Coming out with the G word

I hesitate to admit it, especially in a public forum such as this. It makes me uncomfortable to tell people. I tend to pretend it’s not true, that there is no issue. I usually ignore it and hope that it will go away, or at least that people won’t notice. It’s one thing to have it pointed out, but quite another to draw attention to it myself.

But here it is.

I’m gifted.

It makes me quite squeamish just to see it baldly declared in print like that. And how did it make you feel? Did you think to yourself “how arrogant!”… just a little? If I talked about how gifted my kids are, would you dismiss me as conceited? Does my admission that I am gifted make you want to cringe and turn away, pretend you didn’t see? Are you muttering to yourself that I obviously think I am better than everyone else?

‘Gifted’ is a loaded term. It conjures images of elitism. Of intellectual arrogance. Of a “brainier than thou” attitude. And of favouritism and special treatment.

Let me paint you a picture of what it means to be gifted. Like most people there are some things I am great at, and many others at which I comprehensively suck. Being gifted doesn’t make me better than anyone else. More than anything, being gifted just makes me different. Being gifted as a child meant not fitting in. Ever. Anywhere.

The first time I found somewhere I felt I truly belonged was when I was 21. The second time was when I joined my current workplace two years ago, when I was 39. Not that I haven’t had friends – I’ve had great ones – but I’ve rarely felt a sense of belonging in a group. I’ve always been keenly aware that I was odd.

We’re really bad at difference in our society. People who are unusual, different, unconventional – they freak us out, make us uncomfortable. They challenge us, force us – all unwilling – to question our choices. Difference is something we tend to turn away from.

Gifted kids often have high levels of anxiety, and an emotional intensity right off the Richter scale. I’m not sure how much of that is innate, and how much stems from that feeling of not belonging. “No-one gets me, Mum” is the wounded cry of the gifted child. Heartbreaking in its undeniable truth.

Our school system is strange. Despite reams of literature on the subject of kids maturing at different rates, learning at different rates, being ready for things at different ages, we force kids into classes with other kids their own age. Rather than grouping them with their intellectual peers, we group them by their birthday – a singularly uninformative measure of anything at all!

Curiously, gifted kids often struggle academically. Give a gifted child a challenge he or she finds engaging, and the results will be spectacular. But sadly schools very rarely provide that sort of stimulation. Gifted kids are often bored and disengaged, or trying so hard to fit in that they are afraid to get good marks.

Being gifted is not about getting a label and trying to place ourselves, or our kids, on any kind of pedestal. It’s about knowing ourselves and our kids well enough to handle the positives and the negatives as best we can. It’s about trying to find people who get us, and places where we fit in.

On the rare occasions that I meet other parents of gifted kids, there is always an overwhelming sense of relief. Here is someone who understands the overwhelming intensity, the anxiety and the sensitivity. The incredibly active imaginations and a level of thinking that they are not emotionally ready to handle. The terror and days of stress that simply hearing a news broadcast on the radio can cause.

Of course not all gifted kids are the same, but nearly all parents of gifted kids seem very reluctant to use the G word in public. Last weekend I went with my 9 year old to a camp for gifted kids. Telling people where we were going, I generally just said it was a Harry Potter camp.

But now I think it’s time to bring the G word out in the open. It’s easier to tell people that my kids are gifted than to say that I am. It still feels like bragging, and no-one likes a braggart. On the bright side it means I know what my kids are going through – and if I am open and honest about it, maybe I can make it a little easier for them.

In an ideal world gifted would be a simple descriptive term. Like blonde, short, tall, dyslexic, fat, gay, thin, straight, or aspergers, it should not be an emotive, loaded and pejorative term, but a factual description of a single aspect of a multi-faceted human being.

So this is my challenge to you – think about these two questions:

What do you think when I say “I’m gifted”? And why?

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7 thoughts on “Coming out with the G word

  1. Joe

    I would love to see mixed age streaming in our education system for academic subjects (up to a point) and aligned size streaming for sports activities (also up to a point).

    A likely consideration would be to assess (via any reasonable proxy) emotional maturity of a student as well as their subject matter capability and take some kind of average in order to pick the level to place them at.

    I suspect variable peer grouping seems too hard for a mass education system, especially when younger classrooms generally don’t have such well defined subject lines or times to let students flip peer groups easily. And there’s also the potential for a loss of the “society” that forms in a class unit. And if we still generally say “keep the tiny kids away from the teenage turmoil of high school, and keep the teenage turmoil away from the young adults of uni” then there’s a challenge to manage the macro-group transitions.

    Is there a working model somewhere?

    1. lindamciver

      I don’t know of any working models first hand, Joe, but I recently heard of a p-12 school in Macedon that groups by ability rather than age. I am hoping to find out more about it!

  2. Joe

    Another curiosity… probably being “gifted” myself and also struggling to find long term friendships (doubly challenged by moving cities at the age of 35) I have to admit a low tolerance for people who are “different” is something of a two-way street.

      1. Joe

        (And being near or at the fringe doesn’t make one particularly more likely to feel “similar” to others at a different tangent of fringe.)

  3. It’s interesting. I wouldn’t have used the term for an adult. My understanding is that a child is gifted with higher intelligence and asynchronous development as compared to their age peers. Once you’re an adult you don’t need to be compared to age peers, you’re just of high intelligence.
    I was a gifted child. I wouldn’t call myself a gifted adult, I’m just more intelligent than average (which as you say sounds terribly arrogant to say out loud, and I wouldn’t usually). I’m smarter than lots of people, but there are still plenty smarter than me, and just like children I have things I’m better at than others.
    Having said that, I do agree with the other things you said. Miss M (15yo) is gifted and struggles with various things. Miss L (13yo) is smart but not gifted and has a much easier time of it at school.

    1. lindamciver

      You may be right about the technical use of the term. I think the key is that a gifted adult has a gifted childhood behind them.

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