It’s only taken about seven years, but I’m finally starting to feel more comfortable writing about some of the ups and downs of raising a gifted child. I’ve become more confident in what I’m doing and I feel like I’ve learned a ton along the way. I still fret that I’ll come across as being braggy when I tell A’s story, but I’m trying hard to push that aside and recognize that, if I’m just straight dealing the facts, it’s not boasting. It’s just sharing a story and that’s some of what I do best.
Today, I wanted to address some very common myths flying around about raising a gifted child. For those of you who’ve also gone down this path, you might recognize some of what I say. For others, it might be helpful to better understand this little subgroup of the population. Either way, I’d love to think we can openly discuss the joys and challenges of raising gifted little ones here.
Myth #1: Gifted children do best when skipped ahead to a grade in which their peers’ academic levels better align with their own.
Fact: Other than academic proficiency, gifted children often share more in common with their same-age peer group than with an older homogeneous group. Being able to read at a sixth grade level when you’re seven years old does not suddenly make you fit in with the eleven-year-old crowd. While some gifted children do skip grades and have success doing so, it’s important to consider the challenges that come along with that choice.
Skipping grades is often the recommendation in districts that do not have any funding allotted for gifted programming. Districts with gifted education coordinators in their employ, which are becoming rarer and rarer over time, tend to lean toward “meeting a child’s academic needs while in a setting with same-age peers.” In other words, your gifted child should be able to stay with his same grade while getting the enrichment and challenge he requires to stretch and stimulate his gifted mind. For most gifted children, this is an ideal situation.
Myth #2: Gifted is synonymous with “incredibly bright” or “extremely smart.”
This one is very, very tricky because, honestly, some schools do consider these to be the same. To clarify, let’s consider the umbrella of “Gifted and Talented” or “TAG” that so many schools use.
There actually is a clear distinction between giftedness and talent. The term giftedness is typically believed to designate the possession and use of untrained and spontaneously expressed natural abilities (called aptitudes or gifts) in at least one ability domain to a degree that places a child among the top 10% of his or her same-age peers.
By contrast, the term talent designates the superior mastery of systematically developed abilities (or skills) and knowledge in at least one field of human activity to a degree that places a child’s achievement within the upper 10% of same-age peers who are active in that field.
In other words, the “talented” kids are those who are extremely bright and learn exceptionally well. They are smart cookies and often learn faster than their peers and need additional enrichment to avoid total boredom. They often read early and at a high level. They frequently excel at mastering the techniques they are taught in mathematics. They almost always have someone along the way who helps teach parts of the material.
The “gifted” kids are those who display incredible aptitude for a subject without any real training. These are the musicians who sit at the piano and seem to play brilliantly with no instruction. The mathematicians who can solve complicated equations and understand abstract concepts intuitively. Like their talented peers, they perform at a high level, but the ways they get there are very different.
Myth #3: Gifted children are shy or introverted.
Honestly, gifted children vary in personality just like any other group. That being said, there are a lot of introverted kids among the gifted population. Many of them have very intense, personal, internal thought processes going on, so this makes a lot of sense. Added to that, some of them have found it difficult to find peers who want to talk about the same things as they do, so they clam up more.
But, as I said, this is not absolute. Our son is a HUGE lover of the microphone and can and will talk to anyone about anything. His expressiveness does make him stand out a bit in his TAG program, to be honest, but he’s not the only extroverted one. It should come as no surprise that there is no one “type” of gifted child.
Myth #4: Gifted children are the product of quality early childhood education, attentive parents, and excellent programming.
Nope, nope, and nope.
Listen– those are all good things. There’s nothing wrong with them. But anyone who tries to convince you that there’s a “formula” to develop a gifted child is sadly confused.
Those things can help a child achieve. This is why children with more privileged upbringings often perform better in school. There are definitely correlations to be found there.
HOWEVER, giftedness is pretty much a product of genetics and chance. Having a gifted family member does increase a child’s odds of being gifted. (Though it should be noted that just because one or both parents were gifted, this does not guarantee all offspring will be as well.) Sometimes, gifted children (and particularly prodigies) just seem to appear spontaneously. Either way, while it’s important for gifted kids to get the right programming, it’s never the programming that MAKES the child gifted.
Myth #5: Districts are required by law to provide appropriate programming for gifted children.
Sadly, no. While I will argue until I’m blue in the face that giftedness is, in fact, part of the spectrum of special education, the law does not view it that way and there is no mandated service for gifted children. Gifted funding is often some of the first to go because people assume the “really smart kids will do fine.” Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, but, either way, it doesn’t seem fair that they don’t receive an appropriate education.
I’m going to delve into this issue more in a subsequent post, because I don’t want to cut it short here. Please feel free to leave any questions you have for me about this, or any other gifted issues, in the comments so I can try to address them fully. I’d love to know what you’d like to know more about. Thanks!