'My 3-year-old knew all his times tables'

Tracy Lee Newman and her sons
How does it feel to have an incredibly intelligent child? Tracy Lee Newman and her husband Neill, from Essex, first suspected their son Oliver might be exceptional when he was two.
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Oliver was my first child, so I didn’t really think much of his abilities. It was only when I talked to other parents that I realised it wasn’t 'normal' for a three-year-old to know all his times tables.

Oliver went to a brilliant nursery who were amazed by his skills and were incredibly supportive. At age four he was diagnosed with Asperger’s, or high functioning autism, which meant that his development was slightly skewed: although his academic skills were highly advanced, his social skills were 18 months behind the norm for his age.

Before Oliver went to primary school, we asked our local education authority to assess him for special educational needs. The educational psychologist he saw said that she was blown away by his abilities. He had a reading age of 13+, and was studying for a maths GCSE at the age of seven.

Oliver was allocated 15 hours of educational support every week, to encourage his ability and help with his Asperger’s. But our local primary school seemed unable, and at times unwilling, to address Oliver’s needs.

After a disheartening term of battles, which eventually ended with his teaching assistant refusing to talk to me, Neill and I made the decision to send Oliver to a private Montessori primary school. Although we had to make sacrifices to afford the fees, he was really happy there.

It can be difficult to be a parent of a child who is gifted and has special needs. It was hard when he asked, “Mummy, can you help me convert this decimal into a fraction?” or “What’s the Spanish for ‘glad’?” He learned so quickly that it was hard to keep up – but luckily he was good at reading and researching things himself.

We’ve always told Oliver that although his abilities are quite remarkable, virtually everyone has a special set of strengths (as well as challenges). We aim to support him in the same way that any parent supports their child – by listening to him and giving him time. We also try to give him the opportunity to pursue his interests; for example, we bought him a second-hand keyboard because he taught himself how to read music and wanted to play.

We spent quite a lot of time helping Oliver develop his social skills, which were affected by his Asperger’s. Gifted children often have problems fitting in with children their own age, so we made this a real priority.

Oliver is a perfectionist, like a lot of gifted children, so we also tried to help him understand that making mistakes helped him to learn.

I think the biggest battle for parents of gifted children is to make sure they are getting the best education for their child. Good communication between you and the school is vital. A gifted child who is bored will either switch off or become disruptive and waste their talents. It can be hard work – but it’s totally worth the fight.