7 Ways To Advocate For Your Gifted Child

Whether you have a gifted child, or one with learning issues or other disorders, it is important to be an advocate for them. You, as the parent, know your child the best. They are too young to speak up for themselves, and hence, you are the best person to speak up for them. There are some ways to advocate their right to learn.

1. Read Up On Any Available Materials

Some parents of gifted children have no idea their children are gifted until a teacher makes a comment. Others might have noticed that their children are different and have unusual memory. Some of them could read and write at an early stage. If you are still at the denial stage, do read up on any available information online. Some websites that were really helpful were Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page, SENG, Davidson Institute and even Kiasuparents (Singapore). Other personal blogs were helpful too. At that time I had no idea how to handle my child, because he had other issues. He could be extremely intense and sensitive, had issues with making friends, poor sleeping habits and asynchronous development leading to unhappiness and meltdowns. However, the more I read, the clearer it was for me to see that he could be gifted. It was when I joined groups that focus on gifted children, I finally got the answers I needed. I found a tribe that could provide support. It is only after you have sufficient knowledge, you are able to speak up and advocate for your child. If you do not have research to back up your points, people are not going to take you seriously.

2. Work With Professionals

I had spoken to my child’s paediatrician, and he mentioned that my son had asynchronous development. At that time, he could not talk, but was spelling words such as ‘c-a-t’ and ‘b-u-s’. That was when I had a little more direction to do research on my own.

I took him to a sleep psychologist who happened to be an educational psychologist too and after observing him and hearing about his behaviour, she mentioned that he could be advanced intellectually, and proposed a few solutions, such as having lessons to build up routines for him. There were no tests for giftedness at the hospital I took him to, so I did not get him tested.

In Singapore, there is nothing much you could do except wait until they are in Primary Three where they will sit for a screening examination held by MOE Singapore to test for giftedness. Only then would there be corresponding support given to the child. The exception is when your child is exceptionally gifted, which could be determined through psychologist tests such as Stanford-Binet 5 taken after age 5 or WISC-4 after age 6. Then there would be the possibility of skipping grades. However, it appears that MOE does not actively recommend acceleration, and feels that homeschooling for the gifted may or may not work. I believe they would prefer the children to have 10-12 years of education in the local school system. You could always speak to a psychologist, or even someone from the gifted education branch to find out more.

Getting an psychologist evaluation may be helpful, as they are able to surface strengths and weaknesses of the child. I have heard of people getting referrals from polyclinics to go to KKH for testing. I have also heard that the National Institute of Education (NIE) provides evaluation as well. There are other commercial options available.

3. Educate Your Family Members

People in your family might not know how to handle a child that is different. They may think that you are pushing your child too much, or they are simply delighted they have a very smart grandchild. Since the brain is wired differently, gifted children may or may not have meltdowns that people could not understand. They will simply scold the children for acting up. Sometimes, it could be due to lack of sleep, or sometimes they have over sensitivities. In addition, while these children may be intellectually ahead of others, they may be behind others in other aspects due to asynchronous development. People forget that. Family members may also keep praising the children for being smart, but forget that effort is important as well. The children may refuse to do certain things because they find it too difficult, especially as they get older and are afraid to fail.

Some may also keep praising the gifted child, without realising that the child is very advanced, and think that the sibling is stupid and slow, while that sibling is merely functioning at normal speed as other people. This creates unhealthy comparison between the siblings, and may lead to deteriorating ties. Hence, family members should be more aware in the way they speak to different children.

My helper sometimes makes tsk-tsk sounds and goes ‘Wow’ to show she is amazed by how smart my child is. I do not agree with this because it will make him think that he is superior, and he may get impatient with other people who do not get him quickly. Hence, it would be important to gently remind people in your family who make intelligence a big deal to focus on other things.

4. Work With Your Child’s Teachers
In Singapore, being gifted is equivalent to being very smart. There is a difference. Smart children are smart, but gifted children are wired differently. They make connections at a faster speed and think differently. Smart children could provide answers, while gifted children could come up with questions. Some question both the questions and answers. They see patterns others do not see.

Instead of applauding the child for being smart, we should applaud the child when he puts in the effort to do something well. Some gifted children may not perform well in school depending on how gifted they are. Some are eager to please, and they will do the work for their teacher even if they are bored. Others may simply refuse to do. I am sure some of you might have heard of children losing marks because they refuse to write down the working, because they had already calculated that mentally. In many situations, the higher the scores in intelligence, the harder it is for such children to function ‘normally’.

Not many teachers are trained in gifted education. They are not trained to look out for gifted children. They may notice some of their students are different, but they do not have the means to fully engage them. With large class sizes in Singapore, it is difficult to truly have differentiated learning for children of different abilities.

You need to let your child’s teachers know what they are capable of, and what they need help in. There are teachers who roll their eyes when parents say their child is gifted, and they think the parents are deluded because the child is an average performer, or even misbehaves in their classrooms. I had seen how teachers at a Facebook group for teachers laugh at such parents recently. It was quite distressing to see that behaviour.

You could ask your child’s school for support. Some schools are better than others in stretching the top students. Some provide more support for others with special needs. It is important to be respectful. I had a parent of a child with ADHD request for a meeting with the child’s teachers. Another parent with a special needs child also tries to help me keep her child on task. Other parents may think that such parents are demanding, but when done properly, teachers will know how to engage the child better. Not everyone is trained or experienced enough to engage different types of children properly.

Some teachers may think your child is not gifted, because your child is different from their own children who are gifted. That is why you need to engage the teachers more, but at the same time, be aware of the limitations they have, in terms of manpower, resources and time.

It would be great to write thank you notes for these teachers, or administrators who had taken time to respond to you, or to do some testing. Everyone likes to feel appreciated, and your note may go a long way.

5. Keep Records
School reports are useful documents for those who wish to accelerate their children or request for special accommodations. If there are interviews for admissions in the future, evidence of work and other records of interactions would be very useful.

Some teachers may not be able to see how advanced your child is. If you could show the teacher what your child is capable of with the previous teacher, or at home, the teacher would have a clearer picture.

Some children may regress academically when they go to primary schools. This is because they are unable to sit still for long and they get told to keep quiet and sit still. They lose the intellectual curiosity. They may also get a teacher who may not challenge them adequately. That is when the records would come in useful.

6. Monitor Your Child’s Progress
After meeting with your child’s teachers, do request for feedback on a regular basis. Some teachers meet parents of students who misbehave or are weak academically only. If your child does not pose a problem in the classroom, it does not mean the needs are well met. Do find out from the teacher how your child interacts with others socially. Does the child work well in groups? Does the child have any fine or gross motor issues? Is the child able to speak up in a large class? Does the child participate fully? Sometimes the child may be great in certain classes with certain teachers, but not in other subjects.

If you could have the time to volunteer for events, it would be good as you get to see your child in the school setting. It was only when I volunteered to take my son and his friends on an excursion that I realised he had made some improvement in his social skills.

Another way is to meet up with other parents of your child’s classmates. They offer valuable information on what is happening in class. One parent, who is non-Chinese and I had met her at a class excursion to Kampong Glam, told me that the other children had been going for Chinese enrichment lessons. That was when I realised I needed to do something about my child’s poor command of Chinese.

7. Spread Awareness
gifted advocacy 3
I had not specifically stated my son is gifted, because he had not been tested. Some peers of mine are also uneasy with this, because it makes them feel bad that their children are not achieving the same things as my son could do, and some think that I am bragging. Life is too short to be affected by what others say.

I have decided to be part of Hoagies’ monthly Blog Hop, by writing articles that are relevant to the topic of the month. It means that I have to open a little more, and be more explicit when I talk about my son. At first, I was still a little unsure whether I was doing the right thing or not. Then, my friend contacted me, and said she felt a sense of relief after reading my post(s). She has a child who is likely to be gifted, and she has faced a lot of stress from others who do not show much understanding. That was when I realised that even if my posts only help just one person, I would continue to blog about gifted children and education.

I was telling my friend that among our circle of friends, we may have more children who are gifted than we care to admit or identify. I had talked about them in my previous post about different faces of gifted people. Some of these friends may know their children are gifted, while others may not. It is through bringing the topic up that more could benefit.

This is my way of advocating for gifted children. If more people know about them, perhaps they could be more understanding and less judgemental. I hope they do not see a pushy and demanding mother, but one who simply wants to understand her child more. If people could recognise some attributes in their children, they know there is one more person to talk to.

Some of you may choose to start your own Facebook group. Others may speak to politicians who could effect changes. Some, like me, could just choose to blog. I know, because some bloggers who had blogged about their gifted children, especially those in Singapore and many in other countries, had helped answer some of the questions I have, as I trawled through the internet for information. The more people know about issues close to your heart, the better it is.

This is part of the monthly blog hop from Hoagies.
gifted advocacy
Click on the image below and check out other blogs on the blog hop.

How To Encourage Young Advanced Readers

(I wrote this a year ago and had forgotten to post it.)
El is a voracious reader. He loves to read, and he asks for books to read. He is also reading at a few grades higher than his age. However, his nursery is not really stretching him in reading. He comes back with books that do not have words. If there are words, they are just a short sentence per page. The vocabulary words are usually mono-syllabic.

We are supposed to read with him every day, so I would take the books out, and let him explain the wordless books to me, or I will create the story, complete with vivid descriptions and a wide range of vocabulary. If they are narratives, I will add in the emotions and the voices just to make him excited about the stories.

el reading

I noticed that some of the more exciting wordless stories are found in the Chinese section of the public library. I had once found award winning titles in the Chinese section. This book was actually created by a Japanese author and the pictures were extremely pretty and colourful. A man wanted to keep his yard spotlessly clean. He chased out all the animals. One day, when he woke up, he saw a log in his yard. He went out to remove it, but the log turned out to be a crocodile. He was afraid of it and did not chase it away. Soon, more and more animals turned up and lazed in the yard. The man decided to just join in and laze on the grass. We had fun identifying the various animals.

Thank goodness we have fantastic public libraries in Singapore. I borrow books regularly for El and his brother. Despite him reading at higher grade levels, he still loves to read basic readers. He would take his brother’s baby books, and read the simple sentences aloud. I had tried to get him to read to the brother, but Gar would usually snatch the book away or beat him up.

It is important for repetition, so I would usually renew the books, and hence we keep them for about six weeks. Throughout these weeks, they would take the books and read. Sometimes I would read to them too.

Since young, we have bought countless books. In fact, before El was born, a vendor helped me to build up my first collection for just under $400. There were lots of Eric Carle books, and also other fun books where we could pull out the animals to see what colours they had. I bought many Chinese books too, and read to him. For the English books, I would read in English, and also translate them into Mandarin.

El also had access to flash cards that taught him numbers and letters. We do not use flash cards by flashing them at a bullet-train speed, but simply let him look at the cards at his own pace. Gar has his own sets of bilingual cards, and sometimes he would search for the cards when we say the word. He has his own favourite yellow-coloured pictures.

I think his reading improved by leaps and bounds after he had learnt phonics. His first school taught him Zoophonics, and I bought a set for him when he was two years old. He loved the cards, and the readers that came in the set. The readers focused on various consonant-and-vowel combinations. Shortly after that, he surprised me by reading a book about all the different animals jumping. On another occasion, he read aloud the reader I had when I was in Primary 2. The story was about A-Choo, a cat that kept sneezing.

When I was in primary school, I remember this amazing librarian. She was fierce with a loud booming voice. However, she was very encouraging about reading. I was crazy about Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene, and also Enid Blyton. She actually recommended a book, Anne Frank’s Diary, to me, but unfortunately, I never got to reading it until today. I knew all about the background and the synopsis, but somehow I have not read it. I ought to get that done during the holidays.

It is sad to read that in some places, the gifted readers are not allowed to read books beyond their reading levels. One poignant point mentioned by a mother was that the librarian said the books with the yellow stickers were too difficult for the child but the child had already finished reading Oliver Twist.

I was never an advanced reader. I was an avid reader, but I did not read books beyond my grade. When I got to secondary school, I had lost interest in reading. I am not sure what happened along the way, but I guess I did not know what books to read. My mother asked her friend to buy some books suitable for secondary students, but they were easy and not that interesting. The only one I remembered was The Goalkeeper’s revenge, about a goalkeeper who was deemed not good enough to remain in the team. When he was rich enough, he did the same thing to the striker who had him sold, if my memory serves me correctly.

I see a big problem in primary school. Many children had been exposed to so much reading materials at a young age, and many of them go for enrichment classes. A big group do not read much at all and there will be a huge chasm between the two groups. The language teachers have to ensure the former group does not get bored, and the latter group is able to catch up. How will they stock their libraries? How will they promote their reading programmes?

When I was running school library programmes, I guess I had never catered to the advanced reader. I had to cater to the reluctant reader. I catered to the masses by finding books they will be interested in based on the themes.

Dinner, Music, Art and Ninja Skills

We went out for dinner, slightly unusual for a Sunday night, but because it was the school holidays.

cajun chicken rice

It is really hard finding suitable food for El. As a picky eater, he stopped eating the mac and cheese after tasting mushrooms.

mac and cheese

He ended eating some fish and chips, plus shared banana split with me and ended up with a tummy ache later.
fish and chips

I went into a music shop to look for manuscript book for children. His teacher wanted to give him some practices as he seemed to be very weak in note recognition for the bass cleft, but did not have one for children. I could not find one at Popular bookstore after I promised him one for his music compositions.

manuscript book

Apparently, while waiting, he started playing a song that he had learnt recently on one of the pianos. I was quite surprised by his initiative. He had refused to touch the piano earlier at his grandparents’ place.

Perhaps I do need to get an upright piano. The prices ranged from 4 digits to 5 digits. If we were to get one, we would get a white one, so that it could blend in with our decor in the living room. I am not sure whether there is sufficient space in the designated room, and whether his interest could be sustained. He is currently practising on a keyboard at home. Just as to signal the end of his wait, Gar rushed to a piano and banged on the keys. We beat a hasty retreat.

We met my friend with her family and realized how much her daughter had grown.

Gar was running around a shop and we could not get him to stop. He was fast and had ninja skills in dodging us. El joined in the fun and I was utterly embarrassed. We quickly made our getaway.

Actually, our main objective was to get some art supplies. El was interested in doing more art and craft.

He wanted water colours and I bought some paintbrushes. There was a big packet of brushes but I was worried that the brush hair would keep dropping out. Hence I got him a smaller packet and some glitter too.

art supplies

El wanted Geronimo Stilton books after watching a performance the day before. It was pretty expensive, but all the pages were in colour. The last time I let him read one as I was given a free book by a vendor, he complained that map of New York was wrong.

I spotted Kipper, a character he used to read in nursery. He picked it up and finished the book about time. Gar saw him and wanted a book of his own too. We had just bought a lot of cheap books from the flea market!

While I was searching for the art supplies, El was flipping through an assessment book for kindergarten children with dinosaurs on the cover. He went on to complain the book was wrong about dinosaurs. There were factual errors. I told him to put the book back.

When we were making our payment, Gar, the joker, was excited by the beeping sound from the handle scanner.

Beep went the reader.
“Ti,” said Gar, as he giggled non stop and continued imitating the scanner two more times.

As we left, Gar insisted it was too dark to read in the car and wanted the light to be switched on. We told him no. El soon drifted to sleep.

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