As a parent, the last thing I wanted was to learn that my child was considerably different than other children and would require educational separation to meet his needs. I was worried about isolation because the additional support systems were not typical and they told me his particular issue is represented by only 3% of the population. I didn’t want my son to be segregated in school for any reason; I wanted him to have the ideal childhood.
Still, deep down I had always known he was different than other children and was somehow off center a bit from the norm. Friends and family, as well as early educators, could relate to and help with bits and pieces of what he was going through behaviorally, an ulcer here or a tantrum there, but none of them seemed to think there was more to it than that. He was just… different.
Then when he was seven years old I received his diagnosis: my son is Highly Gifted with an IQ which places him four deviations from the average. If I felt alone prior to his identification, I felt positively isolated afterwards. In one moment I went from the mom with the different kid who just can’t keep up with everyone else’s normal…. to the mom who thinks her normal kid is better than everyone else’s different kid. I didn’t want to categorize my son; I just wanted to talk to someone.
Far from offering a source of comfort and resolution, my son’s giftedness became our family’s little secret and I found myself afraid that people would find out and turn their judgment on my son or our family. Ten years later, when my daughters were also identified as gifted, one highly gifted and the other profoundly gifted, I decided it was no longer possible to be a parental wallflower. I had to advocate, I had to self-educate, and I had to seek out the many resources available.
I called giftedness a diagnosis intentionally because as a parent I believe that any condition which exists and makes a child considerably different from his or her peers, requires specialized assessment to identify, and is served by individualized and specialized education to ensure success, is just that: a diagnosis. All children deserve the proper education, support, and understanding, yet the diagnosis of giftedness comes with a stigma of success and happiness, wealth and elitism, rank and egotism and those descriptors couldn’t be further from the truth.
The fact is that it is a struggle and a challenge, for both the child and the parent. My children are all amazing and we love all of their idiosyncrasies, but with their idiosyncrasies come great fears and anxieties, the enormity of which they can’t keep contained in a productive and healthy manner without support. A bad choice one day can lead to a fever and vomiting the next day. Shirt tags or socks with the wrong elastic, music or lights that are too loud, a story that is too sad, an emotion which is too intense, or a situation which is too multi-faceted can throw them off balance for a long time or permanently. Each of their intensities vie for position and keep the kids (and parents) up at night, a night filled with night terrors, sleepwalking, and ulcers, and send them searching for answers. These traits make them bounce around when they need to sit or completely shut down when they need to share. There are books focused on gifted children and how to help them, but sometimes we just need to chat.
It must be asked again: why are people so afraid to talk about their own or their child’s giftedness? Even speaking to fellow parents of gifted children becomes a dance of careful placement of words and phrases so that no one thinks you are bragging or claiming the trophy for Best Gifted Kid. My oldest is twice-exceptional, diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and highly gifted, and I’ve noticed I can discuss the disorders with anyone but I mention the highly gifted aspect and suddenly they close the door. Any discussion about the frustrations of raising gifted children becomes a discussion of how gifted kids and kids in general are exactly the same and any suggestion otherwise is a sad notion of how arrogant and pushy you are as a parent.
I imagine many parents feel this way about their kids’ differences and I wish we could unite and rally behind our children to create an education system which is able to meet gifted children’s needs in all social, economic, and educational settings. I am lucky to live in a district which seeks to serve the gifted population, but there are countless districts, cities, and states which still consider gifted kids as smart enough to pull themselves out of whatever improper fit of an education they are forced into. These kids get lost and fall through the cracks and they drop out of school and into bad choices. They come from all walks of life and yet it is nearly impossible to find and diagnose them unless their parents have the means and know-how, the school system supports it, or they just get lucky and end up in the appropriate place.
I don’t believe any child should luck into the right fit, but how can we serve the entire population of gifted children appropriately when we can’t even talk amongst ourselves without feeling like we are being judged as acting superior? We must be able to recognize that giftedness is just another parenting challenge and it can be a benefit to our society if we embrace it, bring it to light, and talk about it.
I welcome the discussion and I am ready to shout it from the rooftops: my child is GIFTED!! MY CHILD IS GIFTED!! If you’re ready… join me here and SHOUT!!