Wednesday, March 9, 2016

25 signs your gifted child is misunderstood at school

Most of us have been through it. That sinking feeling when your gifted child becomes bored, unmotivated or miserable in school. That uncertainty over how much to intervene, when to advocate, and whether to approach the school or risk alienating teachers when you ask for something more.

This is not meant as a rant against teachers. They have a demanding and often thankless job. I have worked with many children who have received a remarkable education. And my own kids were fortunate to have crossed paths with many wonderful teachers throughout their school years.

And yet...

There are some teachers who don't understand giftedness, do not have the time or energy to address these students' needs, or refuse to provide gifted services as a result of school policy, pressure from other parents, misconceptions, lack of training, or misguided opinions unsupported by actual evidence or research.

Below are 25 signs your gifted child is misunderstood at school. These are evident when your child is...

1. expected to succeed just because she is gifted, without requiring additional instruction or resources beyond what is taught in the regular classroom

2. perceived as demanding just because he is curious, questions rules, and has strong opinions

3. not permitted to accelerate by subject or grade

4. not grouped with peers who possess similar abilities because administrators or other parents perceive this as elitist or exclusionary

5. allowed to read a novel during class because there are no challenging classroom activities

6. punished for reading a novel during class when there are no challenging classroom activities

7. required to "tutor" other students, resulting in alienation from peers, and possible teasing and bullying

8. singled out and recognized for being "so smart," resulting in alienation from peers, and possible teasing and bullying

9. blamed for her underachievement, even when it springs from chronic boredom and frustration with school

10. criticized when his social maturity lags behind his intellect

11. slapped with a label such as ADHD, "on the spectrum," or oppositional, without the qualifications to diagnose or an actual evaluation confirming it

12. told to wait and wait and wait... until the other students catch up

13. grouped with less able peers on group projects, with the expectation that she will help the other students with the assignment

14. forced to participate in so-called gifted "enrichment" activities that are neither relevant nor meaningful to him (e.g., trips to museums, musicals), since these somehow fulfill the school's "requirements" for having a gifted program

15. expected to take all honors and AP classes in high school, regardless of her interest in specific subjects

16. chastised for expressing enthusiasm over an accomplishment (e.g., "hey, I solved this math problem!") since it "might make other students feel bad"

17. overlooked when it is time for awards, especially if she has subject accelerated, as teachers "forget" to consider her during awards nominations

18. expected to believe that mixed ability classrooms are truly beneficial even when he clearly senses the fallacy of that argument

19. told that her educational needs are not as important as those of struggling or less able students

20. routinely given A's, even when the grade is achieved with little effort

21. never given an opportunity to work hard at school, develop study skills, strategic planning abilities, or learn from failure experiences

22. offered "extra" homework, assignments and worksheets to supplement the regular classwork

23. chastised for not acting as smart as he should, given his intellectual abilities

24. not given the necessary information for searching and applying for specific colleges that might truly challenge and inspire her

25. expected to fit in with all children his age, even though his advanced intellect, heightened sensitivities, overexcitabilities, attunement to social justice issues, and possible asynchronous development make it difficult

Sound familiar?

What can you do when many of the above inevitably occur?

  • First, tune in to what your child needs most and identify what is necessary in each situation. Sometimes, this means contacting the school and intervening with teachers and administrators. Other times, it is better to step back, since involvement might create more problems, upset your child, or result in backlash. This is especially true for older children. Sometimes offering your child emotional support, coping strategies, ideas for self-advocacy, and resources outside of school may be the most effective approach.

  • Get involved with advocacy on a macro level. Often, working on changing the structure of how gifted education is delivered will help both your child and the lives of many other children. Join local and state gifted organizations, enlist other parents of gifted children to develop advocacy goals, form a parent group, and learn as much as possible from sites such as Hoagies Gifted, NAGC, SENG and Davidson's Forums.

  • Make changes if necessary. If your child is distressed, miserable or languishing in an educational system that cannot meet his or her needs, get help. If it is financially possible, some parents find alternative options, such as private schools, cyber schools, charter schools or homeschooling. If affordable, find activities outside of school that are meaningful and challenging. If your child is anxious, depressed, or acting out, consider therapy. What is most important is staying attuned to your child's needs, and deciding when to intervene.

What signs can you add to the list above? And what have you done to help your child? Let us know in the comments section below!

46 comments:

  1. Thanks for pointing out what I have seen multiple times with my child's school. So many homework assignments that are torture for him, teachers who don't understand, and I am so frustrated. The school board is full of parents with regular kids and they would never agree with anything gifted parents try to ask for. We may end up pulling him out.

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    1. Anonymous, Thank you for your comments. It sounds like you are facing some difficult decisions going forward. Hopefully, you can find a solution that works well for your son and your family.

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    2. I recently pulled my son from school because his teacher was bullying him. She was always putting him on display and seeking him out for anything he did out of place. He LOVES homeschooling right now. I'm able to tailor his day to what is best for him. He spends much of his time working on various engineering projects I give him. He's calmer and his anxiety is so much better. I'm a single mom who works full time but it still works. Getting going on homeschooling is surprisingly easy. Good luck with choices.

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    3. You hear about bullying teachers too often... So sad

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  2. Thank you for your inspiring article! I'm working in the field of gifted education here in Germany, offering training for gifted children, their parents and for teachers too. All signs of misunderstanding can also be seen in our schools.

    Another important sign of your childs giftedness not being understood in school can be seen in looking on the stories your child tells about school. Does it mention other pupils or friends in his or her class? Does it talk about interaction, having fun together? Or are there no stories apart from "having beeen in the library"? This is a clear sign of feeling and actually being alone in school.

    Another sign is being shy in school and showing aggressive behaviour at home, which meens your child is strongly controlling his or her feelings and wishes in school but can't do that any longer when being in the warm atmosphere of a loving home.

    It is very important to help children to find an acceptable way of dealing with negative emotions (as it is for parents too) without feeling "bad" or "wrong" because of having them.

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    1. Cornelia, Thank you for your comments. So sorry that Germany has the same problems we have here in the US! You point out some important signs for parents to recognize at home when children describe their day at school, and when they demonstrate their unhappiness through their behavior.

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  3. "That uncertainty over how much to intervene, when to advocate, and whether to approach the school or risk alienating teachers when you ask for something more." I have felt this uncertainty too many times to count and it was not just with school. It happened when my child was part of a extracurricular group, a team or a club outside of school. And it seems to become even stickier to advocate for your child with a leader, mentor or club director who is likely less knowledgeable about giftedness in children. Being a strong advocate is a skill which parents of gifted children need.

    Thank you for this detailed list of what to look for when your gifted child is being misunderstood as well as the workable solutions on advocating for one's gifted child. This is exactly what parents of gifted children need!

    Thank you, Gail!

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    1. Celi, You point out the essential need for parents to become advocates: "being a strong advocate is a skill which parents of gifted children need," a role that is thrust upon parents without warning once they discover they have a gifted child. Thanks so much for our helpful comments.

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  4. What a great article! What do you do if there is no advocacy group in your county? With both my children I can check off the list on a lot of these. I get no support or help from the school or county with more challenging work or advancing them a grade. I am worried when they get to college and will be challenged and unable to figure out what to do since the work so far is super easy. #19 is a big one in my county. :( At least I don't feel so alone here!

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    1. Anonymous, I am glad you don't feel so alone! I hope you can at least find a group of parents who can help support your efforts, or find a state advocacy group. Good luck.

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  5. You missed one. Never given As, because instead of doing her own homework to accompany her straight A test scores, she spends her free time tutoring other students in the class and grading papers for her teachers (for NHS service hours at first, then just because she likes her overworked teacher).

    Worse, when Ms. Teacher goes to her department on student's behalf to allow Ms. Teacher to give student the As she's earned, Ms. Teacher is turned down and forced to give student Bs, because student has only tutored other students and graded homework for Ms. Teacher, but hasn't bothered with the busywork of doing her own homework.

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    1. Grrr... The rigidity of this can be maddening. Unfortunately, the takeaway for a lot of kids is just that - there are rules within a rigid system that they don't respect and that don't make sense. Thanks for adding this to the list (but sorry it happened!).

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  6. To the best of my ability, my gifted child will be...
    1. expected to succeed because he is given the resources he needs.
    2. Perceived as firstly curious, questioning and intelligent, not as oppositional.
    3. permitted to accelerate by subject or grade whenever it's appropriate.
    4. grouped with peers who possess similar abilities as often as it is appropriate, regardless of chronological age.
    5 & 6. given challenging classroom activities as well as being encouraged to read literature at other times.
    7. NEVER required to "tutor" other students [for free], resulting in alienation from peers, and possible teasing and bullying, as well as feeling used and doing the teacher's work.
    8. not singled out and recognized for being "so smart," resulting in alienation from peers, and possible teasing and bullying
    9. not blamed for his underachievement, even when it springs from chronic boredom and frustration with school, but will be allowed flexibility and challenge
    10. given understanding when his social maturity lags behind his intellect
    11. slapped with no labels such as ADHD, "on the spectrum," or oppositional, without the qualifications to diagnose or an actual evaluation confirming it
    12. told to work at his pace, regardless of the achievement of other students his age
    13. grouped with similarly abled peers on group assignments with the expectation that everyone will contribute to the group and will learn to cooperate with one another
    14. Invited participate in so-called gifted "enrichment" activities (e.g., trips to museums, or musicals) only if they are interesting or meaningful to him
    15. Invited to take honors and AP classes in high school, only if the subject is relevant and useful
    16. Allowed to express enthusiasm over an accomplishment (e.g., "hey, I solved this math problem!") and also assisted in awareness of others' feelings and accomplishments.
    17. awarded appropriately for his hard work
    18. not expected to believe that mixed ability classrooms are truly beneficial even when he clearly senses the fallacy of that argument
    19. told that his educational needs are always as important as those of struggling or less able students
    20. routinely given the chance to learn about subjects he is passionate about, rather than try for grades
    21. often given an opportunity to work hard at school, develop study skills, strategic planning abilities, or learn from failure experiences
    22. not forced to do "extra" homework, assignments and worksheets to supplement the regular classwork
    23. allowed to act as smart [or not] as he wishes, regardless of his intellectual abilities
    24. given the necessary information for searching and applying for specific colleges that might truly challenge and inspire him
    25. expected to be polite to all children his age, even though his advanced intellect, heightened sensitivities, overexcitabilities, attunement to social justice issues, and possible asynchronous development make it difficult to fit in; effort will be made to find peers with whom he does fit

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    1. Erin, You certainly compiled a thorough list of what gifted kids should be allowed to receive! Thanks.

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    2. I used your list point for point, just turned it positive.

      I wish schools had the flexibility to offer this; unfortunately in my experience most don't.

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  7. Thank you so much for this wonderful article. Being the parent of an extremely gifted child, I find that I do not have anyone to talk to about this. My son was tested in kindergarten and is the only 1st grader in the gifted program in his school which a 1 day pullout. Enough is most certainly not being to help these beautiful little minds and it really saddens and frustrates me. My complaints and issues don't seem as important because he is gifted.

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    1. Thank you, Margareta. I hope that you can eventually find other parents or another group of individuals where you will find support. Good luck.

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  8. As a parent of a gifted child I LOVED this article. I especially appreciated...
    "expected to take all honors and AP classes in high school, regardless of her interest in specific subjects." Many gifted children march to a different drummer, let's cry out to support that, not keep shoving them in a box of traditional learning!

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    1. Thank you, Anonymous. I agree - each child is so different, and we need to take their unique interests into account. That's why a gifted "program" often doesn't work, as opposed to a gifted "plan" for each child.

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  9. Thank you for your extensive list and your point that sometimes the lack of understanding on a teacher's part is one of the reasons for treating gifted children poorly. Sometimes, they just don't know any better and that is heartbreaking. When they do, it's outrageous.

    I especially loved how you followed #5 with #6! You read my mind!

    I wish that every gifted child could cross each sign off the list. Unfortunately, some are not so lucky. Every time we share the struggles, I hope we enlighten another person so this cycle doesn't continue. We're losing so many great minds along the way and some are creating more inner turmoil for our gifted children than they realize.

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    1. Atlas, Thank you for your helpful feedback!

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  10. As a teacher and a parent it is hard when your bright child is used as the model of what your work should look like and if not sure ask ... (My child to help you). It is difficult as a teacher to sometimes juggle the gifted kids with the demands of the target kids who struggle and yes they do often get given extra work just to keep them busy or read a novel. This is not just a teacher problem but a whole society problem. Often we lack time and resources to push and enrich the gifted children. A board may not see your complaint as a parent as a real issue but it is frustrating to be told well extend them sideways. How many extra curricular activities can a kid do - drama, piano and sport yet still not be challenged enough in day to day schooling. Luckily for me my son has lots of external interests and would never play up at school but we must think of those kids who are being bored to tears as we fail to meet their needs. No solution just see both sides��

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    1. Linda, Thank you so much for your comments as both a parent and teacher. I strongly feel that teachers are unfairly expected to differentiate instruction among widely diverse learners, and not given the support they need to do this. I do think there are better solutions, but often administrators and school boards refuse to consider them because of policy and misconceptions. And then the burden falls on teachers.

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  11. My son was not challenged at primary school and was given monitor tasks because he always finished his work well ahead and teachers were too busy to set projects that challenged or engaged him. We did many external gifted programs, but being bored all day in school took its toll and by the time he was in high school he was underachieving and no longer motivated to learn, becoming addicted to computer games and frequently skipping school. He was lucky to be so bright he got to university and graduated with Hons in Science. But the long term legacy was that he has no confidence in his ability and no persistence when it comes to really difficult problems. Having never been challenged in those early years, he is somehow never quite able to believe in himself and his abilities. Despite my best efforts ( and I was lecturing in this field at the time ) he never recovered from the disappointment of school in those early years. Now I'm hoping the same does not happen to his little boy who just started school this year. Every child has the right to an education to their full potential and gifted children are just as deserving as those with learning difficulties. Unfortunately the system is overloaded and often even well-meaning, excellent teachers are forced to make choices with their time energy and resources. Advocating for your gifted child is a most difficult issue for parents, but I would strongly urge parents to do so as the negative impact of these attitudes and issues on the child can be long term.

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    1. Jeanette, Thank you for sharing this heartbreaking story. I am so sorry your son has suffered the negative effects of never being challenged. So many people who do not understand giftedness fail to appreciate the damaging effects of not receiving an appropriate education. It's not that parents are asking for something extra or special - they are asking for the basics so that their child does not suffer in school and does not continue to experience long-term effects. Thank you for sharing this, and good luck with your family.

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  12. thank you for this article, as a secondary school student i can relate to these and it's nice to know that there are people that agree and are intellectual enough to understand the injustice of the school system, this has been really enjoyable to read and i am thankful that there still some decent people in the world :)

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    1. Thanks so much, Anonymous. Good luck with your studies!

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  13. I would add . . . when a child is expected to complete differentiated or enrichment assignments on already mastered skills rather than provided with instruction and assignments in new skills.

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  14. My son is in first grade and on top of being gifted in many ways he is a high energy, kinetic child. What I have found are the subtle ways in which my son is made to be "the problem". He "interrupts the teacher", "needs so much attention", " needs to be the first one to answer everything". I could go on and on but the point being he doesn't fit into the mainstream, middle of the curve targeted teaching and therefore "HE is the problem". After recognizing the subtlety I've been able to have a different type of conversation with his teacher and other school administrators making sure to emphasize (in a diplomatic way) that he is not a problem..the system is and that they need to find a way to engage and teach everyone in the classroom not just the average students and students who need extra help. I've grateful for this organization and thank you for all the hard work you are doing to raise awareness of gifted children's needs.

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    1. Jennifer, Thanks so much for your comments. It sounds like you are doing a great job advocating for your son, although it is always hard making inroads in a school that has trouble understanding kids like him. Good luck!

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    2. Have the same problems with my son who is now 15 he's gone to so many different schools now he has anger issues he has great grades..mostly As but no motivation not interested in anything it's very frustrating and the schools don't care or help it is really bad

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    3. Beckie, Sorry you are also going through this with your son. I hope that you can get him some help. Good luck.

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  15. #17 . . . not just overlooked for academic awards. These children are often overlooked for "character" awards as well because those awards are used to encourage appropriate behaviors. I think a child that always behaves and never causes problems in classrooms when they are never given an opportunity to learn new skills, constantly bored/frustrated, and are always expected to help other students deserve recognition for their self control. Overlooking these children's accomplishments (especially those that require effort on their part) is very damaging.

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    1. Good point about self-control, Anonymous. Schools expect a lot from gifted children who are expected to sit quietly and wait while bored and miserable. When they understandably act up or complain, their behavior is challenged, they are labeled as having ADHD, or are seen as problem students.

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  16. We live in Suburban D.C. area where the only gifted options are if you are AT ALL able to become a big-time donor in one of the gazillion private schools. Color me sick of the politics! (NO gifted support groups so far as I have found) Therefore, telling my child I am her advocate is disheartening when no one's listening. This is going to get very tricky as she becomes a Tween... Does anyone know of any options in my area? Thank You:)

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    1. No ideas to offer, Anonymous, but maybe someone else reading this in your location has some thoughts. Good luck

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  17. I've experience all of these between my two kids. Heck, I've actually committed some of them - high expectations despite an ill fit anyone? We are all a work in progress. This is a good list to come back to from time to time, through various ages and stages.

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    1. "We are all a work in progress." So true! Thank you, Christine - such good points.

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  18. I got got aggressively involved with my kid's school only once, when my 2E daughter was a freshman in HS and brought home a report card of D's and F's despite having the highest aptitude scores in the school. The school was absolutely clueless so I got together with the head of the Special Ed department at the local university and we wrote an accommodation plan for the school. They learned a lot, my daughter benefited greatly and I quietly faded back into the woodwork.

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    1. Sounds like a valuable intervention. Sometimes parents need to take action like this. Thanks for sharing what worked for your family.

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  19. thanks for this! it was amazing!

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  20. My kids are homeschooled so we don't see much of this in their lives. But me? Most of these describe my school life to a t. I didn't know it then, I just believed what I was told, that I was a smart yet lazy student who didn't apply herself enough... Through my kids, now I know myself better.
    Thank you for this list, it's spot on.

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    1. Sara, Thanks for sharing your experience. Sorry you went through this, but I'm glad your children aren't going through it!

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