Remember, even before your
baby is born,
Sheri Castello, ChairMom and Co-Founder of Daycare.com, has two children, Jonathan, who is nine years old and Jessica, who is three. When Jonathan was four he was tested and found to be a highly gifted child. In this article Sheri shares some of her experiences as the mom of a gifted child with special needs.
- Schooling the Gifted Child -What was next? My husband and I home schooled Jonathan for the remainder of Kindergarten. But where would he go to school for the first grade? We decided to put Jonathan in a behavioral and social class to prepare him for the traditional school setting and help him deal with his emotions and anger in a safe and more mature way. He also wanted to get a grip on things. Even at his young age he knew he needed to control his emotions. My husband and I received guidance ourselves from a psychologist so that we could learn the tools needed to raise a gifted child. We also hired an educational psychologist to help us find an appropriate school that would be best suited for Jonathan. The educational psychologist was wonderful. She did a thorough psychological examination on Jonathan and recorded it all in a portfolio. Every now and then I enjoy reading her report to see how far we've come with Jonathan and to know that we can conquer anything in the future.
Finding a school for Jonathan to enter first grade was not easy. This would be Jonathan's introduction to school. It had to be good. It had to satisfy Jonathan's passion for learning. The Educational Psychologist directed us to a school for gifted children, which turned out to be the same school where we had Jonathan tested. We believed it would be the best match for Jonathan. Fortunately, he had a wonderful teacher who was very warm and caring and worked very hard with Jonathan on his emotional immaturity. She was the best thing that happened to all of us. We learned an important lesson that the teacher is more important than the school.
Jonathan did well the first half of the school year. However, he started having emotional flare-ups after I gave birth to our daughter, Jessica. It had been a very difficult pregnancy and I experienced severe post-partum depression for three weeks after I came home from the hospital. I am sure the combination of a new baby sister and my depression played havoc with Jonathan's emotions at school. Again we were finding ourselves in the office of the principal. We came to an agreement that whenever Jonathan would have an emotional breakdown, they would call us and we would immediately pick him up. We noticed an improvement in Jonathan's behavior during the last couple of months of the school year. There was even a parent who called me after driving some of the children to a field trip to tell me how wonderful Jonathan was and how much she enjoyed him. That was music to my ears. I was always worried, wondering how Jonathan was doing at school.
At the end of the school year we turned in our deposit for the next year. To our surprise, they returned our check with a note refusing Jonathan's re-entrance unless he was put on medication. I couldn't believe it! I was stunned, as were his teacher and the parents of other children in his class. Who could we turn to if a school supposedly knowledgeable about highly gifted children could not help us? Jonathan certainly fit the criteria for gifted children, for whom emotional immaturity is a very typical characteristic. My husband and I were very much against the drugs. We just knew in our hearts it wasn't the answer for our son.
We went back to the drawing board. Again we sought the guidance of our Educational Psychologist. She, too, was surprised with the actions of the gifted school and agreed that Jonathan shouldn't be medicated. She was very helpful, researching schools and providing us with more options. Before we made our final decision, she visited the school herself to insure it would meet his requirements.
The school we chose for Jonathan had a strong belief in hands-on experience and allowing the individual child to work at his or her own pace. That sounded wonderful for Jonathan and he stayed there for two years. We saw some improvement with his social and emotional behavior, but there were still issues that we realized were only present at school. Others at school were judging him because he was different. He reacts to things in a more gregarious way than others, is sensitive and cries easily, so some think he's odd. But he's never had social problems at the park or with his friends in the neighborhood, in his sports activities or with any other individual of any age. Every child is different. Jonathan is different than the typical child of the same age. He understands intellectually what he cannot handle on an emotional level. As he chronologically grows older we've seen that he begins to gain control and actually educates himself on the emotional aspects of his mind.
With regard to the school's promise to allow Jonathan to work at his own pace, we felt that he should really have been much further ahead than he was. I think the school's intentions were good, but it must be very difficult for one teacher to educate 20+ students, each on an individual learning scale. Especially if one or more of the students is learning at a much faster pace. How many pages of math can a teacher grade if just one student alone enjoys doing 5 or more each evening? We were concerned that Jonathan's passion for learning was fading by the traditional education methods, such as repetition of lessons and proceeding at a proscribed pace through the material. Gifted children enjoy engulfing themselves in their desired interests for much longer time frames than typically allowed at school. They also have a tendency to learn much faster. They don't need the repetitiveness and can handle information all at once instead of a little bit at a time. I think that it is very hard for teachers to realize how fast and how much gifted children can actually learn unless, of course, they have been taught about educating these special needs children and shared some experiences with them. Jonathan is an amazing child. Most adults love spending time with him. It was only his peers at school who excluded him, except when they needed help with their schoolwork.
We have recently withdrawn Jonathan to home school him. I decided to stay home after the birth of our daughter and both my husband and I work at home with our Internet businesses. We had been thinking about home schooling for a while and decided it would be best for Jonathan. One night after hours of research on the Internet, I just knew that home schooling was the right decision. We were concerned that traditional schooling was stifling his passion for learning. All this time he was screaming to get out and we were forcing him to become something he was not. As adults we have choices. We're not forced to spend hours a day with people who make fun of us and pick fights with us. Jonathan's social behavior has flourished in a less structured environment. He seems so much happier and more in control of himself. He may or may not go back into the traditional school system. It has only been a couple of months; we will have to see what the future brings. The door is now open for so many wonderful opportunities.
My daughter is nearing three and enrolled in a Montessori daycare. My husband and I have become great advocates for her daycare needs as well. I also plan on having her tested to insure she is getting the most appropriate education. Each child has a unique temperament and character. I know that what's right for one might not be best for the other. But that's another story. I'll keep you posted.
After all that we have experienced with Jonathan we wanted to try to help others find their way through the daycare system and into school and the world. We hope that we can heighten the sensitivity of daycare providers about the uniqueness and individualism of each child. They are ALL "special" with very different needs.
I hope that I have shed some light or helped someone in some way. I know a parent's job is not an easy one and finding others with similar situations is always comforting. We would love to hear from you.
Update: Our son Jonathan turned 27 in 2019 and works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA and has a Masters in Computer Science from UC Davis and is now working on his Masters in Space Systems Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Our daughter Jessica is now 20 and is an actress that plays the lead in the feature film Oildale. Boy, time flies! I will be updating this 27 year story again soon.
Tells Her Story - Part One