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Meeting the Special Needs of Your Gifted Child

Meeting the Special Needs of Your Gifted Child

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

You did such a great job (with the help of the wonderful moms who commented) of answering my last question about my 9 year old son with ADHD who had trouble sleeping. I have another question and was hoping I could tap into your wisdom once again.

This question is regarding my 7 year old daughter. I have four kids. The 9 year old has ADHD, inattentive type. He’s followed by our quiet, sensitive, artistic 7 year old daughter. She is followed by a loud, bossy, fiery 4 year boy and a loud, busy 20-month-old girl. Basically this 7 year old has always been the quiet, “good,” “easy” child. Until now, that is.

It was about a year ago that the 9 year old was diagnosed with ADHD and started on a combination of counseling and medication, and things are going fairly well. The year before diagnosis was basically hell for the family. I was also pregnant at the time. We used to say that this 9 year old took up 90% of our parenting energy. Now, it’s down to about 40%; much improved, but still disproportionate.

That brings me back to our 7 year old. During the year prior to diagnosis, she remained the “good, sweet, easy” child. We desperately needed her to be “easy” but I’m sure we neglected her during this time. Since the 9 year old’s diagnosis (and the medications, extra doctor visits, etc) , his behavior has improved while hers has deteriorated. She used to be kind, loving, physically affectionate, and sweet to everyone in the family. She was the peacemaker and everyone adored her. Now, she acts out (yelling, tantrums, angry outbursts), is defiant, and frankly kind of mean to both her brothers. I am certain that her behavior is a reaction to all the time and attention that we had to give to her older brother. She sees him getting “special” treatment like doctor visits and medications. We probably sometimes allow him to get away with certain behaviors that she isn’t allowed to do (such as angry outbursts during the late afternoon when his medication is wearing off…very typical for him so we just ride it out). In addition, the 4 year old has been going through some typical 3-and-4-year-old tantrums and the youngest obviously demands attention because she’s a busy toddler.

I know she feels unheard and unloved. I’m just not sure what to do about it! Over the past few months I have made a conscious effort to be more mindful of her feelings, ask her about her thoughts, and listen more carefully to her. She is naturally quiet, introspective, and creative and can often get ignored. Her dad and I each spend several minutes of quiet time in her room nearly every night, talking and reading. I make an effort to be affectionate with her but she often pushes me away. I write her little “love notes” and have done some special outings with her. But there hasn’t been any change in her behavior yet which makes me think we’re still not meeting her needs, somehow. I miss my dear, sweet, huggable, lovable girl and I want her back. Any advice on how to do that?

Thank you!

POSTSCRIPT/UPDATE:

My daughter tested for our district’s gifted magnet class. She’s been telling me all year that she is so bored (she’s in first grade) even though her teacher assured me she’s in the highest level groups for math, reading etc. Well, the results came in and she scored above the cut-off for acceptance to the self-contained magnet class, within the range of being considered gifted. So I’m now wondering if this boredom at school has also contributed to her deteriorating behavior at home this year. Apparently she is “just wonderful” at school and her teacher has no concerns about her. In fact I don’t think her teacher really knew how bright she is, because she is quiet and cooperative at school. Unfortunately there’s no space in the magnet class and she’s on the waiting list. So now I suppose my question becomes a bit more complex…how do I support this girl, in light of an older brother with some “invisible” special needs, who also has some needs of her own that aren’t being met at school.

So OP’s questions came in the form of two emails, with email number two pretty much solving the mystery of email number one. But it still doesn’t necessarily constitute an answer to the main question: What should OP do about it?

Your daughter now has her own special needs, and you’re now armed with a “diagnosis” of sorts to learn about and advocate for. Just like you did and are doing for your oldest son. We too often equate “special needs” with just the negatives: the disabilities and delays. But being gifted is ALSO a special need, i.e. your daughter has needs related to her ability to learn and thrive at school that will not be met in a general classroom without accommodations.

I would personally start out by hitting the library or bookstore and pick up some books on gifted children (commenters? any suggestions?). There’s a lot more to it than simply thinking “yay my kid is smart and will automatically do well in school and life.” Quite the opposite of that, if their needs are not met, or expectations are set too high or too low.

Then I would get on your school district’s website and research EVERYTHING they have to offer children like your daughter beyond the magnet class. If they cannot accommodate her with an open spot in that class, what accommodations can they offer her in her current classroom? What’s their back-up plan for kids identified after that fills up? While I’m sure it varies wildly by school district, a quick perusal of the Gifted & Talented Programs of the last two districts we’ve lived in reveals a pretty comprehensive list of elementary level services, from in-school enrichment and pull-out services, curriculum extension units, accelerated math programs, special research projects, etc. What does your district offer, other than a waiting list? Be bold, be aggressive, be willing to get creative with your daughter’s teacher and school administration.  Her teacher has “no concerns.” That’s great. BUT SORRY, YOU DO. LET’S SCHEDULE A MEETING OR FIVE.

(Again, any and all commenters with any specific experience and insight on how best to advocate for a G&T child, please chime in!)

That said, I doubt that the school boredom is 110% responsible for allll the behavior issues you’re seeing at home. The history laid out in email number one can’t be completely wiped away: You expected/needed your daughter to be the “easy” one while her siblings received most of your mental and physical attention, and now she has officially Had Enough Of That. Usually these negative attention-seeking behaviors are best fought with positive attention and reinforcement, which it sounds like you’re definitely trying to do. Keep at it, even when it’s discouraging.

I’m wondering if she’s involved in any extracurricular activities? Something that could be “just hers” that she gets driven to and fussed over? And might offer the benefit of meeting her intellectual and creative talents beyond what school provides?

Check out the school’s afterschool activities and clubs, go to your area’s Parks & Recreation website, or pick up one of those parenting magazines that all the kid classes and camps advertise in. (I always find them in the waiting rooms of my oldest son’s therapists, haha.) Let her decide — maybe she could find a small art class, a chess club, Lego robotics/science offerings, learn to play an instrument, whatever. Heck, maybe martial arts would be fun and let her put her outbursts/aggression to better use (and teach her self-discipline and how to best assert herself). How awesome would it be for her to be able to perform in a recital, a tournament, a belt exam, an art show or talent competition…and look out see her entire family there, cheering for HER, JUST HER?

One last thing, which is hopefully just me being Alarmist-y On The Internet: It might not hurt to have her meet with your oldest son’s therapist or shrink, just to make sure that her anger issues and acting out aren’t related to something else. Like depression or anxiety. Or that there wasn’t a specific trauma or incident that sparked her anger/resistance to affection that she’s not talking to you about. Again, I think there are plenty of other “reasons” for her behavior that you’re already covered, but if her personality change was really super sudden, there COULD be something else going on her that professional might need to suss out. Either way, letting her vent to a child therapist might help her work out her feelings of jealousy and anger in general, and let her come to understand how loved and valued she is by having those feeling listened to and validated.

 

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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SarahB
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SarahB

“Being gifted is ALSO a special need….” Thank you, Amy! It’s so rare for people to get that. G&T often comes with a side dose of anxiety, but I also think there’s plenty of room to improve her situation. Do you frequent your public library? Or how is her school? Getting her books she likes at her level could help. And somehow, some way, she needs to be with her peers, meaning other children who are gifted like she is. She’s different, and she knows she’s different, so she needs people “like her.” Keep pushing back on the school district… Read more »

IrishCream
Guest
IrishCream

Gifted kids can really struggle with the knowledge that they’re gifted. It can be confusing to feel like you’re smarter than your peers. They can feel like frauds if something doesn’t come easily to them: “If I’m so smart, how come I can’t get this math lesson on the first try?” They might not develop good study habits in the lower grades because the work comes easily to them, only to crash and burn in high school or college when they can’t learn the material without those good study skills.  Start reading up on growth mindset! It’s the philosophy popularized… Read more »

Erica
Guest
Erica

Cannot agree enough with this. I have two children identified as gifted.  However, because of persistent equity issues, our district does not offer much in the way of services before second or third grade to give all students a chance to be able to demonstrate their intelligence in reading and writing.  Services tend to ramp up as students get older.  Keep pushing, and possibly meet with the principal or gifted coordinator for your school or district to learn what the next steps are.  Don’t be afraid to push a bit.  And do be aware that because of how they process… Read more »

Christy
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Christy

I was in a program in elementary school (waaaaay back in the 90’s!) called GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) that I thrived in. We did a lot of arts and cultural themed activities and trips. We went to the science museum, ballet, symphony, art museum, etc. I know these days districts are struggling for funds, but maybe you can do these kinds of activities together outside of school. With three other kids, it’s probably really hard for that one on one attention, but if you can carve out more time and really focus on things that are interesting to her,… Read more »

MR
Guest
MR

Definitely keep on praising good behavior. Being smart, she also has figured out that tantrums get attention, and so she is getting attention the only way she knows how. It will take her a while of testing you before she’ll stop that. Talk to her and explain why her siblings get attention when they have a tantrum, and why she won’t. Then, give her a specific way to ask for more attention. “Mom, I need some cuddles.” or whatever. It would also help if you find out her Love Language. You might be trying to do language and quality time… Read more »

Feisty Harriet
Guest

I think it’s sometimes hard for people to remember that a significantly gifted kid often feels just as out of place in an average classroom as a student who is significantly below average. They learn differently and need different teaching styles, and–typically–a lot more information to churn through because they pick it up so quickly. If school is boring and she has been feeling invisible at home, her reaction seems pretty expected, right? What is she most interested in? Reading? Math stuff? Hands-on projects? If you/she don’t know, try a bunch of different things and find something she loves, and… Read more »

Bethany
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Bethany

I was just coming here to post something about love languages! For the record, they are: Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Physical Touch, Acts of Service, and Words of Affirmation.

There’s actually a love languages book specifically about finding your child’s love language. I highly recommend it and the original version.

Bethany
Guest
Bethany

Oops, that was supposed to be a reply to a different post…

Angela
Guest
Angela

First – A great forum with homeschooling (and not) moms is the Well Trained Mind Forum. You might pop into the Special Needs board, because several families have the special need of giftedness! If you post an introduction, the other moms there are FANTASTIC, super experienced, and out-of-the-box thinkers. Second – can she do an outside of school activity? Like a sport, or music, ballet, cooking… or art… something like that? Doing something just for her that she is very good at would be great. You can also make a special trip to the library for a huge stack of… Read more »

Amy Renee
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Amy Renee

In some states, gifted and talented falls under special Ed the same as learning disabilities, ADHD, etc and the district is required to do an IEP or 504 plan, so do you homework and see if you can get it in writing what kind of services they have to provide. FWIW, given your family history, it is possible your daughter also has ADHD – but with the inattentive type that is more common in girls, and just appears more like daydreaming and maybe fidgety, not so much the active type that is more common in boys. This was me as… Read more »

kim too
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kim too

Speaking up as another gifted learner with undiagnosed inattentive ADD. The boredom could be coming from that, too, and seven is a perfect age for those symptoms to really start manifesting.  Worth checking out. Also, one of the best tidbits I took away from a GATE teacher training: we build self-esteem when we achieve things we ourselves see as challenging. Which can end up being a double whammy for gifted kids – not only do they not build self-esteem because they aren’t being challenged, it’s hard to build resilience and perseverance for those times when we are.  And if ADD… Read more »

s
Guest
s

Just as a bit of an lol, we had a teacher who was pretty much our first encounter into a “gifted program” when it was time for the meet the teacher nights parents would walk in and he’d say, oh you’re so and sos parents, I see here they’re in the special ed program. And the parents would get all huffy because people do not realize that the gifted programs fall on the same category as “special education” because it’s not the typical everyday standard public school education. Also, what sort of areas do you people live in to get… Read more »

C
Guest
C

Just one extra thing, I am from a family of 4 kids and I have a brother with ADHD.  I always felt like he got away with everything and only had some grasp of why things were different from him, made my mom worry, etc.  As we got older,  it was frustrating to see the time and energy spent on my brother’s goals that were expectations for me.  Looking back, I wish my parents would have explained to me why things were different for him than me and continued an open dialogue as I got older and understood more.  Maybe… Read more »

Em
Guest
Em

Our kids go to a “progressive” school in Silicon Valley. There is NOTHING for gifted kids here. Educators haven’t laughed at us, exactly, but they have not been accommodating of our kids’ needs. I also would like to know which areas of the country still have gifted programs, because we live in one of the most wealthy areas of the country and we have no resources at all.

Elizabeth
Guest
Elizabeth

Silicon Valley here, too.  My child is still a toddler, but I’ve been told that kids with gifted and talented special needs go to private schools. Which absolutely sucks for the gifted kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Jeannie
Guest
Jeannie

I have a gifted kid — but I don’t have the challenges of the other kids, so perhaps my response won’t be so helpful. I found having him designated as gifted to be HUGELY helpful — he gets to go to pull out programs and takes on special projects he likes. And most importantly for him, he has “permission” to skip the brain-numbing (to him) repetition of math class, and just do part of the page. It helped his behaviour / liking of school immensely.  We also have him in a language immersion program, so he’s pretty challenged doing all… Read more »

Karen
Guest
Karen

S – are you in California? We are, and gifted and talented is a joke. In the wealthiest districts parents fund the extras. We are in a great but not wealthy district so what GATE means here is you get to do robotics after school. So we homeschool. Hard for me, i left my career so also hard for our finances, but everyone is happier.

K
Guest
K

I second C’s comment above – I wonder if an honest, age appropriate conversation with your daughter about how different kids have different needs, even within the same family, and I might even go as far as to say be humble and honest – it’s hard to be available to that many humans, but you are doing your best. Invite her to be a part of the process – she’s old enough to help you look for and decide what outside of school or supplementary activities might be interesting for her, and she’s also old enough to have a conversation… Read more »

J
Guest
J

I was the gifted kid. And my little sister has ADHD. We didn’t have any other siblings. But I know how that feels! I behaved, she didn’t. My mom advocated for both of us. I got special spelling projects, independent reading projects, and other special opportunities to keep myself busy at school. She also supplemented outside of school with extra assignments and projects in order to keep me challenged. I was signed up for a ton of activities (dance, gymnastics, piano, girl scouts) where I could keep my brain busy and meet other kids. The gifted program also gave us… Read more »

Meredith
Guest
Meredith

Check out Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG). Great online resources, parent groups, etc. You should also look into your state’s gifted advocacy group since they tend to have all the info on programs in your area. Hoagies Gifted has helpful book lists to get you started as well. Good luck!

Jess
Guest
Jess

Definitely go and talk tour child’s teacher. Too often gifted and well behaved children can fly under the radar in a classroom.

Liz
Guest
Liz

Haven’t read the comments, so sorry if this is already covered. If you decide to have her talk to a therapist, please try not to send her to her brother’s therapist. Dual relationships are something therapists are trained to avoid, but they don’t always. Especially if you think she might need to talk about her feelings about her brother, HIS therapist won’t feel like a safe person to tell. She deserves her very own therapist, even if she only goes to 1 or 2 meetings. (Obviously, if you live in a tiny town with no other therapist available, then his… Read more »

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

I found A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children by Webb, et al. very, very helpful. ❤ Good luck!
http://www.amazon.com/A-Parents-Guide-Gifted-Children/dp/0910707790

April
Guest
April

I know 9 is young, but I had friends go through puberty then and start their periods at about that age. Could be related possibly?

kell
Guest
kell

I’m not a parent, so take my opinion with a grain of salt, but I WAS that kid – the quiet, easy going, creative one… who got stuck with that gifted diagnosis in the 4th grade.  My advice when it comes to any changes (both inside and outside of school), is to really listen to your daughter.  When I was classified as gifted, in 5th and 6th grades I was pulled from my class for one day a week to have enrichment classes with the other gifted kids from schools in the area.  I HATED IT.  I hated the kids… Read more »

Jey
Guest
Jey

I strongly recommend the book Misdiagnosis & Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children & Adults by Webb, Amend, Webb, Goerss, Beljan, & Olenchak.

Abby
Guest
Abby

I have a 4th grade girl and a 1st grade boy, both of who receive special classes throughout the week for being “gifted”. One thing I’ve noticed is that, with gifted children, you tend to get ignored unless you have test scores to back up your claims of giftedness (I can imagine how many moms they get every week claiming that their snowflake is a genius, she just knows it! so I understand this). It’s also sometimes considered a less urgent need than, say, a child with a learning disability who is struggling to read, thus gets put on the… Read more »