As a new school year is beginning, thousands of kids in Ocean County have headed back to the classroom, and with that comes the feeling sometimes that your child isn't being challenged enough. Your kid may be "gifted".

I spoke to Dr. Barbara Louis, Director of The Gifted Child Clinic, right here in New Jersey to find out how genius kids are identified, how it can help them, and what "gifted" means exactly.

Check out our conversation:
When did The Gifted Child Clinic begin?
The Gifted Child Clinic was established in 1984 in order to meet the need for identifying gifted toddlers and preschool children. In 1990 I expanded the Clinic to serve elementary school aged children as well. Since the Clinic opened we’ve seen nearly 1000 children.


What made you interested in working with gifted children?
I was an Art major as an undergraduate, but the couple of Psych courses I took left me very interested in psychology. I always thought I’d go back to school and become a professional, but I had several options in my mind as to the field I wanted to enter. Then I had my two children. Both kids were tested by a psychologist who was trying to develop a new infant/toddler intelligence test. My older son was 2½, and he scored so high they had to throw his results out of their sample because he skewed the results. My younger son was 3 months old at the time. Despite the fact that he had been 6½ weeks premature and they woke him up to test him, he scored in the top 5% for full term kids his age. They both started to talk early, and it became obvious that they were different from most of the children around them. This got me thinking about child development, how children develop at different paces, and how a large part of intelligence is inborn. It also made me start thinking about the tremendous potential of children who show such promise at such an early age and what can be done to help them achieve their potential rather than having it wasted. I went back to school and earned a doctorate in Developmental Psychology specializing in cognitive development, trained as a student in the Gifted Child Clinic, and here I am today.
What is your experience in working with gifted children?
I am a licensed Psychologist in New Jersey and New York. I personally have tested nearly 900 children in the Gifted Child Clinic over the past 27 years.


How would you define "gifted" exactly?
Theoretically, giftedness is defined as scoring an IQ in the top 2% on a standardized test of intelligence; however, people can be gifted in one skill area and not in others, and it might result in an overall IQ score below the gifted range. For example, we all knew people in school who were extremely gifted in language arts but struggled with math. There also are people who are amazing mathematicians or computer experts but have weaker verbal or social skills. The simplest operational definition it is to say that gifted children have the capacity to understand more and learn faster compared to most children their age in whatever area their strengths lie.


What's the benefit to identifying a child as "gifted"?
Many gifted children are sitting in their preschool, Kindergarten, or elementary school classes bored to tears because they already know all of the material that is being taught. Think about sitting in a classroom 5 days a week 6 hours a day and not learning anything. It’s painful to imagine, but this is the life of far too many children. This can result in behavior problems in the classroom or loss of interest in the educational system leading to extreme underachievement. What these children need is a curriculum that challenges their minds. Once a child is formally identified as gifted and his or her areas of relative strength and weakness are profiled, parents are able to take the results to the child’s school and advocate for an appropriately challenging education plan.
How do you test for giftedness?
Two 1½- to 2-hour visits to the Clinic generally are needed for a thorough evaluation of a child’s abilities. A battery of tests is used to evaluate for signs of giftedness in both overall intelligence and specific skill areas, including verbal skills (expressive language and verbal comprehension), spatial skills, reasoning ability, memory skills, fine motor maturation (for preschool children), reading abilities, mathematical abilities, and school achievement (for school-aged children).


What happens after you test the kids?
A third visit is scheduled upon completion of testing. During this visit the child’s skills, behaviors, and history as they reflect normal and exceptional development are discussed with the parents. Also discussed are the specific results of the child’s evaluation. After this visit, the results of the evaluation are compiled into a written report that is mailed to the parents along with a list of gifted referrals and resources when appropriate given the child’s profile.


What can parents do to help their gifted children fit in?
It can be difficult for many gifted children to fit in. When you think about this, it’s not very surprising. These kids are learning faster and thinking more deeply, and they have interests that most of their peers do not share. At very young ages, they don’t even play the same way. This makes it hard to find friends to whom they can really relate. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to get them into an educational setting with other children of similar abilities. This can be done in the schools if they have the interest and ability to develop appropriate programs for their gifted children. If the schools do not offer this, there are outside programs, such as the Gifted and Talented Youth Program at Montclair State University, in which gifted kids can meet and get to know children who share their abilities and interests.


What is a good age to have a child tested?
We start seeing children at age 3. Our past experience has been that children younger than 3 have a very difficult time sitting and focusing for the extended period required by the tests. The most common ages we see are 4 to 5, as parents are thinking about their children entering Kindergarten; and 6 to 9, when children are in early elementary school and not receiving the services they need. We also see older children who are not being appropriately served in the classroom and whose parents feel the need to bring evidence of their abilities to the school in order to advocate for them. There is no best age for testing. Parents should have their children tested when they feel they either need the information in order to make informed educational decisions for them or to advocate for appropriate educational services. There also are a few programs for gifted children that require testing in order to qualify.


Is there a wait to get a child tested?
In the past we had up to a 1 year waiting list; however, I recently have greatly expanded the Clinic hours, and we currently have a wait of less than 2 months. There also periodically are cancellations for various reasons, so it sometimes is possible to get in within a week or two.


If a parent thinks that their child is gifted, how can they get in touch with you to start the process?
They can find The Gifted Child Clinic online here.


My thanks to Dr. Louis for her time! If you feel like your kids are having trouble at school because they're too smart, reach out to The Gifted Child Clinic to get more info!