This morning, I was reading a post over on Babble by Wilson Diehl about how her daughter's "average" development stresses her out.
Go, read. I'll wait. I almost commented this morning, my fingers hovering over the tiny keys on my iPod, until I scrolled down and read what other people had written. God, people are awful. I decided to come here and write my response, in my own safe space so that I don't get completely skewered. Why? Well, read on.
My kid is gifted. Not just smart, not just kinda ahead or slightly advanced, but full on, you can't miss it, people meet him for five seconds and tell me...GIFTED. And it's no freaking picnic, either-for me, or for him.
When Kevin was seven years old, he was diagnosed as gifted learning disabled. I had no idea what to do with a gifted child-maybe there were resources, right? Does this just mean he's smart? Should I be proud? What the heck is gifted, anyway? In a new community with no friends, and only my Yahoo Chat group to turn to, I logged on and began to ask questions, only to be immediately flamed out of that chat room by people I had chatted with and thought I knew for the past 3 years.
"How DARE you say your child is GIFTED. Every child is gifted, you are just some elitist bitch who wants everyone to think that your kid is better than theirs!" Um, no. I was desperate. I needed answers. How do I keep up with this kid who asks me about molecular structure of Carbon when he's seven? A kid who can't even tie his shoes yet, who understands subjects like death in a way far beyond other kids his age but can't emotionally process it? What do I do for him socially, when he tries to converse with friends and they have no clue what he's talking about, and he has zero interest in age appropriate games like Pokeman? And why can't he write? Why is he so sensitive to noise?
Giftedness, in Kevin's case, came at a huge cost with something called dyspraxia. Sensory sensitivities. Social awkwardness. Anxiety. Never really fitting in with his peers, adults expecting far more than he was ready for, and people dismissing him like he's mentally challenged because his physical ability to write is in the bottom half of the 1st percentile. Can you even wrap your brain around how hard that must be to deal with, especially in school? I would go crazy.
As his parent, I felt so alone. If I went to a learning disabled group and mentioned giftedness, people would respond as though I was bragging. If I went on gifted forums and mentioned a learning disability, people acted as though my child couldn't be gifted because... obviously.
On top of that are the camps who don't believe that giftedness exists at all, and instead "all kids are special", to which I say, no. No they aren't. (Edit: They are all special, yes. But not all are intellectually 'gifted') Because until you have really lived with a truly gifted kid, you just don't know. You have no idea what it's like to take on that driving curiosity that is so all consuming that everything is a puzzle, a question, something to be learned. The curiosity becomes an animal that must be fed in staggering amounts day after day, never letting up for a second. The drive is so all consuming that if you even TRY to stave it off, it is as though you are literally starving the child. This isn't a kid who simply loves to read and knows their ABCs, but a child who wants to know where ABCs came from, and then what other languages say, and where they came from, and then how ancient civilizations wrote things, and why papyrus or stone tablets were used, and how do you make papyrus, anyway? And....you get the picture. It never, ever, EVER ends. I have found myself tiptoeing into Kevin's room to pry books from his 11 year old hands-never some fun novel written for his age group, but John's third year psychology textbooks or some Chemistry 11 book I had brought home for fun. (Edited to add: See, we celebrate and hold up the gifted/talented young singers, musicians, actors, artists, and athletes, but if you are intellectually gifted/talented? We have to hide and talk about it in hushed tones, lest we offend someone. To which I say-BAH! This is who he is, and I'm not hiding it. Am I proud? Sure. But I'm proud of the person he is, not of grades and silly numbers.)
There have been days when I only wished for mediocrity, for some shred of normality in Kevin's school experience so that it was easier not just for him, but for us. I was tired of fighting with people who couldn't understand the Herculean struggle he has to write, because what comes out his mouth is so staggeringly different. I wanted him to really blossom and be himself, but schools aren't made for gifted kids. Can't work ahead, must be slotted into perfect boxes, must conform. Kevin never has conformed in any way, for anything. Back then I didn't really know what to make of the labels. Now he's almost 16, I know that the labels don't define who he is at all.
He is simply Kevin. And he's AWESOME.
(Edited to fix a few typos. Oops!)