Gifted kids — they’re not all Hermione or little Sherlocks that we can easily point out in a crowd. (Although, okay, some are like that too!) While many of us may have heard the term “gifted” or maybe even had a Gifted and Talented (GT) program at our local public school, the general public knows very little about who these kids are. Gifted kids are a diverse group that come from all socioeconomic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. In this article we’ll be reviewing the basics about this special population such as the early signs of giftedness, their unique characteristics, and the challenges associated with raising gifted kids.
Who are gifted kids?
We first must start with understanding what the term “gifted” means. It is often vaguely defined and used by different groups to different ends. To keep it simple, gifted means advanced in one or more areas which may manifest as intellectual, creative, or even physical prowess. These kids may appear more driven than their age peers, more quirky, more aware, more curious, or generally more intense in one area or another. Sometimes though, they may not appear like anything out of the ordinary at all. Many gifted students are twice exceptional meaning they have an advanced strength in one or more areas but also a learning difference. This can result in masking where their strengths and challenges cancel each other out, and the student appears average. Similar misconceptions around who gifted kids are and how they behave can also lead to the under-identification of gifted minority students. This is why gifted students can’t always be easily recognized at first glance by parents or educators without proper information and training on gifted identification.
What are the early signs of giftedness?
Gifted children may have strengths in any number of subjects, but some of the early signs of giftedness seem to be fairly consistent across this population. This may include:
- Developmental milestones for motor skills are often reached earlier
- Language development and reading skills are often acquired before Kindergarten
- Math concepts like addition and subtraction are often understood before grade school
- Intensely interested in certain subjects or activities like puzzles, dinosaurs, imaginative play, the cosmos, or taking apart household objects
- Grasps abstract concepts early which may lead to existential questions about life and death at a surprisingly young age
- A high occurrence of one or more of the forms of Dabrowski & Piechowsk’s over excitabilities: Sensual, Psychomotor, Imaginative, Intellectual, or Emotional OE.
- Insatiable curiosity coupled with unending questions
Parents may find it help to consult additional lists on the early signs of giftedness. Of course, no one student may present all signs at once, and there may be additional factors like learning disabilities that complicate the child’s cognitive profile and presentation. Kids with gifted characteristics may benefit from an individual gifted assessment for parents to gain a better understanding of their child’s strengths and weaknesses as well as professional education recommendations.
What are some of the challenges of raising a gifted child?
If your child has been identified as gifted, you might be worried about what that means for their development. While some things may come easy to them, like their favorite subject, gifted kids often come with other challenges. Asynchronous development in gifted students is very common, which means they may be many ages at once. For example, a gifted 5th grader might be intellectually age 17, physically age 11, and emotionally age 9. This can create challenges for parents and educators who may have trouble finding the appropriate academic materials like advanced books without adult themes. Parents may feel bewildered by their gifted kid who can talk to them about chemical bonds one minute and leave for school without their shoes the next. This uneven developmental trajectory can be a frustrating experience for all involved that requires patience and understanding.
Gifted children and friendships can also be a source of challenge for many families. Because of their asynchrony and niche interests, many gifted kids feel as though their age-peers at school don’t understand them. These children often feel pressure to dumb themselves down to fit in at school or may forego connecting with their classmates altogether, which can lead to social struggles and anxiety. Many gifted kids find their true peers by pursuing their interests through extracurriculars, clubs, or summer experiences.
What is the best way to support a gifted child?
Gifted children thrive both academically, socially, and emotionally when parents and educators take a strengths-based approach to their learning. Giving gifted students room to explore and grow in the subjects that they’re passionate about while proving support in areas of challenge helps students foster their gifts with a growth-mindset. It may also prevent underachievement in gifted students, both intentional and unintentional, when gifted kids are recognized and placed in the appropriate educational environment. Parents might consider any number of acceleration options for gifted students as a cost-effective solution that has decades of research backing its benefits both intellectually and socially for this population.
Because being gifted doesn’t always mean high achieving at the onset, it is important for parents and educators to learn about who these gifted children are to nurture their abilities. Gifted tests and assessments can help identify giftedness and provide insight into the individual student and how they learn best. Most of all, it is important to remember gifted kids are kids first. They need a loving, safe home and guidance and understanding from the adults in their life to help them navigate their development and overcome challenges.