The term “gifted” can be misleading. Some people may think that since gifted children possess the special “gift” of high intelligence, they do not need any extra help and will succeed no matter what. This line of thinking does these children a disservice. While it is true that many gifted children do very well both academically and socially, it is important to remember that giftedness can bring with it its own set of social-emotional challenges that require understanding and ongoing support from adults. In this article, I discuss the challenges in navigating peer relationships that some gifted children face. I also explore possible ways to address these challenges. Continue reading Gifted Children: Navigating Peer Relationships
A middle school girl laments, “I really can’t make decisions. It’s very hard for me to make up my mind.” A ninth grader asks his teacher, “Can I start over?” as he erases all of his work. “I messed up on this problem.” A young adolescent boy explains, “I look at the amount of work I have and I feel overwhelmed. I just don’t know how to get started.”
These statements are common among adolescents with executive functioning difficulties. Executive functioning (EF) refers to the cognitive processes that are necessary to think, manage the self, evaluate and solve problems, and achieve goals (1). Adolescents with executive functioning difficulties often have trouble initiating, completing, or turning in their class assignments; they may struggle to stay engaged in lessons or classroom tasks. At times, these students may be labeled as ‘lazy,’ ‘forgetful,’ or ‘lost’ (2).
When the concept of executive functioning was first examined in the 1970s, it referred to the front of the brain acting as the control center or the “executive” (3) of the brain. Originally, executive functioning was defined as a concept that related closely to selective attention, or the ability to focus on one thing while blocking out distractions. In the past two decades, this notion has evolved. We now think of EF as consisting of numerous cognitive functions that are needed to assist with learning and self-regulation (3). The current research on executive functioning is summarized below.
“They never talked about how far ahead he was in reading or other subjects,” said one parent of her son’s experience in first grade. “They never named it. It seemed like there was an invisible line, and the teacher’s job was to make sure that all the students reached that line. But anything that was above that line, they just didn’t notice.”
The first step that parents and educators can take towards meeting the needs of a gifted child is to acknowledge that the child is gifted. With this acknowledgment should come the understanding that this child has unique cognitive, educational, and social-emotional needs. “It takes a while to come to the understanding that really, it is a question of needs,” says a parent of two children who have been identified as gifted. “It is not a question of wants; it is not a question of ‘it would be nice if…’. As a parent, you have to keep looking for opportunities to address their needs.” In the publication, A Nation Deceived: How schools hold back America’s brightest students, leading researchers in the field of gifted education, Colangelo, Assouline, and Gross (2004), agree. “Doing nothing is not the same as ‘do no harm,’ they write of educating gifted children. “The evidence indicates that when children’s academic and social needs are not met, the result is boredom and disengagement from school” (1).
In order to keep a gifted child excited about learning, parents and teachers must work together to figure out how to best meet the child’s academic needs. When appropriate, the child herself can also participate in this conversation. The goal of the conversation is to create an educational plan that would keep the child appropriately challenged and engaged in the learning process.
Parents bring their children into my office for a variety of reasons, but usually the children are there because somehow their cognitive, academic, or social-emotional needs are not being met by their current environment. Sometimes, after I get to know the child and conduct an evaluation, it becomes clear that the child is gifted, and that giftedness is part of the equation of this child’s unmet needs.
One 12-year-old boy told me his reasons for wanting to be evaluated: “I want to find out how many people in the world have a personality like me, because I want to know: where do I fit in?” He then poignantly added, “at lunchtime, all the boys want to talk about football, and I want to talk about physics!” A 16-year-old I tested shared with me that middle school had been the hardest time for him, because that’s when he “had the most disagreements with teachers on the worth of what we were doing.” A mother of a 6-year-old girl told me that her daughter comes home from school looking dejected, and described what she termed as her daughter’s “nerdy acting out.” When the girl’s first grade teacher asked the children to write down different ways to make the number 6, the girl wrote “2×3” and “-1 + 7”. The teacher then told the girl that “that’s not what we are doing right now.” After that incident, this child became even more disengaged from school.
When I share the results of the evaluation with parents and with the child, we discuss how being gifted is an important part of the child’s unique learning profile and of the unique way this child relates to the world.
At this point, it becomes important to clarify: what does “being gifted” mean?
Does your eight-year-old still count on her fingers? Is your fourth grader having a tough time with simple addition problems? Is math homework a daily battle with your middle schooler?
According to research conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, between 58 and 75 percent of school-aged students in the U.S. perform below proficiency levels in mathematics (1) (2). A variety of factors are contributing to this alarming statistic: cultural attitudes, low academic self-confidence, poor instructional methods, as well as neurodevelopmental disorders that affect learning across the board. However, up to 10% of students struggling with math have a specific learning disability known as dyscalculia. Children with this learning disorder have a difficult time making sense of numbers and math concepts.
My daughter has been at her preschool for over three months and still cries at drop off. Is this normal or should I be concerned?
My four-year-old son used to sleep through the night, but all of a sudden he is scared of the dark and cannot sleep alone. What can I do?
At every age, a child is working on mastering a particular set of skills or developmental tasks. Thus, every age, every stage of development, brings with it its own set of challenges. Difficulties in mastering age-appropriate developmental tasks will likely manifest as behavioral problems, academic struggles, or challenges in interacting with family members or peers. Parents can see that their child is struggling, but are not always sure what is going on and how to help. In order to better understand the nature of a child’s difficulties and to chart the most appropriate course of action for addressing the problem, parents might choose to bring their child in for a neuropsychological evaluation.
In my practice, I often see children who are growing up in a bilingual environment. Parents of bilingual children often wonder if, and how, bilingualism affects the process of language acquisition. “My child is behind in his speech, could it be because he hears two languages?” parents often ask. To clarify the facts and dispel the myths about the effects of bilingualism on language acquisition, I will take a closer look at the research on this topic. In thinking about the path of a bilingual child’s language development, here are some things to consider: