Is Your Child Gifted?

Here's how to recognize and challenge exceptionally talented kids.

Our schools’ focus on scoring “proficient” on national tests, means that too many gifted children “are not being served well because they’re already there,” notes Debora Hansen, an education associate for the Delaware Department of Education.

Unfortunately, when the needs of exceptionally talented youngsters are overlooked, some disengage from school, exhibit behavior problems and later drop out of college, says Dawn Settle, president of Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education (PAGE). That results in tremendous wasted potential.

“If we keep our gifted kids challenged, it raises the bar for regular education. It has a phenomenal effect on all kids,” says Deb Pellen, a parent and former PAGE advocate in the Council Rock, PA schools.

Parents play a critical role in recognizing their child’s giftedness, advocating for gifted children and dispelling fallacies about them.

How To Recognize a Gifted Child

It’s not easy to recognize what gifted children “look like.” Giftedness has many variations. For example:

  • Gifted children are usually inquisitive and ask lots of questions.
  • Sometimes their questions and comments may seem irrelevant, but that’s part of their extraordinary intelligence and connection-making.
  • A gifted child may have an unusual sense of humor.
  • A gifted child is not necessarily a star in all subjects, but remember that giftedness is still part of his whole person.
  • A gifted child thinks differently from typical people. So what might appear as haphazard, non-systematic thinking may actually result because she leaps over steps that are obvious to her.
  • Resources for Gifted Kids

    Many parents and educators strongly believe that gifted children are not receiving adequate educational services within school. These organizations provide extra-curricular and summer programs for gifted kids.

    The National Association of Gifted Children provides an extensive, searchable Resource Directory that includes courses, programs and services.

    • The Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth provides a variety of challenging courses available "anytime, anywhere," through online distance education.

     • The Davidson Institute for Talent Development offers "free services for profoundly gifted students under 18."

    The Summer Institute for the Gifted provides residential and day programs at college campuses, including Bryn Mawr College and Princeton University.

    A gifted child may be a loner or seem to be in another world.

  • Many gifted kids are challenging and non-compliant. Sometimes they see better approaches or are annoyed by activities they see as boring, pointless or wasteful.
  • A gifted child may not score well on tests or speak with sophistication. Parents should insist on alternative and multiple measurements to identify their child’s exceptional talents.
  • Some gifted children are "twice exeptional," meaning that they may have extraordinary abilities in some areas, but also an extraordinary disability, such as ADHD, dyslexia or Asperger syndrome.

The Needs of Gifted Children

What do gifted kids need, and how can parents, teachers and other adults help fill those needs?

  • A gifted child may have a profound interest in one or more topics. This should be appropriately developed, not discouraged.
  • Gifted children often need to share what they learn and the questions they think about. They need appropriate peers and mentors with whom to communicate about their ideas. You can’t always serve that role, so help find them for the child.
  • Gifted Facts and Fallacies

    Fallacy: Gifted kids don’t need help. They’ll get it on their own.
    Facts: Talent needs cultivation. Even contemporary sports greats need first-rate coaching to maximize their skills.

    Fallacy: Gifted kids should get special education privately or through charter schools.
    Facts: Not all of our most capable learners are able to attend alternatives to neighborhood schools. Identifying and nurturing the nation’s talent is in the public interest. Gifted children fuel innovation and employment.

    Fallacy:  If a child were really gifted, she’d do better in school.
    Facts: Many gifted children under-perform in school. Often, they are stifled by their curriculum, teachers, classmates or bureaucratic barriers. Some gifted children have disabilities that mask their capabilities and impede their performance.

    Gifted children can be shy, perfectionist, intolerant or ashamed of their own mistakes, overly sensitive, embarrassed by being different. They need encouragement to take intellectual risks, grow from mistakes and be themselves.

  • Gifted youngsters need to interact with each other socially in order to feel less isolated and out of place.
  • Many gifted students haven’t had to study to succeed until late high school or college, so they actually haven’t learned study skills. Many need to learn organizational and work management strategies in order to be prepared and succeed when they actually have to work hard at something.
  • Build on individual strengths. Even multiple gifted children in the same family have different talents, interests and styles. Some reveal their talents verbally; others manifest their exceptionality in other ways.
  • Help a gifted student to find mentors and resources that go beyond their parents' and teachers' areas of expertise.

Ann L. Rappoport, PhD, is an educational consultant and contributing writer to MetroKids.

Best Practices to Address Needs of Gifted

Parents of gifted children often can influence or participate in creating their child's educational program. Here are best teaching practices to seek or ask about.

• Stimulate gifted students at an appropriate level with “differentiated” work. This  calls for flexible grouping that, for example, would allow children who already understand fractions to work with other students doing more advanced math, even if it means working with students from other grades.

• Gifted students' lessons should differ in terms of content, process and product. For instance, in a unit about solar power, typical students will learn how energy comes from the sun to the earth and might demonstrate their understanding by telling or drawing how this happens. Gifted students may work with different materials to learn about harnessing solar energy and then write their ideas about how solar energy could change the classroom of the future.

• Gifted students need opportunities to test out of the curriculum they’ve already mastered and to work beyond, in “orbital studies” that involve more creativity and analysis. This is called “compacting the curriculum.”

• Gifted students need “safe” learning opportunities where they aren’t ridiculed as nerds. Instead of being passed over to “give other children a chance,” the gifted child needs an environment that supports his enthusiasm, inquiry and scholarship.

• Recognize that advanced placement (AP) courses are not necessarily “silver bullets” for gifted students. Some gifted students might need a different approach than the standardized AP curriculum.

• Both at school and at home, build skills of effective question-asking, as well as answering. Use open-ended questions and solicit multiple ways to solve problems. For example, say, “That’s a good idea. Can you think of more ways to use that strainer?” Also, encourage a gifted student to make connections among different subjects.


Categories: Education Features