Elliott always craved academics and self-taught many things. We “homeschooled” at 3 because that’s what he demanded. He wanted ALL the workbooks, ALL the textbooks, ALL the science documentaries. We could not keep up. We were very loosey-goosey, and it was definitely a form of unschooling. (“Learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning.”) Our Barnes & Noble receipts added up to over $2,000 by the end of the year because he refused to go to the library. He wanted to keep all the books for “research”. Well played, little man.
Time came when we had to decide if we should enrolled him in kindergarten. When he was 3 and 4, he was already testing years ahead academically. For months we contemplated the idea and researched until our eyeballs bled. Finally, we felt that if we put him in a Spanish immersion school, then he could at least learn a second language and get this socialization stuff that everyone goes on and on about. We applied for a lottery spot at a local Spanish immersion charter school. Elliott didn’t get in and ended up being number 15 on the list. The decision was made. Full time homeschooling it is! Since we had already been doing schooling at home, the idea didn’t seem to be much of a transition. Suddenly one morning, a frantic 7am phone called woke us up. A spot just opened and we had exactly .5 seconds to make an immediate decision on our child’s future. We said yes. Soon after came kindergarten screening day. It went something like this:
“Can you count to 10?”, the tester asks Elliott.
“Yes! Which language do you want? English, Spanish, Swedish? Uno, dos, tres….” The tester stopped him at 100.
“Well, do you know the alphabet?” asks the tester. “Yes!” he exclaimed and continued to sing the alphabet in all three languages.
I’m sat on a miniature plastic chair with my head craned awkwardly outside the testing room, doing my best to eavesdrop on their conversation. I could hear Elliott go on about the elements, particles, and sharing his math knowledge. As the screening concluded, he joyfully bounded out of the room and handed me a sheet of paper.
Whoa. Ok. I guess I’m not hip to this evaluation system because I know I just heard my 4-year-old count to 100 in a 2nd language on a test that asked him to count to 10 in English and you gave him a “needs improvement” score for knowing his numbers. I had a lot to learn.
Drop offs were hell. Elliott would cry every day on the way to school. “Please don’t make me go.”, Elliott would plead. A dagger to my heart would have been less painful. I thought it was just separation anxiety. His teacher reprimanded me for giving him a tight squeeze and staying until he dismally entered the school. “Just go, it’s better if you go. He will be fine!” Ok, ok, she must know best. She’s the teacher after all. We would pick Elliott up after school and he would be this sullen, quiet little boy that we didn’t recognize. By day, Elliott became the teachers helper and went around the classroom helping the other students with their work, by night he would come home and bury his head in his high school level textbooks.
We decided to have achievement testing done to get a better idea of where he was at and to learn how he operates. We were a little shocked at the higher than expected scores but it all started to make sense. Our vision became clearer of who he was and what he needed.
Towards the end of the school year, we approached his school armed with the test scores to see if he could skip a grade the following year (enter 2nd instead of 1st). I wish I had been armed with more information than just the test scores. Lesson learned. The director of the school looked at us and laughed. LAUGHED. “Everyone thinks they have a smart kid.”, she said.
That was the moment I realized the next 13 years or more of my life would be spent advocating for his education. Having our son finish out the whole year in a completely unsupported kindergarten environment is one of my biggest regrets of my life. Live in learn… that was a really tough lesson.
Advocating for the Profoundly Gifted Child
Profoundly gifted kids have much different educational needs than a neurotypical child or even a gifted child. They often have deep passions that they dive into with all their force and can complete multiple years of curriculum in months. Although, no two educational paths look the same for profoundly gifted children.
I’ve learned a lot since that disheartening day in the administration office at the Spanish immersion school. Thankfully since then my husband and I have been able to successfully advocate for our son. Which in turn has brought him to full time college at the age of 9 after utilizing multiple types of acceleration.
A Nation Deceived reports on 18 different types of acceleration:
- 1. Early Admission to Kindergarten
- 2. Early Admission to First Grade
- 3. Grade-Skipping
- 4. Continuous Progress
- 5. Self-Paced Instruction
- 6. Subject-Matter Acceleration/Partial Acceleration
- 7. Combined Classes
- 8. Curriculum Compacting
- 9. Telescoping Curriculum
- 10. Mentoring
- 11. Extracurricular Programs
- 12. Correspondence Courses
- 13. Early Graduation
- 14. Concurrent/Dual Enrollment
- 15. Advanced Placement16. Credit by Examination
- 17. Acceleration in College
- 18. Early Entrance into Middle School, High School, or College
Your first decision is to decide what schooling direction that is going to be the best fit for your child which is another huge topic in itself. It’s also important to know that this decision may not be the best one and you can always change course.
After a disastrous experience in Spanish immersion, we pulled our son to homeschool him full time. By 7/8 years old he was ready for high school work. We did as much enrichment as we could which included field trips, play dates and more, but he devoured everything we threw at him. He completed high school classes with text book curriculum, some online classes, and we were able enroll him in a local homeschooling co-op for honors chemistry with lab and an applied engineering class. But finding a co-op that was welcoming of his age was difficult. I didn’t give up. My dad always taught me to ask. What’s the worst can they say? No? Then you keep knocking on doors!
Here are the things that I have found important from a parents perspective in advocating in whichever path you decide to explore:
1. Be Tenacious
You know how you’re told you are your own best advocate especially when it comes to health care? The doctors only have a snapshot of what is going on with you with the information you or your body provides for them. The same is true for your child’s education. No one is going to love or support your child the way you do. Schools will say, “let’s review after winter break and see how he/she is doing by then.”. Now you’ve just wasted months and the child is that much more bored/ignored/lost/depressed not being able to engage at an appropriate level. Oftentimes you will be placed on the back burner. Sometimes it’s because there’s so much other stuff going on within the school, sometimes it’s because it’s their protocol to evaluate and wait it out, and frankly, sometimes it’s because they hope you will go away and they won’t have to deal with you by telling you to go fly a kite or try to make accommodations that they really aren’t equipped to handle. Send emails, make phone calls. If it’s not the right person, keep on keeping on until you find the right person. Follow up. Don’t let it go or wait too long. I’m an introvert. I get it. This is hard. But no one else is going to stand up for your child. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Don’t worry about offending anyone or being “that mom”. I’ll be “that mom” all day long if it means my child gets an appropriate education. They don’t have to like me. That said, a little sugar goes a long way. Be kind yet diplomatic.
2. Know What You’re Talking About
Research, research, then research some more. There is a wealth of information available in regard to meeting the educational needs of profoundly gifted kids and why it matters to find the right fit and allow the child to work at their level. Check out the article databases at Davidson and Hoagies Gifted. Read A Nation Deceived, Genius Denied, and Exceptionally Gifted Children. These websites and books will provide you with information and studies that will help you decide what is a good next step for your child and calm your mind about your decision. It’s also important to know about any laws in your state that pertain to gifted education. Every state is different, however many states have some sort of mandate on gifted education programs. Research your state’s laws to know what kind of services your child may be entitled to from the public school system.
3. Know What You Want & Come Armed with a Game Plan
Once you have read A Nation Deceived and have done all the research on what you think may be the best learning situation for your child, ask for a meeting with the powers that be at the school. Have a plan of what the ideal educational system will look like for your child. Are you wanting a grade skip, entrance into a gifted program, subject acceleration? Know what you want in an ideal world and also decide what you can live with in negotiating with the powers that be. Try to anticipate the reactions or hesitations of the administration. Often times administration will say that it’s a socially destructive move. This is where your research from above comes in. Bring it with you and hand out highlighted copies of the studies. Other common responses from administration against gifted services can be bad penmanship, not emotionally ready, not mature enough… How can you counter their responses concerning your child? Your job is to be prepared for any objections they have and provide documentation to overcome these arguments. That may also include a portfolio of above grade level work and their achievement and IQ scores. If you come together with an agreeable plan, make sure you have the changes or accommodations in writing along with a timetable of when these steps or changes will be implemented. Also know that the meeting may not go as planned and you may need to look at other schooling options.
4. Know Your Child
We are with our kids so much that we pretty much know where every freckle on their face is and where all the lines on the back of their hands are, but also try to look at your situation from a different viewpoint. Sometimes we are too close to see the whole picture. We have a good sense of where they are academically. We also observe behavior differences when they aren’t working at an appropriate academic level. Listen to feedback from others such as teachers, coaches, music instructors. Get an idea of how your child is when you aren’t around. Sometimes the child can become withdrawn when not stimulated properly and sometimes they can become disruptive in the classroom in various ways (Is he/she board and acting out? Attention seeking? Have they been referred to as being the class clown? Do they close up and stop sharing about their day? Can they be found alone in the classroom during playtime?). There’s a good chance that there is something that they are doing that is pointing you to the need to have them academically tested or have their IQ tested. This can often be done within the school district, but many parents choose to have testing done privately where it can mean more extensive reporting with an unbiased agenda. (Hoagies has a list of psychologists listed by state that are familiar with giftedness on their website here.) Once you have testing done, then you have test scores (and typically a report from the tester) that can be worth it’s weight in gold in learning more about your child. You can use those results in advocating for your child with the school district. As time goes on, you may consider having your child sit for the PSAT or SAT tests. These test scores are also extremely helpful in advocating as they translate into a language that is more understandable and useful to high school administrators. Children under 13 can sign up directly though the College Board or ACT with some hoop jumping. Another option is to sign up for testing through a talent search program such as NUMATS from the Northwestern Center for Talent Development or Duke TIP (Duke University Talent Identification Program). Kids can take the PSAT 8/9 though NUMATS starting at 3rd grade age or 4th grade though Duke.
5. Build a Team
It’s important to have a team of people in your pocket that can help you advocate for your child’s needs. If testing shows your child is in the 99.9%, apply to the Davidson Young Scholar program STAT! (I have written about this program in the past and you can read the post here.) Once your child is accepted into DYS, you can be appointed a family consultant. That consultant can help you with issues that are important to the profoundly gifted population. The person that did your academic or IQ testing can also become part of your team. Other advocacy team members can include teachers or coaches that know your child and their personality and learning style and pace. These team members can help you advocate by writing letters about the importance of acceleration, about your child’s personality, and even letters of recommendation. Each team member can help advocate in different ways to help you and your child.
6. Find Your Tribe
Find a tribe of other parents that have exceptionally or profoundly gifted children. It may be online or locally. Not everyone is going to “get” your child or understand what you are going through. Friends and family members may judge you, say hurtful comments and tell you that you are raising your child wrong. Some friends may be supportive but just don’t fully understand the situation and the needs of exceptionally and profoundly gifted children. There are many gifted forums on Facebook that are very helpful in finding other similar families. DYS has online groups just for parents of profoundly gifted children. There are even groups specifically for highly, exceptionally, and/or profoundly gifted kids that you can join. It is so helpful to have a tribe that can offer been-there-done-that experiences, or other parents going though similar situations at the same time. They are supportive and non-judgmental. There are in person meetups around the country though Davidson Young Scholars and Profoundly Gifted Retreat. You will find your people in these groups and they are such an invaluable resource and some truly wonderful friendships can come out of these groups. You might even meet some people in your city or state! Look into your state to see if there is some type of gifted organization set up. These organizations are wonderful in helping provide information and advocacy. For example, Minnesota has the Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented. Within this organization, there are many subgroups that members can join and attend meetings. These are great places to meet other families with gifted kids. Your tribe will be great in offering support, cry with you, get angry with you, and hold you up when you feel like you hit a wall.
While its not advocating a school system, crowdsourcing and networking can be a wonderful way to expose your child to different opportunities that can enrich their education. Reach out to your co-workers, neighbors, and friends/followers on social media to find mentors, arrange field trips, private tours, or even a job shadowing experience in an industry that interests your child. Someone always knows someone that can arrange a cool meetup. This has been successful for us by finding a Chemistry professor from a local private college that became a mentor to our son. We also were able to arrange private tours at local companies in fields that interested our son and made coffee dates to meet with other interesting people that have so much to share. Often times someone knows someone that is retired that would love to talk about math, physics, and so much more! (Side note: This is also a cool way to socialize and interact with people of all ages and backgrounds!) Networking can help open the door to a wide range of educational situations and experiences you didn’t even know existed.
Advocating is hard work, ya’ll! It can feel like a full-time job. You know your child best, and it’s up to you to help provide for all their needs including an appropriate education. Don’t wait for the school to do something. Be proactive and fight for your baby cub! The reward in the end is amazing when you get to see your child finally thriving in a situation that is more suitable to their needs! Don’t give up!