My Journey into the World of the Gifted
As so many of us, my journey into the world of giftedness started with my children. It started with struggle, confusion, and the immense love that I have for my children, which formed the catalyst to do what it took to support them.
School vs. Home
Step one was trying to understand what was going on. There was a huge discrepancy between how school saw my children and how I knew them to be at home. As I immersed myself in the goings on at school, it became more and more apparent that school’s focus was so limited that my child far exceeded the scope of what school was paying attention to. There was no inherent desire to know my child, to see my children’s beautiful qualities; their creativity; their engagement; their curiosity. Their sensitivity and attunement to their fellow beings, students and teachers included.
And this left me feeling puzzled. Were these not excellent qualities desired by society? Were they not the qualities of our future artists, innovators, scientists and leaders? I had always just assumed that schools were good and that teachers knew what they were doing. In our case, this was far from the truth.
I observed how children at school were labeled on a daily basis, each given the (subliminal) message that they were somewhere on a scale of OK to Not-Good-Enough, for something as simplistic as an elementary school curriculum. For my eldest, the take home message was ‘You are not good enough. You’re interests don’t matter here. They are not important enough to teach at school. Ergo, you are not important.’
I watched how children were categorized on a scale from Normal to Different, which in many kids’ minds translates to a scale of Belonging to Being Excluded. Those fitting in and doing things ‘the right way’ were included, and all others being different, were set apart from the main group. And to my bright, sensitive and intuitive children it was clear that different meant being a problem; it meant extra work for the teacher. It meant something was wrong with them. They did not fit in and the school did not accommodate. Instead school tried its best to transform the different ones to work and learn and grow according to the ‘normal’ standard of the timeline set by our national curriculum. The take-home message was clear to them. “You are not ok as you are and you are not one of us.’ As a psychologist, I knew how important connection is to people. I watched my children respond. The one dumbed down to belong, another resisted vehemently, but they all assumed something must be inherently wrong with them, and they all felt disconnected and alienated.
It is a strong tide that you have to row against, when as a parent you’re trying to build your children’s confidence and empower them in the wake of systemic undermining forces of school. These super bright and super sensitive kids get the message that school and whatever happens there is the most important thing… Society gives school that legitimacy. We all send our kids there, they spend hours there, laws ensure that they go, the schools decide what’s important to learn, and we even accept that school determines part of what children do at home. These kids get it. In a context of children inundated with messages about the importance of school and the importance of good grades for future success, children conclude that school, and everything that happens there, is huge.
Sensitivity, Outward and In
I could see how my own children’s natural confidence was fading. They were building towers of insecurity and despair on their innate fundament that was so attuned to social relations. The one adapted by effectively making herself invisible, the others slowly building an inner belief system of assumptions based on messages of inadequacy and shame.
That which makes our kids different is also that which makes them able to see how different they are. Further, the very mind that is attuned to their difference, is the mind that registers the subtleties of societal expectations. And from that follows that, it is because of their heightened sensitivity that these messages of not belonging and not being good enough are internalized deeply.
It is this to which we speak about when highlighting the importance of the emotional needs of the gifted. I believe that there is a silent crisis of this nature affecting our gifted kids. Whether or not children become ‘successful’ adults is irrelevant if their confidence is undermined and their spirit broken.
Advocacy & Personal Development
I started advocating for my children. Fighting for their needs, being a voice so that they might be heard; being an interpreter so that they might be seen. And I came to realize that the challenges associated with being gifted don’t end when we grow up. It was so very frustrating speaking to authorities that had the power to determine my children’s experience but lacked any knowledge of the needs of gifted kids, let alone having interest in my gifted kids. Instead, I was judged on the scale of Normal to Different, the adult edition. I was too intense, too involved, too pushy or too protective a mom. I recognized that being ‘too something’ was a familiar feeling, known to me from early childhood. But now, as an adult, it was my differentness, my sensitivity and intensity, which were deemed as the root of my children’s problems. I just need to conform, I was told, and all would be ok.
I could not ignore what my gut was telling me about the mismatch between what schools had to offer and what my children needed. Like so many gifted children, authenticity is an imperative in my life and I couldn’t go against that. I couldn’t be someone who I was not and I could not endure my children’s suffering. I resisted the pressure to conform, which sparked a new thread in my own personal development.
Throughout the process of learning about my children, the way they think and function, their intensity and sensitivity, I started to see how what I had always thought was ‘normal’ about my kids and about myself, was in fact not the norm. And I started to recognize my own giftedness and to (re-) contextualize my own experiences.
As a gifted adult, I too am aware of how different I am and a sense of belonging is a rare experience. Following my own path, learning to trust my intuition, and finding my voice have been, and sometimes still are, a challenge. But it has also brought me enrichment and depth and as such it has been a gift.