Effectively Advocate for Your Gifted Child
If you have a gifted child, you know one of the primary concerns is how to educate your gifted child, as well as effectively advocating for them if you are in a school environment. Many people are confused by the frustration parents of gifted children have when it comes to education, and the huge amount of emotional energy that goes into fighting for their children’s educational needs. The term "gifted" in itself is loaded and can lead to misunderstanding of children's needs. It suggests privilege, luck and sometimes elitism. It suggests these children have no special needs. I constantly see memes pitting accelerated learning against emotional and behavioral health. I can only assume these memes are trying to discourage parents from pushing kids academically at the cost of their emotional health and neglecting important social skills, but further inaccurate assumptions and stigmas against gifted kids. I mention these biases they can show up in our state legislatures where funding is granted for gifted education, the education system itself, and in our social circles, making it more difficult to advocate for our children's learning needs.
For gifted kids, education, emotional health and social engagement are deeply intertwined. Gifted, simply put is a learning difference. Education ultimately affects almost every area of a child’s life and development. Gifted kids whose academic needs aren’t appropriately addressed, may become frustrated, depressed, bored, have bad behavior and ultimately withdraw from school as they are convinced school isn’t for them.
One of the primary traits of being a gifted learner is learning and assimilating information (in one or more areas) much faster than the average student. Additionally, many gifted people have an intellectual intensity which equates to a voracious appetite for learning. This can be problematic for the teacher, school and student because lesson plans are not typically made for students who are learning more rapidly than average. Many teachers are not well educated in meeting the needs of these students and may give them busy work, ignore and even punish them for trying to work ahead or for being disruptive because they are bored. Many school districts also prohibit acceleration. On top of all this, peer relationships can be a challenge when you are a little different.
Gifted children, are often more emotionally sensitive, may have asynchronous development, have a learning disability, mental health impairment or be considered highly or profoundly gifted. In other words, they may be even more outside of the box than the average gifted kid. It can be complicated.
The reality is, most schools are designed for the average student. If your child falls on either (or both) sides of the bell curve, the typical school system really isn’t designed for them. Even schools with gifted programs often miss the mark as they may exclude 2E kids, be geared for kids who are considered high achieving, but not necessarily gifted, and cannot address the specific needs of each child. Let’s look a little closer at each of these issues.
Kids who are 2E may not test within the parameters given by the school and need accommodations that are not provided for gifted testing. They may also have asynchronous development which shows they are ahead in one area, but behind or average in another. They may be intellectually ahead of the curve but developmentally age appropriate or behind, or easily socialize with adults, but not same aged peers.
Many schools seek “high achieving” students to add to gifted programs rather than gifted kids. This is not to say gifted kids can’t be high achieving. The difference is in learning styles. A “high achiever” may be a child of average intelligence who is passionate and works hard, but learns at an average rate. These students benefit from additional work and opportunities to expand and deepen what they know. They usually benefit from repetitive learning that reinforces what they are learning. A gifted student, on the other hand, learns more quickly often needs more rapid acceleration and less repetition in the areas they are gifted. As a result, the programs designed for “high achievers” could be frustrating and not effective for gifted learners, while a program for truly gifted learners could cause anxiety and frustration for “high achieving” students.
Ideally, there would be individual programs for gifted learners based on their learning profile, as the different gifted children may have different needs from each other. Some states offer Gifted Individualized Education Programs, but most do not. Unfortunately, schools are often lacking funding and knowledge to provide this type of education to our gifted children. Simply put, the resources are just not available.
While the task of properly educating your gifted child, can be daunting it isn’t impossible. Many families of gifted children have found success in charter schools, home schooling, home school collaboratives, online programs and by working with their teachers in public and private schools. My own family has chosen the route of public charter school combined with supplemental education at home, and enrichment activities outside of school. We chose this option because our gifted child had difficulty fitting into a traditional classroom environment, but benefited from being in a classroom with other children and teachers. He was fortunate to be chosen at random for a charter, project based learning school where he has a reasonable amount of independence, opportunity for collaboration and leadership, and is able to put his creative ideas into action. It isn’t perfect though. He isn’t able to accelerate in grade level where he has strengths, and his weaknesses aren’t weak enough to always get the help he needs. It’s frustrating. This is why we supplement at home, and find enrichment outlets that allow him to explore his interests and socialize with like minded peers. I found elementary school was the most difficult as there are fewer options for younger children to work at different levels, and teachers may be less understanding of their needs and profiles. Middle and high school tends to offer a broader selection of classes and the opportunity to accelerate in different areas.
Maybe you have a similar challenge. Maybe yours is different. If you are trying to stay within a school setting, here are some ideas to help you meet your child’s education needs and reduce frustration as you advocate for their needs:
Meet with your child's teachers and school administrators early and often. Meeting the teachers at the beginning of the school year helps them to be aware of your child and family before there are problems. It also enables you to start building a relationship with the people who spend the most time with your child. Doing periodic check ins throughout the year also helps to maintain the relationship which is extremely important to the well being of your child.
Peacefully collaborate with the teacher and school when possible. Do this as soon as possible! Teachers are usually more open to accommodating kids if parents approach them with the attitude of working as a team to support the child. It may be necessary to provide them with information about the needs of gifted children, and your child’s learning profile if they have been tested. It will also be necessary to teach them about asynchronous development.
As part of the peaceful collaboration, you may need to frequently follow up with them, and be persistent.
Request peer grouping when possible.
Suggest your gifted child be permitted to work ahead when level is completed.
Ask that your child be allowed to do individual projects reflecting your gifted child's interests and abilities.
Request teacher to provide opportunities for the child to be a leader (but not teacher) in the classroom.
If they are considered 2E seek a 504 or IEP for necessary support and accommodations.
Discourage punishment if child is not perfect, questions teachers or works differently than other children, and encourage teacher to provide incentives if child is avoiding unpleasant or boring tasks.
Suggest/request homework modifications as needed and that make sense.
Outside of the classroom:
If you are able, supplement education at home with online learning programs, learning games and your interaction with your gifted child.
Provide fun opportunities to explore interests outside of school.
Find and/or create enrichment opportunities to help your child build their interests and abilities, and socialize with like minded peers.
Seek mentors your child can talk to about their interests.
When age appropriate, your child may enjoy sitting in on or taking a college class.
Encourage your gifted child to work on their own projects outside of school. This may entail you patiently doing it with them.
While this process can be frustrating, it can also be rewarding as you watch your gifted child learn and grow. Don’t be afraid to seek the support of a trained mental health professional and/or education advocate to give you and your child support in this process. There are also many books with great suggestions for advocating and educating your gifted child. These resources can give you more ideas and confidence to do what you need to do.
If your child is developing anxiety, depression, having social problems or low self esteem due to a misattunement in their education environment it is also important to get them the support they need. A trained mental health professional in your area, familiar with the needs of gifted children is ideal. It may also be necessary to make the school aware of the emotional problems the child is experiencing as a result of their social and intellectual needs not being addressed. Make sure to acknowledge and provide encouragement to the teacher when improvements are made. Positive reinforcement is powerful. Parent support groups can also be helpful.
About the Author: Christy, is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, practicing in San Diego, California. She has over a decade of experience working with children, teens, parents, families, couples and individual adults with complex psychological and relationship problems. She specializes in the needs of gifted, bright and high achieving people, as well as those who have suffered past trauma. Christy uses an eclectic approach, meeting the needs of whomever she is working with. Her work addresses the needs of the whole person, incorporating mind and body.