If Schools Can’t Meet Gifted Kids’ Needs, What Can?

We’ve mentioned earlier that between asynchrony itself, dramatically different learning styles, and twice-exceptionalities, asynchronous scholars have educational needs that differ so dramatically from those of typical learners that the existing school system can rarely meet them. Especially for gifted kids on the furthest ends of the spectrum, this is the case even in gifted and talented education (GATE) programs, which in any case rarely exist before the third grade, and too often are severely limited or completely absent in this day of funding crises and No Child Left Behind. But giftedness comes hand-in-hand with acute needs, and not meeting those needs seriously damages the child.

In recognition of this harm, out of sheer necessity, increasing numbers of families educate their asynchronous children outside traditional school settings—primarily after the school day ends (“afterschooling,” as noted above) or in home schools.

We should pause here to say that there also are a limited number of private schools that serve asynchronous scholars, but nearly all of these schools target asynchronous scholars whose IQs fall in the first and second standard deviations above the “normal” range at most (so, 130-159); and in many cases do not serve children with “twice exceptionalities.” There is one exception to this, the Davidson Academy in Reno, NV, which is both public and designed to serve profoundly gifted children—but even the Davidson Academy requires that children test well enough to meet their entrance requirements (and quite a number of profoundly gifted children do not test well, because even most IQ tests are not designed to test profoundly gifted children!), and have asynchronies or twice exceptionalities that are not too severe to prevent them from being able to function well in a classroom settings (many exceptionally and profoundly gifted children have intense asynchronies, and a subset has learning disabilities or sensory processing issues that make classroom work untenable). Nonetheless, for those children who qualify, the Davidson Academy is a wonderful, wonderful resource.

But back to those whose needs cannot be met in these school settings: There are a certain number of charter schools offering distance education to homeschoolers. Such schools in California offer $1,200 to $1,800 per school year per pupil to be used for external enrichment classes or service providers, curricula, books and sometimes supplies. However, those funds must be used only for the charters’ “approved vendors.” At many charters the approved vendor list is restricted enough that the more asynchronous scholars cannot use the funds to support deep study subjects of interest to the child—particularly if those interests are extremely specialized or substantially out of grade-level. Many charters also place monthly and annual testing, worksheet and reporting requirements on participants that don’t match the needs of more asynchronous scholars. For these reasons, many, if not most, asynchronous homeschoolers do not enroll in charters. (Hard figures are not available; this estimate is based on anecdotal information gathered from regional and national online mailing lists and forums for gifted homeschoolers.)

Many people might be left wondering what exactly an asynchronous scholar might need in a home school setting. The answer is complex, because there is as much variation in the population of asynchronous scholars as there is in the population of children in general. Most asynchronous scholars learn best when they drive their own learning, selecting a topic of interest and diving in deep for extended periods of time. The parents’ (or tutor’s, teacher’s, educational advisor’s, or mentor’s) role becomes one of facilitation, procuring resources for children so they can teach themselves. These children learn entire concepts at a time, and circle back later to fill in details.

But other asynchronous scholars learn well by following established but compacted curricula at an accelerated rate. Some have extremely high IQs but are dyslexic or have other learning disabilities, and need to use learning strategies developed for learners with those disabilities, but adapted to meet their needs for accelerated, compacted learning. Some asynchronous scholars delve so deep into a particular area at young ages that they outstrip all existing child-oriented materials before their interest as been sated, and parents must develop new materials, adapt adult-level materials, develop entire classes on a particular (sometimes arcane) subject, or find tutors or mentors who can do the same.

There is a thriving online community that addresses some of these needs, and it provides critical support to afterschooling and homeschooling families. The community is comprised of online mailing lists and websites (including those of service providers like the Davidson Institute and the national talent search programs) listing resources, reference sources, and research. Some of the leading lists include TAGMAX, TAGFAM and for those with twice exceptionalities, TAGPDQ; the Gifted Homschoolers’ Forum’s mailing list; and a great many others listed on the Hoagies’ Gifted website. Mailiing list members discuss their challenges and successes, point one another to resources they’ve found useful for their own asynchronous scholars, and the like.

But it may be no surprise to learn that obtaining these resources requires funds far in excess of what many families have at their disposal. Although the cost of educating a typical child at home may be fairly reasonable (assuming the self-selecting respondents of that survey were parents of typical children, which they may not be), meeting the needs of a substantially asynchronous gifted child requires much more money. To be able to meet the educational needs of an asynchronous scholar at home, one parent typically has to remain home, often putting a career (and thus income) on hold, further limiting what’s available. Even families of asynchronous scholars attending typical schools need to spend equal amounts to obtain learning materials for their children to use at home. And this is to say nothing about the services of education advocacy specialists, IQ and achievement assessments, evaluations and treatment for common (among asynchronous children in particular) disabilities not covered by insurance like sensory processing disorder, and the like.

This also doesn’t factor in the costs of the highly specialized materials, tutors, and resources these children may require: Biology lab equipment… college-level texts that still don’t contain material too inappropriate for highly sensitive young children… travel to perform at concerts… appropriate supplies for prodigious artists… a telescope and corresponding computer software and hardware for a child doing original astronomy research… tutors, teachers, community college classes… we’ll stop there. This list may sound incredible, but there are children that need these things to be their right selves, to meet their own, intense inner drive to learn and explore.

The fact is that our system makes no allowance for children like this. The burden of providing these things for these kids this falls on the family. Fairness aside, that can work fine when a family has the means; but there are dozens, if not hundreds of families in California alone who do not have the resources to do so.

asflogobriefThe aim of the Asynchronous Scholars’ Fund is to rectify that shortfall. We are building on a model proven by hundreds of families who work every day to find and implement resources for their asynchronous children. Based on that model, the Fund will provide the resources for families of lesser means to permit them to identify and meet their children’s needs. Please join us today in building this program: Your support will make a difference!