Gifted children need to be nurtured and understood, say experts

Prerna Mittra
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There is no conclusive research on whether a child who has been identified as gifted will grow up to be a gifted adult. (Source: Getty/Thinkstock)

In the 2017 film Gifted, a visibly restless and irate Mary Adler (played by Mckenna Grace) sits inside a class full of first-graders and sighs repeatedly when asked to answer basic mathematical questions. Her witticism gets the attention of the teacher, who then proceeds to quiz her on advanced mathematics. With every question, Grace lets Jenny Slate's Bonnie Stevenson know that she is not an average first-grader, and that she is incredibly bored of these questions.

This sets the pace of the film, which then begins to explore the world of this gifted child, her reluctant de facto guardian Frank Adler (Chris Evans) and an ambitious grandmother who lets known that she will stop at nothing to make her granddaughter a child prodigy. A legal battle ensues with Frank pushing for a 'normal' childhood for his niece, and his mother wanting her to get enrolled in a school for gifted children and do wonders in the world of mathematics.

This film, in recent times, set the tone for the challenges that 'gifted' children face, not just in one particular country, but everywhere in the world. For the uninitiated, the term 'gifted child' means a child who is intellectually gifted with an ability that is significantly higher than average. In other words, a gifted child may be able to perform tasks that are a few years beyond their age and basic understanding.

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To understand it better, spoke to experts, and here is what they said.

"A child is identified as gifted if they show exceptional ability in a domain that will place them at the top three per cent of the age/peer group. For parents, if they see their child showing advanced abilities in a particular subject, say mathematics, which is not taught to them, and they have learnt on their own, it would definitely make them stand as exceptional," Dr Anitha Kurup, Professor and Head of Educational Programme at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), said.

"But, the child may not show this ability across all the subject domains -- it could just be one, or more than one area. For instance, even in science, it may not be the entire subject; it could just be astronomy, or a child could suddenly be interested in insects. Their interest will push them to look for more information around that area, and the depth of information they accumulate will perhaps be beyond their years," Kurup added.

gifted children, gifted children education, gifted children learning, challenges faced by gifted children, parenting, indian express, indian express news

A still from the 2017 film Gifted, wherein actor Mckenna Grace portrayed the role of a mathematically-gifted child Mary Adler.

Identification of a gifted child cannot be isolated from the fact that it comes with its set of challenges. And while the country's academia is designed to benefit those who lag a tad behind, there's nothing much done for the kid whose IQ is well beyond years. That is because there is not much awareness as to how to raise a gifted child. Unlike Frank Adler, many Indian parents insist on building a certain kind of pressure on their child, so as to make full use of their gifted abilities. And while tapping into their potentiality is encouraged, unnecessary pressure can make them resentful of their gifts. In schools, teachers are often confounded by such kids, unsure of how to guide them. This is why striking a balance becomes imperative.

The challenges

The NIAS strives to mentor gifted kids both in rural and urban India, by charting out a special curriculum for them, and by getting them in touch with experts who can hone their skills. It could be in any domain -- arts, sports, music. "We started off with academics, as we realised that in music and arts, you already have an informal structure in place in the country. You are trained under a mentor, and are able to proceed at a pace depending on how well you excel. Also, it is not age dependent, unlike academics," Kurup said.

According to the Kaveri Gifted Education and Research Center, which too works on an inclusive model of gifted education "where the needs of the gifted are addressed in a regular school system without isolating or mystifying" them, an estimated 19 million children in the age group of 6-15 years in India are gifted.

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And while there is no conclusive research on whether a child who has been identified as gifted will grow up to be a gifted adult, the fact remains that constantly providing the right environment can help kids develop. The question of whether they can have a 'normal childhood', depends on several factors. Most of the gifted children, upon being labelled, are under tremendous pressure to perform. This may cause psychological difficulties, making them turn to counselling and support. "If they are not understood by their teachers and peers in the classrooms, they can suffer in isolation. In schools, they might feel the pressure to be like other students, thereby hiding their gifts," Kurup pointed out.

Author Kamala V. Mukunda of What Did You Ask At School Today books 1 and 2, however, said that gifted children often get singled out, and depending on their age, their childhood and social life can get negatively impacted. It is, therefore, in their own interest that their gifts are not highlighted until they are about 15 or 16 years old and can express themselves better. "No one is saying suppress it, but to make the child's gift a focus at the cost of other things, is a very adult obsession," she said.