Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why diagnose giftedness?

One question I get a lot from other parents is why it is important to identify a child as gifted. This is a very valid question, what makes being labeled "gifted" so necessary? For many people, being labeled "gifted" is the equivalent if being labeled "pretty" - while its neat and cool - it really doesn't affect your life and serves only to make the "non-gifted" feel bad.
Giftedness is more than just being "smarter" than your classmates, in fact - the most gifted children would probably not even be recognized as "smart" in a traditional classroom. This is one of the most important reasons for identifying giftedness - misdiagnosis. Out of its proper context, a gifted child can present very closely to a child with ADD/ADHD and even Autism Spectrum. The book "The Mislabeled child" by Brock and Fernette Eide covers this very well. The intensive focus, extreme sensitivity, and even turning into themselves and not interacting with peers can get a gifted child diagnosed with ADD or placed on the Spectrum. Their emotional responses can be so intense its scary and their focus on a subject or topic and keep them engrossed for hours, even at a very early age. In our society, "weird" behavior (what really turns out to be non-age appropriate behavior) is seen as a problem to be "solved", not as a possible ability to be explored. Knowing if your child is indeed gifted will help you to put any future diagnosis (or mis-diagnosis) in perspective.
Another very important reason for identifying if your child is gifted is that the more gifted a child, the more they are likely to be able to mask a true learning disability. Without our great relationship with our children's psychologist (who specializes in working with gifted children), we never would have gotten a clear diagnosis for our eldest with dyslexia (and subsequently vision issues and auditory processing). He looked "fine" based on the standards of age normed children. When we approached his K teacher and the entire board at his private school about our concerns with his reading, they looked at us like we had three heads (one big reason we are homeschooling now). How could this child have a reading disability, he was the best reader in the class! This isn't uncommon for gifted children and possibly the norm for profoundly gifted children - they are so good on so many levels they can compensate for their disabilities - for a time anyway. It isn't until their compensation becomes inadequate that they are identified - oven times when it is much harder to remediate their issues. A gifted child with disabilities may very well be in the middle if not the top of traditional class achievement. Without a gifted diagnosis they may never be identified as needing intervention to allow them to work at their own personal best. And, as a side note - if they are identified as having a disability, they still may not qualify for state sponsored remediation (yet, another reason we are homeschooling). And I am by no means stating that homeschooling is the answer for every family with a gifted child, just that our children's giftedness and our state system not set up to handle such children helped lead us to this decision. I just think it necessary to inform parents of gifted children that if they do have a twice exception child - they may be forced to pay out of pocket for the remediation of any disabilities. It may not be fair, but it is the reality you may face.
The final reason it is important to identify if your child is gifted is so that you can find a community in which to network. It is estimated that roughly 10% of the population is gifted, around 3 - 5% of those highly gifted, and less than 2% of those profoundly gifted. Gifted children are not all the same, but many share similar characteristics. Being able to talk with others that have a family like your own is important. Having someone else to discuss the "sock issue" (many gifted children have sensibilities to clothing - they cannot stand tags on clothing or the seams around socks) can be liberating. Being able to discuss the conversations your child is having with you that would normally get you angry stares or looks of disbelieve is important. Having someone who understands you aren't "pushing" your child toward academics - you are simply holding on for dear life as they blast full speed head is liberating. And yes, having a place to vent and brag is important as well. Your gifted child is special, your gifted family unique (because gifted children aren't randomly born - there is giftedness inside of you as well) - it is important to find your "tribe", your community in which you feel safe and free to be you. I hope this blog becomes such a place, but even if you don't connect here - please connect somewhere. There are lots of online sites, listservs, and blogs. There are also real life communities (mostly in large metropolitan) areas where you can connect with other gifted families. I would also recommend at least one visit to a psychologist that specializes in working with gifted children. You may need a professional to help you advocate for your child in their school setting, or help you get a more proper diagnosis for your child when a label doesn't seem to fit quite right, or just someone to let you know you aren't crazy - your five year old really is ready for physics.

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