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Mixed Blessings by Elaine Hook

Mixed Blessings by Elaine Hook
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s      I don't want to appear pushy

s      I don't know where to start

s      I hope you can help me

s      I just want my child to be happy

s      I need some advice

s      I am so worried about my child

s      I don't know how to approach the school

s      My child is different, always has been

s      I just want the best for my child

s      I don't know what to do for my child

s      I don't want my child to be a statistic

s      I wish my child enjoyed school


These are just a few of the opening statements I receive on the NAGC Helpline every time I take a call.  Most callers, whether it be parents of professionals, are concerned and worried for the well being of the child in question and genuinely do not know where to begin.  Though often amazed and shocked to be blessed with a child termed 'gifted' they are also sensitive to the fact that they have particular needs and require help and advice on how to support and cater for their child's particular needs in practical terms.


In our classrooms there is a wide spectrum of needs ~ low, medium and high ~ and a multitude of abilities in between.  Add on to this the personal learning needs of a child, how they learn, their social background and ethnicity.  Then further complicate matters by adding a disability such as Dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, Dysgraphia, Autism or Aspergers Syndrome and we have a very complex little person that requires a huge range of individual care and education to ensure a balanced upbringing.  Now we have an individual that is not only termed gifted but also Twice Exceptional (to encompass the disability) thus blessing the child with two labels before we even begin. This child requires a lot of time and understanding but most will probably spend the majority of time worrying about the disability possibly not even recognising the gifts or talents this child might have.  Before we know it the child is bored in class, cannot sit still, lacks concentration, becomes the class 'clown,' refuses to do the work, has attitude and is labelled disruptive.  Once the child is labelled disruptive it is hard to reflect on the route causes of the behaviour and often the child can be written off. We then begin to see under achievement and a child who can regress very rapidly into a pattern of extreme negative behaviours which can sometimes lead to depression, isolation, bullying, not wanting to attend school and in some severe cases exclusion from school and even self harming.  


Just as the lower end of the spectrum of needs brings with it many concerns and issues, surprisingly, so does the very top end.  Having a very able or highly gifted child brings with it a whole range of individual issues for the child, parents and the school.  The range of issues is enormous, ranging from boredom to exclusion from school, tantrums to arrogance and a wide range of enrichment activities, to no provision at all.


I hear every day from parents of highly able children that they 'just want the best' for their child.  They want them to be happy, enjoy learning and to be accepted as 'normal.' (Whatever 'normal' is?) A high percentage of callers would prefer it if their child was not seen to be gifted.  I think it is important to recognise that the majority of parents are not 'pushy' parents at all and do not over teach their children at home.  In fact a good majority would not know how to 'over' teach their child in the home environment and this is one of their main concerns ~ how can they help their gifted child at home without damaging them in any way? 


Most of us would imagine having a very clever or highly gifted child must be wonderful.  A child of this nature must always want to learn and go to school, they must never need encouragement, they always conform and do their homework, and they have many friends as everyone wants to be friends with the 'clever' child in the classroom.  How wrong could we be?  For many families it's a 'mixed blessing.'   


Its important to have empathy and understanding of how a parent feels when confronted with a diagnosis of 'giftedness.'  It can be a scary feeling to have a young child who can recognise their letters and numbers, is beginning to read fluently, asks continuous, difficult questions, communicates proficiently and can argue and debate like an adult yet has tantrums like a toddler.  Imagine a child of 5 years who operates intellectually at the level of a 10 yr old but socially and emotionally is functioning as a 4 to 5 year old.  The two skills do not match developmentally.  It is not difficult to see or understand why, in many cases, we see such difficult behaviour and how confusing it can be, to not only the child, but also to their parents and teachers.  There are times when such a child appears to communicate like an adult but very quickly can become irrational and behave like your little baby.


Often when a child is highly able or gifted their intellectual and social and emotional skills are not developing at the same rate.  The area in the brain that controls the social and emotional growth can be immature compared to the area of the brain that controls intellect.  It is so important that we understand this as parents and educators in order that we can start to understand our children and their needs and subsequently give them the appropriate support and understanding in both their home and school environment.


There is nothing worse as a parent than to see your most precious gift referred to as the school nerd, geek or boff just because they have been blessed with an amazing gift or talent for one or more subject areas.  Most of us are very aware that our children 'just want to be accepted within their peer group' and consequently this is why it is so important that a gifted child has a balanced upbringing and learning curriculum ~ it is just as important for a child to visit the park, paint a picture, enjoy cooking, kick a ball, climb a tree and have tea with grandma as it is to excel academically.  In fact in some cases it is more important in order for the gifted child to fit in and be accepted that we nurture their social and emotional intelligence to ensure they are happy, have friends, fit into society and hold down a job they enjoy.  Academically we could argue that they are always going to do 'ok' because with the right support they will shine but socially and emotionally they may not.


A school should be attempting to offer enrichment activities, after school clubs, mentoring and buddy programmes, one to one assistance, group and team learning, study and research skills, individual project work, access to high quality reading materials, differentiated homework, ICT facilities, field trips and visits and access to other agencies and specialists all of which will not only keep the curriculum varied and interesting but will help differentiate the curriculum for not only able and gifted children but all children.  All children learn differently, at different paces and different styles, teachers need to accommodate these differences in their classrooms across the whole spectrum of need.


Whilst researching I came across this quote from Dr Jensen to his sister-in-law when her young son was diagnosed as gifted with Asperger Syndrome, high functioning Autism and Hyperlexia.  This was the advice he gave to her:  



'Don't settle for less than what your child needs. Even though you may not yet have all the evidence required, get your child into the right programmes to accommodate his or her needs... Learn what your child's rights are in educational law and go out and get it.  An extract from Dr Peter S. Jensen MD


Tell me when did a lioness not defend her cubs?


As the parent (and an expert as far as understanding your own child's needs) you will know when your child is happy and achieving. Therefore, you must have the confidence to go with what's in your heart and what you feel is best for your child and your family at each stage of development.  The whole growth process is personal to you and your child and this encompasses their learning also.  At each stage find a goal that you are comfortable with for the child in question and work backwards as to how you can achieve this with your child's personality, disability (if there is one) and learning style in the forefront of your mind.  There will be some compromises along the way but remember to ask yourself 'can I live with this' as you go.  Study, absorb and evaluate all information given to you about your child and do not take 'no' for an answer.  Remember you live with your child 24/7 so learn when to go with your instincts and/or the professionals.  Find what works for you and your child and don't stop until you find it; each child deserves the best we can give them.

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