Your child is gifted. And the "experts" don't get it.
Maybe you have spoken with pediatricians or school counselors or therapists or life coaches or experienced teachers and none of them fully get it. They don't understand the intensity or overthinking. They don't appreciate the insidious effect of perfectionism or isolation or "impostor syndrome." They don't recognize underachievement in a child who receives relatively good grades, but coasts through school.
Maybe they don't fully believe that your child could long for learning like others crave ice cream. That he was never hot-housed or test-prepped into success. That she still feels bored in "advanced" classes or a fancy private school. That he could be academically gifted and musically talented and an elite athlete; giftedness is not necessarily one-dimensional. Or that despite their potential and presumed opportunities, gifted people sometimes feel sad and depressed and anxious.
You have spent hours explaining your child's "quirks" and learning differences to educators, who hold rigid views of what all children need. You have shared endless examples of what will engage your child, given her intensity and temperament - and your comments are ignored. You seesaw between anger and hopelessness in your desperate attempts to enlist the aid of those in charge.
Unfortunately, many well-meaning, highly trained experts in their respective fields may have little understanding of giftedness. There may be so much you wish they understood about your child... or a day in your life.
What are some of the basic messages most parents wish the "experts" - as well as family and friends - knew about giftedness?
1. Giftedness is not a choice. You don't get to select your intellectual ability any more than your eye color. Giftedness is unrelated to race, gender, income, ethnicity, test-prepping or hard work. You can't stop being gifted - but an impoverished environment or lackluster education can lead to underachievement, inertia, hopelessness, or a suppression of abilities.
2. Gifted children crave learning - as long as it is challenging, stimulating and creative. Their academic environment, and their comfort expressing themselves and revealing their abilities (without fear of reprisal from peers) is critical. A flexible academic environment, equipped with teachers who truly understand giftedness, and with options for ability grouping, clustering, and acceleration, is essential. And despite claims that gifted students will thrive at just about any college, the importance of finding the right fit is just as important in college as in the earlier years.
3. Gifted children do not fit any one particular stereotype. Some are introverted and socially anxious; others are confident leaders. Some are perfectionistic and achievement-oriented; others are underachievers. Many are highly sensitive and empathetic, have an acute sense of fairness and justice, and are creative. Some are twice-exceptional and have learning disabilities in addition to their gifted intellect. Many also possess multipotentialities and face a range of academic, creative, and career choices.
4. Most gifted children have difficulty finding friends or fitting in with age-based peers, regardless of whether they are socially skilled, or if asynchronous development contributes to a lag in social maturity. Unless they find other children with similar interests and views, they may become isolated and insecure. This may lead to feelings of hopelessness and depression.
5. Sometimes, gifted individuals are misdiagnosed because traits associated with giftedness present as other problems. For example, an active, highly energetic gifted child might be incorrectly labeled with a diagnosis of ADHD. Other times, problems that are psychological in nature can be attributed to giftedness, and concerns that warrant treatment may be ignored. Sometimes pediatricians, therapists, and especially some life coaches (who lack training in psychotherapy) miss this distinction. Anyone working with a gifted child or family must understand the complex interplay between giftedness and psychological, social, emotional and intellectual factors.
6. Parenting a gifted child brings unique challenges - worries about their child's future, the burden of advocacy in the schools, and isolation from other parents who don't understand their concerns. While others may assume their life is a breeze, most parents of gifted children struggle with the weight of their gifted child's intensity, additional needs for stimulation, and their own emotional reactions. Anxiety, guilt, pride, anger, and obsessive worry - these emotions are all too familiar to parents of gifted children. Parents need support - yet unfortunately, may encounter judgment and criticism.
How can you get your message across to the "experts"?
Of course, you didn't ask for this. You didn't expect to become an expert in giftedness. But the more you understand about gifted children's intellectual, academic, developmental, and social/emotional needs, the more you will feel prepared to advocate for your child. Read books, scour articles, join online forums, and participate in gifted advocacy support groups within your community (or start one!).
Develop an advocacy plan
This might range from devising a detailed IEP (Individualized Education Plan), to formulating an "elevator speech" where you briefly outline asynchronous development for those puzzled by your child's behavior. Determine what to share, when to apply pressure (or "pick your battles"), and how to best approach friends, relatives, "experts" and others with influence over your child's well-being (which can include anyone from school board members to babysitters or soccer coaches).
Share information in terms they can understand
Most "experts" are knowledgeable in their respective fields. They care about their work, and want to do their best. Show them the respect they deserve by containing your (understandable) frustration, disdain, or despair related to what they don't know. Engage them in a manner they will accept. Share your personal experience, what you know about your child, and what has worked best in other situations (e.g., previous classroom settings, small group interactions, at home).
And when the "experts" won't change...
Try to keep this in perspective. Most "experts" in your child's life mean well. Those teachers, pediatricians, therapists, school administrators, guidance counselors, or coaches care about kids - or they would have chosen other careers. Misunderstanding may stem from minimal education about giftedness, adherence to school district policy about "best practices," or even unresolved personal biases based on negative childhood experiences or interactions at work with a "pushy" parent. Some of the experts learn and grow once they gain a clearer understanding, and may become allies in supporting your child.
It is possible, though, that some may never "get it," despite efforts to enlighten them or advocate about giftedness. When that occurs, it may be optimal to transfer your child, if possible, to a different physician, therapist, coach, or music/acting/dance teacher, for example, or to change summer camps, classes, or even schooling options. With your help and persistence, your child will hopefully find a niche of supportive adults and peers to support the journey through childhood.
This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Blog Hop on If You Only Knew. To see more blogs, click on this link.