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Support for Above Average Children

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: From everything I read, I'm fairly certain my child is gifted, although, of course, not positive as I have no experience with talented and gifted children. My son spoke in sentences by 12 months and knew the entire alphabet by 15 1/2 months and was spelling out words by 16 months (like 'Suburban' on my babysitter's car). He could sing numerous songs at 18 months and already had an enormous vocabulary. He knew the names of >100 different animals, insects, reptiles, birds, marine life etc before age 2. He has an incredible sense of humor and communicates extremely well, particularly with older children and adults. He is now just 3 and has an obsession with dinosaurs and knows (for some time) the names of countless dinosaurs, the groups they belong to, the periods in history when they lived, etc. He's known all his colors and shapes since 18 months old. He has been doing puzzles >48 pieces since he was 2. He has an incredible memory and will often remember something if you tell him something just once and can also been able to read before the age of 3. There seems to be no end to his level of curiosity and the level of material that we can read to him. I could go on, but this is not the point.

My main concern and questions involve how to test him as a preschooler, but more important, how can we be sure that we can keep up with his needs. How can we be sure that he will be stimulated and interested in a school environment and can he learn in a public school setting or will he need a special program(s). I am simply interested in providing the best educational and learning environment that will make him both happy but intellectually challenged. I already have fears that he will be not only bored in school but will then ultimately get into trouble because of boredom. I very much look forward to your input.

A: It does appear that your child has above average intellectual abilities compared to his peers. By being aware of his gifts, you have already taken the first step to support him and cater for his needs, which is excellent! However it is important to achieve the right balance in order to stimulate him without pushing or pressuring him too much. This would create stress and may work the other way around, just what we want to avoid.

Always remember that as advanced as children may be, they are still children and would have social and emotional needs just as other children. Gifted children develop milestones ahead of their peers in some, but not all areas, so some of their needs (for e.g., non cognitive needs) would be similar to their peers. On top of that, they may be perfectionists with heightened sensitivity. For the very young gifted, what is most important is love and encouragement to develop their potential and not over stimulation and pressure.

At this stage, it is fine to get him tested if you want to find out his strengths and how to help further develop them but bear in mind that the results (of IQ testing) may not always be as reliable as with school age children. If he does very well, it is important not to get excited and challenge him too much (which may burn him out); at the same time, if he does not do as well as expected, do not get too disappointed and cut back your efforts. The results should be used as a mere guide to identify his strengths and weaknesses. What is important is to keep his interests and natural abilities in mind and keep nurturing those abilities.

Three tips identified by experts to help support gifted children are; first, allow them to take the lead in learning that interests them. An environment that is warm and loving is very conducive for exploration which leads to brain growth. Next, always respect the child. Never compare your child to others, especially siblings. Always let her/him feel special and not simply an extension of yourself ĘC take your child at her/his own merit. Third, always have time to communicate openly with your child. Ensure that your communication is not merely directing and correcting; have real conversation to help your child express her/himself. To develop a strong and lasting bond, allow your child to talk to you openly. This will help you understand your child better (including her/his fears and concerns). Children who have their needs catered for adjust better.

For formal education, talk to other parents around to see the kind of support that is available in your area. Join a parents¡¯ support group/network or a gifted association (if any in your area) to meet with other parents with similar concerns. Sharing of experiences with other parents is one of the best ways to learn to help your child.
This is going to be a long and often rather exhausting journey but the results can be very fruitful. Enjoy your son, give him your love and company, allow lots of free play and when he starts school, instead of expecting the school to give him special attention, help the teachers understand his needs. If the school does not have a program for advanced children, apart from looking for a school with one, you would need to help him by providing enriching activities outside school hours. If the school totally does not have any allocation for his needs, consider homeschooling but do your homework thoroughly if you go by this option.

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You can find related gifted child supports information at Education Resources Information Center. Here's wishing you all the best in your parenting journey.


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