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Support For A Highly Gifted Child

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My daughter is currently 4 years old. Since birth, she has been an extremely intense child. She is my first born. During her first year of life, starting at age eight weeks, she would not go to any other caregiver (including her father) except for me. She would cry inconsolably from the time I handed her over until I took over again. It could be five minutes or it could be a full eight hour work day. We went through four babysitters during that time, as I was working part-time. She never stopped crying for anyone and didn't bond with her father until age 1.

By age one, she had a vocabulary of about 300 words, could sing her ABCs, and could count. By age 18 months, she knew all of the basic colors, could count to 30, and knew her shapes. By age 2, she was talking in grammatically correct compound sentences, using past tense correctly, and was often complimented for how "clearly" she spoke. She was a generally happy baby during that time and would spend up to two hours at a time looking through books of any kind on her own.

However, at age 2.5, her behavior became almost unmanageable. She was often angry, throwing tantrums that would last anywhere from 5 minutes to four hours. She would scream, kick, yell, cry, and would be inconsolable. We were one phone call away from getting professional help at that time, but we had some extended family step in and help for a few weeks. We felt it better to continue to deal with it ourselves. This went on for a year. In the meantime, we noticed things that other parents weren't seeing, though... she would cry because a song was just so beautiful or she would remember the name of a hymn that she had heard at church at Easter the year before and hadn't heard since or she would get very sad if she saw someone with a cast or on crutches and worry about them until she could go and check on them herself (complete strangers in the grocery store!).

At age 3.5, her behavior began to improve and we felt we finally saw a light at the end of the tunnel, though we weren't quite there. However, at that time, I miscarried and my daughter was devastated. She became obsessed with death and heaven, to the point that she would ask my husband or me about it somewhere in the ballpark of 75 to 100 times a day. Her questions ranged from, "What is heaven like?" to "How do we get there?" to "What happens to our bodies when we die?" She then began to worry. Her questions turned into, "How did the baby get to heaven if it's too little to walk?" Or, "How will I get all of my things to heaven all by myself?" Or, "Will I get to help take care of my baby sister when I get to heaven?" She would cry and worry and obsess constantly - almost as much about the lost "sister" as the concept of heaven/death. She would sometimes go into a rage if she couldn't get her questions answered. After a couple of weeks, we turned to professional help.

The immediate assessment by the child psychologist is that she is a gifted child who is thinking about things that are beyond her emotional capacity. Our therapist gave us ways to help our daughter deal with the loss she was feeling, as well as facing her questions head on - lots of talk and processing time, honest answers, books from the library, etc. It helped tremendously! We also moved her immediately to a preschool setting with older children (the therapist thought she was also extremely bored/frustrated with her day care setting) and enrolled her in a dance imagination class. We also started reading chapter books (about the 6th grade level) to her and have new puzzles and challenges for her. Within three months we had a new child! She is finally happy and seems to have a new sense of inner peace. She's reading and writing, loves to tell fantastic, elaborate, animated stories, has a passion for dance, and still doesn't miss a single detail. Her preschool teacher believes she possibly has a photographic memory. No fewer than every adult in her life commented during that time about what a dramatic change there had been in such a short time. It was astounding!

It seems that she is a gifted child, but I'm still not quite sure what that means and what we should do about it. She is certainly special, of course, but do we need to make a big deal about it? We are sending her to private kindergarten this fall and I have told the teachers the very watered down version of her gifted assessment. Do I let them figure out where she is or should I be advocating for her right off the bat? Because I feel a little uncertain of exactly "how" gifted she is, I don't really know what to tell her teachers. Would you recommend testing? Is that helpful to her teachers? If so, what kind of testing?

Thank you in advance for your help and support!

A: Thanks for the elaborate details - gave me a very good description of your little one. From what you have mentioned, she is indeed a highly gifted child, milestones ahead of her peers. So you have a very, very special child and she has benefited from professional help - now what?

Firstly, you are certainly on the right track in observing, monitoring and providing her with all that she needs to flourish. She is not going to be fine in a regular program and she certainly needs a program that caters for her level of intelligence. She needs constant stimulation and you will find that she would get bored quite easily with any routine task. She also needs to find her activities meaningful - there must be a reason to everything she does to feed her curiosity and interest. You need to be very careful that she does not get bored or feel mentally tired with too much stimulation. Both extremes have consequences.

Parent of gifted children sometimes get overwhelmed and tend to provide too much but these children can get overwhelmed as well. Make sure the activities are varied. Keep talking (pretty much adult talk, at the same time remember that this is a child - too much emotional talk may not be good as they may not be emotionally matured to handle certain things) and more importantly, keep stimulating their minds with questions. Try not to lie to her because they can be highly sensitive and expect to be treated with respect.

Educational toys are fine but they would get bored quite quickly and it can be an expensive affair. Get her to make her own toys - gifted children work best when stimulated. They love starting from scratch. Books are great so regular visits to the library or book store is crucial. Whether she can read or not, books are the best source of information to feed her active imagination. Make sure she keeps having a variety of activities. Give her some autonomy in making decisions as well - e.g., ask her what she would like to do for the day, guide her if she's not sure. Don't forget to allow some physical activity for her on a daily basis that would help her sleep better to rest her tired mind! Allow a lot of free play but make sure you observe and monitor her progress.

As for testing, she is at a good age to be tested so that her teachers can see some evidence for a differentiated educational program. The Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI) is suitable for her. Make sure you get a reputed psychologist to test her in order to get a good interpretation of the scores. That would help you plan better for her educational needs.

There are many sites and books that you could read to help guide you. In addition, do go through the previous advice on this site. You have a rather tough job but take one thing at a time and keep up the good work. Last but not least, always remember that this is a special child and she may be cognitively very able but she is still a young child after all and more than anything else, she would need your love and understanding. At some point, she would realise that she may be a little different from her peers and this is when she would need her family the most.

Here's wishing you the very best for a beautiful journey.


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