They just don’t get me

You know that feeling when you find someone who totally gets you? You don’t necessarily agree on everything, but they understand where you’re coming from. You speak the same language, think on the same level, and laugh at most of the same jokes. A raised eyebrow between you can convey volumes – volumes that would have to be documented, translated, and broken down into their component pages for anyone else to understand. It’s an incredibly precious feeling – here is someone like me.

Gifted kids don’t get that.

Not at school. Often not at home. They go through life feeling weird. They are lonely. They try to fit in by being the same as everyone else, excruciatingly aware that in order to be accepted they have to pretend to be someone they’re not. They know full well that no-one gets them, no-one thinks the way they do, and no-one understands more than about 20% of what they want to say. Things that interest them are bizarre and inexplicable to everyone around them. Eventually they begin to feel that they are bizarre and inexplicable too.

Sometimes they wind up getting aggressive, more frequently they are the ones found in a corner with a book when everyone else is outside having fun. They don’t necessarily get good marks in class, because that would make them stand out – and besides, the work isn’t interesting. Often they have a learning disability or processing delay that makes them feel even more different.

Gifted kids often have high anxiety levels – they internalize things, and think too much about everything that goes wrong, because their brains have nothing better to do, and above all those brains need stimulation. If you aren’t interested in your school work, and you can’t talk to the people around you, there is no escape but to hide deep inside your own head.

You can spot them in a classroom, if you know the signs. They will be the ones who find a receptive adult and talk to them endlessly, because the adult is more likely to be able to interact on their level. They are the ones reading fantasy books, escaping into a world where they can be themselves.

Well-meaning advice can be so frustrating. “Find a good private school,” people say. But private schools kids are richer, not brighter. Private schools are no better at catering to gifted kids than public schools.

Sometimes, if they are incredibly lucky, gifted kids get the opportunity to associate with other gifted kids. They might go to a school with a SEAL program (Select Entry Accelerated Learning), a selective school, or a specialist school. Or their parents move heaven and earth to find them a peer group somehow. And then a miracle happens. They find out that there are others like them. They find people they can talk to. People who get their jokes. They make friends, and develop a real peer group. They blossom, and finally begin to reach their potential, both academically and socially.

That, my friends, is why gifted kids need gifted programs. Not for their academic results – bugger that! But for their sense of self. For their self-esteem and self-image. To have people around them who value them for who they are. To know that someone truly gets them. At last.

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3 thoughts on “They just don’t get me

  1. Joe

    Well spoken!

    Though I note a downside of accelerated academic focus in a school program… at some point these people need to learn to interact with the “real” world, much as I despise that cliche. I recall a range of my university peers who had arrived a year (or two!) younger than average by dint of accelerated academic programs. Almost all had Really Serious Problems, socially and emotionally, by the end of first year uni (if they didn’t have some before). Drug wipe outs, inability to cope with course work, loss of confidence were too common amongst these.

    What’s needed is something a bit more … sideways. Things that add interesting breadth rather than “acceleration” to academic progress. An approach that keeps kids on reasonable par for numeracy and literacy (and general science, social studies et al) while providing exposure to … (speechmode=lame tailing off) … other stuff that doesn’t require accelerating core subject matter. I don’t know what, though.

    (One possibility occurs to me, though by no means enough to completely fill the loose time … active education in social and emotional skills.)

  2. sita

    I like Joe’s approach to add breadth rather than acceleration. Singing in a choir, playing sport in a team, playing an instrument in a group; and then activities where the child can excel in single competition: (our girls did fencing & golf and it certainly helped them)
    By the age of 9 or 10 (speaking from experience, I have no teaching qualifications and am only a mum) kids can be very manipulating. As much as we want to help them, we also have to help them help themselves. Sometimes we have to just step back.
    I enrolled my girls into a private school together when they were 9 and 4 years old. It was a quantum leap for them. I never looked back.

    1. omchelsea

      I agree that breadth (and acceleration) are necessary for the “gifted” child; and note that when I arrived at uni newly 17 after my gap year I found the Melbourne uni high graduates possibly the most obnoxious people on this earth (right behind the girls that made my private school sojourn such a miserable experience)… So gifted programmes where kids are segregated from the masses create the same kind of “abnormal” behaviors upon reintegration as kids at same-sex schools who don’t have a lot of social interaction outside their school life. Is there a happy medium? You bet? Is it the same for every gifted child? Hell no.

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