Gumballs and advocating for your gifted child

We are told that parents of gifted and twice exceptional children should be ready to advocate for gifted awareness, appropriate and specialized educational support, and educational policies which serve the needs of the asynchronous learner. As with many things, this is much easier said than done and I liken it to a gumball. You start out with sweet sentiments, it reminds you of your childhood after all, and you smile as you pop it into your mouth. The first thing you realize is that you could choke at any moment and it really isn’t all that pleasant. You are not prepared and certainly not trained for this type of candy. You find some humor: the jawbreaker is aptly named. By the time you spit it out, your entire head hurts and you just want to go to bed. You wake up the next day and do it all over again. You just keep telling yourself that it’s all about the gum.

It doesn’t have to be so hard.

The moment you learn that your child is gifted is the start of a journey, for both you and your child, which will twist and turn down roads of advocacy, understanding, and hopefulness, all promising equal struggle and triumph. The start is seldom dichotomous and for those of you with twice-exceptional students, gifted with learning disabilities, there can often be premature roadblocks and the process can be halted as early as identification. For others, identification comes easy but finding the right educational fit for both the academic and emotional needs takes years and sometimes never happens at all. Still, for others, identification comes reasonably easy, with only a few bumps, and the right fit seems to fall into your lap, again with only a few divots in the road, but suddenly you find your child in this realm of complacency and the ease with which they were able to plateau spells trouble in adolescence.

I am lucky to be experiencing all three. Now, it would have been nice if they could have all taken similar paths so that I could learn, drool when I hear the bell, and secure for them a perfect-placement treat; however, we all know that no two gifted kids are alike and therefore no two advocacy paths are alike. Still, I was hopeful…

By the time my third and youngest child was identified as gifted, I was ready with the roadmap, a compass, extra water, blankets, matches, fig bars, sleepy-time tea, the Harry Potter series, and roadside flares. You know… all the important items one compiles at the start of any great journey. I was prepared to advocate! I affixed my red cape, placed my fists on hips, stood with feet apart, with wind in my hair, and hero music playing loudly in the background. Of course, all of this sends me into a sensory overload panic and I quickly release the cape (it’s choking me!), turn down the music (I nearly went deaf!), and change back into something comfortable (there, that’s better). Anyway, NOW I’m ready to advocate. We always are.

Then it happens: tears. Universe, if I could ask you just one question, it would be this: why can’t I attend one advocacy meeting without breaking down into a blubbering mess of a woman who can’t possibly take one more stress in her life and just needs to be hugged by a warm cup of tea and sent to Oak Hill Sanitarium (for the Gifted and Talented Parent Advocate)???

This truth about my advocacy abilities got me thinking about those of you who don’t know where to start, just started the journey, or have been turned back one too many times. I am lucky enough to be part of a district with a support system in place and despite my tears I have had small successes for each of my children. It wasn’t always this easy and early on I found I was questioning myself and my child as we struggled through traditional classes, special education, homeschooling, and finally a gifted center, where we still have meetings (and I still cry) to help him through the daily struggle raging inside of him: I am gifted. I am learning disabled.  Am I both?  Am I neither?

I felt slightly more prepared with my second child and was ready to push for her needs. It turns out I didn’t have to do too much because she was an easy fit. Ah yes, what becomes of the younger sibling of a twice-exceptional kid? Of course she’s a serious perfectionist. Everything he can’t do she will do better. She places more expectations on herself than we can even think up for all of our children. She is the student which makes teachers say, “I wish I had 20 more of her in my classroom.” All of you parents of perfectionists know that this is not the response you want to hear. What we see looks very different: fits of anger because she can’t get something right, giving up too easily when she could do so much more, and hypersensitivity to all things external and not in her control. And here I thought her easy identification followed by finding the right fit would make it easy!

Despite my tears in advocacy meetings, I was able to do what I had to do to get them what they needed. I read every book, attended seminars, and connected with those in the know; so when my youngest started doing her sister’s homework when she was three, I was wielding a pretty confident hero sword of gifted parent advocate readiness. I already had been down the hard-to-identify, even harder to help, twice-exceptional road and the easy-to-identify and find-a-fit road. Surely, I told myself, these roads have prepared me for anything.

(Universe, please see the above question regarding meetings, tears, and me.) Sigh.

My third journey with a gifted child has been down a new road, one of easy identification and profound giftedness, coupled with the difficulty in finding the right educational and emotional fit to really serve her needs. She started Kindergarten early and midway through Kindergarten we moved her into First Grade. It was not a decision we came to easily. We wondered if it would be a good fit, what our daughter would think, and what the future would hold. We worried over pros and cons. We researched options and talked with experts, friends, and each other. We even worried about what others would think and considered her peer group, our peer group, and what high school would look like. We talked with our daughter to see what she wanted to do. We pried her off of the banister and cajoled, begged, pleaded, and bribed her into Kindergarten every day. In the end, we decided that moving her to First Grade at five years old was the best move for her at the moment. The moment is all we have. I wipe my tears, spit out the gumball, and take a rest for another round on another day.

I’ve been parenting gifted children for fourteen years, twenty-six if I get to consider them cumulative, and I have lived as a gifted person for forty years, twenty-nine if I get to consider them in spirit; and while I am sure a list of the advocacy musts which parents of gifted and 2e kids should follow is a mile long, for my sanity I have narrowed it down to a few I keep on hand and in the glove box:

1. Advocating for your child may always end in tears but it always starts in knowledge, understanding, and education. You can cry… but first read, read, read!

2. There is never going to be a perfect fit for every gifted child; there are only options, ideas, and suggestions. Remember the end goal and know that one or all of them will work at one time or another. Try them all, give each of them a chance, and be willing to work higher, think state and national, to change that which isn’t working for our kids!

3. LOVE! Love every moment, every bump, every divot, every mile. Everything that looks like crazy and impossible and too much today will be fond memories tomorrow. In my opinion, nothing, and I do mean nothing, is better for a gifted child’s soul than knowing that someone LOVES them, not what they do, not what they don’t, but for everything that they are.

I know it’s not easy and I know at times it’s hard to chew. Here’s the thing: you are not alone! Your child may be different than his or her peers but so are mine (and so are many others). There are times you will feel as though you are being judged and many of those times you could be right. You might be seen as pushing your child and I hope you sometimes do push your child because gifted kids are taking in the world at rate which requires them to stop and sometimes they need a little push to get going in the right direction. You might be seen as living vicariously through your child and I hope you are because gifted kids have an amazing, innocent, and incomprehensible view of the world and we should experience it through them as often as they’ll let us.

Think of the gifted and twice-exceptional community as your roadside assistance. There is always someone to talk to and there is always someone who gets it. So brave on down the road, parents, because the fourth and final item on my list is the most important:

4. It’s a short ride… so roll down the windows, let in the sun, and keep on working until you get the gum!