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The "Gifted" Label - Help or Hindrance?

If ever there was a "loaded" word with lots of differing connotations, not all of them positive, then it's got the be the word "gifted". For many it conjures up images of genius; think Einstein, Mozart, Hawking. (However, each of these were individuals, there will only ever be one Einstein after all!) For others gifted means "elitist", "clever clogs", "know it alls", "geeks", etc. Another problem with the label is that society on a whole considers that all children are gifted and that singling out one group of children as "special" is somehow wrong. As parents we often find that it's difficult to accept that our child is especially clever and ask for any additional help, as it sounds a bit too much like bragging. Some organisations have tried to step away from this term and use words such as talented, exceptionally able (CTYI) or high potential learners (National Association for Gifted Children in the U.S.). Whilst designing this website we also thought long and hard about what to call it and after much deliberation we found that the only word that seemed to fit the bill and would ensure that we reached those people searching for a site such as ours was the term "gifted". So, from this website's point of view we use the following terms "gifted", "talented" and "exceptionally able".

Probably the easiest place to start is with a definition of "giftedness". There are lots of definitions available on the web and none of them are definitive, but the general understanding appears to be that a gifted child is one whose potential in one or more areas would place him or her in the top 2 to 5% of children of the same age. The key indicators of a gifted child is one who learns things a little earlier, a little faster, a little better, a little differently. Some children may learn a lot earlier, faster, better or differently! Then there is also the area of dual exceptionality where a child can be both exceptionally able in one area but also have a disability, such as Aspergers or Dyslexia.

We as parents also have to have a realistic understanding of what it is to be gifted. For instance, not all children will show talent across the entire curriculum, some children will excel in language and not so in maths. Equating giftedness with genius is also unrealistic, as even within the giftedness spectrum children show differing levels of talent. There is a difference between pushing children to strive for excellence across all subjects and encouraging the talent they have in a given area.

An interesting idea that came out of the Conference on Gifted Education in February 2008 at Dublin City University was the idea of underachievement in exceptionally able children and how this is linked to the label. If a child is aware of his or her ability and is used to high achievement academically they can tend to limit their activities to those which will guarantee that they will receive 100%. This striving for the perfect score will inevitably lead to underachieving in those areas that they find more difficult as the child will almost opt out. All children need to be challanged if they are to develop to their fullest potential and for gifted children this is particularly important. During her keynote speech at the conference Ms. Sarah McElwee of Oxford University suggested that exceptionally able children should be praised for the amount of effort that they have put into an activity whether it's at school or home; rather then their inate ability or intelligence. This rewarding of the effort allows the child to see the intrinsic value of mistakes, rather than pressurising themselves to achieve 100 % everytime.

Definitions of Giftedness

"A reasonable working definition which is accepted world-wide in educational and psychological circles is that a child who shows exceptional ability in one or more areas such as mathematical, verbal, spatial awareness, musical, or artistic ability may be considered gifted. Defining the term ‘exceptional’ is more difficult as this group falls in a continuum. Opinions vary on this but the majority suggest that children falling into the top 5% of the population in a given area are probably in need of some additional support. The term ‘gifted’ tends to be reserved for those with an IQ greater than 130, i.e. the top 2% of the population. It is important to remember, though, that IQ scores extend to 170 and above and while the numbers of such people become progressively smaller with increasing score, the needs of these ‘profoundly gifted’ become increasingly acute. Within a school it would probably be reasonable to use a working definition, which would say that children with ability at the 97th percentile level in at least one area are seen as having special needs. At this kind of level, there are approximately 23,000 exceptionally able children within the Irish educational system. Such children are from all possible social backgrounds. "

From the Special Education Support Service Article on Gifted & Talented Children

Personal Stories

“I've always felt really uncomfortable about the name "gifted"; it just makes me feel that I'm saying how great your kid is compared to yours. Other parents don't really like it. Even though my child is in the 99th percentile he tries sometimes to hide it, just to try to fit in; pretending he likes football, when he'd rather be on the computer or reading a book. At my child's old school he was rarely asked to parties; but as he gets older and his confidence is growing he seems to be making more friends who accept him for who he is."

““Boredom in school seems to be a real problem, it's obvious these children need to be taught in a different way, so called differiented education. Lots of children of higher intelligence don't fair very well in the school system. They can sometimes get disruptive due to the frustration. Even the Special Education Support Service recognises this; yet there are no resources available to schools apart from a list of recommendations that they don't have to follow -unless the child has been diagnosed with some additional kind of behavioural disorder - yet another label that makes them feel different!.”"


Disclaimer: This is not an expert site, it is run on a voluntary basis and as such is based on opinion and experience but we hope that it acts as a signpost for educational resources and other support services for Irish families with exceptionally able children. By using this website you accept that any dependence by you on such information, opinion or advice is at your own risk.

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