Gifted children are often misdiagnosed and misunderstood

Gifted children playing football

When we think of gifted children the first name that springs to mind is usually Einstein. I can’t help but wonder how many therapies Einstein would have been in if he had been born today. Rumour has it that he only started speaking at age 3, so already we have delayed development, paeds and speech therapy. Some have said that he would have been diagnosed today with autism or aspergers and would probably end up in special ed. He was known for long periods of daydreaming, something we treat these days with ADHD meds. Would we even pick up the underlying genius at all? I doubt it.

Most gifted kids end up like an unwrapped gift

They are a group of the most unrecognized and misdiagnosed children around today. They are some of the children most often found in a variety of therapies because they don’t fit in the normal schooling mould and we don’t know what to do with them. They often have inconsistent developmental rates where they’re very advanced in one area and quite behind in another and so we surmise that they can’t be gifted if they’re not coping or at a similar level to other kids their age.

Gifted kids tend to have one or more over-excitabilities

including physical (misdiagnosed as ADHD and put on meds), sensory (misdiagnosed as sensory integration issues and sent to OT), emotional (misdiagnosed as emotional problems and sent to play therapy).

It is up to us as parents to inform ourselves and trust our instincts

when it comes to our children. Just because some professional tells you that your child has a problem does not necessarily mean it is true. Get another opinion. Do some research. Dig a little deeper. Gifted kids may need some therapy and may even have a learning disability that comes alongside their genius, but often they are simply misdiagnosed amidst our modern day obsession with fixing children and making them all alike.

If you suspect your child is gifted, they probably are

Here are the typical traits of a gifted child (keep in mind that gifted children, like all children, are unique and may or may not display all of these traits):

  • Unusual alertness, even in infancy
  • Rapid learner
  • Excellent memory
  • Unusually large vocabulary and complex sentence structure for their age
  • Advanced comprehension of word nuances, metaphors and abstract ideas
  • Enjoys solving problems, especially with numbers and puzzles
  • Often self-taught reading and writing skills as a preschooler
  • Deep, intense feelings and reactions
  • Highly sensitive
  • Thinking is abstract, complex, logical, and insightful
  • Idealism and sense of justice at an early age
  • Concern with social and political issues and injustices
  • Preoccupied with own thoughts—daydreamer
  • Learn basic skills quickly and with little practice
  • Ask probing questions
  • Wide range of interests (or extreme focus in one area)
  • Highly developed curiosity
  • Interest in experimenting and doing things differently
  • Puts ideas or things together that are not typical
  • Keen and/or unusual sense of humour
  • Desire to organize people/things
  • Vivid imagination (and imaginary playmates when in preschool)

Parents are actually very good at judging whether their child is gifted or not

so trust yourself. Gifted kids, like special needs children, have different requirements in terms of education, stimulation, and emotional support. The sooner you unwrap your gift, the sooner you can figure out exactly how to nurture your unique child into fulfilling their potential.

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Mia Von Scha

Mia Von Scha

Mia Von Scha, Transformational Coach, motivational speaker, children’s author, student to two Zen Masters (aka kids), avid cloud watcher and lover of life.

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25 Responses

  1. This is exactly what we experienced from the time my son was in Gr 1. Teachers noticed problems and recommended OT. After years of being told my son wasn’t reaching his potential, we took him to a remedial teacher and she said he was ‘bored’ at school and to please have him tested as a gifted child.
    We had never heard of this, but made the enquiries. At this stage he was gr 6 and had a complete shutdown, we were called in daily by the teachers and principal, for him not doing any work. He was on anti-depressants for 2 years, due to anxiety and misdiagnosed as having SAD.
    We finally had him tested with a gifted specialist, he fell in the top 2% of the global population. We contacted Mensa with a bunch of questions only to receive an application form. He was accepted!
    He was immediately grade shifted and we had to put him in a Small Independent High School which costs a fortune, however assists with classroom noise, and seeing the whole child, not just academics. It is a long, hard journey to travel, as a parent you are isolated, it’s an emotional rollercoaster and heartbreaking to watch your child go through feeling “weird”, thinking they are dumb and stupid and being so misunderstood! He has now made friends with older peers, that share his same interests, has a mentor in the field he wants to study and working towards his goal. We would not have been able to get through the difficult years without the support of GiftedChildrenSA.

    1. Hi Trudy.

      Sorry to hear that it was such a long hard journey for you. I’m so pleased that you eventually found the right place for your son.

      My point in writing this article was exactly to prevent others from having to struggle for so long.

      I hope your story will also help others to get the right assessments and to help their children.

      Thank you for sharing!

      1. Hi Trudy and Mia,

        I suspect my child is Gifted, which educational psychologist would you recommend who specializes in Gifted children?

        Which schools apart from Radford house would you recommend in Johannesburg.

        Your responses would be highly appreciated.


        1. Hi Siphindile

          I would suggest getting in touch with MENSA South Africa as they will have psychologists that they can recommend in your area who specifically deal with gifted evaluations.

          I don’t know of any other schools specifically focused on gifted kids, but if you find a good school they will hopefully be able to make some adjustments to accommodate the needs of your child.

          Good luck!

    1. Hi Nandi

      Radford in Fairlands and GALASA in Rosebank. Other alternatives are Cottage Schools or Homeschooling. Most regular schools fall short in terms of adequately stimulating these children.

  2. True hey it is just so painfull more expecially with us black people how we will brag about our children walking or talking earlier than usual. But my answer to all of such comment about my children will be i thank God they can walk or talk,weather erlier or later is not an issue but nkow they are just different.

    1. If your child is gifted, they already feel different. It is usually recommended if there are behavioral issues that arise if their needs aren’t met, which can cause underachieving and alienation from peers. The OE’s and lack of stimulation are the biggest challenges that they face

    2. Hi Oratile

      It is a very personal matter whether you decide to have your child assessed or not. If you have looked at the general criteria for giftedness and suspect that your child is, they probably are. Assessments can help if there are issues at school or home to help you to understand your child better and get the correct assistance, but it is not a necessity. Children can be assessed at any age, but I would recommend finding someone who specialises in gifted kids to do the assessment – Mensa can point you in the right direction!

    1. Hi Cheryl

      Radford House or GALASA would be your best bets, but these kids often respond very well to homeschooling or unschooling provided they are exposed to enough stimulating experiences.

  3. Our son was “identified” as being gifted when he was in Gr 1. So many of the attributes listed above applies to him! He was moved ahead to a higher grade in the same school he attended, which had its own set of social/emotional challenges. He was in a very caring and nurturing private primary school in Johannesburg with very approachable teaching staff and management. The psychologist did warn us though that he would need a more challenging/competitive environment as he grows up. We did reach that stage in Gr 5 and moved him to a different private school where he has since moved to the high school. This school has a more competitive/rewarding ethos, and he is flourishing. Again, the teachers and management were very approachable and they do try and help in the area of stimulus and also understanding that these kids are different socially, academically, and can be easily misunderstood as insolent or disrespectful in their drive to grasp the full understanding of concepts. Our son was accepted at Radford House in Johannesburg but didn’t want to go there as he is a very social child and wanted the big school environment for sport. He has a busy extra curricular calendar in terms of participation in sport and cultural activities and he is also playing his Gr 7 practical piano exam early in 2017. He is in the top 10 in his grade every year and is planning to take extra subjects for Gr 10 – 12. YES… special schools have a definite place and some kids absolutely flourish there, but so does our son, in a normal mainstream private high school in Johannesburg. Sure, as parents we have to do a bit more and be a little more pro-active and involved in school matters and relationships with teachers, but it is absolutely worth it to see a healthy, balanced child develop into a strong young man in a fairly “normal” school environment.

    1. Hi Trudi

      Yes, I agree, there are pros and cons to both specialised and regular schooling environments. You really need to work with your specific, unique child and what his/her needs are.

  4. I have recently started living with my nephew , I have no kids of my own so for me this is a baptism by fire…I am used to a certain order in my life and he is challenging that status quo…I have always suspected that my nephew is gifted, however my brother is a free live parent who does not believe in harnessing this gifted child’s potential. I laughed as I was ticking more than 12 things on the list above. I have not done anything as yet , what is the next step I am already starting to educate myself , I am looking for main stream school and I am afraid that he will face challanges with other kids as he is currently facing them with the kids in my neighbourhood, do I take him to a psychologist , do I take him to remidial classes? he is 5 years old and is supposed to be going to grade 1 and I have no idea how best to help him and bring out the best in him, please assist me.

    1. Hi Stah.

      You are certainly jumping straight in at the deep end!

      I would definitely have him assessed by an educational psychologist who specialises in gifted kids – if you contact Mensa they will be able to help you to find someone in your area.

      If you’re in JHB I would suggest speaking to someone at Radford House – they are a school specifically for gifted kids and very aware of the social issues faced by these children. They are having a talk at the end of January on under-performance in gifted kids which should be very enlightening in helping you to know what steps to take to assist your nephew in harnessing his potential.

      Best of luck to you. Your nephew is very lucky to have you looking out for him!

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