It occurs to me that we often have a stigma in society surrounding various disabilities or types of people, yet those perceptions can only be changed through continued exposure with the intent to educate. By pointing out the challenges of a disability, people can empathize more often and understand that disabilities offer hurdles; some seen and some unseen by others. My hope is that by pointing out some of the struggles of giftedness, people can come to understand that these children (and adults) need support too-like anyone who is different.
People who are gifted are still a mystery to most. Most don’t see a disability. Instead, they imagine a Utopian life that evokes jealousy. Few are jealous of a child who is in a wheelchair or one who cannot see. Those children are mostly supported to navigate through their lives. People can understand that there are hurdles to be overcome. That’s all we ask for a child who is gifted. Yes, gifted children (and adults) have hurdles-more than you know.
Giftedness can often be categorized as a disability. Gifted children are included in the “special needs” category in school as the typical schoolroom does not work to accommodate the special needs of a child who is gifted. Many of the gifted struggles are unseen, ignored, or pushed aside because the child is gifted. No, giftedness is not all sunshine and lollipops. Often it’s more like gum stuck on the bottom of your shoe.
Gifted children spend much of their time waiting. We all know how well children wait. Well, gifted children spend even MORE time waiting. Waiting for others to catch up, waiting to read because they already understand the directions (I gave up reading them in 4th grade), waiting for that interesting lesson to come (hello, biorhythms was my topic as a kid), waiting to be acknowledged as divergent instead of the often labeled “wrong”, and waiting for someone to understand. When you know how to multiply and are handed foundational addition day after day, it feels like boring a hole in your brain is the only way to alleviate the pain. Oh, the stories I could tell you about the intense frustration. Often, gifted children (and adults) spend a lifetime waiting to figure out why we’re so different and why no one sees it. Often it’s a mystery left unsolved.
When you are part of a group, a team, a family you feel a camaraderie, a companionship, and an understanding with the other members. It offers a security that is simultaneously uplifting and grounding. You know that when you fail, you’ll be comforted and when you succeed, you’ll be congratulated. Often, gifted kids miss out on that camaraderie because, well, they’re different. They’re not being different to cause a stir, but because they truly are different. While it’s hard to explain, it’s not hard to see.
Giftedness is NOT about a child doing university level math.(Though it does happen as in this movie that highlights such a gifted child.) A child who can do higher level work is rarely applauded. He is instead, seen as an inconvenience to the general tone of a class. While an artistically gifted child may be applauded by their work, it’s doubtful they’ll be a special class on brush strokes or elements of design not sanctioned by the grade level standards. That child will be set apart. On one hand applauded, but on the other hand ignored and even despised; after all they make life harder. (Don’t I know it? Try being the parent of such a child.) It takes special attention to satisfy higher level/divergent thinkers. Intellect and heightened ability is merely one component of giftedness.
Often, thinking differently means that you are inadvertently or purposely alienated. ‘Alien’ is actually an apt term as I literally thought I was an alien for a year or so at school. I kept waiting for them to beam me back up. No, I’m really not kidding. Have you ever felt THAT out of place? Join our club to find out what it’s like. I felt like I spoke a different language as much of what I said was misunderstood. I was often a loner and complained about it sometimes at home. I was told to “act more like other people” and so I did. I acted. I learned to be someone else. It’s a false companionship. You assume a persona to fit in, to be accepted, yet the dichotomy is that you don’t fit in-because you’re not you. Learning that you need to be someone else to feel that companionship is self-deprecating and offers little confidence to be yourself. I found it so difficult to assume my persona relating to societal expectations. Truth be told, I still do.
Being gifted means that we think differently.
Now, I can understand how that sounds. Sure, artists think differently. Race car drivers think differently. Teachers think differently. We know that everyone is “different”, but with giftedness it’s even more true. Our brains are wired differently. Aspergers and autistic brains are wired differently too. As the group of “different brains” widens, we become less of a minority. For now though, we remain at a disability. Just like being bilingual, gifted people have to speak two languages. If you do speak another language, I’d guess that with one language you’re more comfortable and can relax. That’s how we feel when we’re with people who are gifted. They understand us more easily.
No one wants to hear the child (or adult) who asks a million questions because we’ve thought of all of the contingencies and hurdles before a plan has even been brought up to a vote. No one wants to hear the divergent ideas because “they’re crazy”. No, they’re not crazy-they’re different. Few people can understand the sensitivity or depth of feeling that comes with giftedness. Our emotions sit closer to the surface which makes us even more susceptible to the beauty and wonder, but also the hardship and suffering. We understand because it’s part of who we are, but most people truly can’t grasp the difference. Where you see a puddle, we see an ocean.
Sunshine is wonderful, but also blinding. Many people enjoy sunshine year round yet also find peace on cloudy days. When you can’t turn off who you are and yet struggle to be accepted, that sunshine can be intimidating, scorching, and make you run away and hide.
Lollipops are a delight to look at and to eat, but consume too much and you’ll end up with a toothache or a sour stomach. Just like sweets, everyone and everything is more palatable in moderation. Finding that delicate balance of being enough of who you are and not going overboard can make life the perfect sweet.
Without the sun and some sweetness, what is life?