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Many parents want their children accepted by the gifted program in their school district. It’s lovely, of course, to have this validation – you always knew your child was special and now there’s proof. But being accepted or rejected is more complicated than just the letter that comes in the mail.

Let’s take a look at gifted programs and ways to support your gifted child, whether the school recognizes his giftedness or not.

Gifted? Who says?
Identifying giftedness is not a straightforward process. There is no clear definition of what being gifted is and no clear way of testing for it. In most school districts, being gifted is synonymous with achieving a particular score on an ability test. In many districts, the target score is 120 on a test where 100 is “average.” In other districts, the target score is somewhat higher.

Whatever the score, this method of measuring giftedness overlooks completely the child who is especially creative, the child who doesn’t take tests well, the child with any sort of disability or difference, and the child whose gifts lie in areas other than traditional ‘school skills.’

So being identified as gifted means only one thing – that the child did quite well on a key test – but not being identified as gifted doesn’t mean much at all. Your child may still be extraordinary but the method used to identify giftedness was too limited to see that.

The pros and the cons of gifted programs.
For many parents, having a child accepted into the gifted program is the key bit. The next step is deciding to take advantage of the program, and that’s not necessarily an easy decision.

In some districts, gifted children are isolated from the rest of their classmates, for all or part of the day. If the gifted program is housed in a single location, children who live a distance from that location may need to be bused to and from. Parents may not want this and they may not want their children segregated from their friends.

The gifted program itself may or may not suit a particular child. Being enrolled in this program might mean a child has little time left for art or music classes or for sports. Going to class with children who all are as capable as she is – even more capable – can be intimidating to the child who is used to being “the best” in everything. Being isolated from “ordinary kids” might make it more difficult for a child to hang out with kids in the neighborhood.

While children who score at the very top of the range have quite different needs for intellectual stimulation than children in the middle, there are no federal laws that require special accommodations for gifted children. So a parent must take what the school district offers. Unlike the parent of a child with a protected disability, the parent of a gifted child cannot influence the sort of education her child receives.

Helping your child, identified or not.
No matter if your child is accepted into your school’s gifted program or is not, the same basic principles apply that applied before giftedness was on your radar screen:

A key piece is to avoid building up the gifted program to such a glorious thing that your child is disappointed no matter how things come out. If he’s accepted he may discover school really is still school, only more difficult. If he’s not accepted he may feel terrible shame and disappointment, feelings that are not deserved, since nothing really has changed.

Remember that being identified as gifted doesn’t mean much of anything in the grand scheme of things. For each of us, making the most of the opportunities that arise is still the best plan.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.