Living with a gifted child
Having a gifted child is rewarding, exasperating and very hard work. Elaine Hook - herself a teacher - tells us the story of bringing up her daughter, Sophie
Where does God live?
How was God made?
How big is the sun?
What is at the end of infinity?
Where did the first drop of water come from?
What came first, the egg or the chicken?"
How do you answer these? Especially when your 12-18 month old baby asks them and no answer you give satisfies her needs. At times, you do not in fact, know the answer.
Ten years ago, when she was six, my daughter Sophie was assessed by an Educational Psychologist (EP) as “gifted.” She was in the 98th to 99th percentile in English, reading, spelling, language and communication skills, writing and verbal reasoning. The EP that carried out the assessment concluded that she was operating in all these areas at the level of a 12-year-old but socially and emotionally, operated at her chronological age level of six. The diagnosis was a shock and extremely scary; I had no idea what the implications were and what the future held for us.
From birth I had known my daughter was different. She was two days old when she gave me such a strange but knowing look (which she still gives me to this very day) and I just knew she was going to be a huge challenge. What I was incredibly naive about was just how much she was going to challenge both me, my husband and the whole family.
Having been an early years teacher for most of my working life and owned a children’s day nursery for ten years, I would not have believed that my knowledge and experience was going to be stretched way beyond my capabilities.
Sophie walked at ten months. In fact she ran; she never crawled. She spoke at 14 months in sentences and like an adult. We never experienced baby language. Sophie was trying to read from about one year to eighteen months. By the time she went to nursery, aged two, she could read proficiently and to herself.
From the moment she was born she was fascinated with the world, in fact you might even have called her nosey! She was extremely alert, enjoyed people, never slept and had an insatiable appetite for knowledge. She would ask question after question on a topic that she was fascinated with, going on and on until she was satisfied and the answers suitably answered her enquiry. Then she would move onto the next topic and the process would start again.
I was constantly exhausted and would hear myself saying to her “that is enough now”, “I can’t answer that question” or “I do not know the answer to that” just to stop the constant questioning. Frustratingly this never put her off and she would go on to explain why she needed to know the answers!!
When she became old enough to operate the Internet, she would spend hours researching topics she found interesting for the answers she felt family and friends could not give her.
Every day was a challenge and exhausting. Sophie had to be kept amused 24/7 or she would take it upon herself to find something challenging to amuse herself, which would normally mean she would “misbehave.” She didn’t see this as misbehaving. She saw it as learning and finding out about the world around her so it was extremely hard to discipline her.
Although the results of the assessment on the one hand were a shock, on the other they were not. In my heart I knew but due the fact that nobody was listening and pooh-poohed my instincts, I had hidden my feelings until she started school and became bored, misunderstood and bullied. Her teacher and the head of her school would often describe her as arrogant, rude, conceited and too outspoken and opinionated. Instead of school being a place we both enjoyed going to it became a place we both dreaded. Because Sophie was different and clever, she was ostracised by her peers and bullied by both the children and the teachers - including the head teacher. The school had never seen a child like Sophie before and did not know how to deal with her.
Sophie would say her primary years were unhappy, miserable and sad. As they came to an end I became increasingly aware that I could not let this roll over into secondary school and decided to take the bull by the horns. Sophie had stressed to me time and time again she did not want to attend the catchment secondary school with all the bullies. I viewed all three out of catchment schools and choose the one that had the least positive reputation. It had an emphasis on art music and drama, an excellent special needs department where they understood high ability and they gave each student responsibility for their learning from an early age. It was also a large school and I felt she might blend in better as she would be less conspicuous. This school has been a blessing to us; secondary education for Sophie has been a joy, she loves school and has achieved in all areas of the curriculum and socially and emotionally.
Sophie is a very responsible, mature and stable teenager. She is now in her first year of 6th form having achieved 11 GCSEs at grades A and B June 2005. She is studying English Literature, Drama & Theatre Studies, Psychology and Sociology at A level and loves school. She is still very concerned about the world and watches the news and documentaries with passion, compassion and empathy. She still debates well on very difficult and adult subjects, such as world poverty, racism and religion, and has extremely strong views on all these subjects. Sometimes she cannot sleep at night for worrying!!
Sophie has grown in to a wonderful woman and I am very proud of her, but it has been challenging and hard work on our journey together. We still have a long way to go.
Having a gifted child was one of the most difficult and daunting experiences I have ever had to endure.
Most people imagine having a clever child must be easy and a privilege; why would having a gifted child cause so much anguish? Friends would say, “what is the problem, she’s so clever” but unless you have first hand experience you cannot possibly understand the difficulties and issues that come with having a gifted child – they are definitely a mixed blessing.
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Find out more
NAGC (the National Association for Gifted Children) is the UK's foremost membership charity that deals with all aspects of giftedness in children.
Find out about the 'gifted and talented' education programme in schools. It provides extra support for those pupils who learn faster than others.