To be honest: Gifted children have special needs too

A parents says that while special needs are catered for in school - the needs of a gifted child are not

What if I told you my child had special educational needs? What would you think? Would you wear your sympathetic face, pat my arm and express a desire to understand? What if I then told you that my child’s special need is that, with an IQ of 140, she’s gifted? Would that sympathy evaporate?

This is the dilemma I face every time I wish to open up about the difficulties my daughter, Cara, encounters. Cara knows she’s going to a place where she’s not understood and where there is no semblance of the support she needs to function at her own level. Children with other special needs, such as dyslexia, are supported to function at their own level, but gifted children aren’t.

People often assume that gifted children are somehow at an advantage, that they will be academically successful regardless. This, unfortunately, isn’t true. Cara already knows the facts she’s presented with at school but she’s not learning how to learn. All the other children in her class are, and this puts my child at a disadvantage. At some stage, she will be presented with a challenge (it hasn’t happened yet) and won’t know how to rise to it, because she’s not learning that skill.

Bluntly put, she’s bored. Bored from one end of the day to the next, and tortuously frustrated that she’s not actually learning, because all she wants to do is learn. She doesn’t think she’s the smartest person in the world, she doesn’t see how clever she is; she sees all the things she doesn’t know and is hungry to learn them but she can’t do that at school.


Cara’s different and she knows she’s different, but so do the other children so she feels like an alien every time she goes through the school gates. My heart breaks every time I see her go through those gates. She’s often close to tears, and I’m not far behind her.

As a parent, I know it’s my job to provide my child with the opportunity to fulfil her potential but I don’t know how to do that when the educational system doesn’t know, or even seem to want to know, how to support my child.

While Cara is happiest working on Leaving Certificate material, she is still just a 10-year-old girl from rural Ireland who feels things very deeply. People see this as meaning that Cara needs to toughen up and stop being so sensitive, but the truth is that gifted children are more intense in every way including emotionally. Something that another child would feel as an emotional papercut, feels like an emotional cleaverblow to Cara. It cripples her and creates a level of anxiety that draws further negative attention to her.

We found support through Gifted Ireland (, which has links with the Centre for Talented Youth, Ireland (CTYI). I nearly wept with relief when I read this quote from Dr Colm O’Reilly of CTYI on the Gifted Ireland website: “We tend to have the attitude of ‘well, sure it’ll all work out in the end’. For a lot of them, it doesn’t work out in the end and they end up underachieving greatly, and what do we say then? ‘Well, they weren’t that smart to begin with’. I can’t agree with that. The reason they underachieve is because we never did anything for them in the first place, to allow them to fulfil their potential.”

Finally, someone who gets it.

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