of a concept before “getting it”. In other words, a gifted child may only need to be told once about a rule of grammar or mathematics and grasp the concept immediately. Instead of staring at the teacher blankly, a gifted child often grasps a concept and moves on quickly – to play, or to other subject matters.
A typical student may need weeks of practice to learn the same thing that takes a gifted child seconds. This means that gifted students often feel unchallenged in typical classrooms. When a gifted child feels like the lessons being taught are too easy or unstimulating, he or she can respond in a number of ways. The child may quickly finish a worksheet and start reading a book; another student might begin talking to his friends; another might even refuse to do the work because the child feels that it’s beneath him or her.
The teacher might then misunderstand this behavior and assume that it’s because the child doesn’t understand the materials and needs remedial help. Even worse, the teacher might think that the child is intentionally misbehaving and impose punishment. A gulf appears between the educator and the one being educated, leaving behind an unhappy scenario for both parties.
Regardless of how a gifted child chooses to respond to his learning environment and how well equipped the teacher is to respond, it is clear that the lack of challenge can stop the child from reaching his or her full potential. Though there’s a lack of precise statistics, according to the University of Connecticut, some gifted students eventually drop out of school. This situation, in which a gifted child doesn’t reach his or her fullest potential due to a mismatch in the learning environment, is a sad state of affairs.
Overexcitabilities and Misdiagnosis
Gifted students often have what’s referred to as “overexcitabilities,” an idea discovered by Kazimierz Dabrowski. “Overexcitable” qualities cover the spectrum of a person’s intellectual, psychomotor, sensual, imaginational, and emotional states.
What exactly is meant by someone having “overexcitable” characteristics?
Let’s look at a typical classroom scenario. While typical children take out one or two books every week from the school library, a gifted child might have a great eagerness to read more books to learn about the world. This is because a gifted child with “intellectual overexcitability” may have an intense desire to delve deeply into a topic of interest.
They might take out every book in the library on insects one week, then come home with a stack of books about space the next.
In other words, a child with “intellectual overexcitability” is always hungry to feed his intellect, to learn more, and to expand his mind. This might make the child appear restless. The child might express his natural curiosity by often interrupting the class to ask questions, or asking questions that might seem inappropriate to a grownup. An educator might look at the child’s behavior in class and think that he or she has a short attention span and potentially an attention deficit disorder.
When doctors don’t realize that the child is gifted or doesn’t know much about giftedness, the doctor might misdiagnose the child. Unfortunately, children with “psychomotor overexcitability” are frequently misdiagnosed as having ADHD; children with “imaginational overexcitability” might be misdiagnosed as having an anxiety disorder.
For example, if your child has “psychomotor excitability”, it is likely that he or she would want to touch and play with as many gadgets and toys as possible. However, when this is done in a formal setting like a classroom, it might appear to everyone else that the child has difficulty sitting still. This is what leads to a misdiagnosis of ADHD.
In a similar vein, if your child has “imaginational overexcitability”, he or she might talk about scenarios and ideas that are outlandish. If the child starts sharing his speculation about the things that he imagines can go wrong, people might start to think that the child is easily anxious.
To complicate matters, real psychological problems can co-exist with “overexcitable” qualities. For example, it is entirely possible that a child can have both “psychomotor excitability” and ADHD. It takes a real expert to make an accurate clinical diagnosis.
This is part of the “curse” of the gifted child. The gifted child requires careful, delicate nurturing to reach his or her fullest potential in a particular skill or talent, without neglecting other areas that also require significant attention. A good school is one in which a child’s talents and weaknesses are both adequately identified and addressed.
Undiagnosed Learning Disabilities
In some people’s minds, the word ‘gifted’ indicates that the child has only superior abilities without any drawbacks. What is less understood is that gifted children can sometimes also have learning disabilities.
Oftentimes, an educator doesn’t realize that a child has a disability because the child is adept at compensating any shortcomings with their natural intelligence. For instance, a dyslexic child is a child who has difficulty learning how to read, spell, and write. Dyslexic children often present with having very low grades in spelling exams and learn words more slowly than their counterparts.
However, a dyslexic child with a particularly strong visual learning ability may simply learn all the words as sight words. However, when the child comes to an unknown word, he or she doesn’t have the skills to sound it out. Even though the child might be reading “on grade level,” reading could take twice as long as it does for a child who’s not dyslexic.
This is not usually a problem in the early years when students are starting out at around the same level and just learning how to read. However, in later schooling years, especially after the third grade, students need to “read to learn”. This is when new ideas and concepts are introduced across all subjects primarily through words. When this happens, reading can no longer be done on a purely visual level – words need to be spelled correctly and understood for their true meaning. When every subject relies on the ability to read, it can get overwhelming very quickly.
It is at this point that a gifted child with undiagnosed dyslexia begins to suffer in his or her grades. If the child was diagnosed earlier, early intervention steps could have been taken to strengthen the child’s reading and spelling abilities. However, because the child was gifted in other areas, the problem was obscured and not clearly discernible from the outside.
This means that the child misses out on the support that, combined with the child’s natural gifts, would make him or her an outstanding student. This is the “curse” of the gifted child – genius needs to be stewarded extraordinarily well in order for it to come into full blossom.
Making Social Connections
Gifted and talented students often have a hard time making friends at school. This is because they are thinking and experiencing life on a different plane than the rest of their friends. This makes it more difficult for others to connect and relate with them.
For example, at a preschool level, a gifted child might find himself frustrated with his classmates’ lack of interest in astronomy – a subject not usually taught in preschool. The child might have grasped the lessons taught in preschool so quickly that his mind wanders to other subject matters. When that happens, the child would naturally be looking for others to share in those interests, only to find that he is alone.
At a high school level, gifted students are sometimes bullied for being a “nerd”. Once again, it is because their way of thinking is so far ahead of their peers that they no longer become relatable. When their peers think that they are unfriendly or snobbish, they would naturally avoid investing the effort to befriend them. This unfortunate situation means that these gifted students are left with a world of ideas and wonder in their heads, only to find that they have no one to share it with.
Of course, many gifted students do get along with their peers. They may learn to adapt to social norms and cultures and find their effort to befriend others reciprocated. They may learn not to overshare ideas in their head that are uninteresting to their peers and modulate their excitement in school settings so as not to garner unwanted attention. In other words, they can learn to manage and flourish in social settings.
However, outside of social activities, these gifted children may still struggle to feel like someone really “gets them” – that someone truly understands their unique point of view and the ideas that they are trying to get across. There are special-gifted schools, pull-out programs, and other types of alternative groupings that exist so that these gifted students can find peers that are similar in temperament and capability.
However, there is a danger that if we simply group all the supposedly gifted children together that they will struggle to interact with the “real world” later. This is a valid concern. Gifted children must learn to navigate the world in a unique way: finding space to develop their gifts and talents to their fullest potential while learning to live with the vast majority of people who do not see the world quite as they do.
This means that even in a gifted school setting, these children must be educated in a holistic way. Good education isn’t simply about sharpening one skill at the expense of all the others. Instead, it is also very much about instilling the right values so that your child can learn to interact and contribute with his or her community in a positive and meaningful way.
Despite all of the problems that gifted children face, they are also often delightful to be around, and can really shine in the right type of environment. Unfortunately, most school teachers simply do not have the right resources or training to identify these children and help them thrive.
Gifted children need a positive school environment that allows them to work at their own pace. Being gifted in one area does not necessarily mean being gifted in others as well.
For example, it is not unusual for a student who is several years ahead in math to be behind in reading. The opposite can also be true.
At the Tenney School, we offer one-to-one classrooms, which allows us to completely personalize the education your child receives. This makes us the ideal school for gifted children, as well as children who simply don’t fit in the usual classroom. Contact us to learn more about how your child could thrive in our school.