SIGNS: The common characteristics of a gifted child include unusual alertness, advanced vocabulary and excellent memory. Picture: commonswikimedia.org
"Our little Jack is a genius!” How many times have you heard this before? Every parent is entitled to think their child is the next Einstein or Picasso.

When my little one was four he was obsessed with dinosaurs, so much so he could name almost everyone of them. I’d secretly watch on in glee as he rattled off the names to almost complete strangers.

I couldn’t help but feel a proud mom.

But how does one know if one has a true genius on their hands?

Child Genius: Battle Of The Brightest on Dstv’s Lifetime channel explores the world of child geniuses where the US’s most gifted children compete against each other for the ultimate battle of the brain. The competition, created in co-operation with American Mensa, takes place over ten weeks and tests their knowledge in categories such as maths, spelling, geography, and current affairs.

It’s a cut-throat affair, most of the time ending in tears. But the parents’ reactions are priceless – it’s a world of ruthless tiger moms who hold nothing back when it comes to making winners out of their offspring.

I suppose that’s one way of bringing up a gifted child, but as a parent, how do you spot the traits of a genius child?

According to Durban’s Sherwood Children’s Centre, which assesses all children with some falling in the superior or very superior range of intellectual development, it's believed the common characteristics of a gifted child may be:

Unusual alertness, even in infancy

Fast learner

Excellent memory

Unusually considerable vocabulary and complex sentence structure for age

Advanced comprehension of word nuances, metaphors and abstract ideas.

The IQ tests they conduct are called the J SAIS and S SAIS, depending on the nature of the child’s giftedness. Tests take 90 minutes or more and cost up to R3 500. This is inclusive of the intake interview, test, feedback and issuing of the report.

Independent thinkers

Recent matriculant Sasasa Dlamini from Westville Boys’ High School managed to gain seven distinctions which booked him a place at the prestigious Harvard University.

During a recent interview with Independent Media, he said; “I enjoy reading autobiographies such as Steve Biko, who wrote so well. I like lateral thinking and exploring different avenues. I'm just praying I don’t get there and fail. I want to be able to match up at all levels.”

His proud parents Nichoulas and Thelma explained they never told their children what to do and always encouraged them to be independent thinkers because “you cannot live vicariously through your children.”

“My wife and I believe in education and we invested in education for our three children. We come from uMlazi and feel indebted to this school, which is the epitome of what a school should be in our South African context in terms of transformation”, added Nichoulas.

When it comes to education, do SA schools make allowances for gifted kids?

The Gifted And Advanced Learning Academy of South Africa (GALASA) is where you would send your little Einstein. The independent school, based in Joburg, is run by principal David Silman and opened its doors in January this year. A science teacher by profession, Silman is no stranger to being in the spotlight and even took on the role as director for Special Projects in the Basic Education Ministry.

IMPASSIONED: David Silman, principal of GALASA. Picture: Cara Viereckl

Think of it as the local version of Professor Charles Xavier School For The Gifted, but without mutants.

The school takes in students mainly based on referrals from educational psychologists, teachers and word of mouth. Currently, the school is working in conjunction with the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation. Fees are currently R13 950 a quarter and the school is working hard at getting sponsors on board.

Silman's voice oozes with enthusiasm when asked about GALASA. With only three private students currently attending, he’s optimistic about the future, explaining that it’s early days and he “just needs to get the word out.”

He explains that of SA’s population, about half a million are intellectually gifted. Many of these people come from poor sub-economic areas and are not able to get the proper education to reach their full potential. This is the very reason why he took on the task of establishing the school. “My ultimate goal is to set up two schools in each province so these kids have a place to go to,” he says.

For more information see:

The Gifted and Advanced Learning Academy of South Africa

http://galasa.org.za/

Sherwood Children’s Centre

http://www.childcentre.co.za