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Catering for Needs of the Gifted Children

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My son is just over six-years old and my husband and I have always found him very intense and challenging.

He skipped crawling and went straight to walking by 9 months, never slept much (still doesn't as he wakes up at 5 am) and was constantly following people with his eyes before he could move around, has always been extremely curious, was very articulate from a young age, speaks two languages, has high interest and ability for reading, has an incredible memory, and is a master builder. He seems a lot more comfortable with adults.

Since he's been in school he has been way ahead in some areas (reading, computer skills, comprehension, ability to understand and create abstract concepts) and lagging behind in others (maths, writing). The problem is he can do the maths perfectly sometimes and other times he just won't even bother with it. Lately, he says that school is boring.

His teachers have asked us if he could be tested for autistic tendencies because he flaps his hands when excited and he doesn't always respect other people's personal space. He also gets up sometimes and dances for a few minutes, as if to expand energy, then comes back to his table. We don't think he has more than possibly mild autistic tendencies because he is very friendly, funny, sensitive to other people's facial expressions and moods.

He's a very loveable child but it's very hard to know what to do with him since things change everyday. One day he'll do great in everything at school and the next day, he'll just sit there and refuse to work.

He fits almost all of the characteristics you list for giftedness. Is he gifted? How can we know? We just want to understand him and help him.

A: Your son does appear to have characteristic distinct to gifted children. From your description, he does not clearly appear to be autistic, especially as you indicated that he is sensitive to others and friendly. However, this is best checked by a professional to rule out any need for intervention since some of his behaviors appear to display autistic tendencies. Then again, he may just be a kinaesthetic learner!

Lagging behind in writing sometimes is a concern with gifted children since they probably do much more reading than writing which may affect their fine motor skills. Another concern may be a condition known as dysgraphia, a disorder where the child has extreme difficulties with writing. A child with such condition may get tired after writing only a page and unable to write and think at the same time. This results in written work that does not reflect the depth of the child's thoughts. For Maths, I really feel that since he is able to do it perfectly well at times, it may be a problem of boredom more than anything else. Perhaps he is not getting the stimulation he needs for such work. Gifted children need to find their work meaningful to be interested in doing it. Otherwise, they either do it because they have to or just ignore it completely which may be the case for your son.

When he says that school is boring, this is definitely a sign that he may burn out if school does not challenge him. What he needs now is support and accommodation for his needs, be it giftedness or special needs. If his writing problem is getting from bad to worse compared to his age mates, he may need occupational therapy and treated as soon as possible. Perhaps an IQ test may be helpful if you want to convince the school for an individualized educational program for your son. You need to discuss his condition with the relevant authorities in his school and suggest for subject acceleration for the ones that he is good at. This is important for him to enjoy subjects that interest him at his own pace. He may also need extra help in Maths, perhaps a tutor after school to instill and maintain the interest and explore more stimulating and advanced Maths if he completes one level.

At home, keep stimulating him which activities that are varied and of interest to him. Additionally, allow him some free time to explore and discover his capabilities. You need to monitor him to see if there are other issues of concern. You have a very special child who needs some help but does not know how to ask, therefore, you need make that extra effort to understand him and make sure his needs are catered for. Good luck!


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