Monday, June 29, 2009

On parenting a gifted child

When I was pregnant with AJ, I worked until the day before I went into labor – several days past my due date. I lived a block and a half from my office. I didn’t see the point in sitting around waiting for something to happen. My boss let me stay on, even though I was officially quitting my job when I left (a situation forced by working in a very small office and the coincidence of pregnancies of GreenEyedSiren and myself, who were the two most senior employees at the time). I loved the structure work provided in those days before AJ’s birth when I was at once excited and terrified by the knowledge that the world as I knew it was about to be blown to pieces to be reassembled in an entirely different way.

But with all the work time, what I really relished was any chance to talk about the baby, something that wasn’t part of my everyday life. An ultrasound appointment, lunch with GreenEyedSiren, even an appointment to pee in a cup. Knowing that you weren’t alone, that there were other people who understood what you were going through became really important.

I’m finding the same thing is true of parenting a gifted child. There are so many challenging things, so many occasions when you feel like you’re flying by the seat of your pants, and so few occasions when you can sit down and honestly talk about what you are going through. You don’t want to just start chatting about your problems with other parents in the PTA. They might not understand. They might think you were just bragging about your smart kid. Again. When really, sometimes you just need another opinion. Or an ear. I’m so grateful for GreenEyedSiren’s ear and also for the comments of readers of this site. Half the battle of parenting is acquiring some sense that you are doing the right thing.

We had a long phone meeting with the psychologist who gave AJ his IQ evaluation a few weeks ago, the official follow-up appointment. It was an interesting conversation, but more than anything, it was a relief to converse about it at all, to be able to talk about some of the things I worry about all the time, but can’t usually discuss with anyone.

The psychologist, who specializes in work with gifted children, started out explaining the components of the test (WISC-IV) and the reason for the Dumont-Willis Index (discrepancy between IQ-important verbal and performance/perceptive reasoning scores and less-related processing speed/working memory scores). Most of this I’d figured out on my own. I know that the WISC-IV weights the processing speed and working memory higher than previous versions of the test and that the weighting was problematic in determination of IQ because it is not correlated with giftedness in the same way the other categories are. We learned that AJ is very strong in both left brain and right brain activities, but especially so in left brain (language center, crystallized knowledge, computation). As she started to describe what this meant, I had my first, “Yes! This is AJ!” moment. It was the first of many.

I don’t have a lot of “This is just like AJ” moments when talking to other parents. As parents of an only child, we wonder a lot about what’s “normal” and what’s not. How do you know when to worry? We have no basis for comparison. My best guide has been my memories of my own childhood as a gifted kid. Mostly that seems to guide me well with AJ, although I worry about revisiting my past on him. He’s his own person. And while there are many similarities, there are many differences. He cares a lot more about what other people think of him than I did, for one. He’s got better social skills in general.

After going over the test results, we asked for some advice – in working with the school, in evaluating the decision to stay in public school vs. sending him to a school for gifted kids, for dealing with some of the behavior issues we’ve encountered in school and also at home.

The first thing she pointed out was that AJ’s IQ is more than two standard deviations above the norm. Curriculum is targeted for IQs of roughly 85-115 – norm (100) and one standard deviation above and below. An IQ of 85 is considered learning disabled. An IQ of 70, two standard deviations below the norm, is considered mentally retarded. There are state mandated special services for them both. Why not for a child functioning at an equivalent amount above the norm? They are “special needs” children too. They have different behaviors, their intellectual development doesn’t gel with the rest of the class and their emotional development is often delayed. The psychologist used the word “asynchrony” to describe the difference between intellectual and emotional development in gifted children. She said they’re not sure why this asynchrony is so often found in gifted children, but that it may be because they seldom have peers.

The behavior issues often stemming from asynchrony mean that gifted children are frequently misdiagnosed or too soon diagnosed with a variety of psychological disorders, especially ADHD. (For more information on this, see this article) When we asked about AJ’s difficulty focusing in class, she cautioned against medicating too soon (something we had no intention of doing, but still, it’s nice to hear that encouraged). Then she proceeded to describe a child that sounded very much like AJ – one who is easily distracted, who likes to move around when he works, who fails to complete tasks and often ignores instructions or balks at classroom rigidity.

We asked about what benefits we might be missing out on by not sending AJ to a gifted school. She said that if the schools were $4000-$5000 a year, she’d recommend them to everybody. They offer a chance to go to school with intellectual peers. They often have more behavior flexibility – for example, allowing students to stand or move around while they are working. And they usually teach a grade level ahead. But, she added, there are advantages to being in a neighborhood school too – friends nearby, more like the real world, integration into the community he lives in, less commuting, which can take a toll. Especially if there is a gifted program at the school, it can be better to keep him there and maybe put some money toward extracurricular programs for gifted kids. This was nice to hear, because it’s exactly what we’ve been doing. She was particularly partial to the program we’ve signed AJ up for this summer (the same one he did last year) because the teachers tend to not just be certified to work with gifted children but to actually be gifted themselves. She thinks gifted kids respond better to teachers like that. And based on my experience with my own teachers and with AJ’s, I know she’s right.

Finally, we asked about helping AJ to function better in a typical classroom, to learn focus and discipline – is there anything that works better with gifted kids? She didn’t quite answer this question the way we had intended it, but she recommended two parenting books as being particularly useful for parents of gifted children (both with some qualifications – neither is perfect). The first was The Self-Esteem Trap by Polly Young-Eisendrath. The second was Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay. A quick glance through reviews on @m@zon suggest both might be useful to us, but I’m particularly intrigued by the first one, which seems to be focused on our precise concerns about AJ right now. Also, the second one sounds more or less like the approach we take already, one, incidentally, that was espoused by Dr. Haim Genott may years ago in Between Parent and Child, a book my own parents consulted regularly.

We didn’t really learn anything new today, but somehow it is different hearing these things from a person than reading them in a psychological journal or a website devoted to gifted ed. I came out of the conversation that it is in AJ’s best interest that I, as a parent, do my best to find some other people I can talk to about this stuff as it comes up. It makes me a better, more assured, more relaxed parent. And I’m less likely to get quite so frustrated with some of AJ’s behaviors, which, as the psychologist reminded me today, are perfectly normal for a kid like him.


Jeanne said...

What you say about having folks to talk to about giftedness is why I like this blog. Because (especially in small towns) parents of gifted children seldom have peers.

LSM said...

I'm so pleased that your conversation today was reassuring. Will she write up a report to share with the school? It sounds like it could be helpful in getting some of the differentiation that AJ needs.

I agree with the comment that teachers who are gifted themselves make the best GT teachers. That's certainly been my experience. Also, clasroom teachers who were gifted children themselves typically do a much better job of differentiating within the classroom. They get what it's like to spend a school day unchallenged and therefore are more likely to make sure that doesn't happen to their students.

FreshHell said...

The last sentence says it all. Sometimes it's just knowing that the things you worry about are things you don't need to worry about. That way, you can move on to worry about something else! Sounds like you talked to the right person - your persistence paid off and your instincts were correct.

Fern said...

It's a good sign when the description the psychologist gives matches what you know of your child. I'm so glad you've found such a person.

A point of clarification, however. An IQ of 85 does not mean a diagnosis of learning disability. A child with a learning disability has average to above average intelligence (anywhere from low average to very superior IQ scores) and a discrepancy between this score and his/her achievement scores. Sometimes students are diagnosed LD when there is a large discrepancy between verbal and perceptual reasoning scores on the WISC (two or more standard deviations). This is why kids can be labeled both gifted and LD at the same time (twice exceptional). Kids with IQs in the 85 range typically get labeled "slow learners" and don't qualify for any services whatsoever.

Harriet said...

Jeanne, thanks. That's why I started it, although I haven't been very good about figuring out how to advertise it to others who might be looking for the same thing. LSM, she already did the report and we were able to submit it to the school just before the school year ended. I do think it will be helpful to them and to us. Freshhell, I do think we got a good recommendation. My sincere thanks to GreenEyedSiren for setting us up. And Fern, thanks for the clarification. I'd wondered about that designation because I'd always thought LD was strictly about a disconnect between intellectual ability and achievement. I suspect she just misspoke (or I misheard what she said as a term I was familiar with). It's good to know where things are. As for those performing at one standard deviation below, I wonder if she's talking about in practical application rather than legal rights to services. I do know that kids that fall into that category at AJ's school get tutoring and revised curriculum with not questions asked. But those of us on the other end of the spectrum usually have to work to get necessary modifications made. It's a function of wanting to meet standards. If you're above the standards, it doesn't matter as much to them unless you make it matter. Thanks for all your comments.

Eggsaucted said...

I love reading this blog, her highness' experience within a gigantic public school system is nothing like yours yet it's nice to find other parents dealing with so many of these issues.

The Giant Public School system labels her highness as gifted but it's really more of an academically accelerated environment and even among the parents in her highness' "gifted" class I find that my experience with her highness is different. In a lot of ways she's way ahead of her classmates yet she has that whole difficulty with the rigidty of the classroom and completeing work she is more than capable of completing thing.

I should have the math textbook this week. I remember the class well but not the text so I'll certainly let you know what I think. I've re-established contact with my instructor from the class so he seems like a good resource. Thanks for the book suggestions, she begging me to do more with her with math concepts.

We got an assignment from school that we have to memorize all of the addition and subtration 1-15 so that they can do math in a "snap" come fall, so I've been focusing on that a little she could easily do all of it but the in a snap part is a little annoying, she likes to use the techniques she was taught like adding on and drawing pictures and writing it out.

Thank you so much for this blog and for all of your advice all of the time.