The first question I asked myself when I went to write this piece was, “what is the definition of a gifted child?” The federal government statutory definition of gifted and talented students in the United States is:
“The term "gifted and talented" when used in respect to students, children, or youth means students, children, or youth who give evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities."
For me, it is always a child who is bored by school, stands outside of the box, can show talents in one or many areas, seem highly developed and thought out for their age, has an adult sense of humour, can seem highly frustrated, has multiplicity - the ability to take in information in all 4 learning styles, often has a rare personality type and may or may not seem brilliant academically.
The last point is very important. Can a child be gifted if they don’t have perfect literacy? Can literacy issues seriously impair a student to do well on the conventional I.Q. tests? I think the answer to both is yes and these are the students who suffer the most challenges in being gifted.
Can you imagine having all the thought processes and abilities of a gifted child but never being able to show them? It’s massively frustrating.
For me, the challenges with gifted children are not just the repercussions to help with making school more interesting. With a reasonably inspired teacher, good communication and some outside the box curricular activities - all these needs can be met.
The real challenges with gifted children are personality based. The first difficulty a gifted child will have is that they are highly sensitive to everyone else. They see far more from a young age than they can possibly understand. They just don’t get why they don’t meet anyone like them and why sometimes others find them too energetic, intense and deep. They can sense more and know more - and others shy away from them. In the same way that they philosophically and scientifically want to know more about the world and how it works - they also want to know other people on these deep levels.
The ages from 7 to 10 are critical for a number of reasons. If you haven’t got the academic side right - you are in fear of having a child switch off education forever. Boredom is a terribly dangerous mode. It can make or break people in terms of educational fulfilment for life.
10 is the age we become aware that we are different to everyone else and for gifted children they get a sense of this quicker than others. Though they may lack the maturity to fully understand why they don’t want to be different or stick out from the crowd. I often meet gifted students who are simultaneously looking for validation that they are bright while trying to pretend they are too “stupid” to fit in. It can be a really complex set of emotions to go with the slight rejection that they are feelings from others.
We can address the academic needs often with a layered approach. If we can get someone beyond 11 and still interested in school they will more than likely go on to achieve greatness. If we can show them the outside world and introduce them to the ideas of others outside the box we can do the ground work for them being different. They will more than likely be a pioneer too and change the world. They may not meet anyone like them until they are in their 20’s but they can know they exist.
But the real challenge for me is in creating the balance of childhood. Just because you are gifted doesn’t mean you don’t need to be a kid. You need to make mistakes. You need to learn from them. You need to play. You need to match your maturity level with the toys and games that non-gifted children play at these stages too. Too often we lose these aspects for gifted kids and they spend too much time “working” and not enough time playing. It is as important to find yourself in the silliness of childhood as it is to balance the boredom. It’s an important life work balance that we need to learn. Gifted children often have very high expectations of themselves and can be work-a-holics later in life. You have to learn to do non-important silly things too! You have to learn to take breaks and not to be so hard on yourself.
I sometimes feel that parents have to spend so much time battling the system to prove their child is “gifted” that they forget to let them be children.
If you want a balanced child - you have to give them an outlet for the emotional side of them that may be several years behind their “gifted” level.
Dr. Naoisé O’Reilly.
“Why couldn’t I just be stuck in one Department in a University writing papers and be able to spell?!”
Not quite exactly what I had expected to hear from the mouth of Dr. Naoisé O’Reilly while preparing for this article. I certainly got more than I bargained for. I did seriously ask myself how I was ever going to construct a written piece on someone who has so many sides to them and so many varied areas of expertise?
The same can be said for her work developing Methods in Psychology Research and Personality Theory. Dr. O’Reilly’s research crosses over into every main genre of Psychology: Philosophical Origins, Behaviourism, Psychotherapy, Cognitive Psychology, Social Psychology, Developmental Psychology and Differential Psychology.
She digests a person’s entire generational timescale, including generational traumas within families, in sixty minutes and creates life changing strategies in four hours. “We don’t have the luxury of changing the environment so, for this reason, what we do with the Methods is Psychology on speed,” according to Dr. O’Reilly.
Earlier today, I met with a Ph.D. Candidate from a two hundred and twenty year old University and was interviewed for several hours on tape for their Doctoral Dissertation. He was a brilliant interviewer but by the end he was in overwhelm and immediately wanted to book another interview to give him time to process the scope and scale of our work. There was overwhelm with one of us - can you imaging if Dr. O’Reilly had also accompanied me?
After reading her biography online I can see why overwhelm may be the case. So, how did a child with Profound Dyslexia reach the heights of academic accomplishment? Especially, after being thrashed verbally and in writing by three Psychologists and three separate Psychological Assessments aged four, eight and seventeen. How can a seven year old child bounce back when your teacher tells your whole class that, “you should be in the school down the road for the retarded?”
This Psychology Researcher tells me she is, “particularly concentrating at present on further developing Psychological Blueprints, Developmental Scales and Conscious and Unconscious Research to help even more people to be successful regardless of stigmas and labels. Our students and business clients learn anything and achieve anything. The Methods reveal the essence of who someone is.”
So, are these the blueprints that can change the World?
Dr. O’Reilly is also one of the World’s leading Educationalists specializing in Learning Difficulties and Spectrum Disorders. She’s on a mission, “to take literacy and intelligence out of the same sentence. People are surprised that I don’t focus on changing the system for Severe Dyslexics like myself. The truth is, I don’t need to. We get academic and business results for children, teenagers and adults regardless of the obstacles. I believe this is why I attract families, employees, C.E.O.‘s and employers with Learning Difficulties from all over the Globe.”
“I’d like to see somebody spend a day in my brain. There’s too much going on - they’d go mad,” she concluded.
(Dr. Naoisé O’Reilly interviewed by Marie O’Riordan)
I recently read a very striking article which outlined how people don't go to school because of war, Ebola or simply because they are girls. We are all familiar with the story of how a schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for continuing to exercise her right to education. These seem like really huge and profound reasons to be denied education.
However, having read this article I was struck by the top ten reasons for students avoiding school everyday in what is supposed to be a better climate and a more evolved society. I have so many students who suffer extreme anxiety daily. Who are depressed - who feel there will never be a place in the world for them. Education doesn't seem like a gift or a right.
So, the most common reasons:
1: Homework. They can't do it. They live in fear of getting it wrong. They dread the public classroom retaliations for what they have produced. Maybe they don't have the perfect "happy family" at home to help them. Many of these students have literacy issues and spend hours on what they hand up. They never get the praise to match the effort. They feel like they have no life. They spend hours working in school and hours at home working too. Is there no more to life?
2: Bullying. This comes in all forms. From the students but it is often driven from the system by what you can't do or how you don't fit in. Especially, what the teachers say in front of the class can be very specific in terms of what others feel you are capable of. Every word that is ever said to a student is caried around by them forever. You need to remember this before you open your mouth. Students often quote the horrible things said to them by teachers years after the fact. The next biggest issue that I know first hand for myself is that teachers ignore bullying taking place in front of them or don't do anything when it is reported to them. This leaves students feeling very vulnerable and believing that no one is on their side.
3: Lack of Respect. It seems totally fine to make you look dreadfully bad in front of a whole class, year or assembly hall of people. Respect is a two way street and it is not something you automatically have - you have to earn it. You have to treat people with respect in order to earn it. For personalities that thrive on justice - they cannot cope with an environment that does not have respect.
4: Boring. School is horendiously boring for these bright people and usually by the age of 11 they have switched off forever and never bother again. They often have really involved interests outside school and endlessly research them. The school material is just not interesting enough and there seems to be no space for discussion on real life events, research and ground breaking ideas.
5: The endless drone of the fact that you are no good and never will be. What I experience myself and the feedback I hear back: "You can only do pass subjects." Even if your dreams hinges on being able to get certain grades. "Forget your dreams." Well then, why are you in school? Why bother? You are not going to be allowed to do any of it anyway. "You are too stupid to be here." "You should not be in this class." "If you get 40% you can stay in this class, no sorry, I have changed my mind you need to get 50% now because you came up 10%." This is what is happening in our schools.
6: You are not a social extrovert butterfly. You are a misfit. You are quiet and serious. You are often seen as too intense and are never invited to parties. You do not feel like you will ever meet anyone similar to you.
7: You are no good at sports. You lack the social "cudos" of fitting in to the whole set of what it seems really matters to fellow students.
8: Rules. Why are there so many rules? They are never explained. Many of them seem to create control for the sake of control.
9: Sitting still for far too long. They live for break time or yard time even from young ages. These people live for the sports pitch and only ever seem good there - but at least this leads to popularity.
10: Lack of expression. This even starts as young as 5. Sit down and be quiet. Sometimes as young as 7, you are battling not to be left as the only person in the class that has not received a "pen pass” and be the only one left using a pencil because you are "too stupid" to be allowed a pen. You will carry around the feeling forever that you cannot write. We will then wonder what "expand" really means on all of our essays for the rest of school life. What does this good mythical writing really look like?
Dr. Naoisé O'Reilly.
I am genuinely horrified at the support this recent TEDx talk has received. I feel it is the biggest regression in education in 100 years. As someone who has successfully worked with thousands of students internationally, and got them all to high achieving results and a sense of belonging in academia, I cannot stand the idea that education is becoming elitist again. I have received Ability Company Status for making education accessible to all.
Academics make too many assumptions - which I have had my own personal battles with over the years. Despite it all, I have earned a Ph.D. and a First Class Honours degree. My students are always heartened by the fact that if I could do it - so can they.
TED and TEDx talks generally enhance our World and make everything possible for people. I am horrified over this talk because it is so small minded and exclusive in its nature.
Not everyone can pick up a book and read it to learn. Not everyone can see the book. Not everyone can spell to write or hold the pen. Do not be presumptive in thinking all visual impaired people are not visual learners. Many of them are! All of us who work with students on the autism spectrum know that they process the World very differently to other students. Their visual and auditory processing has marked differences.
My success stories with students have been down pure and simply to the fact that I encourage them to work in the learning style that suits them - despite whatever perceived disabilities they might have.
I myself am still very much unable to distinguished phonic sound frequencies and never learned to spell in the way it is predominately taught in school. I have learned to read and write through purely visual techniques. I have brought this gift to many others who are now avid readers - despite years of torture in school and feeling inadequate. I get excited when parents tell me their children will not sleep because they are reading too much or now teaching their siblings to read their way.
I hate the idea that kinesthetic learners can be great at sports in school and rubbish at everything else. This is not acceptable and even our most successful sports heroes still anguish over how badly they did in school.
Practical people are great at the practicals in school but only get half the marks in the subject because the theory defeats them. Our auditory learners are in constant trouble for talking and often labeled as disruptive chatter boxes. The number of students labelled as ADHD seems to be growing annually as these students struggle to fit into the constraints of school and find it excessively boring. I certainly do not feel we need to blame our parents for our genes or feel that education is unattainable in any way.
We have a duty to understand, care and incorporate these learners into our education systems - not blankly dismiss them all as not existing. These are many of the reasons why students with learning difficulties and impairments have been marginalised for decades.
A better outlook for me has always been that if we get it right for these people we get it right for everyone. I hope people will start to stop and think before they blankly share this very irresponsible TEDx talk. I have not even touched on the personality factors involved in education. Most enlightened Educationalists agree that one size does not fit all. TED is supposed to make us think about our fellow people we share the Planet with.
Dr. Naoisé O'Reilly