Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Misunderstood Face of Giftedness

By Marianne Kuzujanakis

Photo from themorechild.com

Huffington Post~ In K-12 classrooms everywhere are children at risk for being misunderstood, medically mislabeled, and educationally misplaced. Not limited to one gender, race, ethnicity or socioeconomic group, they could be the children of your neighbors, your friends, your siblings, and even yourself.
These at-risk children are gifted children.
Contrary to common stereotypes, giftedness is not synonymous with high academic achievement. The gifted student archetype, while expected to be a mature classroom leader, does not fit all gifted students. Some are the class clowns, the lonely awkward child in the back row, the troublemaker. Special needs classrooms are where a number of gifted children end up -- their giftedness left unsupported.
Wasting much of their day in unsuitable classrooms, gifted kids may behave in unacceptable ways. Despite giftedness being akin to a special need, funding for it is scarce and the needs of gifted minority and poor are repeatedly and shamefully overlooked. Visual-spatial learners whose learning methods conflict with typical classrooms are also misunderstood. While classrooms need to be academically challenging, for many that also requires sensitivity to cultural, racial and linguistic diversity. Learning strengths, too. Such solutions are not always generally available.
Dr. William H. Smith, former dean of the Karl Menninger School of Psychiatry and Mental Health Sciences, stated, "Giftedness can be confused with some psychiatric disorders, obscure other disorders, and it often needs to be included in treatment planning."
But many gifted children are never identified. Gifted identification is mandated in only 32 states, and funded in fewer. Most teachers receive only minimal instruction on the identification and management of gifted children. The term gifted tends to evoke elitism, and serious attention is rarely paid to gifted children who are other than high achieving.
A prevalent belief persists that one cannot both be gifted yet struggling in school. Many parents also discount giftedness when their children's abilities are uneven or counteracted by other difficulties. Yet some gifted children who have unrecognized learning disorders may initially excel in school, until they hit a limit where their compensatory skills unravel.
The 2010 American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Mental Health reported that nearly 37 percent of children and adolescents either met the DSM criteria for a mental health diagnosis or showed some impairment in functioningADHD is seen in nearly 1 in 10 children. Autism spectrum disorders are seen in 1 in 50 children.
This is a global crisis. Pediatric primary care physicians diagnose psychiatric conditions andprescribe psychotropic medicine, but rarely feel adequately prepared by their training to do so.
Highly gifted children are a particular diagnostic challenge. They seem to be wired differently and have developmental trajectories that differ from the norm. Many gifted kids experience the world with heightened and vivid intensities and sensitivities that may be a big plus (allowing them to become creative artists, scientists, inventors, and humanitarians) but also can be a big minus (subjecting them to sometimes overwhelming emotions and worrisome and unacceptable behaviors).

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