Gifted children are a joy and wonder to watch as they effortlessly progress through many different facets of growth and development. Their intellectual capabilities are far beyond those of their peer age group. They possess outstanding abilities and are capable of performing at astonishingly higher levels of performance when compared to other children. Although there are many standardized tests of intelligence that help educators and professionals accurately identify gifted students, parents usually recognize their advanced development first.
It is very likely that most parents recognize that there is something unique and special about their gifted child during the first three years of life. Gifted children demonstrate extraordinary growth and development skills during this time. They accomplish and surpass expected milestones months or even years before other children their same age. Parents observe their children rapidly progressing through various stages of development and they are often described as "ahead of their age". Some of the signs of a gifted child include:
Many gifted children learn to read earlier than expected and can more easily understand what they read.
They learn basic skills more quickly and apply reasoning at an early age.
They are curious and ask more questions about "how" and "why".
Gifted children usually communicate well verbally with their parents, siblings, peers, and even strangers -- and they usually have an expanded vocabulary.
They appear to be very organized and efficient.
Gifted children enjoy a challenge and seek opportunities to grow developmentally and solve new problems.
They are able to understand abstract ideas, non-verbal communication, and other types of communication.
These are just some of the potential characteristics of gifted children. There are many more signs that indicate a child has a special talent and ability to learn, communicate, grow, and develop. Parents and teachers who recognize these signs will often give gifted children many more opportunities to learn and excel.
But recent studies also indicate that gifted children may suffer from sensory sensitivities more often than their non-gifted peers. Based on his research, W. Roedell, in his article published in Roeper Review, theorizes that the gifted child often has intense sensitivity. This means that gifted children may undergo more stress due to their inability to effectively process some of the sensory signals travelling through their bodies and to their brains.
To understand what this means, it is important to understand how sensory integration works. Sensory integration is the ability for people to process sensory data and information collected from the five senses and from the environment surrounding them. It is a neurological process that carries the stimuli to the brain where it is processed, organized, and evaluated for usable information or actions. When sensory integration is interrupted or does not function properly, it is like a mis-fire or mis-cue to the brain. Pieces or parts of information are missing and it is difficult for the brain to process the data. This can result in problems with daily living skills, academic progress, or social interactions.
While parents may be swelled with pride and adoration as they watch their young gifted child grow and develop - and justifiably so - they may overlook this important aspect of their child's development and behaviour. They may believe that their child has difficulty socializing with peers because "he is just smarter than they are" or "he needs more mature interactions". Unfortunately, the real problem may be that he may be experiencing sensory integration dysfunction and it is too difficult for the child to engage in social interactions, develop friendships, or enjoy activities with other children.
If a gifted child is affected by sensory integration challenges, it is possible that he or she may have more functional problems than other children. They could become more aggressive, impulsive, withdrawn, and introverted than other children. They do not experience the gratification and developmental processes associated with healthy social interactions because they do not participate in social activities as often.
So where does all of this information and data lead us when it comes to helping gifted children overcome sensory integration dysfunction, or teaching them to manage through some of the challenges associated with this issue?
Educators, therapists, and counselors must be keenly aware of this issue and must evaluate gifted children carefully to assess whether or not it is a problem. Utilizing this information when developing and observing children in classroom settings, activities, and social activities becomes vital to understanding any special needs of gifted children.
For example, although gifted children may be well above their peers in intellectual capacity and application, they may experience more sensitivity and have difficulty processing certain noises, sights, or sounds. They may find that bright fluorescent lighting creates a feeling of confusion or anxiety for the gifted child. Turning down the lights to accommodate the child may help. If the child is more sensitive to loud noises, then playing music at a lower volume or speaking in a softer tone may be beneficial. Parents and teachers both need to understand the sensory stimulus that affects a child and help the child learn to deal with the challenge. But they must also teach the child how to cope with the sensory sensitivities in various ways.
In "Sensory Sensitivities of Gifted Children", there is an indepth view and analysis into this topic. The theories and hypotheses that are addressed through various researchers indicates that gifted children may have different sensory modulations (or different ways of processing sensory stimuli) than those who are not gifted. W. Roedell theorizes that "gifted children's unique challenges and skills are likely embedded in a neurological system that perceives and responds to the environment differently from children of typical intelligence."
As parents, teachers, and professionals, we must learn to understand the gifted child better and evaluate whether or not sensory integration challenges are present. This also means that we must find tools and resources to help gifted children manage their sensory challenges so they can focus, concentrate, and become more socially engaged. Until now, many educators and professionals believed that sensory integration dysfunction was a problem associated with children who had ADHD, hyperactivity, or other disorders. This new research opens up a whole new world of possibilities to provide the gifted child with better guidance and resources related to the sensory processing.
Rather than assume a gifted child is just acting inappropriately in a social environment, or that the child has behavior problems, or even that the child just doesn't want to play with children his own age due to his higher intelligence level, parents and professionals should explore the tools, resources, and information that can better assess and uncover the real problem. A higher intellectual capacity is just one aspect of a gifted child's life and world. They excel above their peers in this area, but they may also experience psychosocial issues that deter them from engaging in vital and rewarding developmental social interactions with others.
Accessing information and tools to support the growth and development in all aspects of the gifted child's life is an important part of the educational and nurturing process. For further information on research or resources related to gifted children and sensory sensitivities, or sensory processing difficulties, refer to the full studies noted in this article.
Roedell, W. (1984). Vulnerabilities of highly gifted children. Roeper Review, 6, 127-130.
Miller, L., Anzalone, M., Lane, S., Cermak, S., & Osten, E. (2007). Concept evolution in sensory integration: A proposed nosology for diagnosis. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 61, 135-140.
Gere, D. R., Capps, S. C., Mitchell, D.W. & Grubbs, E. (2009) Sensory sensitivities of gifted children. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 64, 288-295.
Debbie Hopper, an accredited occupational therapist, has a Masters Degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Sydney. Debbie is passionate about her mission of researching, evaluating, and making the most valuable resources and tools easily accessible to parents, teachers, and therapists.
With post-graduate training in sensory integration assessment and intervention, Debbie brings significant focus to this area of growth and development through LifeSkills4Kids.com.au. Debbie's passion gives her a relentless drive and motivation to continually research new and innovative resources to help children learn and benefit from all life skills.
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