Portraits of Gifted: My Son’s Face

I wish I could say that it was immediately evident that my son was gifted. It wasn’t obvious. I wish I could say it was immediately evident that my son had multiple special needs. It wasn’t at all obvious. There was something –something- which didn’t quite jive; but on those days when we had him all to ourselves, those were the best days. We loved every bit, every part, and every parcel. Some of my best stories originate within his moments; but still, there was something.

How it looked to us…

For many years his giftedness masked his special needs from me and then for many more years his special needs masked his giftedness from educators.

How it looked to him…

He was a kid on the run from his insides and a kid on the defense from his outsides.

So what’s a mom to do?

Each year brought with it a new diagnosis. I could fill a tub and take a very anxious bath in the amount of acronyms assigned to my first-born: ADD, ADHD, OCD, BPD, ODD, ASD, and SPD.

We tried traditional classes, homeschooling, special education, and ended in a gifted center program in middle school. By the time we arrived at seventh grade we were armed with cognitive data and a reasonably clear vision of what he needed. We walked in confidently with a highly gifted kid who has a more than sixty point deviation between his processing and overall score. He scored in the mid-140s; however, in processing, he scored an 80%. Based on how I feel seeing that written out on paper, I’d say it feels pretty confusing and horrible to a young kid who is living out the numbers.

The trouble is that once you get to teenager the numbers are no longer important and all that matters are the habits created on the journey to now. What I have is a kid who excelled at everything academic in elementary school. He passed and exceeded expectations, he finished first or he waited until the last minute and still finished first. My son barely tried and he easily passed; and therefore, he was not an academic worry to anyone.

Behavior, they said, that is what we should be concerned about. And so we were concerned. We spent years concerning ourselves with behavior rather than appreciating him fully. We tried and bribed, we therapied and we rewarded, we begged and we pleaded our way through elementary school and sighed with relief with every passing grade. We did it, we said. You did it, they said.

I did it, he said.

So why should middle school be any different? My son was shocked by middle school. The work was harder, the goal had to be their own, and the determination had to come from within. He found out that he had to drive and he was accustomed to coasting. Every pesky insecurity and perceived inability popped into his line of vision and acted as a barrier to success. Every bad grade equated something insurmountable.

He didn’t understand. He was doing the same thing he’d always done: showing up. So why wasn’t he instantly succeeding? They said he’d have to dig inside himself and find the answer, but inside my son there was no fight, no work ethic, no confidence, and no clarity.

There’s always something.

He spent his two years in middle school flip-flopping between complete failure and ridiculously high achievement. One semester he’d soar with As and Bs and run for Treasurer on Student Council and then another semester he would start to miss assignments, fail tests, and become complacent. I would watch helplessly as his tiny snowflake of failure became an unstoppable snowball of it’s-easier-not-to-do-than-to-fail.  Still, he made it through middle school.  Exhale.  You did it, they said.  You did, I said.

Hmmph, he said.

His path is now one of anxiety and he can’t seem to get his footing. I am holding my breath through high school; not because I will be upset if he doesn’t graduate (because that would be a bit hypocritical, wouldn’t it?), but because there is nothing more difficult, nothing more heart wrenching, nothing more able to stir up my battle cry than seeing a kid, especially my own, be so amazingly capable, so gifted, with so much to offer, and see that kid, that amazing kid, stumble through friendship, academics, and self-confidence.

My oldest son is my next Portrait of Gifted. He is my hindsight. He is my wish-I-knew-then. But parents, it’s never too late! My son is the Face of Gifted. He is the Hard to Identify. He is the Overexcitable Times Twenty. He is the Misdiagnosed. He is the Gifted hiding the Twice-Exceptionality and the Twice-Exceptionality hiding the Gifted. He is like so many of your children. And he is just like us. He is the Going to be Just Fine. He is the Going to Soar. He is the Going to show his Gift.

What he is not is an acronym. He is not a behavior concern. He does have a few things to work through- but haven’t we all? So for now I am on the sidelines of high school with pompoms, willing him to look over so that I can jump up and down and do a cheer for him. That’s all I can do. He has to watch the game, he has to catch the ball, and he has to run with it.

But if he drops it… it’s not the end of the world. After all, school is only a game and life is much grander than that. 

Isn’t that something?

2 thoughts on “Portraits of Gifted: My Son’s Face

  1. Hi, I’d love it if you could expand on some of your lessons learned. My 6 year old son has a 49 point deviation between his IQ (155) and processing speed (106). We just placed him in an all gifted class for first grade, with high hopes it will be better than kindergarten. Would love to hear any wisdom you’ve gained from your journey. Thanks!


  2. Sunny,

    Thank you for writing! I am merely a parrot of much wiser wording which came before me. Just like you, I didn’t have the answers. On much of my journey with my son I could be seen running through the town square wildly screaming that I had bats in my hair. There are other times I could be found going fetal wondering what in the world I’d do next. It is overwhelming sometimes for all of us!

    I sought as many shelves of books as I could find, drank a lot of coffee across from those who knew better than me, and reached out to everyone and anyone so that they could serve as my support system. We are lucky to have a vast resource online. Depending on your state, you can find support groups and organizations dedicated to supporting parents of gifted children and gifted children’s needs. Hoagie’s Gifted has a large list of reading material http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/2e_books.htm. Read, read, read and allow yourself a nap now and then. Reading and naps. The cornerstone of my parenting style!

    Since you found my blog, you have most likely already found many of the resources I’ve mentioned, so my here is my mom-to-mom advice:

    Breathe! You have taken the first and most-important step. It is so early in your son’s school career that it can only go up from there! Well done!

    Advocate! Continue to breathe and with every breath make sure to advocate. Twice-exceptional children are neither twice-exceptional first and gifted last nor gifted first and twice-exceptional last. Their needs run parallel and organically and it can be hard for children and educators to find their path alone.

    Release expectation and comparison! This is an important one. I am guilty of feeling competitive when I first entered the gifted programs with my three children. I heard a lot of conversations and constantly wondered if my children were doing things right. Right? What is right? I found a great deal of happiness releasing that from my journey and my children felt a palpable change in our home. It’s better to be the path of least resistance so that if he stumbles it’s not while running away from those who love him most.

    I tend to answer questions through circles and so I fear this reply is not as helpful as it could be. I have written extensively on my blog about my son and if you look back you may find a specific article to help with your concerns.

    I will leave you with this truth: you are not alone. All of us scream into our pillows, get annoyed by the things we love most and then feel bad about it, cry when we need to remain calm, and worry that what we’re doing won’t work. But here’s the thing: it already has worked. We have these amazing children and we are lucky enough to be on the journey with them!

    Please feel free to write me anytime either continuing it here on my blog or if you prefer privacy, via my personal email at irenehila@comcast.net.



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