Gifted students are students with special needs.

We typically think of “special needs” students as those who face mental and emotional challenges and have difficulty learning. Gifted students may also face mental and emotional challenges, but at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Gifted students can also have a learning disability. There are varying degrees of giftedness and gifted students face different challenges. Some adjust and “fit in” better than others. They all have needs that the school system is expected to address.

Many times adults make the mistake of expecting students who are gifted to behave as if they are adults. Students may be very intelligent, but immature. Educators need to realize that they are still young people and do not necessarily understand the consequences of their actions.

Gifted students often feel they should be treated like adults. It’s difficult to have the intelligence of an adult but still be a child who is developing emotionally. They can certainly interact with adults intellectually, but don’t understand that they lack the knowledge and understanding to make some decisions. The gap between their intellect and their social and emotional skills generates frustration on their part and can lead to behavior problems. Again, adults need to take this into consideration when dealing with these highly capable students.

Many gifted students are perfectionists. They may begin to doubt their ability and develop low self-esteem if they aren’t able to achieve their unrealistic goals. They can easily become stressed and depressed. The typical adolescent identity crisis comes earlier to gifted students. They approach things analytically and, therefore, start with self-analysis. Gifted students can also be highly successful in many areas which, again, leads to frustration as to which direction they should take. Pressure from teachers who see their potential in multiple disciplines can add to their dilemma.

At a young age, gifted students can appear bossy. They may withdraw from interaction with their peers, which can delay development of social skills. They may be labeled “strange” by their peers, which can lead to bullying and alienation.

For some gifted students the standard curriculum isn’t challenging. I once had a student who was taking classes at the community college at night but was failing my middle school civics class. He read and absorbed the entire text and saw no need for the mundane, tedious homework assignments. Unfortunately, the administration at the time was unwilling to accommodate the needs of this highly gifted child. He continued to struggle throughout high school.

Today, school systems must take into account the needs of gifted students. Having a gifted coordinator is critical. These administrators are advocates for gifted individuals and have the knowledge to assist administrators with decisions that facilitate the best learning environment for them. Culpeper participates in Mountain Vista Governor’s School for our gifted students. However, this addresses the needs of only a small portion of our student population. With limited space, there are others at the base schools who do not have access to challenging curriculum. Unfortunately, parents aren’t always able to provide learning opportunities outside of school for gifted children. Advanced Placement classes are the only differentiated instruction available for these high school students. Their needs may not be met.

All students, regardless of their intelligence or ability level benefit from parental support. Parents can strive to provide varied reading material, encourage peer interaction, expose them to the creative arts and provide a nurturing environment. The staff of every school is overwhelmed with demands that take time away from students. Parents must be an active partner in their child’s education no matter what their needs may be.

Elizabeth Hutchins is a former educator and Culpeper County School Board member.

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