Inattention and the gifted child
One of the most common myths about gifted children is that they are the bright-eyed eager students in the classroom. In fact, many gifted students behave in quite the opposite manner: they may be inattentive and often don't do their homework, or they may do it and not bother handing it in.
What is inattention
Gifted children need plenty of intellectual stimulation, and if they don't get it from their teachers, they will often provide it for themselves. If lessons become too dull, a gifted child's mind will wander to more interesting thoughts. Sometimes these children look like they are daydreaming. It can be quite likely that the child is watching the birds and wondering how they can fly or they may be looking at the leaves on a tree as they drop to the ground wondering what makes the leaves fall from the trees.
What can appear as inattention, may actually be boredom
In most cases, children don't start out in school not paying attention in class. They quite likely come to school eager to learn and expand on what they already know. Unfortunately, they are being taught information they already know. For example, a five-year-old who is already reading at a Year 3 level will have to endure lessons on phonics to help them read - but they are already beyond this.
Gifted children learn faster than average children
Average children may need nine to twelve repetitions of a new concept in order to learn it, bright children perhaps need six to eight repetitions, but gifted children can learn new concepts after only one or two repetitions.
Since the majority of students in a classroom are average students, classrooms tend to be geared toward their learning needs. That means, for example, that even if a gifted child starts kindergarten not knowing how to read, a full week spent on only one letter of the alphabet is unnecessary. The lessons can become frustrating and brain-numbing for a gifted child.
Teachers experience of inattention
Surprisingly, gifted children can continue to follow what a teacher is saying so that when the teacher calls on a gifted child who looks like he hasn't been paying attention, the child can answer the question without any problem. However, it's also quite possible that a child can become so engrossed in his own thoughts that he is essentially in another world and doesn't even hear the teacher, even when his name is called.
To the teacher, the child looks as though he is not interested in learning, but the opposite is usually true: the child is very interested in learning, but has already learned the material being discussed and therefore isn't learning anything. Consequently, the child retreats to the rich, inner life so typical of gifted children.
Solutions for inattention
Gifted children who are engaged and challenged rarely have trouble paying attention in class. Unfortunately, it can be extremely difficult to convince a teacher that the cause of a child's lack of attention in class is the result of too little challenge rather than too much. Teachers unfamiliar with the needs of gifted children understand that children who are unable to comprehend a concept can tune out and daydream, but they don't usually understand that gifted children tune out because they DO comprehend.
The first step in trying to solve this problem is:
Talk to the teacher
Most teachers want to do what is best for their students, so sometimes all it takes is a word or two about what a child needs. It's best, however, to avoid using the words "bored" and "gifted." When parents tell a teacher their children are bored, the teacher may become defensive
Talk about individual needs
For example, parents might tell a teacher that their children work best when challenged or that their children seem to pay more attention when work is harder. If the teacher seems to be doubtful, then parents can simply ask the teacher to try a new strategy to see if it works. The point is to keep the focus on the child's individual needs as a learner and to try to build a partnership with the teacher.
Other challenges the gifted child faces:
Gifted and talented children may have special needs in one or more aspects of their development. These may include:
- Extra pressure from parents and teachers to be continually successful
- Increased fear of failure and a sense of failure when not 'perfect'
- Expectations that they do not have normal play and recreation time
- Developing high demands and expectations of others
- Frustration of having great skills in some areas, but not others (for example having advanced cognitive skills but only 'normal' or even 'below normal' handwriting skills)
- Difficulties in gaining access to a challenging level of education appropriate to their needs
- Difficulties relating to other children of the same age and finding same age friends
The stresses sometimes experienced by gifted and talented children may lead to problems such as deliberately not doing as well as they can, in an effort to hide their differences as well as suffering emotional difficulties, such as depression, stress, anxiety.
Despite the challenges that may face them, being gifted and talented may also of course provide these children with many great opportunities and experiences. Psychological studies of gifted children has shown that most gifted children are socially and emotionally well adjusted.
Read more about learning difficulties:
- Inattention and the gifted child
- Play therapy for autistic children
- Learning problems
- How to tell the school there is a problem
- Solving school difficulties
- Understanding anxiety in children
- What is ADHD?
- Could my child have ADHD?
- Getting ADHD diagnosed
- Types of ADHD
- Is ADHD inherited? + other FAQs
- ADHD treatments
- Should I medicate my child?
- ADHD and alternative therapies
- 6 ADHD myths busted
- Coping with your child's diagnosis of ADHD
- Strategies for parents managing ADHD
- How will ADHD affect my child's future?
- Celebrating ADHD