Most parents greet the discovery that their child is gifted with a mixture of pride, excitement, and apprehension. Then, they may well seek expert help on how to cope with bringing up the child, only to find that the help they can get is very limited.
What is giftedness?
We should begin by realizing that giftedness is a particular degree or concentration of innate qualities such as arc given to every child by his or her Creator, a fact emphasized in several verses of the Qur’an, for example:
It is He who brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers when you knew nothing; and He gave you hearing and sight and intelligence and affections: that you may give thanks (al-Nahl, 16.78).
It is He who has created for you hearing, sight, feeling and understanding: little thanks you give (al Mu’minun, 23.78).
The counterpart to recognizing the special giftedness of a particular child is to recognize our special debt of gratitude for that giftedness, together with an understanding of the challenges and responsibilities which that debt brings with it.
Indicators of giftedness
It is important for parents to be fully aware of the ways in which giftedness can be manifested. There are a number of typical characteristics listed by authorities on the subject. No individual child is likely to be outstanding in all the ways indicated on the list.
- Shows superior reasoning powers and marked ability to handle ideas, has outstanding problem-solving ability.
- Shows persistent intellectual curiosity, asks searching questions, shows exceptional interests in the nature of man and the universe.
- Has a wide range, of interests often of an intellectual kind; develops one or more interests to a considerable depth.
- Is noticeably superior in quality and quantity of vocabulary, in speech and/or in writing.
- Reads eagerly and absorbs books well beyond his or her years.
- Learns quickly and easily and retains what is learned, recalls important details, concepts and principles; comprehends readily.
- Shows creative ability or imaginative expression in such things as music, art, drama, shows sensitivity and fitness in rhythm, movement, and body control.
- Shows insight into arithmetical problems that require careful reasoning and grasps mathematical concepts easily
- Sustains concentration for lengthy periods and shows outstanding responsibility and independence in doing classroom work.
- Sets realistically high standards for him or herself, is self- critical in evaluating and correcting his or her own efforts.
- Shows initiative and originality in intellectual work; shows flexibility in thinking and considers problems from a number of viewpoints.
- Observes keenly and is responsive to new ideas
- Shows social poise and an ability to communicate with adults in a mature way.
- Takes pleasure in intellectual challenges; shows an alert and subtle sense of humour.
It should be kept in mind that it is neither admirable nor contemptible to be gifted. It is what one does with one’s abilities that is important. Throughout the parenting years, it is wise to accept that the healthiest long-term goal is not necessarily a child who gains fame, fortune and a Nobel Prize, but one who becomes a contented adult able to use his or her gifts productively.
Throughout childhood and early adolescence, we must provide the environment in which gifted children can flourish. We can do this by trying to:
be responsive to the unusual questions the children ask;
be respectful of the children’s unusual ideas or solutions by listening to them without bias, as the children will see many relationships that their parents and teachers miss;
encourage the children to test their ideas by using them and communicating them to others;
ensure that the children can learn, think and discover without the threat of immediate evaluation or prejudgement.
Education of gifted children
Effective nurturing of giftedness in children and adolescents requires a co-operative partnership between home and school, one that is characterized by mutual respect and an ongoing sharing of ideas and observations about the children involved.
Because gifted children may begin school already knowing much of the material covered in early grades and because they learn quickly, some type of acceleration is necessary. For some children and in some situations, grade skipping is the best choice. Placing a child with older children with similar interests may be socially and intellectually beneficial and result in a more appropriate curriculum.
The following strategies, suggested in a Gifted Leadership Conference in Washington. illustrate how bridges in thinking can be built between giftedness and education.
- Gifted students should spend the majority of their school days with others of similar abilities and interests.
- Cluster grouping of students within an otherwise mixed class can he considered where schools are unable to support a full time programme for gifted individuals.
- In the absence of a full time programme for gifted individuals, students might be offered specific group instruction across grade levels, according to their individual knowledge acquisition in school subjects.
- Gifted students, individually or in groups, should be given experiences involving a variety of appropriate acceleration-based options.
- All students should be given experiences which involve various terms of enrichment that extend the regular school curriculum, leading to the more complete development in their minds of concepts, principles, and generalizations.
- Mixed-ability co-operative learning groups should be used sparingly, perhaps only for the development of social skills.
- All staff should be trained to identify and provide appropriate curricula for gifted students.
- We should eliminate the ceiling on learning (in other words, if a student is ready to learn algebra in 5th grade, the system should not just permit but support it.).
- Computers can be used to keep up with the students’ pace. They are patient and will hold on to an idea for a long time. Computers can do more complex tasks when the students are ready to use them in more complex ways, and they can provide information when the student is ready for it.
Career planning for the gifted
Although parents and teachers may be concerned about academic planning for gifted children, they often assume that career planning will take care of itself. The student is simply expected to make a career choice around the last year of college and then follow through on the steps necessary to attain that goal.
Unfortunately, there is growing evidence that youthful brilliance in one or more areas does not always translate into adult satisfaction and accomplishment in working life. Studies have shown that the path from education to career is not always smooth, and it may be complicated by the fact that the social-emotional problems and needs of gifted students differ from those of more typical students.
Young gifted people between the ages of II and 15 frequently report a range of problems as a result of their abundant gifts: perfectionism, competitiveness, unrealistic appraisal of their gifts, rejection from peers, confusion due to mixed messages about their talents, and parental and social pressures to achieve, as well as problems with unchallenging school programmes or increased expectations. Some encounter difficulties in finding and choosing friends and, eventually, a career. The developmental issues that all adolescents encounter exist also for gifted students, yet they are further complicated by the special needs and characteristics of being gifted. Once counselors and parents are aware of these obstacles, they seem better able to understand and support gifted adolescents. Caring adults can assists these young people to ‘own’ and develop their talents by understanding, responding to adjustments and challenges and coping with strategies.
Bringing up a gifted child may be ecstasy, agony and everything in between. Adults must perform almost impossible feats of balance - supporting a child’s gifts without pushing, valuing without over-investing, championing without taking over. It is costly, physically and emotionally draining, and intellectually demanding. In the first flush of pride, few parents realize that their task is in many ways similar to the task faced by parents of a child with severe handicaps. Our world does not accommodate differences easily, and it matters little whether the difference is perceived to be a deficit or an overabundance.
The most important help you can give your gifted child or children can be expressed in a single sentence: give them a safe home, a refuge where they feel loved, and genuine acceptance, particular of their differences. As adults who enjoyed such a safe home background, they should be able to put together lives of productivity and fulfilment.
- BERGER, S. (1989) College Planning for Gifted Students, The Council for Exceptional Children Reston, VA.
- COX, J., DANIEL, N. & BOSTON, B. (1985) Educating Able Learners, University of Texas Press, Austin TX.
- FREDERICKSON, R.H. & ROTHNAY, J.W.M. (1992) Recognizing and Assisting Multipotential Youth, Columbus, OH: Merril.
- KERR, B. (1985. September) ‘Raisins, the Career Aspirations of the Gifted’, The Vocational Guidance Quarterly, 32, pp. 37-43.
- KAUFMAN, F. (1988) ‘Mentors Provide Personal Coaching’,Gifted Child Monthly, 9(l), pp.I-3.