Dr Porter notes that verbal giftedness is one of the easiest forms to notice.
“It’s easy to identify a baby who is talking early. This will be obvious and people will say, ‘Gosh they are talking early’.
“However, there is a particular risk from talking very early because peers cannot converse with them. The result is that verbally gifted children might not learn to find others relevant.
“It’s not that they don’t like other people, but they learn at such a young age that other people can’t talk to them about the things that interest them.”
Navigating the challenges of raising a gifted or talented child
Although discovering that a child is gifted may seem wonderful, it also comes with potential challenges for both the parents and the child.
Dr Porter says parents often have to grieve about their own unsatisfactory schooling experience as a gifted learner and not allow this to colour their perceptions of the current education system.
“As for the children, being a statistical rarity can lead to loneliness and isolation if there is no one of similar ability in their orbit.
“Children choose friends at their developmental level – and if there are no intellectual peers available, they may play alone or associate with adults.
“Isolation can also lead to low self-esteem, with children assuming that there is something ‘wrong’ with them because no one wants to play with them given their different interests. These children can have the sense that ‘other people don’t get me’,” Dr Porter says.
Furthermore, given that no one is gifted at everything, Dr Porter says there will be some skills at which the children excel, and others where their learning is closer to average. Detecting the difference, the children can develop low self-esteem about their lower skills.
“In terms of their self-esteem, parents need to keep the two parts of self-esteem separate. The first part is our esteem about our competence, which has to be earned by putting in some effort to gain skills; and the second part is a sense of worth that, ideally, is given,” Dr Porter says.
“When we praise children for being clever or successful, we are telling them that they are ‘good’ when they get things right, which in ‘child-speak’ means that they are ‘bad’ when they don’t.
“In other words, we are allowing what they do to define who they are. We are linking their competence to their worth, when these should not be linked.
“Therefore, parents need to congratulate children for their achievements, share their excitement and be proud for them… but not use the achievement to confirm the children’s worth.
“As for their uneven skill levels, the only way to even these up would be to lower the higher skills. Of course this is not an option.
“This is a good lesson for parents. They sometimes say ‘I want them to be well rounded’. And I say ‘Well that ship has sailed’. This child is going to be a specialist. And the world needs specialists.
“Meanwhile, the children themselves need to learn to be compassionate with themselves and patient with their lower skills.”
Dr Porter says in time the children will need to be told the reason that they seem to be out of step with others.
“Otherwise, they will assume either that there is either something wrong with them or something wrong with everyone else.
“I explain to children that their brain is learning more quickly than others, but that it is not a race to the finish line”.
Ensuring support for gifted and talented children
Dr Porter says socially, children need exposure to other bright learners with whom they can share interests and develop play skills and friendships.
Cousins or family friends can be ideal but if these are not available, Gifted Associations can be helpful.
She says more support is required for gifted children in the education system and that parents should not shy away from advocating for their children for fear of being seen to be boasting.
“It’s important that parents realise when they are approaching schools they are not asking for a better education for their child, they are asking for a developmentally appropriate one.”