On being different; one mama’s story
So this virus is a bit more devious than I thought. Today B had no voice and some ear pain, so we laid low yet again. We read aloud and checked out some YouTube drawing lessons at Art Hub for Kids – which we love so far, we ate the cookies I baked for the Christmas party B had to miss tonight, and finished off the evening watching Merlin, the BBC version. It’s our go-to family show.
I caught up on some reading, too, and came across an article (linked at the end) that got me thinking about my son.
Allow me to tell you a story.
We’d always known he was different, but since we were first-time parents with zero kid experience, we had no idea how different. It wasn’t until he got to preschool that we realized he wasn’t going to just fall in line. He already knew the things they were teaching, so instead he focused on why the class time had to be structured the way it was. Why couldn’t they do crafts first and circle time last? Thankfully, he had a patient and experienced teacher who at times simply ignored his incessant questions.
Kindergarten…well, kindergarten was a bust. It was rotten for him, both scary and eye-opening for us. It was when I learned the value of a good-fit teacher – and how badly things could go if we didn’t have one. It was one of the first all-day kindergarten classes, because at the time I still worked (though I was paring down my hours). 30 kindergartners, one half-day helper and one stressed-out teacher. Long story short, by the second half of the year my son was doing everything in his power to get out of going to school, and we were being nudged toward checking him for ADHD, possibly Aspergers, and sensory-processing disorder.
Floored, we started making appointments. I braced myself for a diagnosis, but each professional’s comments were nearly identical. “There is nothing wrong with this child.” I learned that they don’t actually diagnose ADHD at five; it’s too young.
Of course we were relieved. But despite this reassurance, nothing changed for our boy at school. So I kept searching. There must be something we missed, and I had to find it so we could help him. This was a very rough period for us; it’s horrible to feel helpless to help your child.
One day, I got fed up and typed every single descriptor I could think of into the Google bar. Doesn’t connect with peers. Struggles with sensory issues (noises, tactile, smell). Empathetic and sensitive. Questions everything. Perfectionism. Moves constantly. Melts down at injustice… I kept typing stream-of-consciousness style and finally hit Search.
Top result: “Could your child be gifted?”
Um, what? I mean, sure, he’s smart, but…. I clicked through to find a list of characteristics that verbatim described my son. I did some more digging and called a local expert and explained my situation. She said the only way to know for sure was to have him tested. I asked her what we would get out of testing him besides a score, which I didn’t feel we needed. She chuckled and said, “Peace of mind.”
We had him tested.
It was the most fun he’d ever had. He was five, and at 12 he still brings up his day of games with “Miss Bella.” I, however, was a wreck. I was a wreck for a week while they scored the test. I was a wreck when the phone rang and “Miss Bella” asked me to sit down. I cried when she told me the results that finally, finally confirmed my son’s diagnosis.
My son is highly gifted.
Even as I write the words, I wonder what your reaction to them is. I get it. It’s a highly-charged topic. It’s one I’ve learned many folks have very definite opinions about. It’s one that’s deeply misunderstood. It’s not one that typically is met with sympathy.
I write these words because I’ve held them in for seven years. During that time, I’ve watched families flounder, watched mamas cry and watched kids get labeled and possibly mislabeled. I’ve watched families go it alone on this journey. I’ve been alone on this journey.
I write these words because being gifted isn’t always a gift. It almost always comes with extras. If you’re 5, but you’re intellectually 9 and emotionally 4, how on earth do you relate to your same-age peers? How do you reconcile that every draft, flickering light or bunched-up sock seems x20 while the same things don’t even faze others? What do you do when you are painfully aware of just how different you are?
I write these words because maybe, mama and papa, you’re on an all-consuming quest for answers because your child is hurting and you can’t seem to pin down the cause, let alone fix it.
I’m writing this to encourage you, that when the answers don’t come, when they all say your child is just fine, there might be one more thing to check.
Giftedness can masquerade as so many things. It’s a blessing and a curse, but when you finally know what you’re dealing with, when you accept it, you can make a plan and move forward and help your child. It does not get easier. Sorry. All the things that come with giftedness, they don’t go away and must be managed. My son still struggles, but now he has support and a tailored set of tools to help him along. So it doesn’t get easier, but it does get better, and it’s the greatest adventure.
Maybe you found your way here because you’re new to this journey. If that’s the case, I encourage you to read What Sensitive Boys Need from Their Mamas at www.mother.ly.com. It’s not specifically about giftedness, but it’s been my experience that gifted kiddos are also highly sensitive – which, like it or not, can be especially tricky for boys. I wish I’d had read it when my son was five.
Thanks for reading.