By PAULA DAVIES
MARGARET BRANCH, a• psychiatric social worker in a London teaching hospital, has concerned herself with the problems of children who have been defined as children "of outstanding natural intelligence and/or creative capacity."
Such a definition seems to preclude problems but. as Mrs. Branch points out, gifted children can be as handicapped as retarded children. "I waited 15 years for an educationalist to do something, but in the end became so fed up with seeing these children sent to hospital for assessment and treatment that I decided to do something."
That something — a conference between teachers, doctors. psychologists and parents —led to the formation of the National Association for Gifted Children of which Mrs. Branch is the honorary general secretary. After four years the association now has 10 centres and groups covering 23 counties which arrange activities for the children of members.
"We do a similar job to the associations for the handicapped. We arrange meetings where parents find it a relief to talk to other parents with the same problem. We also run summer camps to which the ordinary children in a family can come as well. Most im
portant of all is the counselling of parents who often find it a problem coping with a very bright child, particularly if he or she is very difficult."
Evidently the very bright child can become extremely difficult to cope with because he finds life intolerable and frustrating. Deeply concerned with the problems these children have to face Mrs. Branch contends that they are just as handicapped as the retarded child in a society which gears everything to the norm and while making some allowances for the handicapped and retarded, makes little or none for the brilliant.
"I want the same amount of money spent on the gifted child as is spent on the handicapped," she said. "In our society the gifted child is at a disadvantage."
She then ticked off four different ways in which very bright children behave if they are not recognised, and offered knowledge and interests on a par with their level of intelligence. "First, they may become clowns and become very disruptive at school of their own work and everyone else's.
"Secondly. they could become apathetic and just sit in class, never participating in anything and become `written off' as stupid. Thirdly, they may become maladjusted and show signs of psychosomatic pain, bed-wetting or even pilfering—anything that will take them to a clinic.
"Eventually they may become delinquent and slam the door in the face of society because it failed to give them an opportunity to develop their potential."
Again she drew the parallel between the brilliant and the retarded. "They are the two ends of the scale while most of us are in the middle. Two per cent of all children are gifted," she added, and when she knew that this article was being published in the CATHOLIC HERALD she asked why Catholic parents held back from joining the association. "There must he sonic Catholics in that two per cent. I'd like to know why?"
Returning to her argument she pointed out that parents of gifted children are every bit as worried and confused as parents of retarded children. "They are seldom believed when telling the truth about their child's progress. I know of one mother who, when asked at the clinic how her three-month-old baby was getting on, replied that the baby was standing up holding onto a chair. Because she was not believed she started to dissemble about the child. In this kind of situation the child is not going to find much encouragement. Later on, when he is a bit older he might well cash in his intelligence for acceptance by others.
"Very often," she continued, "these children feel very isolated and have few, if any, friends because they don't fit in with their own age group.
"Imagine it," she added. "physically and emotionally you might be four or even perhaps only three years old but intellectually you might be the equal of a seven-year-old. Your legs wouldn't be long enough to keep up with a child in that age group even if the sevenyear-old were willing to play with you, which is unlikely."
Mrs. Branch believes that such children need recognition and understanding if they are going to grow up as reasonably happy and contented people. Otherwise they turn out to be handicapped by an intelligence or creative capacity that has never had a chance to flower.
"These children need what call exposure to excellence, If they are interested in the universe or the stars, for example, they need to visit the place where they can see the reality, not a film or the Planetarium. An observatory is more suited to their level."
Can you ever imagine yourself having a gifted child? Probably not for, as Peggy Branch points out, parents keep as quiet as possible about their out-of-the-ordinary children be they brilliant or retarded. If you want to have some idea of what a gifted child is like go through the teacher's checklist shown below but don't take it as definitive for the last time she counted, Mrs. Branch found there were 167 different characteristics in international literature on the subject.
Next week a family with one of these children talks about the problem.