GIFTED EDUCATION PRESS QUARTERLY
10201 YUMA COURT
P.O. BOX 1586
MANASSAS, VA 20108
VOLUME FIFTEEN, NUMBER TWO
LIFETIME SUBSCRIPTION: $22.00
MEMBERS OF NATIONAL ADVISORY PANEL
Dr. James Delisle -- Professor and Co-Director of SENG, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio
Dr. Jerry Flack --Univ. Of Colorado-Colorado Springs
Dr. Howard Gardner -- Professor, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Ms. Diane D. Grybek -- Supervisor of Secondary Gifted Programs (Retired), Hillsborough County Schools, Tampa, Florida
Ms. Dorothy Knopper -- Publisher, Open Space Communications, Boulder, Colorado
Mr. James LoGiudice -- Director, Program and Staff Development, Bucks County, Pennsylvania Intermediate Unit No. 22 and Past President of the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education
Dr. Mary Meeker -- President of SOI Systems, Vida, Oregon
Dr. Adrienne O'Neill - Chief Education Officer, Timken Regional Campus, Canton, Ohio
Dr. Stephen Schroeder-Davis -- Coordinator of Gifted Programs, Elk River, Minnesota Schools and Past President of the Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented
Dr. Bruce Shore -- Professor and Director, Giftedness Centre, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
Ms. Joan Smutny -- Professor and Director, Center for Gifted, National-Louis University, Evanston, Illinois
Dr. Virgil S. Ward -- Emeritus Professor of Gifted Education, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia
Dr. Colleen Willard-Holt - Associate Professor, Penn State University, Harrisburg
Ms. Susan Winebrenner -- Consultant, Brooklyn, Michigan
Dr. Ellen Winner - Professor, Boston College
Although the new educational initiatives proposed by the Bush Administration have many commendable features
concerned with educational accountability, they do little or nothing to address the selection and education of gifted
students. For example, requiring school districts to set up annual testing programs at each grade level will not help
to identify young inner-city and middle-class children who would benefit from a rigorous curriculum that goes
beyond topics covered by annually administered standardized tests. Such testing programs for increasing
accountability may in fact lead to a more lock step, test-driven curriculum that concentrates on raising group
averages in schools, districts and states. A call for flexibility in identifying and assessing children from gifted and
other special populations might cause federal regulators to focus on how to effectively serve these children while
fulfilling accountability expectations. Now is the time for all gifted advocacy groups to get their "two-cents" into the
For many years, educators who work with young gifted children have argued that differentiated preschool and primary programs are a necessary part of the elementary school curriculum. As the article by Susan Grammer shows, there has been strong resistance to establishing such programs in the public schools. Her comprehensive article provides parents and teachers with specific information about identifying and teaching young gifted children, and advocating for their full educational development. Ms. Grammer's background work is unique because she not only relied on journal articles, but she also contacted many individuals directly via email and telephone to obtain their viewpoints. The information she obtained directly from such leaders as Joan Smutny, Joseph Renzulli, Karen Rogers, Julian Stanley, and many parents and teachers has produced a lively, informative and up-to-date summary of the state-of-the-art of this gifted education area.
For many decades, James Webb has been concerned with publishing high quality books in the gifted field. His article on the mislabeling of gifted children clearly shows that he has maintained his skills as an insightful writer and counseling psychologist. He originally presented this work at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in August 2000. It is important that giftedness not be confounded with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or any of the other diagnostic categories discussed in this article. In addition, Edward R. Amend explains how Asperger's Disorder is becoming confused with giftedness. Michael Walters' concluding essay on George Orwell stresses the accomplishments of this great writer.
Maurice D. Fisher, Ph.D., Publisher
Go to the following articles:
Susan Grammer discusses the problems and issues of educating young gifted children
James Webb writes about mislabeling gifted children in various diagnostic categories such as ADHD
Edward Amend discusses the mis-diagnosis of gifted children as having Asperger's Disorder
Michael Walters writes about the life and books of George Orwell
Identification and Education of the Young Gifted Child: A Parent's Perspective
By Susan Grammer
To Be or Not To Be……Gifted?
Don't worry. We have plenty of activities to challenge any five year old. Besides, by second grade the kids' abilities all seem to level out anyway. -- A kindergarten teacher
This comment was supposed to reassure one mother about enrolling her wide eyed, chess playing, encyclopedia toting, adding and subtracting four year old in kindergarten the next fall. After observing as the class was gently introduced to the concept of rhyming words, she wondered what her son (who had spontaneously initiated rhyming games since sometime before the age of two) would be doing in this lesson next year. Hopefully not turning somersaults and terrorizing the teacher! She also wondered what could possibly make a child who spent his infant to preschool years in overdrive (absorbing infor-mation like a nearly desiccated sponge), slow down long enough to learn on a level playing field by second grade. The next fall, after further assurances from the school counselor that the kindergarten could meet the needs of all children, no matter how bright, his parents sent him off to school. Not wanting to appear pushy, they chose not to mention that he had begun reading on his own, was very advanced in math and that his logical thinking skills and capacity for empathy were sometimes astonishing. "Since people on the street notice and comment about him constantly," they recall thinking, "it will certainly be obvious to the teacher as soon as he walks into the room. Won't it?" It wasn't.
Miraca Gross (1999) reported that, although 90% of highly gifted children in her study were reading before age 5, only 30% of the parents felt comfortable telling the school. Even prior to school entry, they had felt overt hostility from society in general towards their intellectually precocious children and feared being viewed as pushy or overly ambitious .
In "I Can Do It Myself! Reflections on Early Self-Efficacy," Elizabeth Maxwell (1998) describes the children she has studied as "active agents in their own learning processes. They exert pressure upon parents and other adults in their environment to a sometimes amazing extent." Maxwell says that parents of the highly and profoundly gifted usually become aware quite early of their child's precocity and quickly learn that, in sharing stories of their children's exploits, they are likely to be disbelieved and often labeled as pushy or ego invested.
Does it really matter?
Does it really matter whether highly able learners are identified as such during the early school years? And, whether identified or not, does it matter whether gifted or potentially gifted children are offered an educational opportunity appropriate for their advanced intellectual abilities? Or, as is often the assurance from the teacher or school counselor when parents timidly ask these questions, is it really true that "since she is a bright and able learner, she'll be fine," and "if she's truly gifted now, she'll still be gifted in a few years when it is easier to get into the program"?
While parents and teachers of young able learners struggle at the lack of widely accepted, definitive answers to these dilemmas, a review of published research in gifted education seems to provide a very difficult to ignore, crystal clear picture of young potentially gifted children languishing unchallenged in the normal classroom, repeating concepts they learned on their own months or years before and often learning, within days or weeks of school entry, to hide their abilities and inquisitiveness from teachers and peers. "These kids are smart," says Joan Smutny (personal communication, fall 2000). "They figure out very quickly how to fit in." Robert Sternberg (email communication, fall 2000) maintains that "what happens is that bright kids get bored, their attention starts to wander, they lose interest. The numbing of the mind results in detrimental effects."
Unfortunately, most of the documentation from the published literature on the detrimental effects of mis-identification and underserved young gifted children has not yet filtered down to parents, classroom teachers and administrators. Therefore, while parents and gifted teachers fight to have young able learners identified and/or served, many of the brightest children, according to Smutny (2000) are, "waiting out the years until third or forth grade, when most schools formally identify children as gifted, (and) have become bored, resentful underachievers." Smutny et al. (1989) cite two particular studies on page 130: Sutherland and Goldschmid (1974)noted evidence that truly superior children, perceived by their teacher to have only average intelligence, decline in intelligence test and achievement test performance when compared to equally superior children whose abilities were recognized by their teachers. According to a separate study by Martinson (1961), gifted first graders served with special programs gained an average of two academic years during a single nine-month period, while gifted children in regular classes gained the usual one year.
Susan Johnsen, Associate Dean at Baylor University, reports (email communication, fall 2000) that "over a three year period, achievement scores for young potentially gifted students from lower income backgrounds who were not served in gifted programs dropped at twice the rate as a comparison group (Johnson and Ryser, 1995).
Karen Rogers of St. Thomas University (email communication, fall 2000) asserts that much of Julian Stanley's work with mathematically talented children suggests that "repetition beyond mastery can result in relearning math and science concepts and skills inaccurately." Stanley (email communication, fall 2000) laments the fact that "these extensive studies seem, unintentionally, to be a well-kept secret from most gifted-child specialists, but not from many parents and their bright children." Rogers also suggests that "some of the work Robert Sternberg and his group have done on 'knowledge acquisition' will lead you to the same set of conclusions."
Patricia Weber (1999) presents a startling case study, a "tale of two boys", which clearly illustrates the need for early identification of and programming for gifted students. Her article follows the academic progress of one child beginning in second grade, when his teacher described him as a child for whom each new day in the classroom was fascinating. The overall picture of the student was "one of enormous academic and social success accompanied by a feeling of satisfaction with life." Descriptions of the same child as an eighth grader portrayed a boy who delighted in tormenting his teachers and who was a "total, abject failure." Interestingly, in second grade the child had been a viable candidate for the gifted program, receiving high test scores. Reservations expressed by various individuals involved in the identification process, however, mostly based on his lack of organizational skills and "messy desk," kept him out of the program. Between the second and eighth grades, his academic grades, achievement test scores and behavior showed a steady decline from year to year. Although the author cautioned that there is no proof that inclusion in a gifted program would have rescued this boy's academic achievement and behavior, she strongly believes that there is "a high probability that nurturing his areas of potential talent would have had a positive effect and maintained the high interest in learning he displayed as a young boy." Anecdotal or not, this case study points to the importance of early identification and intervention along with "the necessity for a heightened awareness on the part of parents and educators regarding the nature of gifted children and the types of educational programs from which they might benefit."
As Weber further discusses, young children, desperate to please their teachers, will often eagerly go where led. When roadblocks are put in the way of a young child's curiosity and advanced thinking skills, "the young child has no recourse but to accept the road before him," she writes. Teachers of young gifted children, she continues, "have often noticed that by the time the student has reached second grade, he has already begun to close the door to accepting challenge as exciting, enjoyable and intriguing, and opened the door to rote, predictable, safe learning."
Joseph Renzulli of The National Research Center on Gifted and Talented and The University of Connecticut (email communication, fall 2000) was recently reminded of the importance of special programs targeting young able learners as he watched a young person at work on an area of special interest. "I saw the glow in a young man's eyes that suddenly reminded me what learning is really all about - competence, pride, satisfaction, achievement, and most of all, enjoyment," he wrote. University of Connecticut graduate student Robin Schader (email communication, fall 2000) stresses that "learning that respects individual differences and abilities is a powerful motivator -- and far more effective than learning to earn a grade or satisfy parents and teachers. After all," she continues, "our end goal should be to develop lifelong learners."
Dorothy Funk-Werblo, Ed.D., Independent Educational Diagnostician in Houston, TX and International Coordinator of Gifted Programs for MENSA (called Dr. Dot by "her" children) has known many gifted children and adults during her long and multifaceted career (personal communication, summer/fall 2000). She likens our young intellectually gifted children, unchallenged in classrooms around the world, to seedlings which emerged prematurely. She reminds parents and teachers that "if you don't attend to the needs of the child, he doesn't thrive, just as a plant without water will not thrive." Potentially gifted children are not just dormant seeds during these early years. Their intellect is in dire need of exercising the thought processes normally encouraged in the classroom only in later years.
Parents and classroom teachers who doubt the potential detrimental effects of not serving young intellectually gifted children should study Stephanie Tolan's 1996 essay, "Is It A Cheetah?" (1996) carefully. Tolan likens the unchallenged gifted child to a cheetah, biologically capable of sprinting 70 mph to catch an antelope for dinner, but confined in a 10X12 foot cage and fed a diet of zoo chow. "Many highly gifted children sit in the classroom the way big cats sit in their cages, dull-eyed and silent," Tolan writes. "Some, unable to resist the urge from inside even though they can't exercise it, pace the bars, snarl and lash out at their keepers, or throw themselves against the bars until they do themselves damage."
Smutny et al. (1989, p. 99) remind parents that by the end of third grade a child will have spent nearly half of his life thus far in the school environment. "During those four very important years," she cautions, "children also develop feelings for school and fix their images of themselves as students."Smutny's message to parents and teachers is a strong one (p. 130). "The years from ages 4-7 are intensely critical to the maintenance of your child's potential giftedness, which is a process responsive to cultivation and vulnerable to neglect and destruction."
The danger of under-identification of gifted and potentially gifted children is summarized quite succinctly by Tracy Weinberg, Associate Director of Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (personal communication, fall 2000). "If a skill doesn't get recognized," he offers, "it doesn't get used."
OK, so it is important to serve these children early. Why is identification so difficult?
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
She'll be obviously gifted where ever she goes…
Parents who have spent the preschool years in awe of an intellectually precocious child, constantly adapting to her unique needs and nearly as constantly being admonished by friends, family and strangers, alike, not to push her academically, may naively assume that the child's classical "gifted" behavioral characteristics will be exhibited in the classroom setting. And many elementary school teachers, asked to "watch" for signs of giftedness in their primary grade children, consciously or unconsciously expect them to present themselves with bells ringing and horns blaring. Isn't a gifted child in need of intervention obvious to anyone whose path he crosses? And, if parents or a teacher suggest testing, won't all gifted children score "gifted" on tests?
Unfortunately for the children, the answer to each of these questions is a resounding "no!" This is especially true in the structured environment of school, where even the youngest child often works very hard to conform to the expectations of the adult who is running the show. After waiting, often with great anticipation and wild expectations, to start school, the child is first taught how to follow the rules - and at the same time how not to ask questions, how not to explore the nooks and crannies of the classroom, how not to break out of line to examine an interesting bulletin board in the hallway, and in some cases, not to open the books in the library which he is not yet able to read fluently. Returning to Tolan's cheetah metaphor, "children in cages or enclosures, no matter how bright, are unlikely to appear highly gifted; kept from exercising their minds for too long, these children may never be able to reach the level of mental functioning they were designed for." Unfortunately, unlike young cheetahs who all look alike, young gifted children are not all gold with black spots - they are masters of camouflage.
Susan Zimlich (email communication, fall 2000), an elementary school teacher of the gifted, agrees that "classroom teachers do seem to notice those 'with bells on their toes' the best. One of the things I have tried to address is how to recognize gifted students," she offers. "I did (provide) in-service about the screening process … included information about characteristics and behaviors of gifted students.…The problem is: how much are teachers actually listening? Sometimes teachers can be the worst students."
According to Joyce VanTassel-Baska (2000), most young gifted children do not demonstrate great strength across all domains and areas. Consequently, their particular area of giftedness "may not be evoked by the school environment but shine in the context of the community." One study (Walker 1991, p. 20) demonstrated that kindergarten teachers not trained specifically in gifted identification accurately identified only 4.3% of children later identified as gifted. T. M., mother of a son who entered college at age 12 recalls:
. . . .Nobody, myself and various school staff included, was looking at this six year old and saying 'if he keeps on at this rate he'll be in college by the time he is 12'. . . .numerous points along the way, I think if we hadn't assertively advocated. . . .we would have lost him. . . .(email communication, fall 2000).
Identification of the young gifted child can be less than straight-forward for numerous reasons, not the least of which is the very uneven development of children from ages 4-7 in the normal population. This makes establishing the "norm" difficult. In addition, many gifted children tend to learn and develop in "chunks" and "spurts" resulting in a child passing through many developmental or intellectual milestones very quickly and hanging back on others.
The mother of one first grader (personal communication) describes the way her son's reading skills soared during a one week period in kindergarten:
The summer before kindergarten and early in the kindergarten year, he seemed stuck at the stage of sounding out three letter words in Bob Books. During the Thanksgiving holiday I got tired of reading the names of his favorite Pokemon to him and commented that, since the names were all spelled phonetically, he should be able to read them himself. Three days later he was reading all the names, the text in the book, headlines and captions in the newspaper and captions under the pictures in our Children's Encyclopedia.
Beth Motta has this to say to parents who suspect their child needs gifted programming when the school does not agree (email communication, fall 2000):
My oldest daughter was 5.5 when her public school tested her for giftedness. They used K-BIT, a 2-part 15 minute test. They told me her composite score was 126, so she was not eligible for gifted intervention in 2nd grade. I had her privately tested with the WISC - III and the Stanford-Binet LM (since she hit the ceiling on 5 subtests on the WISC - III) and that 126 was blown out of the water. . .she is actually EG/PG (exceptionally gifted/profoundly gifted). . .so find out who will do the tests. . .what tests they will give. . .if you feel the score is too low, you might be right.
According to Joan Smutny, those involved in the identification process must be "very flexible and perceptive" when assessing young children for inclusion in or exclusion from a gifted program at a young age (personal communication, fall 2000).Tests are important only as a part of the assessment, she feels. "Using an IQ score to begin to measure the scope of giftedness is like taking the blood pressure of a trauma victim with multiple injuries." (Smutny et al., 1989, p. 109).
So, What Do We Do?
According to Linda Silverman (1995), "we have a moral obligation (to meet the needs of the gifted). They need the opportunity for continuous progress; this is a basic educational right. All children have the right to learn new concepts in school every day." This moral obligation should also hold true for the young child who enters kindergarten or first grade having mastered most of the skills required for graduation or with the ability to master them very quickly upon their presentation.
Joyce VanTassel-Baska (2000) writes, "to deny services to students clearly advanced in reading, mathematics, the arts or other domains because they have not been formally assessed calls into question a school system's capacity to respond to individual differences. . . ." She laments that identification is "one of the most common difficulties in program development cited by school district personnel and state department coordinators. . .until our beliefs about identification change, little progress can be made in developing a better system that resolves all of the issues noted."
The goal of all parents and educators should be to guarantee that every child will maintain a sense of wonder about the world and the drive to master his environment. Children who are born with a special gift enabling them to master their environment more quickly and in greater depth than other children require a different learning environment than most. There are four things that parents, classroom teachers, gifted education teachers and community members can do to assure highly able learners that their gifts will be developed.
1. Understand giftedness: Read, listen, and communicate with other teachers and parents of gifted children. Only after we understand how these children think can we hope to do what is best for their futures.
2. Help others to understand giftedness: Because identification of the young gifted population is still mired in controversy and often considered elitist, it is up to teachers specializing in gifted education and the parents of gifted or potentially gifted children to advocate strongly for these children. Many parents describe the ups and downs of their gifted child's educational experience year by year, in terms of whether the child's teacher could "get him." One cannot "get" these children by memorizing the characteristics of giftedness from a textbook or from behavioral checklists. Getting to know gifted children and understanding that each is unique and may not fit any currently published checklist is best done by spending time with them and through anecdotes reported by parents and teachers of the gifted. Patricia Weber (1999) urges attempts to alter the long held beliefs of classroom teachers and administrators and to change their vision of giftedness, helping them to understand the unique needs of gifted children. Weber feels that many teachers have deeply ingrained beliefs and biases which may not change even once an individual has voiced acceptance of the new data. "That is why educators may nod in agreement," she writes, "and give vocal acceptance to the research that validates the necessity of meeting the needs of young gifted students, while deep within they harbor a mental model that says 'they're too young, they're too immature, and they're not ready.'" When a teacher's "mental model" tells him that children cannot be gifted at a young age and do not need differentiated curriculum, all potentially gifted children in his charge will suffer.
Weber suggests that teachers of the gifted could help classroom teachers or initiate challenging activities in the regular classroom prior to making formal identification. Classroom teachers could then see immediately which able learners in their charge "are capable of handling concepts and situations far beyond their age mates and become engaged and excited very quickly when given a difficult problem to solve." These children flourish when presented with appropriate tasks, materials and activities. They bloom when given support and encouragement by adults who not only understand them, but truly care about their development as potentially gifted individuals. Weber feels that "helping a child reach that stage would make any teacher feel that the effort was worthwhile."
3. Advocate, Advocate, Advocate: The take-home message from the table of contents and available excerpt of Standing Up For Your Gifted Child (2001, in press), a brand new book by Joan Smutny, is advocacy, advocacy, advocacy. Tracy Weinberg, a gifted education professional and father of a gifted child who has benefitted from gifted programming since kindergarten, says that sometimes in educational settings there is a belief that "one size fits all" and maybe "a well meaning but inaccurate concern that they (young children pulled out of the classroom for gifted programming) will miss out on some basic skills." The best way to overcome this bias, in his opinion, is through "personal lobbying, passing along anecdotes, and advocating for your child." (personal communication, fall 2000). Recognizing that the curriculum developed for the majority of children is not appropriate for intellectually advanced children is just as critical as realizing that the normal curriculum is not appropriate for those with many disabilities and developmental delays. Advocacy -- by parents, educators and caring community members -- is the key to providing an appropriate education for all children.
4. Be flexible and perceptive in assessing and serving young gifted children:
Flexibility in Serving Young Potentially Gifted Children -- Because of current difficulties in accurately identifying all young gifted children in school settings, it may be necessary to broaden the scope of educational services available to young able learners. One experienced teacher of the gifted (personal and email communication, fall 2000), whose district does attempt to identify children in kindergarten but uses very conservative criteria for inclusion, believes that young children would be better served by a loosely identified group or "talent pool." She envisions a program stressing "higher level thinking incorporated into small group activities, i.e., math, reading or science clusters. They would be based more on interest than curriculum. . .I'd go for depth," she explains. "These children may, or may not qualify for more structured GT programs at the upper grades," she cautions.
The high-end learning models developed by Joseph Renzulli and his colleagues, and tested at various locations, take this approach. Renzulli's models (2000) offer enrichment and accelerated material to all interested and capable students, but especially target those students academically ahead of their classmates who "often become frustrated because they are held accountable for daily requirements that are repetitious and unnecessary, and that often lead to boredom, underdeveloped study skills, and disenchantment with school in general." A major component of Renzulli's models is curriculum compacting (Reis and Renzulli, 1999), which provides the opportunity for teachers to assess mastery of required curriculum as well as the opportunity for students to avoid endless repetition of previously mastered (or quickly mastered upon presentation in the classroom) facts and concepts.
Dorothy Funk-Werblo (personal communication, fall 2000) recalls teaching math in the regular classroom and dividing the problems of varying difficulty into columns. Once a child completed a column correctly, he or she was free to move on to the next level of difficulty or to another activity. Those who did not demonstrate mastery continued to practice with guidance. "Practice does NOT make perfect," Dr. Dot stresses. "Only perfect practice makes perfect." Once a child has mastered and lost interest in the task at hand, his practice will not be perfect and will do more harm than good. Again, flexibility is critical.
Smutny et al. (1997) and Winebrenner (1992, 2001) have published books which incorporate these concepts and can be particularly useful to parents and classroom teachers in their attempts to meet the needs of able learners in the preschool and early elementary school classroom.
Flexibility in Identification -- According to many experts, conventional identification tools can be used in assessment of a young child's potential abilities, as long as they are applied in a flexible and perceptive way.
Testing or assessment? -- The terms "testing" and "assessment" are often used interchangeably, but they are quite different processes. An assessment might include results of IQ or achievement tests, however these scores alone are not sufficient to provide a true measure of a child's intellectual potential -- especially in the early years. In determining whether a child requires gifted programming, assessment must include information gleaned from the parent, observations or notes made by the professionals who administered any group or individual tests, and if possible, products demonstrating the child's advanced capabilities.
Standardized Tests of IQ, Ability and/or Achievement -- While standardized tests measuring ability and/or achievement are very useful in identifying many older gifted children, test results for young gifted children can be very unreliable.
Applied conservatively and with full respect for all of the available information, tests can be of some use. Misapplied or overused, they are worse than nothing. We must remember that the fact that a test score is (or appears to be) precise, does not mean that it is valid. (Smutny et al. 1989, p.113 ).
Some researchers believe, and unequivocally state (Gross 1999), that "ability or achievement testing of highly gifted children under the age of 5 or 6 is likely to result in an under-estimation of the child's true performance, rather than an over-estimation." Gross also reminds us that at the age of 4 or 5, a gifted child will often require an hour or more to reach her ceiling on an IQ test, making it difficult to get a true assessment without interference from a "fatigue effect." In addition, young children may have trouble establishing a comfortable rapport with the tester.
Similarly, if a test is timed, a child who is more introspective and thinks about his answers before committing to them might score lower than her potential. Also, recent evidence suggests that many children who process information with a dominant left eye may not perform well on timed tests in spite of being highly capable of answering the questions (personal communication from several sources).
Accurate or Precise Test Scores? -- Any measurement can be precise and still not be accurate. A child with a 103 fever who drinks a cold drink before putting the thermometer in his mouth will not register an accurate body temperature, however the 93 degree reading on the thermometer is still a precise measurement. Similarly, depending on numerous factors which can influence a child's performance, the same is true of ability and achievement tests. A child who has an undiagnosed learning disability, or one who is merely overtired, sick, hungry, thirsty, irritated by the lighting or the noise, interested in the poster on the wall, or just plain uncomfortable with the tester, is not likely not to demonstrate his true, or accurate, potential.
Group or Individual Testing -- Many schools make use of group ability tests when screening for entry to gifted programs. According to Smutny et al. (1989, p. 115):
". . .group intelligence tests, while they're inexpensive to administer and don't have to be given by trained psychologists, are far less reliable than individual tests. If your child scores 120 in the group screening, she could possibly come in at 140 on an individual test, according to a study of junior high school students. That's why most experts recommend against excluding a child from a program because of an arbitrary threshold. Barbara Clark suggests using a cutoff no higher than 115 if group screening must be used to inventory the talent pool for a program: even with that level you'll exclude eight percent of the children who could perform at a 135 IQ level on individual tests. According to C. Pegnato and J. Birch in 'Locating Gifted Children in Jr. High Schools: A Comparison of Methods,' published in Exceptional Children (1959), if on the other hand, the school considers only students whose group tests score at 120 or above, they would unfairly eliminate 20 percent of students capable of 136 or higher scores on individual tests."
Test Ceilings and Out of Level Tests -- A score in the 99th %ile means a child scored in the top 1% of test takers. It does not indicate how well the child is capable of performing on a more difficult test. In addition to %ile rankings, raw scores should also be reported, as a child who answers nearly every question correctly will "hit the ceiling" for a particular test or sub-test. The reported score for the current test will be an underestimation of his ability. For this reason, many experts suggest "out of level" testing for children who score exceptionally high on tests for their age level. Tests designed for older children will give the gifted child a better chance to show his true abilities.
Few tests are designed to accurately assess giftedness. Even the commonly used WISC - III was designed only to measure IQ scores in the 70-130 range and has a relatively low ceiling. Experience has shown that for many children, a score at or near 130 on the WISC - III may be a drastic underestimation of the child's true I.Q. (Kaufman 1994; GTWorld, 2000; HoagiesWebsite, 2000).
Similarly, many practitioners (personal communications) have found that scores above 115 on one commonly used group ability test, the OLSAT (Otis Lennon School Ability Test), are not accurate and that many children who later score 150 or above, test only "above average" on the OLSAT.
Composite Scores versus Subscores -- Many professionals believe that young children should never be excluded from gifted programming based on a "composite" score, which is an average of subscores. A child with a composite score of 125 might have subscores ranging from a high of the test's ceiling to a low of barely average. Withholding gifted programming from such a child based on an above average composite score would not be ethical.
Children between 4 and 7 pass through developmental stages at different times, and this progression fluctuates so rapidly - especially within the gifted population - that many moderately and even highly gifted children with uneven development are excluded from gifted programs which examine only composite test scores.
Parent Nomination -- Some researchers believe that, in practice, parent information is underutilized when assessing potentially gifted young children. Miraca Gross writes (Gross 1999):
"Research has consistently shown that parents are significantly more successful than teachers in identifying giftedness in the early childhood years. . .More than 90% of parents in Gross's study realized by their child's second birthday that the child was not only developmentally advanced, but remarkably so. . . .the parent sees a much wider range of cognitive and affective behaviors than does the teacher who operates in a setting that imposes greater uniformity of conduct upon the children in her charge. At home, the gifted young child has no need to moderate her behavior for peer or teacher acceptance. . .highly gifted children may learn to camouflage their abilities within the first few weeks of school. . .despite the efficiency and effectiveness of parent nomination, parents of the gifted who try to discuss their children's high abilities with the school are often disbelieved."
Many experts suggest that parent nomination can be more effective when parents make use of "trait lists" which have been designed by those trained in both psychological measurement and gifted education. Smutny et al. (1997) suggest that parents prepare a portfolio of their child's work, and they provide suggestions on activities useful to parents as well as classroom teachers.
Teacher Nomination -- As noted earlier, kindergarten teachers without special training in gifted education are able to accurately identify very few of the children who are later identified as gifted. This does not mean that those children were not gifted at a young age. Many classroom teachers strongly believe that children are not old enough to be "gifted" until later grades and that even if they are, it will not hurt them to relearn the basics along with everyone else. As the studies on which this article is based clearly show, this is a disservice to gifted children. In addition, many checklists which have been designed to assist teachers in identification of young gifted children list traits which might not be exhibited by a child attempting to fit into the school environment, even if he exhibits them all the time outside of school.
Product Portfolios -- Many professionals and experienced parents suggest that parents who suspect their toddler or preschooler may be gifted should begin collecting documentation early. Writing down specific instances where the young child exhibits advanced skills in any area, dating and saving early attempts at artwork and collecting videotapes of precocious behaviors can make assessment much easier when it becomes necessary at school age.
Some programs which attempt to identify young gifted children make use of product portfolios. According to Terry Weinberg (personal communication, fall 2000), this practice holds great promise and is especially useful for identification of children who have borderline tests scores. One parent warns however, that when products for evaluation by a gifted education committee are produced in the regular classroom, it should be kept in mind that potentially gifted children whose strengths are not obvious to the classroom teacher, and who are bored and not engaging in classroom activities, are likely not to demonstrate their giftedness in an assigned classroom project.
In Summary -- First, Do No Harm
The first rule of medical practitioners everywhere is that no harm shall come to a patient through efforts to heal him. Similarly, we should not harm the intellectual potential of a child through efforts to educate him. The published literature in education suggests, rather strongly, that attempting to educate gifted and potentially gifted young children in the regular classroom with no accommodation for their advanced abilities DOES do harm. These children have a right to learn something new in school every day and to progress, commensurate with their abilities.
There is no teacher, just as there is no parent, who can meet every need of every child at every moment. What we can do as a team, however, is to empower each child with a love of knowledge and with resourcefulness. Just as a parent provides the basic necessities of life to the infant and toddler as he coaches him to take on the responsibilities of self-control and self-care, every teacher should take on the role of coach of the child's mind. Richard Bouchard, director of the Rainard School for Gifted Children in Houston, Texas,says (personal communication, fall 2000) that his job is to learn the kids, in the old fashioned "Beverly Hillbillies" sense of the word, rather than to teach them. The teacher who coaches the child's mind to learn will empower the child to become his or her own best teacher.
Gross, M. (1999). Small Poppies: Highly Gifted Children in the Early Years. Roeper Review, 21(3): 207-214.
GTWorld (2000).Web Site. www.gtworld.org
HoagiesWebsite (2000). Hoagies Gifted Education Page, Carolyn Kottermeyer. Web Site.www.hoagiesgifted.org
Johnson, S. K. and G. Ryser (1995). Identification of Young Gifted Children from lower income families. Gifted and Talented International, 9(2): 62-68.
Kaufman, A. S. (1994). Intelligent Testing With the WISC-III, New York: Wiley.
Martinson, R.A. (1961). Educational Programs for Gifted Pupils. Sacramento, CA: California State Department of Education.
Maxwell, E. (1998). "I Can Do It Myself!" Reflections on Early Self-Efficacy. Roeper Review, 20: 183-187.
Reis, S. M. and J. S. Renzulli (1999). Curriculum Compacting: A Systematic Procedure for Modifying the Curriculum for Above Average Ability Students. Storrs: NRCGT, University of Connecticut.
Renzulli, J. (2000). Schoolwide Enrichment Model Webpages, University of Connecticut, Storrs: NRCGT, University of Connecticut.
Silverman, L. K. (1995). Why Do We Need Gifted Education?, Denver, CO: Gifted Development Center. (From a speech by Linda Silverman).
Smutny, J. F. (2000). Teaching Young Gifted Children In the Regular Classroom. ERIC EC Digest, E595.
Smutny, J. F. (2001, in press). Stand Up For Your Gifted Child: How to Make the Most of Kids' Strengths at School and at Home. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.
Smutny, J. F., Veenker, K., and Veenker, Stephen (1989). Your Gifted Child: How To Recognize and Develop the Special Talents in Your Child from Birth To Age Seven. New York: Ballantine.
Smutny, J. F., Walker, S. Y., and Meckstroth, E. A. (1997). Teaching Young Gifted Children in the Regular Classroom: Identifying, Nurturing, and Challenging Ages 4-9. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.
Sutherland, A. and Goldschmid, M. L. (1974). Negative Teacher Expectation and IQ change in children with superior intellectual potential. Child Development, 45(3):852-856.
Tolan, S. S. (1996). Is It A Cheetah? On the following Web Site: www.stephanietolan.com
VanTassel-Baska, J. (2000). The On-going Dilemma of Effective Identification Practices in Gifted Education. Williamsburg, VA: College of William and Mary, CFGE.
Walker, S. Y. (1991). The Survival Guide for Parents of Gifted Kids. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.
Weber, P. (1999). Mental Models and the Identification of Young Gifted Students: A Tale of Two Boys. Roeper Review, 21(3): 183-188.
Winebrenner, S. (1992, 2001). Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom: Strategies and Techniques Every Teacher Can Use to Meet the Academic Needs of the Gifted and Talented. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.
The author would like to thank the following people for their advice and support:
Chuck Rockhill, Eileen Stuhr, and Dorothy Funk-Werblo, who had faith in my judgement. My children's first grade teacher, who "gets" my kids. Carolyn, Valerie, Susann, Aleene and the many other members of the TAG-L and TAGFAM electronic mailing lists who have educated me on giftedness. Richard and Lorraine Bouchard, who "got" my kids within seconds of meeting them. Joan Smutny, Joseph Renzulli, Robin Schader, Julian Stanley, Robert Sternberg, Tracy Weinberg, Susan Zimlich, Barbara Heinlein and Susan Johnsen for returning the phone calls and emails of a curious parent and convincing me of the importance of an appropriate education for my young able learners. And most of all, my cheetahs and their dad, who taught me that a good parent is just a dedicated coach of the "family team."
Mis-Diagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children: Gifted and LD, ADHD, OCD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder
By James T. Webb Gifted Psychology Press, Inc. Scottsdale, Arizona
Many gifted and talented children (and adults) are being mis-diagnosed by psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, and other health care professionals. The most common mis-diagnoses are: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (OD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Mood Disorders such as Cyclothymic Disorder, Dysthymic Disorder, Depression, and Bi-Polar Disorder. These common mis-diagnoses stem from an ignorance among professionals about specific social and emotional characteristics of gifted children which are then mistakenly assumed by these professionals to be signs of pathology.
In some situations where gifted children have received a correct diagnosis, giftedness is still a factor that must be considered in treatment, and should really generate a dual diagnosis. For example, existential depression or learning disability, when present in gifted children or adults, requires a different approach because new dimensions are added by the giftedness component. Yet the giftedness component typically is overlooked due to the lack of training and understanding by health care professionals (Webb & Kleine, 1993).
Despite prevalent myths to the contrary, gifted children and adults are at particular psychological risk due to both internal characteristics and situational factors. These internal and situational factors can lead to interpersonal and psychological difficulties for gifted children, and subsequently to mis-diagnoses and inadequate treatment.
First, let me mention the internal aspects (Webb, 1993). Historically, nearly all of the research on gifted individuals has focused on the intellectual aspects, particularly in an academic sense. Until recently, little attention has been given to personality factors which accompany high intellect and creativity. Even less attention has been given to the observation that these personality factors intensify and have greater life effects when intelligence level increases beyond IQ 130 (Silverman, 1993; Webb, 1993; Winner, 2000).
Perhaps the most universal, yet most often overlooked, characteristic of gifted children and adults is their intensity (Silverman, 1993; Webb, 1993). One mother described it succinctly when she said, "My child's life motto is that anything worth doing is worth doing to excess." Gifted children -- and gifted adults -- often are extremely intense, whether in their emotional response, intellectual pursuits, sibling rivalry, or power struggles with an authority figure. Impatience is also frequently present, both with oneself and with others. The intensity also often manifests itself in heightened motor activity and physical restlessness. Along with intensity, one typically finds in gifted individuals an extreme sensitivity -- to emotions, sounds, touch, taste, etc. These children may burst into tears while watching a sad event on the evening news, keenly hear fluorescent lights, react strongly to smells, insist on having the tags removed from their shirts, must touch everything, or are overly reactive to touch in a tactile-defensive manner.
The gifted individual's drive to understand, to question, and to search for consistency is likewise inherent and intense, as is the ability to see possibilities and alternatives. All of these characteristics together result in an intense idealism and concern with social and moral issues, which can create anxiety, depression, and a sharp challenging of others who do not share their concerns.
Situational factors are highly relevant to the problem of mis-diagnosis (Webb, 1993). Intensity, sensitivity, idealism, impatience, questioning the status quo -- none of these alone necessarily constitutes a problem. In fact, we generally value these characteristics and behaviors -- unless they happen to occur in a tightly structured classroom, or in a highly organized business setting, or if they happen to challenge some cherished tradition, and gifted children are the very ones who challenge traditions or the status quo.
There is a substantial amount of research to indicate that gifted children spend at least one-fourth to one-half of the regular classroom time waiting for others to catch up. Boredom is rampant because of the age tracking in our public schools. Peer relations for gifted children are often difficult (Webb, Meck-stroth and Tolan, 1982; Winner, 2000), all the more so because of the internal dyssynchrony (asynchronous development) shown by so many gifted children where their development is uneven across various academic, social, and developmental areas, and where their judgment often lags behind their intellect.
Clearly, there are possible (or even likely) problems that are associated with the characteristic strengths of gifted children. Some of these typical strengths and related problems are shown in the following table adapted from Clark (1992) and Seagoe (1974).
Possible Problems That May be Associated with Characteristic Strengths of Gifted Children
|1. Acquires and retains information quickly.||1. Impatient with slowness of others; dislikes routine and drill; may resist mastering foundational skills; may make concepts unduly complex.|
|2. Inquisitive attitude, intellectual curiosity; intrinsic motivation; searching for significance.||2. Asks embarrassing questions; strong-willed; resists direction; seems excessive in interests; expects same of others.|
|3. Ability to conceptualize, abstract, synthesize; enjoys problem- solving and intellectual activity.||3. Rejects or omits details; resists practice or drill; questions teaching procedures.|
|4. Can see cause-effect relations.||4. Difficulty accepting the illogical-such as feelings, traditions, or matters to be taken on faith.|
|5. Love of truth, equity, and fair play.||5. Difficulty in being practical; worry about humanitarian concerns.|
|6. Enjoys organizing things and people into structure and order; seeks to systematize.||6. Constructs complicated rules or systems; may be seen as bossy, rude, or domineering.|
|7. Large vocabulary and facile verbal proficiency; broad information in advanced areas.||7. May use words to escape or avoid situations; becomes bored with school and age-peers; seen by others as a "know it all."|
|8. Thinks critically; has high expectancies; is self-critical and evaluates others.||8. Critical or intolerant toward others; may become discouraged or depressed; perfectionistic.|
|9. Keen observer; willing to consider the unusual; open to new experiences.||9. Overly intense focus; occasional gullibility.|
|10. Creative and inventive; likes new ways of doing things.||10. May disrupt plans or reject what is already known; seen by others as different and out of step.|
11. Intense concentration; long attention span in areas of interest; goal-directed behavior; persistence.
11. Resists interruption; neglects duties or people during period of focused interests; stubbornness.
|12. Sensitivity, empathy for others; desire to be accepted by others.||12. Sensitivity to criticism or peer rejection; expects others to have similar values; need for success and recognition; may feel different and alienated.|
|13. High energy, alertness, eagerness; periods of intense efforts.||13. Frustration with inactivity; eagerness may disrupt others' schedules; needs continual stimulation; may be seen as hyperactive.|
|14. Independent; prefers individualized work; reliant on self.||14. May reject parent or peer input; nonconformity; may be unconventional.|
|15. Diverse interests and abilities; versatility.||15. May appear scattered and disorganized; frustrations over lack of time; others may expect continual competence.|
|16. Strong sense of humor.||16. Sees absurdities of situations; humor may not be understood by peers; may become "class clown" to gain attention.|
Lack of understanding by parents, educators, and health professionals, combined with the problem situations (e.g., lack of appropriately differentiated education), lead to interpersonal problems which are then mis-labeled, and thus prompt the mis-diagnoses. The most common mis-diagnoses are as follows.
ADHD and Gifted. Many gifted children are being mis-diagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The gifted child's characteristics of intensity, sensitivity, impatience, and high motor activity can easily be mistaken for ADHD. Some gifted children surely do suffer from ADHD, and thus have a dual diagnosis of gifted and ADHD; but in my opinion, most are not. Few health care professionals give sufficient attention to the words about ADHD in DSM-IV(1994) that say "...inconsistent with developmental level...." The gifted child's developmental level is different (asynchronous) when compared to other children, and health care professionals need to ask whether the child's inattentiveness or impulsivity behaviors occur only in some situations but not in others (e.g., at school but not at home; at church, but not at scouts, etc.). If the problem behaviors are situational only, the child is likely not suffering from ADHD.
To further complicate matters, my own clinical observation suggests that about three percent of highly gifted children suffer from a functional borderline hypoglycemic condition. Silverman (1993) has suggested that perhaps the same percentage also suffer from allergies of various kinds. Physical reactions in these conditions, when combined with the intensity and sensitivity, result in behaviors that can mimic ADHD. However, the ADHD-like symptoms in such cases will vary with the time of day, length of time since last meal, type of foods eaten, or exposure to other environmental agents.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Gifted. The intensity, sensitivity, and idealism of gifted children often lead others to view them as "strong-willed." Power struggles with parents and teachers are common, particularly when these children receive criticism, as they often do, for some of the very characteristics that make them gifted (e.g., "Why are you so sensitive, always questioning me, trying to do things a different way," etc.).
Bi-Polar and other Mood Disorders and Gifted. Recently, I encountered a parent whose highly gifted child had been diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder. This intense child, whose parents were going through a bitter divorce, did indeed show extreme mood swings, but, in my view, the diagnosis of Bi-Polar Disorder was off the mark. In adolescence, or sometimes earlier, gifted children often do go through periods of depression related to their disappointed idealism, and their feelings of aloneness and alienation culminate in an existential depression. However, it is not at all clear that this kind of depression warrants such a major diagnosis.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Gifted. Even as preschoolers, gifted children love to organize people and things into complex frameworks, and get quite upset when others don't follow their rules or don't understand their schema. Many gifted first graders are seen as perfectionistic and "bossy" because they try to organize the other children, and sometimes even try to organize their family or the teacher. As they grow up, they continue to search intensely for the "rules of life" and for consistency. Their intellectualizing, sense of urgency, perfectionism, idealism, and intolerance for mistakes may be misunderstood to be signs of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. In some sense, however, giftedness is a dual diagnosis with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder since intellectualization may be assumed to underlie many of the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for this disorder.
Learning Disabilities and Giftedness. Giftedness is a coexisting factor, to be sure, in some diagnoses. One notable example is in diagnosis and treatment of learning disabilities. Few psychologists are aware that inter-subscale scatter on the Wechsler intelligence tests increases as a child's overall IQ score exceeds 130. In children with a Full Scale IQ score of 140 or greater, it is not uncommon to find a difference of 20 or more points between Verbal IQ and Performance IQ (Silverman, 1993; Webb & Kleine, 1993; Winner, 2000). Most clinical psychologists are taught that such a discrepancy is serious cause for concern regarding possible serious brain dysfunction, including learning disabilities. For highly gifted children, such discrepancy is far less likely to be an indication of pathological brain dysfunction, though it certainly would suggest an unusual learning style and perhaps a relative learning disability.
Similarly, the difference between the highest and lowest scores on individual subscales within intelligence and achievement tests is often quite notable in gifted children. On the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children - III, it is not uncommon to find subscale differences greater than seven scale score points for gifted children, particularly those who are highly gifted. These score discrepancies are taken by most psychologists to indicate learning disabilities, and in a functional sense they do represent that. That is, the levels of ability do vary dramatically, though the range may be "only" from Very Superior to Average level of functioning. In this sense, gifted children may not "qualify" for a diagnosis of learning disability, and indeed some schools seem to have a policy of "only one label allowed per student," and since this student is gifted, he/she can not also be considered learning disabled. However, it is important for psychologists to understand the concept of "asynchronous development" (Silverman, 1993), and to appreciate that most gifted children show such an appreciable, and often significant, scatter of abilities.
Poor handwriting is often used as one indicator of learning disabilities. However, many and perhaps most gifted children will show poor handwriting. Usually this simply represents that their thoughts go so much faster than their hands can move, and that they see little sense in making writing an art form when its primary purpose is to communicate (Webb & Kleine, 1993; Winner, 2000).
Psychologists must understand that, without intervention, self-esteem issues are almost a guarantee in gifted children with learning disabilities as well as those who simply have notable asynchronous development since they tend to evaluate themselves based more on what they cannot do rather than on what they are able to do. Sharing formal ability and achievement test results with gifted children about their particular abilities, combined with reassurance, can often help them develop a more appropriate sense of self-evaluation.
Sleep Disorders and Giftedness. Nightmare Disorder, Sleep Terror Disorder, and Sleepwalking Disorder appear to be more prevalent among gifted children, particularly boys. It is unclear whether this should be considered a mis-diagnosis or a dual diagnosis. Certainly, parents commonly report that their gifted children have dreams that are more vivid, intense, and more often in color, and that a substantial proportion of gifted boys are more prone to sleepwalking and bed wetting, apparently related to their dreams and to being more soundly (i.e., intensely) asleep. Such concordance would suggest that giftedness may need to be considered as a dual diagnosis in these cases, or at least a factor worthy of consideration since the child's intellect and sense of understanding often can be used to help the child cope with nightmares.
A little known observation concerning sleep in gifted individuals is that about twenty percent of gifted children seem to need significantly less sleep than other children, while another twenty percent appear to need significantly more sleep than other children. Parents report that these sleep patterns show themselves very early in the child's life, and long-term follow up suggests that the pattern continues into adulthood (Webb & Kleine, 1993; Winner, 2000). Some highly gifted adults appear to average comfortably as few as two or three hours sleep each night, and they have indicated to me that even in childhood they needed only four or five hours sleep.
Multiple Personality Disorders and Giftedness. Though there is little formal study of giftedness factors within MPD, there is anecdotal evidence that the two are related. The conclusion of professionals at the Menninger Foundation was that most MPD patients showed a history of childhood abuse, but also high intellectual abilities which allowed them to create and maintain their elaborate separate personalities (W. H. Smith personal communication, April 18, 1996).
Relational Problems and Giftedness. As one mother told me, "Having a gifted child in the family did not change our family's lifestyle; it simply destroyed it!" These children can be both exhilarating and exhausting. But because parents often lack information about characteristics of gifted children, the relationship between parent and child can suffer. The child's behaviors are seen as mischievous, impertinent, weird, or strong-willed, and the child often is criticized or punished for behaviors that really represent curiosity, intensity, sensitivity, or the lag of judgment behind intellect. Thus, intense power struggles, arguments, temper tantrums, sibling rivalry, withdrawal, underachievement, and open flaunting of family and societal traditions may occur within the family.
"Impaired communication" and "inadequate discipline" are specifically listed in the DSM-IV (1994) as areas of concern to be considered in a diagnosis of Parent-Child Relational Problems, and a diagnosis of Sibling Relational Problem is associated with significant impairment of functioning within the family or in one or more siblings. Not surprisingly, these are frequent concerns for parents of gifted children due to the intensity, impatience, asynchronous development, and lag of judgment behind intellect of gifted children.
Health care professionals could benefit from increased knowledge concerning the effects of a gifted child's behaviors within a family, and thus often avoid mistaken notions about the causes of the problems. The characteristics inherent within gifted children have implications for diagnosis and treatment which could include therapy for the whole family, not in the sense of "treatment," but to develop coping mechanisms for dealing with the intensity, sensitivity, and the situations which otherwise may cause them problems later (Jacobsen, 1999).
Many of our brightest and most creative minds are not only going unrecognized, but they also are often given diagnoses that indicate pathology. For decades, psychologists and other health care professionals have given great emphasis to the functioning of persons in the lower range of the intellectual spectrum. It is time that we trained health care professionals to give similar attention to our most gifted, talented, and creative children and adults. At the very least, it is imperative that these professionals gain sufficient understanding so that they no longer conclude that certain inherent characteristics of giftedness represent pathology.
Clark, B. (1992). Growing up gifted: Developing the potential of children at home and at school, (4th ed.). New York: Macmillan.
Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, Fourth Edition. (1994). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Jacobsen, M.E. (1999). Liberating everyday genius: A revolutionary guide for identifying and mastering your exceptional gifts. New York: Ballantine.
Seagoe, M. (1974). Some learning characteristics of gifted children. In R. Martinson, (Ed.), The identification of the gifted and talented. Ventura, CA: Office of the Ventura County Superintendent of Schools.
Silverman, L. K. (1993). Counseling the gifted and talented. Denver: Love Publishing.
Webb, J. T., and Latimer, D. (1993). ADHD and children who are gifted. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children. ERIC Digests #E522, EDO-EC-93-5.
Webb, J. T. (1993). Nurturing Social-Emotional Development of Gifted Children. In K. A. Heller, F. J. Monks, & A. H. Passow (Eds.), International handbook of research and development of giftedness and talent (pp. 525-538). Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Webb, J. T. and Kleine, P. A. (1993). Assessing gifted and talented children. In J. L. Culbertson, & D. J. Willis (Eds.), Testing young children (pp. 383-407). Austin, TX: Pro-ed.
Webb, J. T., Meckstroth, E. A., and Tolan, S. S. (1982). Guiding the gifted child: A practical source for parents and teachers. Scottsdale, AZ: Gifted Psychology Press (formerly Ohio Psychology Press).
Winner, E. (2000). The origins and ends of giftedness. American Psychologist (55, No. 1), 159-169.
Mis-Diagnosis of Asperger's Disorder in Gifted Youth: An Addendum to "Mis-Diagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children" by James Webb, Ph.D.
As a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in giftedness, I read my colleague Jim Webb's paper with much interest. I, too, am concerned about the too frequent mis-diagnosis and over-diagnosis of gifted and talented youth.
In addition to the clinical syndromes outlined by Dr. Webb, Asperger's Disorder is another that is becoming commonly mis-diagnosed in gifted youth. Although there can be similarities between a gifted child and a child with Asperger's Disorder, there are very clear differences. Thorough evaluation is necessary to distinguish gifted children's sometimes unusual and sometimes unique social interactions from Asperger's Disorder. Thorough evaluation is also necessary to distinguish Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) from behavioral problems and inattention that result from other causes such as anxiety, traumatic experiences (e.g., abuse), inappropriate curriculum, or even poor parenting.
A "qualitative impairment" in social interaction is one of the two main characteristics of Asperger's Disorder. Although the DSM-IV gives fairly explicit criteria for this type of social impairment, which does sometimes appear in gifted children, the highly gifted child's atypical social interactions or unusual modes of commenting and joking may often be misinterpreted as being characteristics of Asperger's Disorder. However, a closer look at the criteria shows differences between Asperger's Disorder and behaviors associated with gifted children. For example, a lack of social or emotional reciprocity is characteristic of Asperger's Disorder while gifted children most often show a tremendous concern for others. They may not always know how to express it appropriately, but the concern is there.
The second major DSM-IV diagnostic component of Asperger's Disorder includes restricted interests characterized by an "encompassing preoccupation with one or more...interest(s) that is abnormal either in intensity or focus." Professionals knowledgeable about Asperger's Disorder describe an intense fascination with a special interest that can come and go, but which will dominate the child's free time and conversation. Children with Asperger's Disorder may also show an uneven profile of abilities with remarkable long-term memory, exceptional concentration when engaged in their special interest, and an original method of problem-solving. In contrast, they may also show motor clumsiness, and a lack of motivation and attention for activities that would engage age-peers. Social withdrawal, teasing by peers, and difficulties relating to others in an age-appropriate manner are other markers for Asperger's Disorder.
All of the above characteristics are also commonly seen in gifted children and can easily be mistaken as Asperger's Disorder by someone not familiar with the asynchronous development and special needs of gifted youth. The unusual behaviors of many gifted children do strike many who are not familiar with gifted characteristics as a "qualitative impairment" in social interactions. Although the gifted child's interactions may technically show a "qualitative impairment," it is certainly of a different nature and likely has different causes (e.g., thoughts or worries by a gifted child about interacting).
Someone knowledgeable about giftedness could see these differences more readily than those who are not familiar. What I frequently see in practice is that when gifted youth are given the opportunity to interact with true "intellectual peers" in a particular area, their interactions are not only unimpaired, but also are often typical. In a child with Asperger's Disorder, one is not likely to see reciprocal interaction or discussion about a topic even if both children have an interest in the same topic. This is in marked contrast to gifted youngsters who will engage in extremely intense and also reciprocal conversations if both of them share the interest in, say, Pokemon or Harry Potter.
Differential diagnosing is an essential part of our work as health professionals, and it is easy to see how mis-diagnoses can be made. If professionals are unaware how characteristics of gifted children may appear similar to clinical syndromes, differentiation of diagnosis and treatment cannot occur, and many gifted children will continue to be mis-labeled and wrongly stigmatized. As a result, proper intervention cannot be implemented. For example, instruction for a bright but inattentive, disinterested student who is not being challenged in the classroom is very different from treatment or classroom approaches needed for an inattentive child with ADHD. Likewise, children with Asperger's Disorder often require much more intensive treatment and different classroom management, while a gifted child may benefit from interventions as simple as the opportunity to interact with appropriate peers.
I encourage your organization to help educate health professionals about the characteristics and social/emotional needs of gifted youth.
Edward R. Amend, Psy.D.
Director of Gifted and Talented Services
New South Psychological Resources, Winchester, Kentucky
Tribute to George Orwell (1903-50): An Extraordinary Writer and Analyst of Totalitarianism
by Michael E. Walters Center for the Study of the Humanities in the Schools
George Orwell is a role model for gifted students on three levels. The first is how his life infused his writings and thoughts. The second level is the importance of his critique of the main issues of our times, economic and political freedoms. The third level is his ability to express insights and critiques in a writing style that ranks among the most readable of the twentieth century.
He had many experiences that would give him the ability to understand the major issues of the twentieth century. As a youth, he received scholarships to two outstanding prep schools in England -- St. Cyprian's and Eton. At these prep schools he experienced the psychic wounds of being victimized by his fellow students who came from wealthier and more socially esteemed backgrounds. He also experienced the power of propaganda, as the thrust of the educational goals at these institutions was to mold their students to become participants in the slaughter that was World War I. Instead of attending college, Orwell joined the Burmese police force where he encountered the pukka sahib code of British colonialism. He was repulsed by its dehumanization of both the rulers and subjects (Burmese Days, 1934). Upon returning to England, he lived on the edge of economic survival in both London and Paris (Down and Out in Paris and London, 1933). His publisher then sent him to investigate the conditions of coal miners in northern England (The Road to Wigan Pier, 1937). In 1937, he went to Spain originally as a journalist but then decided to join a militia group fighting against Franco's pro-fascist army. Here, he witnessed the suppression of independent socialist thinkers by political groups loyal to the Soviet Union (Homage to Catalonia, 1938). During World War II, he was part of the British Broadcasting Corporation's propaganda network. Among his colleagues was T.S. Eliot. After the war, he lived on an island off the coast of Scotland where he wrote Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949). These two books are considered to be among the masterpieces of twentieth century literature.
His book, Burmese Days (1934), is an analysis of colonialism and racism. The book, The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), is about economic exploitation and the development of the trade union movement. From his experiences in Spain during the civil war there, he described the struggle between Fascism and Stalinism (Homage to Catalonia, 1938). Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949) analyze totalitarian methodologies.
For gifted students, his literary style is very significant since he wrote in simple and direct sentences. One of his major beliefs was that totalitarianism thrives on destroying the meaning of words, e.g., tyrannical governments saying they are a People's Democracy. This leads to the manipulation of ideas and freedom. Animal Farm, a classic of the English language, is a humorous example of how the meaning of words can be changed to attain political dominance; it ranks with such satires as Gulliver's Travels (1726) by Jonathan Swift and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll. George Orwell's life, thought processes and writing are crucial for the intellectual development and stimulation of gifted students in the twenty-first century. To gain insights into the controlling influence of the media in American society, they should read and study Orwell's books.
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