At times, giftedness can be a lonely reality for parents who are unprepared for, and unable to talk about, the advanced development and particular characteristics and demands of their young gifted children. However, examples of the daily realities of living with a gifted child such as amazing memory and vocabulary, reading ability, curiosity and alertness illustrate the delights and dilemmas which accompany young gifted children and highlight potential sources of inclusion or exclusion within early childhood education and care settings.
The research tells us that giftedness can be evident among infants, toddlers and young children and can impact on development, behaviour and learning in different ways and to varying degrees. Gifted infants may be extremely alert, difficult to settle and require lots of stimulation, and gifted toddlers may be interested in reading and complex play with others. Young children may be academically gifted, gifted in sport or music or gifted in the ways that they relate to, and understand, others. Gifted children can also be learning disabled or twice exceptional (2E) and have a complex pro le of strengths and learning needs. Although not always considered in discussions of inclusion and exclusion, young gifted children can have special needs too (Walsh, Kemp, Hodge & Bowes, 2012).
Research evidence also indicates that giftedness is evident in all cultural groups, is found in equal proportions in both genders, and is evident across all socioeconomic levels. However, gifted children in Australia, particularly those at the higher levels of giftedness and those from minority groups, experience exclusion within sites of education and care (Commonwealth of Australia, 2001). This mostly occurs when there is limited understanding of the nature of giftedness or when stereotypical views of giftedness prevail.
Researchers in the area of gifted education refer to the intensities and sensitivities, which come with being gifted. For example, the term ‘overexcitability’ is used to describe a greater intensity of experience within the psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational and emotional domains (Daniels & Piechowski, 2009). Experience working with the parents of young gifted children suggests that this concept of giftedness resonates with many parents of young gifted children and can be a helpful tool for understanding behaviour:
- Intellectual (avid reading, curiosity, asking probing questions, concentration, problem solving, theoretical thinking).
- Imaginational (fantasy play, animistic and imaginative thinking, daydreaming, dramatic perception, use of metaphor).
- Emotional (concern for others, timidity and shyness, fear and anxiety, difficulty adjusting to new environments, intensity of feeling).
- Psychomotor (marked enthusiasm, rapid speech, surplus of energy, nervous habits, impulsive actions).
- Sensual (sensory pleasures, appreciation of sensory aspects of experiences, avoidance of overstimulation) (Blackett & Webb, 2011).
Sharing the stories of giftedness can also be reassuring and empowering for parents as they experience the relief that comes with knowing they are not alone. Parents of young gifted children can feel constrained to keep their personal stories to themselves, not wanting to appear self-serving, inept in their parenting role, or too pushy. When provided with a safe context in which to share the complexities of parenting, parents of young gifted children speak of the need to talk freely about their children and seek guidance from others. They also comment on their fear of being misinterpreted and misunderstood. Parents of gifted children may need a safe place to tell it how it is without needing to explain away or apologise for children who are different—more intense, more sensitive, and more demanding.
Sharing stories about young gifted children can reassure parents.
Communication between educators and parents in relation to young children who are gifted is important for effective inclusion. Children may demonstrate different characteristics and behaviours in the educational setting to what they show when the child is within the security of the family home. For example, the child may play in socially mature ways with siblings and cousins, read independently at home, watch complex documentaries and search the internet for information to satisfy an interest. But when attending the early learning setting, they may demonstrate behaviours that could suggest immaturity or developmental delay such as playing alone, rarely speaking and intense displays of anger and frustration. Consequently, the educator may not be aware of the aspects of giftedness which have become so familiar to parents and other family members and the parents may be surprised by the behaviours displayed in the early learning setting.
This blog is an excerpt from the publication ‘Gifted and talented: Inclusion and exclusion‘.