Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One Last Post on Giftedness

So, lest you think I've taken to huge bragging here, I want to make something perfectly clear.

Highly Gifted, Exceptionally Gifted, and Profoundly Gifted, as applied to children, are CLINICAL DIAGNOSES, not bragging rights. There are specific qualifications for these "disorders," just like there are for autism spectrum disorders.  Further, while everyone thinks of "exceptionally gifted" children being so rare that there are almost none (and you surely would never actually MEET one), there are over 60,000 of these incredibly bright kids in the US (possibly as many as 340,000 kids). Granted, the number of profoundly gifted kids (with IQs over 180 before age 8) is in the hundreds instead of hundred thousands, there are still hundreds of them in the US alone.

And, while parents of these kids say the cardinal rule is "Don't Talk About It" (because it makes other people feel like you are showing off or criticizing them), I'm going to discuss it here (maybe just this time only) because I've found two things since discovering the whole concept yesterday: 1) I've had a MAJOR paradigm shift that has affected everything (and nothing--that's how paradigms shift) and 2) knowing there are other parents with kids like mine--and resources for them beyond "gifted programs"--has been hugely liberating.

2 months ago, I sent my brother (who is studying to be a doctor and was entering a pediatrics rotation) a list of characteristics of Caleb. For years I've known he was different from other kids his age, and that the teachers thought there was something wrong with him in the 6 months we were in school. I was sure that there was a big-picture diagnosis for Caleb that would include all his talents and challenges, but neither I nor my brother could find one.

Until yesterday.

The list I sent Ben was just the same as the list of these extraordinary (and almost always hypersensitive) kids. I cried for hours yesterday as I read about these PG (profoundly gifted) and  XG (exceptionally gifted) kids--there were my children, in all their glory and weirdness. But there, also, was my husband--talents and challenges both. And there was the typical mom of the gifted kids--me!--the mom with the messy house who is one minute explaining algebra and the next despairing of ever teaching her child how to tie his shoes! In one fell swoop, I wasn't alone anymore. Suddenly, I am virtually surrounded by moms with messy houses (gifted kids can tear apart a house in an hour), parents who not only think it's normal to send 9 year olds to college but have practical advice about it (advice I didn't know I needed but was immensely grateful for), parents who are homeschooling successfully in this special way that XG and PG kids require.

One of the things that was amazing and startling to me about this was how many parents are like me and don't realize their kids actually are extraordinarily gifted. Sure we laughed that Caleb and his also PG cousin had a knock-down drag-out fight about whether it's a dash or a hyphen in her name....when they were 4 years old. Sure a couple of the kids learned to read before they were potty trained. Sure they play involved, imaginative, complex games that other kids don't understand (a favorite is to be "our own doppelgangers", plotting our own destruction. Another is to take a computer game they've mastered, each choose a character to narrate, and play it again with the morality reversed--so Sonic is the bad guy and the boss is the good guy--or play it again with the on-screen characters being doppelgangers of the original). It never struck me how odd it might be that I had a hard time explaining carrying and borrowing because the kids already had a firm grasp of negative numbers--at age 5 or 6. I thought it was endearing and cute that the answer to most questions begins with "It depends...." and the kids don't have a gray area in achievement (Caleb refused to ride a bike after he tried ONCE unsuccessfully)--you either succeed or fail, that Caleb answered his Grandpa at age 5, "The answer to 8+2 is the same as 5+5," and that Daniel and Anda have been known to argue in jazz scat singing instead of standard English. It's not startling to me to hear this: Me: "Tell me what you're planning to work on on the computer." Caleb, age 8: "Well, that's hard because I have a multitude of projects I'm working on at the same time that are hard to separate from one another." I thought it was charming.

But I didn't think it was THAT unusual.

Here's why: XG and PG kids tend to have siblings, parents, and grandparents who are also XG and PG peoples. And, me being Mormon, that's a lot of people. So many, in fact, that I was surrounded all my growing up by parents, uncles and aunts, siblings and dozens of cousins who were as smart as or smarter than me. In the world I grew up in, XG and PG were NORMAL. So of course I saw my kids and husband as normal. After all, I know people who are lots smarter than I am--people whose IQs are WELL over 180 (people who are as much smarter than me as I am to someone with an IQ of 100).  In addition, I lived in a college town and went to school with kids whose parents were genius college professors. I had no trouble finding friends--lots of friends--who were XG and PG. None of us thought anything of the fact that one of my friend's dads solved a math puzzle that had stumped all the top mathematicians for decades. Of course he did. Duh. Or of the fact that we knew many families made up of half a dozen musical geniuses (families that went on to be nationally recognized acts). Or of the fact that we (my siblings, cousins, and a dozen friends) were, on the whole, smarter than our teachers, and had been for years, and we all knew it (something our teachers didn't like much). Nor did we think anything was unusual about the fact that we all knew people who got perfect scores on the SAT and ACT, skipped grades, or dropped out of top colleges like MIT because they were bored. I thought it a reasonable goal to read every interesting book in the library and to be able to talk to any human being about their area of expertise on a competent level.

Even now, most of my nieces and nephews (dare I say ALL? Probably) are as gifted as my kids are. Or more so.

So I've hesitated to talk further about this on my blog because I've gotten nasty emails from parents accusing me of putting my kids on a pedestal (and criticizing them and their kids in the process). But here it is because it has been a life-changing thing to learn all this, and because I've also gotten emails from other parents, relieved to find out that not all gifted kids are math-science gifted, or that (just like I'm discovering) on some plane, we're normal.

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