August 9, 2013

Gifted. Not always a gift.

Orli, Just Breathe - Gifted. not always a gift
There is a kind of shame when you try to write about a gifted child. The first thing people think when they hear you talk about your child being gifted is, he is not really gifted. You are just One Of Those Parents. No one says anything of course, they all just nod their heads, look at us funny and talk to us in a certain tone of voice. Probably feeling sorry for Ron, that he has parents who are not satisfied with what God gave them. The second thing people think, usually after they talk to Ron, is, really but he looks so normal. You know, not like any of those scary weirdos you imagine when you think maths-genius. The third thing they do is stare at him. Like he suddenly grew a second head. Like they see him for the first time. Like he is some kind of freak. Not all people go through all three stages of course. Some of them never leave stage one. In these situation Ron gets pity, and we get to have the added bonus of people looking down their noses at us. I found that having a gifted child is no different than having any other Special Needs child. But even while writing this here in my tiny corner of the web I can't stop feeling like I need to erase it, like I need to justify it, like I am over-dramatising it. I know what some of you are thinking now, especially if it's the first time you are reading my blog - What do I know about Special Needs? Who gives me the right to compare the two? Every parent to a "real" Special Needs child would tread places with me in a nano-second. Rich people's problems. I am not one to justify myself usually. On the contrary, I love to leave things ambiguous, to go with the "never explain, never apologise" thing. But not here. Years of shame demand that I explain that yes, I do know, I do know disabilities, I do know everything that comes along with a Special Needs child. And still, if I am completely honest with you, we hide Ron's giftedness even more than we hide Yon's Ocular Albinism.
Orli, Just Breathe - Gifted. not always a gift
People might not understand Yon's condition, but at least they don't think we are imagining it. You see, we didn't have Ron tested. Ah, I can see the look you are giving the screen now, that look from stage one, the one that says it all - One Of Those Parents. Trust me we thought about it, repeatedly, mainly to have a piece of paper that we could wave at everyone we meet and say - you see? Told you so! But we didn't. In Israel, land of tests and diagnosis, he would have gotten tested at school (weather we wanted it or not) when he turned 8, and if we wanted to, we could have gotten him tested much earlier. But here it's different, it is up to us to decide if we want to. And we do. And we don't. Because when you parent a gifted child you are trying to find the same answers to the same questions as with any Special child - how do I give my child all the help he needs, and at the same time make his childhood as normal as possible? The fact that the needs are different when dealing with a gifted child does not mean that they don't exist, or are less difficult to satisfy. How much do you push? How much do you advance his learning? Is it okay for a year 3 pupil do a year 6 workbook? a year 8? How do you make sure he still likes going to school? Is the fact that he can achieve something intellectually, means he should achieve it? Which kind of pressure will an IQ test put on him? What if he discovers he is "only" top 5% and not top 2% or 1%? How do we give him everything while escaping the labels? How do we preserve a "normal" childhood for him, and still let him study the things he wants to? How do we teach him to work hard to achieve, when it all comes so easy to him? How do we teach him how work correctly, when he doesn't need those stages? How do we teach him IQ isn't everything? That it's not the most important thing?
Orli, Just Breathe - Gifted. not always a gift
We chose football (he chose football. We chose to make it into a life lesson), reading (as there is no such thing as too much reading) and he is now finished the first book of the Lord Of The Rings (made my geeky heart swell with pride), and the Bond 11 verbal & nonverbal booklets, because they will teach him to think in different ways than he is taught in school, and we'll get advancement and challenge but without teaching him secondary school material. It has not been easy, and today, after I thought we've made excellent progress, I heard the sentence I never thought I'd hear from him "I am not good enough". Ah, the parental guilt reared its ugly head. Those nagging questions that are there all the time started screaming at me. Did I push too much? Did I try to reach past his limit? Why do I do that? Why can't I leave him alone and let him cruise through school? It's because I secretly am One Of Those Parents. You know, the ones that stand behind their children when they are photographed to the newspapers with the headline "smarter than Einstein". I push because I want to showoff my child. And now I pushed too hard and I broke his spirit. His love of learning. He will hate me forever.
What do I do now? How do you recover from a sentence like that? How do you make someone understand that the fact that they are better than good enough doesn't mean they don't have to work hard? Should we let him quit or not?
Not. of course not. Because if we let him quit, what will we be teaching him? How will that help his self-esteem? How is it even possible that he has low self-esteem? We talked and we talked and we talked, we explained all the things we explained a thousand times before. But it's still a very fine line we walk with him, trying to teach him that while he has to try, he doesn't have to get a 100% right, and it's okay to fail, but that you should never let failure be the endnote, you never give up. Yeah, I know it's a tough lesson, full of conflicting messages and hard life choices.
Being gifted is not always a gift. I look at Ron and I see he has a very hard burden to carry, one that doesn't let him rest even for a second, one that no matter how hard we try will never let him have a normal childhood, one that defines who he is. One that he loves and hates at the same time.

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