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Sep 21 2010

Why I think a gifted label is important

Why I think a gifted label is importantBecause gifted kids grow up.

Oh-ho! Surprised you there, didn’t I? Thought you’d find another little segment on the boys and why I pushed so hard for a gifted designation for A. And will probably push for one for J sooner rather than later. But nope, this ain’t about them today.

It’s about (gasp!) my husband.

I write very rarely about him, not because he’s asked to stay out of the limelight, but because I didn’t want anything I wrote to be put under a microscope and analyzed. I love my husband dearly even though I’ve wanted to smother him in his sleep many times this last year.

But back to gifted kids growing up.

Tom grew up in a rural part of Iowa and was the classic not-quite-fitting-in over-achiever. He hated sports (though now he will drop everything to watch the Broncos and has bizarro rituals to ensure a Cubs win). He was more sensitive than other kids. He excelled in school, was the high school drum major, wrote for the yearbook and newspaper. In a town where corn is big and high school wrestling is bigger, he stood out like a lime-green leisure suit. In emotional intensity he was much like A. He knows, better than anyone, how hard it is to grow up not fitting in. There was no gifted designation at his school, no advanced placement classes, no honors classes. In a world with no internet (really, you must say that with your best movie announcer voice), he read the World Book Encyclopedia…which A now reads when we go back to visit.

I truly believe my husband is a lot smarter than I am. He says the same about me. Neither one of us was designated as “gifted” growing up, but were just considered “smart.” It wasn’t until we started realizing that something was up with A five years ago and learned about giftedness that we concluded that the apple doesn’t fall from the tree and saw the same traits in ourselves. The whole emotional intensity aspect of giftedness was never even considered back then, and is barely recognized now. With the entire family here somewhere on the gifted scale, and with all the intensities that accompany it, it sometimes amazes me that we’re still functional. Yes, here at the House of Chaos we put the fun in dysfunctional!

A gifted label, if it is accompanied by true services, can help kids navigate the choppy waters of giftedness. It’s more than just “smart,” it’s wiring and sometimes that wiring needs assistance. Forty-five minutes once a week, to be skipped if there’s something “more important,” is not enough. My kids are gifted 24/7, not just when it’s convenient. They will have gifted wiring their entire lives. If the job of parents and schools is to raise and guide and teach kids to be fully-actualized adults, ready to advance society, then what are we doing to bring that about? What are we doing to teach them about managing their gifted wiring? To make it a positive part of them, not a disadvantage to overcome? What kind of gifted adults do we want to raise? What kind are we raising?

I know a lot of parents out there don’t want to label their children, and I respect that. I don’t understand it, but I respect it. A has an official gifted designation because we had to know what the hell was going on. We also needed to prove to the school that his ability is high while his achievement may not be; twice-exceptional can be a real pain in the neck. J hasn’t been tested yet, though we may need to go after it soon. He’s so far ahead of his classmates that I worry about him checking out because it’s so easy and then giving up when it gets hard. Um, yeah, I do know that from personal experience, why do you ask?

As I’ve learned more and more about giftedness, I recognize it more easily in adults. And most of those adults don’t see it in themselves, because no one ever held the mirror up for them. Most of those adults are from the time of “gifted is only just super-smart” and believe, as I did, that if you didn’t get perfect grades (achievement, not ability), then there was no possible way you were gifted. Most of those adults have a hard time with stress, because they never learned to manage their gifted wiring. Yes, I know that from personal experience too…mine and Tom’s.

So I ask you…what do you think about searching out a gifted designation for your kids? Because, you know, they will grow up.

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  1. Theresa

    The school tested L when she was in kindergarten. You got a certain number of questions wrong, that’s the grade level you were at with those skills. They couldn’t give me an answer because she didn’t get a single question wrong.

    School bored her. She lost her motivation to do homework, but aced every test they gave her. She didn’t study for the ACT but got a high score. They finally gave her an AP class, and she rocked the test for college credit.

    But you have to be a junior to get AP classes in my district. And there is no gifted program. I fought long and hard with her schools to do something, anything, to keep her interested in her classes. It was a losing battle.

    Is she gifted? I dunno. She’s ridiculously smart and talented. It’s a shame she wasn’t challenged more in school.
    Theresa recently posted…HGTV 1 Blogger WTHMy Profile

    1. Jen

      Agh. That’s a painful situation. You know she needs to be challenged, but the school has no idea what to do, or lacks the resources. I’m so sorry, for you and for L. Gifted education and resources are lacking around the country, and sadly are still being cut as we speak. These are the students we need to support and challenge, for they’re the ones who are most likely to check out and give up. I’ve seen students/adults on both sides of this; some rally, some don’t. And it pisses me off. The schools are failing gifted kids, simply because of outdated knowledge and the unwillingness to allocate funds because of that outdated knowledge.

  2. JenC

    We’re taking a “wait and see” approach with The Boy. “Normal” kids don’t do mental 2 digit addition and subtraction at 3 1/2, have this kind of emotional intensity, or explain how evaporation and condensation work at 4, so there’s no question that he will qualify for a “gifted” designation. If he’s bored/ frustrated/ checking out or having other issues once he starts grade school, we’ll do it. But I don’t think that labeling for the sake of labeling is necessarily worth the hassle for my kid. He has 2 ex-gifted-kids for parents, so I think we “get” him more than the school system will.

    1. Jen

      Unfortunately Jen, the school system sometimes needs A BIG OLE PAPER IN THE FACE as proof, which is why we had A tested privately. Now, you and I know each other IRL and know what educational opportunities are in the wings for The Boy, and the background/family situation he has. No, most 4 year olds CAN’T do what you’ve described, and based on that alone I’d laugh evilly and break out the wine. Not sure we’re going to have J tested, because he fits most schools’ belief of what gifted is. He will easily get services, and if not, then we’ll consider it. A, on the other hand, is classic 2e, and we’ve had to strongly encourage accommodations for him, because schools have a different idea of what true 2e is. But sometimes…oftentimes…schools need big ole’ honkin’ proof. PITA.

      1. JenC

        I completely agree. The system needs a kick in the ass when kids needs aren’t being met. In A’s case, they didn’t just need a kick in the ass, they needed to be smacked with the IEP stick. Right now, The Boy is in the same situation as your J, fitting the “traditional” gifted mold. If that changes, I’ll be going after that gifted label fasted than you can say “free appropriate public education”!

        1. Jen

          Oh yeah, I’d loooove to have an IEP stick! LOL! But we’ve been very lucky this year getting accommodations without pulling teeth. We’ve finally come to the conclusion that education for him is going to be a year to year and sometimes month to month thing. And we’re good with that. Sorta.

  3. Susanne

    I don’t know. I home school so the kids aren’t getting any help from the schools. And the help MY public schools would give is minimal at best. So I’m really wondering if a ‘gifted’ label is a necessity for my oldest 2 (and probably eventually my youngest 2). I WISH that the label equaled (why does that look like its spelled wrong?) immediate help of the appropriate kind, but so many times it means punishment in the form of busy work, or being expected to know all the answers because a gifted kid is somehow omniscient. It’s a struggle I am dealing with.

    1. Jen

      It’s a struggle in the public schools too. There’s still such a belief that gifted kids can manage on their own, when nothing could be further from the truth. When you really think about it, if we were talking about abilities on the OTHER side of average, schools would be talking about significant accommodations. Life skills, classroom accommodations, that sort of thing. I believe that gifted kids need to have skills in managing their wiring, because that’s who they are, and they’re just not going to grow out of it. Public, private, charter, homeschool….that’s just how these kids are, regardless of the schooling atmosphere. I wish I had answers. If I Queen of the World, not only would parents of gifted kids have Prozac piped into their water line, but the services the kids needed would be available and provided.
      Thanks for stopping by, Susanne!

  4. Corin Barsily Goodwin

    Excellent post, Jen. Giftedness is not about achievement, it’s about brain structure. It’s a neurological condition that impacts everything you are. (Hint: high comorbidity rates between giftedness and other nervous system disorders, such as allergies, asthma, reflux, sensory processing dysfunction, spectrum disorders, etc etc) I think you made the case in a way that will resonate with many parents. Nice work πŸ™‚

    1. Jen

      Exactly Corin! It’s brain structure. It’s who they are, like blue eyes or height or big feet. They can’t stop being gifted any more than I can stop being ungodly tall and unable to find pants that fit. πŸ˜‰ Funny you mention the high co-morbidity rates; our oldest, A, has allergies, likely reflux, anxiety, SPD, food sensitivities, CAPD…the list is absolutely ridiculous. His brother, J, has few of those…but I suspect he has them, they’re just not as IN YOUR FACE as his brother’s. So we’ll see.
      Thanks for letting parents know about my post here. I hope I did make a case that will resonate with parents. So many parents are just standing there wondering why their child the hurricane is the way s/he is and thinking it’s bad parenting when it’s not. It’s gifted wiring. And it’s ok.
      Thanks.

  5. MelissaL

    Huh, this makes all kinds of sense. I had a few “gifted” classes in elementary school, but that’s it. I too have issues sometimes dealing with stress, and I often feel like I “checked out” in high school. I never put the two together. I just had a baby girl, and now I know what to look for. (Her daddy is definitely smarter than I, but deals with stress much better!)

    Thank you very much for this article.

    1. Jen

      Sounds sooo familiar. Gifted pull-out classes in elementary, issues with stress…living in my closet? πŸ˜‰ I didn’t so much “check out” in high school as retreat into the band room, where I could excel. My high school was so high-achievement that it was overwhelming. I couldn’t compete…but I could soar in music, so I did.
      Watch what your sweet baby girl does. LMK if you want/need links for characteristics of gifted kids. And if your gifted husband can manage stress well…dude, I am so jealous. LOL!
      Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Suki Wessling

    Thanks for this post. Your journey sounds similar to ours. Neither of us were labeled anything when we were kids. Our schools didn’t provide anything but a corner to sit in with a book! But the label does come in handy when you’re trying to figure out those little ciphers you ended up with. In our case, school, with or without gifted designation, wasn’t going to work for the younger one. So now we’re homeschooling and unless we deal with a professional, I can give the g-word a rest and just try to give my kids what they need.
    Suki Wessling recently posted…Winning and losingMy Profile

    1. Jen

      I would homeschool if I could. I truly believe, in the loooong view of things, that it would be best for my sons. It would not be good for me, or our family as a whole. In fact, I’ve had a therapist who specializes in gifted kids/families look me straight in the eye and tell me that homeschooling the boys would be a craptastically bad idea (um, my words, not hers LOL). The label has helped me get A services, and have the strength to tell the school that J needs them too. It allows an opening for us to talk to the boys about why they sometimes react the way they do. They’re just wired differently, different isn’t bad it’s just different, and that’s ok. It has really helped them see themselves in a different light and be a little kinder to themselves.
      Thanks for coming by, Suki! πŸ™‚

  7. Elle

    I’m pleased to see a discussion on gifted parents of gifted kids. Too many of the articles I read convey the impression that people are surprised that a) their kids are really smart and b) their kids are REALLY difficult. I have always been drawn to interesting (challenging) people like my husband, and indifferent to boring (ordinary) people. When our oldest daughter was literally born knowing how to monopolize all the attention in the room, we figured she was the kid we deserved, and frankly would have been surprised if she were easygoing.

    As to getting labelled, we homeschool and know how to do research. I fully admit that it is harder to be a gifted person, and don’t rule out certain kinds of CBT to develop strategies for dealing with people. Frankly, though, we are all functional, creative people, and I object to the idea of the qualities that make us special being diagnosed as personality disorders and treated. I think a better approach is to carve out a space for our kids to be themselves, rather than send them to school to spend their formative years fighting not to be stuffed in Procrustean boxes.

    1. Jen

      Procrustean boxes. Dude, awesome. I had to look that one up, and yeah, very good point. Schools are good at conformity; thankfully (and with a great deal of ARGH! on my part) our son refuses to conform. Great comment here. I also am drawn to challenging/interesting people, and I never really knew why. It’s almost as though a part of my brain that is sitting in the corner suddenly lights up. Happens in good conversation, with wit and insight and challenging yet respectful opinions. Book club lights me up.
      See, I never expected to have gifted kids, because Tom and I never saw ourselves (or were designated) as gifted. So it did come as a surprise to us. Our oldest is a damned challenging kid, though I’ve taken to calling him complex. He was Advanced Parenting, and we weren’t expecting that. Thankfully we have finally found a therapist who can help us as a family, and individually. She is a gift and a blessing wrapped up in a OH THANK GOD WE FOUND HER. Really could have used her five years ago, but I’ll take her now. LOL!
      Thanks for coming by, Elle. Great comment.

  8. Laura

    N was doing 3rd grade work at age 4. He cried if he made a mistake up until recently (almost 6)The right teacher makes all the difference – and – unfortunately – just telling a teacher your kid is special evokes an eye roll and a patronizing smile. You need the numbers to back it up, or your child will not get the challenging work they need to stay interested. If, with the test the school doesn’t respond, well then you have the incentive to find a new school.

    1. Jen

      Yup. That’s why we had A tested privately last summer. His school scores for the GT program were so bad, I thought they should have been checking for a pulse, not giftedness. The private testing scores showed incredibly high ability, and incredibly low processing speed. Classic 2e. So having the official paper with the official letterhead from the official tester made a world of difference. And now he’s in the GT program for reading and thriving. The eye roll and patronizing smile doesn’t go over well with me, especially when I know I know more about 2e than most people at the school…and it’s the GT focus school for the district! Fortunately, we have developed a great relationship with them, and A is finally getting the accommodations he needs. Not coincidentally, he’s thriving this year. πŸ™‚ The right teacher absolutely makes the difference, and we were blessed this year with the perfect teacher for him. Fingers crossed, this will be a pivotal year for him.
      Thanks for coming by, Laura!

  9. Sarah

    The more we learn about this for both M and A, the more we see in ourselves. The boredom, the sensitivities…. Thinking differently. It can be so frustrating to hear “well, what is he gifted in?” as if it is just being really good at one particular thing. Or “you are just saying that because you want your kid to be seen as smart.” Smart isn’t even the half of it.

    And I wonder, where would I be…. where would the Hubby be if we had what we needed throughout school. No one can know, but we can take from our own experiences and trials, and what we see in both M (especially) and A…. mix that all together and hopefully end out better in the long run. But I have a feeling it will be a bumpy road…

    1. Jen

      The more I see it in M and A, the more I sit and laugh evilly. Mwahahahahahaha… πŸ˜‰ Yeah, I just lurve the “what are they gifted IN?” comments. It’s like asking “what are they tall in?” They just are. It’s how they’re wired, that’s all. We found out today at P/T conferences that A is reading, at the beginning of 4th grade, at the end of 6th grade level. Hallefreakinlujah. I know have a simple answer for the simpletons to the “what is he gifted IN?’ query. Oh, and the parents who want a gifted kid don’t have one. They don’t want gifted, they want high-achieving. HUGE difference.

  10. Tracy

    I believe in labeling for giftedness as well. Here is my number one reason. Too many of us gifted adults grew up knowing we were different, but not knowing HOW. We thought there was something wrong with us. How many of us actually thought we were dumb growing up?

    We (many of us) grew up believing a lie about ourselves. It affected our entire self-image and often, the choices we made. We didn’t know any more about giftedness then the general public, so we had the same crazy expectations. (As my husband says, “If I’m so smart, where’s all my money?”)

    I refuse to let any children of mine grow up thinking they are someone other then who they are, gifted or not. I refuse to let my kids look around, see that they are totally different from most of the kids around them, and conclude, in their immature reasoning, that that means they are stupid or that there is something wrong with them.

    We also wanted to know for sure that our kids were gifted so that when they differed from the stereotypes, we didn’t have to second-guess ourselves (“Maybe it IS bad parenting…?”).

    When we heard numbers, we stopped getting frustrated with behavior that we could only assume (without the gifted label) was motivated in naughtiness. If your 3 year old asks the same question 30 times, and you know he understood the answer the first time, it makes you start to think he is somehow misbehaving. When you KNOW how much smarter he is then you realized before, you can let yourself believe that he is dissatisfied with the shallow answers you are giving him. Don’t know he is gifted: chastise for provoking you by repeating the same question all day. Know that he is gifted: realize that he is not mature enough to articulate to you that he needs more information. Start giving him way more in-depth information. Behavior stops.

    The truth ALWAYS helps us to make better decisions. The truth, as it is said, sets us free.

    1. Jen

      You hit on exactly why the gifted label is needed for kids who truly ARE gifted. There’s a name, a reason, they aren’t “bad,” it’s not bad parenting. Wiring. My kid knows he’s 2e, but I refuse to let him use it as an excuse. It just is.

  11. m

    This came up in my fb history today. Years later. Rereading the comments, now I wonder how A L J & The Boy are doing. I never had mine tested for Giftedness because I already knew. He was tested in 3rd grade for math ability & the teacher said he’d ‘never had a kid test this high’.’12th grade understanding of math concepts’. He went once a week that year for math enrichment, but it was during recess. He was very social & wanted to be with his friends. Social ability is an essential life skill. I let him drop the math “enrichment”. Plus, ‘none of my friends have to do it. It’s stupid. Some of my friends could do it.’ Fast forward. He’s excelled in sports, coasted easily through middle & into High School. He did Math Counts in 7th, to the teacher’s delight, but again, it interfered with friend time. He dropped it in 8th. Halfway through 10th, he decided to ‘try’ & got top grades. He recognizes which friends keep pace in class and which more keep pace on the athletic field & enjoys the company of all of them. He’ll have top grades, and 3 varsity letters, but no one would pick him out as The top student. I’m fine with that, so is he. He is able to interact easily with everyone he meets. I put that first. Now he’s choosing challenging classes for 11 & 12th grades. College will happen, but he doesn’t yet know what he wants to study. I dream of something lofty, theoretical physics, but he may choose economics or political science, or to be a gym teacher.

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