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August 25, 2014

Gifted Child?

By Tampa Bay Parenting

Here’s How You Know

Having a “gifted” child means different things depending on who you ask. For some parents, a gifted child is one who plays the piano in an outstanding way or has a superb singing voice. For others, a gifted child may be an amazing speller with an extensive vocabulary or a spelling bee champ. Regardless of what gifted means to you, most school districts define a student as gifted based on how the student learns and processes information.

In my psychology practice parents often ask, “Is my child gifted?” This can be a result of teachers, parents or other individuals in the child’s life noticing that the child is doing things above the child’s age level. Many times it’s because a teacher begins to notice that a child is doing exceptionally well in their academic work and they may refer the child to get an intellectual evaluation (IQ test). In some cases, parents will notice one of their children is processing information more rapidly than their other child or children.

Most schools require an IQ score of 130 for acceptance into the Accelerated Gifted Program (AGP). However, some schools have different cut-offs. To put this score into perspective, an average score is 100 (give or take 10 points) and an IQ score of 130 is in the top 2.2% of individuals. As a parent, you may notice that your child understands concepts well beyond their years and that they are intellectually creative or stimulated by learning more than the typical child. If you feel your child is gifted, you can also request testing from your child’s school or an outside professional who does testing to determine if your child is in fact gifted. The difference between testing in the school district and a private evaluation is generally the cost, the type of IQ tests used and the timeframe to get results back. Therefore, parents must make a decision on which factors are important to them before requesting the evaluation.

What if my child does not qualify for the gifted program? Sometimes children are very bright but do not earn the score to get into the gifted program. There are several things to keep in mind. First, know that as a parent there are still many things that you can do to intellectually stimulate your child and promote good learning opportunities. You could take them to the museum, zoo, aquarium, learning camp or have “home adventures” where they learn advanced information outside of school.

Second, if your child does not get into the gifted program, it does not mean it will impact their success in their academic life or their life overall. There are many children who do not make it into the gifted program and still end up in International Baccalaureate (IB) or Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Even if your child never ends up in advanced classes, he can still be successful in life. It is important that parents not focus too much on whether their child is good enough for a gifted program. Instead, parents should focus on their child’s strengths!

Third, just because your child will not be enrolled in the gifted program does not mean they do not have other areas that they excel in that should be promoted. Perhaps the child is simply not gifted in academics, or they are a poor test taker but they are highly skilled in things such as sports, music, arts. There are many areas in a child’s life that they may be gifted in.

What if my child does qualify for the gifted program? If your child receives the appropriate score from an intellectual assessment, they are considered eligible for a specific educational plan. However, keep in mind that many factors, not just her IQ score, should be considered before you head to the school’s office for the placement meeting. It’s important to recognize that many gifted programs are rigorous and your child will need to be prepared for the intellectual challenge of the program.

An IQ test only measures someone’s capacity to learn. It does not measure things like motivation, academic endurance or success. Some children are gifted academically but have behavioral, attention, or emotional issues that interfere with their learning potential. Because of this it is best to assess your child’s emotional maturity. Is your child emotionally mature enough to handle a gifted program? Although many children with high intellectual abilities are indeed emotionally able to cope with a challenging program some may not be.

As a parent you may not really know if your child can handle an AGP until your child actually begins the program. That being said, the process of enrollment into the gifted program begins once the school reviews the report with the IQ score and places the child accordingly. Make sure to be a strong advocate for your child in school by familiarizing yourself with the process of getting your child an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) and beginning the gifted education process. Schools vary with when the accelerated gifted program begins. Generally, it is in early elementary school. Remember, the gifted program is a chance for your child to receive a specific advanced curriculum designed to challenge your child and let your child thrive!

My child will be enrolled in a gifted program. Now what? Every child reacts differently to being placed into an AGP program. Some children are very excited and respond well to the advanced work, while other children are very nervous or even embarrassed of their newfound abilities. It is important to express to your child what being gifted means and what it does not mean.

Being enrolled in an accelerated gifted program means your child typically will learn things quickly and in an advanced way, but the child still needs encouragement and reinforcement to keep them motivated.  A child’s intellectual ability is only one facet of their development. There is also a child’s physical, emotional and social development that may or may not correspond to their intellectual capabilities.

It is important to hone your child’s creative skills and praise academic accomplishments. Parents also should encourage their child to be well-rounded. Remind children of their other gifts and talents beyond academics. Maybe your child plays the guitar exceptionally well or excels at swimming, soccer or painting. In our office, we have seen many children extremely devastated by a B on a test because they felt like their only true strength was that they were a straight A student. Thus, it is so important to encourage an array of activities, both academic and extracurricular, to enhance children’s self-esteem.

Where can I go for more information about gifted education? A great resource is the Florida Department of Education (www.fldoe.org) since schools and districts implement the gifted curriculum in a variety of ways. The FDOE has a guide for parents regarding gifted students with in-depth answers. The National Association for Gifted Children (www.nagc.org) also has various resources for parents to learn enhanced ways to raise a child with a high learning potential.

Be sure to check out your community resources. There are local associations and groups for parents and educators involved in gifted courses, and they provide enrichment activities that may be beneficially to your child. When in doubt, you also may contact your school’s exceptional student education (ESE) department on requirements and resources. The bottom line is that it is important to stay informed about your child’s abilities and find a support network to get answers about gifted education.

Nekeshia Hammond, PsyD, is a mother, licensed psychologist, and founder of Hammond Psychology & Associates, P.A. Her office conducts gifted testing and various psychological evaluations for children, teens, and adults. Visit www.hammondpsychology.com

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