Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Difficulty with Giftedness

If you would have told me 5 years ago that in a few years one of my children would be markedly gifted I would have been really excited! I have learned so much since then.
Joshua's uniqueness is something I tend to avoid talking too much about. I know exactly how it sounds for a Mom to call her own child "gifted." It is just a mother who thinks her child better or smarter than everyone else's. This may be true in some (or even most) cases, but not in all.
Whenever I do decide to brave the admission, "Joshua is gifted," I find I always have to justify that statement. "He was asking us how to do multiplication when he was 5 years old." "He figured out how to do basic square roots after a 5 minute conversation with a friend at a birthday party." "He enjoys figuring out how many days a person has been living in his free time." "He was asking to read chapter books in Kindergarten." "One morning I woke up to find he had been entertaining himself by converting temperatures from Celsius to Fahrenheit and vice verse." He is always providing these little snippets of proof so they're not that hard to think of when needed.
The trouble is most people don't know the whole story of what being a gifted child can be like. We assume it's based on the observation of a child who is brighter or smarter than his peers in some way but we don't realize the other side of this "gift." First of all, it is not always easy to keep up with a child whose brain seems to work in a completely different way. Second, for most gifted kids these areas of acceleration come partnered with other areas that can cause quite a bit of frustration, for themselves and for others around them.
It is a response to this very frustration that lead me to buy the book, "Living with Intensity" edited by Susan Deniels, Ph.D. and Michael M. Piechowski, Ph.D. earlier this year. As it reads much like a college textbook it's been a bit of a slow one for me, but I have laughed and cried multiple times reading it because of how much it has lead me to understand about Joshua and who he is and what is going on in his mind.
In this book they address a series of what they call "overexcitabilities" that are common among gifted people. There are a couple of these that seem to fit perfectly with Joshua's quirks that have come to light as he's grown up. I thought I might list some of the qualities that go along with them here so that others who love him might be able to understand him a little better as well:

Surplus of energy, rapid speech, marked excitation, intense physical activity (e.g., fast games and sports), pressure for action (eg., organizing), marked competitiveness, compulsive talking and chattering, impulsive actions, nervous habits, workaholism, acting out.
In young gifted children, we hear rapid, seemingly excessive, almost compulsive speech. They may explain things until you beg them to stop!

Reading through that list and the pages of continued description that followed brought a sudden feeling of relief that I am not the only parent who is trying to help a child who sees the world through a very different lens. It is because of this that other parents have asked if I've had him tested for one disorder or another. I've read up about most of them and don't feel that any really apply to Joshua like they should for a diagnosis. This list, however, does. 
The more I have read out of this book, the more I am certain that Joshua is merely a gifted little boy trying to function in a world that puts a high value on normalcy. It is my job as his Mom and his teacher to help him learn to do that. In the mean time, it is certainly a comfort to know that I am not the only one on this path.

""Gifted children can be exhausting, demanding, and perplexing enigmas. They often amaze, delight and confound adults who know, love and teach them."