My Child is Gifted? A Teacher’s Insight | Monica Venter
I am a teacher of 26 years with a remedial qualification. I am also the mother of a gifted 13-year old son. My son was tested last year at age 12 due to ADHD concerns. It turned out that he is gifted!
NEVER did that thought dawn on me. We always knew he was bright, he has always done well at school – not top of his class, but always in the top set. Gifted was not in my vocabulary, nor on my radar.
South African teachers are light years behind in this area and I don’t see it improving in the near future. I feel so guilty about my son, but I had no point of reference or comparison, no training – nothing! How did we miss this?
Fortunately, he has always attended the private school where I work. The school has always required the class teachers to provide extension activities for the top children or faster workers. He had also been exposed to problem solving club, robotics, computer club and leading edge technology, as well as a lot of sport – all of which my son thrives on.
He is an all-rounder with Western Province colours for Karate, which my father encouraged him to participate in as a five-year-old. It was one of the best decisions we ever made, as it definitely helped him with focus and concentration.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing though. He is a very different boy.
A loud, lively, talkative (an early speaker) and challenging, in-your-face child with a passion for taking electronics apart, building with real tools, creating inventions and motor cars. He has a heightened sense of smell and connects smells with different people or experiences,
He will immediately pick up that I have changed my perfume or shampoo. He was slow to walk, but climbed to the top of the security gate before he could crawl or walk. That should have prepared me for what lay ahead! He was busy, very busy! He never seemed to tire and dropped his daily nap years before his sister did. He still battles to fall asleep at night.
His mind never switches off! In retrospect the writing was on the wall from his birth. I phoned my cousin, a paediatrician, for advice when my week-old son refused to sleep at all during the day. My cousin’s response was, “It’s usually the clever ones that don’t sleep. They don’t want to miss out on anything.”
Little did I know. I once joked, and said that if I had had him first, before my daughter, I might not have had another child. He has certainly kept me busy.
My son is also very impulsive and this has resulted in a number of injuries over the years: Glue in a facial cut at age 16 months due to running, falling and hitting his face on a table (he only started walking at 14 months), a chipped front tooth at 20 months after climbing onto the kitchen counter, a broken arm at 2y9m after falling off the monkey bars, plastic surgery at age 4 for a facial injury after an accident on his black scooter, a nasty laceration on his head after a bucket of sand fell on his head at school (self-inflicted), stitches in his finger after breaking a glass at age 5, a broken collarbone at age 6, stitches in his forehead at age 7 after a fall, concussion after running through a sliding door at age 9, TWO badly broken arms (simultaneously) after falling off a swing when he was 11 and then a broken finger last year, while playing at school.
His older sister, by comparison, has never had a broken bone in her body. None of the above speaks to being gifted!
Over the years his teachers have, due to his loudness and high levels of activity, raised the issue of ADHD. None pushed the issue and none requested that I have him tested, although his Grade R teacher did give me some literature to read about it.
I will admit to not wanting to go that route and, knowing my husband and my father-in-law, I felt it was a familial trait. They were both loud, busy people with very similar traits to my son. Neither could sit still and relax, and always seemed to be on the go. Just like my boy.
We even had his hearing tested because his Grade R teacher was concerned that reason for his loudness was the fact that he could not hear properly. It turned out that he has excellent hearing, bordering on sensitive – he heard sounds that the average child did not hear.On that day something happened that should have been another red flag. The audiologist made him pretend he was a pilot in the cockpit of an aeroplane (it did resemble a cockpit with the buttons etc.).
About three quarters of the way through the test my son got bored and said: “I’m tired of this, so I am putting this plane on autopilot.” He took off the earphones and sat back. It took us a while to convince him to finish the test. The audiologist was flabbergasted. She had worked with hundreds of children and not one had ever said anything remotely like this to her. He was five years old.
My boy has sailed through school with very little effort. That did not mean that he was getting everything right though.
There were many careless errors and evidence of rushed work. Everything was done at high speed. In the first term of Grade 5 my son developed a series of tics – shrugging of his shoulders, scrunching his nose, pulling his shirt etc.We feared Tourette’s Syndrome, but after having assessed by a top paediatric neurologist in June, it was ruled out. She said the tics were stress related and she prescribed medication.
After reading what his teacher had to say about him, she suggested that we have a full educational assessment for ADHD. The stress was as a result of his teacher being very hard on him, not understanding him at all. This was also the first time my son said he was bored and frustrated by the slow workers in his class.
He and his teacher just didn’t gel, she had no idea how to deal with him, and as she and I are colleagues, this was very difficult to for me. My husband and I agreed that we would have him assessed after his return from his rugby tour in August.
Just two months after the neurological assessment, my son broke both his arms – whilst on the rugby tour. The arms required manipulation under anaesthetic in theatre and he was in casts and braces for the next 11 weeks.
This was a trying time for everyone and, as we do not have a medical aid, a very financially draining time too. Who knew that two broken arms could be so costly?We were forced to leave the assessment for the time being.
My son finished the year with excellent results and started Grade 6 on a very positive note with a teacher that he loved. She encouraged us to have him tested, and after trying to get an appointment with various psychologists, we finally had the assessment done in June last year. [The psychologist, a male, was a perfect fit for my son – they connected instantly. He is multi-talented – a former teacher turned psychologist, he is also an artist, a singer and a talented surfer/kite surfer. I have a feeling that he is also gifted. He just “got” my son immediately].
The result of the assessment left both my husband and I speechless. I was gutted and ended up in tears.
My son definitely has ADHD with high impulsivity. He also has highly superior intellect, borderline genius! He is gifted and was recommended to join MENSA. He is twice exceptional – the ADHD and impulsivity definitely affected his testing, so chances are that his scores are actually higher than what he achieved. How had we missed this? I believe now that the ADHD and impulsivity masked his true talents from us and threw us off track – the carelessness and unnecessary errors were so frustrating!
I tried not to beat myself up about it and was proactive. I took him to a doctor who prescribed 27mg Concerta slow release per day, for us to trial for three months. The difference it has made was incredible. His marks increased by more than 10% in four subjects (high B’s to high A’s).
The quality of his work improved and the pace at which he worked slowed enough for him to be more accurate. He finished his Grade 6 year with achievement awards for Design Technology, IT, Academic Honours (for an A-aggregate – three years in a row), and the Leadership Programme. He ended the year on a wonderful high!
Thankfully my son is still his awesome self. The medication has not altered his personality in any way and we monitor this closely. It seems to be working for him at the moment.
This year he is in Grade 7 which is at our high school, so he is in Junior High. Our school is an IEB school, so the curriculum is challenging and the expectations are high. I had a meeting with his new teacher to inform her of the assessment and to tell her that he is gifted. I could see by her reaction that she had no idea what to do with this information.
So far it is looking very promising.
He has different subject teachers and is doing well academically. He is also very involved with school sport and karate after school. He is still a very busy passionate boy, with highs and lows. He is a tough kid with a very sensitive side, who is easily driven to tears by frustration. He only shows this side in the safety of his home.
Teachers generally don’t know what to do with gifted children. After my son was assessed, I wrote a long email to both his Grade 4 and Grade 5 teachers, sharing the results with them. One replied immediately saying that she would chat to me at a later stage – that conversation never took place.
The other did not respond, so a few weeks later I asked her if she’d seen my email. She responded by saying: “We always knew there was a lot going on in that head.” That was it. No discussion, no celebration, nothing. It left me feeling resentful and very guilty. I felt removed from my colleagues, distant. I analysed their responses and only after much soul searching did it dawn on me that they had reacted in that way because they had no idea how else to respond!
The word gifted is not in their vocabulary, they have no understanding of it. Both teachers have clever children of their own, high academic achievers – but not gifted. However, they don’t understand the difference, and I believe some of their reluctance in responding to my email was their comparison of their own children.
Were there warning signs, red flags?
In retrospect, yes. I have mentioned a few.
One of the most glaring ones was my father, who himself had an IQ in the high 140’s. (He found out by accident as an adult, when the results of his IQ test were sent to him instead of to the company he was applying for a position at. Personality and IQ testing was a prerequisite for the application).
The word ‘gifted’ was never mentioned. From the day I brought my son home from the hospital, my dad told me he was very clever. My parents had two other grandchildren at that stage, and he had not said that about the them. We thought my dad was biased, as he and my son had a close bond. It was a very sad day for us all when he passed away in 2013.
I am now trying to shake things up at my own school and I am reading everything I can about gifted children, so that I can pass on this knowledge to my colleagues. I still feel awkward about doing so though, and apart from a handful of the staff that I am closer to, I have not made it public knowledge that my son is gifted. I have told my mom, but not my sister, who has two boys of her own. I feel for teachers in South Africa, as they have no clue.
For years I focused on the strugglers and the interventions they needed.
I was only too relieved to have children in my class who could work independently and assist others. For a long time after my son’s assessment I wrestled with the fact that I must have missed a number of gifted children in my years as a class teacher. There are one or two that I can think of who I believe, in hindsight, could definitely have been gifted.
Honestly though, gifted was never a thing, never discussed, never addressed. Not at any of the five schools I have taught at over the past 26 years. It was never and is still not included in any teacher training courses, as par for the course, that I am aware of. It should be.
On this front South African teachers are way behind their peers in the USA and Australia, where there are various gifted and talented programmes. In fact, they are totally in the dark.
There is a huge need for this to change.
I am now making it my mission to address this and to raise awareness at my own school. I believe my son will be fine where he is. My daughter is in Matric at the same school, and I know what the expectations are.
The curriculum is full and challenging and I believe that this will keep him stimulated, especially when he chooses his career subjects from Grade 9. His dream is to work as an engineer at NASA, and he wants to study in the USA. Who are we to hold him back?
Solo – a journey into self discovery | Heinrich Rall
In sharing my experiences with regards to home-schooling a gifted son I am having to face some realities that I did not previously consider. The one thing that I realise is that being absolutely honest with myself and with what I share with other parents is going to be essential.
If what I have to say is going to have any meaning it must be based on the reality of my experiences and not my perceived reality.Life’s journey is a strange one and in my case did not follow any planned path, I just let it happen.
As with so many other things that happened to me, my discovery of Gifted Children South Africa came a bit late, or so I thought. In the short time that I have been following the group’s Facebook page I have learnt more about myself and my son than I have in both our lifetimes and am really indebted to all the parents that share their joy, frustrations and knowledge so honestly.
In order to make sense of the experience of the journey that I followed in home-schooling my son, and to share it with others, I needed to look at the path that my life had followed up till now. A few months ago I would not have been able to record this journey. It is only through following Gifted Children SA that I was hit with the realisation that I was gifted and that, had this been acknowledged and nurtured, my life would probably have turned out a lot differently.
Both my parents were highly intelligent, but unfortunately completely self-centred and obsessed with his own importance in the case of my father. The fact that I might also be gifted did not occur to him. (This from a medical doctor!) I did not perform well at school and I now realise that I suffer from an attention span deficit.
Be that as it may, I was accepted for Pilot training in our air-force. My maths marks certainly did not justify this. Subsequently I have taught maths, physics and Afrikaans, ran a community newspaper, climbed to the top of the food chain in the printing industry, started my own aircraft charter company, published a volume of Afrikaans poetry and generally managed to remain poor through it all.
I did however work incredibly hard to compensate for my lack of tertiary education. This has always been an emptiness that I could not quite fill with other successes. My son was born when I was forty one years old. Life was good and we moved to the country so that he could grow up closer to nature and that my wife and son could live in safety when I was away on business trips. I also made a decision. I would not be like my parents and so many other parents of their generation. I would be a part of my son’s life.
This is where the real journey began. Wanting the best for my son I sent him to a private school in Gr R. By then we were well aware that he was very intelligent and realised that he is not getting much from being in the school. Even at this early stage I picked up that there was a definite discrimination against my son as he out-performed the “chosen” ones in the community.
I subsequently moved him to the government school in our town (saving a 500km a week drive) on the condition that he be moved ahead by a year. I was promised that if I had him tested they would allow it. Testing confirmed a “superior” status. The person that did the testing however tried to convince me that my son suffered from ADHD and that I should not argue but put him on Ritalin.
My experience dictated that I ignore the advise. The first positive step in taking control of my son’s life. Needless to say the school did not keep to their agreement and hid behind the ”department” when reminded of their commitment. We spent a lot of time with my son, he read a lot and my wife taught him music and art. I let him play rugby and taught him to stand up for himself amongst the barbarians that he faced daily.
He continued to achieve extremely good results but I could sense that he was frustrated and unhappy. He started coming home in tears and was always complaining about the noise. One of the things that my son cannot accommodate is unfairness and the unjust manner in which the teachers and particularly the headmaster treated him and some of the other kids sent him into a rage. Towards the end of Gr. 5 I realised that the school is busy breaking my child.
After considering other options I made the instant decision to take my son out of school and to home school him. Needless to say the headmaster threatened to report me to the authorities and it took a serious counter-threat to dissuade him! The decision was taken without planning. It was time. It was like that first solo flight when the instructor steps out of the cockpit and leaves you on your own… SOLO.
The scariest most exhilarating experience, the moment that you take your life and your future in your own hands, the moment that you experience freedom and endless possibilities in the future, the portal to adventures and opportunities. It was time to go SOLO. We initially enrolled with a service provider for Pre IGCSE. Gr.9 equivalent.
Within 3 months we enrolled for IGCSE as the work was not challenging enough. The service provider held us back and I took over and started teaching my son on my own. On a practical level I looked at the curriculum and split the textbook up into workable sections based on the initial experience gained. I planned four to five hour days and did one subject per day. The military discipline and the years of hard work in industry came in very handy.
We stuck to our program come rain or shine. The issues… As mentioned I was flying solo, I had never prepared any student for a Cambridge exam and had never taught a gifted child; and quite frankly my instructor was quite insane for sending me solo (read I was the instructor and pupil). The absolute lack of knowledge regarding gifted children was my biggest stumbling block.
The academics were not the problem. The problems arose from the fidgeting, the socks that were uncomfortable, the endless arguing about pedantic issues (needing to be absolutely correct). Not knowing about the issues and not realising that I also tended to do exactly the same things led to major confrontations. I now joke that I shouted Hjalmar through his school career.
At the time it was deeply upsetting as I truly love my son and ranting and raving in order to achieve our goals nearly destroyed our relationship. It was not smooth air flying. Somehow we managed to discuss our issues, and as those that follow the Facebook page know, Hjalmar achieved remarkable results in his IGCSE exams.
Starting AS and A Levels in August last year I managed to find a co-pilot in Gifted Children South Africa. The finest pilot I have ever had the pleasure to have flown with. The insight into the issues that gifted children face, and the recognition that I have spent a lifetime dealing with these issues in my own blundering way, changed our learning experience completely.
The arguments that we now have are constructive and to the point. Our Boerboel no longer slinks around when we sit down in front of the dining room table with textbooks! In short Gifted Children SA changed our lives and has made the last couple of months some of the most rewarding of our lives. I have a relationship with my son that I know will always be there to cherish and he has a whole world of adventures and opportunities awaiting him.
Home-schooling was not easy. Financially the two and a half years that I spent facilitating Hjalmar’s education is being keenly felt. I would however not even dream of having done it another way. Hjalmar is a confident happy child with a bright future. Had I left him at the mercy of our local school I know that he would have developed emotional and learning problems that would probably have doomed him to a life of “what if’s”.
Hjalmar is starting his degree in Physics next year at the age of 14 years and 2 months. He has been awarded the Vice Chancellors’ merit award that covers his tuition for the next three years, he is proud and excited and his instructor is facing one of the most difficult decisions of his life. Sending his first student SOLO.