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.