Special educational needs and the gifted child: Perfectionism and asynchronous development

Dr. Barbara KleinIn this edition of expert corner, Dr. Barbara Klein, Los Angeles clinical psychologist, discusses the special educational needs of gifted and highly gifted children.

What constitutes intellectual giftedness?
IQ is often used as the basic measure for giftedness. The most common standardized tests used to measure intelligence are the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test and the Wechsler Scales of Intelligence. IQ scores between 130 and 145, or the 98th percentile, are considered to be in the gifted range. Scores above 145, or the 99th percentile, are considered to be in the high gifted range.

Although the Stanford-Binet and the Wechsler Scales are used to measure general intellectual abilities, many practical professionals who work with children think that there should be a way to test for multiple intelligences, a more refined and diverse theory of intelligence. They are searching for a definition of giftedness that will apply to all children in all areas of intellectual, musical, scientific, linguistic, mathematical and artistic endeavor. Since each of these talents is unique, there is no “one size fits all” definition that can be used to describe the gifted child.

Characteristics of the gifted or highly gifted may include abilities or talents significantly beyond their chronological age in any area, extreme capacity for creative or divergent thinking, psychological insight, or social responsibility with leadership skills.

Ellen Winner (Gifted Children: Myths And Realities, 1996) defines three atypical characteristics of gifted children that go beyond a measurement on an IQ test. Gifted children:

  • Are precocious and learn more quickly and easily than typical children.
  • Insist on marching to their own drummer, which includes the ability to learn quickly on their own, and the ability to make up rules as they go along. Very smart children solve problems in novel and idiosyncratic ways.
  • Have a rage to master. They are intrinsically motivated to make sense of the area in which they show precocity, which often includes an obsessive and sharp focus on their own interests.

In brief, gifted children are:

  • critical thinkers
  • creative, rapid learners
  • curious
  • capable of being highly communicative
  • extremely perceptive
  • able to retain information easily
  • committed to a task which they pursue resourcefully and in detail
  • highly sensitive

In situations where gifted children feel out of place or misunderstood they can act in highly anxious or in other emotional ways. Very smart children may have socialization problems and feel awkward because of their intellectual superiority in comparison to their peer group. Gifted children are often treated as “strange” by other children because they are so smart.

One important and difficult characteristic I have encountered and observed many times with gifted children and their parents is perfectionism. Parents of extremely smart children are usually extremely smart as well. If they are involved with their children, parents want only the “best” for every child-rearing situation. This intensity can create another layer of difficulty or stress for both the parent and the child in day-to-day relations. The sense of urgency that everything must be accomplished according to high standards leads me to conclude that most gifted parents tend to be perfectionists who may have unrealistic expectations for themselves and their children. This is definitely something to watch out for and try to avoid.

What special learning needs do individuals with intellectual gifts have?
Perfectionism creates most of the special learning needs of gifted children, who want to be able to learn everything instantly. Frustration when learning to do new things that are difficult can be overwhelming for them. Gifted children need to learn how to cope with tasks with which they struggle.

Social development is also different in gifted children, and can create problems when making friends. Teaching basic social interactions may be necessary for some gifted children. Finding friends with similar interests is crucial. Developing a social structure for the child to understand himself or herself as part of a group fosters healthy self-esteem.

Why do intellectually gifted individuals have these kinds of needs?
Gifted children have asynchronous development: learning highs and learning lows based on perfectionism and low frustration tolerance. These special needs are reflective of high intelligence and emotional intensity. Sometimes gifted children are twice exceptional (2E) and have learning disabilities or other special needs.

How can the special educational needs of gifted students be met?
Understanding is the first step in meeting the needs of the gifted child. Parents and teachers usually notice the quirky learning patterns of their children or students. After a psycho-educational or neuropsychological assessment of learning strengths and weaknesses, parents and teachers need to make a plan to help the child learn, and make a commitment to follow the plan. Remembering that gifted children are hard rather than easy to raise helps parents and teachers keep their perspective.

When does a parent know that their child’s behavior signals a need for intervention?
If your child is bored or complains that school or homework is too easy, this is a sign that you need to ask for help. If your child is being left out or bullied or refuses to go to school, you need to look for someone to advocate and intervene for your child.

What types of intervention are helpful?
A psycho-educational or neuropsychological evaluation that reveals the learning strengths and needs of the child is necessary. Educational therapy, tutoring, a plan for school accommodations, mentoring, or psychotherapy may be necessary. Parent and teacher education about how to work with gifted kids is critical. My book, Raising Gifted Kids, is very helpful.

How can parents get the correct help their child needs?
There is no one answer. The correct help will depend on the resources of the school and the family. Important indicators that the right tools for you and your child are in place is when your child is truly engaged at school, and homework is not stressful for you or your child.

Other ways that parents can find support and information include:

Dr. Barbara Klein has worked with gifted children, their parents, and public and private schools in the Los Angeles area since 1986. Her private practice is dedicated to assisting the special educational needs of gifted and highly gifted children. She is recognized as a national authority on the development of twins. Dr. Klein has written seven books in the field of developmental psychology and education, including her latest, entitled “Raising Gifted Kids: Everything You Need to Know to Help Your Exceptional Child Thrive.” Dr. Klein facilitates weekly parenting groups because she believes that parents are the most important and influential people in a young child’s life. Dr. Klein earned her undergraduate degree from the University of California at Berkeley, her Masters and Doctorate in Early Childhood Education from the University of Southern California at Los Angeles, and her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California Graduate Institute in Los Angeles.

The fastest way to contact Dr. Barbara Klein is by telephone: (310) 443-4182.
Email: BarbaraK360@aol.com
Address: 10940 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024

* image courtesy of Dr. Barbara Klein

About Dr. Kari Miller, PhD
Students with learning difficulties MUST believe in their intelligence and skill in order to succeed in life! Enjoy Dr. Miller’s collection of thought-provoking articles to help you maximize your child’s academic achievement! Register here and we’ll send the collection of articles right to your email inbox. We’ll also send you our free monthly newsletter. You can discontinue at any time.

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