#8 Gifted Students Have Unique Learning Needs That Must Be Met

Susan and Doug Blanchard live in a small town in the Midwest, and they are the parents of three daughters.  Rosie is 3 years old, Annie is 7 years old, and their oldest daughter, Torie, is 11 years old.  The Blanchard’s are an active family, and you can most often find them running, walking or biking in their neighborhood.  Susan, a former college cheerleader, is a stay-at-home mom, and she is busy driving the girls to school and to all their various after-school activities.

When Annie was just 2 years old, Susan and Doug noticed their daughter’s uncanny ability to mimic the moves and acrobatics of the gymnasts she was watching on television during the Summer Olympic Games.  She entertained the family for many nights while standing on her head, teaching herself cartwheels, and using the back of the sofa as her balance beam.  Susan recognized early on that her middle daughter, as a baby, was reaching physical developmental milestones much earlier than her older sister Torie had.  Annie sat up sooner, crawled much sooner, and she totally skipped walking, opting for running at just 8 months old.  Her sense of balance was pretty incredible for a baby her age, also

As soon as Annie turned 5 years old, Susan enrolled Annie in a gymnastics class for 5 – 8 year olds at their local YMCA.  Susan was anxious to bring Annie for her first class because, although she never talked about it, she just knew that Annie had a gift for gymnastics.  Of course, others commented on how very agile Annie was.  Friends and family would express their surprise when Annie enthusiastically showed everyone who would watch her entire repertoire of self-taught acrobatics.

The first day of Annie’s gymnastics class had arrived and both Susan and Annie just could not wait until it was time for class.  Annie ran ahead of Susan and burst into the classroom, busting out a series of handsprings.  Susan was embarrassed for Annie’s brazen behavior, but she was also secretly proud of her daughter’s gift for gymnastics.  Annie’s gymnastics teacher was quite amazed and excitedly said, “She is an amazing acrobat!  How old is she?”  When Susan told her that Annie had just turned 5 years old, the gymnastics teacher was clearly amazed.

Annie loved her gymnastics class and she often showed her intense enthusiasm in class by jumping up and trying new gymnastics moves before her teacher had completely explained to the class how to safely execute the move.  But for Annie, she just wanted to learn more and more gymnastic moves more quickly than the rest of the class could. The class just could not keep up with “Acrobatic Annie”!

After the fourth class, Susan was asked to stay after class to speak with Annie’s gymnastics teacher.  Susan was afraid that Annie’s enthusiasm was disrupting the class or causing some hurt feelings from the other girls in the class who were older than Annie but not as gifted.  Nope, that was not it at all.  Annie’s teacher was insistent that Annie needed to be in the next level gymnastics class, the 9 – 12 year olds.  Susan was shocked and pleased at the same time.  She had a gut feeling all along that Annie was athletically gifted, but this proved it, and now her teacher was insisting that Annie needed to be accelerated in order to meet her level of ability.  As Annie’s teacher said, “If we keep Annie in this class with her age mates, we are just holding her back.  We need to make sure we nurture Annie’s talent because she could go far with this!”

When Susan got home, she relayed all the good news about Annie to her husband.  Together, they were thrilled.  Doug was so proud of his daughter’s above-average athletic ability, he posted a short video on Facebook of his 5 year old daughter doing three back flips in a row.  He was delighted to receive so many “LIKES”, and the many comments of encouragement, praise, admiration, and sincere compliments on his video post of Annie made him beam with pride!  He knew then that Annie’s talent needed specialized training and cultivation in order for Annie to be the best she was born to be!

Annie excelled in her new gymnastics class and she was able to compete head-to-head with her preteen classmates who were all at least 4 years older than her.  Annie’s gymnastics teacher had even tapped a friend who had once been on the Olympic gymnastics team to come give Annie private lessons to further the development of her athletic talent.  With her talent, specialized training, and hard work, Annie’s teacher knew Annie would excel and soar!

Once again, Susan was asked to stay after class to speak with the gymnastics teacher, but this time she knew it was probably more good news; everyone was so supportive of Annie.  Annie’s teacher wanted Annie to be a part of a small team of gymnasts asked to perform at the grand opening ceremonies of the new YMCA downtown.  Of course, Susan agreed!  She knew that this performance would be another way to nurture Annie’s unique acrobatic talent, and it would help her gain self-confidence.  Susan and her husband had decided a while back that Annie was born with this gift and they needed to make sure it was developed properly, so with the support of so many, they provided Annie all that she needed to develop her athletic talent.

After performing for the opening ceremonies for the new YMCA, Annie, now 6 years old, was interviewed by the small town’s local newspaper.  The next day, Annie was featured on the front page with a title that warmed her parents’ hearts: “Annie Blanchard, Gifted Gymnast, Makes Her Town Proud!”  The support and enthusiasm from the community for Annie’s talent was beyond measure!

With all of the specialized training, community involvement and enthusiastic support, Annie took her talent from just a 2 year old walking across the back of the sofa all the way to the Summer Olympic Games.  Surely, without all of the support from her community, and the specialized training made available to her, she wouldn’t have been able to achieve so much!  If her first gymnastics teacher had not noticed her gift and insisted to her mother that she needed to be accelerated and given specialized training, she most definitely wouldn’t have made it this far!  The support and involvement from everyone in the community made the difference in Annie’s success.


Don’t you just love to read stories about hard work, support and then success – all with happy endings?  Me too!


Here is another story just like Annie’s story above:


Liz and Anthony Angelo live in a small town in North Carolina, and they are the parents of two sons;  Jack is 5 years old, and their oldest son Sam is 11 years old.  The Angelo’s both work.  Liz is a nurse and Anthony runs his own office supply business. They are a busy family, and you can most often find them busy driving the boys to school and to all their various after-school activities.

When Jack was just 2 years old, he clearly was hitting all the intellectual milestones much earlier than his brother Sam had. At 2 years old, he was able to identify primary and secondary colors, count objects up to 20 and he knew all of his letters.  Somehow he had learned this on his own at his daycare center.  At 3 years old, Jack taught himself to read.  Liz and Anthony wondered how they could support Jack’s gift for learning.  When he turned 5 years old and was reading chapter books on his own and proficient at 2- and 3-digit addition, he entered Kindergarten…


Can you finish Jack’s story?      Will it be just like Annie’s?

Community support?       Public admiration?       Effortless acceleration?

Specialized education?       Success?


In my recent blog post A Gifted Child Checklist for Teachers , I listed ten basic characteristics and traits of gifted children intended to help teachers and others to identify giftedness in all children by providing a list of gifted traits and characteristics which aren’t always so well-known, easily recognized or widely understood.  I also hoped my checklist would dispel some myths and correct some incorrect information about giftedness.


8 Comments on “#8 Gifted Students Have Unique Learning Needs That Must Be Met

  1. I can’t tell you how Jack’s story will end. It could be any number of ways. What I can tell you, though, is what Jack’s mama is going through. I have Jack. He’s not proficient at 3-digit addition (I don’t think) yet, but we haven’t gotten there yet. He’s six, and is reading How To Train Your Dragon, and Minecraft Handbooks in his free time. He is energetic and excited, happy, and intense. He does all things with an intensity that is unnerving, particularly to people who don’t know him well. His mama listens to an endless litany of how she should spank that [intensity/drive/curiosity] out of him, and how he doesn’t listen, and she needs to hit him to correct his behavior. He doesn’t blindly follow orders, preferring to understand the reasons before he does, which leads to a great deal of yelling from quasi-strangers, shocking his mama and leaving her miserable that she can’t protect her child from these people… while simultaneously wondering if maybe, just maybe, they’re right – even though she’s pretty certain treating him how they suggest would quash his gift… along with his sense of self. She is perpetually shamed, put “in her place” and given unwanted and unrequested “discipline” advice. There are never any offers for a day out with friends or relatives, and there are no breaks for his parents. He cannot be put into school, as he will be a “behavior issue” due to boredom, and the school will not place Jack as the academic third grader he is, regardless of his actual skill, because he is smaller than the 9 year olds, or he’s not as mature, or because “all children are gifted.” His parents routinely question their sanity, but despite all the unsolicited advice, ranging from how to discipline to who should or should not work, are determined to do their best for their child, because they were likely just like Jack once, and they remember…

    • Oh, Care, I can sympathize! Thankfully you are not taking the unrequested advice! I can only imagine the poor children who have had their spirit and drive slapped right out of them – that is tragic! But you bring up a huge point: society just does not understand, tolerate or support intellectual giftedness! Athletic, artistic and musical giftedness is admired and supported – not slapped out of the child. Only you know what is best for your “Jack”! Thank you for sharing your story!

  2. Yes I know how Jack’s story ends. Mom asks the principal what is to be done with Jack when he is way ahead of the other kindergartners and Mom is told “but he needs to be with his peers.” Jack must wait until 6th grade when the gifted program is available. Jack will be dropped from gifted classes to advanced and use the same book two years in a row. Jack will get a “B” in high school when he got 98% on the test because he failed to turn in the study guide for the test he just got an “A+” on. ETC…

    I happened upon your blog today. I have a gifted son (identified by his teachers not me) who also has a health condition that caused him to miss a lot of school. It worked out fine until high school when the flexibility essentially stopped. It wasn’t about whether my son learned or knew the material but whether he completed every assignment and got to finals even though he was sick. We took him out to do an on-line school program that is self-directed but I find he is not self-directed, as it turns out. He has lost his spark for sure and motivation. We continue to plug away but I’m not sure its the best solution, however I am lost as to what to do next.

    • Oh JJ, my heart goes out to you because their are many of us in the same boat. As a parent, you do feel hopeless and helpless when you know your child used to love learning, is capable of so much more, yet is slapped with the confines of a school system with only one focus: standardized test scores. I personally have no answers because I am in the same situation you are right now. I know well the problems, but still struggling to find the solutions. My suggestions would be to find a psychologist or therapist in your area who specializes in gifted kids, find the best resources available on websites such as Gifted Homeschoolers Forum (not just for homeschoolers!), SENG, and Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page, and follow your gut, your motherly instincts. The last thing I would say is to let him find and follow his passions, his interests. Once he is engaged with something that interests him intensely, hopefully he’ll get his spark and motivation back. Keep in touch!

  3. I can finish the story because it is the story of my older son. After meeting with the schools the parents decide the only feasible option to allow their child to grow at his own pace and not be boxed and stunted is to homeschool him. He ends up in a homeschool program where they allow him to skip K and start in 1st. His few and very accepting classmates are all at least 5 years older than him and he thrives. He ends up switching programs and “going back” two years from 8th grade work to 6th grade work so that he wouldn’t be starting highschool at 10, but the new program still allows him to work at his own pace, just gives him more time to go in depth in the subjects that interest him. He is currently just turned 10 and is officially enrolled in a homeschool middle school program as a 6th grader but is particpating as a 7th grader. He is thriving socially and intellectually.

  4. We know how this story often ends… Unfortunately, athletics is acceptable; intellectual ability is not. Even in schools where gifted services are offered, parents would rarely announce their child’s accomplishments to anyone other than their closest friends or family members. Continued advocacy is needed to “normalize” the gifted individual’s dilemma. Your blog helps with this effort! Thanks again.

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