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Gifted Children



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By Dr. B. J. C. Perera MBBS(Ceylon), DCH(Ceylon), DCH(England), MD(Paediatrics), FRCP(Edinburgh), FRCP(London), FRCPCH(United Kingdom), FSLCPaed, FCCP, FCGP(Sri Lanka) Consultant Paediatrician


Continued from yesterday


There is a belief that gifted and talented mean the same thing. This is not necessarily so. 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. Some children are most definitely academically talented. But further individualized IQ and out of level academic testing must be given before they can be classed as gifted. At the same time, there is no rule that states a child identified as gifted should be achieving 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 special classes. However, intellectually gifted children need a differentiated curriculum and possibly even a different environment.


Some people think that these gifted children need to go through school with their own age mates. This is not strictly true. It is granted that they need to play and interact socially with other children of their age but 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 and who has been reading since two, just to put such a child in a reading class with other six year olds who are just learning to read is sheer torture for that child.


Giftedness is sometimes thought of as 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 several behaviour disorders in the gifted population verses those in the much larger normal population.


There is a very special group of exceptionally gifted children. They would generally score well over 170 in IQ testing. 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 very high range than previously thought. Due to their unique characteristics, these children are particularly vulnerable. Highly gifted children need specialized advocacy because very little has been done to develop appropriate curriculum and non-traditional options for these children. 


Raising and nurturing a gifted child can be an exciting yet daunting challenge. Unfortunately, these complicated little people do not come with instruction manuals. Giftedness is now thought of as "asynchronous development" in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them to be particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counselling in order for them to develop optimally. "Asynchronous development" means that gifted children develop cognitively at a much faster rate than they develop physically and emotionally, posing some interesting problems.


Children learn first from their parents. Parents who spend time with their gifted child are more able to tune in to their child’s interests and respond by offering appropriate educational enrichment opportunities. It is important that parents read to their children frequently, even when the children are capable of reading to themselves. In the early years, parents can help their children discover their personal interests, expose their children to their own interests, and encourage their children to learn about a wide variety of subjects such as art, nature, music, museums, and sports. Children who are attracted to a particular area need opportunities to explore that field in depth. Home stimulation and support of interests is vital to the development of talents. Following the lead of the child will help the child flourish.


Gifted children often can exhaust and overwhelm a new mother and father. Gifted infants often sleep less than other babies and require extra stimulation when they are awake. It is helpful to have extended family in the home, grandparents who live nearby, a close community of friends or relatives, or a teenager in the neighbourhood who can spend some time with the child so that the primary caretakers can get some rest to do other things. For single parents, such support is particularly important. From the time they can talk, gifted children are constantly asking questions and often challenge authority. "Do it because I said so" does not work with these children. Generally, parents who take the time to explain requests get more cooperation than do more authoritarian parents. If these children are spoken to and listened to with consideration and respect, they tend to respond appropriately.  


As children get older, a family meeting can be a good way of sharing responsibility and learning negotiation skills. Family meetings can provide a forum where children have a voice as a family member, and provide avenues for avoiding power struggles that otherwise can occur. It is important for gifted children to feel emotionally supported by the family—even when there are disagreements.


Gifted children generally benefit by spending at least some time in the classroom with children of similar abilities. Their educational program should be designed to foster progress at their own rate of development. Parents who become involved with the school can help administrators and teachers be responsive to the needs of these children. Open, flexible environments provide students with opportunities for choices, and enhance independence and creativity. Early entrance or other forms of acceleration may be considered when the school gifted program is not sufficiently challenging or when there is no opportunity for gifted children to be grouped with age peers who are intellectually advanced. Early entrance is the easiest form of acceleration, academically and socially. It may be best to accelerate girls before third grade or after ninth grade, when they are less bonded to their peer group. Boys are usually more willing to skip grades at any point in their school program.


Gifted children need strong, responsible advocates, and parent groups can make a difference. It takes persistence of large groups of parents to assure that provisions for gifted children are kept firmly in place. Parents of children who are gifted need opportunities to share parenting experiences with each other, and parent groups can provide a place where that can happen. It is important for parents of any children with special needs to meet with the teachers early in the school year. When parents and teachers work together, appropriate programmes can be developed and problems can be caught early.


The key to raising gifted children is respect. It includes respect for their uniqueness, respect for their opinions and ideas together with respect for their dreams. Gifted children need parents who are responsive and flexible and who will go to bat for them when they are too young to do so for themselves. It is painful for parents to watch their children feeling out of synchrony with others, but it is unwise to emphasize too greatly the importance of fitting in. Children get enough of that message in the outside world. At home, children need to know that their uniqueness is cherished and that they are appreciated as persons just for being themselves. 


There are some really gifted children around in our part of the world at the present time. Abigail Sin, just around the age of 10 years, became Singapore’s most celebrated young pianist. Chandra Sekar, from India, around the age of 10 years became the world’s youngest Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. Ai Fukuhara, became a professional table tennis player at the age of 10 years and is now considered to be a real medal prospect for future Olympics. This list just goes on and on. These profoundly gifted young people come from all ethnic groups, races, economic levels and geographic areas. There are no known barriers to the occurrence and a really gifted child could come from virtually anywhere. They could be born into families with unlimited fortunes and resources as well as into those which are forced to flounder in poverty, adversity and squalor.


Concluded


The writer would appreciate feedback from the readers. Please e-mail him at bjcp@sltnet.lk


KEY POINTS


= There is a group of children who are so intelligent or so talented that they achieve almost the impossible at unbelievably young ages.


= Many characteristic qualities and traits are consistently found in these children


= Formal testing is necessary to identify these children early


= Raising a gifted child is a daunting challenge


= A really gifted child could be born anywhere on earth or come from any race


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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