Guest post: 'Having a gifted child isn't always a gift'
Caroline Bedford is the mother of a gifted child. Here, she describes her daughter's struggles with mainstream education, and argues that we must remove the taboo around giftedness in order to help children like her.
Mother of a gifted child
Posted on: Mon 09-Jun-14 15:24:04
(257 comments )
Welcome to the biggest stealth boast in MN history, because I am about to write a whole guest post on being the parent of a gifted child.
This means breaking the number one rule, which is, of course: ‘Never, ever talk about your gifted child.’ The taboo around giftedness is so strong that – and I've agonised about this a lot – this post appears under a pseudonym. I just can't imagine any good coming out of being identified, particularly for my daughter. I very nearly changed her gender too, just to make sure that no one knows it's me. How sad is that? But I wanted to stick my neck out for a reason - because, actually, having a gifted child isn't the entertaining brag-fest you might think.
Imagine if you will, that school insisted that your Year 2 child go into Reception. Imagine that they are learning very little, and it's making them anxious and badly behaved because they know they are different. Imagine that the school say there's nothing they can do, and there's no right of appeal.
To cap it all, you can't even talk to your friends, because they will assume that you are deluded, boastful or hot-housing, or possibly all three. Should you say anything on-line, the responses are even harsher, ranging from disbelief and ridicule ('if they haven’t written a symphony by 4, what's the fuss about?'), accusations of not giving them a childhood, then usually: ‘oh, it will all even out in the end’.
This is a rough approximation of our lives and frankly, I hate it, every little bit of it. I hate the three solid years that we've spent fighting to make school work, socially and academically.
The truth is that, just as there are children at the other end of the spectrum who find it harder to learn, there are gifted children... These children don't find it easy in mainstream education – but any support they get is entirely at the discretion of the school, which can mean that it doesn't exist at all.
I hate the fact that we've had to move her from the neighbourhood school and we're no longer part of our local community in the same way. I hate not being able to talk about her achievements anywhere: not in the playground, not on Facebook and – the fact that has brought me here to rant at you – not even on Mumsnet. If I could choose, I'd far rather she wasn't gifted: plain old bright would do me just fine. But I haven't got that option.
The truth is that, just as there are children at the other end of the spectrum who find it harder to learn, there are gifted children. The government designation of the top 10% of any class as gifted and talented has muddied the water a great deal – and there isn't a proper definition - but let's say those with an IQ of 130 or above, which is about 2% if the population. These children don't find it easy in mainstream education – but any support they get is entirely at the discretion of the school, which can mean that it doesn't exist at all.
By the end of Reception, my daughter had the reading age of a twelve year old. ‘Great’, you might think, but in a school that only went up to Year 4, they didn't know what to do with her. But a gifted child just has to put up with it; their needs, it seems, don't count. ‘The others will catch up,’ said the head teacher. We had to point out that yes, this would happen if they did nothing, but perhaps this could be seen as a failing by the school rather than the natural course of events.
In many ways though, we have it easy. Compared with some of the children we've met, she’s pretty straightforward. But the girl I know who was reading chapter books in her pushchair before she was two and a half? She's been through four schools and is home-schooled now because it's the only way she can learn at her own level. Many gifted children end up being home-schooled because, in the end, there is nowhere else for them to go.
We also have it easy because our daughter's abilities don't come with many other special needs, apart from a bit of dyspraxia. But a significant number of gifted children have something else going on too, whether that's ASD, ADHD, or sensory issues, as well as physical issues such as hypermobility, making things even tougher for them and their parents.
So when you come across a thread where someone is trying, perhaps for the first time to ask whether their child is gifted or not, all I ask is that you think for a moment before responding. Yes, it might be a stealth boast. It may be true that other children will catch them up in a few years time. Equally though, it might be a parent really struggling with how different their child seems, unable to speak to anyone in real life and in need of help and support rather than a shredding.
By Caroline Bedford
Well said , my dd1 is gifted but also has Aspergers and dyspraxia, she often hates school, struggles with being different and often gets called 'geek' or 'nerd'. In the playground she has hardly any friends, in the classroom people will fight to sit next to her. We didn't encourage her to be bright, she is who she is and we love her ( wouldn't change her but I would change people's opinions if I could ).
Beautifully written, the children who need extra support at the lower end of learning ability are well catered for and supported, and their progress is checked and reported on. which is exactly as it should be.
However, I have had to be 'that parent' on behalf of my child and while she has had good years/ teachers, she has also had bad ones (which this year is).
There simply does not seem to be a recognition that she is capable of learning so much more.
Added to which is the fact that it is very difficult to talk about it.
I know where you are coming from with the G&T at school muddying the water.
My dd is G&T in music, in particular her voice.
Anybody who plays an instrument or sings in schools automatically go on the G&T list as they of course are the top 10% of the class most of whom don't do any extra music.
So the benchmark is set very low at beginner level, which is great for those kids and don't get me wrong they should be encouraged and supported.
However, for those who are well beyond their years and judged as exceptional or outstanding have to seek support out of school in most cases.
My dd decided to leave school for this reason, she wants to develop her talent and felt that school got in the way of this.
My child is on the gifted end of mathematical ability.
But he doesn't have any more stamina than an average eleven year old so why does he have to sit two sats exams- level five AND level six? He was exhausted after sats week, it's unfair to make him do MORE work when what he needs is HARDER work.
Music is less of a problem, as there is very little music in schools, and you can (not necessarily easily, but it's do-able) provide for your gifted musician out of school hours, if necessary by sending them to adult music groups. But I can see how tough it must be if your child is very gifted academically, and is stuck on the top table in her year group.
I didn't know any gifted children until I met a boy in my ds's class. His Mum is a cleaner and his Dad is a builder. He is amazing. I have seen some of the things he does. This is not pure 'hot housing'. He thinks so creatively. I think he's a genius. And my own ds is pretty up there - reading at Y3 levels now (he is YR).
I think there is so much competitive parenting about that you can blame that. Not Mumsnet. Competitive parenting is so much more extreme than when I was a child 25 years ago. The extra curricular activities, the angst about schools/ moving houses etc. etc. This is what has contributed to the reaction to gifted children because people will automatically feel like their children are not 'at the top' and will then get so defensive.
I agree, having a bright child is the best place to be. I have 3 children and the eldest really struggles. Believe me, it's been no walk in the park getting some help for him either. The middle one is average and the youngest is bright, so I speak from some experience. I also think it is probably easier to be your end of the spectrum than the other end, but I have no experience of either. Imagine your dyspraxic, dyslexic child is not apparently 'gifted' in any area. That's hard, mostly because it's hard for them never to feel good or confident at anything.
The problem with gifted children who also have other issues (in our case Ds has aspergers traits, hyper mobility, poor muscle tone, poor fine motor skills, but not too severe but severe enough to have various therapies) is that the things that are behind are concentrated on and the gifted ness is often overlooked.
In our case is was actually us that overlooked it to some extent, we were concentrating so much ds's toilet training problems in reception that we didn't really push for his educational needs (he started school with a reading age of 14+ and they struggled to find any spellings he couldn't do. He is 4th in his class for maths so not gifted but certainly able. It's only now that we have worked hard to get his physical skills up to where they need to be that we realise we should have been working on his education a bit more rather than letting him 'coast'
Thing is there's plenty of help and advice for everything except dealing with a gifted child!
Message withdrawn at poster's request.
Believe me being gifted in music is more of a problem, its hardly taught in schools at all.
My dd had to leave school at 8 to have the education she so wanted, at least for the academic G&T their subject is taught at school and probably a core subject.
I feel that a lot of schools don't really understand gifted children. Some gifted children are very in touch with their emotions and read very deep into situations and therefore are emotionally quite vulnerable in a playground full of children with age typical thought processes, but this is often seen as a huge weakness and something that they are expected to 'get over and get on with'. Some teachers lack the understanding to comprehend that the emotional difference is often directly related to the giftedness.
There is also not enough consideration given to the fact that a child can be very gifted in one specific subject but behind with another. Giftedness is not always across the whole spectrum of academic subjects and schools often don't tailor learning plans to account for this. A gifted child needs an ILP as much as a child with a specific learning difficulty needs an ILP. The school should seek additional funding for gifted children in the same way that they would for a child with a learning difficulty as they need to follow an individual learning programme.
As long as competitive parenting exists (probably forever) parents of gifted children will never be fully able to discuss their children without accusations of stealth boasting and big headedness.
morethan - if she's gifted in voice, and left school at 8, I'm guessing she left to take up a choral scholarship at a cathedral school? That's a lovely opportunity, surely? Or perhaps she has a grant to a specialist school?
If you're looking at a career in voice, you don't really need to get started till mid teens, and can't really take it seriously till your 20s. It's rewarding doing a lot of singing while at primary school age, but not vital to happiness or musical development.
There are also church choirs and many other good choirs out there for the child who has a talent for singing, and of course singing teachers, music exams, amateur operatics societies, charity concerts, etc etc. And they can also use their musical abilities in playing instruments and joining orchestras, jazz groups, etc etc. I have a musical child, and I reckon she performs in around 30 concerts a year, often as a soloist. Only a couple of those will be at school. She gets financial grants to go on fantastic summer music courses and receive lessons from good teachers, too.
Whereas the highly academic child is forced to do academic work for hours a day which is insultingly easy for them and, frankly, a waste of their time.
, at least for the academic G&T their subject is taught at school and probably a core subject.
But it's not much use if it isn't taught at an appropriate level. It's arguable that it's better to not be taught it at all of its taught at a level which is much too low, because that just leads to complete boredom and disengagement with the subject.
I agree, Impatient. If the school doesn't teach a subject, you can do it your own way out of school.
I'd suggest concentrating on out of school things that your child doesn't study at school. Eg chess and music. They can do that at their own pace.
How easy is it to get a scholarship with bursary to a really academic private school?
NB near us they are planning to set up a specialist maths 6th form college, for those who excel at maths. It will be a state school, but with boarding facilities. A move in the right direction.
I am so sad to read this, I was a secondary science teacher before having my children, and I took an m level course with the national academy of gifted and talented youth (NAGTY) which was based at Warwick university to become a G&T specialist. Parents pleased don't be fobbed off by schools giving excuses like those listed above, G&T is on the spectrum of SEN and the school has a duty to provide for your children. Provision can come in many forms, including in class provision through proper differentiation; out of class provision eg G&T clubs or specific lessons; and external trips/visits etc. The key for schools is to get it right in the classroom. By employing G&T teaching methods, it has been found that all children improve, there are loads of phrases... "A rising tide raises all ships" explains it well I think. Teachers should be employing "HOTS not MOTS" higher order thinking not more of the same so students who can, should be given different expectations in outcomes rather than being expected to do more. Differentiation by outcome is not an example of this, teachers should be employing the various stages of Blooms taxonomy to help develop thinking at various levels. There are a range of very simple things that teachers can do in the classroom to help your children develop further and if you feel that your child isn't getting this, then please speak to the teacher/ Headteacher, use any of the examples I have listed to start the discussion. Ask to see the G&T policy, all schools should have one and all SEN students should have an IEP (individual education plan) this should be a written document done in the presence of the student and parents. There should also be someone with responsibility for G&T or at least SEN and they should be known to students and they should have been providing or at least assessing provision within the school. One of the common methods of identification is by parents so if you consider your child to be gifted then please start shouting about it, look online for a list of common traits to help you (children don't need to be expressing all of them). Schools should be providing "stretch and challenge" and there should be evidence of this going on. I do hope that this will help some of you to get the provision your children deserve.
Life would be so much easier if I'd had NT kids and not the quirky darlings I had instead. It's so tough. I have an IQ>160 and ended up getting kicked out of school just before o levels because I rebelled so badly against the school I was in. It so nearly fucked up my whole life, simply because everyone expected me to fit in a round-shaped hole and I couldn't. It's something that really worries me about one of my DC who is untested but probably brighter than me. This child is only 7 and already wiping the floor with the teacher. At moment school loves this child but it will only take one form teacher to not 'get' them and it will all unravel. Not helped by this child being on the spectrum and only able to operate to a narrow set of behaviours. I live in fear.
My other DC are less bright but still gifted and I thank my lucky stars that they are not as clever. How warped is that?
I have no experience personally with my DD.
As a teacher, in my whole career I have taught 1 gifted child, and his abilities were limited to maths and science areas. He also had ASD.
I totally agree that the whole 'top 10% of the class' stuff is rubbish.
I currently teach in a very deprived area. To be honest the top 10% of my current class would be considered average or slightly above against national levels! Definitely not gifted or talented.
It is shocking that schools have a duty to address the learning experience of those children struggling but seem to think it's ok to do nothing about those very high achievers.
My dd1 is g&t in all core subjects and the state primary she attended was fantastic, recognised her personality traits and supported her socially whilst stretching her academically
Her high school is a different story
She is totally disengaged with maths and science as the teachers just don't 'get her'
Prior to high school they were her favourite subjects
She has been offered extension in the form of lunch time clubs but her take on that is 'why should I sit bored in their lessons for over 2 hours a week then give up my lunch??'
She is also now being investigated for aspergers and is increasingly showing signs of anxiety
But all anyone ever cares about are her results
Thanks for the kind words everyone.
hilly I could write a whole other post on fear of being 'that' parent, being 'that' parent, and then having been 'that' parent for so long that you stop giving a stuff. Followed by leaving the school.
merrymarigold yes absolutely, gifted is definitely the easier end of the spectrum and I wouldn't deny that for a moment.
potatoprints I do understand what you are saying and agree but I think you will find it better when she is older. DH and I were talking about this while watching Young Musician, and ruing the fact that while there are specialist schools for music, there are not in our area specialist academic schools, as we don't have grammar schools. So in a way, at least there is a path for music.
impatient But it's not much use if it isn't taught at an appropriate level. It's arguable that it's better to not be taught it at all of its taught at a level which is much too low, because that just leads to complete boredom and disengagement with the subject.
Yes, very much. And leads to all sorts of acting out too. I ran out of space to say everything I wanted to, but the presumption from the outside is that as parents we are being academically pushy, whereas DD's behaviour is vile if she is not challenged, at least a bit, and this isn't uncommon.
And as for everyone else, I'm really sorry to hear that the inability to deal seems to be almost universal.
Having one gifted child is tough, having 2 one which is twice exceptional (has a LD - processing issue and sensory issues with dysgraphia) is quite frankly like trekking uphill through treacle. The constant misalignment with school, the social issues, their frustration, our frustration. Being told they aren't gifted because the bright hardworking do better at school (my kids have long since switched off learning) hoping each year for a teacher that gets them. Sometimes I want to just stay in away from it all - except for the fact with 2 you find them arguing if the meaning of the word 'and' and actively participating in tv quiz shows aimed at adults - that's when they aren't pointing out the fault in your argument. Their at home quirks are great when not accompanied by 'school frustration' but after a day of school it can be testing! I love both dearly and no I'm not sure I would want them not to be gifted, but I would like to be able to talk to someone, anyone, in real life about their issues and be understood - rather than made out yo be a tiger mum (ha ha as if) or deluded (I thought I was so got an ed psych report).
I have a 'gifted child'. He's 15 now and over the past 11 years he's been bullied, by teachers as well as other children, he feels alone as there's no one (apart from me) on his wave length, he isn't invited to parties and he's told constantly that he's a 'nerd' or a 'geek'. The bullying has caused issues with anxiety, which I have to deal with (have you ever tried getting a CAHMS appointment?). He's been bored at school and told off when asked for more work. The 10% aim is an insult. How do you compare a 4 year old who can apply newton's law to a moving car or can read (and understand) books aimed at children four times their age to other children and class them all as 'gifted'? It's a tick box exercise which they are only doing this to justify why they won't fund private schools for very bright children. There used to be an assisted places scheme which helped low income families but not any more. Not every state school can cater for very gifted children and if you can't work every hour you can for a private school, what do you do?
I used to post on here on the G&T boards but not any more. They are over run with threads which take the piss out of G&T children 'my child's 2 weeks old and has just read Harry Potter. Is she gifted?' It's a joke to some people. It's not 'cool' to be clever so no, it's not a gift.
My son could count to 100 before he was two, and taught himself to read and write a 2 1/2. I asked on Mumsnet, I think in the Educational section, for recommendations on books for toddlers/pre-schoolers that dealt with numbers in a more advanced way than one word per page. I was universally rounded on and castigated. Gee, I had no idea that my child in nappies could cause so much anger. I wasn't bragging, I was telling my (true) story and asking for help. But it was a sign of things to come - I could not talk about my child and his needs in the soft play, the playground, the GP's waiting room, anywhere really. It was the beginning of feeling like a social leper. I find parents in the UK much more competitive than other countries I have lived in.
My son was given an electronic bus for his first birthday by a friend. 2 weeks later he knew what every letter, number and shape was. He started reading Mr Men books, Jo, it just clicked. Then I moved him onto joke books. I could tell he understood them as he'd laugh and tell me the joke. How old is your son now? That's exactly why I don't post there. It's just a piss take area but if you ask a genuine question, people assume you're taking the piss too. Can't win.
I disagree with Mariamadeit about parents being the force deciding that their children are gifted. My experience was that despite everyone telling me in nursery that dd was really bright I paid no attention given the fact that all the females in my immediate family mum, sister and myself were all reading by the age of 3 .in fact I had never heard of gifted and talented until dd started school and even then thought it was what pushy parents did. In fact in dd primary school I know of one parent who demanded that all her children were put on the g&t list like it was some badge that she could put on Facebook. I think that it is this attitude that spoils things for children who are genuinely gifted. Dd was put on the register in year 3 and despite telling the school that I didn't what dd or anyone else knowing about her status. Of course within days everyone knew and then the brown stuff really hit the fan. It was not the children who were bothered but a group of parents who were closely connected to the school (a teacher, a school governor and LsA) started making my dc life a misery and because their parents were up in arms their children thought it was ok to bully dd with the class teacher pretending that nothing was happening or blaming my child and expecting her to change the way she behaved. What people fail to see is all the additional stuff that comes with being gifted the hyper sensitivity the constant interrogations and the inability to understand why no one gets you is actually what needs to be addressed as well as the fact that usually the g&t kids are bored out of their brains in lessons. For us the only solution was to go to take dd out do the state system and enroll her in a small very nurturing independent school were she doesn't stick out like a sore thumb.