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Gifted Students:
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Topic of the Month - January


Dory Creech and Valorie King

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Each month we answer select questions submitted by our visitors about our topic of the month. The questions are answered by the KidSource moderators or by invited contributing guests. If you would like to submit a question, please visit: Monthly Q&A Column .


I have a 12 year old gifted son. Since he entered middle school last year he has been totally unmotivated. He says he hates school and his grades are slipping. Any ideas on how to get him motivated again? Thanks!


motivation is a separate issue from intellectual giftedness. Any child (or adult) who is forced to remain in a situation that exhausts his or her abilities to cope (i.e. they get *stressed out*) will develop a sense of helplessness and powerlessness. They give up. The solution is to restore the individual's abilities to cope. Sometimes, the answer is to get him out of the situation. Sometimes, the answer is to change the situation. Sometimes, the answer is to help the individual reframe his perceptions or beliefs about the situation; and, yes, bribery is a useful tactic here (if you can afford it). Choices are often constrained by circumstances outside of your control in which case you do the best you can. Blaming the child is not going to get you what you want -- a motivated child. Listening is always a good first step. Don't make promises you can't keep. Admit to what you cannot change. Look for ways to empower the young man so that he can take on his shoulders the responsibility (and pride) of solving his own problems. Form an alliance with him to help him get for himself whatever it is that he wants -- early graduation, a course at the community college, getting out from under ridiculous homework assignments, whatever.

- Valorie King (Director and founder for "Families of the Talented and Gifted" (TAGFAM) an Internet Community for intellectually gifted individuals, their families, and friends.)


How do I tell if my two-year-old may be gifted?


Short list of typical gifted preschooler (ages 2-5) characteristics:

  • Uses advanced vocabulary for age.

  • Uses spontaneous verbal elaboration with new experiences.

  • Has the ability to make interesting or unusual shapes or patterns through various media: blocks, playdough, crayons.

  • Ability to assemble puzzles designed for older children.

  • Sense of humor used in general conversation.

  • Understanding of abstract concepts such as death and time.

  • Mastery of new skills with little repetition.

  • Demonstration of advanced physical skills.

  • Demonstration of advanced reasoning skills through explanation of occurrences.

From the U.S. Office of Gifted and Talented, provided by TAGFAM.


What are the best ways to support/develop my two-year-old's possible "giftedness" without being pushy or hindering his development in other areas? How do you broach the subject of possible giftedness with your child's daycare, without having labels put on your child and without being labelled as a "pushy" or overly-proud parent who's seeking special treatment.


Supporting giftedness -- give him/her toys that require thinking. Allow him or her unhindered time to play. Discovery learning is occurring. Answer his/her questions fully. He'll let you know when you get into too much detail. Take him/her to interesting places like museums or the zoo or the nature center. Give him/her access to a computer and software like drawing programs and word processors. Show him/her how to change the fonts and the colors. Bomb proof a computer for the child and then let him/her have full access. So far as daycare goes, don't make an issue of things unless there are behavior problems. Then, reframe the problem in terms of how you do things at home and explain how that works well for you. Suggestion works better than direction. I always acted as though my children's behavior was completely normal and age appropriate ... the day care folks usually followed my lead and treated my child as though he/she was older and/or more developmentally advanced. If they didn't I found a new day care setting.

- Valorie King


Our almost four-year-old could read before his second birthday. He is great at geography, recites poetry, and is quite an artist. He prints upper and lower case letters very well and is pretty proficent on the computer. His favorite subject is spelling and he can change a word to its plural or singular form and spell it correctly. Words like xylophone and multimedia are easy for him.

Academically he zooms ahead but socially he's way behind. He's not really shy, he just prefers to ignore most conversation. I get answers from him only about twenty percent of the time, unless it involves learning something, in which case he is more likely to interact. Even more of a problem is his refusal to potty-train. We hoped that getting him into a pre-school program might bring him out socially, but they all want him potty trained first. We found a school that will take him but I will be attending with him as a "room mom" in case he has any accidents. I'm hoping peer-pressure might help. Anyone else have any thoughts about this?


potty training. The myelin sheath on the nerves has to be completely formed before the child's nervous system is mature enough to fully support potty training. Nothing a parent does will ever change this. Some children do not reach that level of physical maturity until age 6. The myelin sheath matures from the head down towards the anus. It's possible to be continent but not able to know when you're about to have a bowel movement until it's way too late. If you're really worried about this, consult a board certified child psychiatrist (i.e. has the training and clinical experience in both neurology and child development to answer your questions and address concerns).

So far as social development goes, the child's behavior as described is perfectly normal and age appropriate. Being smart doesn't give one more life experience. You get that by living and by having social experiences. Read "The Difficult Child" by Stanley Turecki, M.D.

Why not let the child continue learning in his own way and at his own speed instead of pushing him into a lockstep learning situation -- the classroom -- where he will be held back and prevented from learning at his rate and according to his interests. School CAN wait. In fact, waiting was the best thing we ever did for our youngest child who matches the described child almost exactly. The answers I've given are the ones we learned the hard way. He's now blooming, teaching himself fractions, division, spelling, and the social graces. We followed the doctor's advice and waited on the formal schooling. Within six months, he had caught up to grade level and then beyond (at age 8).

- Valorie King


Why is it difficult (or impossible) to get the education gifted kids need in public school? A child with a 130 IQ is as different from the norm (100) as is a child with a 70 IQ. A child with a 70 IQ usually receives an Individual Education Plan and a lot of support to achieve his or her potential (and that's wonderful!). A child with a 130 IQ (in my school district) is invited to attend a certain social studies class that isn't very different from the regular social studies class (and that's not so wonderful!).

Keep in mind that research shows that gifted kids do not "have everything they need to achieve" in order that they have wonderful lives. Research shows that as many as 15-30% of high school dropouts are gifted and talented (Lemov, 1979) and other studies show that most youngsters identified as intellectually gifted were significantly underachieving.


Gifted education still does not seem to get the same attention as the education of children with disabilities. I believe one reason is because children that are gifted do not have the same protections under state and federal law as children with disabilities. Guidelines for gifted education vary from state to state and from school district to school district. I think it will probably take a federal mandate before gifted education gets more attention.

Here is a link to an article regarding legal rights in gifted education:

I agree with you that many gifted children have some special needs that should be addressed by their schools. There is also a need for training of school personnel. Teachers frequently have a hard time adjusting the curriculum for children who are gifted as well as understanding and dealing with what is referred to as "underachieving" gifted children.

Here is a link to an article on underachieving gifted students:

I would suggest that you contact local support groups and agencies that have an interest in gifted education and work together with your local schools to improve educational programs for children that are gifted.

Here is a link to a web site with a list of state organizations involved in gifted education:

Contact the organizations in your state to see what you can do to help improve gifted education in your area.

-Dory Creech (KidSource Moderator)


What can you do for a gifted child who is underachieving? Both my children are identified as gifted. However, my son gets Bs and Cs in Junior High and seems afraid to try anything where he might fail. If my third grader takes all the time she wants to complete a task, she does very well, but if she must do the task in the amount of time that the teacher allows for all students, she's unfinished and frustrated. She seems to need extra time for everything.


This can be a very frustrating situation for parents, teachers, and for the child. Many times we expect children with high IQs to also be straight "A" students.

My first suggestion is to try to find out the reason for the underachievement. Some possibilities could be:

  1. fear of failure
  2. non-completion of assignments because of desire for perfection
  3. a specific learning disability
  4. poor study skills
  5. poor motivation
  6. poor organizational skills
  7. poor attention to task

Once the reason is determined, a plan of action can be developed and initiated.

Here are a couple of links to information on gifted and underachievement:

-Dory Creech

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