We have been lucky that our members have shared their gifted journey with us.
Here are their stories. We hope that you may find encouragement and companionship with their journey.
When asked to write this article I tried to pinpoint when my “gifted journey” began. Was it when my eldest child was assessed and formally identified as gifted? That began a huge learning curve – mountains of reading, and naïve conversations with a friend in a similar boat, both of us trying to convince ourselves it would all be ok, that we would be able to help our kids through the challenges ahead. Both of us panicking that this was going to be more of a task than we might be ready for, but remaining optimistic.
Or did the journey really begin in earnest as school enrolment approached and I needed to determine the most appropriate school to meet my child’s needs (not that I yet had a clear picture of what those would be)? Perhaps it started there.
Either way, a school was carefully chosen, enrolment accepted, meetings with executive staff attended and all seemed in order. My cherub began school nervous but excited, and was so engaged for the first week or two it alleviated many of my fears for her highly anxious and introverted little self. Yet from the third week it began to take a downward turn.
From week three, my child (who had entered school adamant she could not recognize the alphabet) was reading complex, unfamiliar sentences - yet was kept on level 1 readers. My child (who was known to have fine motor difficulties) spent her day colouring in and cutting out – not allowed to just circle the correct picture because “all the other children” had to colour it. My child (with a bright and agile mind but fingers that could not keep up) never finished her work, and so seldom received awards, despite how hard she tried. But she didn’t complain.
She enjoyed the playground, though increasingly played alone as she needed the down time. She daydreamed. She told me playing a game in her head was more interesting than school. She liked her teacher, but told me she often did not listen to her in class, and when pressed for a reason said that almost anything else was more interesting than listening to classwork. She learned the blurbs on the backs of the “big books” propped up near where the class gathered on the mat, because it allowed her to sit still and seem somewhat focused when her brain was screaming.
The spark in her eyes was growing dim.
Numerous meetings ensued – some including third parties and eventually all including the Principal. Regardless of when it had started, my gifted journey was certainly underway and had well and truly hit a rough patch.
Term two came and my daughter, after much debate, was finally moved to a level 6 reader (despite reading short chapter books by this stage, with exceptional comprehension). At the next meeting I was told “if we give her different work now, what do we do for her next year?”
I was incredulous. I suggested grouping the existing cohort of gifted children to assist in programming for them, and I was told “research shows it is better not to group the really able kids together – they do better when they get to help the children who are struggling – it’s good for their self esteem”. I cited research to the contrary. I was told my daughter attended a mainstream school that taught to the average child, and not to expect elitism.
I began devouring literature on gifted education in all possible forms, in every waking moment - and there were many waking moments! The worry in me drove me to read well into the wee hours of every morning. Rage to master was alive and well! Combined with the desperation of that primal instinct of a mother needing to protect her child, this was a powerful driving force! It was such an utterly helpless, horrible feeling to legally have to send your child off every day into an environment that was crushing her spirit, teaching her nothing other than to feel like she was “stupid” and “dumb” and “not as good as the other kids”. To know you understand what she needs, but those who have the power to do something to help do not understand and refuse to, and that you can talk until you are blue in the face but ultimately you have no ability to change the situation unless someone will meet you part- way. My only answer was education – of myself, so I could be confident in what I understood and was asking for, in the hope that education for the school might lead to some change for my child. It was a very lonely time.
By term three of that same year I was at breaking point.
My child was crying herself to sleep every night with the thought of waking up to a new school day the next day.
I was crying myself to sleep eventually in the early hours of every morning in frustration and despair that everything I was trying was making no difference, and that if things could go so far south in three terms, how was I going to get her through thirteen years? “She will be benchmarked every week” was in reality twice a term. “She never writes” was a frequent comment. “I got shapes wrong today mum – I’m not good at maths. I thought the shape was a cube but they told me it was really a box”…
In one meeting I was told, “The IQ test that was used on your child favours children with good language skills,” (read between the lines “we don’t really think she is as bright as the report says” – though it was only her advanced cognition that allowed her to develop those good language skills in the first place!) This was the final straw. When the implication was being made that my daughter was really just not gifted, it became clear I was never going to get her needs to be recognized, nor any changes actioned. My tears of despair at this realization of hitting a brick wall were interpreted as tears of acceptance of my child’s lack of ability and I was briefly comforted, with a comment even made that “we all find it hard to accept bad news about our children”.
This final straw precipitated a change of school. It took a friend commenting that “it just shouldn’t be this hard” to make me finally see that the best thing – not just for my school-aged child but her gifted siblings yet to begin school, and for our family as a whole – was to become one of “those” families that change schools. This might have been a great school for many kids, but it was clearly not the right fit for mine.
After a very encouraging phone conversation my husband and I visited the suggested new school, and following discussion with the executive staff and an observation of a classroom, did not even need to discuss it. The difference was so pronounced. Facts I had struggled for three terms to convince our previous school of were just part of general conversation at the new school – assumed knowledge. Flexibility and differentiation were built into every aspect of the classroom. This was where she needed to be. There was hope! She changed schools within the week.
Our roller-coaster journey has continued. There was, in the words of two very astute and skilled teachers, “damage to be undone before we can even think of moving forward”. I felt myself, in the eyes of the school, go from being one of “those” parents to one whose story and experiences were credible. I started to slowly get used to walking away from each meeting with staff, feeling positive – impressed nothing was a fight, impressed at how much they were doing for my daughter.
I would walk away from each meeting feeling a little of the tension I had been carrying for so long ease, though it would be another three or four years before I would truly start to relax and come to just trust that all would likely be taken care of, without needing to seek that reassurance so often.
But most importantly, I saw changes in my child. Changes for the better. I saw her start to feel valued, to recognise she had something to offer as a learner. I saw the spark begin to return. Those teachers – those amazing educators who nurtured that in her will never be able to understand how much they did for us. Words cannot express my gratitude, nor adequately explain all that they did to help. It wasn’t even something they considered “above and beyond”, but they truly saved us.
Our ongoing gifted journey has not been without its challenges, but we are facing them armed with knowledge, and the support of amazing friends and wonderful school staff willing to work in collaboration. With high school around the corner I am bracing myself for a whole new set of challenges – magnified because I have three gifted cherubs, none of whom are walking the same path as each other! But I am enjoying the relative cruise speed while I can, and taking comfort in the knowledge that I am not alone. It is nice to feel I can sit and spend some time enjoying the thirst for knowledge my children have, engaging with them in one creative pursuit or another, and being outsmarted by them with increasing frequency! I love watching them discover the world – and seeing glimpses of it through their eyes.
Interestingly, at some point over the course of this gifted journey I came to a profound realization. My gifted journey did not begin when my first child commenced school, nor earlier when she was first formally identified as gifted. It did not even begin with all of the early milestones, the observation of which lead to seeking assessment in the first place. No, that was the beginning of the “motherhood” chapter of my gifted journey, but I join the ranks of so many parents who realized their own giftedness through researching their child’s. My gifted journey in fact began with my birth.
While I believe coming to understand my own giftedness (and I still cringe at using the word in relation to myself!) has been pivotal and lead me to a far greater understanding of myself, I also know that I was incredibly lucky to have some amazing people around me throughout my childhood and adolescence. I recognise the difference those people – from supportive family, to special teachers, and kindred spirit friends – have made, and continue to make in my life, and I can only hope for the same for my own children. We cannot shelter them from negative experiences – though we can fight like a tiger to try! But we can help through the tough times, revel in the great ones, and encourage them to find and spend time with those who see and love them for who they are, and help them soar.
And we can help each other out along the way!
Way back before my son was 12 months old we knew there was something different about him, he was very alert as a baby, as an 8 month old he used baby sign language and could “say” up to 50 words. He loved listening to music, and I remember him laughing to the nursery rhyme old Mother Hubbard in all the right places when he was 11 months old. He began talking in sentences at the age of 14 months.
Being our first child we had nothing to compare this too, and just thought that’s what all babies did. Boy were we wrong!
Just after he turned 2, we walked up to our local school to vote in the state election. There was a mini fete on at the time and I was drawn to a stall selling puzzles and other teacher resources. I was looking for something to play with him as he became bored very easily. He was reading the alphabet chart and telling me all the pictures he could recognise when the stall owner (who was a teacher) popped her head over the table to look at him, she asked how old he was and when I said 2 she was stunned. She didn’t really have anything designed for a 2 year old, but the following week she came to our house with a stack of preschool games and puzzles, many of which she designed herself.
She ended up playing with him for an hour. He thrived! He loved the learning and we agreed that she would visit every week. This was not only a sanity break for me and a challenge to her, but most importantly his favourite part of the week.
When she suggested to me that he was Gifted, I wasn’t sure what to think. I was worried that people would assume he was only advanced things because we pushed him even though that was not the case.
But I started looking into the characteristics of a Gifted Child and he really did fit the profile, I’d never met another gifted child or a parent of a gifted child, so I began looking for a playgroup. I was so thankful to find a place that he fit in, where other people ‘got him’ and where he felt comfortable having a conversation about gas planets and asteroids with another 2 year old.
Our journey has not been an easy one, over excitabilities are a major part of his personality, he can be very challenging, but we have just given him what he needs when he needs it. This is all we can do as parents, just be there to advocate and give our children as many opportunities as we can with the resources available. We are so lucky to have a group like GFSG, a major highlight for us are the games nights where he really shows his strengths.
I'm thankful every single day for the path our lives are on.
Gumballs and Advocating for your Gifted Child - Irene Hila
Irene was identified as cognitively deficient as a toddler and was unable to speak until she was five or write her name in second grade. As she grew up, she found herself constantly hungry for information, inept at social constructs, and constantly over-stimulated by the slightest nuance in her day- so much so that by 8 years old she had dropped out of school emotionally, by 10 years old she had dropped out of school academically, and by 15 years of age she had dropped out of school altogether.
Then the skies opened up and at 17 years old she was identified as profoundly gifted and she slowly made her way back to school. She holds degrees in Liberal Arts, English Literature, Irish Studies, and Religious Studies and completed her dissertation abroad.
Irene’s adaptations led her down many paths: from two-time HBO Stand-Up Comedy finalist to equestrian science major, from published author to setting Colorado records as a PR executive in short-track car racing. Now she returns to the world of writing and speaking to share her story without hesitation and without adaptation. Her greatest goal is to reach out to the parents and children who can’t adapt themselves or their loved ones out of their life status but feel they could offer this world so much if someone could offer them the tools to expand.
We are told that parents of gifted and twice exceptional children should be ready to advocate for gifted awareness, appropriate and specialized educational support, and educational policies which serve the needs of the asynchronous learner. As with many things, this is much easier said than done and I liken it to a gumball.
You start out with sweet sentiments, it reminds you of your childhood after all, and you smile as you pop it into your mouth. The first thing you realize is that you could choke at any moment and it really isn’t all that pleasant. You are not prepared and certainly not trained for this type of candy.
You find some humor: the jawbreaker is aptly named. By the time you spit it out, your entire head hurts and you just want to go to bed. You wake up the next day and do it all over again. You just keep telling yourself that it’s all about the gum. It doesn’t have to be so hard. The moment you learn that your child is gifted is the start of a journey, for both you and your child, which will twist and turn down roads of advocacy, understanding, and hopefulness, all promising equal struggle and triumph. The start is seldom dichotomous and for those of you with twice-exceptional students, gifted with learning disabilities, there can often be premature roadblocks and the process can be halted as early as identification. For others, identification comes easy but finding the tight educational fit for both the academic and emotional needs takes years and sometimes never happens at all. Still, for others, identification comes reasonably easy, with only a few bumps, and the right fit seems to fall into your lap, again with only a few divots in the road, but suddenly you find your child in this realm of complacency and the ease with which they were able to plateau spells trouble in adolescence.
I am lucky to be experiencing all three. Now, it would have been nice if they could have all taken similar paths so that I could learn, drool when I hear the bell, and secure for them a perfect-placement treat; however, we all know that no two gifted kids are alike and therefore no two advocacy paths are alike. Still, By the time my third and youngest child was identified as gifted, I was ready with the roadmap, a compass, extra water, blankets, matches, fig bars, sleepy- time tea, the Harry Potter series, and roadside flares. You know... all the important items one compiles at the start of any great journey. I was prepared to advocate! I affixed my red cape, placed my fists on hips, stood with feet apart, with wind in my hair, and hero music playing loudly in the background.
Of course, all of this sends me into a sensory overload panic and I quickly release the cape (it’s choking me!), turn down the music (I nearly went deaf!), and change back into something comfortable (there, that’s better). Anyway, NOW I’m ready to advocate. We always are.
Then it happens: tears. Universe, if I could ask you just one question, it would be this: why can’t I attend one advocacy meeting without breaking down into a blubbering mess of a woman who can’t possibly take one more stress in her life and just needs to be hugged by a warm cup of tea and sent to Oak Hill Sanitarium (for the Gifted and Talented Parent Advocate)???
This truth about my advocacy abilities got me thinking about those of you who don’t know where to start, just started the journey, or have been turned back one too many times. I am lucky enough to be part of a district with a support system in place and despite my tears I have had small successes for each of my children. It wasn't always this easy and early on I found I was questioning myself and my child as we struggled through traditional classes, special education, home schooling, and finally a gifted center, where we still have meetings (and I still cry) to help him through the daily struggle raging inside of him: I am gifted. I am learning disabled. Am I both? Am I neither?
I felt slightly more prepared with my second child and was ready to push for her needs. It turns out I didn’t have to do too much because she was an easy fit.
Ah yes, what becomes of the younger sibling of a twice-exceptional kid? Of course she’s a serious perfectionist. Everything he can’t do she will do better.
She places more expectations on herself than we can even think up for all of our children. She is the student which makes teachers say, “I wish I had 20 more of her in my classroom.” All of you parents of perfectionists know that this is not the response you want to hear. What we see looks very different: fits of anger because she can’t get something right, giving up too easily when she could do so much more, and hypersensitivity to all things external and not in her control.
And here I thought her easy identification followed by finding the right fit would make it easy!
Despite my tears in advocacy meetings, I was able to do what I had to do to get them what they needed. I read every book, attended seminars, and connected with those in the know; so when my youngest started doing her sister’s homework when she was three, I was wielding a pretty confident hero sword of gifted parent advocate readiness. I already had been down the hard-to- identify, even harder to help, twice-exceptional road and the easy-to-identify and find-a-fit road. Surely, I told myself, these roads have prepared me for anything.
(Universe, please see the above question regarding meetings, tears, and me.)
My third journey with a gifted child has been down a new road, one of easy identification and profound giftedness, coupled with the difficulty in finding the right educational and emotional fit to really serve her needs. She started Kindergarten early and midway through Kindergarten we moved her into First Grade. It was not a decision we came to easily. We wondered if it would be a good fit, what our daughter would think, and what the future would hold. We worried over pros and cons. We researched options and talked with experts, friends, and each other. We even worried about what others would think and considered her peer group, our peer group, and what high school would look like. We talked with our daughter to see what she wanted to do. We pried her off of the banister and cajoled, begged, pleaded, and bribed her into Kindergarten every day. In the end, we decided that moving her to First Grade at five years old was the best move for her at the moment. The moment is all we have. I wipe my tears, spit out the gumball, and take a rest for another round on another day.
I’ve been parenting gifted children for fourteen years, twenty-six if I get to consider them cumulative, and I have lived as a gifted person for forty years, twenty-nine if I get to consider them in spirit; and while I am sure a list of the advocacy musts which parents of gifted and 2e kids should follow is a mile long, for my sanity I have narrowed it down to a few I keep on hand and in the glove box:
1. Advocating for your child may always end in tears but it always starts in knowledge, understanding, and education. You can cry... but first read, read, read!
2. There is never going to be a perfect fit for every gifted child; there are only options, ideas, and suggestions. Remember the end goal and know that one or all of them will work at one time or another. Try them all, give each of them a chance, and be willing to work higher, think state and national, to change that which isn’t working for our kids!
3. LOVE! Love every moment, every bump, every divot, every mile. Everything that looks like crazy and impossible and too much today will be fond memories tomorrow. In my opinion, nothing, and I do mean nothing, is better for a gifted child’s soul than knowing that someone LOVES them, not what they do, not what they don’t, but for everything that they are.
I know it’s not easy and I know at times it’s hard to chew. Here’s the thing: you are not alone! Your child may be different than his or her peers but so are mine (and so are many others). There are times you will feel as though you are being judged and many of those times you could be right. You might be seen as pushing your child and I hope you sometimes do push your child because gifted kids are taking in the world at a rate which requires them to stop and sometimes they need a little push to get going in the right direction. You might be seen as living vicariously through your child and I hope you are because gifted kids have an amazing, innocent, and incomprehensible view of the world and we should experience it through them as often as they’ll let us.
Think of the gifted and twice-exceptional community as your roadside assistance. There is always someone to talk to and there is always someone who gets it. So brave on down the road, parents, because the fourth and final item on my list is the most important:
4. It’s a short ride... so roll down the windows, let in the sun, and keep on working until you get the gum!
My Gifted Roller Coaster
Life as a parent of any child is a rollercoaster, but for a family with gifted (and in particular, Twice-Exceptional) children, I feel like we get to ride a higher and bigger roller coaster than our friends. To the parent of a non-gifted child It might sound like I’m bragging, but to the parents of gifted children who are reading this article, I am sure you can relate. The highs and the things our children can accomplish are amazing and can be life changing, yet these are often combined with greater struggles, frustrations and difficulties faced by our children every day.
Gifted children are said to experience everything more intensely than other children, perhaps this is why they get the bigger rollercoaster, or maybe it’s because their parents are often gifted too and experience these extremes as much as they do.
I knew when our son, ‘Xavier’ (name changed) was about 12-18 months old that he was more advanced than the other children his age. He was never interested in playing with toy cars like other boys. Instead toys had to interact and have elaborate story lines in his imaginative play.
All I ever wanted was for him to enjoy his childhood, not grow up too fast and get to be a kid for as long as he could.
Prior to starting school, I recall filling out the paperwork and my description started with “Xavier is a bright boy, but can be difficult to engage in learning”. I look back now and I think nothing has changed, but it really has.
In kindergarten, there were constant struggles. Xavier knew all the answers, but would not pay attention in class. Was there something we as parents had overlooked and missed? Why wouldn’t he pay attention, was it autism or something else? I had always put it down to the fact that he was a “boy” and boys don’t like paying attention as much as girls do.
We turned to Google, found a child psychologist who (whilst she did not do any formal tests) said she though Xavier was a bright child.
Then we marched off to get an IQ test which I thought would answer all our problems. When we heard those magical words that he was “gifted”. We thought it was the answer to all our problems. Little did we know it just opened the door to many more questions. Perhaps it was just that the school wasn’t challenging him enough...he was bored in class...that was the answer...right?
In year 1 Xavier had a great teacher who challenged him and took a real interest in his school progression. She had a passion for learning more about giftedness and embraced any new information we gave her. I recall going to a seminar with my son’s teacher which touched on Twice-Exceptional children. At this time I still believed that our son was just gifted and not stimulated enough at school. Right now, I’m wondering why I didn’t see the other signs earlier.
In year 2, Xavier was still having difficulty focusing and paying attention. We finally took him to the paediatrician and mentioned those words that we didn’t think applied to us...”Did our son have ADHD?” We then got the diagnosis of Inattentive ADD and started him on medication. Something that I swore I would never do as a parent and something I criticised my own sister for when she placed her son on medication. I had been telling myself for years that her son was ok, it was just that she couldn’t handle him as a parent (yes – I apologised to her last weekend). Her response was “until you have a child like that no-one can give you any advice, no-one else gets it”. I now understand that completely.
The medication was a noticeable change - he could now focus in class for longer and stopped fiddling with everything he could touch. It wasn’t however until I had to take him off the medication for two days that both myself and his teacher noticed what a massive difference it had made to his life. I was ripping my hair out and was asking myself how he had got to almost 8 years old without me killing him.
I get angry and frustrated with Xavier for not doing as I ask. I know that he really can’t help it and I know that he is probably trying harder in the classroom than his friends, but it is such a struggle to get anything done. The simple things, like getting dressed, packing a school bag, or putting a toy away. I know there are far more exciting things going on in his mind, like how many different kinds of parliaments there are in Australia, and which planets are planets or stars, or why do they call the Reptile park a “reptile” park when they have other animals that are not reptiles...and why do they call it the “Australian” Reptile park when it doesn’t only have Australian reptiles.
With medication, I can now ask Xavier to do two, three or four things at once. Prior to the medication mornings were terrible...a simple request to get dressed in school clothes (which were laid out for him) was an absolute struggle. He would constantly get distracted and not be able to get dressed without help. Afternoons were worse and homework was a battle and would require me sitting with him to get it completed. Juggling this with my job and a partner who worked long hours was even worse and just didn’t work.
The medication has absolutely changed our son’s life. The first change I noticed was that he was better able to construct his thoughts and arguments to try and negotiate things with us. He was always a good at arguing, but now it’s increased to a new level!
My mother-in-law believes that my son has ADD because he is overscheduled and does not have any “down time”. I mentioned this to the paediatrician and he agreed that “bright kids need stimulation”, you need to give him lots of activities to keep him interested and able to learn things. He doesn’t need down time the way other kids do. He thrives on activities.
We do have a very scheduled life....if it wasn’t scheduled our family would fall apart. When our daughter was born, she spent the first couple of years in a baby pouch whilst I was out on the run all the time with Xavier, showing him new things, taking him to the park and on other outings. Any long periods at home and he would be thoroughly bored and driving us all insane.
His younger sister ‘Charlotte’ (name changed) starts school soon. I spent the first few years of her life just attending to her basic needs, food, clothing etc. and was so consumed by our son and all his daily struggles that I didn’t really pay her the same attention that we had given her brother. At the start of the year when my son was getting her to answer his year 3 Mathletics questions and she was getting them right, I had an “Oh, oh” moment and realised that she is actually brighter than her brother. We then sent her off for testing and discovered she was highly gifted. Whilst I don’t think at this stage she has the same ADD issues as her brother I have more concerns about her schooling than I do for her brother.
Charlotte can read and is very good at maths. She is, however, like many gifted children an absolute perfectionist and will refuse to do anything if she isn’t able to do it perfectly. This will result in a number of interesting experiences when she gets to school.
We have “won” one battle with her. She loved dancing, but when she started dancing at age 3 and she couldn’t do the tap steps that the other girls who were 4 and 5 were doing she would have an absolute meltdown in the class because she knew what she needed to do, but her body couldn’t do it. I decided to take her out of the tap class, but then let her continue with the jazz and ballet. At the end of last year, after watching the Christmas concert she announced that the tap looked easy and now that she is 4 it is something she could do too. We let her join again and she is absolutely loving it. Giving her that break to wait until she was ready to try it herself really helped her.
I borrow books from the library at GFSG and read as much as I can to help my kids in their gifted journey. I find that reading materials on gifted children is a bit like reading parenting books when you have a baby. You need to find the one that appeals to you and your child. What works for one person will not necessarily work for the other.
We are still looking for answers and finding more questions. When I wrote this article I was waiting to meet the next day with the specialist to discuss ways to help assist Xavier further...as usual I have another list of things to follow up...retained neonatal reflexes, ODD, ASD and vision and sensory issues...once again I get answers and then I have more questions and I can’t see this pattern ending anytime soon.
Our family’s “Giftedness Journey” commenced towards the end of elder son’s kindergarten year. I kept wondering why he kept getting into trouble (usually for calling out repeatedly in class), almost never bringing home gold star awards and was having difficulty forming friendships. After completing several questionnaires for the school, my husband and I were told that our son was gifted. I still remember being shown a handout on Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities and relating to so many things in the five domains.
So we had a gifted son. In hindsight the signs were obvious, but being our first child, his development had seemed unremarkable to us (despite others telling us how “smart” he was). Therefore, the realisation of his giftedness was quite overwhelming. Our first priority was learning how to manage his “overexcitabilities”, which were impacting his social and emotional well-being. (As an aside, I now believe that “overexcitabilities” are much more than “normal” traits of some gifted kids, because if they are impacting on the child’s functioning, they should be considered a “disorder” and appropriate assessment and management sought). The next year was spent in reading anything I could get my hands on about giftedness. Psychometric testing was not recommended by the school at that stage, and we were comfortable with that. We have been very fortunate, as we received excellent support from his Year 1 teacher and the school in general. Our son’s handwriting was identified as an issue therefore, at the school’s suggestion, he undertook Occupational Therapy assessment and management. Year 1 was a steep learning curve for us, but aside from that, we all seemed to be managing well.
However, Year 2 of school was a different story. The school arranged psychometric testing, in order to identify his strengths and weaknesses, thereby tailoring the teaching for his needs. However, poor social skills were causing difficulties for our son at school and he was unhappy. He also had a change of teachers half way through the year and so began a slow decline into underachievement. The teacher just didn’t seem to “get” our son; he was always in trouble (again!). Effective communication between the teacher and I was challenging and I truly felt our son’s confidence, and therefore achievements, began to decline.
So I was determined that in Year 3, I would become as informed as I could, in order to advocate more effectively for our son. At the start of the year, we met his teacher and I cried with relief upon realizing that she understood our son and his particular challenges. She was on board with working together and really passionate about supporting him. However, despite having a supportive teacher, he was having a lot of issues with maintaining friendships. It was a very miserable child we had in term 3, and the school counsellor supported him with his social skills and emotional regulation. With hindsight (again!), these sessions were not helpful, but at the time we had no idea what else to do. It was heartbreaking to see this sensitive child, who is really trying his best, being constantly rejected by his peers and unable to make meaningful “connections” with like-minded individuals at school. It seemed that “Mr Invisible” was going to remain my son’s best friend for some time yet.
And so it was a very concerned mum who sent him off at the start of Year 4. Fortunately, he’s had an amazing teacher (more tears from me when we met at start of the year to discuss his needs). Term 1 was overshadowed with some bullying (verbal and physical) and required frequent communication with the school, who have remained supportive throughout.
Thankfully, he’s now in a situation where his classmates are understanding and supportive of him (just as he supports his classmates), and he has reached a truce with the kids who were bullying him. I haven’t heard “Mr Invisible” mentioned for many months! However, a neurodevelopmental assessment has confirmed our suspicions of twice exceptionality. The long list of suggested interventions and further recommended investigations/referrals was initially completely overwhelming. The approach we have taken is to handle one issue at a time, one appointment at a time, based on the most pressing need/problem.
Reflecting back on our “Giftedness Journey” so far, a few things stand out as being important to our son’s (and family’s) happiness and wellbeing:
1. A few amazing class teachers, who have been so supportive and really willing to work together with us to meet our son’s needs. In addition, the head of the school is a great leader and very approachable; which reflects in the school’s culture and attitudes generally.
2.Extracurricular drama on the weekends- this has been a lifesaver, a place where our son feels “normal” and accepted for who he is.
3. Enrichment activities- such as Early Learning Labs, MindQuest, Whizzkids- where he has been able pursue interests and engage with like-minded individuals.
4. The GFSG, which has been great organization for our family. For myself, I’ve got so much support and encouragement from GFSG members at the mum’s dinners (I encourage more mums to attend). The seminars are relevant and very useful. For our two kids, the holiday activities and GEM have been fun and well-worth the effort to attend. Most importantly, through interacting with other parents at GFSG events, I feel comforted knowing that we’re not alone with the difficulties we face.
I know it will continue to be a long and challenging road ahead. The nature of raising gifted kids means that at various times, different issues will crop up, just to add more “spice” to our lives and to remind us not to become too complacent.
I am inspired by this quote from Vincent Van Gogh: “If I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it - keep going, keep going come what may.”
Through my work as an early childhood educator I had a lot of knowledge and experience of normal child development even before I had my son. When I was pregnant, to prepare for his birth, we played him music, read him stories and talked to him. After he was born I was very surprised by the impact these preparations seemed to have on such a small baby. He recognised voices, at 3 weeks he starred captivated at the Obstetrician I had seen throughout my pregnancy, the doctor said “Why is he looking at me like that?” my response, “I think he recognises your voice”.
He seemed to recognise books he had heard in utero and at 4 months old he could spend 45 minutes looking at and listening to books. About the same time we celebrated his first Christmas, everyone will tell you that babies are only interested in the wrapping paper and this is what we expected. What we saw was a baby that concentrated on each present, he would stare taking in every detail when he was finished he would stare at the next present as if to say ‘now open that one’ he did this for present after present, he showed no interest in the paper at all!
At six months of age, he had a play date with 18 month old friends who were fascinated by the planes that flew overhead and pointed to every one. As we walked to the car afterwards a plane went overhead and he pointed to it!
Pointing became his new favourite past time, everything he pointed to we labelled, the more we labelled the more he pointed. The obvious next step was his own language he spoke his first word at 8 months that turned to 15 words at 11 months, by 14 months he could say hundreds of words including 2-3 word sentences. These behaviours all seemed unusual to me but the verbal language really rang alarm bells, my experience allowed me to see how much his development differed from the norm.
I began to google ‘giftedness’ but obviously little information touched on children his age group. It was a long time before I knew with any certainty, but our gifted journey had begun. What I would have loved then and what I value most now, are people to talk to that understand our experience, the highs and lows, you are an invaluable part of our journey now and I thank you !
Passionate, complex people were ‘my kind of people’; so I was happy to discover that my children were a perfect match for me. I found their enthusiasm and intensity a pleasure. I felt a little sorry for people who had quiet kids – gosh, the days at their house must be verrry long !
I'd thought that the kids would love school and that school would love them. After all the kids were fun, smart and enquiring…just what schools want! I quickly discovered that the kids seemed destined to have an uneasy relationship with school. It was obvious that school was not designed for kids like them.
The kids were bored, the teachers (amazingly dedicated educators) were worried and the curriculum seemed a poor match for my children’s enquiring minds.
Cracks in the relationship appeared early; and a lot of time, energy and money were spent trying to mould the children into model students. We all agreed (me, the children and the school) this seemed like an impossible task.
And it was an impossible task.
After all, how could I ask my children to wait quietly for 5 or 6 years until the curriculum caught up with them? How could they be taught to ‘learn’ when it seemed like they would spend years waiting to ‘learn’ something new? How could I teach them to accept boredom as a normal state of mind?
I was disheartened; I felt like my children were losing the chance to be tenacious and enquiring students. It seemed like their infants and primary education was grooming them to be classroom wallflowers; quiet, passive observers of the education system.
I could see their passion and abilities drifting away. And I knew that it was both expected andacceptable.
As you know, the research is clear. High ability learners in Australia make the least amount of progress during their schoolcareers.
I wasn't worried about their grades but I was very concerned about the impact on their characters. How could children learn to be academically strong when they were being conditioned to beweak?
I started to connect with the gifted community through seminars, conferences, parent groups and professional services. I discovered a whole community that share my concerns and they have inspired me to question, challenge and change my engagement with the community.
As a result, my kids are now happy in school. In the past year they've changed schools and grade accelerated. They are now in a normal classroom. And by that, I mean they are learning at a pace that’s both challenging and interesting to them. They are no longer wall flowers! They're enthused, passionate participants in the classroom.
In the process, I've met ‘my kind of people’ – caring, passionate, complex thinkers who are all committed to helping gifted kids get a ‘normal’ education. Like me,they want gifted children to learn to strive and strive to learn….. just like every other kid at school!
Our School Journey
When I think of the beginning of our "gifted" journey I automatically think of when we received our son’s assessment results, however our journey truly began when our son was born. When I think back to when he was a baby I remember hearing one of the mothers comment that he was a "freak baby" (she meant it in a nice way). At the time I laughed it off and thought not much else about it. Other than reaching a few of his early milestones early, my son developed as what we thought any "normal" childdid.
He was not one to ever want to stand out and was always well behaved. He started Kindergarten aged 4 unable to read or write (other than his name). He progressed through Kindergarten happy and achieving just what his teacher expected of him. It was not until he started year 1 (aged 5) that the cracks started to appear. Our once happy, joyful, keen learner had started showing signs of anxiety and refused to attend school. He would come home and spend hours doing "extra learning" so I knew he loved learning. Why would he hate school?
This got me thinking maybe he was being bullied. Really? My son was so social and happy previously, what had changed? I went to meet with his teacher to see if shecould provide any further insight. She agreed that it would be unlikely that he was being bullied but said she would look into it further. She was not able to find any answer for me.
One morning my son’s refusal to go school escalated to the point of tears and screaming. I knew I could no longer force my child into a situation that had him feeling this way. Even if I did not know why. I trusted my son knew what he needed and he was not getting it in his current situation. I explained to my son that he needed to meet with his teacher and explain his reasons for not wanting to go to school and it would be fine by me for him not to go. He came with me that morning to meet with his teacher (who was also the school principal) he sat down looked at her and said "I am sorry but I no longer want to come to school. I am bored and you are wasting my time". I was gob smacked. How did I miss this? How did I not know? He had seemed so happy tillnow.
This also happened to be around mid year report time so I took the opportunity to meet with his teacher again. Once again she told me whilst very well behaved my son was "an above average student, as were most of the children" in her class. The alarm bells started to ring. I had started looking further into what my son did know and I quickly realised he was very advanced for his age. He was not an "above average student" he was a child who was pretending tobe.
I remembered having a conversationmanymonths before with another mum from preschool whohadcommented thatherchildwas"clever".I was lucky enough to reach out to this mother for some guidance and advice on what Icould do next. I spent many late nights on the internetvsearchingvfor answers of what I needed to do for my son.
As a family we agreed an IQ assessment wouldhelp us work out what we could do to provide a happy childhood for our son. We thought he was clever but never thought he would be"gifted".Gifted just seemed like such a scary word.I still have issues with it today.
Once his assessment came back I was worried. What would this mean for my child? Did we have the tools and resources to provide him with what he needed? Did I have the knowledge to make the right decisions for him? I still worry today.
I took a copy of his assessment to histeacher.We had a long discussion about how they could help cater to his needs with an agreement that I would set up all his homework and the teacher would extend him in class. One statement that will always stand out for me in this meeting was "all children are gifted". Really? A principal of a school in the 21st century really still thinks like this? His extension in class involved a year3 textbook which he was given to complete once his year once work was finished. He was to sit in the corner on his own to completethe "extra" work. Needless to say this was not working.
We were able to find a solution that worked for our family. Which for now is providing a happy and healthy learning environment for our children. Whilst we have had to make sacrifices and adjustments we are making it work for us as a family.
Along our journey we have had a bumpy road. We still have a very long road ahead with our other children still at the beginning of their journey and our son still finding his way. Are the other kids gifted? Maybe maybe not but, I feel we are in a better place now to be able to support them. We have joined many online and support groups like GFSG that have helped us be better informed parents. When I can, I attend seminars and forums to not only gain information but build a network of other families that have also shared a journey of "gifted" discovery.