The American Association for Gifted Children (AAGC) is the nation’s oldest advocacy organization for gifted children and receives numerous calls and e-mails from parents who are seeking information to help them understand the unusual abilities that their children are displaying at an early age. Parents ask most often about identification, testing, school placement, and local resources. They seek advice on having their child’s intellectual ability evaluated and want help understanding the assessment instruments that are used.
Professional organizations such as AAGC, the National Association for Gifted Children, regional talent searches, etc., promote initiatives for gifted children, are responsive to parents’ questions, and provide access to resources. The three questions most frequently asked by parents of young children follow, along with the advice that is typically offered.
Question #1: When do I need to get my child tested and who should do the testing?
Before parents have their child tested, they should explore the reasons why they want their child tested. Is it for entry into a specialized program or for affirmation of existing assumptions about a child’s abilities? For children between two and three years of age, testing can only serve to validate a parent’s beliefs that their child is very bright. At school age, testing can help document a child’s ability and give parents a tool with which to advocate for appropriate educational programs.
Regardless of whether a child is tested or not, most parents already recognize their child’s unique abilities and naturally provide enrichment in their child’s strength or passion areas through books, excursions to museums, and lively discussions. These types of experiences are of much more educational value to a two- or three-year-old than the confirmation of a high IQ score.
The Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado, recommends that children be tested between the ages of 4 and 8, because IQ scores in young children tend to be unstable due to a variety of external influences that impact the testing session. In addition, IQ scores can become depressed as children age due to the ceiling effects of many assessment instruments.
Parents often wonder about the benefits of using a private testing consultant over the testing provided by the public school system. Family finances may prohibit a child from being assessed until they enter public school whereby parents can then refer their child for testing, free-of-charge. However, due to budget constraints, many school systems may only provide group-administered tests and provide little feedback to parents regarding the child’s performance on such instruments.
While private testing can be costly, it also has many benefits. Private testers offer tests designed to be individually administered or given one-on-one. Individually administered tests allow for further observation of the child by the test administrator. In addition, individually administered instruments typically require more training to administer and score than group administered tests.
Aside from the benefits of individually administered tests, private testers will provide parents with a detailed, highly individualized report of their child’s strengths and weaknesses, which is beneficial in determining educational interventions. A post-test conference with parents is also typically included in the cost of private testing, and offers the opportunity for the tester to explain the results and for parents to ask pertinent questions.
Parents should seek a private tester who has the appropriate credentials, experience testing gifted children, and has a desire to work with gifted students and their families. This is important because parents want a professional who will be concerned with documenting their child’s strengths, as well as their weaknesses, so that school personnel address both in designing an appropriate educational program.
Question #2: How do I know if my child’s unique talent is typical for his or her age, and how do I nurture this talent area?
Children who exhibit outstanding abilities that distinguish them as being considerably more advanced than other children their age, may, in fact, be gifted. Parents are faced with the quandary of how to nurture the talent area for which the child has demonstrated advanced potential. Depending on the degree of the talent, parents likely will have to seek resources and programs outside of school. For school-aged gifted students, an array of summer, weekend, and online programs exist in a variety of disciplines and talent areas. However, it is difficult to locate similar programs designed for gifted two- to four-year-olds.
Gifted children commonly demonstrate extraordinary abilities and passion in areas that interest them most. For example, the father of a three-year-old described his son as having an unusual “knack for identifying the make and model of cars correctly.” His son’s interest in cars began when he was eighteen months old and by the age of two, his son was referring to all cars by their make and model. For example, he would scan the oncoming traffic and shout, “Volkswagen Passat, Hyundai Sonata, Acura MDX, Honda Accord, BMW 5 Series, Saturn Vue, and Dodge Caravan.” This child’s passion and knowledge about cars lead this parent to believe that his son might be gifted and that his talents may need special nurturing.
Cars are obviously of high interest to this young boy, and his parents can further develop and encourage this interest by exposing him to books, curriculum materials, and visits to museums that focus on automobiles. At some point, a visit or conversation with a car mechanic, racecar driver, car manufacturing personnel, or concept car engineer may further develop and expand his interest, and help to answer those questions that are beyond mom and dad’s knowledge. As this child matures, he likely will develop more sophisticated interests regarding cars (e.g., how can more fuel-efficient cars by designed, how does the aerodynamics of a car impact its gas mileage, etc.). It is equally possible that he may transition from his current passion (cars) to another area of intense interest (trains, trees, penguins, etc.). Whatever the case, his parents should provide the resources at home for him to explore his interest area in great depth, encourage the questions he is sure to ask, and help him locate the answers.
Question #3: Where can I find schools or programs for young gifted children in my community or area?
This is a tough question to answer, because programs for gifted children four years of age and younger are sparse, if available at all, in many communities. Parents of preschool gifted children will have to be creative in their approach and will more than likely have to supplement what their child receives at daycare or preschool.
Private tutoring; specially planned playgroups; and trips to museums, libraries, galleries, and concerts may be options to give young gifted children opportunities to learn about and experience their interest areas. To get involved in playgroups, parents can either locate other precocious children in their community through friends or through their state or local gifted organizations. Parents may also consider connecting their child to older children with similar interests and passions. Young gifted children tend to engage in more sophisticated play than their age mates, so it may be advantageous to pair them with children one or two years their senior or with those children that would be considered their “intellectual” rather than “same age” peer.
Parents should determine the policies of their local school system regarding early entrance to kindergarten, which can be beneficial for some young gifted children. Entering kindergarten earlier than expected may enable them to be appropriately challenged. Most school systems have minimum age requirements for kindergarten enrollment but may also have policies that allow exceptions for gifted students.
Although parents have many questions regarding how to best nurture and develop potential in their gifted child, beyond information and resources, most simply need reassurance that they are doing what is best for their child. Parents do not want to brag, but are genuinely concerned about their child. Parents are their children’s biggest advocates, and they need to build relationships with educators, healthcare professionals, and others who will have an impact on their child’s growth and development.
—Margaret Evans Gayle and Kristen R. Stephens, PhD
Margaret Evans Gayle is the executive director of the American Association for Gifted Children at Duke University.
Kristen R. Stephens is coordinator of educational outreach at the Duke University Talent Identification Program and editor in chief of the Duke Gifted Letter.