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.