I read with great interest an article in TimesAsia with titled 'Superkids'. It profiles seven of Asia's most gifted youngsters. Abigail Sin (10 years old) is Singapore's most celebrated young pianist; Chandra Sekar (12 years old) from India is the world's youngest Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, Ai Fukuhara (14 years old) is now training for upcoming Olympics at Athens and is considered the Tiger Woods of Japanese table tennis. And the list go on..... these profoundly gifted young people come from all ethnic groups, races, economics levels and geographic areas. Many parents would wonder, are gifted children born or nurtured? The Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines the term "gifted" as:
1. Having great natural ability
2. Revealing a special gift.
"Gifted" children have been defined as those "who by nature of outstanding abilities are capable of high performance". The term "outstanding abilities" refers to general intellectual ability, specific academic aptitude, leadership ability, ability in the visual or performing arts, creative thinking, or athletic ability. Most gifted children display a higher rate of concentration and memory capacity. There is no typical gifted child, for particular talents and social environments give rise to varying personality patterns. Achievement patterns also vary. Differences among them will be found, even when they are grouped together. Some are very strong in one subject and weak in others. The gifted mathematician may be an average reader, the gifted artist may be poor in mathematic and the early reader may lack the ability to organize time and materials. Characteristics common in gifted children In the business world, many management studies attempt to find the traits and characteristics of the successful company leaders, with believes that leaders can be nurtured and trained. Likewise, there are also qualities and characteristics that are frequently found among gifted children, although no child will possess them all. One way that parents can tell if their children might be gifted is to focus on a range of behaviors that occur in the daily conversations, activities, and responses to learning opportunities. Here is a list of characteristics common in gifted four-, five-, and six-year olds (Smutny, 2000):
1. Express curiosity about many things
2. Ask thoughtful questions
3. Have extensive vocabularies and use complex sentence structure
4. Are able to express themselves well
5. Solve problems in unique ways
6. Have good memories
7. Exhibit unusual talent in art, music, or creative dramatics
8. Exhibit especially original imaginations
9. Use previously learned things in new contexts
10. Are unusually able to order things in logical sequence
11. Discuss and elaborate on ideas
12. Are fast learners
13. Desire to work independently and take initiative
14. Exhibit wit and humor
15. Have sustained attention spans and are willing to persist on challenging tasks
16. Are very observant
17. Show talent in making up stories and telling them
18. Are interested in reading.
A gifted child might not show all of the above characteristics all the time, but parents and professionals will generally see a pattern when observing over an extended period of time.
There are many reasons to find out if the child is gifted
Many parents feel that there is little practical value to get their 'potential' gifted child tested. But there are potential risks with putting off the testing, these include:
1. Knowing the pattern of cognitive strengths and weaknesses that can help parents to plan the best learning experience.
2. Waiting till the school tests the child can risk a ceiling effect on the tests, one that gets more pronounced each and every year.
3. Many gifted students often appear to be troublemakers and often challenge authority figures by questioning classroom rules. The behavior of a gifted child is sometimes confused with attention disorders such as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Hence, the test would identify between a gifted child and a possible learning disorders kid such as ADHD, Asperger's Syndrome, and other problems as early as possible. Did you know that Asperger's children have some of the characteristics of autism but at the same time many Asperger's children are intelligent and insightful too?
4. Children who are gifted are more comfortable with children and classes that deal with them at their own level. Research has shown that gifted students thrive when placed with students of similar ability. In the wrong learning setting, giftedness can be as paralyzing as a learning handicap. Unfortunately, these gifted children are terrible introverts, misunderstood by peers and parents, with their undiscovered exceptionality leading to a dead end. Bored and unchallenged at school, they may drop out and choose a direction that will never make use of their exceptional abilities.
Testing the child
Testing a gifted child is a specialized area, so if you would like your child evaluated by an expert, then the costs are likely to be on the steep side. It is recommended that you use a child psychologist, preferably one with expertise in the area of gifted children.
The two major IQ tests are the Wechsler Intelligence Test for Children - Version lll (WISC-lll) and the Stanford Binet (version lV). General consensus is that a score of 120 or higher on an IQ test meets a superior intelligence standard. Those who score 160 or above are characterized as profoundly gifted. However, this kind of IQ tests has its limitations. One must be aware that raw intelligence, as measured through IQ tests, is highly (though not completely) inheritable from parents. But the connection between high intelligence and gifted behavior is far from absolute. Many creative and gifted children don't necessarily score high IQs because certain 'intelligences' do not test well on standardized IQ examinations.
The best assessments are those that look at the child as a whole. Emotional intelligence, and talent in music, sports, crafts, and languages, for example, are all an important part of the whole picture (Essentially, it is following the 'Theory of Multiple Intelligences' proposed by Dr. Howard Gardner. You can find more about Multiple Intelligence here). A thorough assessment will take into account the whole child, and will also look at how the child is adapting socially and emotionally to being "different" To quote from the National Association of Gifted Children Guidelines: "Best practices indicate that multiple measures and valid indicators from multiple sources must be used to assess and serve gifted students. Information should be gathered from multiple sources (caregivers/families, teachers, students, and others with significant knowledge of the students), in different ways (e.g., observations, performances, products, portfolios, interviews), and in different contexts (e.g., in-school and out-of-school settings)."
Some common questions and answers about the gifted children:
1. Do they possess a self-awareness of their abilities?
"Most gifted children know that they are different by the time they are five", says Dr. Philip Powell, Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, who was himself a gifted child.
2. Can they be mislabeled as underachievers?
Certainly yes, and there are a lot of examples. Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade and finished last in his class at Harrow. Sir Issac Newton dropped out of grammar school at 14, was sent back at 19 because he read so much and achieved the Cambridge courses with an undistinguished record. (Read the book: "The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late")
3. What influences their development?
The University of Chicago studied the development of 100 super achievers (research mathematicians, musicians, swimmers and tennis players) and discovered that their careers displayed a strong parent and teacher influence, proving that the gifted are nurtured, as well as born. Most of them were strongly encouraged to pursue their career by a member of the family, or an exceptionally dedicated teacher who had the ability to differentiate the ordinary from the extraordinary. Some were motivated by their own decision and their family to take on hours of learning and training with an expert.
4. Who is gifted and who is not?
The answer to this question depends on the achievement definition and assessment procedure used in each community to identify the gifted. Some take the top 2%, others the top 5% and some the top 15%, or whomever teachers feel will particularly benefit. It is important to recognize that "giftedness" is more than a number on an IQ test, and that each and every individual possesses talents and abilities that they will use to further their purposes in the world. There are many individuals who have never made the "magic number" on these tests and who need similar stretching and enrichment in our education system. Success comes not only because of high ability but also more often because of the desire and perseverance to develop and apply one's talents, the desire to get along with others and make positive life choices.
5. Are they the perfect children?
"It would be naive to suppose that giftedness doesn't bring with it certain attendant difficulties," says Dr. Rita Underberg, a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. They are children first, and gifted after. They also have the right to fail and many feel "the pressure of living up to their potential".
Even though many educators and researchers have long realized that many of our gifted children are not necessarily the "A" students, our society to a large extend still judge intelligence based on good report cards and equate high grades with high intellect. On the other hand, judging from the profiles of the seven of Asia's most gifted youngsters, ranging from music and art to sports and chess, the definition of intelligence has somewhat changed to agree that there are other kinds of 'intelligences' in your child. While there may be argument on the definition of intelligence, but in general most researchers agreed that intelligence is linked to both genetic and environmental factors.
Many gifted children are frustrated by the constraints of ordinary classrooms and their abilities go unnoticed. As a parent, it is our responsibility to look at our child as a whole to assess their potential gifted 'intelligences' within them. Once you believe your child is gifted in certain fields; then it is necessary to get them assessed. The very last thing a parent wants to do is to let the bright mind remain unnoticed. If you have any questions about gifted children, please "Ask an Expert" at Brainy-Child.com.