Guidance for Parents of Intellectually Gifted Children

Children with very high IQs often find school frustrating and alienating. Patience and understanding from parents and educators is key to their success.
By Marina Zietsman

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It is only an estimated five to seven percent of children who are considered intellectually gifted and while there are tests which can determine if your child falls into this category, Professor Shirley Kokot, an educational psychologist and president of the National Association for Gifted and Talented Children in South Africa, says that identifying the gifted child is not always necessary. “If a child is easy-going, enjoys the social life at school, loves doing well academically and has the personality to tolerate frustrations, there is often no reason to subject him to testing,” says Kokot. “It’s children who are experiencing problems at school that need to be assessed, so that the reason for their behaviour or unhappiness can be ascertained and better understood,” she adds. 
Most gifted children don’t struggle socially, but the degree of giftedness plays a role in how they interact with others, says Kokot. “Some gifted children thrive in leadership roles and if they are naturally sociable and gregarious, they find great fulfilment in being respected by their peers, while others find it difficult to relate to the ‘normal’ range of people with whom they come into contact and they tend not to know how to interact,” she says. 
Missing the Mark
According to Dr James Webb, clinical psychologist and author of Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults and A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, intellectually gifted children are often misdiagnosed with ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Mood Disorders, namely depression and bi-polar disorder. This stems from ignorance about specific social and emotional characteristics of gifted children, which are then mistakenly diagnosed as signs of pathology, he explains. In fact, 23 of the common markers for ADHD, expressed positively and not negatively, can also describe a gifted individual. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics: “Although gifted children generally do well, they may show behaviours that mimic ADHD. For example, they may appear hyperactive because they ask many questions and are so excited about learning. Or, they may fail to participate in age-expected activities because of their over-focus on an area of interest. Finally, boredom can lead to inattention as well as feelings of depression.” It’s unsurprising then that the truly gifted child is not always top of his class, yet gifted children are often expected to be better than their peers at everything, something Webb cautions against. “Educators need to understand that these children cannot be brilliant at everything. A child may have an incredible vocabulary and the ability to hold her own when interacting with adults, but she’s still a child and needs to be allowed to behave like one.” 
Harsh Reality on Soft Issues
When it comes to gifted children, parents need to ensure they don’t confuse intellectual ability with emotional maturity. Gifted children are fully aware they are different and often have heightened sensitivities, making them acutely aware of people talking about them, which can have a huge emotional impact. 
According to Lisa van Gemert in an article written for American Mensa: “Gifted children often have different challenges than their typical learner peers. All children struggle with fitting in and finding their niche, and for most children this is about wearing the right clothes or watching the popular movies and TV shows so they can be like other children. While gifted children may not care about those things, they do care about fitting in. And what they may really want is to be directed to other children or adults who share their interests.”
Get With the Programme  
Kokot stresses the importance of offering children educational challenges at their level of capability, just like you would for a talented sportsman. There are various organisations that offer special programmes for talented children. Participating in these gives them the opportunity to spend time with other gifted children, which is very important for their emotional and social development. In addition, these programmes give children the chance to satisfy their curiosity and need for mental stimulation. Ethan* is one such example. An intellectually gifted child, Ethan was interviewed for and accepted into the LEAP (Learning Extension and Acceleration Programme) class at his school in Grade 5 and now gets all the stimulation he needs and finally feels that he belongs.
Sadly, the South African curriculum does not include special programmes for gifted children and very few schools offer them. “South Africa needs educators and parents who understand giftedness and its ramifications. It is a huge tragedy that giftedness has been deleted from teachers’ training,” says Kokot. “I suggest parents of gifted children sit in the principal’s office and refuse to budge until someone takes action. Work with the teachers and offer to help in supplying additional materials for enrichment projects.” Parents of gifted children need to have tenacity, endurance and the energy to keep up with the mental gymnastics and questions of this journey.
  • Mensa This is an international high-IQ society. The only qualification for membership is having an IQ in the top 2% of the population. There are Mensa chapters throughout South Africa. Visit
  • Gifted Children South Africa An organisation dedicated to helping parents and teachers of gifted children in South Africa. Visit or Africa
  • Radford House A small, private primary school in Joburg, catering for the unique needs of high-potential or "gifted" learners. Visit for more. 

* Names have been changed


Mom of newly diagnosed gifted boy wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago


My son has recently been "diagnosed" as a gifted child. He is in a very good and strict government school. He hasn't been in the top 10 or anything like that, but he does ok overall, throughout his subjects. The teacher picked up a problem with his comprehension as he reads books that aren't even kept for his age. He is forever in the library and is one of the few whom aren't on any reading programme. The teacher suggested that we have him educationally assessed. We were totally gobsmacked to be informed that is a gifted child, and as we went through the report and after the counselling session, everything about my boy made so much sense. I finally understand him so much better. He recently told me that he feels invisible at school, he has a friend who enjoys playing chess with him, but he doesn't like sport at all. We are thinking of moving him to a school with the cambridge system... What are the pro's and cons? He is now in grade 4 and his sister is in a cambridge school in grade 1. This all so knew and I have so much still to learn...

Tamlyn wrote 2 years 18 weeks ago

You can have a look at this article, which discusses several alternative schooling options and which may provide you with some answers: 

Dr Johan wrote 2 years 20 weeks ago

Hi, thank you to the author of this article for the positive input. I work with highly intuitive children and the signs and symptoms are very similar to the academically gifted child. These two areas are far apart but very closely linked. Many parents have brought their children to me due to being highly academic and walk away unhappy because their child is highly intuitive instead. Parents should be equally as pleased whether their child is highly intuitive or highly academically gifted. Both are a gift as the world cannot survive on academics alone. These children are the yin and yan of our universe.    

Mrs Manda wrote 2 years 28 weeks ago

Good day,

I am writing to you about my daughter. She is three years old. As a baby she was always ahead of the expected developmental stages. She was walking at 10 months. By age two she was able to recognize letters form A to Z and started reading words out load. She always asks if she does not know a word, and once you tell her what it is she never forgets. She is three now; she is able to read short sentences and can name more colours than I can. she is currently interested in mathematics - she is able to do addition up to five.

I am not sure if I am just an excited parent or if she is advanced. Please inform me if children her age are at this milestone or not. If she is advanced kindly advise on how to keep her stimulated.

Tamlyn wrote 2 years 28 weeks ago

Milestones differ depending on the child, so it would be best to speak to someone to find out if your daughter is gifted. If she is at a school, talk to the teachers to find out what they think. Otherwise you can speak to an educational psychologist, who wouold be able to tell you if your child is ahead of the milestones for her age and to offer advice on how to keep her stimulated and with which activities. Have a look at our Healthcare Practitioners resource to find a psychologist in your area: also has a list of experts as well as a parent guidance and support service. 

Anonymous wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

This is so scary. I was stressing all day after speaking to my son's teacher - he is only in grade 1. How am I going to get my child tested and if it turns out that he is gifted what then? I saw a comment about a parent that got real help after 6 years and in the article they said that it was pricey. 

Mom wrote 3 years 3 weeks ago

As a parent I feel my child is gifted or shows potential in some areas. He is 4 almost 5. I don't see the need for any special treatment but would like to know what I can do to nurture it.

Tamlyn wrote 3 years 3 weeks ago

You can talk to his teacher or preschool and ask what they would suggest. They may be able to offer you additional resources. Another option is to look for suitable extramurals that will engage and challenge your son. 

Anonymous wrote 3 years 44 weeks ago

We have a 3-year-old daughter turning 4 in March 2016. She has successfully completed Grade 00 this year and the pricipal of her school suggested that she be moved to Grade R next year. We were concerned that she is so young, but her principal says that she is emotionally ready and sees no reason to keep her back. I assume we should proceed in case she is gifted?

Anonymous wrote 3 years 44 weeks ago

We have set up a support group on Facebook:

Vanessa wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Is there anyone out there who can recommend ANYONE right now in the KZN / Highway area to help me with my intellectually gifted nine-year-old daughter?

I am a single mom with no support when it comes to this and feel like I am at my wits end.

Anonymous wrote 3 years 51 weeks ago

My son is 8 years old. He is in Grade 2. He is not doing well in his grade because apparently he gets bored with the work that he is doing. I gave him money to buy himself a book; he came home with an encyclopaedia, which he read to the end. He is now reading a book about astronomy. Is this normal or should I be considering taking him to a special school? 

admin wrote 3 years 50 weeks ago

Hi there. If you are concerned about your child's academic performance, we recommend having an educational assessment. Also ask your child's teacher how you can give him additional mental stimulation at home. 

Phindi Kula wrote 4 years 1 week ago

My son is now 8 years old in Grade 2. He only started talking at 4, but he could already read subtitles on TV and he was never sent to creche because teachers got annoyed with him. By the time he started school he could read a magazine. He is really frustrating in class as he does not listen and always wants the attention torwards him, but gets his 7s at the end of the term. It really frustrates me as a mother because the teachers do not really understand him. The teacher tries to assist but when it affects her work she also gets frustrated. I do not know what to do.

admin wrote 4 years 1 week ago

Hi Phindi. We suggest that your son gets an educational assessment to determine if any professional interventions may be necessary. We would also recommend that you meet with your child's teachers and the school principal so that your son receives the support he needs at school.

Heinrich Rall wrote 4 years 3 weeks ago

I have a 12-year-old son that completed his IGCSE O levels in May this year with an average of 91%. I stay in a small rural town, and took him out of school at the end of his Grade 5 year as a result of the shocking standard of education at the local school and the Department of Education's refusal for him to advance to a higher level. I am currently helping my son complete his Cambridge A-levels, which he will complete next year.

In the process I have gained a lot of insight into teaching a gifted child (I taught Maths and Science in the late 80s as an unqualified teacher), and the results that my son achieved stupefies me. We are moving to Pretoria in 2016/17 to allow my son to study there. I am considering starting a tutorial college/school specifically aimed at assisting gifted children with a home-school approach following the Cambridge Curriculum and would appreciate any feedback from parents that might be interested in the concept. E-mail:

jenie wrote 4 years 29 weeks ago

We have recently found out that our five-year-old son has very superior cognitive potential (classed as gifted), but with average auditory processing. We are waiting on Radford, but interested to know other comments about schools with solid academic results in maths and science and still offer very good sporting facilities. My son requires the mental stimulation, but also requires the option of being able to move (which is why daily sports would help). Wondering your thoughts on this? I am thinking along the likes of St Stithians, St Peters etc (all in Joburg).

admin wrote 4 years 29 weeks ago

Your best option is to do your research about potential schools for your child, set up appointments with them if necessary to discuss your child's needs, and speak to other parents for their recommendations. All the best.

Happiness wrote 4 years 35 weeks ago

My 3,5 year old daughter is not talking and as a result still wears a nappy. When frustated she bangs her head on the floor or wall or claps her face. Before she turned 2 years old she could utter vowels and count to 5, but she can't even say "mama" or daddy. I have not taken her to a professional yet. I am staying in West  Rand, Johannesburg.

admin wrote 4 years 35 weeks ago

Hi Happiness. If you are concerned with your child's development, we urge you to take her to a professional such as an occupational therapist for an assessment. This will give you peace of mind, but will also help your child if there are developmental problems. Your family doctor should also be able to advise you.

Nuraan wrote 5 years 14 weeks ago

My 7-year-old son struggles with concentration and lacks focus in class. He does well when he puts his mind to it, but it would need to be a task that he really enjoys or he will get "bored" and just stops doing it half way through. The teacher's feedback at the last parents' evening was that he is brilliant and very intelligent, but seriously lacks focus/concentration. Most days are a struggle and she is trying to find ways to "tap into his concentration". She went on to say that there's always something on his mind and that pulls him away from what needs to be done in class; he's always asking questions and wanting info about certain things. She's asked me to assist in helping him focus more, but I don't even know where to start. Should I have him tested?

admin wrote 5 years 14 weeks ago

Hi Nuraan. There's no harm in taking him for a psycho-educational assessment, which an educational psychologist will do for you. They will also be able to give you advice about what you can do at home to help him. Look out for an article in our August 2014 issue about concentration difficulties.

Erin Jagers wrote 5 years 19 weeks ago

My son is 10 years old and speaking Afrikaans and also in an Afrikaans school. How can I change him to English?

admin wrote 5 years 19 weeks ago

Hi Erin. If you would like to enroll your child in another school, you'll need to follow the normal enrollment process. Your child's current school should be able to advise you. 

Anonymous wrote 5 years 23 weeks ago

Would you kindly provide some more insight wrt. the LEAP programme cited in your article (and if possible contact details for schools who offer it) as well as details of other beneficial programmes, courses( incl. online) available for gifted kids in South Africa or that may be of benifit to them. Thanks in advance.

admin wrote 5 years 23 weeks ago

You can find out more about LEAP here:

fatima prins wrote 5 years 30 weeks ago

I am worried about my 12-year-old son who was in an English school, but is now in a school where they only speak Afrikaans and it's making him more confused. Sometimes he doesn't even want to go to school. Is there any school out there where I can send him?

admin wrote 5 years 29 weeks ago

Hi Fatima. We recommend that you discuss this with your son's school. They should be able to advise you of a more appropriate school environment for your son. You could also look at for a directory of schools in PE.

Anonymous wrote 5 years 37 weeks ago

By 15 months my daughter was far more advanced than her peers. The only problem is, she has become a loner and is just not fitting in at play school. Any suggestions of a school I could take her to? She is now 27 months. We live in Kempton Park. 

admin wrote 5 years 36 weeks ago

We recommend that you discuss your concerns with the school. Mensa also offers testing for gifted children. You can contact them here:

Sue wrote 5 years 37 weeks ago

Where can I take my 10-year-old grandson as he was diagnosed with ADHD and depression? He's been to a play therapist, which was of no real help. He is in Grade 5 now.

admin wrote 5 years 36 weeks ago

We can suggest that you contact Dore SA:

Anonymous wrote 5 years 39 weeks ago

Please can you help... are there any special schools for gifted children in Pretoria. Thanks.

admin wrote 5 years 39 weeks ago

We recommend that you ask Mensa:

Monika Strydom wrote 6 years 16 weeks ago

My grandson is 11 years old and in Grade 5. He has trouble concentrating. He forgets his books several times at school or at home. It really interferes with his ability to learn. I need urgent help because the teachers say he's just plain lazy. I would like to know who I can see in such a situation. Thank you for your help with the problem.

admin wrote 6 years 16 weeks ago

We recommend you consult with an occupational therapist. You ask your school to suggest an OT or you could see if there is an OT in your area listed in our health care practitioners resource:

Anonymous wrote 6 years 17 weeks ago

To the person who wanted to know where Cecilia Vermeulen got her information about elementary school completion, I would hazard a guess that it comes from Deborah Ruf's book "5 Levels of Gifted" as that book definitely has information like that.

Anonymous wrote 6 years 24 weeks ago

My son could do complicated math calculations at the age of 5. We decided to send him to a very good primary school but an ordinary state school where there is no advanced classes or programmes for gifted children. We are now about to embark on his high school career, but where to go? He loves sports and schools and would like to attend an all boys school. Will that be wise?

Anonymous wrote 6 years 39 weeks ago

I have a 12 year old son who can sing wonderfully, he even created his own musical system with old tins and plastic. You would swear it's a real system. He can play a piano, although he has never been trained. He is also a gifted artist. How can I help him?

admin wrote 6 years 39 weeks ago

Hi there. Check out our extramurals resource in your area for music and art lessons. Mensa also has a list of resources for gifted children, including IQ testing. Visit

Tshepo wrote 6 years 40 weeks ago

We need to find a centre where we can take our 8 year old who has been displaying disturbingly intellectual depth and ability to absorb complex and intricate thoughts and subjects. She is not necessarily a young Einstein, but is developing faster than her peers. She is getting bored in class and her teachers cannot design programmes exclusively for her. We feel the need to channel her mental and social grasp and not exclude her from a developmental path suited to her age and background. Where can we take her in Johannesburg to be assessed?

admin wrote 6 years 39 weeks ago

Hi Tshepo. Mensa has a list of resources for gifted children, including IQ testing. Visit

Anonymous wrote 6 years 42 weeks ago

I went to Verity. It was a good school and I was sad to see it close.

Craig wrote 6 years 47 weeks ago

It makes me very sad to read most of the comments and article. There is very little educational hope in SA for these kids (and there are, in real numbers, so many of them). In many cases schooling is now even worse than the miserable boredom I experienced in the 70s and 80s. Perhaps my situation has been slightly worse than most (verbal IQ at ceiling level on old WAIS and Non-Verbal at 155 assessed at age 28). So, neither schooling, university nor post-grad studies really ever worked for me to develop what I could/wanted. Fortunately I had a mother who (not knowing a single thing about giftedness) bought me every single book I ever asked for (and I now know that she really did not have much money to spare in those days). At the age of 12 my little library at home had in excess of 1500 books. And virtually all factual stuff (I used to speed read the story books in CNA). My dad built the ever-expanding bookcases. The local CNA even sent me a X-mas card in 1979! I'd always have 4–8 books open/going at any given time. So, I taught myself. School was easy enough, so spare time would be spent on the growing library and eventually in other libraries. This has never stopped. Now it's even easier with the net to “drink” in all the information out there. I joined Mensa twice, but that was a waste of time. Same with some of the other high IQ societies. Maybe it's just me. The point I'm trying to make to many of the commenters (many mothers) is give the kid as much love as you can. Be disciplined with him/her. Challenge them constantly. They should then be ok on their own. I wish you and them the best of luck. By the way, I live in Port Elizabeth and there is certainly nothing going on here. I have often thought of starting something – even if it was just some kind of regular get-together for parents and kids to share ideas. Maybe one day?

Stephen wrote 6 years 50 weeks ago

My daughter will be turning 5 in a couple of weeks. Since a baby she used to enjoy watching DVDs, and always asks that we switch the subtitles on, so she can read them. She can count to 100 in both English and Afrikaans, identifying numbers in any order in any of the two languages. She reads my wife’s Huisgenoot, the newspapers in both languages, the Bible in both languages and even my wife’s work books. Where I can take the child to have her IQ level tested in the Port Elizabeth region?

admin wrote 6 years 50 weeks ago

Hi Stephen. Mensa has a list of resources for gifted children, including IQ testing. Visit
You may also consider consulting an educational psychologist in your area.

Anonymous wrote 6 years 51 weeks ago

My son is 3 years old and since birth he has always been fast with all his milestones; as a single mother this has motivated me to study to enable him to succeed.

He is now 3 years old and grasps so much. He knows all his colours, he can count to 20, he recognizes and points out numbers 1 up to 10 in any order. Even more amazing is he can read. He is clearly very intelligent and gets bored so easily because his mind is so active. Two weeks ago I purchased a puzzle for him that was 20-something pieces; in 15 minutes he put it together, then he took it apart and put it all together again within a minute.

I need advice as to what schools are available to him in Durban.

admin wrote 6 years 50 weeks ago

Hi. We recommend you consult an educational psychologist to determine if your child is more advanced than normal and how you could offer him more stimulation.

Anonymous wrote 6 years 51 weeks ago

I have a 5-year-old boy who can read a book. I can see that he is getting bored at creche but he is still too young to go to school. I don't want him to lose his gift. What can I do?

admin wrote 6 years 51 weeks ago

Hi there. It's great to hear that your child loves to read. Take a look at the various articles in our entertainment/activities section for inspiration. You will also find practical help in our education section.

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