We are approaching a new school year and the homeschool forums and facebook pages I am part of have been busy. New parents starting out on the homeschooling journey, veterans reassessing their options, families searching for a curriculum that will work for their child, and several times the topic of giftedness and acceleration have come up. I have seen several responses of "every child is gifted", and I know that to the parent who had asked a question regarding their child, this response was not what they were searching for. I remember starting out on this journey and looking for advice from people who had been there. When A started reading at 2.5, when she was assessed on a K and 1st grade level at 3, when at 4 the local elementary school told us that there was nothing they could do for her and that "sometimes gifted children just have to be miserable in elementary school", I was not looking for "every child is gifted". I was looking for guidance, for someone to understand that I was not bragging but truly wanted to know what to do with a child like this, I was looking for someone to understand and to give me direction. So for you, that parent, I write this post.
What is Gifted anyway?
Isn't every child gifted? If you're the parent of a gifted child, then you have heard some form of this phrase spoken a million times. While it's true that every child is a gift, it is not true that every child is gifted. Just as every child is not a gifted athlete or musician, every child is not gifted in the sense of what the word is given to mean in an educational setting.
So what is gifted?
Some professionals define the term gifted to be a score of two or more standard deviations above the norm on an intelligence test. This typically is a score of 130 or the top 2.5% of the population. Others consider it to be based on academic achievement with a child working several grade levels above his or her age.
One of the most respected definitions, and one I believe gives a better insight into the term, was given by the Columbus Group in 1991. "Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norn. This asynchrony increase with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching, and counseling in order for them to develop optimally."
Asynchronous is the key in this definition. A gifted child is often many ages at once, She may be 8 chronologically, but able to understand and converse about physics on a college level, have math skills of a 14 year old, a vocabulary richer than many adults, but have the emotional maturity and social skills of a 6 year old, and possibly the hand writing of a 5 year old. This asynchronicity often causes the child to feel lost and to not know where their place is in the world.
Did you know there are different levels of giftedness?
Neither did I when I started this journey. I was identified as gifted as a child. I was lucky to live in an area with magnet schools and gifted programs and was able to get most of my needs met in this way. I had never heard nor considered different levels of giftedness until my daughter came along. Her experience with giftedness is as different from mine as night and day. Why? Well because I for one would be considered gifted or moderately gifted while my daughter falls in the exceptionally to profoundly gifted range. Remember that quote above? "This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity", yes it certainly does, and it makes our experiences navigating the world quite different.
Some of the best definitions of these levels of giftedness can be viewed on the Hoagies Gifted website.
They do an excellent job breaking down the categories based on scores of different intelligence tests.
One of my first exposures to the levels of giftedness came from Dr. Ruf, a leading expert on gifted children, testing, and education. It came through the recommendation of her book "Losing our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind." If you are just embarking on this world of gifted advocacy and education, I highly recommend you start with this book. Much of the information can be found on her website as well.
The Davidson Institute also has a great article explaining what it means to be highly gifted,
The Davidson Institute is a great resource for parenting a gifted child. From their forums to their Young Scholars program which provides free services for profoundly gifted youth from ages 5-18, they are truly a go to resource.
Why does it matter?
Knowing a child is gifted and understanding the level of giftedness allows a parent and school to better advocate for and serve the child's educational and emotional needs. As I mentioned before, my daughter and I are worlds away from each other, in terms of what our needs are/were educationally, yet we are both identified as gifted. The needs of students at different levels of giftedness vary dramatically. You would not put a high school student in an elementary classroom, expect them to complete only that level of work, and to do it happily and without issue. That would be ludicrous. Yet it happens everyday in schools across America to highly and profoundly gifted students. It is in fact why we chose to homeschool. At 4, the local elementary school where we lived at the time told us "Sometimes gifted kids just have to be miserable in elementary school." This is not uncommon. Every day gifted students are placed with their age level peers and expected to complete their work with no differentiation, acceleration, or changes, even though they may have mastered the material years before. These children not only have already mastered the material but they also tend to learn quicker and think differently than their non gifted peers. Understanding the level of giftedness allows for one to truly grasp the level of change that may be needed in an educational setting. Remember that gifted is typically considered to be an IQ of 130 or greater, about 2 percent of the population. As scores increase the occurrence of a child at that levels becomes less and less. A profoundly gifted child may be at the 99.9th percentile or greater. The likelihood that a teacher or administrator has ever seen or experienced a child at that level decreases dramatically! We are talking about nationally 1 in 250,000 when scores reach that level. Understanding that allows for parents and educators to truly see the extent of acceleration and tailoring such a child's education will need to take.
No that's not a typo. 2E in the gifted world stands for twice exceptional. One thing many people do not know is that gifted children can also suffer from disabilities. Learning disabilities, sensory processing disorders, and autism spectrum, can all be present in gifted children. Many of these children are left out of gifted programming or their parents are told "they can't be gifted" because of these exceptionalities and the role they can play in masking what is thought of as "typical" gifted academic achievement.
Overexcitabilities in the Gifted Child
This is a concept that I was completely unfamiliar with before embarking on this journey. In the gifted world you may hear the terms Dabrowski's Overexcitabilities and OE's used to describe the intensity, sensitivity, and overexcitability that research and observation have found to be primary characteristics of the highly gifted.
SENG has a great article discussing these OEs at length as well as giving tips on how to handle them. I find myself needing to refer back to this article quite often.
Basically, the gist of the matter is that there are 5 categories of OE's, psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginative, and emotional. Not all gifted or highly gifted people will present with overexcitabilities, but it is much more common than in the general population.
Again, the Davidson Institute has several great articles pertaining to this subject.
"Overexcitability and the highly gifted child"
"Gifted Children: Emotionally Immature or Emotionally Intense"
"Tips for Parents Living with Intensity- Overexcitabilities in Profoundly Gifted Children."
"Foundations for understanding the social-emotional needs of the highly gifted"
Well, I think I have written enough for now to give you a good start in understanding what "gifted" is. I will be adding a page soon with links to many other resources for you to explore. I hope this helps.