The Gifted Child
Mary's son was in second grade when he brought home a pink paper from school. She noted with pleasure that it was an invitation for her son to participate in a program for gifted and talented students. Her son was excited because he had seen his friend with a pink flyer that day, too. When Mary spoke to the mother of her son's classmate's later that evening, she offered congratulations about her friend's son also receiving the coveted "pink sheet." Her friend was dumbfounded. Her son had indeed brought home a pink paper that day -- an announcement about a forthcoming school sponsored paper drive. Mary was mortified and felt a definite "coolness" from the other end of the phone for the remainder of their brief conversation.
Mary hadn't done anything wrong. Why did she feel so guilty? Did the woman think Mary had been gloating about her son's selection?
Tough questions. Tough answers. And much to consider.
Gifted and talented academic programs vary greatly nationwide. "More and more, as a national trend, schools are getting away from gifted and talented curricula," says Jenny Campbell, Director of the Office of Gifted and Talented in the Division of Honors College at Michigan State University.
In Michigan, as in many states, students are not selected for gifted and talented opportunities based on test scores. "It's more of a parent/teacher recommendation," says Campbell. "Schools try to be as inclusive as possible." She adds that most opportunities become available to students starting around fourth grade.
If your child is invited to participate in these elite intellectual opportunities, how should you react? Buy a bumper sticker that says, "My kid's smarter than yours?" Don't laugh -- it's out there.
Competitiveness between parents regarding their children's achievements probably began in prehistoric times: whose child could skin a Saber Tooth tiger fastest? Most parents of school-age children have witnessed (or participated in) a rollicking, verbal parental display of displeasure at a sporting event. Do parents of academically advantaged children exhibit similar tendencies, just in a more sophisticated, understated manner -- pushing for their child's success; elation and deflation at every win or defeat; living vicariously through their children's accomplishments?
Networking with other parents of gifted children might allow parents a venue to discuss and learn more about their child's needs. It might also help them to feel connected to those with similar interests, which could in turn alleviate some of their frustrations. Gifted children often exhibit difficult behaviors, and guiding them can prove stressful.
If you as a parent are unable to locate support for you and your gifted child, start your own support group. That's what Marie Friedel, executive director and founder of The National Foundation for Gifted and Creative Children, did more than 30 years ago when she struggled to find resources for her gifted child. Other support organizations, such as The Council for Exceptional Children, ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children and GT World, an online support community for parents of gifted children, can provide valuable help.
What happens when a child is not invited to participate in a school-sponsored gifted academic program despite a parent's belief in his or her academic potential?
"Parents might have their child tested outside of the school to provide evidence (of intellectual giftedness)," says Campbell. In Michigan and other Midwestern states, parents can resort to the MTSY, Midwest Talent Search for Youth. Similar organizations exist in other areas. Sufficiently high scores on this assessment tool could influence schools to allow a student to access gifted resources. Each state or region dictates their preferences in this area.
A problem parents must be aware of is the misdiagnosis or lack of diagnosis of gifted children. Often bright, highly creative children are misdiagnosed as having ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Both gifted and ADHD children can exhibit similar behaviors such as impulsively, restlessness and inattentiveness.
Another possible solution, if parents feel their gifted child is unable to thrive in their public or private school setting, is homeschooling. Homeschooling requirements differ from state to state. Educating a child at home can allow for a challenging, creative, exploration-oriented curriculum to be developed around a student's interests.
The most important consideration of whether a child should assume Gifted and Talented standing is whether he or she is ready for challenges and changes. Many gifted children feel they are different from their peers, just like children with learning disabilities and ADHD/ADD. Some may attend special classes and participate in events specific to their gifted status. Some thrive on this special attention; some hate it and may even consider their label a form of branding.
So here's the million-dollar question: Does involvement in a gifted curriculum increase a student's potential for success in academia and life beyond school?
Amanda, currently a junior in high school, scored in the 97th percentile on standardized tests in grade school. Instantly, she and her parents were inundated with "opportunities" that would challenge her intellectually. She took the SATs in 6th grade "for the experience." Local universities invited her to summer programs galore for hands-on science workshops and writing programs specifically targeting the gifted and talented.
Amanda wanted none of it. Her grades to this day have remained "uninspiring," according to her parents. Is she bored and unchallenged in school? Were her parents remiss in not pursuing these opportunities for her? Will Mary's son become an aerospace engineer while Amanda works the night shift at 7-Eleven for eternity?
Every child possesses gifts of his or her own: it is up to parents to help their children unwrap these gifts.