Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Stop the shaming: Why we must advocate for gifted children now

In the midst of raising an often emotionally intense, perpetually curious, and sometimes quirky gifted child, you may face the additional daunting task of advocating for their welfare. It was not something you bargained for - yet, it takes on a vital, necessary role in your parenting journey. You find yourself advocating at school merely to offset your child's increasing boredom and sense of disconnection; sometimes pleading in desperation for administrators to take giftedness seriously. You field questions and critiques from family and neighbors, and find yourself explaining (apologizing?) about asynchronous development and social immaturity, and why your child doesn't fit the mold. And through it all, you walk a fine line between targeted advocacy and trying to offset any accusation of bragging or appearing insensitive about the needs of neurotypical children.

                                                            (Image courtesy of Headway)

At it's very worst, gifted children who are overlooked, stigmatized, and marginalized not only miss out on essential academic challenges, but may become riddled with shame about their giftedness. They may question their differences, quirks, and talents, and come to hide or disparage their own abilities. This has led some to claim (incorrectly, in my opinion, and also challenged by others, including the NAGC) that the gifted "label" should be eliminated entirely, as if pretending giftedness doesn't exist would somehow resolve the issue. Gifted children can learn to understand, appreciate, and accept their giftedness, and place it in perspective, when it is described clearly and without fanfare (see here and here). The problem lies with those adults who refute, deny, criticize, mock and ignore their differences and needs.

We would never accept this normalization of stigma and disparagement toward people based on race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, or learning struggles. Yet, gifted children are routinely shamed for their inherent abilities. They did not "choose" to possess a highly active mind, heightened intensities, or a drive for learning that may surpass the academic needs of their peers. As parents, educators, counselors, and legislators, we need to stop the misconceptions, false assumptions, and marginalization of gifted education - all of which can contribute to a false sense of self, confusion, and shame among the gifted. And these scars can last into adulthood.

As the Pandemic hopefully comes to an end sometime in the near future, and children return to the classroom, it is time to gear up for advocacy in the upcoming school year. Read, join online forums, take workshops, get to know your State gifted association, and enlist help and support from those who have been down this road before. Reach out to other advocates, teachers, gifted parenting coaches, therapists, school psychologists, and parents who understand the needs of the gifted. Spread the word that gifted children have basic academic and social/emotional needs that deserve attention - just like every other child. Dispel myths and stereotypes, and politely challenge any who scoff at the concept of giftedness, or claim gifted kids "will do just fine" regardless of their education. And don't forget to find support for yourself as you ride the emotional roller coaster that accompanies gifted parenting.

We all need to raise our voices and advocate for gifted children. The shaming, widespread misunderstanding, and marginalization of their needs must stop. If we don't speak up, then who will? 

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