Gifted Children the Myth
Throughout Australia, awareness of the needs of Gifted Children is growing, but curiously one of their greatest needs is that there be a wider and better understanding of what a gifted child is, and what it is not.
a widely-held vague idea, amounting to a modern myth, that a "Gifted Child" is say, a four year
old, who taught her or himself to read a long time ago, and who now jumps out of
his or her cot each morning and writes symphonies like Mozart. After his or her
afternoon nap he or she invents calculus and works on Unified Field equations.
Sounds silly? It's a little exaggerated, but it really is one of the biggest problems in helping gifted kids in Australia in the '00s. It's why many parents, especially intelligent ones, say "No, no, my child's not gifted." (Not writing symphonies or inventing calculus, you see.)
on to the second greatest problem gifted children have: that their teachers are
reluctant, or outright unwilling, to accept
psychologists' tests or other realistic evidence, and believe a child in their
class may be gifted. (Again: eight
years old, and not solving Unified Field equations? This is definitely not a gifted child.)
I had had so many parents, phoning me for advice, tell me that "We know she or he's gifted, we've had him or her assessed, but the school just doesn't believe the assessment." I had been sympathetic, I had counselled, I had agreed that schools could be a great problem. But when it happened to me, it was like a horse's kick in the teeth. A need arose to "come out" about my daughter's wish to do more challenging work in Reception (US: Kindergarten). I had her assessed, made an appointment, and spoke tactfully to the principal; and there it was, just as all those parents had told me. The principal picked up the assessment by one corner, and said: "We don't accept these sort of reports. So we don't accept your daughter has above average intelligence." Well, of course not; she had only scored above the 99th percentile.
It's that myth in the background; she hadn't written any concerto's, you see; hadn't invented relativity. Not a gifted child. I mentally apologised to all those parents over the years, because I realised I hadn't understood what they told me at all. "The schools don't believe the reports" meant what it said. You sat there with a piece of paper that had cost $400, and meant something very real about your child, but to the school it meant precisely nothing. Gives you a very frustrated feeling.
myth is perpetuated partly because of the media's fascination with the one in a
million child who is gifted even among the very highly gifted. A TV journalist
from ABC in Melbourne phoned me several times on one occasion, She was
involved in the production of a documentary series on education, and wanted to
do a whole episode on gifted children. They
wanted to interview a gifted child and his or her family; find out what life was
like for the child and the family, etc. The
problem was, she explained to me, that they couldn't find a suitable
strange," said I. "You're very well placed in Melbourne; you have the
Krongold centre there, and the CHIP Foundaton" (CHIP: children of high
intellectual potential). "Yes",
she said, "We contacted them, but they don't seem to know of anyone
suitable. We thought you might know
of someone." A bit strange, I
thought, but I hoped to be able to help.
"Yes; I know of a family here with a 7 year old boy who's been
assessed above the 99.99th percentile. He's
a very outgoing kid, and I'm sure the family would be happy.."
"Do?" I was puzzled. "She's just a kid. She's in her first year at school. She does whatever she wants to, but she's bright at it." "No, I mean, has she done anything outstanding?" "You mean, does she play violin concertos, or win international chess competitions, or maths Olympiads?" Excited interest: "Yes, yes. That sort of thing. Only we really need someone younger. Would you have a child perhaps 3; or 4 at the most?"
I began to understand why the Krongold Centre and the Chip Foundation hadn't had anyone "suitable".
I spent some time trying to tell this journalist that what she had in mind wasn't a "gifted child". She was looking for the sort of child who appears a few times in a country, a few times each century. "Suppose we had Einstein living here now, 3 years old," I pointed out, "He wouldn't have invented relativity yet, you know. I believe he was considered a pretty slow kid; they think he had dyslexia and perhaps some other learning difficulties. So you wouldn't want him on your program. Believe me, this 7 year old boy is a genuinely gifted, gifted child." Yes, she understood, she assured me; but 7 was really too old, and they wanted a child who could be seen to be doing something outstanding. She rang me back several times, but I still hadn't come across a "suitable" 3 year old.
To be honest I really hoped that she wouldn't find one. If they managed to find one and made that documentary, it would uphold the myth. Parents would keep saying "No, not my child". Teachers would keep refusing to believe the child they see in class could be "gifted". Schools would keep saying there's really no such thing; because if that 3 year old is what people think of as a gifted child, they're right. There are many very highly gifted children in Australia at present; I'm in contact with several dozen of them; but I don't know of any who fulfil this myth.
So there's a great need for parents and teachers to outgrow this myth and understand and be realistic about what gifted children are. The parents who contact me from all over Australia and overseas have usually taken that step to a realistic concept of a gifted child, although they're often still hesitant, almost apologetic. They want the potential they see in their child not to be lost, and they ideally need contact with other parents of gifted children to profit from . However it saddens me that those children are only the tip of the iceberg; now that their parents have accepted them as gifted, they're already in a lucky minority. If you're wondering whether your child may be gifted, don't be daunted by the idea; don't set your standards unrealistically high. A gifted child is simply a child of high intellectual potential; many gifted children don't necessarily perform outstandingly, especially if their giftedness hasn't been recognised yet, and they are not in a school environment which challenges the intelligence they may not even realise they have.
children in a class of age peers produce work far below their own potential,
and simply don't have any concept of what they could do. They do what I did at school; produce work similar to the others, but
without much interest because it's all so boring. Or they may unconsciously
have begun to underachieve in order to try to blend in with the group around
them, so long ago that they now don't even know they're doing it any more.
Children as young as Kindergarten, may already be underachieving,
and not even be aware of it. Unless someone helps them, even at a later age they
may have little
understanding of their own ability and what they are likely to be able to
achieve. From lack of practice due to a lack of need to exert themselves, they
may have few study skills, and may not know how to improve their school results
even if they want to. This isn't a matter of opinion; I know this from
I still have my secondary school yearly reports; the most common comment is
"Helen could do better if she tried harder." I never understood
why my teachers said this. In the subjects that really
interested me, I very much wanted to do better, but didn't know how. I
spent long hours puzzling over the problem, hours which lead many years later to
my developing extremely efficient study skills. In the meantime I had
completed a Physics and Maths degree, still without any understanding of how to
"do better if I tried", or of the fact that I had high
intelligence. Twenty years later I had developed study skills, I
understood that I was intelligent, and I was able to take out top distinctions
in later tertiary courses.
I still have my secondary school yearly reports; the most common comment is "Helen could do better if she tried harder." I never understood why my teachers said this. In the subjects that really interested me, I very much wanted to do better, but didn't know how. I spent long hours puzzling over the problem, hours which lead many years later to my developing extremely efficient study skills. In the meantime I had completed a Physics and Maths degree, still without any understanding of how to "do better if I tried", or of the fact that I had high intelligence. Twenty years later I had developed study skills, I understood that I was intelligent, and I was able to take out top distinctions in later tertiary courses.
But as a child, even as a teenager, this extent of understanding and ability to use my intelligence, was far from me; and like me, most gifted children don't achieve any great extent of self-understanding and ability to use their intelligence, without help. Children themselves are probably as much misled by the myth as anyone; very few gifted children realise without help from the adults around them, that they're gifted. The need for the adults in their lives to recognise that they're gifted and to help them to understand that so that they can begin to explore what they can achieve, is one of their greatest needs.
So be realistic about what a gifted child is, and how hidden a "condition" it can be. Don't perpetuate the myth when you wonder if your own children are gifted.
is a Gifted Child?] [Intelligence & IQ] [How
do I Know if my Child is Gifted?] [Problem
Analysis] [Testing Gifted Children]