Thursday, August 30, 2007

What's in a Name?

There's been a lot of beginning of the school year buzz about the term "gifted" and whether we should use it, use a euphemism like "high ability," or whether we should be labeling our children at all. In my experience as a gifted child and as parent of gifted children, "labeling" a child gifted is not the problem. The problem is acknowledging that the child has special needs by naming those needs, and then ignoring the special needs the name implies. Gifted kids know they're different, just like kids with Down syndrome, dyslexia or cerebral palsy know they're different. The label is a short hand way to acknowledge which differences affect them. For further discussion of which label to use, check out Tamara Fisher's new blog for Teacher Magazine Unwrapping the Gifted. (registration may be required but it's free.)

I'd also like to point out that while chldren on the special ed end of the learning spectrum do not have to continually prove that they still deserve accomodation, gifted kids are constantly having their eligibility for gifted status threatened. That is not fair. Mensa accepts new members based on one qualifying test score at any time in the applicant's life. Hit that 98%ile just once and you're eligible for life, whether you're 7, 17 or 77.

In contrast, my oldest son scored in the 99.9%ile in second grade, but received few gifted services in elementary school and no gifted services in middle school because his grades weren't high enough. (He was re-tested on different instruments at 12 and 15 and while his scores did drop a bit, he's still 98%ile, so his aptitude has been stable over time.) Turns out he's also ADD and had been using his giftedness to compensate like mad all this time. I can't tell you how relieved we were to get that label! Finally we had an explanation for his apparent inability to keep track of a band practice sheet for an entire week and his other academic quirks. And because of the label, we could get some accomodation from the schools to help him perform to the best of his ability. This is why I think labeling is a good thing.

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