Here’s a common scenario:
A couple moms are hanging out at the playground, letting their first graders burn off some steam after school. One mom begins complaining, “Oh, you have NO idea. I mean, yeah, it’s great that little Johnny can already read at a sixth-grade level and recite his multiplication facts through the fives, but it’s SO MUCH EXTRA WORK! There’s a real challenge involved in keeping gifted kids engaged in school. I have to be constantly vigilant to make sure he’s being challenged in class…” And on and on and on.
I’ve been guilty of engaging in some version of that myself (Ugh. If I could just go back and slap my earnest furrowed brow) and I love me some mamas for whom this is a standard topic of conversation, though Lord knows, I’d rather talk about bathtub mold than extracurricular enrichment.
THIS IS NOT THAT.
Those conversations are about academically advanced kids, top-of-the-class kids, “bright” kids.
This post is about life with a “gifted” kid.
Gifted. I hate that word. It’s so pretentious (isn’t everyone gifted at/with SOMETHING?) and misunderstood.
I’m gonna use “touched” instead. Growing up in North Carolina, when we ran into someone a little different, a little off in a way that was perceivable to complete strangers, we’d say she was “touched”. There was the understanding that she had challenges most didn’t face, but also the implication that maybe she’d been given a little something extra by God (or the universe or DNA) to make up for it.
My ten-year-old son is touched.
The psychologists call it “thrice exceptional” but here’s what that really means and what it looks like at my house.
My son has ADHD. Nothing new there. All around the world, tonight parents are struggling to get their children to sit down and focus on the one particular task at hand – homework. It’s not that kids with ADHD can’t focus on anything, it’s that they focus on EVERYTHING. All at the same time.
My son has OCD. His particular form is extreme perfectionism, especially pertaining to handwriting and language. All his letters have to be exactly the same density, height, and space apart. Words and definitions have to be precise and expertly chosen.
My son’s IQ is astronomical. However, his processing speed (how quickly he can access and deliver information he knows) is just on the borderline between average and below average.
There’s a sticky wicket here. Those other things, the ADHD, the OCD – they can be co-occurring issues, but they can also be simply manifestations of giftedness (see this article for more information). So the takeaway is that giftedness can actually encompass a plethora of “disorders and disabilities”. See? I told you that touched was a better way to think of it.
The Low Down
A homework assignment that would take an average student an hour to complete takes Grey FOUR hours to finish. And here’s the kicker: he already knows all the answers. It’s just between making sure that his (teeny-tiny) handwriting is perfect, arguing the syntax of the question (“What does it mean, ‘The idea of the poem’?! Poems don’t have ideas. They have themes, sometimes rhyme schemes or rhythmic meter, but they can’t have ideas!”), and daydreaming about the potential flaws in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or the cost to the railroad both in public opinion and cold hard cash if Train A traveling toward Philly at 142 miles per hour accidentally (or maybe not so accidentally, perhaps it’s a conspiracy!) collided with Train B, he loses a lot of valuable time.
Does he care?
OF COURSE, HE CARES! Thirty minutes in he’ll bust out crying and launch into a big ol’ tirade about Finland’s superior educational system where they don’t even HAVE homework. (This is true. I looked it up.)
In class, Grey often writes down only half of his homework and class notes. The board gets erased before he can copy it all out. He frequently misses recess because he has to complete deskwork. This is especially frustrating for a boy who only wanted to go to public school so he could meet some friends in the neighborhood. And he does have friends. His particular kind of touched comes with a wry sense of sarcasm and comedy that helps him make friends easily. Still, every day, the answer to “How was your day?” is “Barely better than awful.”
At home, Grey is an obsessive corrector. If something isn’t factually true or blatantly just, it’s up for debate. Since he’s so pissed off about the “barely better than awful” day and the four hours of homework, this quickly escalates into a screaming match. Juliette, my “highly sensitive” middle child is just fuel for his fire. Here’s a blow by blow of a recent row:
Juliette: Hey, look! I got invited to Jordan’s birthday party!
Twin A: Can I go too?
Juliette: No. You don’t know Jordan. She’s a girl from my class.
Grey: You don’t have to know someone to be invited to their party.
Juliette: Yes you do.
Grey: No, you don’t.
Juliette: You do too! And Jordan is MY friend in MY class. You don’t even know!
Grey: No! You don’t have to know the person. You have to be invited.
Juliette: That’s what I said!
Grey: No it isn’t. You said you had to know the person. But you don’t. You only have to be invited. Now, usually you’re only invited to a party by someone you know, but not always. Like a gubernatorial dinner – you don’t have to KNOW the governor to go, you merely have to be invited by the governor. There’s a difference.
Juliette: Sobbing incoherently...
A version of this happens at least twice a day at my house. Now, mind you this is the same boy who will still try to fit in my lap, has 28 stuffed animals, and allows his little sisters to tie him to a chair and pretend he’s a “robber”.
I love that kid more than I love breathing. Still, it can be hard to deal with someone who thinks they are smarter than you. Especially when they are four feet tall. Especially when they are right.
I worry about school. His teachers and counselors have all but said we should homeschool him next year. (And I was almost free!) But that’s just sixth grade. What happens in high school? What happens when he needs two weeks to take the SATs? And assuming we jump those hurdles, what happens when he inevitably ends up with a boss who isn’t as smart as he is or as patient as I am?
I worry about the anger. How do you teach a child to manage the frustration of only being able to demonstrate 50% of his potential? How do you train him to just let other people be wrong?
I have no idea.
But I know this: To those moms on the playground worried about “challenging” their first graders – Sit tight. Save your energy. If your child is half as “gifted” as you think she is, soon enough you’ll both be faced with challenges galore.