My 7 1/2-year-old son is gifted.
Yup, I just used the G-word. Did you cringe just now, when you read it? To be honest, I still cringe a little too.
As the mother of a profoundly gifted and twice-exceptional child, I think that gifted is a terrible label; it brings to mind images of beautifully-wrapped packages with neatly tied bows. Our gifted reality is sometimes beautiful but complicated and challenging and anything but neat.
When folks hear the word gifted, they tend to make assumptions, including:
Gifted children perform well in school.
Gifted kids are easy to parent.
Gifted children’s skills are evenly developed.
Gifted families are lucky; they have it easier.
Parents of gifted kids push them to perform early and often. They hothouse.
Gifted education is unnecessary. They will do fine on their own.
This is not our gifted reality. Today, I would like to share some gifted truths with you.
1. Giftedness is better understood when you think of it in terms of asynchronous development.
When people hear the word gifted, they tend to imagine a start student who floats through school with straight-As and heaps of praise from teachers. They tend to confuse giftedness with achievement when the they are two entirely different things.
My favorite definition of giftedness is this one, from the Columbus Group, because it defines giftedness in terms of asynchronous development:
Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally. (The Columbus Group, 1991).
The reality is, most gifted children are asynchronous. While the general population develops in a relatively uniform way, gifted learners demonstrate asynchronous development. And the more gifted the child, the more asynchronous that child may be. A 7-year-old gifted child appears to be his age physically, but she can have the intellect of someone twice her age with the emotional development of a toddler. Gifted children can be many ages at once, out of sync.
2. Gifted children are supremely sensitive.
- Global warming
- The existence of an afterlife
- Animal endangerment
- World War III
- The sun burning out
- The meaning of life
These are questions and fears that I have been navigating with my son since he was a toddler. Due to his asynchronous development, he houses thoughts in his busy little mind that his emotions are not yet able to process. He was unable to watch television until he was 6-years-old because he was so incredibly sensitive to its content and themes.
3. Gifted children are INTENSE.
If you ask a gifted mother to describe her gifted child, one of the most common responses you’d receive would be this: Gifted children are intense! When my son is happy, he is bouncing off the walls, bursting with joy happy. When he is angry, he is a tornado full of boy. When he is sad, he dissolves into a mushy mess on the floor. When frustrated, he can throw a tantrum to rival that of any 2-year-old.
Gifted children are known for their overexcitabilities, a term used by Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski as part of his theory of personality development. Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities have been embraced by the gifted community as they help to explain the extreme sensitivity and intensity that is common among this population. There are five areas of overexcitability: intellectual, sensual, emotional, imaginational, and psychomotor.
4. Gifted children can be learning disabled.
My son’s cognitive abilities are above the 99.9th percentile, but he is also learning disabled. He struggles with sensory processing disorder and meets criteria for an ADHD diagnosis. He also has BIG worries. My son is twice-exceptional: gifted and learning disabled, and he is not alone. There are so many twice-exceptional learners out there, all of whom struggle to have their unique needs met in traditional public school classrooms.
5. Gifted children need to be with intellectual peers.
Whenever the topic of intellectual peers comes up, I tell the story about the day I was leaving a restaurant with my children and some of their little friends. My son, who was 5-years-old at the time, stopped short and shouted, “Guys!! Look! Guys!! Doesn’t that latticework remind you of a portcullis? It’s beautiful!!” His friends, who had been goofing around, paused to look in the general vicinity of where he was gesturing, and then carried on with their play. My son remained, awestruck, admiring the restaurant’s garden. I quickly grabbed my phone and googled portcullis and he was right: the garden’s trellis did resemble a medieval castle’s portcullis. And then my heart did a little flip-flop because I wondered how his peers were going to understand him if his own mother had to Google his words. Gifted children need to be around people who understand and appreciate them. Those people may be two years older or ten, but it is wrong to assume that these kids are best placed with children with whom the only thing they have in common is their year of birth.
6. Gifted children and gifted families need support.
My son is a funny, smart, energetic, creative, intense, demanding, and utterly exhausting little human. I love him to the moon and back again, but parenting and educating him has been one of my life’s greatest challenges. He has taught me so much over the years and our journey has only just begun. Over time, our journey has become a bit easier thanks in large part to the gifted community that we have sought out and, in some cases, created. Just as gifted children need support and understanding in order to thrive, so too do their parents in order to travel on this path, otherwise it feels like a lonely venture most days. If you are the parent of a gifted or twice-exceptional child, know this: You are not alone.
Changing the face of giftedness
I know that the word gifted is an uncomfortable one, but when we don’t talk about this population, we do these kids a disservice. The more we talk about gifted and twice-exceptional learners and their unique educational and social-emotional needs, the more we can increase public understanding of this population. Gifted children are not better than their peers, they are different from their peers. Just as other populations that differ significantly from the norm need support, so too do gifted and twice-exceptional learners. I believe asynchronous development to be the very essence of giftedness. If folks could understand that one piece of giftedness, I believe the entire population would be better understood and supported, and our world would change for the better.
My gifted children are adults now, but hear’s something I learned: my older child tended to be an absolute perfectionist. He put pressure on himself to be perfect in everything. It was helpful to remind him that he didn’t have to get A++ in everything. He could actually “coast” through some classes or activities and not put so much pressure on himself. (He could settle for an “A”.) I’m not sure he every allows himself to “coast,” but I’m glad I gave him “permission” to, and I’m glad it helped underscore our relationship that he had our love no matter what. We were not asking–or expecting– him to be perfect in every arena. No one can hit that mark.
I just loved this article! I have just started to write about my experiences teaching my gifted son (who is my middle son) and you managed to put so many of my ideas into words! Thank you.
I love this, and it’s so true. One of the things I love about homeschooling is that you can eliminate the grades for a while. Just focus on learning. Thanks so much!
It’s so difficult (in general) to find the happy medium between challenging material and things that are too easy. And, it’s worse when your child is all over the place ability wise.
If not nurtured, gifted kids can check-out. By nurtured I mean find the support needed. When their needs are ignored, they learn that their needs don’t matter; that they don’t matter. And no child should learn that. They learn the art of non-engagement at a time when developmentally it’s all about learning to be engaged w/the world.
It has not been verified by a doctor or anything of the sort; but, after reading your post, I’m certain I have a gifted, 2-year-old son. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have noticed that my son gets bored around children his age. He thrives when he is around older children. He wants to learn about things on a deeper level. He is intense with everything. I am going to share this with my husband.
I’m not sure about my four-year-old; she’s bright for her age, years ahead in school, but she gets along with others really well also. She may be just real smart. We’ll have her tested in November. But this post had some good considerations. Thanks.
Susan C., aka @gloriousmomblog
I was a gifted/2e child. Now I’m a gifted/2e adult. I wish that asynchronous development had been explains to my parents instead of being diagnosed with ADD (that was the term then) and medicated. Seeing my eldest daughter start down the same path has led me to look into homeschooling this year. Thank you for putting the struggle into words.
This is an extremely touchy subject for me. I agree with Cassiopia in wishing that asynchronous development had been explained to my parents, I was a gifted/2e child, now a gifted/2e adult. I was recognized as this in the late 70’s and placed into what was termed an “Enrichment Program” three days a week and with children of my own age group 2 days.This led to ostracization by my peers, my parents treating me differently because I was “weird/not like other kids my age” and I began making wrong decisions based on a need to fit in out of fear of being medicated to be what they perceived to be “normal”. My two oldest children who are now adults were also recognized as gifted/2e, but instead of allowing them to separate them from their peers, I instead supported their needs at home and encouraged them to fit in at school (wrong decision again). My youngest, who will soon be 6, has been recognized also as gifted/2e, and this time I am homeschooling him to ensure his needs are meet.
I am a thrice exceptional person. I was labeled as Gifted when I was in 2nd grade. When I was in 5th grade, I was tested and sent to remedial math. The moment my well-meaning principal learned I was in remedial math, he pulled me out and apologized to my parents about the “mistake”. Sure enough, it wasn’t until I was in college I was diagnosed with a learning disability in math, ADHD — which shows differently in girls, and of course, I was still “Gifted”. I graduated high school at age 15, and had homeschooling been legal when I was growing up, I likely would have graduated high school by age 10 or so. I went 500 miles away to college at age 16. I look back and wonder how I survived because academically I may have been at the college level, but socially and emotionally I was far from being ready for college.
My daughter is very emotional. She is very highly sensitive. She is super curios. 2 years ago I ran across an article about gifted children. I was amazed that they were describing my daughter on many issues.
A lot of her peers are taken back by her because she is intense at times.
Thank you for sharing. My son is a gifted six and it can be a challenge to engage with him all of the time. I do my best, but there are times I am exhausted. I’m still trying to find a balance. I also don’t think we do them any favors by not having them play alone at times, too. I tried to homeschool, but he has no siblings and he needs engagement with peers. I also have health problems which affected our decision. You wouldn’t believe how sensitive he is to my needs. I try to be careful what I say about my illness, but I do believe God has things happen for a reason and my son will be stronger for it – as long as I show Jesus love and gentleness. Great article about the truths of a gifted child! Thank you.
I simply loved this article. This is my oldest daughter to a “t”! She floors me with how quickly she gets things but yet parenting her has been my biggest challenge. She’s been diagnosed with ADHD and odd. I’d love to find parents to connect with .. I’m a single parent and there are days I feel like I’m a horrible mother and I’m worried I’m crushing her spirit.
Loved your article.My 5yr old son reads fluently at the level of a 6th grader. He can do basic fractions, decimals,mental arithmetic,
He often talks to me about his future marriage plans, how many kids he’ll have. And he also pray to God for a loving and caring girl as his wife.
And also corrects his teacher’s spellings in school. One of my old aunts tells me not to let him learn more than what is taught in school, cause she thinks he’ll distract other kids and won’t give them chance to answer in class.
Thank you for this article. My son is gifted, he is 16 years old and member of MENSA, but if I don’t help him, he will fail school. He was also diagnosed with ADHD. With all this extra baggage he needs to carry around, schools do not want to except his differences. They expect to much from him, because as you noticed – people have the wrong perception about gifted learners.
It is very difficult for me as single parent some days, but with the grace of God, I am managing. My son is now in grade 11, home-school. He is working on his own, but it is not easy. I do not have the funds to get him the tutors he deserve. In South Africa there is not much done for gifted learners.
Thank you so much. This is so much my daughter. She is 7. I homeschool because where I live is no gifted and talented. She does 4th and 5th work. But the emotional ups and downs are rough
I know this is finding you years later, but thank you for this. My son is 2 and keeps demonstrating his asynchronous (thank you for that definition) cognitive ability. Today he said “I like rhombus” I asked “what’s a rhombus” (not expecting an answer) he said “like a diamond!” I wish I could find support for him or friends. He can’t jump with two feet, is afraid of climbing, HATES singing (sensory thing?), and isn’t potty trained, but he can count to 20, knows all his letters and their sounds, knows a ton of shapes, and lots more that shocks me every day. What a journey we will have.