Taking a little break from education philosophy to write about what’s on my mind lately. L5 will be starting Ambleside Online’s Year 1 in the fall (he’ll be 6 by then), and that has got me thinking more about a topic I’ve suspected would come up – giftedness.
Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching, and counseling in order for them to develop optimally. (The Columbus Group, 1991)
L5 has quite the back story, which includes health issues stemming from a dairy allergy when he was a baby. He actually stopped talking at a year old and began banging his head. We had him screened for autism, which he did not show signs of in the evaluation, and he had to go through occupational and then speech therapy. Thankfully, the underlying cause was his gastrointestinal issues, and he improved a lot once we got his gut straightened out. In fact, he went from non-stop crying baby to a very intelligent but quirky little boy in just a matter of months.
I remember when L5 had his first speech therapy session when he was 18 months old. It was through a state program that sent a therapist to our home once a week. Having already gone through occupational therapy (i.e. play therapy) with limited success, I was a bit skeptical that L5 was going to do anything but cry while the speech therapist was there. We had taken him off dairy by this point, and although his gut was still a mess – no enzymes or probiotics in there, which lead to a yeast overgrowth – he was beginning to feel better physically.
So, in spite of his lingering pain, which probably included both a stomachache and a headache, I saw this baby of mine begin to pay attention to the therapist. He didn’t reciprocate any signs in that first session, but I saw him focused and not crying. A week passed by without him attempting any signs although I was talking and signing everything we’d learned. When the therapist came for the second session, he starting signing back to her! She taught him the signs for colors, and he started pointing at objects and signing their colors. She taught him signs for objects like “ball” and “shoes,” and he would point to pictures in a book and sign the objects’ names. Both the therapist and I were floored. This child who had been a bundle of feelings was suddenly thinking language-y thoughts!
L5 continued progressing quickly with speech therapy until he was talking without having to sign as well. He did what few children in that program do – he “graduated” out of it instead of aging out of it and into the next step of the program, which is a speech-intensive half day preschool. Although he was prone to tantrums and meltdowns, L5 continued to amaze us. He’s the type of kid to have elaborate internal thoughts and not necessarily speak them out loud, so over the past four years we could often only speculate on his abilities, especially as they butted up against his mood swings. But, for example, he knew his alphabet and could count to 20 before he turned two. I distinctly remember the day before J3 was born (just a couple weeks after L5’s second birthday) that L5 put together an alphabet puzzle by himself, naming all of the letters and making note of objects that start with each letter. He also spontaneously began reading just after he turned 4 years old. He just knew how to read. Or, as he put it, “I can’t read. I just know what that says.” But, that wasn’t out of the question, because we already experienced that with A8.
A8’s backstory is not nearly so dramatic. He was a happy baby who hit milestones by the book, which was a nice thing to do for this poor first-time mommy who knew nothing about babies. As I sat clinging to my well-worn copy of What to Expect the First Year, A8 seemed be a perfectly “normal” child. He crawled, he walked, he talked, he sang, and he smiled a lot. He had a big vocabulary as a young child and he sang all of the time, but that didn’t seem strange because he was hanging out with me all day. In fact, A8 didn’t reach any milestones ahead of schedule. I didn’t really know any other babies all that well, so it never occurred to me that he was gifted. Hindsight tells me otherwise.
A8 loved movies. I know, that doesn’t exactly ring any “my child is gifted” bells. Maybe it’s better said that he loved stories – not necessarily books, but stories – from a very young age. Having the benefit of knowing other kids now, I can see that it’s unusual that a two year old would sit and watch Miyazaki’s Ponyo movie with rapt attention. He loved the storytelling and the music. He wasn’t begging to read books. He wanted the whole package of a film – visuals, storyline, music.
We laugh now thinking of his reluctant potty training days (when he was 3 years old) how he wanted so badly to watch Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I thought it would be too scary at his age, so he took to calling it “Scary Harry.” As an incentive to care one whit about using the toilet, I taped the DVD case to the bathroom door and told him if he used the toilet I would let him watch Scary Harry. It didn’t work, but it’s a funny memory.
Right after he turned 4, A8 spontaneously began reading. DH was an early reader, so I thought nothing of it. A8 also became very interested in singing. At age 5 I had him try out for a local children’s choir because I thought he’d enjoy it – it was the only local children’s choir that started at age 5. It’s the kind that music teachers nominate children for audition, so I know the director probably thought I was just a hopeful mom dragging in my kid. In fact, I had turned to choir after a year of Suzuki-like piano lessons weren’t showing any promise. A8’s dexterity was lagging, and the piano was difficult for him, but his teacher recognized a great musicality in him and suggested choir. His choir audition was a closed one, so I’m not exactly sure how he performed, but the director came out promising me the moon if I would put him in her choir. I was a bit taken aback. I was just hoping they’d let him in.
Auditory-Sequential and Visual-Spatial
A8 is your non-typical gifted child. He has what psychologist James T. Webb refers to in his book A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children as a Visual-Spatial thinking style. A8 thrives on tasks that encourage creativity like art, music, and storytelling. His absolute favorite activity is to dictate stories for me to type. When he was 7, he dictated a story about visiting his grandparents. It was about 6,500 words long and spanned 61 half pages (he used the other half of the pages for illustrations). Transcribing for a seven year old child is tedious, and I’m sad to say that I dragged my feet on it, but he begged me daily about adding onto his story. Eventually I declared “the end,” but the next day he was ready to start Volume 2. *sigh*
The thing about visual-spatial thinkers is that they don’t score well on intelligence tests, and in a classroom they are often overlooked when it comes to identifying possible giftedness. We actually did have A8’s IQ tested with a partial Weschler evaluation when he was 6 years old to see if he might qualify for a weekly local gifted program – just based on his early reading ability. He scored a little above average but not highly gifted, and I thought that was the end of that. In the years since that IQ test, though, we have seen him consistently read and do math at least two grade levels accelerated. I recently spoke with a pediatric psychologist who specializes in working with gifted children. Her advice to me was that A8 would score much higher on a full Weschler intelligence evaluation that includes areas of his gifting. We have opted not to have him retested, though, because if he did score high enough to be accepted in the gifted program he would likely have to choose between that or a his current full-day music program. There’s only so many hours in a week, and I firmly believe kids need time for free play and for being outdoors. Since he’s homeschooled, we know he won’t languish in a classroom. I’m going with my gut instinct and focusing on encouraging his creativity through music and art and storytelling.
L5 is still too young for an intelligence test (optimal age is 6 to 8), so we can only speculate on his IQ based on what we see here at home. We’ve known for a long time that A8 and L5 are complete and total opposites. It’s funny how the same parents and same home can produce such different people. L5 has what Dr. Webb’s book identifies as an Auditory-Sequential thinking style. This type of thinking style is what people think of when they think of a gifted person. L5 is fact- and detail-oriented. He likes things to be orderly, practical, and predictable. He likes to focus on one task at a time and will often be highly focused on that task – and super-angry at someone who interrupts him. In fact, one of his most-often used words is “annoying” – as in, “you are annoying me.”
L5 is only beginning to show a preference for certain activities, and often he is simply following in his older brother’s footsteps because that seems logical to him. He plays baseball and hopes to join choir someday, but I’m excited for the day when it seems logical to him that he could choose to pursue an activity that A8 hasn’t chosen. I’ve been talking with him about learning to play the violin, and he seems to be interested (yea!). I think that’s a big step because A8 has chosen to learn the guitar next school year.
I think we may find someday that L5 is “twice exceptional” – meaning he is gifted but also struggles with a secondary problem, perhaps a mild Asperger’s syndrome based on some of his behavior. The pediatric psychologist has advised me to have his IQ tested first and then pursue other testing if I feel it relevant for his education. So, we’ll probably do all that in a year when he’s 6.5 years old.
Giftedness – Blessing and Struggle
I suspect I will be writing about giftedness a lot in the future, but I hope that doesn’t put you off. Please don’t think of gifted children or their parents as elitist. In some ways, giftedness – especially for those individuals who are profoundly gifted – is closer to a disability than a super power. Gifted children are intense, and that’s not always my idea of fun. It’s exciting and scary to be homeschooling two very different types of gifted children – and then there’s J3. The Lord only knows what is in store there. The parting thought I want to impress here is that giftedness is a blessing as well as a struggle – for the boys themselves and for our family. One minute I’m pleased that A8 just mastered a new math concept and in the next minute his emotions are a runaway train and I’m just standing there, like, “What in the world is going on?” One day I’m proud of L5 for so methodically caring for his younger brother, and the next day I’m shielding everyone from his huge temper tantrum. In those moments, a councilor friend of mine whispers the word “asynchronous” to me, and I remember that these boys are emotionally so, so young – no matter what their intelligence might be saying otherwise.
Until we meet again next Friday, be well.
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (audio book)
- A Letter of Mary: A Novel of Suspense Featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes by Laurie R. King
Moderately challenging books:
- Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Defect Disorder by Richard Louv (finished this one)
- Personal Reflections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
- Mind to Mind: An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education by Karen Glass
- For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay (plan to begin Brandy Vencel’s Start Here study)
- Henry V by William Shakespeare (studying this with A8)
- The Normans: The History of a Dynasty by David Crouch
- A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children by James T. Webb et al.
P.S. Here are some helpful web sites. If you’re working with a gifted child, you might try these.