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“I have a child with special needs”.
Stating this in the waiting area of any school in Australia is bound to get you sympathy and a willing audience.
However continuing the conversation with “yes, you see my son has a high IQ, and the school just doesn’t cater to his needs” is going to make you about as popular as a blowfly at a Barbie.
Having an extremely bright child presents educational challenges, and yet it’s often hard to find support within the general community and within the school. A proclamation that you have a gifted child sounds so pretentious, that it’s almost a taboo subject.
Jay (not his real name), came into this world as a first child and a couple of weeks late. When he was two, he announced he hadn’t wanted to come out of my tummy, as he liked it there. I got goosebumps and wondered just how far back he remembered.
Being first born I didn’t really have much to compare him to. I joined a new mothers’ group – women who all had babies around the same age, give or take a month either side. It’s funny that I never considered Jay so much as advanced, but rather the others as a bit behind with the usual milestones.
He was sitting around 4 months, crawling at 6, and walking at 9. By 18 months he was putting two words together, and knew over 100 words and by 2 was speaking in 8 word sentences. These things are not necessarily signs of giftedness, or pre-requisites, but I mention them as they factor in the whole profile.
He was particularly articulate as a toddler, and we’d often hear the expression “he could talk underwater with a mouth full of marbles” and “he’s been here before” because he would just seem to know stuff that he “shouldn’t” have known.
Despite the fact that he “failed miserably” at cutting out at preschool, we decided to send him to school at 4 years 9 months, (an April baby) rather than hold him back for a year. I don’t regret that decision for a second, and think that holding him back would only have served to amplify the problems that were to come.
Kindy was a challenging year. I suppose combining immaturity with boredom didn’t create a good mix. This kid who loved watching documentaries and playing on his computer was forced to “learn” rudimentary facts and computer programs he’d mastered two years earlier. The school’s solution was to co-opt him as a peer tutor.
In year one, he was diagnosed with A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder). This is not surprising as I read once around 30% of gifted boys have the same diagnosis. Perhaps a common trait, or the effects of boredom, I’m not quite sure. It was at this time that Jay had his first IQ test, which indicated that he was “gifted” – to the extent that he was placed in the top 2% of children.
Apparently, this score didn’t qualify him as “gifted” according to the school he attended. The principal told me herself. In fact, she told me that they didn’t have ANY gifted students at the school (which was K-12 and over 1,200 students). I daresay she was right, an attitude like that would drive them away en masse. The mandatory “gifted and talented program” was poorly administered, and revolved around sporadic “thinking groups”, which Jay loved, or advanced reading programs, which he didn’t “qualify” for. It was a constant battle with the school.
It wasn’t until Jay was re-tested a year later, that we learned the true extent. You see the IQ test that was originally used (WISC-III) was not designed to be used with really bright kids. Upon being tested on the Stanford-Binet Form L-M, his IQ was calculated to be 180 – statistically (although not in practice) occurring at the rate of 1 in one million.
Whilst you think your first reaction might be pride, or joy, I can tell you I was shocked, shaking and numb. I turned to the internet, books, what ever I could get my hands on that would help me make sense of the situation.
That was even scarier. I read tales of socially inept children, doomed to be misfits and outcasts. Articles about how his curriculum needed to be drastically altered, that he would require radical acceleration, that if he wasn’t placed with “like minded” individuals he would suffer.
I obsessed about this for a couple of years. He went to three different primary schools (including a private school OC in years 3 & 4 and government OC in years 5 and 6). He also attended many weekend and holiday courses suited to his interests. While years K-2 were pretty rough going, years 3-6 were an improvement.
In the end, I learned to relax and not look for potential problems. I learned to simply be guided by whether Jay was happy, and to trust his judgment as to whether his environment was adequate. He didn’t want to be accelerated, and he never wanted to be singled out as being different. In reflection, I also learned a lot about myself and my own abilities, and how girls are very good at “dumbing down”.
I don’t mean to trivialise the situation. I think a lot of kids with high IQs do have a really hard time growing up, and many do yearn for acceleration and extra challenge. But I’m just saying don’t look for problems that may not exist, and don’t forget that each child is an individual so you can’t just “typecast” them in a “one size fits all” solution.
Jay is now a happy well adjusted teenager (I should clarify, “as well adjusted as your average teenager”!). He has a great circle of friends, and satisfies his additional intellectual needs through documentaries, books and the internet (via special interest forums and the internet friendships he’s formed). He does really well at school, in the subjects he likes. Those that he doesn’t like he coasts through. I know that theoretically he should be top of his class, school or state even, but he’ll come into his own one day. Perhaps he’s an underachiever, but he’s a great kid, and that’s what makes me the most proud.
And in case you’re wondering, Jay has three younger sisters. The eldest has an IQ “somewhere” over 145 (she hit the ceiling on some parts of her test), but we didn’t feel the need to get her tested on the SB L-M. As for the two younger ones – I don’t think we’ll even bother getting them tested, we know they’re very bright. The rest is just academic, really. Let’s just say that sitting through the entire 2 hours of the Lost Queen of Egypt with little Miss 5 brought back a sense of déjà vu.
Gifted-Children.com.auNSW Association for Gifted & Talented Children (incorporating ACT)
The Queensland Association for Gifted and Talented Children
The Gifted and Talented Children’s Association of WA
Victorian Association for Gifted and Talented Children
Gifted and Talented Children’s Association SA
Tasmanian Association for the Gifted
Northern Territory Association for the Education of the Gifted and Talented
Gifted Education Research Resource Information Centre
Australian Association for the Education of the Gifted and Talented