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It's No Gift


Would you be offended if I said that Little L was gifted? Would you roll your eyes and think that I was being melodramatic, or perhaps exaggerating? Would you assume that I was trying to tout my kid as some sort of "special snowflake" for the sake of making myself or my kid seem superior? Would I suddenly lose your respect? Would you deem me a "stage mom" or some other kind of competitive parent who attempts to live vicariously through their progeny? I ask these things because I think them myself sometimes when I hear someone say that their kid is exceptional. Yeah, yeah. Every kid is exceptional, duh. Every kid is gifted, and a gift. *insert eye roll*

The label "gifted" is a pretty loaded term (what label isn't?!). We make a lot of assumptions about what giftedness means, and often these are academic in nature. The term "gifted" may conjure up images of little prodigies doing complicated math in elementary school, or kiddies who can barely reach the pedals but can skillfully execute difficult piano pieces. Giftedness is most often associated with, and determined by, IQs above 130 as measured on the WISC-V for kids (WAIS-IV for adults). When a child is deemed gifted, there is a good chance that their teachers (and even well-meaning parents) will interpret it to mean that this little person can do more, and more complex, assignments and tasks in academia. They may even suggest skipping grades to keep a gifted kiddo "challenged."

What people don't naturally assume, however, is that giftedness in children is often a disability of sorts. It isn't usually a clinically-diagnosed one, nor one that you can observe at first glance, but it is a very real problem for the kids who are developing asynchronously. Imagine being six years old, and understanding certain concepts like the classification of living things and how to factor integers. Imagine being able to read chapter books and newspaper articles when everyone else your size is still working on tricky sight words like "where" and "would." How would such a child relate to their same-age peers, who (age-appropriately) are just learning to decode full sentences and figure out one-to-one correspondence and place value? Now factor in the emotional maturity of most 6-year-olds with as-yet-underdeveloped prefrontal cortexes. Giftedness in certain areas does not suddenly advance a child's brain development in all areas; the brain matures fairly predictably. So now you've got a kid who understands big concepts but still has impulse control challenges and a tendency towards being overwhelmed by their feelings. Quite possibly, that little one with the big ideas will find it harder than most to relate to their peers, and not surprisingly, their peers may also find them kind of odd and not want to play with them either. The greater the asynchronicity between understanding and social/emotional/physical development, the harder it will be for this gifted child to adjust and adapt at school. Hence the disability. 

Then there is the comorbidity factor; giftedness doesn't always exist on its own. Gifted kids may also be "twice-exceptional" and have additional diagnoses of ASD, anxiety, ADHD, SPD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, or other learning disorders. This doesn't put them at an "advantage," then, and isn't exactly something anyone would wish upon their littles.

I hate the term "gifted." I was administered the WISC at age 8 and age 10, and found to have a "gifted" level IQ both times. The term embarrassed me and I never uttered it to anyone. The school placed me in an inter-school pull-out gifted education program once a week during my third- and fifth-grade years, and I don't think I ever told my school friends what it was for. The program was fairly progressive for its time (and in hindsight a brilliant differentiated approach to learning), but I still had to do my normal schoolwork when I returned to school. Gifted for me just meant more schoolwork from missing a regular day at school every week.

It also meant teachers placed an obscenely high set of expectations on me. They counted on me to know the answers, follow the rules, and exceed their expectations in nearly every subject (excluding gym, because my round tummy was around even then). They were disappointed when I didn't get an A or do well on a task, which only fuelled my own anxiety and tendencies for perfectionism. Having a gifted label on my file was a burden for me, psychologically and academically. 

Hubbs was spared the label, although the more I learn about the topic, the more I am convinced that my man is also gifted; he was a self-taught reader at age 4 and started programming/coding in kindergarten. His academic performance in grade school was sufficiently advanced that his teachers ended up giving him his own individualized education program.

Apples and trees. It is no surprise that Little L struggles with asynchronous development, too. I won't call it giftedness since she hasn't been formally assessed, and I hate the label anyway. My kiddo was speaking full 4+ word sentences at 17 months, and knew her alphabet and phonics at age 2. She memorized every word of Seuss's "What Was I Scared Of?" before her third birthday. She loves to play with words, inventing puns and dropping initial consonants just for the heck of it when she speaks. I've already had discussions with her about homonyms, density (molecular structures), and gravity. She is advanced for her age in certain areas (like reading/language skills, and certain kinds of patterning and general cognition), and a bit behind or at age-appropriate abilities for others, like emotional, social and physical development. This imbalance is significant enough to make her experience of school and life very different, and perhaps a bit harder, than a child who doesn't have such wide discrepancies in their development. For instance, most kids her age scrawl random lines on paper and invent a story to indicate what they wrote. Little L can't do it, because she knows how to read and knows what letters should look like; she even knows how some should be spelled; she can catch spelling and grammatical errors in print. She has anxiety that cripples her from even attempting to write her name, because how could a 4-year old with regular (or possibly delayed) fine motor skills ever expect to print a perfect set of letters? She even critiques my penmanship when it isn't straight or neat, so I know she is doing some mental deliberations about her own abilities when she refuses to try writing or colouring or using scissors. 

And so, my point is this: if you discover that someone's child may be "gifted," please don't automatically assume that this information is being disseminated to brag or boast. Please don't roll your eyes, at least not yet. I'd invite you to first find out a little more, and see beyond the label and to the invisible difficulties that children who have asynchronous development may be facing. If you're a teacher, don't assume that the bright or gifted child in your class will automatically excel and not have challenges that require adaptation. Don't just give them more school work; such approaches fail to address the underlying intellectual needs of the child. Please remember that every child lacks self-control and impulse regulation, and being "smarter" does not exempt a child from this; the human brain does not reach full maturity until near adulthood, and the frontal lobe develops last for everyone. And last of all, remember that giftedness may be no gift at all; let's be careful with our labels! 



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