Gifted kids get bad rap in schools

08 August 2010 - 02:00 By SUBASHNI NAIDOO

As many as half of South Africa's gifted children are being incorrectly diagnosed and treated for serious behavioural and emotional disorders.

Experts say inadequate teacher training to identify special abilities and talent among SA's bright sparks is seeing such children labelled with conditions such as Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism and bipolar disorder.

Now a concerned group of Western Cape educators, with the help of the National Association for Gifted and Talented Children in South Africa (NAGTCSA), is planning to conduct a forum for school principals later this year. It is aimed at creating opportunities for discussion on ways to meet the needs of gifted children.

"There is an enormous need to inform educators about giftedness as these children are essentially not catered for in schools," said the association's president, Professor Shirley Kokot. She said giftedness was often misdiagnosed or overlooked because the characteristics were similar to that of the listed criteria for ADHD.

"It is possible that these 'symptoms' are caused by being understimulated or misunderstood in an educational environment. A child who is frustrated by too much repetition of material, having to relearn subject matter that has already been mastered ... may often demonstrate negative emotions," said Kokot.

A Johannesburg private school for the gifted, Radford House, has seen more than half of its pupils misdiagnosed with ADHD.

Said owner, Phillip Kokot: "In my experience, at least seven out of 10 gifted children have been labelled with having the condition ADHD."

He said teachers were even quick to recommend medication. "Teachers believe that a gifted child is a straight-A student who answers every question. But more often they are not; most have underlying issues and giftedness needs to be discovered."

Durban mother of four Louise Dunford was forced to medicate her daughter Jemma, 9, with the drug Risperdal after she was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a neurological disorder.

"I've been through the mill trying desperately to seek help for my daughter, until we discovered she was intellectually gifted with an IQ of 140. We stopped the drugs, moved her to a school that nurtured her talent and now she's thriving," said Dunford.