Words are classifiers. That much is obvious. But where the word ‘gifted’ is concerned, it’s not always easy to agree on precisely what it means.
For the purposes of this blog, I’m using the terms ‘gifted’ and ‘giftedness’ not as value judgments, but as referring to children and adults who are significantly above average intellectually. You don’t have to be a psychologist to know that the seven year old who has memorized the schematics of every single blueprint of the Starship Enterprise is different from most children his age. It’s plainly obvious that a three year old child is gifted when she is reading — at a third grade level. All children are special, and have their areas of strength and uniqueness, but the term ‘gifted’ has its place in the same way as does ‘developmentally delayed’, one of several terms referring to those with IQs significantly lower than the mean. And students in both ‘categories’ deserve schooling that meets their unique needs.
And contrary to popular belief, despite the stereotype of the pushy parent attempting to turn their child into a ‘genius’, in fact, parents are excellent at detecting signs of giftedness in their children. Parents are often the first to notice these gifts, and bring them to the attention of educators.
For some, it’s not all that obvious. Certain gifted children whose educational experiences haven’t matched their abilities have learned how to tune out in the classroom, making it difficult to properly assess their gifts. Some may even have been labeled ‘behaviour problems’. A lucky few within this group are eventually identified as gifted — some profoundly gifted. Still others are finally identified as having a dual-exceptionality — for example, giftedness and a learning disability (LD) that masks aspects of the giftedness. However, the years of educational mismatch cannot be recaptured or retrieved.
Perhaps you’re such a former child, or perhaps you’re a parent reading this and nodding your head as you think of your own son or daughter.
Even for those parents who have the resources available for such services as IQ testing, a certificate proving that your child’s IQ is above 130 (a commonly used cutoff point) may not be sufficient to ensure that a student’s needs will be met. Services for the gifted in Canada are not uniform across the country. Some provinces have more appropriate services than others. And other provinces, such as Quebec, don’t officially offer services for the gifted at all. (More on this at a later date.)
Several studies have shown that there is a significant drop-out rate among the gifted, and this danger appears to rise with the degree of giftedness. (See this article for more information.) Why is this? Why is a nontrivial proportion of the gifted population choosing to opt out of the system?
Nobody disputes the vital importance of designing special educational programs and/or plans for students with developmental delays. However, the gifted (a group deemed high-risk due to their own special needs) aren’t always accorded such assistance.
What are Canadian provinces, school boards, schools, and individual educators doing to try to remedy the situation? If you’re a parent or an educator, or a former gifted student, I’m very much interested in your comments.