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First of all let me remind you that I live in Israel where the school system here is quite different from those in the USA and the UK. I know this because I am a product of American schools, and I have many friends who have had children in both school systems (and some in England as well), and am drawing on their experiences as well as my own.
Here in Israel, gifted children are tested regarding their thinking patterns and not regarding their academic knowledge. The tests here are able to discover gifted children who may also have learning disabilities - so just because a child doesn't read well, or can't get the hang of math, doesn't mean they might not be discovered to be gifted. This is particularly important to note, and if you think your child is gifted but has learning disabilities, make sure any tests available take this into account.
My oldest son, now 23, was diagnosed (and I don't use that term lightly) as gifted when he was in 2nd grade. I was shocked when I got the news. Not that I didn't think that he was smart or even above average, it was just that gifted seemed so... extreme to me. From 3rd grade he started a program where he was taken out of his regular classes one day a week and sent to a special school for the gifted. (Note: Children who score even higher than my son are often removed from the regular school system and sent to special full-time schools for their education.) At these weekly sessions my son was exposed to subjects and courses which never appear in any regular school curriculum, and the subject matter was taught to him at a faster speed and higher level than his actual learning ability. This means, simply, that he got to learn interesting things at a challenging rate.
Personally, I think that this program was excellent and my son truly gained a great deal from his years there. It also taught him a good deal about educational responsibility since he still had to make up his regular school work from the day he missed. This isn't to say that this program was faultless. The major problems with this program were twofold:
1) Some children in his regular school chided him about his being "special" and there was a time when he was unwilling to go to the other school. As soon as we realized that his "tummy aches" landed only on that particular day of the week, we dealt with the problem. This apparently happens more to older children when many drop out of the program due to peer pressure.
When faced with this problem one must consult with the child to find out if they are willing to continue the program or not. If not, then perhaps being 'different' doesn't set well with your child's personality. If they wish to continue, then you need to deal with how your child can deal with these other children. Because no two children are alike, there is no one set way to help your child through this. But since these children are bright, the best way to approach it (at least for me) is to ask your child how he intends to deal with the problem. Sometimes that is enough to get them thinking creatively into dealing with the problem themselves. This worked like a charm with my son and I never again had a problem with him suddenly getting "sick" just on one particular day of the week.
2) Teachers whose classes these children miss can sometimes cause problems for these children. There were teachers who actually resented these children for missing their classes. So much so that they went out of their way to schedule exams or give essential lessons on the days they knew these children wouldn't be present. Some even wouldn't allow their exams to be taken at another time.
Our personal experience was that if the child is exceptionally good in that teacher's particular subject, there was a greater possibility that the teacher would resent the child for not being in their class one day a week. Don't ask me why. This is a fact we had to live with. The best way to counter this was to become an advocate for your child (something that parents of children with learning disabilities also must do). It was an upward climb and some teachers just refused to give you a helping hand.
What worried me about my son being gifted was the possibility of him becoming a typical "geek" and therefore not socially accepted. I didn't want that for him. No one does, I'm sure. Some gifted children will be like that no matter what you do with them - special programs, skipping grades (something that appalls me, personally), and even special schools. Some gifted children will blend into the rest of the world and only show their "giftedness" when necessary.
I am lucky in that my son is the latter. He was and is well accepted by his peers, he enjoys things both non-academic and academic (well, he hated doing homework just like all kids) and he has non-intellectual, socially acceptable, hobbies in addition to his intellectual interests. I'm not sure if we had any hand in this, and I doubt I could put my finger on any one thing or group of things we did to help him be as socially well adjusted as he is. Perhaps because his exceptional abilities seemed average and normal to us, we treated him as an average normal child, and he just acted that way in return. The biggest problem with a gifted child is that they figure out very quickly how to out-smart their parents - very frustrating, I can tell you!
The best advice I can give regarding education for a gifted child is to fight, fight, fight to make sure that the child is treated fairly and that he/she has enough challenges to keep them from getting bored in class. What's more, new studies have appeared which have found that kids who were praised for their achievements (the end results of what they were doing) were soon found to be less likely to continue to strive to achieve more. On the other hand, children who were praised for the hard work they put into doing something were more encouraged to continue to achieve and work harder. This means you should be encouraging and praising the hard work they put into something and not as much the result they get at the end. While they say that this helps gifted children to be more motivated, this is also something that will work with all kids, including kids who are learning disabled. That's very interesting to know.
The best advice I can give to a parent faced with a gifted child is try to treat them as you would treat any other child. Encourage them to use their thought processes to the best of their ability, to voice their opinions, to delve into their feelings, and be honest both with you and themselves. Sounds like good advice for any parent, no? So, why did I say my son was "diagnosed" as being gifted? Because you should realize that being gifted is no different than having a learning disability. These children are special and need special attention and have special needs. Never forget that. Also, never forget to get a second opinion of any diagnoses. You'll be glad you did.
Thanks for reading.
Davida Chazan © originally written for Epinions, revised for Ciao.co.uk April 2003 and now revised for DooYoo, July 2008.
I usually have some sort of technical stuff here, but I think this time I'll only give you this link: http://www.nagcbritain.org.uk which is the UK National Association for Gifted Children. I'd say that's all you'll need to start with.