Perth mother Imelda Bhalsod has two exceptionally gifted children, both now accepted into Mensa. She chats to Zoe Deleuil about the unique challenges and rewards of raising her boys.
“There’s a difference between high-achieving kids and ones with high IQs.”
Many parents secretly believe their offspring are somewhat advanced, but beating the usual milestones by a couple of years is a less common experience. When Caversham mother Imelda Bhalsod’s son, Isaac, could identify more than twenty colours at eleven months of age, started reading at two and could complete 500-piece jigsaws by the age of four, she wondered if she needed to do more to satisfy his appetite for learning. “He was different,” says Imelda. “I was with him all the time so I just knew. Maybe it was my maternal instinct.”
She had him sent for a psychometric assessment in January 2013, where he was found to have an IQ in the 99th percentile rank (the top one per cent of the population) at the age of five. This meant he could join Mensa, the best-known high-IQ society in the world, which accepts people with a score within the top two per cent of the population.
His younger brother, Jeremiah, now four, soon followed suit with an IQ in the 99.7th percentile rank. He is currently the youngest person in WA to be a member of Mensa. “We could see a pattern this time, so we weren’t surprised when he showed early signs of being exceptional.”
The boys are also members of The Gifted and Talented Children’s Association of WA (gatcawa.org), which gives them the opportunity to mix with other bright kids, play in a chess club and go on excursions, and also provides resources to parents.
Although genes clearly play a part, with both Imelda and her husband, Ashwin, being University educated, the couple believe that the boys’ giftedness is a blessing from God. Imelda also feels that providing her boys with a secure base has benefited their learning.
“We’ve always stuck to a routine, with set times for naps, music practise, play time, TV. Every night we read in bed with them for half an hour. If they know what the basic routine is then that frees them up to be learning and exploring. They also spend a lot of time on the computer, but we’re strict about what they do. They have a wide range of literacy-based computer software which are great fun and wonderfully educational, and they can play strategy games such as chess, but we don’t allow computer games.”
“The boys love rock climbing, golfing and fishing with their dad. We try to give them a balance between fun and work.”
As well as school and extracurricular activities such as violin and chess, the boys are given every opportunity to learn and discover in their own time. “The weekends are much freer – there’s no routine. They spend a lot of time outdoors and we go on short trips away to caravan parks so they can roam around. The boys love rock climbing, golfing and fishing with their dad. We try to give them a balance between fun and work,” says Imelda.
And are there any challenges to raising a gifted child? “When Isaac was in pre-primary his teacher told us that he was often playing up because he was simply bored. He was then accelerated into Year 1 at the recommendation of a psychologist. Jeremiah has also skipped a year in school. Once they’ve mastered something they don’t want to repeat it, they want to move on,” says Imelda.
“And you have to be aware of peer pressure. Lots of Mensa parents are afraid that their children will underachieve in school because they want to fit in, they don’t want to be the ‘nerdy’ one. And you can’t talk freely about these issues because people might think you are suffering from ‘First World problems’. Fortunately their school has been fantastic – they are always asking us what they can do to help.”
IQ testing has been criticised over the years for focussing only on a narrow range of skills, without measuring qualities such as emotional intelligence. Some gifted children also feel isolated from their peers, preferring the company of adults, but fortunately Imelda has not found this to be an issue. “They will play with anyone – older and younger kids. The school has a great community that they feel a part of, and they have also made friends through Mensa, GATCA, music classes and Sunday School at church.”
Imelda also stresses that she’s no pushy Tiger Mum. “There’s a difference between high-achieving kids and ones with high IQs. The gifted kids work less because they already have the ability and you don’t need to push them. Our kids are dragging us behind them; we’re just trying to keep up. All we can do is make the resources available. For example, I introduced them to music, but it was their decision to play the violin, and because they chose it themselves they like it.”
Imelda doesn’t see herself going back to work in the near future, but plans to devote her time to giving her boys the attention they need. “I look at it not as a sacrifice but a privilege. A lot of women don’t have the option to stay home and be with their children for financial reasons, so I feel very blessed. I’ll be here for them as long as they need me.”
It’s natural to wonder what lies ahead for such bright children, but for now the family is happy to just let them enjoy being kids. “I don’t know what they’ll be when they grow up. That’s not something we can plan. At the moment Isaac wants to be a vet and Jeremiah a pilot, but that may change. We don’t want to push them in a particular direction, because if they choose it for themselves they will be happy.”
The gifted kids work less because they already have the ability and you don’t need to push them. Our kids are dragging us behind them; we’re just trying to keep up.
Is your child gifted?
As a parent you are in the best position to identify your child’s talents and passions. Signs that your child may be particularly gifted include:
- An unusually good memory
- Early reading
- Unusual hobbies or interests, or an in-depth knowledge of certain subjects
- An awareness of world events
- Asks questions all the time
- Developed sense of humour
- Likes to be in control
- Makes up additional rules for games
Mensa was founded in Oxford in 1946 by Australian barrister Roland Berrill and Oxford student Lancelot Ware. The test to join Mensa is now held four times a year.
There are some 1300 Mensa members in Australia, with five members under the age of five. Mensa does not assess children under the age of 14, but they can sit a Mensa-approved test, conducted by a registered psychologist, and submit the results. A qualifying score is a result at or above the 98th percentile – that is, a score in the range achieved by the top two percent of the population.
Being smarter than the average person can be an isolating way of life, so the main benefit for many members is a chance to connect with other, exceptionally bright, people, along with learning more about themselves. Parents of Mensa children also find they can talk comfortably about their children’s educational needs without feeling like they are boasting.