Apr 30, 2011

No, not every child is Gifted...

though it is true that every child is different. 

Wondering if your child is gifted is not elitist. Having them tested is not arrogant or "acting above your station". It just makes sense if you want to parent YOUR child appropriately...

Recognising those differences and catering to the individuality of your child is the essence of being a good parent.

Our story
It has been four-and-a-half years since the "G" word was introduced to us by an observer outside the family. I felt somewhat prepared because my lovely sister (qualified teacher and early childhood carer, mother of 3 "G" kids herself) had pointed out a few times where November (and later July) was ahead of the usual milestones (talking at 7 months was one of the stand-outs). It was suggested to us that we should look into an assessment as November was not going to fit into the average school starting timeline.

Be prepared for bitterness, controversy, and meeting people who are instantly your best friends
The Gifted issue brings up a lot of fear in a lot of people.

For us, the nastiest comments came from two family members who were convinced that even looking for more information was wrong, and that their opinions HAD to be considered: these amounted to dire warnings that letting our child start school early would encourage inappropriate sexual experimentation, drink driving, and the formation of a teenage drop out!

This was extra pressure we did not need. So we looked for more information elsewhere and left the doomsayers behind...

We went searching online and in person for more information, experience, ideas. We met some gorgeous people who were really supportive - the "been there done that" (BTDT) parents who were very generous with their time and ideas. We sought out Gifted Kids associations that offered fun workshops for kids that really wanted to know about the magic properties of circles.

We got more confident and spoke to our friends to see, yes, they too were dealing with school boredom, frustration, bush lawyers that could argue you blue in the face, kids that were pretty darn quick. Thank you good buddies!

Here follows a list of places we have "been" online that are not fearful but celebrate what is a truly wonderful "gift" - a clever child!

Email lists - subscribe to receive a daily digest of posts/messages
Here are some gifted email lists that have been terrific for us. If you need advice, reassurance, or a sounding board these are the places to tap into.

Though some are in Australia, and some in the USA, all nationalities seem very welcome all over. Most of these lists require applying to join, which is very straight forward. I usually select the digest option to avoid being swamped by individual emails flowing into the inbox:

Must visit web sites
Your first stop should really be Hoagies - but don't get lost in there - it is huge! Here are a few favourite links:

who also put together the following guides to giftedness levels

Above: The Five Ruf Levels of Gifted (Levels 1-5) plus Average & High Average levels and their associated IQ ranges.
 Testing and Assessment - an IQ score is not just a score, it depends on the test itself (among other things)

There are many books and articles on gifted kids, interventions, educational strategies etc but the most resonant for us were written by Miraca U.M Gross PhD. "Exceptionally Gifted Children" is highly recommended if you suspect your child is exceptionally to profoundly gifted (Levels 4 and 5 in Ruf).

Here is an excerpt from an address given by Miraca Gross on the importance of differentiation in educating gifted students:

From “the saddest sound” to the D Major chord:
 The gift of accelerated progression.

 Miraca U.M. Gross, PhD

Keynote address presented at the 3rd Biennial Australasian International Conference
on the Education of Gifted Students,
Sunday, 15 August, 1999, Melbourne, Australia.

In her book Counseling the Gifted and Talented, Linda Silverman (1993) proposes an interesting exercise.
“Imagine that you live on another planet in another solar system in which everyone is convinced that in order for children to have appropriate social adjustment they must be grouped with children who are of similar height. That way no one feels bigger or smaller than anyone else, and it is easier to play team sports.  You happen to be extremely short.  In fact, you are in the bottom two percent in height, so you have been grouped with children three years younger than you who are the same height. You are nine years old and they are six. You will be with this group for the next 12 years. There is no way out of this situation because everyone on the planet agrees that this is best for your social adjustment.
What does this feel like to you?
What do you do to survive?
(Silverman, 1993 p. 295)
I regularly lead teachers through this exercise in professional development inservices.  Some teachers are so appalled at the prospect of a child being subjected to such as a serious grade misplacement, on such inappropriate criteria, that they find it difficult to engage in the task. In general, however, the task groups come up with responses very similar to those that Silverman encounters when she herself asks teachers to engage in this exercise.
The more mature child will have to learn:
(a)  How to explain ideas in simple terms that the other children can understand
(b)  How to wait patiently while the others struggle with concepts he or she has known for some time.
(c)  How to delay the gratification of answering all the teachers’ questions, so that the others have the opportunity to participate.
(d)  How to fit in socially with children whose games are uninteresting, and who play by rules that seem crude and unfair.
(e)  How to live without any real friends or understanding from others.
At the close of the exercise Silverman reveals the truth of the scenario through which she has just led us. This is not a story about a 9-year-old misplaced in a class of 6-year-olds - a scenario which would scarcely exist in real life.  It is a story about a highly gifted 6-year-old with a mental age of 9 - misplaced in a mixed-ability class of 6-year-olds with a mental age of 6.  And the frustration, the days after days after days of “waiting for something to happen”, the loneliness and the feelings of profound difference, indeed of alienation, are exactly what many gifted children experience in such a situation.
These children spend much of their schooling feeling like fish out of water or, more tellingly, like the captive bird in Simon and Garfunkel’s El Condor Pasa which, tethered to the ground, gives the world its saddest sound.
[end extract]

Following the Gifted Trail

One of the clearest realisations I had was the day I saw that for each of us our intelligence comes first...

Intelligence is the filter of every perception, every understanding, every interaction you have with the world. You can no more change your intelligence as your age! To insist that you can't be gifted until a certain age or grade, or can alter your speed of understanding, or temper your curiosity, or that you can "stop thinking so deeply!" is ignorant. 

Celebrate our kids' differences - just don't say they are all gifted - because they aren't. But every child does deserve someone in their lives to advocate for their individuality.

I wish you well finding the niche for your children - the journey of the Gifted family is an amazing quest. For us as a family it required (at times) enormous courage, determination, persistence, dogged determination, and - now things have settled down for us I can see we really needed a good sense of humour! 

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