Having a child that doesn’t fit the system can be extremely challenging. The “system” typically means schools and education when you’re young, but it can also be the web of social expectations we encounter in any situation.
Over the last ten years, I’ve devoured countless resources on gifted children, gifted education, emotional development, and learning disabilities in effort to figure out the puzzle that is my son.
There are so many times I’ve thought: I wish I’d known that earlier!
If they’re smart, they are expected to excel in all areas from behavior to reading to putting together your Ikea furniture. While your child may bust out a perfectly executed Billy bookcase with no trouble, there may be (many) other areas of life that cause frustration, anger, and possibly low self esteem.
While every experience is unique, I offer you a few patterns I wish I’d known about from the beginning.
This is one of the first topics you’ll stumble upon when researching gifted and twice exceptional children. (Twice exceptional, often noted ‘2e’ refers to being highly capable while having some kind of learning disability as well. Such as Gifted/ADHD, or Gifted/Autism.) Asynchronous development means that while your child is exceptionally bright in some areas, there are other areas that will not have developed at the same rate.
What does this mean for you?
Watch out for when your child doesn’t act according to expectations, or doesn’t follow seemingly simple directions. Instead of getting upset that they’re not responding appropriately, take a step back and survey the situation.
Is there any skill or development mark that might be challenging your child?
For example, your lovely kiddo may not have the executive skills – such as short term memory, task initiation, and follow through – to do all the grown up like tasks you (and the rest of the world) expect them to do. As a perfectionistic mom of said child, this is supremely frustrating for everyone.
The best response is to focus on skill building instead of harping on your child for something they really can’t do yet.
This was a biggie for us. Often, going along with asynchronous development, children have strengths and weaknesses. Gifted kids tend to get things really quickly, but watch out if they don’t! They may not have the emotional awareness or skill to sit with things that take a little longer, or where they don’t immediately excel.
For example, my son loves math, but when asked to do timed math facts he’d lose it. At school, at home. Didn’t matter. Turns out his processing speed didn’t allow for the fast pace. He knew the material, but the timed aspect led to a blow out. Every time.
A key characteristic of gifted individuals is their intensity, which can show up in many ways. The theory of overexcitabilities, from Polish psychiatrist K. Dabrowski, attempts to explain how that intensity manifests in daily life through “heightened response to stimuli” (Webb, et. al, A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children).
There are five overexcitabilities:
I’ll go over the specifics in another post, but for now know that the intensity of your child in any of these areas could likely be attributed to the way they are wired. It’s very easy to see these overexcitabilities as annoying, frustrating, or plain odd. As much as you can, try to teach skills while honoring your child’s unique outlook on life.
More than skills, social awareness involves understanding the system of unwritten rules that most people learn by osmosis (or socialization). There are broadly two kinds of kids: some who perceive how others see them, and some who don’t. Our son wasn’t worried at all about what other people thought. He was completely happy to be his own person, just outside the norm. (He’d also acknowledge it’d be great if the world would bend to his wishes.)
For kids who don’t perceive the social world well, it’s our job to teach them social thinking. Typically, these children end up in social skills classes that talk about friendships and relationship building. Sometimes this helps, sometimes not. What these kids really need is an understanding of the layers of social relationships along with the myriad hidden rules we all follow.
On the flip side, you might have a child who is hypersensitive to what other people think. This can lead to anxiety, self doubt, and any number of things. Having conversations about individuality, difference, and self worth can be tough, but necessary for these kids.
Often our gifted/2e children assume the role of ‘disruptive’ kid in the classroom. Their needs aren’t being met or they’ve checked out for any number of reasons.
As parents, it’s our job to reinforce our child’s strengths, so they have confidence in their own capabilities. This is particularly important since their strengths may not shine in a traditional school setting.
For example, my older son was fascinated by electronics – like circuitry and diodes and such – when he was in first grade. Since that’s not a topic covered in early years of elementary, we tried to find places where he could talk to other people who were into the same things.
Likewise, if your child’s strengths are, say, independence or negotiation, this will likely be seen in a negative light at school. It’s challenging, but awesome, to give your child positive ways to foster their independence and persuasion skills. It requires some creativity on your part, but can be extremely rewarding for your child and their confidence.
When you think about your child, or children, which of these aspects jumps out at you? Why?
Leave a comment below and let me know! Also, if you have questions about anything in particular, share them! You’re probably not the only one with that question, so your speaking up helps everyone! We’ll get into more specifics soon enough. It helps me to know what questions come up for you.
Till next time, take deep breaths, love on your kiddos, and know we’re all doing our best.