We’ve all seen the social caricature of a “problem” child who seems so highly intelligent in certain areas of life but just can’t seem to get it together in others. The youth who become labeled “troubled” teens because they seem pent up and frustrated with life rather than flourishing.
Unfortunately, in many cases, these youth are truly gifted beings hiding under early pigeonholing by a system that failed to recognize their unique situations early on. Understanding the “gifted” child is a key element in helping he or she lead a successful and productive life.
Here are some common MYTHS about gifted children:
- They are a homogeneous group, all high achievers.
- They do not need help. If they are really gifted, they can manage on their own.
- They have fewer problems than others because their intelligence and abilities somehow exempt them from the hassles of daily life.
- The future of a gifted student is assured: a world of opportunities lies before the student.
- They are self-directed; they know where they are heading.
- The social and emotional development of the gifted student is at the same level as his or her intellectual development.
- They are nerds and social isolates.
- The primary value of the gifted student lies in his or her brain power.
- The gifted student’s family always prizes his or her abilities.
- They need to serve as examples to others and they should always assume extra responsibility.
- They make everyone else smarter.
- They can accomplish anything they put their minds to. All they have to do is apply themselves.
- They are naturally creative and do not need encouragement.
- They are easy to raise and a welcome addition to any classroom.
Some TRUTHS about gifted children:
- They are often perfectionist and idealistic. They may equate achievement and grades with self-esteem and self-worth, which sometimes leads to fear of failure and interferes with achievement.
- They may experience heightened sensitivity to their own expectations and those of others, resulting in guilt over achievements or grades perceived to be low.
- They are asynchronous. Their chronological age, social, physical, emotional, and intellectual development may all be at different levels. For example, a 5-year-old may be able to read and comprehend a third-grade book but may not be able to write legibly.
- Some of them are “mappers” (sequential learners), while others are “leapers” (spatial learners). Leapers may not know how they got a “right answer.” Mappers may get lost in the steps leading to the right answer.
- They may be so far ahead of their chronological age mates that they know more than half the curriculum before the school year begins! Their boredom can result in low achievement and grades.
- They are problem solvers. They benefit from working on open-ended, Interdisciplinary problems; for example, how to solve a shortage of community resources. Gifted students often refuse to work for grades alone.
- They often think abstractly and with such complexity that they may need help with concrete study- and test-taking skills. They may not be able to select one answer in a multiple-choice question because they see how all the answers might be correct.
- Gifted students who do well in school may define success as getting an “A” and failure as any grade less than an “A.” By early adolescence they may be unwilling to try anything where they are not certain of guaranteed success.
Children who are gifted but not identified as such or supported can develop certain issues in their lives. They oftentimes feel different or alienated from others.
They grow bored in school because they already know the material being taught and tend to checkout, become inattentive or disruptive and are seen as having behavioral problems. This can lead to their giving up on school all together and a resistance to learning. They can become anxious, depressed and at high risk for underachieving, performing vastly below their ability.
Gifted children are likely to have uneven, or asynchronous development whereby their strengths are being missed and their weaknesses are being highlighted or ignored as well. Learning to understand and facilitate a gifted child’s unique path in life can sometimes make all the difference in their achievement of a fruitful life.
*Lists adapted from College Planning for Gifted Students: Choosing And Getting into the Right College by Sandra Berger