Monday, 18 June 2012

The Gifted Child

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The Gifted Child


The Universal Dictionary defines the term “gifted” as

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‘…endowed with natural ability, talent or other assets; especially, endowed with exceptional intelligence; or revealing a special gift.’

According to Neethling (18 p6), gifted children are

‘…children who are identified at the preschool, elementary or secondary level as possessing demonstrated or potential abilities that give evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, specific academic, or leadership ability, or in the performing and visual arts, and who by reason thereof, require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school.’

What is Giftedness?

The honest truth is that this is a question to which we don’t fully know the answer; therefore there is controversy about it and there are many different opinions. But all the definitions seem to have one element in common they agree that a gifted person is someone who shows, or has the potential for showing, an exceptional level of performance in one or more areas of expression. Gifted children are those who by nature of outstanding abilities are capable of high performance. These “outstanding abilities” refer to general intellectual ability, specific academic aptitude, leadership ability, ability in the visual or performing arts, creative thinking, or athletic ability. Some of these abilities are very general and can affect a broad spectrum of the person’s life, such as leadership skills or the ability to think creatively. Some are more specific talents and are evident in particular circumstances, such as a special aptitude in mathematics, science or music.

Some gifted children are terrible introverts, misunderstood by peers and parents, with their undiscovered exceptionality leading to a dead end. Bored and unchallenged at school, they may drop out and choose a direction that will never make use of their exceptional abilities. According to a study, .5% of all high school dropouts had IQ’s at or above 10. Results of other surveys show that 0% of all dropouts have superior abilities.

Many gifted children are hiding - trying to remain unnoticed by pretending to be just like everybody else. Some have withdrawn or are acting out because their differences have been rejected. Some have so much empathy that they are in pain everyday over the cruelty on the playground, the violence on TV or the condition on the world.

Gifted people not only think differently, they feel differently. Giftedness is a different way of being, and these differences affect one throughout the lifespan.

Another common internationally accepted definition of a gifted child is simply this

It is a child who scores among the top 5% of children on a suitably standardised IQ test that is, above the 5th percentile, which means that the child scores higher on an IQ test than 5 out of 100 children in the population would do. But again there is controversy around these ranges, as different countries set different standards i.e. some countries base the definition on the top 10% to 0%; some people narrow the definition to the top %.

Causes of Giftedness

There is no specific cause for giftedness. However, Tannenbaum (18, p70) implies that there may be hereditary reasons for giftedness, and that hereditary causes have a stronger influence on human giftedness than the environment.

When it comes to the environmental causes, Tannenbaum looks at factors such at home life � did the parents read to the child often or encouraged their child to play sport from a young age? Was the child from a middle class background as opposed to a working class or poverty stricken background (as would occur in South Africa)? If the gifted child is from a poverty stricken household, could it not be said that the child would not have the same opportunities than a gifted child from a middle or upper class background?

Identifying the Gifted Child - The Characteristics of Giftedness

According to Neethling, there is two questions that should be considered when identifying gifted children “Who should be identified? And “How will they be identified? Neethling states that early identification is important � at preschool level- so that the identified gifted child can benefit from adequate programme planning for gifted children. The advantages of early identification are that the gifted child will not be frustrated and through good instruction can have good learning opportunities. Points to consider when identifying, is the factors that influence the child’s development � educational, emotional, environmental and neurological. Thus the teacher should continue to identify the gifted child on an on-going basis. There is no typical gifted child, for particular talents and social environments give rise to varying personality patterns. Achievement patterns also vary. Differences among them will be found, even when they are grouped together. Some are very strong in one subject and weak in others. The gifted mathematician may be an average reader, the gifted artist may be a poor mathematician and the early reader may lack the ability to organise time and materials.

Many people believe that it is inappropriate to identify gifted children in the early years. They say that the scores are “inaccurate,” and that eventually the other children will catch up. Early scores are suspected of being unduly influenced by a good preschool or preschool program, or by parents who read a lot to their children. But,

Linda Silverman and her esteemed colleagues at the Gifted Development Centre in Denver, Colorado. (U.S.A.) has shown, through research and work and studies in the field over a period of 40 years, that this is not true. If gifted children are considered a part of “special education” then, like all other “special needs groups” we need to ask the question “what is the most appropriate time to identify ANY exceptional child?” The answer � “as early as possible”, since research has shown incontestably the value of EARLY INTERVENTION.

There is some controversy around when is the best time to evaluate a child for giftedness. Some consensus indicates that the best time to evaluate a child is between the ages of 4 and 8. Before the age of 4, the child may not have the attention span to co-operate fully with the examiner. By 8½, a profoundly gifted child can reach the ceiling of the most difficult test. And by 8½, some children may have already gone into hiding.

There are many forms of giftedness and they will show for some children in science, for some in art, while for others in leadership or social sensitivity. There are also qualities and characteristics that are frequently found among gifted children, although no child will possess them all -

Affective characteristics �

· Display persistent goal-directed behaviour

· Take less for granted

· Can spot inconsistencies

· Unwilling to accept authoritarian pronouncements without critical examination

· Possess a keen sense of humour

· Have a highly developed moral and ethical sense

· Resent the violation of structure and rules

· Possess an emotional depth and intensity

· Have an unusual sensitivity to the feelings and expectations of others

· Possess high expectations of self and others

· Have a heightened self-awareness and feeling of being “different”.

Intellectual characteristics-

· Have a longer attention and concentration span

· Read widely, quickly and intensely

· Possess a large storehouse of information and unusually skilful at recalling information or carrying out a string of four or more instructions.

· Learn basic skills faster, better and with less practice

· Have advanced thought processes

· Are better able to construct and handle abstractions than their peers

· Have the ability to see unusual and diverse relationships

· Have the ability to generate original ideas and solutions

· Take great pleasure in intellectual activity � intrinsic motivation to learn

· Show keen powers of observation

· Have an eye for important details

· Possess high level of verbal ability and use vocabulary that is of a high level with precise words

· Ask unusual questions e.g. “What holds up the moon and stars?” “Why is the rain wet?”

· Have a variety of interests and a heightened curiosity.

Tannenbaum (18, p65) states that identification must occur as early as possible and should go on for as long as possible. According to Tannenbaum, parents have been found to be more reliable at identifying their child as gifted than preschool teachers are. Tannenbaum maintains that only observations done over a period of nine or more months were more useful for identification purposes. Moreover, the identification process needs to continue from Grades one to three.

The gifted child is a child who’s unique, wonderful and who has even brighter abilities and potential than the average child, but whose potential also makes him/her vulnerable to damage unless special effort is made to understand his/her needs and to provide appropriate social and educational environments for her/him.

Management of the Gifted Child in the Pre-primary School Environment

The pre-school period is quite critical in a gifted child’s life. It’s the period when all children are learning insatiably about the world around them, including laying down the basis for their own future personality including their self-knowledge, self-confidence and self-esteem. The child’s whole future personality and functioning in life will be based on these years and if it was damaged it is very difficult to repair later.

Gifted toddlers observe a wider sample of what’s going on around them, in more detail, and because of their intelligence, can extend and extrapolate, understanding more implications and ramifications of what they observe � in other words, the feedback they get from life all has more impact on them. Also, unless strong specific action is taken to prevent it, the socialisation they experience from other children and adults during this critical time, won’t usually be socialisation with children who are their intellectual peers, or adults who are used to interacting with gifted children. And these situations can begin the processes that are seen in older children in later school years � underachieving in order to fit in socially, being confused that they do not seem to fit in, and becoming either anxious or aggressive about that. Also, deep down, these children often experience deep confusion about who they are and where they do or don’t fit into the world.

A number of problems arise with gifted children in the nursery school/pre-primary school environment. One such problem is that some gifted children entering pre-primary school have acquired academic skills far beyond those of their age mates. Such children master the academic content of pre-primary school when they are years old. Take this case study, taken from Wallace, for example When Tracy was ½ years old, she could always be heard saying, “I can do it by myself!” In Pre-School, she refused help from her teacher and was determined to succeed on her own. Her mother said that Tracy sat up at 4 months, fed herself at 6 months and walked at 8 months.

However, their physical and social development may be similar to that of others their age and so making an ‘accelerated placement’ to an advanced program is not always suitable.

A second problem is seen when we consider the ‘socialization’ of these gifted children in a pre-primary class of 0/0 other learners. A major component of early socialization involves a child’s feeling that he/she is accepted by others � teachers and children alike. If the teacher does not validate a gifted child’s advanced abilities and intellectual interests by making them part of the ongoing curriculum, the child experiences no feelings of acceptance from the teacher. If, as is highly likely, this child makes the additional discovery that he/she is quite different from most classmates and that communication is extremely difficult because of differences in vocabulary and modes of expression, then the child misses peer acceptance as well.

In fact, this first school experience, which should provide the impetus for future enthusiasm about learning, can become a dismal failure for the brilliant child. Then one often finds that these children learn to hide or deny their abilities, so as to fit in better with the other children. Or, they may develop behavioural problems or psychosomatic symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches, causing parents to confront the school with justifiable concern.

Problems that arise with gifted children in the preschool, is that they can be demanding and exhausting. These children can become frustrated and bored. Also, some gifted children are ahead in their intellectual and creative abilities but are hitting their normal milestones when it comes to their physical development. Wallace states that children like this become very frustrated and have frequent and aggressive temper tantrums because they cannot physically create that which their minds have envisaged.

Apart from interactions with loving and supportive parents and other family, the two most important things that all children, included gifted children, need during the toddler and pre-school years are wide range of activities and stimulation both mental and physical, so that the physical and developmental tasks of early childhood can proceed normally with a balanced profile; and they also need a range of social interactions, especially with other children, which give them positive social feedback as they interact with life.

But gifted pre-schoolers need teachers to provide different degrees of assistance and guidance in various ways. We, as teachers, need to understand the needs of the gifted child if we are to be of any assistance to them in our classroom situations. Perhaps the best way to know how to manage them in our classrooms is to understand what the gifted child needs. Broadly speaking gifted children need the people around them to understand that unusual measures may need to be taken to help meet their particular needs; they need society in general to have a realistic understanding of what a gifted child is and is not.

As teachers more specifically we need to be aware that -

These children need CHALLENGE…

Their minds need to be stretched. They need to be continually challenged and should be given opportunities to work both independently and in a group. They need a curriculum that will challenge and broaden their abilities and interests, designed by the competent teacher who enjoys the challenge of bright minds any may not be gifted themselves.

These children need POSITIVE SELF-CONCEPT….

As gifted children are not always understood by their peers, they need to develop a positive self-concept and help in gaining a feeling of acceptance by others. Gifted classes provide a group where like-minded children are more likely to be understanding and accepting of one another. Gifted children also need to feel valued for themselves and not just for their accomplishments.

These children need COMMUNICATION….

Gifted children need to be able to communicate and organise ideas. They need to talk to peers, teacher and parents. Therefore, they should be given opportunities to express their ideas and feelings. Discussion hones their thinking and questioning skills and also give them opportunities to learn to appreciate other points of view. Writing develops superior organisation skills and frames intellectual content. They need opportunities for writing, for their minds switch so quickly from one topic to another that they need to learn how to organise and express their ideas.

These children need TO KNOW THEMSELVES…

Setting extremely high standards for themselves is very common for gifted children, which often can lead them to uneven achievement patterns. They need to know themselves, by learning to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and take advantage of their frustrations in order to focus on the positive side of a challenge.

These children need to be allowed to do RESEARCH…

Gifted children avidly seek knowledge and they need opportunities to learn research techniques for finding and recording information.

These children need HELP FOR ACHIEVEMENT…

Completion of tasks should be a requirement. Once an idea is pursued and understood, the temptation is to move on to new experiences. Many gifted children will complete and check work only if pressured to do so. Because they sometimes lack the persistence required to complete a task, their achievement rarely matches their ability.

So, the teacher’s challenge in the education of the gifted child is to understand these needs and to link these needs to each individual child’s personality and learning style.

A good teacher is the key to the gifted child’s intellectual growth. The more important qualities that teachers require are vitality, flexibility, training and character.

1. He/she needs the mental and physical energy to meet the individual needs of each child throughout the school year.

. The teacher should be flexible and knowledgeable about a wide variety of topics and should be able to share the enthusiasm that these children bring into the classroom. It is important to remember that not all gifted children in a classroom are at the same cognitive developmental level. Some need more help in math, while others in arts, some need to talk more to their teacher before pursuing an idea, and others need to ask questions more often. The idea of “creative chaos”, is one the teacher must be comfortable with i.e. a classroom that may not appear to have any organisation because of the “piles” of learner work of varying types and in various stages of completion which decorate their classrooms.

. Training is very important. The teacher must understand the diversity of the child’s gifts and talents. Few children are universally gifted. In order to help teachers recognise these and other differences training and experience coupled with a continuous in-service training are important. Also sharing with other teachers is most important in a progressively developing program.

Thus, the teacher needs to strive to promote creative thinking; individual and group work for the gifted child as well as be sensitive towards the child. She should also develop a relationship of trust and understanding between herself and the gifted child (as with all the children in her class).

Parents and the Home Environment

Parents and teachers together are the primary team who guide and help shape the life of a child.

Parents of gifted children experience many insecurities, fears and doubts about their child. Questions arise � “How well will my child integrate into society?” “Is my child smarter than I am?” “Can I find the best school that will fully develop his/her talents?” “Do I tell other people? What do I tell other people?” Can this negatively affect my other children?” “What would happen if I just did nothing?” May of these problems arise and many parents are not able to cope with them alone. Parents need as much assistance and guidance as do their gifted child. Wallace (18, pg4) writes about Ian, age five, who continually took his mother’s kitchen appliances apart to see how they worked. He would then put them back together but to create an invention of his. Ian’s mother is a single parent and didn’t know how to cope with Ian’s abilities. She went to a clinic to seek advice and support. Ian’s mother let the teacher know about Ian’s abilities and the teacher helped by collecting together old gadgets and appliances for Ian to freely play and create with. The teacher gave Ian’s mother advice on what books to give to Ian to read and how to keep him busy at home.

Some suggestions made for parents to help them cope at home and in situations at large

1. Treat gifted children as children � they are still children. They need what all other children need, love with controls, attention with discipline, your involvement.

. Maintain a consistent system of values and a happy, healthy home � harmony in the family is very important for their optimum development.

. Give them a special gift time � as with all children they need an understanding parent /role model. They need you to spend time with them. These children love the unconventional and they need you to spend time helping them to understand the importance of behaving in a socially acceptable way.

4. Don’t stifle the gifted child � these children are known for their curiosity and so parents should be especially careful not to stifle the gifted child who asks many and often interminable questions. Remember they are unconventional and so will not be afraid to raise what seem to be improper or forbidden subjects for children. Be patient.

5. Intellectually stimulate the gifted � seek to widen your child’s mind and to enhance their research skills, through exposure to books, encyclopaedias, collections, charts, travel, technology, the arts etc. Remember libraries and resource centres and use the computer.

6. Encourage friendships and discover hobbies � all children need friends who have similar interests; to play games with and share ideas. Encourage hobbies and give them time and space in which to extent and continue discovering.

7. Avoid discouraging unusual questions or attitudes � these children can be unconventional. “Out-of-the-ordinary” mental processes or “different” attitudes should not be discouraged, but rather enjoyed and developing a keen sense of humour helps to direct the child towards a “balanced outlook”.

8. Don’t over-schedule your child’s life � you do not have to fill every moment of every day with extra lessons of all kinds. Allow your child to become bored and let them find a way to fill this time, on their own.

. Respect your child and his/her knowledge � sometimes their knowledge can be greater than your own and you need to understand this and be comfortable with this. You also need to know how to cope with it and be secure in your own worth and knowledge base. Remember, he/she is the child.

10. Get involved in school efforts and community programs to plan for gifted children � support the school’s efforts to plan programs and activities for these children. Support study groups, be active in the community and advocate for special educational programs. You, as an involved parent, need to work to provide better community understanding and appreciation in the education of gifted children.


To close off, Tannenbaum (18, pg70) writes about Galton who speaks of William James Sidis, a failed genius. William entered Harvard College in 10 at the age of eleven and lectured on higher mathematics within a year of entering. He graduated Summa Cum Laude when he was 15 but spent the rest of his life in search of obscurity. This is why it is so important to cultivate the child’s giftedness always keeping in mind that children must be allowed to be children.

In closing, all children are gifted! This is what all parents would like to believe of their child, especially in the pre-school and primary years of their lives. The human brain is such a complex and little understood mechanism that this may well be true, or true in some sense that we don’t at present understand. However the fact remains that parents of intellectually gifted children will find nevertheless, that their child definitely has characteristics and abilities that put them into a small sub-group of children who have exceptional abilities, and also exceptional needs.


1. Neethling, J.S. (18) The Identification of the Gifted and Talented in Teaching the Gifted Child Vol. 17 pp6-6

. Tannenbaum, A.J. (18) Gifted Children Psychological and Educational Perspectives New York Macmillan Publishing Co. Ltd.

. Wallace, B (18) Teaching the Very Able Child London Ward Lock Educational Ltd.

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