These experiences demonstrate that giftedness is not linear, success is not guaranteed, and support at many levels is essential. Following the journeys of two entirely different experiences, my recommendations for parents and teachers are to believe in your children, look beyond the struggles to see a child’s strengths, and support them where they are, not where we wish them to be.
According to the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), the definition of giftedness is “Giftedness may manifest in one or more domains such as: intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership, or in a specific academic field such as language arts, mathematics or science.” The NAGC also notes that giftedness exists in every demographic group and personality type, and importantly, not all gifted children look or act alike.
I know I am not gifted. However, I married well. My husband’s academic results place him in the gifted category. Two of our sons may be described as gifted today, with giftedness being displayed in their late teens and early twenties. Through stories, I share that giftedness is not linear, success is not guaranteed, and support on multiple levels is essential for children to flourish.
Our eldest son, Nathanael, was always quick with verbal responses and learned everything with ease. Reading The Hobbit by age ten set the stage for him to be a lifelong reader, continuously growing his knowledge base. As a nonconformist, and one who questioned every rule, he had a difficult time maintaining his interest at school. His being seen as smart and yet failing to produce academic results had family and school questioning “what is wrong with this child?”
Nathanael wandered his way through his education as an underachiever, leaving me with several distinct, not-so-pleasant-memories. Attending parent-teacher meetings while he was attending high school left me anxious and depressed. Teachers commented, “Nathanael completes minimal work.”
“Nathanael hands in average work—when he chooses to hand in the work.”
“Nathanael is about to fail English. He is required to gain 85 percent on the final exam to pass.” (He eventually achieved 86 percent.)
Each meeting compounded stress. After one such event, I had my annual doctor’s visit. My blood pressure, measured at 190/140, told a story in itself.
In my experience, gifted children rarely follow a straight path to adulthood. Years of poor to average academic success flew by before he found himself at a crossroad. He failed computer science and wondered where his future lay. Taking time off from studies, he worked at the local supermarket, only to realize that such a future offered him limited options. After considerable contemplation, he returned to school, this time as a mechanical engineering student.
Nathanael found the studies engaging and liked his professors. He completed all the homework and used his engineering knowledge to challenge his professors on numerous concepts. His computer science background became an asset. He found further purpose through checking problems in a workbook written by his professor. Nathanael took on this task, delighted to return to the professor with the response: “These problems need to be corrected.”
He learned to argue with professors, from an engineering viewpoint, thus continuing to develop and build his knowledge. Eventually, he graduated mechanical engineering with a GPA of 4.0. His overall GPA allowed him to gain interviews with highly ranked engineering companies. He found his niche and now works with other engineers with similar interests.
Giftedness is not linear, success is not guaranteed, and support at many levels is essential.
Sometimes it is challenging to believe two children belong to the same parents. My second son, Nicholas, was the opposite to his brother.
Giftedness was not a label afforded to him in school. Records will show that he failed first grade. Slow with speaking and language, his weaknesses impacted his learning. (The struggle was enormous and written about in last month’s essay.) Despite being excellent at puzzles from an early age, learning basic mathematical concepts was also laborious. Nicholas came across as slow and sometimes dim, due to his processing speed and struggles with language. When he failed to learn to read in first grade, once again we were asked, “What is wrong with this child?”
Every portion of learning took additional effort, extraordinary patience, and neurodiverse delivery. Later, it was through building with K’NEX that his extraordinary spatial awareness and giftedness exhibited themselves. Nicholas always wished for the biggest K’NEX sets, and for his eleventh birthday, his desires were realised. He began by building the model on the box, and completed it with ease. Quickly becoming bored with the box sets, he developed his own structures from pictures and his memory. He started building the Sydney Harbour Bridge and completed it to the best of his ability. His father, a professor of engineering, saw his handiwork. “Nicholas,” he said, “the arches need strengthening, and the base of the towers could use some bracing.”
The expertise his father provided rocketed Nicholas to success. His models amazed onlookers as they were displayed at his local elementary school, the science center, and Toys R Us. Building with K’NEX developed the skills necessary to help him communicate, using the language of mathematics.
Such accomplishments were dependent on family support, extraordinary teachers, and school systems who found value in him as a person. For the very first time, his K’NEX expertise showed his giftedness. Despite his slow reading speed, he passed subjects throughout school without modifications before he graduated in the top 20 percent of his high school, allowing him to continue on to undergraduate studies.
It was only while studying for two undergraduate degrees and searching for writing support that updated testing was required. Such tests showed obvious weaknesses with phonemic awareness and decoding, where he scored in the lowest percentiles. On the science and mathematical tests, he placed on the eighty-fifth percentile and above. With spatial awareness, he placed on the ninety-ninth percentile. When a child has such enormous deficits, it takes longer for his giftedness to be acknowledged. He built on his strengths by completing his PhD in applied mathematics from Oxford University.
These experiences demonstrate that giftedness is not linear, success is not guaranteed, and support at many levels is essential.
Following the journeys of two entirely different experiences, my recommendations for parents and teachers are to believe in your children, look beyond the struggles to see a child’s strengths, and support them where they are, not where we wish them to be. Find the language that supports a child’s effort over giftedness, finding a variety of opportunities to widen a child’s skill base. For Nicholas, it was K’NEX while for Nathanael, it was discovering the practical applications of mechanical engineering.