There is a curse that comes with being "smart." You don't get to be the person that "has a hard time." Experiences and struggles that are otherwise normal for everyone else are seen as a red flag for you. A sign of weakness, imperfection. Maybe you have heard or thought "You know better." Whatever your exceptionalities, it does not free you from the experience of being human.
What is Giftedness?
The federal definition of giftedness located in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is "Students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities."
Giftedness like any other neurodivergent diagnosis, exists along a spectrum. Gifted students come from diverse backgrounds; however, factors such as learning disabilities, impoverished communities, language barriers (multilingual), access to gifted testing and programs impact identification of gifted students.
Currently, school districts do not receive federal dollars specifically to fund Gifted and Talented programs. Grants such as the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program (Javits) award funding to improve the identification of gifted students, strengthen programs, and support research. Students that meet criteria for Giftedness are eligible for Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). The school district does receives federal funding from the IDEA Act specifically to meet the needs of students with IEPs.
There are 5 domains of Giftedness:
1. Academic: advanced skills in a specific area of study
2. Intellectual: high cognitive performance
3. Creative: capability to problem solve by thinking outside the box; a demonstration of deeper knowledge
4. Leadership: strong leadership, organizational, and social skills
5. Artistic: visual and/or performing arts; often visual/spatial learners.
Gifted Evaluation in Louisiana
Students between the age of 3-21 can self refer and/or be recommended by their parent(s) or teacher. A written request should also be made to the counselor, principal or teacher. I suggest sending an email and cc'ing the aforementioned parties. The email will serve as evidence of the request and also be used to guide the school's timeline for compliance with responding to the request. You may not get any traction from this approach. The next step would be visiting the district's website and navigating to the SPED department page. Identify the person responsible for initial evaluations. You will want to forward the original request for the evaluation to this person.
In the initial meeting, the school is going to discuss data that supports the suspicion of the student's exceptionality. Data can be teacher reports, report cards, results on standardized testing, evaluations completed by a qualified professional etc. If the school agrees, the evaluation will begin. If the school disagrees, a Prior Written Notice (PWN) can be requested. The PWN is a written document that explains how a decision was reached.
It is important to remember that while students may be identified as "gifted" it is only a fragment of their identity. It does not indicate they will be without flaws or be exempt from the common struggles associated with their developmental age. For example, a 10 year old student can demonstrate the academic knowledge of a 15 year old and yet have the emotional intelligence of a 10 year old. Their response to unpleasant emotions may be within reason but knowledge of the child being gifted may lead to unrealistic expectations.
Common Struggles with Being Gifted
- Peer relationships
- Social Skills
- Internal and External pressure for perfectionism
- Identity issues
Students may also have learning disabilities such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia etc. These students are considered twice exceptional (2e). It is not uncommon for symptoms associated with the disability to impact identification of gifted students. For example, a gifted student with ADHD may be described as unmotivated when the reality is they are experiencing issues with focusing. A student with an Autism diagnosis may receive a special education for the diagnosis without ever being evaluated for giftedness.
Setting Them Up for Wellness
Consider your verbiage when addressing unhelpful coping skills or poor decisions. Avoid the "you should know better" harmful taglines. It creates unrealistic expectations of perfection. They will make mistakes and what is important is how they bounce back from them. Recognize the opportunity to discuss issues and explore better responses that feel natural to them.
Take into account the whole child when implementing plans to support the student at home and school. All of the parts that make them who they are valid and important. Failing to recognize this could have a detrimental impact on the student's mental health and academic success. Leading students to withdraw, feel unsupported, depressed, and worthless. It shows up in their failing grades, increase in risky behavior (smoking, drinking, promiscuity), low self esteem, increased anxiety, write-ups at school and negative contacting with parents. Supporting the whole child will model how to advocate and honor all the parts of them that make them "them".