My Son Is 'Gifted,' But Let's Just Say I'm Not Jumping For Joy
My husband was running late, as I sat in the crowded coffee shop trying to entertain my 6-year-old and juggle my 1-year-old. In an effort to occupy my toddler, I grabbed a newspaper, hoping the pictures would hold his interest. “W,” he said, pointing to the letter. “Interesting,” I thought. “M...S...T,” he reeled off. I stared a little stunned at my barely-not-a-baby. “What letter is this?” “U.” “And this?” “Y.” No one had taught him this, but somehow, he knew all of his letters. I considered it weird, but I didn’t think much else of it at the time.
Later at the park, when I was pushing him in the swing, he counted to 10. Then he counted from 10 to 1. No one had taught him this either. I chalked it up to being the brother of a 6-year-old who frequently had 10 seconds to “Get down here right now, Mister”.
But when my not-yet-two-year-old started looking at trees and pointing out which ones looked like the letter Y, taking 3-pronged Mega Bloks and rotating them to produce Es, Ms, and Ws, and spelling out every word he saw at the grocery store from his perch in the cart, I knew there was something different about him.
If you handed him popsicle sticks, he would arrange them into letters. He did the same with swords, Play-Doh, and anything that could be manipulated. He began taking sticks from the park and drawing letters in the sand, working his way up to his name, and then full words. After that, he graduated to sidewalk chalk. One day, when I was sitting in the living room, he held up a paper on which he had written “CAT,” clear as day in marker.
He started reading at two. At three, he participated in and won a spelling bee. At 3.5 he started doing addition and subtraction past 20.
Do I sound like one of “those” parents yet? Have your eyes fallen out from rolling so hard? This reaction, or the anticipation of it, is why it’s so difficult to talk about my son’s differences. The truth is, while I am very proud of my bright little man, this behaviour concerned me greatly. My husband and I brought him to the doctor who, to my surprise, found him “fascinating.” I’m not totally sure it’s a good thing for your doctor to find you fascinating, but the general consensus was that he is 'gifted', which sounds awesome to most people. But, having received the same diagnosis as a child, I know otherwise.
Many people hear gifted and think smart when they are not synonymous. In many cases, other children are just as smart but not gifted. Gifted is a processing difference. Gifted kids take in and synthesize information differently than neurotypical children, and that can come with some consequences. Like many gifted children, I was also diagnosed with anxiety and OCD. Many tend to have a lot of childhood fears as their analytical abilities are so out of balance with their level of life experience. Behavioural issues are also common, as are social problems. I was a social pariah until I was placed in a class with other like-minded children. For these reasons, I did not immediately jump for joy to discover my child was gifted.
Because giftedness is not widely understood, it can be difficult to discuss your child with others. I am proud that he is reading so well at three years old, and that he was spelling at two, but if I post this to Facebook or talk to my friends about it, will I come across as obnoxious? If I have a neurotypical child whose achievements I champion, surely he deserves some recognition? I often wonder what my friends think when I discuss what he is up to. When I talk about my concerns and reservations with my child being gifted, does it come across as disingenuous? Do they get that the concerns are real and valid, not that I am fishing for compliments? In some ways, it reminds me of the awkwardness I felt as a gifted child, trying to explain why I was in a 'special' class.
The idea of seeking support from peers about your gifted child sounds ridiculous unless you have one yourself. My hope is that like other processing differences, it becomes more socially acceptable to discuss it. Stigma is stigma, and it can be isolating, even if your kid is “smart.”