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Wednesday, 04 October 2017 09:35

Removing the barrier and the Consequences for Gifted Children

Deciding what to follow on from the first blog was tough but, recently, the needs of gifted children are finally starting to be recognized in society. It is the perfect place to further the argument that ‘removing the barrier does not work’:

The obsession with removing the barrier so that all children are 'equal' has had detrimental effects on gifted children because removing the barrier excludes gifted children as it does not notice their strengths or needs. There is an unfortunate misunderstanding that gifted children face no barriers. The truth is the polar opposite. They face a series of challenges from social to difficulties like asynchronism. They can have learning challenges/differences that are comorbid with their giftedness. They need a toolkit, not to be defined by ‘removing the barrier’ in order to make them ‘equal’ academically.

In this pursuit of making all children 'equal’; we are in fact causing more barriers. This means gifted children are often overlooked (especially children with a learning difference as their performance are average and they are then labeled as 'average') and this has grave consequences. When noticed, gifted children who should or could be considered for academic acceleration are frequently declined. Currently, schools and professionals are biased. They do not believe in grade acceleration. They give various reasons to prevent the child from progressing and consequently positive considerations for moving the child forward are neglected. The parents of gifted children are left with a heavy burden of trying to assist their child in a world running against them. Furthermore, their children react differently to these forced barriers. The child may become reluctant to perform, become rebellious, distracted and emotionally as well as socially different. Some of the reasons for this behavior can be accredited to the child being bored or frustrated, they feel their abilities have not been recognized or they want to fit in so they perform at the same level as their peers. This movement to avoid moving a child ahead makes the attempt by parents to progress their child forward feel like a consistent battle and often has no results.

This is aggravated by the fact that enrichment programs available to gifted children do not truly cater for or meet all their needs. They are primarily based on creative development, social development or purely giving the child more work. My question is ‘If a child excelled at sport, music or art would they be given programs that focused on their weaknesses only or would they be given programs to help them excel in their talents or programs that were holistic with a focus on the child’s potential?’ The answer is they would be given a holistic program that focussed on the child’s strengths. So why is it the opposite for gifted children?

I believe that one of the reasons is this notion of ‘all children are equal’. This is not the case, each child is different and has their own abilities and skills. Not all children are academically inclined. Why does society believe that we can achieve this? It is the same as expecting all children to be sporty, musical and artistic. Why do we have different expectations for gifted children? Why do we want to keep them within the same boundaries?

Nobody tries to remove the barriers that identify certain children as sporty, musical or artistic but they attempt to remove the barriers that identify gifted children. The aim is to make the learning environment ‘inclusive’ that no one is different. Whilst I agree with the idea of being inclusive and giving children their toolkits I do not support the idea of making them all ‘equal’ by removing the barriers. This is a fatal mistake (and not just for gifted children). We are limiting a part of society from fulfilling their potential.

This does not mean that children who are not academically inclined should not be given tools to progress and reach their potential in the schooling environment. In my article, Why removing the barrier does not work, I state that every child should be given equal opportunity by giving them the necessary toolkit to develop themselves. The action of removing the barrier also affects children with a learning difference.

The same views held by society that prevent children progressing are also quick to hold back a child with a learning challenge. They neglect to think about the emotional and social consequences even when they are used as a reason to hold a child back. There are emotional consequences for both but when acceleration is considered the path is strewn with far more boulders that unjustly focus intensely on emotional and social consequences, not the child’s academic strength. Both accelerations and repeats have their value when applied to the individual child to ensure they are given equal opportunities. These are useful tools to assist children. If we remove the barrier by saying we cannot have either that all children must be ‘equal’ are we not doing more harm than good?

Today, repeats are far more frequent than accelerations. This needs to be reassessed. Are so many repeats or holding children back beneficial? Are limiting accelerations beneficial? Are there not alternative options? As I stated in my article, Why removing the barrier does not work, “I strongly believe that each child should be given an equal opportunity to learn and to develop their own, unique personality. Adversity teaches children. It teaches us.”

Gifted children, like every other child, deserve the chance to learn and reach their potential. If we believe in giving children ‘equal opportunity’, are we offering this to our gifted children or are we holding them back by reinforcing the removal of the barrier?