Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Helping Your Highly Gifted Child

By Carol Bainbridge, About.com Guide
To the trained eye, it can be fairly easy to spot a gifted child. Even to the not-so-trained eye of a parent, it's easy to notice that a child is not quite like other children. However, parents often question what those differences mean. They know their child is smart, but gifted? Looking at a list of gifted traits or characteristics is a quick first step in determining whether a child is gifted. If you have a toddler and you're wondering if he or she is gifted, take a look at the list of characteristics of young gifted children.
Cognitive Traits
o Very Observant
o Extremely Curious
o Intense interests
o Excellent memory
o Long attention span
o Excellent reasoning skills
o Well-developed powers of abstraction, conceptualization, and synthesis
o Quickly and easily sees relationships in ideas, objects, or facts
o Fluent and flexible thinking
o Elaborate and original thinking
o Excellent problem solving skills
o Learns quickly and with less practice and repetition
o Unusual and/or vivid imagination

Social and Emotional Traits (see Supersensitivities in Gifted Children)
o Interested in philosophical and social issues
o Very sensitive, emotionally and even physically
o Concerned about fairness and injustice
o Perfectionistic
o Energetic
o Well-Developed Sense of Humor
o Usually intrinsically motivated
o Relates well to parents, teachers and other adults

Language Traits (See Language Development in Gifted Children)
o Extensive Vocabulary
o May Read Early
o Reads Rapidly and Widely
o Asks "what if" questions

Additional Traits
o Enjoys learning new things
o Enjoys intellectual activity
o Displays intellectual playfulness
o Prefers books and magazines meant for older children
o Skeptical, critical, and evaluative
o Asynchronous development
Suggested Reading on Gifted Children
Characteristics of Young Gifted ChildrenDabrowski's OverexcitabiltiesSocial and Emotional Issues
More Reading on Gifted Children
Early Entry into Kindergarten What to Look for in a Good Gifted Program Developmental Milestones - Three Months to Five Years

Gifted 101
• Is My Child Gifted?
• Quick Test for Giftedness
• What is a Gifted Child?
• Different Perspectives on the Term Gifted
• Gifted Kids' Bill of Rights

By Carol Bainbridge, About.com Guide

Does your child complain about the seams in his socks? Put her hands over her ears when the movie starts in the movie theater? Have trouble sitting still? Get moved almost to tears by a piece of music or work of art? These are signs of the kinds of intensities that can be seen in gifted children.
Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski identified five of these intensities, which he called "overexcitabilities" or "supersensitivities": Psychomotor, Sensual, Emotional, Intellectual, and Imaginational. Gifted children tend to have more than one of these intensities, although one is usually dominant.

The primary sign of this intensity is a surplus of energy. Children with a dominant psychomotor overexcitability are often misdiagnosed with ADHD since characteristics are similar.
• Rapid speech
• Impulsive behavior
• Competitiveness
• Compulsive talking
• Compulsive organizing
• Nervous habits and tics
• Preference for fast action and sports
• Physical expression of emotions
• Sleeplessness

The primary sign of this intensity is a heightened awareness of all five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. Children with a dominant sensual overexcitability can get sick from the smell of certain foods or as toddlers will hate to walk on grass in their bare feet. The pleasure they get from the tastes and textures of some foods may cause them to overeat.
• Appreciation of beauty, whether in writing, music, art or nature. Includes love of objects like jewelry
• Sensitive to smells, tastes, or textures of foods
• Sensitivity to pollution
• Tactile sensitivity (Bothered by feel of some materials on the skin, clothing tags)
• Craving for pleasure
• Need or desire for comfort

This intensity is the one most recognized in gifted children. It is characterized by activities of the mind, thought and thinking about thinking. Children who lead with this intensity seem to be thinking all the time and want answers to deep thoughts. Sometimes their need for answers will get them in trouble in school when their questioning of the teacher can look like disrespectful challenging.
• Deep curiosity
• Love of knowledge and learning
• Love of problem solving
• Avid reading
• Asking of probing questions
• Theoretical thinking
• Analytical thinking
• Independent thinking
• Concentration, ability to maintain intellectual effort

The primary sign of this intensity is the free play of the imagination. Their vivid imaginations can cause them to visualize the worst possibility in any situation. It can keep them from taking chances or getting involved in new situations.
• Vivid dreams
• Fear of the unknown
• Good sense of humor
• Magical thinking
• Love of poetry, music and drama
• Love of fantasy
• Daydreaming
• Imaginary friends
• Detailed visualization

The primary sign of this intensity is exceptional emotional sensitivity. Children with a strong emotional overexcitability are sometimes mistakenly believed to have bipolar disorder or other emotional problems and disorders. They are often the children about whom people will say, "He's too sensitive for his own good."
• Extremes of emotion
• Anxiety
• Feelings of guilt and sense of responsibility
• Feelings of inadequacy and inferiority
• Timidity and shyness
• Loneliness
• Concern for others
• Heightened sense right and wrong, of injustice and hypocrisy
• Strong memory for feelings
• Problems adjusting to change
• Depression
• Need for security
• Physical response to emotions (stomach aches caused by anxiety, for example)
Parents can get a better understanding of their gifted children by matching their child's behavior with the characteristics of each of these intensities. Telling an emotionally intense child to ignore teasing or not let the teasing bother him is impossible advice for the child to follow. Understanding what lies behind a gifted child's behavior will help parents better respond to that behavior.

More on Dabrowski's Overexcitabilities in Gifted Children
Psychomotor OverexcitabilitySensual OverexcitabilityIntellectual Overexcitability
Imaginational OverexcitabilityEmotional Overexcitability

Suggested Reading
How to Raise Optimistic Children
• Dabrowski's Psychomotor Overexcitability of Gifted Children
• Dabrowski's Intellectual Overexcitability of Gifted Children
• Dabrowski's Imaginational Overexcitability of Gifted Children
• Dabrowski's Sensual Overexcitability of Gifted Children

By Carol Bainbridge, About.com Guide

How old does a child have to be before he or she exhibits characteristics of giftedness? Many parents and teachers believe that a child is gifted when school tests say they are, and these tests aren't given until third or fourth grade, if at all. The truth is that gifted traits show up in toddlers. In fact, some of them can be seen even in infants!

Browse through the following lists and see how many characteristics apply to your young child. Keep in mind that to be gifted a child need not have every one of these characteristics.

Traits in Young Children:
1. As infants, may get fussy if facing one direction for too long
2. As infants, appear alert
3. Need less sleep, even as infants
4. Frequently reach 'milestones' such as walking and first speech earlier than average
5. May speak late, but then speak in complete sentences
6. Strong desire to explore, investigate, and master the environment (opens up cabinets, takes things apart)
7. Toys and games mastered early, then discarded
8. Very active (but activity with a purpose, not to be confused with ADHD)
9. Can distinguish between reality and fantasy (questions about Santa or the tooth fairy come very early!)

Highly gifted toddlers may also show an intense interest in numbers or letters. These are often the children who start doing simple math or teach themselves to read by the time they are three. However, a child who does not read or do math early may still be gifted. Children who read or do math early are almost certainly gifted, but not all gifted children do those things early.

Studies of gifted infants (those who score high on IQ tests as grade school children) show that they have a low tolerance for the familiar and a preference for novelty. Basically, infants were shown different objects for a certain amount of time. Those infants who later were shown to be gifted children looked away from objects more quickly than other infants. When shown a familiar object and a new one, the gifted infants preferred to look at the new one.

This is interesting since it supports the idea that gifted children need new information to learn, that they get bored with the same old information day after day. Their frustration at having to learn and "relearn" the same information is due to this apparently inborn need for novelty and not to their being spoiled, as many people imply (or state outright!)

Suggested Reading on Young Gifted Children
Gifted BabiesSigns of Giftedness in InfantsStop a Fussy Gifted Baby From Fussing

Reading on Young Gifted Children Elsewhere on the Web
Early Signs of Giftedness
Characteristics of Young Gifted Children
Additional Reading to Help Understand Gifted Children
Developmental Milestones - Three Months to Five Years
Young Gifted Children
• Premature Birth and Giftedness
• Signs of Giftedness in Infants
• Gifted Babies
• Stop a Fussy Gifted Baby From Fussing

By Carol Bainbridge, About.com Guide

One characteristic of gifted children is advanced language ability, which means these children reach developmental milestones relating to language earlier than developmental charts would indicate. This means that gifted children tend to talk earlier, have larger vocabularies, and use longer sentences than non-gifted children.
How can parents tell if their child's language development is advanced? A first step is to look at typical language developmental milestones. A second step is to look at what advanced language development is.
Language Developmental Milestones

At three months, a child:
• Makes cooing and gurgling sounds

At six months, a child:
• Babbles and makes sing-song sounds

At twelve months, a child:
• Babbles, but with inflection, which sounds like talking
• Says first word

At eighteen months, a child:
• Says 8-10 words others can understand
• Has vocabulary of about 5 to 40 words, mostly nouns
• Repeats words heard in conversation
• Uses “hi,” “bye,” and “please” when reminded

At two years, a child:
• Has a vocabulary of 150 to 300 words
• Uses 2-3 word sentences, usually in noun-verb combinations, such as "Dog bark," but also using inflection with combinations like "More cookie?"
• Refers to self by name and uses “me” and “mine”

At three years, a child:
• Uses 3-5 word sentences
• Asks short questions, usually using "what" or "where."
• Has a vocabulary of about 900-1000 words

At four years, a child:
• Has a vocabulary of about 1,500 to 2,500 words
• Uses sentences of 5 or more words

At five years, a child:
• Identifies some letters of the alphabet
• Uses 6 words in a sentence
• Uses “and,” “but,” and “then” to make longer sentence

By age six, a child's language begins to sound like adult speech, including the use of complex sentences, with words like "when," for example. However, children tend not to use sentences with "although" and "even though" until about age 10.
Advanced Language Development

Early Talking
Gifted children tend to begin talking early. While most children say their first word at around one year of age, gifted children may begin speaking when they are nine months old. Some parents report that their children said their first word even earlier than that, as early as six months of age.

Some parents have even reported that their children tried very hard to form words at three months! However, most babies are simply not physically developed sufficiently to control their mouths, tongue, and lips well enough to make the speech sounds they need. They may purse their lips and nearly turn blue with the effort and then become quite frustrated when they can't make the sounds they want to make.

Teaching babies sign language is a good way to help these children express themselves without vocalization.

It's important to note that not all gifted children speak early. In fact, some gifted children are late talkers, not talking until they are two years old or even older. When they do speak, however, they sometimes skip over the stages of language development and may begin speaking in full sentences. While early talking is a sign of giftedness, not speaking early is not an indication that a child is not gifted.

Advanced Vocabulary
An advanced vocabulary can mean two different things. It can mean the number of words a child uses and it can mean the types of words a child uses.

While a non-gifted child may have a vocabulary of 150-300 words at age two, gifted children may have surpassed the 100 word mark by the time they are eighteen months old. At eighteen months, most children have a vocabulary of from five to twenty words, although some do reach the fifty-word milestone by the time they are two years old. In their second year, most children increase their vocabulary to up to 300 words. Gifted children, however, will have a larger working vocabulary, approaching that of a four year old or even older children.

The other type of advanced vocabulary refers to the types of words a child has in his or her vocabulary. Typically, the first words a child learns will be nouns: mama, daddy, dog, ball, bird, etc. After that, simple verbs are added, for example, want, go, see, give. Gifted children, however, will be adding connecting words, such as and or even because. By age three, gifted children might also have added transitional words, such as however or multisyllabic words like appropriate.

Sentence Structures
A typical two-year old can construct sentences of two or three words, often without a verb. For example, a child might say, "There cat" for "There is a cat." A gifted child, however, will often be able to speak in fuller sentences at age two and by age three, their language may already resemble adult speech. They are able to use time markers, like now, later, first, and then, which, along with their advanced vocabulary and more complete sentences, allow them to carry on full conversations with adults.

Although most gifted children have this kind of advanced language development, its absence does not mean a child is not gifted. The range of normal language development is also as widely variable in gifted children as it is in the non-gifted population. These descriptions of what might be typical in a gifted child are meant to help parents understand what advanced language ability looks like.

Reading on Advanced Development of Gifted Children
Characteristics of Gifted Children
Dabrowski's Overexcitabilities or Supersensitivities in Gifted Children
Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration
Suggested Reading on Language Development in Children Elsewhere on the Web
Language Development in Children
Language Development
Speech and Language Developmental Milestones
Recommended Reading
Developmental Milestones
Gifted 101
• Is My Child Gifted?
• Quick Test for Giftedness
• What is a Gifted Child?
• Characteristics of Gifted Children
• Different Perspectives on the Term Gifted

By Carol Bainbridge, About.com Guide

Asynchronous development refers to uneven intellectual, physical, and emotional development. In average children, intellectual, physical, and emotional development progresses at about the same rate. That is, the development is in "sync." An average three-year-old has the intellectual and physical abilities as well as the emotional maturity most other three-year-olds have. However, in gifted children, the development of those areas is out of "sync." They do not progress at the same rate. A gifted three-year-old child's developmental profile could look like this:

Intellectual ability -- age 6
Physical ability -- age 3
Emotional maturity -- age 2

Or this:
Intellectual ability -- age 7
Physical ability -- age 3
Emotional maturity -- age 4

Or this:
Intellectual ability -- age 6
Physical ability -- age 4
Emotional maturity -- age 3

Or any other combination of the three, although the intellectual ability is always advanced. (Some believe that it is possible to advanced physically, but not intellectually.)
The higher a child's IQ is, the more out of sync his or her development is likely to be.

Suggested Reading About Gifted Children
Characteristics of Gifted Children
Definitions of Gifted
Testing Your Gifted Child
Reading About Asynchronous Development
Elsewhere on the Web
Giftedness As Asynchronous Development
• Ability Grouping
• AP Courses
• Ceiling Effect
• Cluster Grouping
• Cooperative Learning

"The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this :
A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.
To him...
a touch is a blow,
a sound is a noise,
a misfortune is a tragedy,
a joy is an ecstasy,
a friend is a lover,
a lover is a god,
and failure is death.

Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create - - - so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating."
-Pearl Buck-
Characteristics of Gifted Children
Identifying The Gifted
Recognizing the Characteristics of Gifted Children
General Behavior Characteristics
Learning Characteristics
Creative Characteristics
Who are the Highly Gifted?
Some Myths About Gifted Children

Identifying The Gifted
1. Einstein was four years old before he could speak and seven before he could read.
2. Isaac Newton did poorly in grade school.
3. When Thomas Edison was a boy, his teachers told him he was too stupid to learn anything.
4. F.W.Woolworth got a job in a dry goods store when he was 21. But his employers would not let him wait on a customer because he "Didn't have enough sense."
5. A newspaper editor fired Walt Disney because he had "No good ideas"
6. Caruso's music teacher told him "You can't sing, you have no voice at all."
7. Leo Tolstoy flunked out of college.
8. Verner Von Braun flunked 9th grade algebra.
9. Admiral Richard E. Byrd had been retired from the navy, as, "Unfit for service" Until he flew over both poles.
10. Louis Pasteur was rated as mediocre in chemistry when he attended the Royal College
11. Abraham Lincoln entered The Black Hawk War as a captain and came out a private
12. Fred Waring was once rejected from high school chorus.
13. Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade.

Recognizing the Characteristics of Gifted Children
ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children (1985) cites three types of characteristics of gifted children: general behavioral, learning, and creative characteristics.

General Behavior Characteristics
Gifted children's behavior differs from that of their age-mates in the following ways:
• Many gifted children learn to read early, with better comprehension of the nuances of language. As much as half the gifted and talented population has learned to read before entering school.
• Gifted children often read widely, quickly, and intensely and have large vocabularies.
• Gifted children commonly learn basic skills better, more quickly, and with less practice.
• They are better able to construct and handle abstractions.
• They often pick up and interpret nonverbal cues and can draw inferences that other children need to have spelled out for them.
• They take less for granted, seeking the "hows" and "whys."
• They can work independently at an earlier age and can concentrate for longer periods.
• Their interests are both wildly eclectic and intensely focused.
• They often have seemingly boundless energy, which sometimes leads to a misdiagnosis of hyperactivity.
• They usually respond and relate well to parents, teachers, and other adults. They may prefer the company of older children and adults to that of their peers.
• They like to learn new things, are willing to examine the unusual, and are highly inquisitive.
• They tackle tasks and problems in a well-organized, goal-directed, and efficient manner.
• They exhibit an intrinsic motivation to learn, find out, or explore and are often very persistent. "I'd rather do it myself" is a common attitude.

Learning Characteristics
Gifted children are natural learners who often show many of these characteristics:
• They may show keen powers of observation and a sense of the significant; they have an eye for important details.
• They may read a great deal on their own, preferring books and magazines written for children older than they are.
• They often take great pleasure in intellectual activity.
• They have well-developed powers of abstraction, conceptualization, and synthesis.
• They readily see cause-effect relationships.
• They often display a questioning attitude and seek information for its own sake as much as for its usefulness.
• They are often skeptical, critical, and evaluative. They are quick to spot inconsistencies.
• They often have a large storehouse of information about a variety of topics, which they can recall quickly.
• They readily grasp underlying principles and can often make valid generalizations about events, people, or objects.
• They quickly perceive similarities, differences, and anomalies.
• They often attack complicated material by separating it into components and analyzing it systematically.

Creative Characteristics
Gifted children's creative abilities often set them apart from their age-mates. These characteristics may take the following forms:
• Gifted children are fluent thinkers, able to generate possibilities, consequences, or related ideas.
• They are flexible thinkers, able to use many different alternatives and approaches to problem solving.
• They are original thinkers, seeking new, unusual, or unconventional associations and combinations among items of information.
• They can also see relationships among seemingly unrelated objects, ideas, or facts.
• They are elaborate thinkers, producing new steps, ideas, responses, or other embellishments to a basic idea, situation, or problems.
• They are willing to entertain complexity and seem to thrive on problem solving.
• They are good guessers and can readily construct hypotheses or "what if" questions.
• They often are aware of their own impulsiveness and irrationality, and they show emotional sensitivity.
• They are extremely curious about objects, ideas, situations, or events.
• They often display intellectual playfulness and like to fantasize and imagine.
• They can be less intellectually inhibited than their peers are in expressing opinions and ideas, and they often disagree spiritedly with others' statements.
• They are sensitive to beauty and are attracted to aesthetic values.

Who are the Highly Gifted?
Highly gifted children tend to be those who demonstrate asynchronous development. Due to their high cognitive abilities and high intensities they experience and relate to the world in unique ways. These children are often found as a result of extremely high scores on an individually scored IQ tests, generally above the 140 IQ range. Others may be prodigies in areas such as math, science, language and/or the arts. Profoundly gifted children can score in excess of 170 IQ.
Highly gifted children demonstrate characteristics such as the extreme need to:
1. Learn at a much faster pace.
2. Process material to a much greater depth.
3. Show incredible intensity in energy, imagination, intellectual prowess, sensitivity, and emotion which are not typical in the general population.
The child of 160+ is as different from the child of 130 IQ as that child is different from the child of average ability. Current research suggests that there may be higher incidence of children in this high range than previously thought. Due to their unique characteristics, these children are particularly vulnerable. Highly gifted children need a specialized advocacy because very little has been done to develop appropriate curriculum and non-traditional options for these children.
From the Hollingworth Center for Highly Gifted Children
Printed with Permission

Some Myths About Gifted Children
Gifted Kids are like cream that rises to the top in a classroom:
Not necessarily. Gifted Children can have hidden learning disabilities that go undiscovered because they can easily compensate for them in the early years. As time goes on though, it becomes harder and harder for them to excel. Which can lead to behavior problems and depression.

Gifted Kids are so smart they do fine with or without special programs:
They may appear to do fine on their own. But without proper challenge they can become bored and unruly. As the years go by they may find it harder and harder as work does become more challenging, since they never faced challenge before.
Gifted and Talented means the same thing:

Again, not necessarily. There is no rule that states that a child who is capable of scoring to the high ninety percentiles on group achievement testing must be considered gifted. We must remember that achievement tests like the Metropolitan Achievement Tests are "Grade Level Testing". Such a child is most definitely Academically Talented. But further individualized IQ and out of level academic testing must be given before we can define that child as "Gifted". At the same time, there is no rule that states a child identified as gifted should be Achieving to high standards in the classroom. This type of stereotyping can do serious and irreversible damage to both groups. ANY child can benefit from enrichment. Academically Talented Children can benefit from Honors (Grade Level) Classes. Intellectually Gifted children need a differentiated curriculum and possibly even a different environment.
They need to go through school with their own age mates:

Where it's true that children need to play and interact socially with other children their age, they do not need to learn with them. Especially in the case of a highly gifted child who may have a chronological age of six and a mental age of 11 who has been reading since two. To put that child in a reading class with other six year olds who are just learning to read is sheer torture for that child.
Giftedness is something to be jealous about:
This is perhaps the most damaging myth. More often than not gifted children can feel isolated and misunderstood. They have more adult tastes in music, clothing, reading material and food. These differences to other children can cause them to be shunned and even abused verbally or physically by other children. Experts in the field of gifted education are beginning to address the higher incidences of ADHD and Spelling/Handwriting disabilities in the gifted population verses those in the much larger normal population.

by Stephanie S. Tolan
ERIC DIGEST #E477, 1990

Most parents greet the discovery that their child is not merely gifted but highly or profoundly gifted with a combination of pride, excitement, and fear. They may set out to find experts or books to help them cope with raising such a child, only to find there are no real experts, only a couple of books, and very little understanding of extreme intellectual potential and how to develop it. This digest deals with some areas of concern and provides a few practical suggestions based on the experience of other parents and the modest amount of research available.

To understand highly gifted children it is essential to realize that, although they are children with the same basic needs as other children, they are very different. Adults cannot ignore or gloss over their differences without doing serious damage to these children, for the differences will not go away or be outgrown. They affect almost every aspect of these children's intellectual and emotional lives.

A microscope analogy is one useful way of understanding extreme intelligence. If we say that all people look at the world through a lens, with some lenses cloudy or distorted, some clear, and some magnified, we might say that gifted individuals view the world through a microscope lens and the highly gifted view it through an electron microscope. They see ordinary things in very different ways and often see what others simply cannot see. Although there are advantages to this heightened perception, there are disadvantages as well.
Since many children eventually become aware of being different, it is important to prepare yourself for your child's reactions. When your child's giftedness has been identified, you might open a discussion using the microscope analogy. If you are concerned that such a discussion will promote arrogance, be sure to let children know that unusual gifts, like hair and eye color, are not earned. It is neither admirable nor contemptible to be highly gifted. It is what one does with one's abilities that is important.

A United Front
As in most other aspects of parenting, it is important for both parents (or the adults who bear primary responsibility for raising the child) to agree on some basic issues regarding the child's potential. Many parents of exceptionally gifted children were themselves gifted or exceptionally gifted children. If they did not learn to accept and understand their own giftedness, they may find it difficult to accept their child's unusual capacities. Raising a highly gifted child may help parents come to terms with many difficult aspects of their own lives, but it helps if they focus first on the needs of the child and come to an agreement about how to meet them.

What the Highly Gifted Need
Exceptionally gifted children have two primary needs. First, they need to feel comfortable with themselves and with the differences that simultaneously open possibilities and create difficulty. Second, they need to develop their astonishing potential. There is a strong internal drive to develop one's abilities. Thwarting that drive may lead to crippling emotional damage. Throughout the parenting years, it is wise to keep in mind that the healthiest long term goal is not necessarily a child who gains fame, fortune, and a Nobel Prize, but one who becomes a comfortable adult and uses gifts productively.

The Early Years
Before your child begins formal schooling, differences can be handled by your willingness to follow the child's lead and meet needs as they arise. It is possible and important to treat an infant's or toddler's precocity with a degree of normalcy. For example, a 2-year-old who prefers and plays appropriately with toys designed for 6-year-olds should be given those toys. The 3-year-old who reads should be given books. The child who speaks very early and with a sophisticated vocabulary should be spoken to in kind.

Public Attitudes
Even when parents can take precocious achievements in stride, friends, family and strangers may not. Unthinking people will comment (often loudly and in front of the child) that a 2- or 3-year-old who sits in the grocery cart reading packages aloud is a phenomenon.
It may be surprisingly difficult to avoid letting parental pride lure you into encouraging your children to "perform" in public. Keep in mind the goal of making the child as comfortable as possible with individual differences. The more casually you accept unusual early accomplishments, the more your children will be able to see those accomplishments as normal. Later, when the gifts are no longer quite as noticeable, the child will not feel that what made him or her valuable has somewhat been lost.

Multiple Ages
Highly gifted children are many ages simultaneously. A 5- year-old may read like a 7-year-old, play chess like a 12- year-old, talk like a 13-year-old, and share toys like a 2-year- old. A child may move with lightning speed from a reasoned discussion of the reasons for taking turns on the playground to a full-scale temper tantrum when not allowed to be first on the swing. You can help yourself maneuver among the child's ages by reading about developmental norms (Gesell is a good guide) so that you are ready for (and avoid punishing) behavior that, though it seems childish in a precocious child, is absolutely age appropriate.

If your nine month old begins speaking in full sentences, you probably will not tell the child to stop and wait till other nine month olds catch up. You would not limit such a child to using nouns because that is as much speech as most nine month olds can handle. However, in public or private school that may be the approach some educators use.

It is important to realize that they are not purposely setting out to keep your child from learning, although that might be the effect. Many educators have never knowingly dealt with a highly gifted child. They do not recognize them, and they do not know how to handle them. Some educators base teaching methods an developmental norms that are inappropriate for highly gifted children. Although they may be willing to make an effort to accommodate these youngsters, they may lack sufficient information or experience and not know what type of effort to make.
When a child enters school already able to do what the teacher intends to teach, there is seldom a variety of mechanisms for teaching that child something else. Even if there were a way to provide time, attention, and an appropriate curriculum, it would be necessary for the teacher to use different teaching methods. Highly gifted children learn not only faster than others, but also differently. Standard teaching methods take complex subjects and break them into small, simple bits presented one at a time. Highly gifted minds can consume large amounts of information in a single gulp, and they thrive on complexity. Giving these children simple bits of information is like feeding an elephant one blade of grass at a time - he will starve before he even realizes that anyone is trying to feed him.
When forced to work with the methods and pace of a typical school, highly gifted children may look not more capable than their peers, but less capable. Many of their normal characteristics add to this problem. Their handwriting might be very messy because their hands do not keep pace with their quick minds. Many spell poorly because they read for comprehension and do not see the words as collections of separate letters. When they try to "sound out" a word, their logical spelling of an illogical language results in errors. Most have difficulty with rote memorization, a standard learning method in the early grades.
Lack of Fit
The difficulty with highly gifted children in school may be summarized in three words: they don't fit. Almost all American schools organize groups of children by age. As we have seen, the highly gifted child is many ages. The child's intellectual needs might be years ahead of same-age peers, although the gulf may be larger in some subject areas than in others.

Imagine 6-year old Rachel. She reads on a 12th grade level, although her comprehension is "only" that of a 7th grader. She does multiplication and division, understands fractions and decimals, but counts on her fingers because she has never memorized addition and subtraction facts or multiplication tables. Her favorite interests at home are paleontology and astronomy; at school her favorite interests are lunch and recess. She collects stamps and plays chess. Although she can concentrate at her telescope for hours at a time, she cannot sit still when she's bored. She cries easily, loses her temper often, bosses other children when they "don't do it right," and can't keep track of her personal belongings. She has a sophisticated sense of humor that disarms adults but is not understood by other children.
Putting Rachel into a normal first grade without paying special attention to her differences is a recipe for social, emotional and educational disaster. Even if a gifted program is available (they commonly begin in third or fourth grade), it is unlikely to meet her extreme needs.
Educating a highly gifted child in school is like clothing a 6X child in a store where the largest available garment is a 3 (or with a gifted program, a 3X). Parents have to resort to alterations or individual tailoring of whatever kind they can manage.

In dealing with school issues, it's important to remember that you know more about your child than anyone else. Your knowledge, information, and instincts are useful and important, and they should be recognized in designing a school program. Your child genuinely needs individual attention. Anything else may be directly and seriously harmful.
There is no ideal school pattern for the highly gifted. However, when normal school patterns lead to difficulty, it is important to obtain real differentiation.

Because highly gifted children may begin school already knowing much of the material covered in early grades and because they learn quickly, some type of acceleration is necessary. For some children and in some situations, grade skipping is the best choice. Placing a child with older children who share interests may be socially and intellectually beneficial and result in a more appropriate curriculum. It is also a simple and economical solution for the school. Some children begin school early; others skip several early grades; others skip whole educational levels, such as junior high or even high school. Skipping a single year is seldom helpful, because the difference between one grade level and the next is too small. Grade skipping is not without problems, but allowing highly gifted children to stay in a class that meets few if any of their needs may do serious and long-term damage.

Another type of acceleration is subject matter acceleration. A child may take math with a class four grades ahead, reading with a class two grades ahead, physical education with age peers. This type of acceleration considers the varying developmental ages of the highly gifted child. For further flexibility, you might consider evening classes or weekend classes at a high school or college and ask the school to excuse coverage of those subjects in regular classes. A child might go to school with age mates only in the morning or only in the afternoon. This method calls for school and parental flexibility and may lead to logistical problems such as scheduling and transportation, but is often more satisfactory than grade skipping because the child associates at least part of the time with age peers.
When the School Will Not Change
When parents approach teachers and administrators with information and documentation, in a spirit of cooperation instead of confrontation, offering suggestions and help instead of attacking, some positive changes in normal methods usually result. Sometimes, however, schools refuse to make changes for one child. When this happens, parents have few choices. One is to move to a school system that will make changes. Another is home schooling.
For many highly gifted children home schooling is a nearly ideal solution to the problem of fit. Instead of laboriously altering ready-made programs, parents can tailor an education precisely to the child's needs. Clubs, sports, scouting, and other activities supply social interaction with other children while parents serve as teachers or facilitators or engage tutors or mentors in various subject areas.

Home schooling is seldom an easy choice. In some districts it is either illegal or beset with regulations that make it almost as rigid as classroom schooling. When both parents or the single resident parent must work, it may be impossible. Some parents and children find the level of togetherness stifling, while others cannot avoid pushing and demanding too much. However, home schooling may be a positive choice for many families. Many children move surprisingly smoothly from home schooling in the early years into high school or college when their intellectual needs outgrow the home environment. One of the major benefits to education at home is the maintenance of self esteem, which is highly problematic in a school environment.
Social/Emotional Needs
In the movie E.T. there was something heartrending in the small alien's attempts to "phone home," in his constant longing for others of his kind despite the loving concern of the family who cared for him. Highly gifted children endure some of that same pain. It is hard for them to find kindred spirits, hard for them to feel they fit into the only world they know.

Highly gifted children may have trouble establishing fulfilling friendships with people of their own age when there are few or no other highly gifted children with whom to interact. As a high school student told his mother, "I can be that part of myself that is like my classmates, and we get along fine. But, there's no one I can share the rest of me with, no one who understands what means the most to me." For most highly gifted children, social relationships with age peers necessitate a constant monitoring of thoughts, words, and behavior.
One of the greatest benefits of the talent searches proliferating in colleges across the country is the chance for highly gifted children to spend time with others like themselves. For 3 weeks in the summer, children who qualify (by scoring high enough on the SAT or ACT in the seventh grade or earlier) attend class on a college campus with other highly gifted children. Rather than feeling like oddballs, they suddenly feel normal. Lifelong friendships may form in a matter of days. Many summer program participants consider the social interaction as valuable as the classes.
What else can you do to help highly gifted children find friends? It helps children to understand that there are different types of friends. They may play baseball, ride bikes, and watch TV with one person, talk about books or movies with another, and play chess or discuss astronomy with another. Some of these friends may be their own age, some may be younger, or more often, older. Only in school is it suggested that people must be within a few months of each other in age to form meaningful relationships.
Raising a highly gifted child may be ecstasy, agony and everything between. Adults must perform almost impossible feats of balance - supporting a child's gifts without pushing, valuing without overinvesting, championing without taking over. It is costly, physically and emotionally draining, and intellectually demanding. In the first flush of pride, few parents realize that their task is in many ways similar to the task faced by parents of a child with severe handicaps. Our world does not accommodate differences easily, and it matters little whether the difference is perceived to be a deficit or an overabundance.
We have covered only a few issues in this space, but the most important help you can give your highly gifted child or children can be expressed in a single sentence: Give them a safe home, a refuge where they feel love and genuine acceptance, even of their differences. As adults with a safe home in their background, they can put together lives of productivity and fulfillment.

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Copyright, 1989, Stephanie S. Tolan. Stephanie Tolan is a noted author of children's books and one of the authors of Guiding the Gifted Child.
ERIC digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated
This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract no. RI88062007. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department of Education.