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The Highly Gifted
by Kathi Kearney
What do these children have in common? All are exceptionally gifted, sharing the characteristics of an extremely high intellect, a heightened sensitivity to the world around them and to larger moral issues, and discrepancies in development which mark the normal pattern of development for the highly gifted in early childhood. In addition, in most cases they (and their parents) also face the challenge of finding educational programs that meet their needs.
Highly gifted children include those who score extremely high on individually administered IQ tests (generally three or more standard deviations above the norm, or in the 145-150+ IQ range, depending on the test used), as well as child prodigies in areas such as music, mathematics, or chess, children with extremely developed talents in unusual areas, and profoundly intellectually gifted children above 170 IQ.
These children are very rapid learners, especially in areas of strong interest, often outstripping the knowledge of their teachers and the resources of the curriculum or the local library. As a result of their accelerated intellectual development, they often must copy with discrepancies between their intellectual abilities and understanding and their physical, social, and emotional growth. The practical consequence of these discrepancies in development within the family may be a child who is able to discourse with you about Einstein's theory of relativity one minute, but insists that she will not eat her vegetables the next!
At school, the highly gifted first-grader may be able to create an elaborate science fiction story with an extensive plot, but not yet have the motor skills that allow him to express his ideas in writing at anywhere near the speed that those thoughts are developing in his mind. He has the ideas of a 10 year old, but the fingers of a 6 year old! This can be frustrating experience, although such discrepancies are normal in the highly gifted child, and are to be expected. In time, they lessen. Dr. Leta Hollingworth, a pioneer in the study of highly gifted children, states:
Helping the highly gifted child to understand and accept these discrepancies as a normal part of his or her own personal pattern of development, and teaching the child ways of compensating for these discrepancies can increase the child's self-esteem and reduce the frustration that these discrepancies cause. Ω
Hollingworth, Leta S. (1942) Children Above 180 IQ, Stanford Binet: Origins and Development. Yonkers-on-Hudson, New York: World Book Company. Full text of Children Above 180 IQ is now available from Project Gutenberg in HTML, EPUB and Kindle formats.
The issue of school placement and educational decision-making is one of the most difficult and demanding tasks families of exceptionally gifted children face. Highly gifted children, by their very nature, may defy the usual patterns of child development with which most schools and parents are familiar. And for both teachers and parents, instead of being able to rely on tried and tested methods, the experience of developing an appropriate educational program for these children may resemble more the experience of charting unknown territory in the Amazon jungle!
Finding ways to make the school experience both productive and meaningful for highly gifted children is the shared challenge of the teacher, the parents -- and the child herself. This column and the next one focus on the unique skills necessary to develop appropriate school placements for extremely gifted children.
Obtain an accurate assessment of the child's abilities
If we know a child is gifted, is it important to know how gifted? The answer is yes. The kind of educational program that is appropriate for a child of 160 or 170 IQ is not the same kind of program that is appropriate for a more moderately gifted child. Obtaining an accurate assessment of a highly gifted child's abilities may be difficult, because of the limitations of the tests themselves. Most modern measures of intelligence do not have a high enough ceiling to fully tap the abilities of these children. Karin's scores are more meaningful when we consider that the highest score possible on the group test was 145 and that several of her subtest scores on the WISC-R were at the ceiling. In this case, the Stanford-Binet Form L-M (the "Old Binet") remains the test of choice for highly gifted children like Karin, because of its higher ceiling (it is possible to extrapolate scores above 164), and because of an unequaled research history of over 70 years with the Stanford-Binet From L-M and it's previous editions, in the study of gifted children.
Make educational decisions within the context of the child's total development
The developmental patterns of highly gifted children are marked by discrepancies between intellectual, physical, social, and emotional factors. Such discrepancies are an absolutely normal part of the development of a highly intelligent child, and should be accepted as such. The implications of this, however, mean that an educational decision that is right at one point in the child's development may not be right at another. It doesn't necessarily mean that the original decision was a wrong one -- it only means that all educational decisions need to be continuously reviewed within the context of the child's ongoing development. Jeffery and Andrea, at the same age and with similar abilities, had different developmental needs. Jeffery joyfully played Little League that summer (and later became the only 7th grader in the history of the school to take Algebra I). For Andrea, acceleration was an increasingly comfortable pattern, and she entered college early.
Flexibility is an essential ingredient for the school, the teacher, and the parent when developing and adapting educational programs for the highly gifted. Without flexibility it is nearly impossible to respond appropriately, at school or within the family, to extremely advanced development. Ω
January 1989 School Placement (Part II)
School placement and education decision making for highly gifted children remain the most challenging task parents and schools face as these children develop. In the last issue, we focused on three important areas to consider as educators and parents make decisions regarding school placement for the highly gifted. These included: obtaining an accurate assessment of the child's abilities; making educational decisions within the context of the child's total development; and being flexible.
This month's column focuses on three additional recommendations to assist parents and teachers as they develop appropriate school placement options for highly gifted children.
Don't be afraid to attempt a major educational intervention if it is warranted.
Most schools and parents have little experience with grade skipping, early college entrance, radical acceleration of two or more years, or homeschooling. Yet there are times when such interventions may be the most appropriate educational decision. When it is, have the courage to try it. And remember, no decision is irreversible -- if it doesn't work out, another avenue can always be explored.
Expect to make mid-course corrections.
What happens when an appropriate educational program is designed, the child has participated productively and happily for several months -- and then, all of a sudden, the program isn't right anymore? This is a common problem with highly gifted children, and a potentially embarrassing one for the parents, who may have worked very hard with the local school to develop this program for their child. It is also almost always a frustrating problem for teachers and gifted education coordinators, who may already have stretched their own energy and school resources to the limit. It is important for everyone to remember that the highly gifted child may have "gotten beyond" the program of curriculum before his parents or teachers were ready for him to be finished with it! At this point, a "mid-course correction" is indeed in order, and parents and teachers should meet to discuss other ways of adapting the school program.
Listen to the child, and involve him or her in making educational decisions.
These children often have a clearly defined sense of what they need and when they need it. It is important, at an early age, for them to feel they have a sense of control and ownership in the educational decisions that affect their lives on a daily basis. By listening to them and finding ways to incorporate their ideas, we affirm their self-esteem and their growing understanding of their own giftedness; we also teach them educational survival strategies that will be important to them in the high school years and beyond.
Educational planning for highly gifted children is a unique challenge. In many cases, neither schools nor parents have had any previous experience dealing with the major issues arising as a result of the unfolding development of the extremely gifted child. This is truly a pioneering venture, and those parents and educators who diligently work to make learning the adventure that it should be for these children are to be commended. Ω