A Gifted Child

A Gifted Child

Long before I had anything resembling the wisdom to guide him; I met and tested a young boy whose I.Q. score exceeded the top of the scale on the Stanford Binet Intelligence Test. (His IQ score was over 170.) At the time, the “Binet” was the most respected measure of intelligence in young children. I was a graduate student; yet this boy, whom we will call Andrew, remains as vivid in my mind today as any child I have worked with in my career. I have often wondered what became of Andrew — whether with his extraordinary gifts he found a comfortable niche in this world.

Here is the story of what brought him to our clinic and the questions with which we (my faculty supervisor, a seminar of faculty and advanced students) wrestled. Hopefully describing Andrew’s situation will breathe life into a series of discussions about choices facing gifted kids and their parents.

When we met, Andrew was just 5 years old. His parents brought him to the university diagnostic service at the urging of their pediatrician. That doctor was so blown away by this child’s obvious intellectual precocity that he persisted until the family reluctantly agreed to go ahead with the referral. I couldn’t yet appreciate the fact that encountering a child this brilliant was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for almost any professional. The pediatrician and my supervisor understood that. I would never again encounter Andrew’s intellectual equal.

Interestingly enough, his parents were resistant to considering him “gifted”, an unusual twist on what most of us expect from parents, even those whose kids’ gifts are less remarkable than Andrew’s. Andrew’s parents were naturalized U.S. citizens who had spent their earliest years under unspeakable conditions in their native land. Having at last achieved the chance to live safe, normal, even mundane lives in America, they were apparently determined to assimilate and blend in. They had been working and saving to move out of the city and into a homogeneous suburban community. There they and their two children could be real Americans.

In actual practice, it is rare for a psychologist to spend more than one session on diagnostic testing; but I had 5 or 6 sessions with Andrew. This was a training center. We were encouraged to take our time. Administering the Binet to a gifted child took time, because the design of this test requires beginning at the child’s age level and asking harder and harder questions until the child gets several wrong in a row. That didn’t happen until Andrew reached mostly adult levels.

After the formal testing, we played in the playroom and carried on a dialogue about everything from dinosaurs, and the library books he was reading, to school and friends. Away from purely intellectual pursuits, Andrew’s remarkable maturity had vanished. He was sillier than even the typical 5 year old, had difficulty with cooperative play, referred to his classmates’ not liking him or he them, and even with me, he was awkward, in great contrast to his poise during the formal testing. I noted that Andrew wasn’t comfortable having a two-way conversation. He made pronouncements or said nonsensical or irrelevant things. I could imagine that such behavior was not likely to endear him to his peers. His motor development also stood in sharp contrast to his intellectual performance.

I was convinced that this boy should apply to a highly respected school for the gifted, associated with a college in the city. I had no doubt that he would be accepted, and it was tuition-free for those who qualify. That, of course, would mean that the family would have to cancel or defer plans to move to the suburbs. In addition, I recommended social skill training, speech therapy for a lisp, and occupational therapy for his lagging motor development.

It seemed to me that in the public school of a homogeneous suburb, Andrew would be an oddity, likely to be teased and/or isolated. There seemed every reason to expect his parents to give up their dream to support this genius of theirs. What is more, they would very likely be facing a similar issue with their daughter before long.

But they were resolute about their plans, and I think politely resented the interference from their pediatrician and me. How could I, a sheltered, 20-something, American born woman, without children, possibly understand their family’s needs? I hope time and experience have seasoned me; I think I do understand now. I understand that each child and family’s situation is unique; and one member’s (or even two’s) extraordinary IQ scores cannot/should not determine the family’s lifestyle.

Read the whole series on gifted kids:

1. Congratulations: Your Child Is Gifted
2. Many Kinds of "Gifted"
3. Guiding a Gifted and Talented Child
4. Why Gifted Isn't Everything

April 23, 2008

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