The Journey to Gifted

Is she a “gifted” child?


Becoming an orthodontist requires 11 years of university work after high school.  This exposes you to people from all walks of life, and they’re all “smart”.  But, there is a difference between someone who is intelligent and someone who is highly gifted.  After being surrounded by these people for a long period of time, it becomes fairly easy to differentiate between the two.  Because of these experiences, I’m actually very averse to labeling a child “gifted”.  I feel it is commonly used by parents to brag about their highly achieving children.  I suppose it’s just a pet peeve.

With two orthodontists as parents, there was the hope that our children would be bright.  We assumed they would be like us – ahead of the curve, but nothing extraordinary.  Things seemed to be going as planned until our middle child was 18 months old.  Her older sister had some puzzles that she was struggling to put together.  They were left on the floor and ignored.  Cate picked up the pieces and put them together.  She didn’t really like an audience, but rather would sit by herself and methodically place the pieces in the correct position.  We were amazed and at her precision and patience in completing this task.

Cate started talking sooner than her sister and her vocabulary was impressive.  Before she was two she was not only talking in sentences, she was having full conversations.  We noticed these things, but didn’t categorize them as particularly notable.  We figured she had picked a lot of these skills up earlier because she had an older sibling.  We were impressed when she learned to read watching us teach her sister.  I started to wonder if there was something more when I was quizzing my eldest on her addition facts.  Cate would chime in with the correct answer – many times before her sister.  I watched her listen to the question, raise the correct amount of fingers and then count them by touching each finger to her mouth.  She wasn’t quite three years old.

The next year, the preschool she was attending suggested that we skip her to a class with older children that would present more advanced concepts.  We agreed, and then quickly doubted our decision.  Cate was so much more emotionally immature compared to the other children.  She was highly anxious and would cry easily and freak out if everything wasn’t perfect.  I considered placing her in a different class, but her teacher reassured me that everything would be OK.  She eventually adapted and looked forward to seeing her friends at school.  We assumed she would transition more easily in the next year, when she began to attend the elementary school her sister attended.  We were sure the familiarity would ease her anxiety.  We were wrong.

In her new school, we chose not to keep her a grade ahead and placed her back with her peers.  The high anxiety and emotional immaturity persisted.  She cried when we dropped her off and she received horrible grades.  At that point, we defaulted back to our assumption that she would be bright but not exceptional.  In retrospect, we shouldn’t have taken her grades so seriously.  What do they “grade” you on in pre-k anyways?  It’s handwriting, emotional maturity, cutting in a straight line etc.  None of these things are a measure of academics and we shouldn’t have paid any attention.

Kindergarten was a turning point for us.  She had matured and was adapting to the social environment of school.  She had a really hard time staying still in class.  She would wiggle around, sit on her feet or stand while she was completing her work.  She had an oral fixation where she couldn’t keep her fingers, crayons, pens or pencils out of her mouth.  It was driving me crazy.  No matter how much we talked about altering these behaviors, she seemed helpless to control herself.

Academically, she was reading well beyond her peers.  Her sister also read far beyond her grade level, so we assumed (and hoped) all our children would have a love of reading.  One day, Cate came up to me and complained that the math at school was too easy.  Knowing she had a knack for mathematical concepts, I began to ask her questions.  I asked her some addition and subtraction, which she answered with ease.  I asked her some multiplication and she began to answer.  When I asked four times four she responded, “Can I just add eight plus eight, because it’s the same thing?”  I needed a moment to myself.  My kindergartner didn’t just know how to memorize math facts.  She understood numbers at a deeper level.  I mentioned my discovery to her teacher and requested she be given some additional math work.  She came home with some new math sheets and completed them in five minutes.  I began to introduce her to more and more complicated concepts and she absorbed them rather quickly.  I quickly realized I was in over my head and was going to need help.  As the school year began to close, I requested Cate be placed in math in the second grade.  The school refused to listen thinking I was just a hyper parent who thought her child was a genius.

Over the summer, we worked on math and Cate completed most concepts in first and second grade.  As first grade started, I once again pushed the administration to challenge my daughter.  Eventually, my frustrations lead me to seek alternatives.  The only option that would meet her needs was a self contained gifted program through the public schools.  The first step was testing.  Her screening placed her in the 99th percentile and my instincts were confirmed.  I have a “gifted” child and I ‘m not sure what to do next.

After doing some research, I learned that there are some very typical characteristics of gifted children (beyond high intelligence or even gifted test scores).  Researching this sooner would have saved me a lot of sleepless nights and wondering what was “wrong”. Here are some examples:

1.   High energy level.  There were points I almost had Cate tested for ADHD.  She can’t stay still to save her life.  She is always moving.

2.  Lack of need for sleep.  This is our child who never wants to go to bed and is up at five every morning and rarely seems sleep deprived.

3.  Extreme focus when interested.  Early on, I had suspicions of autism because of this trait.

4.  High anxiety.  As a parent, this is probably the most difficult thing to deal with.  These children can be tightly wound and very difficult to placate.

5.  Emotionally immature compared to peers.  The brain can only do so much at one time.  When one part is so highly developed, other parts can be a little delayed.

6.  Perfectionism.  This can be challenging when a child doesn’t accept making mistakes.

7.  Very sensitive – emotionally and sometimes physically

8.  An interest in social issues and concerns about injustice and fairness.  The news can cause serious anxiety and many times Cate requires some reassurance that everything is OK.

Now what?  Well, I don’t know the answers.  Should we leave her in her current school and supplement her academically?   Or, take her out of her comfortable environment and place her in the self contained gifted program?  We are still struggling with the answers as we look toward the future with our little gift.  Comments and suggestions are welcomed.




2 Responses to “The Journey to Gifted”

  1. Jennie says:

    I have heard great things about the self-contained gifted program in our district. As an educator having experiences working with kids all over the spectrum from gifted to learning disabled I think you’re better off having her in a classroom with teachers trained in gifted models of instruction. Your run of the mill general ed teacher will not be able to support her in the same ways. She is exceptional and will need some self-guided and personalized instruction to meet her needs. Good luck! I know you’ll do whatever it takes to get that for her.

  2. Angela says:

    Great post! What a journey! I’m looking forward to reading Part II.. hopefully there’s a good solution for you guys!

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