Realizing We Have a Gifted Child

I have spent a long time debating how to best write this post, or if I should even write it at all. In the end, I decided that the purpose of my blog is to share our family’s journey — and this is part of our journey.

But my fear is that some will read this post and think I’m just trying to brag about my child, or worse, that someone will think that by using the word “gifted” I’m saying my child is superior to others.

This is not at all my intention in writing about this. I simply want to share what our family is experiencing, and maybe even help other families in similar situations. So please bear with me as I share this bit of our family with you.

 

The Stigmatism of Saying “Gifted”

Before I go into the story of how we came to the conclusion that The Boy is gifted, allow me to start out by saying that I believe that God created (and loves) each and every human being individually. I believe that every child is unique and that God has a plan for each one. I have no desire to say or imply that any one child is better than another.

However, there is a stigma out there when people hear the term “gifted”. Many times when people hear the word, they’ll say that “all children are gifted” and we shouldn’t say some children are gifted while not including all of them in the category. I’m going to respectfully suggest that having this view is like saying we should label all children as having “special needs” just because some of them fall into that category. It’s simply a word that is used to describe a certain group of individuals — not because they are “smarter” than everyone else, but because they are different in how they experience life.

I will come back to all of this later in my post, but for now, I’d like to share with you how Hubby and I came to the conclusion that The Boy is gifted. Please know that everything I am about to tell you is not to brag about my son’s achievements; but in order to accurately explain how we came to this conclusion, I have to first tell you about The Boy.

  

The Boy Thus Far

The Boy started “crawling” around 6 months of age (I say “crawling” because it was really more of a bear crawl), but by the time he was 8 1/2 months old, he had started to walk. When he was a little over a year old, I got a part time job and he had to go to day care for a few hours each week. According to his age, he should have been in the crawlers class, but he was well into the ability to run and play by that time, so he was put with the age group for 18-24 months.

At his 18-month wellness check, The Boy had about a 5 word vocabulary, which concerned his pediatrician, and he recommended we look into speech therapy. After completing the initial assessment, the speech therapist told us he didn’t think therapy was necessary, but that it wouldn’t hurt to do it either. We decided to go ahead and give it a try since our insurance would cover it. Only a few months later, The Boy was speaking in full sentences — and he has rarely stopped talking since. (Prior to realizing his giftedness, Hubby and I used to think The Boy was just waiting to talk until he could express himself more clearly. Now that I know more about it, I’ve read that this has been known to happen before with gifted children.)

By the time he was 2, The Boy knew all the colors of the rainbow and could identify the letters of the alphabet by name. At 2 1/2, he could put magnetic letters in alphabetical order, count to 10, and complete 36-piece puzzles without assistance. By 3 1/2, The Boy knew all of the letter sounds; and shortly before his 4th birthday, he started learning to sight read.

Now at the age of 4 1/2, he devours — with good inflection — beginning readers from the library faster than we can check them out (example: we got three beginning readers from the library on Saturday, and he had read all of them multiple times by Sunday evening); he knows several addition and subtraction facts; he can count to 100 by 1s, 2s, 5s, and 10s; he’s starting to learn how to spell simple words, and he’s performing at a 1st grade level is most areas of Language Arts. 

The Boy has been using a program for about a month, which uses games to teach LA skills. The program covers the areas of print concepts, phonological awareness, letter sounds, decodable words, sight words, reading comprehension, and grammar. The Boy is at a 1st grade level for all but phonological awareness (which he just started), spelling, and reading comprehension (he struggles with answering inferential comprehension questions).

Looking back on all of this as I write it out, I’m surprised I didn’t think sooner about the possibility of him being gifted, but as a first-time parent experiencing it all over a long period of time, the pieces never came together until a couple of months ago.

 

Connecting the Dots

When the thought first occurred to me that The Boy might be gifted, I had no idea what the word meant beyond its association with a high intellect. As I began looking into the common traits and characteristics associated with gifted children, a light slowly dawned inside. So much of The Boy’s behaviors and interactions with others started to make sense.

Soon, I was scouring the internet for more information and reading every book on giftedness I could find at my local library (there were fewer than 10 books in our library).

Giftedness can be difficult to identify because the traits associated with it vary greatly from person to person, but in my search for information, one of the best descriptions for giftedness that I found was one I came across on Sallie Borrink’s website. Here’s the definition (emphasis is mine):

“Giftedness is ‘asynchronous development’ in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.” (Columbus Group, 1991)

First of all, gifted children develop asynchronously — meaning that while they are advanced cognitively, they may be behind in other areas. This can commonly be seen in a gifted child’s difficulty with learning to write, in them being ahead in some subjects while behind in others, and even in a somewhat high correlation with also having learning disabilities (this is known as 2e or Twice Exceptional), such as Aspergers, dyslexia, or processing disorders.

But out of all the information I came across, what struck me the most was the gifted correlation with intensity. Giftedness and intensity go hand in hand; if a child is cognitively advanced, but lacks intensity, they are not identified as “gifted”. They are bright, to be sure, but giftedness comes with areas of intensity that distinguish them from others.

These areas of intensity (also known as Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities) will fall under one or more of the following areas:

  • Psychomotor: Characterized primarily by a surplus of energy, children with this overexcitability are often misdiagnosed as having ADHD. This intensity usually presents itself in rapid speech, impulsive behavior, compulsive talking, and physical expression of emotions. (This, by the way, is the biggest one I see in The Boy.)
  • Sensual: This intensity is characterized by a heightened awareness of the 5 senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing). Children with this as their dominant intensity can become distracted in class by the sound of the lights, become bothered by the feel of clothing tags, and have a high need or desire for comfort.
  • Intellectual: Children with this as their dominant intensity seem to be thinking all the time and show a deep curiosity. They have a love for problem solving, are avid readers, and are able to maintain intense concentration on tasks they find interesting.
  • Imaginational: Characterized by a vivid imagination, this intensity can cause them to visualize the worst possible outcomes in any situation. It usually presents itself in vivid dreams, magical thinking, a good sense of humor, and a detailed structure of imaginary friends (sometimes including friends of friends).
  • Emotional: This intensity is primarily characterized by an exceptional emotional sensitivity, which often leads to a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder. It usually shows up in high levels of anxiety, loneliness, shyness, a strong need for security, and a heightened sense of right and wrong.

 

Where I see These Intensities in The Boy

I see a little bit of all of these in The Boy, but if I had to take a guess at his dominant one, without a doubt I’d say psychmotor. Having read about the intensities experienced by the gifted as a part of their every day life, I have come to understand so much about my child that I did not previously understand.

Here’s what I frequently see in The Boy.

  • Psychomotor intensity is present in his constant chattering, high energy levels, a compulsion toward movement, and a desire to be part of every conversation.
  • Sensual intensity is present in his sensitivity to loud noises and his almost compulsive need to remove his shoes and fix his socks anytime they get twisted.
  • Intellectual intensity is present in his love for learning and puzzles, his avid reading, in questions like “What’s inside of celery?”, and in his ability to memorize our phone number after less than a week of having it posted near his bed.
  • Imaginational intensity is present in the new games he invents, the creations he comes up with while playing with his legos (including background stories and complete details about what each thing is for), and in the stories he comes up with on a daily basis.
  • Emotional intensity explains his need to always be in the same room as someone else, his difficulty adjusting to change, why he cries when I ask him to put pants on instead of shorts in the dead of winter, and how fully he throws himself into a tantrum (sometimes just moments after being completely content) when he feels that he has been wronged.

 

Conclusion

All of this is to say that being “gifted” is not just about IQ. There are some who may think that having a gifted child means parenting is somehow easier because the child is able to think at a more advanced level, but being the parent of a Gifted child comes with it’s own unique set of challenges — mainly related to the intensity I’ve already described.

In all my reading and researching over the past month or so, I have come to the conclusion that we, as parents, have handled his sensitivities and intensities all wrong because we had no clue that there was a logical explanation behind it. I am slowly trying to change my way of thinking and interacting with The Boy so that we can better meet his specific needs. This will most certainly be a continuing journey for us, as it can be difficult to change our way of thinking, but I know it is the best plan for our child. 

To all who have read this far, thank you for sticking with it. I know this post was long, but I wanted to get all of this information out together at one time. I plan to create a new section in my blog devoted to our experiences in this area and the new things that I learn about parenting a gifted child.

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