Wednesday, March 13, 2019

College admissions cheating scandal: Its impact on gifted and high ability students

"The system is rigged."

"Why even apply there?"

"Public school kids can't get a break."

These comments, along with outrage and disgust, followed yesterday's college admissions cheating scandal.

Wealthy, well-connected, and celebrity parents were charged with allegedly buying their child's entrance into select, elite colleges. This included bribing coaches, falsifying SAT's, and lying about qualifications. Students were accepted into prestigious colleges lacking the grades, scores, qualifications or sweat equity expected of "unconnected" applicants. Yet, their birthright - and the ethical lapses of their parents - guaranteed admission.

While not a complete surprise, this expose is a reminder that some parents will go to exceptional lengths to aid their child. Like a gross caricature of a helicopter parent, these parents bribed, lied and cheated to "help" their children achieve perceived markers of success. Unfortunately, elite colleges may have been viewed as stepping stones to money and prestige, rather than institutions of learning. Whether the student was a good fit mattered very little; lessons in integrity and honesty mattered even less.

Gifted and high ability students - those most likely to benefit from the stimulating academic environment offered at elite institutions - may be most disturbed by this glaring breach in ethics. These are the students who typically apply to elite colleges, wait patiently, and weather rejections - especially if they are not well-connected, or just not what a particular school wants. Most elite colleges readily acknowledge that many of the applicants they turn away would have excelled at their school - there just were not enough openings. So that valedictorian with high SAT scores and a brilliant essay is rejected because she is yet another high achieving student from New York or D.C. or

I have commented previously on the benefits of elite colleges for gifted students - challenging academics, a community of like-minded peers, exceptional need-based financial aid. I stand by that assertion, and hope that this expose may force them to finally clean house. Most have attracted wealthy donors and catered to wealthy legacy admissions in an effort to raise funds. And while these efforts build the financial aid coffers, preferential treatment toward much less qualified candidates needs to end.

Choose wisely when selecting a college. Consider academics (including programs or honors classes that support gifted learning needs), location, student body size, course of study available, extra-curriculars, the social scene, cost, financial aid, and job placement options. Investigate specific needs relevant to your unique situation, such as college counseling center waiting list, allergy-free cafeteria meals, or cost of off-campus housing. Elite colleges have much to offer, but there are thousands of other amazing colleges from which to choose. Explore those that best fit you or your child's needs.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Late blooming gifted children

One commonly held assumption about gifted children is that they achieve milestones well ahead of time. They scale their crib's walls before they can walk. They read at age two. They solve algebraic equations before they can tie their shoes. Astonishing reports of precocious talent set a high bar... and create the impression that all markers of giftedness emerge at an early age.

But some gifted children are late bloomers.

Although hardly a technical or diagnostic term, "late bloomers" characterizes gifted children who master intellectual, developmental or social/emotional milestones at later points in time than is expected. While they often demonstrate some early signs of giftedness - precocious speech, heightened sensitivities, or insatiable curiosity - sometimes nothing remarkably gifted may be apparent. In fact some gifted kids might even lag developmentally. They may be late talkers (such as Einstein), show little interest in reading, or prefer to play rather than engage in anything remotely academic.

Comments about late-blooming gifted children include the following:

He builds these amazing Lego structures and can focus on them for hours, but has no interest in reading. He seems pretty smart, but if he can't read before he starts kindergarten, I guess he can't be gifted.

She is very intense and talked early, and seems curious about so many things. She has little interest in playing with the other kids in preschool, though, and prefers to play by herself. She seems immature compared to the other kids, and we worry that she almost seems delayed. 

He spoke very little until he was 2 1/2. He seemed to listen intently and respond, but would not use his words. He talks a lot now that he is five, but not as fluently as some of his friends. But he seems to love math and science. He has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs, and does math problems in his head for fun. I worry, though, that he won't do well in kindergarten because he seems delayed with his speech and verbal skills. 

The children described above exhibited normal development, along with advanced abilities in certain areas. Their parents viewed this normal development, though, as delayed, either because it paled in comparison to their child's strengths, or did not match abilities seen among their child's peers. Giftedness was not their concern; they were worried instead about serious developmental delays, and even whether their child would be able to navigate grade-level classes. Such fears are typical among parents of late-blooming gifted children; the lack of a reference point and the wide disparity between abilities make it difficult to assess their child's potential. It may be hard to grasp that their child's pace and maturation is on a different course than what they see among neurotypical children (or learn from parenting manuals).

Who is the typical gifted late-bloomer?

Asynchronous development, where there may be a "mismatch" between abilities, is common among gifted late bloomers. Social maturity may unfold at a slower pace, while intellectual strengths surpass those of their classmates, affecting their ability to find like-minded peers. Other times, various skills and abilities may lag, such as fine motor or speech development. Twice-exceptional children exhibit various challenges and struggles or disabilities. Some of these can be overcome (such as speech or fine-motor deficits). Others may be lifelong (e.g., autism spectrum disorder or ADHD), although there is some controversy suggesting an overdiagnosis of these disorders. Like late-blooming neurotypical children, gifted late-bloomers just may need time to "blossom" and their "delays" may level out.

What should you do if your gifted child is a late bloomer?

1. Get educated and try to gain some perspective. Gather information about child development for neurotypical, twice-exceptional and straight-up gifted kids. Great resources online include NAGC, Hoagie's Gifted, Davidson Gifted, and TECA. Books about gifted children can be found through publishers such as Great Potential Press, Prufrock Press, and Free Spirit Publishing.

2. Find support - but remain selective about whom you ask for help. Family, friends, teachers, pediatricians, counselors, coaches, babysitters - all may have experience with neurotypical or even "normally progressing" gifted kids. However, many may misunderstand or misjudge gifted late bloomers. You may be flooded with suggestions and critique about everything from your parenting acumen to your three-year-old's career trajectory. Online gifted forums also present some dilemmas - sometimes participants can be quite supportive; other times, reading about highly advanced children can trigger your worst fears.

Use caution when seeking advice, and disregard information that is hurtful, counterproductive or just does not seem to fit for your child. Sometimes you can nod politely and escape the interaction. Other times, insensitive comments warrant a counterargument, and it is certainly appropriate to point out how your child differs from what the advice-giver might be implying. Find friends and educators/health care providers who "get" giftedness in all of its variations, quirkiness, and asynchrony.

3. Seek help for your child when needed. Sometimes early intervention is beneficial. Even though most "delays' will even out, some help along the way can reduce stress for your child and family. Speech, occupational, or physical therapy can be critical at an early age when deficits are present. Social skills training, or even simple guidance about how to handle social interactions can help your gifted child navigate confusing peer relations. Evaluations for disabilities or mental health difficulties are essential if your have questions or concerns - along with finding the right school, tutor, program, therapist, education specialist or treatment center.

4. Accept your child. Take a deep breath and appreciate your child's uniqueness, abilities, quirks, adorableness, and loving nature. Recognize that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. None of us progresses evenly through life - we all have peaks and valleys, and sometimes this includes developmental spurts and minor delays. Remember that the striking contrast between your gifted child's exceptionally advanced abilities and minor delays - or even normal development - can create anxiety when it may not be warranted.

Your gifted late bloomer's development should even out eventually. Remind yourself of this every day. If struggles persist, though, and your child's pediatrician, teacher, or a psychologist suspect a significant delay, pursue an evaluation with the appropriate professional. This might require the expertise of a school psychologist, neuropsychologist, reading specialist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, or other expert. The sooner you gain clarity about any deficits or areas that require support, the more quickly any delays or problems will resolve.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Special Populations. To see more blogs, click on the following link.

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