There was a programme on the other night about gifted kids. I tried hard not to watch it, but in the end I watched bits of it and started to get mad, as I knew I would. The worst part was watching a lone parent mother drag the three kids off on the bus and hang out on a university campus all day in order for the kid to do something relevant to his brain. It hit a nerve with me as I remember doing all of that a few years ago. The TV cameras didn't show the bits where one of the kids gets sick on the bus, or of losing a coat somewhere or a child, or having to change busses because of a breakdown.
By the time the next two kids were assessed I had gotten fed up with the whole dragging up to Dublin lark, and besides, these courses; the only ones available for gifted kids, are elitist. They cost a small fortune, which I don't understand, as surely there is no reason for them to cost way more than any other extra curricular activities for kids? So it means that really, it's only middle class kids and up who are getting the stimulation they need in order to balance their other, quite ordinary attributes.
You get it all wrong with the first kid anyway. I sent him to a 'child centred' Educate Together school, where the focus is upon the child's individual needs. It didn't take long for me to be told that there is no funding for kids like mine, and at the lowest point of trying to explain his needs to a teacher was when I was asked 'do you not think you're being selfish asking for support for your child when we have so many kids here who really have special needs?'
Maybe that was the high point though, because it was also the moment that I realised I was banging my head against a brick wall. If anything, the school were adverse to my kid being gifted and I always got this underlying feeling that deep down they wanted to prove that academic ability is way less important than social development and I also realised that the so called 'special needs' tend to have a 'top of the pops' trend to them. When my son was in primary school there was definitely a leaning towards spending all the support money on socialising kids with autism into the classroom.
Now don't get me wrong, I've seen some great and important work happen on this area and I've experienced it with peers of my children, I just don't see why it should be so top heavy when it comes to funding. All I'm pointing out here is that it's by a long shot not the only need going on, even if it might be the one that produces the best tangible results for the teachers involved, because you can really see the changes, and it looks good.
Gifted kids don't make great statistics, and during my son's time in primary school the little bit of funding that had previously been there was removed. 'Gifted' is also a very unfortunate word for kids with a high I.Q. It sounds as if they are lucky or talented. It conjures up the image of a bright and happy child who is already set up for a wonderful and happy career. In fact, 'gifted' in a child, means to me an imbalance between I.Q. and emotional intelligence. In assessments, the word 'gifted' is used to describe a child whose I.Q. is in the top 5% of the population. So that means that if you were to go on the law of averages, a school with 200 kids in it will have about ten gifted kids and no resources to do anything to support them.
Trying to balance a high I.Q. with an average emotional intelligence has a huge impact upon a child's development and is, indeed, a special need. I should know, I've lived through the tantrums.
In my son's case he just about made it through primary school by skipping a class and with a huge amount of absences. The school had no resources and no interest in teaching him what I thought should be the basics for any child, and that is: how to learn. His mind was never really stimulated, and this was a total disaster when he entered second level education. He didn't have a clue about how to apply himself, and also, having skipped a class, he was younger than most of his peers.
Of course, the social needs are huge, but you can't really separate them, can you? Having worked in training myself for many years, I've become aware of how the interest in emotional intelligence has grown, and let's face it, you don't need a high I.Q to manage Ryanair, but you sure won't be accepted into pilot school with an I.Q. of 80 either. I just don't believe that you have to square a circle, and I don't see why it's such a big deal not to have great social skills if you are happy enough within yourself. After all, if Bill Gates hadn't been a bit nerdy, I probably wouldn't be writing this blog right now. The bottom line is this: we need every type of person in our society, and we need to support some more than others. Practically, though, it seems that 'support' doesn't mean helping a child to get comfortable with who they are, but rather, helping to mould a child to fit in with what the average is, and what 'looks right'. And ultimately, supporting gifted children within the system can be a dangerous job. They might just be insightful enough to question the value of it all...