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Gifted Child hiding Abilities to "Fit In"

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I have a 4yrs old son. I think he may be gifted (he is exceptionally bright for sure). He matches most of the characteristics of giftedness. For example: he was running by 9months, he started reading before 2yrs of age as well as telling the time.

He knows his times tables up to multiplication of 12. His reading age is at least of an 8yrs old.

Currently he is in reception class. I am very concerned and feel he is 'regressing' as he has learnt to hide his abilities so as to 'fit in'. I have tried several times to speak to his class teacher and other members of staff for 'accelerated learning' to no avail.

I would be very grateful for any advice/tips on how to go about the best way to maximize his potential. Is testing necessary? I think the only option is to do home schooling as I am so frustrated with the school since they do not understand nor appreciate it especially as my son does not 'perform' in class.  I would really appreciate any comments and or advice on the above.

A: If your son is indeed hiding his abilities to fit in, this is surely a shame as from your description, he does appear to have advanced skills, especially in reading which is in fact one of the main indicators for giftedness. As Dr Silverman mentioned "They fit in by pretending to be less capable than they really are, disappearing into the crowd."

He is young for now, but if this problem persists, he may just be very comfortable hiding his gifted and would eventually average out and be like the rest, not wanting to move away from his comfort zone. Acceptance is important for a child - though I find him too young to be aware that he is actually performing less than his potential. There are some above average children, as your son, who joins preschool with academic skills far beyond those of their age mates. It is possible for such children to master the academic content of preschools when they are 3 years old.

In your son's case, perhaps, his physical and social development may be similar to that of other 4 year-olds, which is why the teachers may not be too thrilled with the idea of an accelerated placement. It is crucial to understand the importance in early socialization. This involves a child's feeling that s/he is accepted by others; in this case the teachers and age mates. Hence, it is possible that his teacher may not validate a your boy's advanced abilities and intellectual interests by using "one size fits all" curriculum. This may cause him to experience feelings of unacceptance from the teacher. Now, when this happens, which is quite likely in your son's case, he may realize that he is quite different from most of his friends at school.

Perhaps, even communication can be extremely difficult because of differences in vocabulary and modes of expression that are characteristical of above average children, which in turn makes them lose peer acceptance as well. Eventually, it would be natural that he learns to hide his abilities, in order to "fit in" better with his age mates. And this may also be the reason he is not performing in class develop behavioral problems as he may start to dislike school.

Of course, the best program for your son would be one where he is encouraged to progress at his own pace, (e.g., subject matter acceleration - if he is advanced in reading, this should be advanced). Home schooling is an option, provided the program for him is broadly based, with planned opportunities for development of social (this is highly important for home schooled children), physical, and cognitive skills. There are many websites that promote home schooling and even have weekly lessons for guiding parents.

For more advice on home schooling, please read my answers on home schooling in previous issues (I lined out the advantages and disadvantages of home schooling, concluding that a balance schooling system would serve the best instead of total home schooling). Your son needs a program that has activities which are open-ended and flexible, with definite opportunities for advanced activities that will allow him to rise to the best of his abilities.


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