Understanding and Supporting the Gifted Child

Tatum is a smart child. He loves to read and loves to learn, but he seems bored and frustrated in school. He can’t sit still during lesson time, and may often be found by the teacher doodling or worse, distracting his classmates.

Some may see Tatum’s case as one of an unruly child. But it may just well be that Tatum is a gifted child whose craving for knowledge is not being satisfied by the school system.

At 79 Light Bulb’s “Supporting the High Ability Kid” workshop, parents were able to distinguish the characteristics of gifted children as presented by Clarinda Choh, director for the Gifted Education Program and The Centre of Scholastic Excellence at the Hwa Chong Institution in Singapore. More importantly, the parents learned what kind of home and school support these gifted children need. 79 Light Bulbs offers quality activities promoting creativity and lifelong learning. It hopes to be a catalyst for improvement, and start people young in their adventure of creativity, encouraging wonder and curiosity.

Based on perspectives from the Pennsylvania Association for Giftedness in the United States and the Hwa Chong Institution in Singapore, Choh presented the characteristics of a gifted student.

  • He learns rapidly and easily, memorizing and mastering basic facts quickly. At the same time, he gets bored easily, resists drills, and disturbs others.
  • He reads intensively, going to the library without prompting while neglecting other responsibilities.
  • He is a perfectionist who is intolerant of mistakes.
  • He has a long attention span, sticks with tasks of personal interest while resisting class routine. He doesn’t like interruptions.
  • He is imaginative, curious, and has many interests. He asks questions, gets excited about ideas, and takes risks.
  • He works independently, requiring minimal teacher direction or supervision. He also creates and invents beyond assigned tasks while refusing to work with others. He is also individualistic and strong willed.
  • He is alert and observant, recognizing problems with ease. He may also impolitely correct adults.
  • He is highly verbal with an extensive vocabulary. Fluent with words and numbers, he has a tendency to monopolize discussions.
  • He prefers older peers as he is wise beyond his years. This sometimes leads him to being isolated and misunderstood.
  • He is also very sensitive and passionate, emphasizing fairness and morality always.

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Six Profiles of Gifted Students

Given these characteristics, how then can parents and teachers support the gifted student?

According to “Profiles of the Gifted and Talented” by George Betts and Maureen Neihart published in Gifted Child Quarterly by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), there are six profiles of student behaviors that could help parents and teachers understand their needs and feelings better. Choh says, however, that not one student will fit perfectly into one profile. Usually, she says, a student may exhibit two dominant profiles.

Profile #1: Successful
The successful student has learned the ways of the system. Having listened closely to his parents and teachers, he knows the approved and appropriate behaviors at home and in school, and acts accordingly. He does well enough in school with as little effort as possible and is well liked by his peers. Unfortunately, he is, for most of the time, bored. Relying on structures and direction from the adults in his life, he often doesn’t pursue his own interests and goals. Because of his reliance on his parents and teachers, he may not grow up to be an independent and imaginative adult.

At home, the successful student needs to be given freedom to make choices. Although parents often want to do everything for their children, says Choh, they must encourage their child to make their own decisions. The choice of a school project, for instance, is better left to the child than to the parents. Over-scheduling the child with an assortment of lessons and workshops may not be such a good idea as well. Everything is done for him and that’s not good, she says. Choh also advises that family realities be discussed in order to build the child’s coping abilities.

It would be wise for parents to opt for a school espousing individualized programs with avenues for acceleration or differentiation. This measure would not only prevent the student from being bored in class but would also encourage him to learn independently. It is also hoped that the student be paired with his intellectual peers who can stimulate and challenge his abilities.

Profile #2: Challenging
The challenging student is the divergently gifted. He is highly creative, questions authority, and is a non-conformist. His talents are not recognized at home or in school, leaving him frustrated, conflicted, and struggling with his self-esteem. If this student is not given the proper support and guidance, he is at risk of dropping out in school or engaging in delinquent behavior.

Choh observes that the challenging student often comes from creative homes. Parents should encourage his creativity and his fondness for experimentation. They must also respect the child’s goals and passions while affirming his strengths. They should also exhibit a higher tolerance for deviance as they recognize the child’s psychological vulnerability.

An appropriate school for such a child is one that rewards original ideas, allows non-conformity, and facilitates domain specific training, says Choh.

Profile#3: Underground
The underground student denies his giftedness to feel normal and to belong. His parents and teachers are often perplexed by his seeming abandonment of his academic ways. He himself is anxious and insecure because his changing needs conflict with the expectations of others.

At home, Choh advises parents to model lifelong learning. They should be the example by which their children should aspire to. It would also be good to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each child while avoiding comparisons. More importantly, the student must be given the freedom of choice.

The school appropriate for such a student must be able to facilitate open discussions about social issues, must have an inclusive learning environment, and must give instructions on social skills.

Profile#4: At Risk
This is the student who was identified as gifted later on in his school life, and he is angry, bitter, and resentful. He has neither received the appropriate support from his parents and teachers nor given proper recognition for his talent.

Choh strongly advises family counseling for this student. Parents must show their confidence in his abilities and preserve and nurture their relationship with him. It may be good to assess him for dangerous behaviors as well.

In school, he needs to undergo diagnostic testing immediately and his options expressed to him clearly. At the same time, he needs academic coaching and guidance support.

Profile #5: Twice-Exceptional
This is the gifted child who is physically or emotionally handicapped or who has a learning disability and is thus not easily identifiable as gifted. He often uses humor to put others down while being very scared of failure himself. He is oftentimes critical and impatient.

At home, it is best to focus on his strengths, says Choh, as parents work on his handicap or disability. The family must show full support and acceptance of his gifts and encourage him to practice self-control and management.

The best school for him is one that challenges his strengths, accommodates his disability, and instructs him on self-management strategies.

Profile #6: Autonomous
Unlike the successful gifted child, the autonomous student does not work for the system. He makes the system work for him. He is independent and self-directed, secure and well-respected, expresses his goals and feelings and takes risks.

Choh encourages parents of autonomous gifted children to: “Let them grow. Learn with them!”

At home, provide him with opportunities to encourage his passions and strengthen his talents. Allow him to make friends of all ages, and remove restrictions of time and space when it comes to learning. Listen to him and observe his needs while building a good support system so that he can take full advantage of his abilities.

His school must be able to develop for him long-term plans of integrated study, serve him a variety of differentiation options, enable him to establish mentorships for accelerated application, and provide him with affective support brought on by the psychological costs of success, says Choh.

Photographs by Stanley Ong

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