By Joyce Heid
You know your child may be gifted when…
• He loves dinosaurs and is reading paleobiology books on the potty.
• He sorts his stuffed animals by phylum.
• She no longer believes in Santa Claus—because, to circle the earth, Santa’s sleigh would have to travel at 650 miles per second, which is 3,000 times the speed of sound, and no one could sleep on Christmas Eve due to the resulting sonic booms.
All parents think their child is special, and every child does have his or her own unique gifts. However, how does a parent know if his or her child is truly gifted? And, what does “gifted” really mean anyway? Is “gifted” always related to IQ?
According to the Maryland State Department of Education, the Annotated Code of Maryland §8-201 defines a “gifted and talented student” as “an elementary or secondary student who is identified by professionally qualified individuals as:
1. Having outstanding talent and performing, or showing the potential for performing, at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with other students of a similar age, experience, or environment;
2. Exhibiting high performance capability in intellectual, creative, or artistic areas;
3. Possessing an unusual leadership capacity; or
4. Excelling in specific academic fields.”
“There are many definitions, and parents will find that the definitions [individual] schools use affect the identification strategies they employ and the nature of their programs,” says Dr. Linda Brody, director of the Study of Exceptional Talent for the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “But, in general, general intelligence as measured by IQ tests is used less to define gifted students than it used to be, and the focus is more on abilities in specific academic areas.”
Brody says that, while standardized testing was often used as a gauge in the past, it may not always be an accurate indicator of gifted talents. In other words, it’s best not to assume a gifted child is one who excels in all academic areas. For example, a child may have started reading by age 3 yet struggled with math tests all through elementary school.
“In general, we are talking about students who have the ability to master content at a faster pace and higher level than their age peers,” says Brody. “For some students, this can apply pretty much in all areas. For others, it may only apply in one or several content areas. We might also consider giftedness outside of academic areas, including the arts, athletics, and leadership, for example.”
Often, a child is bright but not “gifted,” according to the standards of gifted education specialists.
“Good grades are not synonymous with gifted,” says Karen Syrylo, chair of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee for Gifted and Talented Education, a parent and community advocacy group supporting Gifted and Talented Education in Baltimore County. “For example, a bright child does well in school. [He or she] absorbs information and processes information and can relay information on tests and work product. So [he or she] gets good grades in school. [But] ‘gifted and talented’ children think differently, process differently, communicate differently, and see the world differently. In short: They think more analytically and more outside the box.”
Some parents may be able to see indications that their child is gifted through observing his or her first developmental milestones.
“Parents should look for signs of their child doing things sooner and better than age peers,” says Brody. “Walking, talking, reading, [showing] interest in numbers and facts, or perhaps most importantly, developing an extensive vocabulary or exhibiting mature concerns and questions about life—these can be early signs.”
Brody adds that gifted traits can emerge even if a young child displays typical development.
“Bear in mind that not all students develop at the same rate,” she says, “so rapid advancement could come later or come in an area that isn’t evident during the preschool years.”
Case in point is little Albert Einstein, who grew up to be one of the most influential physicists of the 20th century, receiving the 1921 Nobel Prize in his field. Einstein did not speak until he was 4 or read until he was 7 and was considered a slow learner.
Work It Out
If parents think their child is gifted but he or she is not receiving gifted services, they can request that the child be reviewed for placement into the Gifted and Talented program at his or her school. The requirements that officially determine whether or not a child is gifted vary among school systems, as does the review process. In Baltimore County Public Schools, for example, parents can begin the review process by obtaining the form “Parent Request for Gifted and Talented Education Review” from their school’s Gifted and Talented facilitator.
Syrylo encourages parents to work with their school system in this situation. She suggests first going to the child’s teacher. If the results of that interaction are not satisfactory to the parent, then he or she should talk to the person in charge of the Gifted and Talented team at the school and, after that, meet with the assistant principal or principal. If necessary, Syrylo urges parents to continue upward to the area assistant superintendent for the school district.
Parental input is very important in the gifted evaluation process, Syrylo maintains.
“We believe that parents know their children best and should advocate for their child and convey their observations about their child’s learning styles to the school,” she says. “Parents should work as partners with the school at finding what is best for that child.”
However, Brody reminds parents, again, that every child is unique and develops at different rates. Talents can emerge in preschool, elementary school, or later, so parents shouldn’t worry about having missed the opportunity to help their child reach their full potential if they didn’t have him or her enrolled in a Gifted and Talented program at an earlier age.
“In general, unless a child is extremely precocious,” says Brody, “and the parent is really struggling with how to meet his or her needs, identification may not be needed until differentiation in school is required or if the parent is considering early entrance into kindergarten. Parents of preschoolers can follow their children’s leads, providing opportunities for learning and for pursuing interests.” BC
For More Information
Maryland State Department of Education, 200 W. Baltimore St., Baltimore, 410-767-0363, www.marylandpublicschools.org/MSDE/programs/giftedtalented.
Citizens’ Advisory Committee for Gifted and Talented Education, c/o BCPS, 6901 N. Charles St., Towson, 410-887-4330, www.bcps.org/offices/gt/cac.html.
Center for Talented Youth (CTY) at Johns Hopkins, McAuley Hall, 5801 Smith Ave., Ste. 400, Baltimore, 410-735-4100, www.cty.jhu.edu.
Student Behaviors Associated with Success in Gifted and Talented Programs
1. Has advanced oral and/or written language skills; expressive language
2. Makes unique connections; understands systems; sees the “big picture”
3. Asks many questions; seeks in-depth information
4. Is nonconforming; risk-taking; independent
5. Has broad and varied interests, at times, simultaneously
6. Is resourceful at finding unique solutions
7. Exhibits keen powers of observation; is highly sensitive and insightful
8. Has intense and sustained interests; transfers learning to new situations;
9. Exhibits an early moral concern; is empathetic
10. Makes nontraditional responses and/or products.
From the Frequently Asked Questions section of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee for Gifted and Talented Education webpage, www.bcps.org/offices/gt/cac.html.
© Baltimore’s Child Inc. October 2010