BLESSING OR CURSE? It is every parent’s wish to have a child who is super smart and talented. In short, a genius. However, experts warn that it is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Some gifted children may be prone to suicidal tendencies or may turn to prostitution. The challenges that come with being gifted lead many to have lonely and withdrawn lives, writes Audrey Vijaindren
MANY parents think that their children are the smartest and most talented of the lot, but there are a few who live the harsh reality of raising children who are wise beyond their years.
A lack of support from parents, friends and the community can have horrific consequences for such children.
Sadly, to be identified as “gifted” often means one is looked at as being “nerdy” or “abnormal” — an “alien” among peers, says Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Professor Datuk Dr Noriah Mohd Ishak, who is also Pusat PERMATApintar director and PERMATApintar College principal.
“Society expects a gifted child to be the best and at the top of the class. People often say things like, ‘you are gifted, so you must score straight As’ or ‘how did you not perform well in your exams when you are gifted?’.
“Another myth is that gifted students do not need help, and are expected to be able to figure out what to do. This is not true as they need help in many things, from selecting a course of study to choosing a career.”
The frustrations of a gifted child manifest in many ways.
“Imagine a gifted student, who, at 13, has finished studying the topics covered in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) exam, but has to wait until he turns 17 to sit the exam,” says Noriah.
“Or, a student who has taken the A Levels at 15, but is not allowed to enrol in university until she is older.
“These students would get frustrated, which could lead to depression or suicidal tendencies.”
Some may even run away from home, says Noriah, adding that prostitution may be their last resort to earn enough to get by when help is not extended.
“In general, gifted children have asynchronous development, meaning that there’s a big gap in their cognitive and emotional development.
“A 12-year-old gifted child may have the cognitive abilities of a 21-year-old, but the emotional growth of his real age. This has big implications on such children’s perceptions of life.
“People might question a 12-year-old’s rebellious behaviour, and compare and contrast it with how smart the child is.
“To society, gifted children should ‘act’ gifted.”
The problem is compounded when parents of such children put too much pressure on them, says Noriah.
“Asians tend to heed the concept of ‘don’t shame the family’. So, when a child is identified as being gifted, he is expected to consistently perform well and is not allowed to fail.
“To ensure that the family is not ‘shamed’, the parents of these children push them to the point that the children feel robbed of their childhood. As a result, many turn into ‘zombies’.”
Mind Path Consulting Services consultant, trainer and educational psychologist Dr Inderbir Sandhu echoes Noriah’s views.
“It is crucial for parents of gifted children to love them unconditionally. Love should be with no strings attached, and not dependent on the children’s achievements.
“Help them with their socio-emotional sensitivities and encourage them to form friendships.
“Physical activities are also key for them to vent their frustrations.”
Noriah advises parents to equip themselves with knowledge and resources.
“Read books on ways to raise gifted children.
“UKM’s Pusat PERMATApintar Negara conducts courses on how to deal with these children.
“There are also support groups under PERMATApintar and the National Association for Gifted Children.
“PERMATApintar provides counselling to parents and gifted children, and has a Facebook account where parents can post questions.
“Parents who feel that their children are gifted, from years of observation, should seek help in testing the children.
“There are certain characteristics that parents can observe, such as their child walking or talking early, which should encourage them to seek help before they become overwhelmed.”
Mind Path Consulting Services is another source of help.
“It’s a comprehensive consulting service company that offers services for the gifted population, such as IQ and creativity testing,” says Inderbir.
“We conduct workshops and seminars on giftedness, creativity and critical thinking, mainly for teachers and parents, to help them understand this diverse and special population.
“We train teachers on how to identify gifted students and advise on how the curriculum can be modified to suit the needs of such students.
“We also offer counselling for individuals and parents, as well as consultation services for schools and learning centres, for talent and excellence enhancement.”