Will My Child Be OK? Tell Me About the Big Picture.

In a recent post-test conference, a father said, “I’m a big picture guy” and proceeded to ask throughout the conference how both giftedness and our recommendations would affect his daughter’s life now and in the future.  This brief Big Picture is for that loving father and parents like him.

 

Background

Developmentally disabled students are routinely provided Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) to address substantially different learning needs.  These students, who earn IQ scores two standard deviations below the mean, are acknowledged to require special planning, interventions, modifications in level and pace of instruction, as well as accommodations for unique needs.  Gifted students, scoring two standard deviations above the mean, have similar and equally significant learning differences.  For this reason, states acknowledge both as special needs students who require individual planning and accommodations to be successful. 

Yet, most states have only soft mandates for gifted education, with no real consequences for schools that ignore them. While the disabled child’s needs are addressed full-time, the gifted student may receive just two hours of enrichment per week through the school’s gifted program, or a referral to extra-curricular contests and activities.  There is seldom acknowledgment that giftedness affects learning in every class, every day.  Because their needs are met only minimally, gifted students are an at-risk population from which both valedictorians and high school dropouts emerge.  Gifted students need to learn at their level, have options to pace more quickly, have a steady diet of challenges to stretch themselves, learn how to work effectively, develop their talents, and respect the abilities of others.  Otherwise, even young gifted children may become unduly perfectionistic over easy tasks, melt down when they do encounter a difficult problem, place social acceptance above learning, underachieve, develop school phobia, or worse. 

 

Parents Must Be Advocates

When gifted programs and schools are not available, the responsibility for ensuring a reasonable education for a gifted child is largely borne by parents.  Only a few savvy teachers will provide more complex material for a child who is working at too low a level, limit needless drill and practice, offer independent projects, allow a student to attend a higher grade level for math, or recommend a grade skip.  Parents are usually the first to recognize when needs are not met.  When parents present assessment data and recommendations to schools, they have a strong basis for advocacy.  A variety of significant options then become possible.  This is where the Big Picture questions begin.

 

BIG PICTURE QUESTIONS

 

I don’t want to pressure my child.  I just want my child to be happy.

Children with significant learning differences require special programming, and will be happier with approaches that consider their needs, interests, and abilities.  Many gifted children view conceptually more advanced work as easier, and grade-level work they have already mastered as harder (“If 3+5 was 8 yesterday, and it’s 8 today, why do I need to keep doing this?”).  They want to think and solve problems.  They are curious and love to learn. As gifted students mature, the perception that education is irrelevant can undermine their motivation to learn.

 

Should I address “giftedness” with my child?

Gifted children already know that they are different. Even very young children quickly see that they learn faster, use different words, think at a different level, and often feel more deeply than their classmates.  It is important to affirm your child’s differences, and to present these differences in a positive manner. “You have a very fine mind,” is a good place to start a thoughtful discussion of the many strengths people have. Acknowledging that perfectionism, sensitivity, intensity, overexcitability come with the territory may prevent a gifted teenager from viewing these normal aspects of giftedness as flaws. One little boy came prepped for testing.  He said, “My mother says we all have gifts.  I’m here to find out what mine are.” 

 

My child is capable of much more in school, but doesn’t complain. Should I be worried?

Gifted children need reasonable work in school, otherwise they begin to resent the time spent there.  When gifted students are not sufficiently challenged in school, they grow accustomed to not having to apply themselves in order to succeed.  They are so used to school being easy that they are unprepared to meet challenges when they finally encounter them. Gifted students need challenging work from an early age in order to develop their potential.

 

We enrich our children’s lives at home in multiple ways. Won’t that be enough?

Home enrichment is extremely important, but it cannot serve as a substitute for a school program that fails to meet gifted children’s needs. It takes so much energy to relearn what they already know that they may become turned off to learning. As they grow, they may resist enrichment activities outside of school that reduce their discretionary time. This is not to say that parents shouldn’t provide a wide variety of experiences of interest to their children, answer their questions, and occasionally teach what their children ask to learn. However, if real learning only occurs after the child comes home each day and parents are providing the higher-level instruction missing at school, it may be preferable to homeschool or partially homeschool their children.  We work with families to consider a variety of options, including homeschooling consultation.

 

Will my child feel uncomfortable working on an online program or individualized activity classmates are not also doing?

Some children feel empowered when allowed to do their own individual work; others want to work with classmates.  Some are especially sensitive to fitting in.  Finding effective options for each individual child requires consideration of all factors.  Ideally, a way is found to support the child’s work at the appropriate level in a setting that is acceptable. For example, if the teacher can group several children together for an online program or individual work, this may be a more comfortable solution for the students involved.

 

Won’t acceleration undermine my child’s confidence or social development? 

The research on acceleration (either subject-area or full-grade) is positive, provided the child concurs with the placement.  We ask that children always be included in such a choice so that they never feel forced into an uncomfortable placement.  “Acceleration” is a misnomer because the purpose is not to push the child ahead, but to teach the child at his or her actual level of mastery. Gifted children placed with age peers may not be learning anything. For example, the advanced Kindergarten reader who reads fluently (with feeling) at home, but haltingly in class to mimic the other students, may read happily at her level if placed in a 1st or 2nd grade reading group.  Ideally, such a child should visit the advanced class for enough time to consider whether she would be more comfortable in this new environment. If she chooses to wait, we believe it is better to follow her lead.  She may make a different choice in the future. In general, gifted children mesh best with mental age peers, so acceleration can help reduce poor fit in the age-based classroom.  Children learn social skills through friendships with individuals of all ages; social development is not sacrificed by acceleration.  However, both the pros and cons of the accelerated and typical placement must be weighed carefully for such decisions and a welcoming teacher is essential. 

 

I don’t want my child to have classmates who drive before she can… friends who are more physically developed than he is…I don’t want my child to go to college at 10!

Whoa!  Parents have solved the need for acceleration in so many different ways, no family needs to embark on an uncomfortable solution.  We can acquaint you with these options and help you develop your own plans as your child develops from year to year.  We have legions of happy, well-adjusted, now-adult clients who have successfully navigated school with their love of learning intact.  With guidance, you can sensitively and successfully address your child’s unique needs.