Home > getting started > Oh, no, my kid might be gifted! Where do I start?

Oh, no, my kid might be gifted! Where do I start?

This is perhaps the most common reason people call me.  Maybe they always assumed that their kids would be gifted, but had also assumed that there would be clear and easy guidance and help available from the school system.  Or maybe giftedness just wasn’t on their radar, but a pediatrician or teacher or relative or someone else said something.  Either way, they started web-searching, and quickly found themselves confused and overwhelmed — there is so much information, so much jargon, all the information is contradictory, and so much of it is, well, highly opinionated.

[Okay, so I’m probably no exception to the “highly opinionated” thing, but I try not to go off the, “Your kid is a super-special superior being,” or the, “If you don’t do this One Right Thing and you don’t do it Right Now, you’re not taking proper care of your child,” deep ends.  If I do, please don’t hesitate to call me on it.]

But let me give you a few simple things to do.

First, breathe.  Your kid is wonderful and terrific and you are feeling the same awesome responsibility as the custodian of a young life as all good parents do.  But, as I tell my own kids, unless something is bleeding or on fire, chances are good that this isn’t an emergency.  I do get some emergency-type calls (school is in the process of throwing a kid out, kid is emotionally falling apart on a regular basis, etc.), and if that’s the kind of situation you’re in, absolutely send me a note or give me a call and I’ll talk you through.

But otherwise, relax.  Your kid is the same kid they were yesterday and is the same kid they’re going to be tomorrow.  A day or a week or a month here or there isn’t going to make the difference between a fulfilling life of scholarship, career, and love, and a kid who crashes and burns and ends up on Skid Row.  It’s okay to take the time to get your bearings.  And few decisions are truly permanent — you can usually change course later.

Okay.  There are a lot of books written about gifted kids and how to parent them.  I frankly don’t think that parents (who are probably pretty smart themselves!) need to read every book out there — there’s not going to be that much new information once you’ve read one.  My current go-to book — it’s comprehensive, realistic, calm, not worshipful or overblown or dismissive — is Webb, J.T., Gore, J.L., Amend, E.R., & DeVries, A.R. (2007).  A parent’s guide to gifted children.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

If you’re looking for some specific suggestions for curricula, toys, books, contests, local groups, you name it, go to Hoagies.  Carolyn K curates probably the largest single pile of links to All Things Gifted.  You name it, it’s probably already there.  If it’s not, tell Carolyn, and she’ll add it.  It’s not the easiest site to browse through, just because there’s so much of it — use the search tool liberally.  Hoagies also has a wealth of articles with every possible opinion on every possible topic, but chances are good that’s what got you overwhelmed in the first place (grin).

One very strong theme in the research literature on giftedness is the idea of social isolation, both for kids and for parents.  Yeah, you.  Giftedness is treated with a lot of ambivalence in the USA and similar cultures — you’re supposed to have brilliant kids, but whatever you do, Don’t Talk About Them.  The single best thing parents can do for themselves is to break the isolation.  If you go to Hoagies (of course), there is a list of mailing lists and ways to get in contact with other parents: http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/on-line_support.htm.  What I usually recommend is to subscribe to GT-Families and TAGFAM, two general-interest mailing lists.  Volume can be high at times — try using your mail program to sort messages into a folder, and if you get behind by a week or more, don’t feel bad about deleting.  There are also related lists for parents of kids who are twice-exceptional, homeschooling, radically accelerated, etc.  The lists are *very* helpful for parents to get advice and feedback from each other, and even just to have a place to talk about what they’re going through without being assumed to be bragging.

The GT universe is also moving into social media — many of the major players have Facebook pages (you can find mine here), blogs, Twitter accounts, etc.  Hoagies again is a great one to follow, and allow yourself to bop around and enjoy the variety of viewpoints.  I don’t have favorites yet in this realm — it’s changing too fast.

Another great organization is Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted:  Besides having some very good articles on the social-emotional experience of giftedness, they train facilitators to run local parent support groups.  Very helpful for breaking the isolation and processing one’s own experiences of growing up gifted.  Hint: the kid didn’t just fall out of the sky that way…

There is a National Association of Gifted Children, and every state has an association.  Associations vary widely in terms of what they actually provide — my experience has been that they are more focused around political advocacy than around direct service to parents or kids.  You can find a list of the state associations on that same Hoagies page.

Many parents who call me are looking to find out about what their school districts are obligated to do.  You can find a complete listing of state laws affecting gifted kids at Genius Denied.  The title might lead you to think that it’s a pretty depressing listing, and you’d be right.  Sigh.

Along with that, by the way, if you think your child might be twice-exceptional, or if you live in a state where gifted education is handled through the special education process, the place to go is Wrightslaw.

There are many state and regional talent searches; find the ones serving your location on the Hoagies Talent Search page. All offer low-cost methods for kids to take out-of-level achievement tests (because they’d hit the ceilings of grade-level achievement tests, of course!), qualifying them to take courses designed for gifted kids.  Courses can be expensive but financial aid is available.  The courses are generally terrific, and the chance to be with other gifted kids is one that many kids treasure.  If nothing else, having a qualifying score on these is a cheap-and-easy way to get something objective in hand that you can share with your child’s district when they say, “Oh, we have lots of kids just like that.”

To learn about what the research actually says about the various different forms of academic acceleration, you can download the A Nation Deceived and A Nation Empowered reports for free.  They’re from three of the leading researchers in gifted education, and, as the title might suggest, most of what educators think they know just isn’t so.  They typically get zero training in gifted issues while in teacher school, and what they do get typically just perpetuates the myths.  And don’t worry about that “social-emotional” thing, or the one story they can tell you about the kid who accelerated and was miserable — the most important social-emotional need for gifted kids is appropriate academic challenge and real peers.

The best single book to share with teachers is: Winebrenner, S., & Brulles, D. (2012). Teaching gifted kids in today’s classroom: Strategies and techniques every teacher can use (3rd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.  She talks about how to actually implement techniques like curriculum compacting (test out of what you already know), tiered or differentiated lesson plans (have different kids do different things on the same topic), and independent projects, without spending lots of money or putting forth enormous effort.  There’s even a companion CD with customizable forms for the teachers to use.

Because we need to break the social isolation of the kids, too, I also strongly recommend sharing with administrators if they’ll let you:  Winebrenner, S., & Brulles, D. (2008).  The cluster grouping handbook: A schoolwide model: How to challenge gifted students and improve achievement for all. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.  In cluster grouping, instead of spreading the gifted kids out among all classes in a grade (which seems “fair” to the teachers, but makes it very hard for the gifted kids to find each other), they get put in groups of about 5-6 kids within a few classrooms.  This costs nothing to implement, and not only does the book tell a principal how and why, it even includes sample letters to help manage the political stuff around it.

If you are considering a whole-grade acceleration (grade skip), check out the Iowa Acceleration Scales, 3rd edition.  It’s a research-based measure designed to help parents and administrators talk in a holistic fashion about a kid when making placement decisions.  If you’re talking with administrators about district-wide acceleration policy (hey, a girl can dream, eh?) the Institute for Research and Policy on Acceleration has guidelines.  Both of these are from the same folks as Nation Deceived.

If a kid has IQ and achievement scores both above 145, there are some great opportunities available through the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.  Consultation, financial support, classes for kids and parents, all sorts of nice stuff.  Even if the child is not eligible (I always have to remind people who come to me for testing that by the math of the normal curve, 96% of kids above 130 are *not* above 145), DITD has some public-access bulletin boards with useful information and discussions as well, and a database of articles on specific topics.

That should get you started.  If you need more help, ask me, ask on the mailing lists, ask on the bboards, ask wherever, and you’ll get lots of help.  Typically, folks introduce their questions with, “I don’t know if anyone has ever had this happen, but…” and everyone says, “Oh, no, we’ve all had that happen, here’s the different ways we dealt with it.”  Sure, you’ll probably end up with way too many ideas, and you’ll hear all sorts of, er, very strong opinions.  Remember that I’m here giving you permission to relax, take a breath, work with the school, don’t give up, accept that you don’t have to find a perfect solution right away, and that there’s no one right way to do anything.

This post is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop on Gifted 101.

gifted 101 button

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  1. August 3, 2010 at 4:09 am

    One correction: JHU-CTY covers California, so identifying DU as “(West)” is a bit misleading.

    I’m fairly new to blogging also, but I think you’ll find it easier to gain readership with posts a third to a half this long. Most people only look at a post once, whether they finish reading it or nor, so breaking a long post into multiple short posts makes it easier for people to read it in installments.

  2. August 3, 2010 at 4:21 am

    If a kid lives in CA, do they test through JHU or through DU?

    Fair enough on the length. This is a specific thing I get asked for a *lot*, and I think it makes sense to have it all together in one chunk, but I don’t think I’d want to normally write this long on any given topic.

    • August 3, 2010 at 4:48 am

      A kid in CA has their test scores sent to JHU.
      JHU no longer recognizes the de-facto talent search division by states:

      “Students enroll in CTY’s Talent Search from all 50 states and from over 110 countries. Awards Ceremonies are held in states with the largest Talent Search enrollments ­currently AK, AZ, CA, CT, DC, DE, HI, MA, MD, ME, NH, NJ, NY, OR, PA, RI, VT, VA, WA, and WV. For students living overseas, CTY has an International Talent Search.”

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talent_Identification_Program gives the historical division of states into 4 different areas. Note that JHU had both the west coast and the Northeast

      • August 3, 2010 at 4:54 am

        Thanks. I’ll have to think about how to explain that. I wonder if there’s a *single* place where people can go hit the button to find out which talent searches they’re eligible for, because the other ones still operate and some are restricted by geography.

  3. LizPf
    August 3, 2010 at 4:34 am

    Aimee —

    Great list! It covers just about every resource a newbie GT parent needs for the first few years, at minimum.

    It would be helpful if, in the coming months, you went into greater detail about some of these resources, and others. Hoagies deserves several posts all on its own.


  4. Catharine Alvarez
    August 3, 2010 at 6:40 am

    This list is a good overview of resources for parents of gifted kids! Did you know that some of the online curriculum offered by CTY (such as math and science courses) is available at lower cost from other sources?


    • August 3, 2010 at 8:57 am

      Catharine, yes, there are various ways people have saved money on the online offerings from CTY, EPGY, etc. More detail than I wanted to go into in this post, especially since it’s something that’s probably constantly changing. It’s best for parents to ask around in the community about the current options. Definitely for online learning in general, you can do a lot of things less expensive than CTY. I’m not a connoisseur of the vast diversity of distance-learning options — that would be a full-time job in and of itself!

      In any case, I think the real strength of the talent search programs is the in-person stuff, where kids can find their “tribe.” For me and for many I know, it was the first space where we really felt “normal.”

  5. Caitlin
    August 3, 2010 at 6:50 am

    Thank you for your lovely, articulate voice on TAGFAM and now here.

  6. August 4, 2010 at 10:53 am

    Welcome Aimee! I’m looking forward to your future posts.

  7. Teach
    August 11, 2010 at 6:03 am

    I’ve shared your post with two unsuspecting moms of gifted kids, and plan to do the same with every parent of gifted kids I come across. Your post is THAT good! It is the best, in a small and short way, I’ve read so far that helps parents of gifted kids get started. I sure wish I had this years a go when I was discovering both about my kids and myself. But I found TAGMAX quickly enough and that helped me get son track 🙂 Thanks!!!!!
    Khadeejah in VA

    • August 11, 2010 at 8:44 am

      Thanks! I love your use of the term “unsuspecting”… (grin)

  8. August 24, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Nation Deceived URL in your post was a dead link, but I think this one should work:

    Thanks for putting everything together on one page, fabulous resource!

  9. August 27, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    Karen, thanks! I think I was typing that one from memory. Link is fixed.

  10. January 10, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Thank you for this! I added a link on my blog to your post.

  11. February 19, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Thank you so much for this!

  12. Stephanie
    March 6, 2013 at 1:12 am

    how do you feel about gifted schools? In many states funding for gifted programs within the public school framework has been slashed and or does not start until 3rd or 4th grade.

    • March 8, 2013 at 1:02 am

      Well, in an ideal world, there would be gifted schools, with enough seats in them that all gifted kids could be easily accommodated, with meaningful and thoughtful selection processes, such that they were not likely to be manipulated (or outright cheated on) by those with the most resources, and with active and effective outreach services to identify and attract people with fewer resources (giftedness is *not* a “rich white people” thing, and some of the most frustrated gifted people I know are from very underprivileged backgrounds), and public financing for all aspects of tuition and logistical support to enable truly equal access, and no political crap about who is in and who is out, and no pressure to cut the funding when budgets get tight, and thoughtful procedures around providing appropriate supports to twice-exceptional kids, etc, etc. This is not an ideal world.

      I also agree with your implied point that starting GT education in 3rd or 4th grade is problematic. In my work, I see massive frustration for GT and 2E kids in the early years, when so much of the rest of the class is doing basic skills that the GT kids have already mastered easily, and when the kids’ developmental age is such that it’s not realistic to expect them to perfectly manage their own feelings, thoughts, behavior, and relationships when they are chronically isolated and frustrated (sure, we expect kids to learn to tolerate a certain amount of the world not being perfect, as we should; however, thirty straight hours plus homework time is more than I think any 7yo should have to deal with).

      So, the simple version of the question is that if you have GT programming locally that works for your kid, by all means, take advantage of it and don’t feel guilty. If you are prepping your kid for an IQ test, then please stop and feel guilty and don’t do that, even if all the other parents seem to be doing it (if thousands of people do an unethical thing, it is still an unethical thing).

      There are, however, other models of gifted education that are not as costly (even free), not as politically problematic, harder to forget about, and which provide greater access for more kids with less angst (e.g., cluster grouping, meaningful differentiation, flexible curricular structure, tiered assignments, etc). I am frankly more in favor of those methods being used on a widespread basis — give all of the kids the chance to grow for real, and the gifted ones will be able to blossom.

  13. Emily VR
    August 3, 2015 at 11:48 am

    I love your advice, and the resources are wonderful! Thank you! 🙂

  14. August 14, 2015 at 4:07 am

    What a great list of resources! These are so helpful for a variety of situations. Thank you for sharing, Aimee!

  15. February 25, 2013 at 4:56 am

    Thank you for your kind words! There is a lot we can do, but it really bothers me that folks only hear, “It’s an emergency so you have to pay me a lot of money right now!” or, “There’s nothing wrong, keep yourselves and your kids in the closet.” We can be thoughtful and sensible and accepting of who we are.

  1. February 19, 2011 at 5:10 pm
  2. February 25, 2013 at 3:59 am

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