How to detect high capacities in gifted children
Above average cognitive ability, a high level of creativity and great commitment to the task are the three main elements that, according to the commonly accepted theory, converge in gifted people. The early detection of these elements is one of the keys to assisting these children appropriately.
Hug is ten years old and is gifted. His parents, Marga and Sergi, have known for a couple of years, although they are reluctant to call it that since "it has negative connotations", they explain. "When he was little realised that he was very skilful both physically and in the learning of language, mathematics, etc. But we did not give it much importance, because his school evolution was good. In P4 (second year of infant education) his tutor told us that his vocabulary was much larger than what would be normal for his age," the mother recalls.
That was the first symptom. Later, in first and second year of middle school, the first school conflicts appeared, when Hug disrupted the class, distracting himself and dragging the other classmates with him. "He did it, basically, because he was bored. Then another family with a son in the same situation suggested that perhaps it was a case of high capabilities. At first you do not want to believe it, but in the end we went to a psychology centre, which identified the problem" (Marga refuses to talk about diagnosis, since, as she emphasises, it is not an illness).
The next step was to talk with the teachers to inform them and talk about the steps to take. "Fortunately, they were very receptive and accepted an individualised plan in the areas where he stood out most". Marga and Sergi were also fortunate that the school's educational project used tools such as cooperative work and project work that benefited the boy’s learning.
Although Hug has not encountered too many social problems (at some time other children have not let him play with them saying he is "too smart"), Marga admits that it is always painful to see how a child does not fit in 100%. They compensate by "trying to make him feel good at home, accompanying him so that he has good self-esteem and is happy with himself, and to make him strong so that external attacks do not affect him". In this psychological work, Marga appreciates the support of the Fanjac association, where they meet with other families with children with high capacities. A space to exchange opinions and receive information through workshops, both for parents and for children.
"They are very perfectionist children, with hypersensitivity, emotionally very empathic, which means that they experience everything, whether it be good or bad, in an exaggerated way, through episodes of deep sadness, joy or anger." In this sense, the Fanjac offers emotional support and resources to manage their frustration.
"They have strong involvement in learning, a lot of creativity and divergent thinking"
As explained Virginia Trémols, a neuropsychologist at the Dexeus Pediatrics Department, different situations are included within high capacities. "First of all, there are precocious children, such as those who learn to read or write on their own. These skills do not have to crystallise in high capacities, since they can be very stimulated children who, when they mature, end up equating with the rest of their classmates. A second category is talented children, who have a lot of ease in a specific area (from mathematics to music, through language or sports) or several. Finally, there is what we call giftedness, children who are good at everything they propose."
However, Trémols adds, in addition to this above average intellectual development average, there are other features of children with high abilities, of which the American psychologist Joseph Renzulli already spoke. "They have strong involvement in learning, a lot of creativity and divergent thinking" which occurs spontaneously, and allows them to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.
For the specialist, for example, it is significant "for the child to ask questions relating concepts by himself; this shows an observant spirit, and that the child is sharp and awake; that he is very good at solving challenges and new problems or that he loves to learn."
And beware of giving rise to false stereotypes. "They are not necessarily people who excel in all school subjects. In fact, many talented children fail at school, because it bores them, does not encourage them or uses learning systems contrary to what would be natural for them. It is also not true that it is not hard for them to do things, nor that their high capacities make them more prone to suffer some kind of psychological disorder, personality problems or social maladjustment."
NOT FRUSTRATING TALENT
Some children with high abilities (especially in adolescence) tend to mask their abilities to be seen as one more of the group, to go unnoticed and, in this way, not be mocked. "This is especially true in the case of talented children who, unlike the gifted -who have greater emotional intelligence-, may suffer in terms of self-esteem if they do not adapt to the school environment".
However, Trémols insists on the importance of not holding back high capacities. "They are like a plant that has to be watered. It is worth detecting these cases and offering them the necessary help so that their development does not stop". It is even "preventive", says the specialist, since "these will possibly be the good engineers or doctors of tomorrow. Therefore, restraining them also has its social implications."
In order not to frustrate the talent of these people, the neuropsychologist believes that the educational system should be flexible, offering "more on-demand" training courses in which, for instance, a child can move on in those subjects in which he excels.
At the same time, he points out the importance of a diagnosis as early as possible, so that the family can "enrich these brains beyond what the school does, with extracurricular activities, workshops, visits to museums or other activities".
Finally, Trémols believes that today is a good time for children with high abilities, since the access they have to sources of information and communication (mainly the internet) allows them to delve into areas of personal interest to let the plant continue growing.
Tips for recognising children with high capacities
- They demonstrate very early ability in learning certain skills, such handling numbers or the use of language.
- They enjoy the company of older children.
- Sometimes they are abstract in their thoughts.
- They usually show enthusiasm for work and confidence in their own abilities.
- They are very sensitive.
- They learn fast, their thinking is fluid and they have a good memory.
- They are very demanding with themselves and with others, they are perseverant, observant and can carry out several tasks at the same time.
- They are mentally hyperactive and have very different interests.
- They tend to have low tolerance for frustration.
- They tend to question rules and authority.
- They are imaginative, ask many questions and have a special sense of humour.
How should the parents act?
- Find out the full meaning of high abilities, breaking down stereotypes and topical issues.
- Experience it as a privilege, not as a problem (it is not a disease) and learn to treat the child as he is, not as we would like him to be.
- Good to a centre specialised in diagnosing of high capacities.
- Talk to the teaching staff of the child’s centre to find solutions or outputs that enhance the child's capabilities and do not hurt their evolution.
- Seek the help and advice of associations of parents and children with high abilities.
- Help the children to express what they feel without making judgments about the adequacy of their intensity; help them experience their difference as something positive with advantages, but also with difficulties; do not fall into overprotection for their hypersensitivity and enormous frustration, but do not let them collapse without tools in a world in which they find it difficult to fit.
- Move away from the prize-punishment paradigm to advocate a parenting and educational model based on emotions, respect, communication, trust and unconditional love.
By Alberto González