A summary of the presentation given by Dr Gail Byrne to CHIP Geelong.

Gail has a wide range of experience with CHIP; not just as a psychologist, but as a parent and teacher as well. During her presentation she touched on many issues which I suspect will sound all too familiar to you, just as they resonated with me.  Gail discussed the following amongst other topics and questions from the floor:

  • Happiness being a complex issue for CHIP
  • Asynchrony
  • Peers in the classroom
  • The stigma paradigm
  • Engagement at home
  • Underachievement and boredom

What do people mean when they say ‘gifted’?

Gail defines giftedness where one or more of the following applies: “Gift or talent is comparitvely rare, considerably earlier and/or significantly more advanced”. This description applies to the top 3-5 percent of the population, which equates to one (often unrecognised) CHIP per classroom.

How do we explain “social and emotional” development? For example, is our child able to name and understanding feelings like self concept, self esteem, resilience, positive/negative emotions, etc? We might, for example, measure healthy social development as having many friendships. But managing friendships can prove hard for CHIP. Their age-based peers are often not interested in the same things, or with the same intensity. Most children are within 6-12 months of chronological age but moral development in CHIP is linked to intellectual age, which can be vastly different. The end result is that CHIP may find more similarity with peers that share their relative IQ age rather than chronological age.

CHIP develop emotional intelligence, humour, independence, responsibility, etc but asynchronously to their age-equivalent peers. This is because CHIP move through development at a faster rate, leaving their inner experience out of step with the norm.  For example, a 10 year old CHIP may be a year 9-equivalent reader but they may be grade 2 level in art and perhaps very clumsy. The same child might be mathematically astute but can’t write any better than a 7 year old because they can’t get words onto paper at the speed which they think them. They don’t get the “greys” in right or wrong, so find it hard to analyse the literature they read in class.

Inconsistent development renders the CHIP vulnerable.

CHIP do not respond to the world predictably. For example, we might expect an 8 year old to have a tantrum but it is hard to accept the same behaviour from a CHIP who has just had an intellectual conversation with you about William Shakespeare. The end result is that CHIP may feel that no one understands them. This can lead to moods, grumpiness, a tendency to tears and a general inability to cope – behaviours we might attribute to other causes (e.g. “not ready for school”).

Ages in a classroom can range, but so can IQ. Imagine a class with a low IQ student, an average and a highly gifted student. The curriculum is set and altered to accommodate the low IQ student. This is mandated, however no mandate exists to adjust the curriculum “up” to address the needs of the top 3-5% high IQ CHIP. All of these children are treated as peers, but what are they sharing except the same age?

Research shows that much of the teaching in a classroom is aimed between the low IQ and average cohorts. An average child is capable of learning faster than this pace, but the high IQ CHIP will process information 8 times faster than the low IQ student. The average child might “get it” after one repeat example, but the high IQ student new it already and is at risk of becoming bored and disengaged over time.

Acceleration/Grade Advancement and select entry can all help as they cut out the level of repetition. But some people argue that acceleration negatively impacts social and emotional development: “What happens when my child is 18? What have they missed? Do they catch up?”.

They miss nothing.

CHIP experience everything non-CHIP students do; they just process it faster.

Plus is it actually a bad thing if your child is too young to go to the pub in Year 12? Other concerns with advancement may be valid in individual, extreme cases, e.g. 14 year old early entry to University. But generally speaking this is not a valid concern. Research says that while age-mate relationships may become harder, relationships with intellectual peers prove better. Accelerated students report better adjustment, maturity, trends to leadership, etc with less adjustment issues, less bad behaviour and fewer mental health issues.

Accelerating rarely happens in secondary school. But when it does, it often occurs early as students shouldn’t miss complex core curricula (as knowledge scaffolds over time). Accelerating in Grade 6-7 is considered optimal, just as is Prep is at the primary school level. The key to success is to make sure the receiving teacher understands the importance of teaching the gaps. The teacher must also understand if the CHIP will or won’t have the asynchronously-displaced maturity level to understand content, e.g. to be able to understand the greys in Dostoyevsky and interpret it appropriately in line with the curriculum.

Question Time Notes

A note on involving the child in the decision to accelerate: Don’t make this a democratic decision. The child doesn’t have an equal view so their desire to progress or not should not drive the decision (plus the fear of the unknown may influence their choice not to accelerate)

A note on the “stigma paradigm”: CHIP have same need for social links as we all do. But other kids can treat CHIP differently. Over time this leads to the emotionally clever CHIP developing coping mechanisms to blend with the wider group. For example, they may target their achievement to the level of the rest of the classroom. Girls are quire clever at this act, so it is important to test girls early (refer to Debrowski for research in this area).

“My child is upset by feeling different”. Children modify their self-concept based on the feedback they receive from important people around them. CHIP can feel guilty about the things they can’t do: “people are watching me to see when I make mistakes”, “I am not as smart as everyone seems to think”

A note on “cooperative learning”: While group work is done with good intentions and may hold benefits for the general population, it does not benefit a CHIP to sit with less-able kids in the classroom. The CHIP ends up doing all the work. But the same activity with a different cohort (intellectual peer-equivalents) can prove to be a different, positive experience for the CHIP.

 A note on “boredom”: Should the CHIP be performing better? Check if the child is non-communicative and withdrawn, or passively complying to get by. Perhaps the issue you observe is aggression and disruption – a classic ‘problem’ student? An enormous number of children who are gifted don’t achieve.

What if your child comes home and says “school is boring”? What can you do about it? How you respond when your buttons are pushed is important, as CHIP are clever and will monitor and manipulate your behaviour when boredom sets in. (This tactic is used by children of all abilities, of course). Step back, be objective, try and determine whether this is a case of boredom and if so what the cause is. Work with the teacher to find out if your child presents differently at school. Teachers can use an evidence based approach to find out if the child is being targeted at the correct level, e.g. use a post-test as a pre-test or set a grade 6 maths test for a grade 3 student then look for the gaps and teach to those. If the student is being targeted at the correct level, remember that your job and the teacher’s job is not to continually supply (and overload) the CHIP with stimulating activities and entertainment devices. Ultimately the child needs to learn to meet their own needs for fulfilment.

A note on school refusal: How can you determine that the gifted child can do the work when they refuse to? CHIP can prefer to talk rather than write, as they think quicker than their hand will process. CHIP can shy away from the tasks they are not good at. But how will they learn what they need to do to become resilient if we as parents keep rescuing them? School must follow their normal process for any child who refuses to follow rules and work. The parent has to support the school, even if the student is kept in at lunchtime. You shouldn’t say a bad word about the school in front of the child, otherwise you send the message that learning at school isn’t effective and you risk school refusal. So show a united front, but discuss real issues away from the child. Remember, school is not a democracy. (Caveat, the work that has to be done has to have sound educational reasons not just busy work as that won’t extend CHIP)

A note on child sensitivity: We talk to CHIP like they are adults, but sometimes a child just needs to be a child and will revert under stress to age-appropriate behaviour (e.g. anger). However the clever CHIP can use this knowledge to manipulate others, swap between reactions, etc. We need to consider this in context. For example, is a sobbing and distressed CHIP having a meltdown or being highly sensitive? Or is it a fair response for a child that has just read about a death in the newspaper and understands the full implications (i.e. “I will die someday”)? Sometimes it is an over the top reaction, but they may just be trying to make sense and regain control. Both teachers and families need to learn the difference between manipulation and true sadness so we can be supportive to our CHIP.

 A note on the parental emotional state: As parents our needs aren’t always acknowledged, but we can be isolated as our CHIP do different things to average children. It can be difficult to find other’s in a similar position to talk to. So connect with and organise play dates with like-minded families.