Bringing up a gifted child requires time, dedication and support

Abhiram was an exceptionally bright child. At the age of three, he was reading like a child in Grade 4, and had already learnt two column additions. His father, a gold medalist from Bits, Pilani, and mother a Math scholar, were thrilled. They wanted him admitted directly into class 1, but they were in for a rude shock when the school refused and admitted him to the LKG instead. No amount of reasoning and pleading helped. The Principal considered them to be ‘pushy parents', and justified her stand by saying that Abhiram could not hold the pencil properly and that his social development was similar to that of any other three year-old.

She accepted that Abhiram had acquired academic skills far beyond his age, but in many ways he was just a normal child. It was decided he will stay in a class with children of his own age.

In our country, we have special schools and special provisions made in ordinary schools for the mentally challenged, hearing impaired and physically handicapped children.

However, when it comes to placement of exceptionally bright children with extraordinary talent either in academics, art or sport, they are made to study along with children of their age group, where their advanced intellectual development becomes a matter of frustration to the teacher, an embarrassment to the peers and a burden to themselves.

The danger of such a placement is that if in a class of 40 to 45 students, the teacher does not validate a gifted child's advanced abilities and intellectual interests by making him a part of the on-going curriculum, the child fails to experience a feeling of acceptance from the teacher.

It is also likely that the child discovers that he is different from others and thus finds communicating with his classmates extremely difficult due to differences in vocabulary and expression. The child then misses peer acceptance as well.

Often these children learn to hide or deny their abilities so as to mingle with other children. Thus, the first year of schooling that should equip the child with an impetus for future enthusiasm about learning, may end in utter failure in a stereotyped school programme. He becomes bored and remains a mediocre or average student.

It is important to remember here that gifted children very often do not develop evenly. Sometimes it seems, as though their abilities develop in spurts, depending on opportunities. Unique patterns of development are observed in young gifted children. Their advanced intellectual skills do not match their less advanced physical and emotional skills. For example, a four year old who can discuss astronomy with an adult may not have the fine motor skill to hold a pencil and write well. This in turn, leads to extreme frustration as children find their intellectual skills are limited or restricted by inefficiently developed physical skills.

They may give up on projects without even trying. They may also develop behaviour problems such as throwing tantrums or psychosomatic symptoms like stomach ache or headache.

In the last 15 years, educators have become increasingly aware of the fact that some children who are markedly gifted are potentially capable of much better achievements if the effects of linguistic, emotional and social limitations are remedied.

The teachers and the school counsellors play a crucial role in such situations. They need to know about the educational programme for the gifted and be able to implement a broad based programme with opportunities planned for the development of social, physical and cognitive skills in the informal atmosphere of an early childhood classroom. They should pool their observations of a child's skills with his parents and begin to work together to develop appropriate educational options for nurturing those abilities.

It can be difficult to have a gifted child. One parent said, “He can be such a pain in the neck, he asks such impossible questions.” Bringing up a gifted child requires time, dedication and constant support to ensure that the child's talent flourishes.

Parents should offer an appropriate learning environment to the gifted child. However, they should bear in mind that gifted children may show peaks of extra ordinary performance at one time, but may end up showing average skill levels in all cognitive areas at others. Parents of gifted children should not have unrealistically high expectations. It is not an infrequent observation that a highly gifted child gets the kind of help, support and encouragement from home that he is able to adjust satisfactorily to normal schooling.

The horizons of a child's mind are almost limitless. It is life, and our existing system which creates barriers by restricting understanding, creating uncertainty and inhibiting creativity to help a gifted child achieve his full potential, abolish the restricting perceptions and equip them with skills needed to handle a particular kind of extraordinary talent.

(faridaraj@rediffmail.com)