How many parents of gifted children are told that their children have social skills deficits? I suggest, quite a few. But, do they really? Let’s put things in context here. The average child, by definition, has an IQ of one hundred. The IQ of ninety-five percent of children falls between seventy and one hundred and thirty. A child with an IQ of 70 or below is considered to have an intellectual disability. By the simplest and most common definition, a gifted child has an IQ of 130+.
Consider, for one moment, a school specially set up to teach children whose IQ falls below seventy. In a school for the intellectually disabled, everything would go at a pace to suit the slow learner and content would be kept relatively simple. Now imagine that an average child, with an IQ of one hundred, ends up in this school. They are eight years old, so they must join the class for eight year olds.
Would you expect this child to be a model student who would sit still and engage enthusiastically with the classwork and their classmates. Would you expect them to make lots of friends with whom they were keen to socialize outside school? If they showed signs of restlessness or inattention, would you immediately wonder about a diagnosis of ADHD? If they preferred to spend time alone reading books, building models or looking up things on the internet after school, would you be frantically trying to arrange playdates for them in an attempt to make them learn social skills and to integrate and be the same as everyone else in the class? Would you wonder about possible Autistic Spectrum Disorder?
On the contrary, I suggest that it would not be long before parents and teachers realized that the problem was simply a mismatch and that a more appropriate learning environment was the answer. Indeed, if a child with intellectual disability found themselves struggling in a mainstream classroom, the same conclusion would be reached and more appropriate arrangements sought.
Why are gifted children treated so differently? Why are they placed into mainstream classes designed for children of average ability and expected to just suck it up, behave and be happy? Why, when they struggle, are they told there is something wrong with them? Have you ever been told that your gifted child has a touch of several disorders but just not quite enough to actually attach the label? How come it is so rarely considered that the problem may be one of a mismatch and that a more appropriate learning environment is the answer?
Not alone is this potentially very damaging to the child’s self esteem and motivation to learn, it also deprives them of the opportunity to learn social skills. Other children mix every day with like-minded peers who have the same intellectual ability and the same interests. Through this interaction, they are constantly honing their social skills. Many gifted children never get this chance. They hover on the fringes, always aware that they don’t quite fit in.
Yes, everyone must learn how to get along in the real world. No, not all gifted children struggle socially. But at no other stage of our lives are we all grouped only according to age. At all other stages, interest and ability are taken into account and there is a degree of choice. During childhood and adolescence, given the opportunity, we all learn skills such as patience, tolerance, judgement and how to take different perspectives. So, judging an eight year old child based on their ability to integrate with other eight year olds in a classroom is hardly a fair assessment.
How many parents of gifted children with “social skills deficits” find that, when exposed to a group of like-minded peers for the first time, their child with the problems transforms into a perfectly happy, normal, interactive child? We owe it to our children to fight for opportunities like these. They deserve to have the same feeling of belonging and fitting in that so many other children experience on a daily basis and the same opportunities to develop their social skills in the company of peers. If exceptional ability was at least recognized as a special educational need and treated as seriously as the others, provision could be put in place to support these children appropriately instead of trying to attach disorder labels to them when they don’t fit conveniently into the box we want them in. Why do we insist on crushing our children in order to put them into this box instead of finding one that fits them?