gifted and talented – the admittedly oversensitive rant of an autism mom

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Certain words are universally troublesome. Some trigger strong emotion, particularly when used outside of the very narrow context in which they might be deemed acceptable. Just ask Laura Schlessinger.

And so we work to strike certain words from our lexicon. Take for example the Special Olympics’ Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign, whose stated goal is to get people to stop and think about their hurtful and disparaging use of the word “retard” and to pledge to stop using it. (Which happens to be one of my stated goals as well.)

Some words simply have to go.

But then there are the others. The words that seem benign, that may even be used with the best of intentions, yet that cut to the quick when sensitivities are raised. Words like ‘normal’ and ‘regular’ – as in ‘is she able to do the class work like the regular kids?’ or ‘God, I hear ya, even raising normal kids is hard.’ Yup, straight to the heart.

So we offer up substitutes – words that essentially say the same damn thing, but that do so without the hurtful implications of their history. We replace ‘normal’ with ‘typically developing’ and ‘regular’ with ‘non-Sped or even ‘Regular Ed’. It may seem absurd to think that those two little letters can somehow soften the tone of the distinction, but for me they do.

Earlier in the summer, I was chatting with someone from another district about our school’s Inclusion Committee. She had a number of insightful questions and was very supportive of what we had done. I explained that although the bulk of our efforts last year revolved around understanding and celebrating learning differences, the Inclusion Committee was established with a much broader scope in mind. I told her that our goal was to ensure that no individual or group of people ever felt left out of the larger community.

We talked about our hopes to expand sensitivities around the dramatic socioeconomic disparities in our town. I told her that we ultimately want to create a community that doesn’t just tolerate, but celebrates its racial, religious, ethnic and cultural differences. We talked too about the need to address differences in family constellation.

As I listed off some of our target areas, she asked a question.

“What about the Gifted and Talented kids?”

I am not often at a loss for words, but I had nothing. The who? The Gifted and Talented kids? Seriously?

OK, listen, I know this may seem like a dramatic overreaction, but here’s what was in my head.

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Yeah, Jerry Lewis. As in, Oh, OK, so we now need to hold a telethon for those poor Gifted and Talented kids? The ones with all those debilitating gifts and awful talents? I mean, for God’s sake people, where’s your compassion? Don’t you see how hard it is to be Gifted and Talented in today’s society? Sheesh. Send your donations TODAY. Operators are standing by.

But then I stopped.

Because my next thought overwhelmed the first. Isn’t EVERY kid gifted and talented? You gonna tell me that MY kid is not gifted? Or talented? I dare you.

Cause, well, she happens to be one of the most gifted human beings I’ve ever encountered. Her tenacity alone is a gift beyond my understanding, but add in her delicious humor and her boundless energy and her love – God the love that this child leaves in her wake changes everything it touches. And talent? Ha, you want to talk talent? How many kids do you know who can recite entire movies, shows and books from memory? Or who have a nearly perfect accent in just about any language because they can replicate anything they hear? Or how about – and this one is the kicker – how about being able to communicate and interact with the world around you with barely ANY spontaneous language AT ALL? Try it – using nothing but a limited number of lines from the scripts that you have at your disposal, create a conversation. THAT, my friend takes TALENT.

I shook my head as calmly and as slowly as I could and said, “Actually, that really hasn’t come up.”

Now, let me be clear. I’m all for ensuring that education is tailored to the individual student as much as possible. I whole-heartedly believe that a kid who’s development and skills are advanced beyond their grade level needs appropriate enrichment and stimulation just as much as a kid who is struggling to keep up needs help. Katie happens to be one of those kids. She tends to need more to chew on than the typical curriculum provides. Her teachers have been great in offering her suggestions for further study. She often reads the source books that are cited in her classwork. We try to find ways for her to delve a little more deeply into the subject matter. And that’s great. But does it make her any more gifted or talented than her sister? (Please tell me you’re shaking your head.)

What was it that Temple Grandin’s mother so famously said to the school administrator? “Different, not less.”

Conversely I’d add, “Different, not more.”

Hopefully I’ve gotten the point across that I absolutely do not have a problem with the concept of special programming for kids who need it. If there’s a kid out there who may very well find the cure for cancer or unlock the mysteries of the autism epidemic, by all means, we must foster his or her talents and do everything in our power to support his or her intellectual curiosity. My problem is not ideological. My problem is in what we choose to call it. I can’t abide by the obvious implication in the label. If only one group of academically elite kids is Gifted and Talented, then the rest by exclusion are NOT.

I recently met a woman whose child has autism. We were chatting about schools and different types of educational programs when she stage-whispered like the mom in St Elmo’s Fire, “Well, my son is also GIFTED, so you can imagine how hard that is.” She was serious. As in, “My poor kid is SMART too. Whoa is me.” I was trying really hard not to be judgmental, but I think I threw up a little in my mouth.

Perhaps I’m oversensitive. Hell, I know full well that I’m a walking nerve ending some days. I know too that some of the wounds simply haven’t healed yet. Acknowledging the distinct possibility that my hackles might have raised far too easily, I did my best to nod and smile and look sympathetic to her plight. But all I could think of was this.

*

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Yeah, an onion.

Because when we manage to pull back some of the layers of our kids – ALL of our kids – we find talents. Sometimes mind-blowing, incredible talents. We find children who can name a car by its ignition sound and children who put Houdini’s escape artistry to shame. We find natural performers, and music aficionados and gamers with boundless creativity. We find window dancers as graceful as any aerial acrobat; we find innovative artists and even inventors of entirely new species.

And by God, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (Or, the outer layer of the onion for those of you who are squeamish about mixing your metaphors.) When we peel further, we find children who intuitively know how to comfort, children whose compassion for others runs so deep that we simply know they will change our world. We even find some who already have, simply by gracing it with their presence, no matter how long they were here.

And so many of our children are just beginning to peel the onion, revealing the wonder and boundless potential that lies beneath the layers.

I can’t possibly fathom that THOSE kinds of gifts are any less impactful than the kind that we’d find in the ‘Gifted and Talented‘ classroom. One might even argue to the contrary.

So, by all means, crow all you want about your child’s gifts and talents. I plan on doing the same. But please, do me the favor of not applying the blanket term Gifted and Talented. And for heaven’s sake, whatever you do, don’t ask me to come to the telethon.

ed note ~ Please forgive me for the woefully short list of children above. I could have gone on for days, but well, I don’t have days, so the best I could offer was a small sampling of our wondrous kids. So please, please, please – if you are a parent (or grandparent or aunt or uncle or caregiver or professional) add YOUR child’s gifts in the comments! By no means do I intend to leave them out!!

Amended at 10pm EST to add: ** All – We JUST walked in the door after a LONG day of traveling and I am bleary eyed. It’s so important to me to give your comments the time, energy and focus that they deserve. Since I’m barely capable of brushing my teeth before bed right now, I’m thinking it best to come back to this after a night’s sleep. I’m grateful to those of you who have taken the time to respectfully educate me today. More in the morning. – Jess **

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52 thoughts on “gifted and talented – the admittedly oversensitive rant of an autism mom

  1. Can I tell you how much I love ‘walking nerve ending’, not sure why, but I just do.
    As for the message, preach sista preach! If I had a dime how many times I have confronted people about their choice of language…

  2. First let me say Go Special Olympics go! Spread the word to end the word is something we should all be a part of.

    I completely understand this post. My older son was just diagnosed with a mild form of PDD-NOS. My family, in an attempt to be supportive assured me he would be fine because he’s so smart and acts normal. Uhhh as apposed to their other grandson Wyatt who is not smart and acts like a crazy person??? Luckily, I become silent when outraged and just stood there with my mouth open. I will talk to them when I can calmly formulate thoughts without cussing.

    The diagnosis of my older son has opened my eyes and brought me a greater understanding of autism. I now understand and love a “high functioning” child and a “low functioning child” and let me tell you that is the last time I ever use those terms. Both these kids work their butts off to find their place in our world. Both these kids want to communicate, want to be apart of everything and want to learn. It is just a matter of finding the right tools for each of them.

    And they are both talented and gifted..and awesome.

  3. I wonder, when you separate the kids out out for special Ed, and take away those who are homeschooled for whatever reason, and you pull the kids out for G&T (which is the abbreviation for gin & tonic where I’m from, so wrong in this context) then who the heck will be left in the class? And, more importantly, what kind of a limited view will they have of the world? I’ve never met any kid, on or off the spectrum, who wasn’t gifted, talented, and challenged in some way. Actually, that goes for adults too!

  4. I’m totally with you on the linguistic points, but if your goal is to make all kids feel included, you can’t deny that academically advanced kids tend to be ostracized and bullied by less intellectually-curious kids. American culture frowns upon anyone perceived to be too smart or who actually enjoys reading, so we call them nerds and geeks and elitists and they get pushed into lockers and don’t get to go to the prom. Even if they do eventually grow up to be doctors and lawyers and senators, they’re left out of general social life as children, and should fall under whatever anti-bullying activities your committee does.

  5. Jess, I love you! Seriously, I do. And I LOVE this post. I react the same way to many of those comments. My husband tells me I am “too sensitive” but I don’t believe that is so…I’ve been awakened and what I’ve woken up to doesn’t fit.

    My beautiful blue eyed boy with a giggle to stop me in my tracks, he is a gift, and he will prove his gifts, no matter what they tell me in IEP meetings.

  6. Jess, I am glad you shared all of this I always am glad, and I always learn something.

    I do want to share a conversation with you, a conversation that may help understand how challenging it is to help someone see the issues with their choice of terminology when that person is, indeed, trying to do/say the appropriate thing.

    I am very involved locally with the Holocaust Education Resource Council. It is amazing, truly, what this relatively small group of very passionate and energetic people, does to help students throughout our area understand the lessons of the Holocaust.

    They do a teacher workshop every fall that is very well received and is a fantastic opportunity for teachers to get techniques to teach the Holocaust in their classrooms. We were having a conversation, several of us, after the worshop and the workshop’s organizers were scoffing about newbie teachers who recommend “role playing what it was like to be in a cattle car.” Not being a Holocaust education expert, I was thinking “that is bad why?” Their rationale is that jamming 50 kids into a cattle-car sized space doesn’t even begin to teach them what the actual Holocaust victims felt as they were being driven into these cars to be transported God knows where. I “get” my friends’ point, but I also think they are so incredibly knowledgeable about the detailed theory behind Holocaust education, and these newbies are NOT, that in ridiculing (sort of) their interest in role playing, they were just not on the same “wavelength” — educating the newbies involves trying to understand their limited perspective on the process.

    All of which is to say (bout time, right?) that it is so critical to try to meet these people “where they are at” – some people don’t want to learn and will go on drinking those G&T’s (ha ha) but others just seriously need a calm explanation.

  7. I have chosen to spend my life as a teacher working with children with autism, because I felt drawn by the amazing gifts that I saw, that were often hidden to the world at large. The children I have met in the last five years have continued to amaze and astound me, and I feel so grateful to have the opportunity to get close enough to peel back the layers and find the talents that not everyone gets to see. And then to be able to help these children share them with the world.

    Thank you, Jess, for reminding us why we do what we do every day.

  8. I soooo get this post. My little guy has some amazing gifts and talents because of his autism. One of them just happens to be academic. The curriculum in his tends to conceptually easy for him, although he has challenges communicating his responses either in writing or sometimes, even verbally. He is an absolute treasure trove of information IF (and that’s a big if in the school system, apparently) you are willing to work patiently with him to help him communicate his answers. I tried to have him included in the G/T pullouts last year but I was told his ‘processing speed’ was slow. SLOW? No, the inability to see the trremendous talents all children with autism (and/or other ‘special needs’) have is the ‘processing’ problem. Every child has gifts and talents. It is the responsibility of the adults and teachers in their lives to uncover them and find ways to nurture them.

  9. As usual spot on…loved this post! Have you ever contemplated writing a weekly column in your town’s newspaper? I know this is very personal stuff, but your posts are so enlightening and thought provoking…

  10. I had my eyes opened a few years ago, thanks to our school district; no soapbox, I just want us all to think. We talk about Bill Gates possibly being Aspy. And the same with Albert Einstein. Talk about gifted, yet on the spectrum. Their brain just works differently (where have I heard that before?) Many of the gifted & talented kids have these problems and others such as anxiety issues and OCD. These children are just as deserving of our compassion and help as the other children on the spectrum and with other issues. My ASD son understands what all of those other kids are saying. Every barbed comment goes right to his heart. My daughter is further down the spectrum. Most of those comments go right over her head and she continues on in her happy mode, liking every one. Helping my son has always been more emotionally draining to me than helping my daughter. The further away you get from the median, the more likely you are to need support, because those median people don’t want to understand different.

  11. I so agree … gifted… Well yes, both of my babies are. One has always been considered the classic “gifted and talented” student. The other just learned to speak, even with his seventh birthday looming around the corner.

    Both are brilliant, beautiful .. I can’t imagine two kids that are more perfect, each in their own way.

    I wrote about my simple gifts a long time ago … Take a peek. :)

    http://autismville.blogspot.com/2008/11/autism-simple-gifts.html

  12. As a parent of a ‘gifted’ child on the spectrum, I have to put my two cents in to try and explain our viewpoint a bit too. When you have a child who can do math 3 grade levels ahead of himself, or read anything at age 6, it IS a bit more difficult to get the help needed for him due to the spectrum issues. People don’t tend to give the slack to kids who are perceived as advanced academically, and they immediately jump to conclusions about ‘spoiled rotten’ ‘terribly misbehaved’ and such as soon as some of the AS behaviors come out. So while I would never wish my son was any different than he is, and I would never presume to say that his (or my) life is any more difficult than yours or Brooke’s, I do think there are valid points to be made on this side of things.

    And yes, I do agree that all kids are gifted and talented, it’s a shame that in a PC climate we can’t just say what we mean and end up with terms that are useless like that. There are psycholgists who believe there are 8 different areas of ‘giftedness’ – that’s great, but doesn’t get the kid who is *academically* gifted, and therefore in need of extra challenge in school, the help s/he needs, because we are too concerned about not offending the ones who are artistically, or kinesthesiologically gifted.

    Ideally all schools would teach all kids in the way THEY need to learn – that will never happen because as a country we don’t value education enough to pay that much for it. You can’t do it with class sizes of 30+. You can’t do it with one teacher and a group of kids with a wide range of learning disabilities or even differences, because the federal government has mandated that they all be in the same class, taught the same things, at the same time, and at the same time we have shortened the school year and days, and reduced the flexibility that teachers have in that reduced amount of time to even try and teach them differently.

  13. Totally understand the need to rant.

    Of our 4 kids, we have a great student, a student who struggles but does ok, a student that’s G&T (little mcvomit re: that term), and a student who is “twice exceptional” (a little more mcvomit…what and the other kiddos are only a little bit exceptional?).

    I wonder, though, as much as the label grates across those raw nerve endings, to see if there’s not a way to expand your inclusion committee to, well, include the G&T.

    I’ve found that amazingly, teachers, administrators, and other students are not thrilled to have G&T students in their world. I’ve found it much, much easier to find acceptance for my child’s austism than her or her sibling’s G&T (not that the autism was a walk in the park).

    So I completely understand that labels don’t work. G&T needs to find a new, less offensive name. But, I would also challenge you to think through a group of individuals that may need inclusion, even if at 1st glance, it doesn’t fit your grid.

    Thank you, as always, for another honest and thought provoking post.

  14. This—-“As in, “My poor kid is SMART too. Whoa is me.” I was trying really hard not to be judgmental, but I think I threw up a little in my mouth”—was PRECISELY what I needed this morning! Thanks for sharing your experiences in a way that helps the rest of us not feel isolated AND (in the midst of it all) find a reason to laugh!

  15. You are once again hitting the nail on the head, but my favorite part?

    “I dare you”

    I have this thought dialy followed by the imaginary flashback scene where I slap him/her silly. Then I blink and the offender is still talking…..and I have such a grin.

  16. I can understand your feelings about the label itself. Personally, I prefer words like “accelerated” over words like “gifted” or “advanced,” because it gets more to the heart of the difference–the pace of learning. Kids in G&T programs often pick up on the information at a faster pace than what the standard curriculum offers. I feel like focusing on the pacing doesn’t inadvertently add the value judgment that “gifted” does.

    That said, though, I have to agree with some of your previous posters that having a “gifted” child can present just as many challenges as frustrations at school as having a child who needs extra learning supports. I have both, and I find it much harder to deal with attitudes from peers, teachers, administration, and fellow parents about my accelerated learner than my guy who needs extra time for processing. There is so much more sympathy and desire to help my slower learner at school.

    For my accelerated son, I was told by the vice principal with a literal *eye roll* in Kindergarten to quit worrying about it–the other kids would catch up by 3rd grade and he’d be fine. Sure, there’d be no impact on his behavior or passion for learning by sitting through a year of letter recognition and sounds when he’d already completed the Magic Tree House series, right? He wouldn’t stand out at all or feel different from his peers, right? Let alone the lost opportunity for challenging his mind and seeing what he might be capable of.

    The belief was that I was one of “those” parents who thought my baby was the most brilliant ever born–that I’d pushed him too much and taught him more at home than he “needed” to know. And that we were selfish to ask for any of the valuable extra resources of the school, because he was getting more than enough at home.

    In 2nd grade, he was frequently reprimanded because he’d try to show his classmates shortcuts for math problems, and his teacher was annoyed that he would say things that confused the others. She definitely viewed him as a burden, and stuck him in a corner on a computer every day for months before he told me. That was the year he started twisting his hair out, tying rubber bands around his fingers until they turned purple, and hitting himself for being too smart.

    So while I totally agree that “gifted” is a lame term, it can be just as hard to watch your “gifted” children be treated differently and get down on themselves for the very things that make them so unique and special.

  17. Please know that I see and appreciate your comments. I’m away from home today and this is likely to be my only (exceedingly brief) window of time on the Internet until later tonight. When I can get to my computer, I promise to respond to your thoughtful (and thought-provoking) comments. I just didn’t want you to think I was ignoring them! Thank you for your patience!

  18. Wow, thought-provoking post today. I taught in Fairfax County VA for seven years, and it is one of the few places left in the country where GT kids are actually segregated by classroom from other students starting in third grade (we also had a one hour pull-out program too). It was a constant source of debate for me with the teachers who instructed those students, some who felt their needs couldn’t be met in classrooms of thirty kids with varying degrees of academic ability, and some who felt only a few truly fell into that GT category, and most would be better served, particularly socially and emotionally, in a more heterogeneous environment. The label itself sucks (I’m not sure I could have kept my bile in my mouth if I’d been conversing with that woman, I give you credit), but I’m still ambivalent about what is best for kids who need constant stretching.

  19. In one school district I know the program is called Top Academic Performance. (TAP). Maybe that would be more comfortable a term for all.

  20. I find this conversation fascinating! Jess’s words strike a chord deep in me that goes back to my son’s infancy…when I was trying to convince myself that his “differences” from peers at daycare were just part of a typical developmental continuum and NOT, absolutely positively NOT, indicative of “The A Word.” Then there are those 2-3 years of struggling to figure out how exactly to categorize his differences (autism? ADHD? PDD-NOS? low tone? sensory integration disorder? Asperger’s?) so that we could get him the help he needed to improve his social skills with peers, gross and fine motor skills, and his classroom participation. Now I’m beginning to see signs that he might be headed academically into the G&T realm (good thing, too, ’cause Momma here loves her some gin).

    Perhaps a few years from now I’ll feel differently, but today I would prefer to pay for after-school enrichment that addresses typical extracurricular/academic/athletic gifts (swim teams, soccer leagues, dance and art lessons, Destination ImagiNation) instead of after-school “therapies” that address his deficits (handwriting, swim therapy, music therapy, sports leagues for children with special needs). When I list the “activities” that my son will be involved in this fall, I can see the competitive anxiety levels rise in parents of NT kids. Do I reassure them that I’m only laying out this cash (not to mention personal time commitment) to keep my son hyper-involved because I’m trying to capture a developmental window of opportunity? Do I explain that swim lessons are for OT and water safety because my son’s proprioceptive sense is not what it should be and he has to be reminded to relax his body to float or to breathe between dog paddles? Do I tell them his guitar teacher is not teaching him how to play the chords for Mary Had a Little Lamb, but is instead a music therapist engaging him in creative musical expression in an effort to improve his communication skills, self-confidence and physical coordination? Do I let them know that my son’s soccer league doesn’t include a single competitive game against another team with their parents screaming instructions and cheers from the sidelines? Do I tell them how much I wish my son could just be “on the swim team,” “taking guitar lesons” or “playing soccer” without any additional caveats or descriptors necessary?

    I don’t mean to minimize the struggles that parents of kids classified as G&T face. Every road a parent walks is difficult in its own way. I wouldn’t want my child to be ostracized because he’s a nerd any more than I want him to be ostracized for being autistic. And I want every child to be inspired and challenged in the most effective way possible for that child to achieve his/her best in life. I will continue to buy cookies from your Girl Scout (I know there are inclusive troops too, just using this as an example), I will continue to buy citrus from your band member at Christmas, and I will support your child’s debate team fundraiser at the local pizza joint. But like Jess I’m having a hard time embracing this particular label!

    • The label ‘G/T’ was actually something for us to hang on to for our son, during a more than heartbreaking situation of being ostrasized by his classmates in 4th grade. Our sweet, loving, caring child was shunned by his classmates for crimes of caring too much, loving too much, and knowing too much. I know that so many would give anything for their kids to be “smart”. The responses of his classmates crushed us. There are so many other difficult symptoms which accompany this blessing, including the inability to socialize normally. It is difficult and heartbreaking…please have empathy for other’s children’s diagnosies.

  21. A rare delurking for me. I am on the same page as Meredith (comment 4) and Lori (17). My older son is brilliant — a real absent minded professor. But he struggles socially, athletically, and with common sense (uncommon to him) life skills. He has often been miserable in school.

    My younger son, with the PDD-NOS diagnosis, has also been identified as “gifted” through testing, but there is no question that he has other gifts that are a function of being on the spectrum. It has been incredibly hard to get appropriate services for him — and he does need them — because he does well in school. Last year, his new principal (who had never met him) looked at his report card and said to his case manager, “This kid has all A’s. He doesn’t need any help!” Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    Giftedness is a vague and often nauseating label, and so overused (like in Lake Wobegon, every child in my town seems to be Above Average!). But there are kids who truly do suffer from this “difference,” though I personally would not equate their struggles with those of children receiving special ed.

  22. I have been thinking about your post all morning long. I am not sure if I will effectively get my point across, but I am going to try….

    I have two sons. T and K. They are dramatically different boys with one big difference being that T has an ASD diagnosis while K does not meet the spectrum criteria. They are both exceptional beings with very different personalities like most of our children. There is no comparing them to each other or anyone else for that matter. While one might say that T has it rough with his Autism, what I have seen through K’s eyes is dramatically more stressful and overwhelming despite being what you may call “gifted and talented”. I don’t need to explain how that makes him different than other kids, but he knows it and sometimes is even ashamed and confused by it. While K is not special ed, his emotional age is far different than his intellect age which often becomes confusing and scary for him. While T gets services to help, K is left to emotionally develop and since he is a boy, his emotional expectations are often not accommodated for… a whole different kid, a whole different set of things to work on. So, I guess you can say that I DO see how hard it is for the kids we define as “gifted and talented”.

    Do I think the words “gifted and talented” are the right ones to use? Not really, because like you I think both my kids have amazing gifts and talents, but it is what most school district use. Again, it is just rhetoric that needs to be changed? Like other words we deem terrible to use in our communities, are we creating more out of “gifted and talented”? I think your friend may have a point however… What about the kids who are struggling to keep it together because logically they know better? They can’t help it that the term that gets used for them seems to have a very positive spin on it.

    I love the idea of onions… ALL of us have many different layers.

  23. Pingback: Labels- Love ‘em and Loathe ‘em « Professor Mother Blog

    • Thank you so much for sharing this post! I have a feeling many of us dealing with an autism spectrum dx today will face some form of G&T issues tomorrow (or whatever they will be called at that point). I hope we will continue to be as inspired and motivated to demand inclusion and academic opportunity for our children, regardless of their specific gifts and talents when the need arises…even if the labels continue to rub us the wrong way. :-)

  24. I’m unclear – is your rant against the words “gifted and talented” themselves, or that the woman you were chatting with asked about them? If it is the words themselves, could you offer alternatives please, as you did for ‘normal’ and ‘regular’? If it is that the woman asked about them, why should she not? You said, “She had a number of insightful questions and was very supportive of what we had done. I explained that although the bulk of our efforts last year revolved around understanding and celebrating learning differences, the Inclusion Committee was established with a much broader scope in mind. I told her that our goal was to ensure that no individual or group of people ever felt left out of the larger community.” If you are truly committed to that, then you *do* need to consider the needs of . These kids are just as at risk of feeling left out of the larger community as any other child who is ‘different’. I graduated high school 22 years ago and it’s taken me this long to recover from some of the emotional and psychological problems I developed as a result of my botched educational experience. I hope since you admitted you are oversensitive, you’ll allow me that same reaction. Who are you to say that one kid’s ‘different’ needs are more important than another’s? Why is it that people are so much more accepting now of inclusion for kids with challenges, but there’s a big hue and cry whenever a district tries to provide anything “extra” to meet the needs of a child who learns ten times faster than anyone else in the class? I’m sure you meet many people who have no idea what parenting a child with autism entails. From what I’ve read here, I have to say that you appear to have no idea what being or parenting a child with entails. If you or anyone else reading this are interested in learning just how devastating being “gifted” can be, I recommend the book Genius Denied by Jan & Bob Davidson, or their website, http://www.geniusdenied.com/. (Just in case anyone’s wondering, yes, I chose the word devastating deliberately and yes, I’m serious.)

    • Note – there are two places words are missing from my comment. In both cases, I had put something to the effect of “substitute word of your choice” in brackets, and the brackets and everything in them did not show up here.

    • I’ve come across this a little late, but I’d like to reply anyway.

      Thank you, Cheryl, for this comment. I will add my own (brief) experience.

      I was speaking in full sentences before age one, I taught myself to read at age three and was reading college material before kindergarten, and throughout school was considered “gifted”. That designation not only caused me years of relentless bullying and ostracization, but was also the reason I was not diagnosed ASD until age 30. Instead, I was given traumatic treatment for “not living up to my potential”, was misdiagnosed for ten years with mental illness and kept in chemical restraint with obscene amounts of drugs, and permanently lost custody of my daughter.

      I’ve lived my life with one foot in both worlds, and it nearly destroyed me. Assuming a gifted child has a breeze of a life is just as destructive as any of the stereotypes surrounding children and adults with “disabilities”.

      Also, thank you so much, Jess, for not only addressing this post, but for the original post itself. This is such an important topic which really deserves discussion. Any time we separate one group from another, specifically by using labels, other groups will inherently suffer. The tragedy in this is that we are ALL on a spectrum, and while labels may help assist us in some areas, no one is ever simply their label. We all have our gifts, our challenges, our idiosyncracies, and we ALL deserve compassion, understanding, and available assistance when it is needed.

  25. Amen sista. I’m shutting up now for fear of what else I may end up saying as I’d surely offend someone at some point. I agree wholeheartedly though with every word you said.

  26. ** All – We JUST walked in the door after a LONG day of traveling and I am bleary eyed. It’s so important to me to give your comments the time, energy and focus that they deserve. Since I’m barely capable of brushing my teeth before bed right now, I’m thinking it best to come back to this after a night’s sleep. I’m grateful to those of you who have taken the time to respectfully educate me’ today. More in the morning. – Jess **

  27. I agree that the “gifted and talented” label is problematic, both because it implicitly belittles the gifts and talents of students not so tagged, and because it is imprecise. However, I think that inclusion should, er, INCLUDE academically accelerated children as well.

    I hated school as a kid. I was ostracized by my classmates. They whispered behind my back, used cultural references I didn’t get, baited me to see how I’d react. I didn’t know how to make friends with them. I seemed to speak a different language. I spent research in the principal’s office for two whole years, by choice. My teachers found me a frustrating, demanding student. Class assignments didn’t hold my interest and I was frequently off on my own tangent. I worked at a radically different pace than most of my classmates. School mornings were a struggle and I often left in tears.

    Does any of that sound familiar?

    I was identified as “gifted and talented” at a very young age. I taught myself to read when I was four. In 2nd grade, my favorite author was Charles Dickens. I unconsciously incorporated the language from his novels into my every day conversation…let me tell you, using Dickensonian English is not the way to make friends at age 8. I hated the ungoverned wilderness of the playground and begged to be allowed to stay in the principal’s office with a book. I was constantly in trouble with my teachers for reading a book hidden under my desk. I didn’t do it to be defiant. I did it because I was bored, often literally to tears. I finished assignments in a fraction of the time intended, and frustrated teachers would instruct me to “do the problems again” or “write it out in cursive this time.”

    We moved when I was starting 5th grade, and I was put into a twice a week pull-out program. I learned computer programing that year, and the next year, I wrote a simple program that managed attendance records for the district. The teacher in charge of the program negotiated a deal with my classroom teachers: when I finished the assigned work, I could read or work on other projects of my choosing, so long as they were in the same general subject area. These were simple accommodations that profoundly changed my experience at school. The social situation was a longer struggle and one that wasn’t really resolved until I found a wonderful group of friends as a high school student.

    My challenges were different, but no less real. The label “gifted and talented” didn’t do me any great service. It was no golden ticket. If anything, it was a way of brushing aside the ways in which a typical elementary and middle school education didn’t work for me.

    I don’t mean to belittle the challenges that Brooke or other children on the autism spectrum face. I also appreciate the possibilities afforded me as an adult by the genetic lottery. But I think an “inclusion committee” that isn’t willing to consider the needs of “gifted and talented” kids who certainly didn’t choose the label themselves is kind of missing the point.

  28. Coming out of the woodwork to echo what Cheryl said above. My son is doing math 4 grade levels above his peers, has been reading chapter books on his own for months and can beat me at chess, which is not saying all that much since I am not particularly good at the game, but he is 5 years old. And he has been diagnosed as PDD-NOS.

    We have found that one of the few resources that have provided any support or guidance for our challenges in meeting our son’s diverse needs has been the Davidson Institute: http://www.davidsongifted.org/youngscholars/. My mild-mannered son was zoning out completely at preschool and fast becoming a distracted behavioral disaster before we realized how crucial it was to get him the academic stimulation he needed in his educational environment in order for him to prosper at school, both academically and socially. The school district couldn’t have been less helpful; proving themselves incapable of moving past his IQ (after his testing for SpEd eligibility).

    I fully realize how ludicrous and cringe-worthy this may sound, but honestly, in our family, the challenges we face trying to keep our son constantly intellectually stimulated at present far outweigh the challenges we face in dealing with his spectrum issues. He just started kindergarten this week at a private “gifted” school (I can see the eye rolls from here), and it is a huge relief to me that they are willing and able to accelerate the curriculum enough to keep him from going mad while still supporting his social-emotional learning. And the Davidson Institute is providing other guidance and suggestions for supplemental materials and support networks.

    I wish we had been able to stay in the public school system. After all, before we had this child, we had moved to one of the best school districts in our state for that purpose. We now have a very painful outlay of cash going towards an expensive private school. But a system that refused to understand that an significantly academically advanced child with PDD-NOS needed similar social and emotional supports that a less academically inclined child with PDD-NOS required was a system that, sadly, was not going to work for us.

    For what it’s worth, I am in full agreement with you over the crappy and ridiculous semantics. And I have no idea what that woman truly meant by saying her spectrum son was “gifted.” For all I know she may have been crowing just to hear her own voice. But just maybe she thought she sensed a kindred spirit in you; maybe she felt comfortable sharing something with you that she didn’t usually tell other moms because she felt that you were sensitive to the issues, that you would be empathetic. Just saying.

  29. I think in the end we all want our children to feel loved, accepted and to know what a blessing they are in our lives. Whether they fall on the spectrum or are gifted. No child should be ostracized for being exactly who they are. Compassion starts at home. Be YOUR child’s example.

    All children should get the education they need and deserve. Whether they learn slowly or so quickly that it boggles the mind.

    The school districts need to stop failing kids who learn differently and I am including the ferociously smart kids in this statement.

  30. All, The following are comments from Diary’s facebook page. I am reprinting them here because I will refer to them in the follow up post.

    A – never been a fan of labels (although I’m learning that some are necessary to get services needed) but this is my least favorite one, because of its implication about the rest of the world (and I say this as someone who as a kid was in the G&T group…it was embarassing to be pulled out from the class for G&T stuff, just as I know it’s hard for my son to get pulled out for his stuff).
    You said it so well : we need to celebrate everyone’s talents and gifts.

    L – Jess, my thoughts are running a hundred miles an hour – but to slow it down into coherent thought – some G&T kids have some form ASD. I see it in some of my daughter’s friends, I see it in myself and my brother. Its a big part of what makes them G&T. So when that Mom said that to you – she was looking for you to see a parallel – cause some highly gifted children are not dx’ed with ASD, but they certainly fit alot of the criteria. And they have challenges just like our kids – being book smart doesnt always equate to people/common sense smart.

    J – This post reminded me of an article on People First Language that is posted on this website: http://www.disabilityisnatural.com/

    L – inclusive sometimes requires us not to rant. A gifted and talented child by any other name is the same, BUT obsfucating by playing language police does not help any child. I see your point how the term may pain you, but seriously — there are many bigger things to worry about when your a parent of an autistic child. I don’t get riled by the usage or “regular” or “normal” for I see the intent is not to harm. My biggest concern is that my kid get the supports he needs. None of us perform exactly the same, and I think its silly to try to pretend to do so by making wording murky. A change in wording isn’t going to change my kid… but it may make it harder for us to be CLEAR on what services he needs. Furthermore, many autistics are 2E kids – another term which will likely ruffle your feathers – “Twice Exceptional” – meaning gifted as well as learning disabled. My kid is one of those, and the wording doesn’t rankle me a bit.

    S – Agree with Lisa. Years ago the program (“TAG” as it was called) was part of the Sped Dept in our District. My son, on the spectrum, was tested in First Grade and fit the criteria. (he had not yet been given the Aspie diagnosis). We chose not to participate because he was already struggling socially. And as you wisely point out, the other kids had talents and gifts that my son needed to learn from.

    L – I think that the language police can distract or even turn off “regular” folk from the deeper message of understanding. If one’s blood boils when asked “can she do classwork like the regular kids?” then the opportunity to expand that person’s horizons might be missed. I think it all boils down to the intent of language. For example, describing She (politican) Who Shall Remain Nameless’s son as a retard…intolerable. Accidentally slipping up and calling yourself as a retard (in other words, a schmuck) a la Jen Aniston when you miss the exit on the highway…forgivable. Life is hard enough without reading our own issues into other people’s words.

    S – I’ve got to weigh in and agree with the girls. Jess… I respect you and appreciate you so much, so this isn’t meant to hurt you. That being said… how can you be “inclusive” when you don’t “like” the term that describes a child who has an above average intellectual intelligence and needs a more challenging program. Where I live we call this program AT or Academically Talented. There is also a program, and even a separate school, for children who are “gifted” in the arts. I was in the AT program as a child, beginning in the third grade. It was an accomplishment, and something that I was proud to be part of. Up until that point, the general coursework had been entirely lacking in challenge for me and school had therefore been uninteresting. AT gave me something to look forward to daily, and to want to earn good marks and do well so that I could continue to participate in. I think it was a very integral part of making me who I am today.

    Whomever you were talking to, I’m sure meant no harm. She was just trying to ensure that, in our fight for our children, we don’t forget the rest of the children out there. She only wanted to know and understand if your committee “includes” children with the most difficult special needs to the most astounding IQ’s.

    That being said… I agree that ALL of our children are gifted and have talents…. we as parents know and understand this and we don’t need to get caught up in exhausting ourselves.

    Ask yourself it this was about Brooke today, or if was about your injured heart and the pain of your fears about what autism means for Brooke’s future.
    ·
    CC – Jess- you ROCK and I completely, totally, and wholeheartedly agree with EVERY SINGLE WORD YOU WROTE!

    JT -This one really made me think….I happen to have one of those G&T kids and I also have 2 on the spectrum. I have been fighing to get my kids with Autism in an inclusive classroom while my G&T (pardon me for using this label) child has been in a “self-contained” classroom since the 4th grade…..interesting…..never thought of it like this before.

  31. Pingback: touching a nerve « a diary of a mom

  32. I think this is a very important conversation to have and yesterday’s commenters seem to have covered the bases. I get the sense that you are an open-minded person and you’ve likely learned a lot from this thread of comments.

    Let me just say that when I hear a child is getting a “gifted” label I’m *AS* concerned about what support that child will get through the years as when I hear about an autism diagnosis.

    Further, I’ve heard many a parent of typical kids bristle at the term “special needs”, arguing, “All kids are special — my kid certainly is — and they all have special needs”. This is a dismissive attitude and misses the point. It is an argument that is used to deny rights and funding to kids who need support in school. Sure we can argue all our kids are gifted and talented, but it similarly misses the point. We need to support everyone here.

    Thanks for always being so open and honest. We all learn from each other.

  33. After reading and thinking on the post you wrote today, I came back to this one because I wanted to see what it was exactly that set me off. It’s this:

    Yeah, Jerry Lewis. As in, Oh, OK, so we now need to hold a telethon for those poor Gifted and Talented kids? The ones with all those debilitating gifts and awful talents? I mean, for God’s sake people, where’s your compassion? Don’t you see how hard it is to be Gifted and Talented in today’s society? Sheesh. Send your donations TODAY. Operators are standing by.

    So, even though you later said that you were all for academically gifted kids having their needs met, it sounded pretty hollow after this dripping sarcasm as to their having any real needs at all. And the best word I can think of for how I felt after reading the paragraph I’ve quoted is: despair. I feel as though the academically gifted are the last “special needs group” in our society that it’s acceptable to discriminate against and even to make fun of, as you did. And I felt like, if someone who has to struggle to be understood by society, as much as I imagine a parent of a child with autism has to do, can’t understand how the academically gifted struggle for understanding as well, or doesn’t care (I wasn’t sure which), what hope is there? It was that blow to my having hope itself that cut so deep. I am near tears writing this now, but just wanted to share my reaction to this post in a more meaningful way. And I also want to explicitly apologize for the way I wrote yesterday and thank you again for responding so graciously.

    • cheryl, i absolutely understand why you felt the way you did reading that. it’s precisely why i said this morning that ‘I sincerely apologize to those who felt belittled or dismissed by my words. You have a point. A significant one in fact.’

      what i wrote was a description of what went through my head at that time, based on my very narrow definition of what it meant to be gifted. i can assure you i would react differently now. thank you again for taking the time and the emotional energy to share your story.

  34. jess is reacting to “gifted and talented” the school program, not “gifted and talented” kids who, in some cases, experience bullying. any reasonable person familiar with the posts here knows that jess is all about including those who are excluded, bullied…so she’s reacting to the school program, which is a completley different thing from kids IN the program who go through bullying.

    it makes sense to suggest that “gifted and talented” (a program that rewards kids, provides them with numerous educational perks) is in-itself not a top priority for the inclusion committee, especially since any g-and-t kids who experience bullying would of course be welcomed by the group.

    i guess this gets down to how one defines their terms. jess is reacting to “gifted and talented” the school program. other people are reacting to “gifted and talented” as if it’s synonymous with “excluded” (which it’s not, that’s inaccurate and a massive generalization).

    • it makes sense to suggest that “gifted and talented” (a program that rewards kids, provides them with numerous educational perks) is in-itself not a top priority for the inclusion committee, especially since any g-and-t kids who experience bullying would of course be welcomed by the group.

      I’m sorry, but it doesn’t make sense. Not at all. The stated purpose of the inclusion committee is “to ensure that no individual or group of people ever felt left out of the larger community”. The “G&T” group is just as likely to feel left out as any other distinguishable group, exactly because of attitudes like you’ve conveyed here. A good “G&T” program is not, I repeat, not, just rewards and perks, as you put it. It is the only way academically advanced students can receive the “free and appropriate education” that is required by law for every kind of special-needs students, except them.

      As has been noted, I’m oversensitive on this subject and I’m trying hard to be civil, but since attitudes like you appear to have are a huge part of the problem in providing academically gifted students with the education they need, I do feel the need to say something.

  35. you’re right about one thing: the gifted and talented program does single kids out. it singles them out for academic priveleges many other students do not get to enjoy.

    by defintion.

    the problem you have isn’t with me, it’s with the definition of “gifted and talented”. kids who are bright are put in an accelerated learning program. it’s not a punishment, a stigma, it’s a program designed to meet the needs of intellectually higher functioning kids. bottom line: they’re getting attention, attention tailored to their unique gifts and needs. the inclusion committee is for kids receiving no attenion at all, the kids who are falling between the cracks.

    also, you’re making enormous generalizations. i remember vividly that many kids in the gifted and talented program were extroverted, outgoing…kids really on the fast track for life. many were well-off financially, popular. others weren’t, others were bright but socially awkward. it was a large variety of kids, nothing like the stereotyped descriptions being presented in the comments.

    • m, i would respectfully take issue with your comment that ‘the inclusion committee is for kids receiving no attenion at all, the kids who are falling between the cracks.’

      the inclusion committee is, as cheryl quoted, dedicated to ‘ensuring that no individual or group of people ever felt left out of the larger community’.

      that is in no way contingent upon whether or not their educational needs are being met. we strive to make sure that no one feels left out. that includes the kids who come in from different towns than the one in which our school is based, the kids whose families celebrate different holidays or speak different languages or practice different customs. it’s kids whose family constellations looks different than most of their peers. hell, last year i was even approached by a mom whose child was being singled out for eating different food than the other kids.

      so, whether or not a kid is on an IEP or an accelerated ed plan, if they don’t feel like they’re welcomed into the larger community, i believe it is absolutely the role of the inclusion committee to help rectify that.

      the thing is, the actual work that we do is not ‘directed’ at groups so to speak. instead, it’s focused on creating sensitivity and understanding to their issues among the larger school community. our opus last year was the learning differences panel. looking back on it, it actually addressed a lot of these issues. the original presentation taught kids about the different ways in which people learn. it addressed a variety of strengths as well as challenges. it talked about pace and how many kids need individualized or specialized instruction in order to work to the best of their ability. it’s all the same stuff.

      and while i can see why you think that cheryl is making generalizations, i think she’s actually (and cheryl, i don’t want to speak for you here, so please correct me if i’m wrong) trying to caution us against exactly that. my initial reaction was based on my generalized notion of what gifted meant. i did not allow for the possibility that many of the kids with that label (not all, certainly, but obviously many) had very real struggles of their own with their differences.

      i will say that i don’t think that the challenges are necessarily derived solely from extreme intellect in and of itself, but from everything that i’ve (very recently) learned, a lot of issues do seem to often come along for that ride.

      i’ve been very grateful that we have been able to keep the dialogue thus far at a reasonably high level of civility and mutual respect. i’d be most appreciative if we could continue in that vein.

      • You understood me correctly, Jess. Thank you. And you know what, I’ve decided I’m just as against the “Gifted and Talented” label as you are. Although for me, it’s more because it apparently fosters the attitude “well, how much help can they need? They’re giiifted“, and is therefore a hindrance to getting needed services to the very people it labels. I’m normally a fan of irony, but not in this case. ;)

    • An appropriate education is neither a privilege nor a “perk,” as you write in your earlier comment. It’s a RIGHT. For “gifted” kids and all other kids.

      Gifted and talented programs aren’t automatically sufficient for all kids who are enrolled in them. Being in a gifted program doesn’t automatically mean that kids are getting “attention tailored to their unique gifts and needs” any more than having an IEP guarantees the same for a child with an identified learning disability.

      And people’s personal experiences are not stereotypes. They may not be representative, but they are true for the individuals who lived them.

      I’m not interpreting M’s comments as representing Jess’s opinion, but I do think the comments merit a response, and Jess has graciously created a forum that makes this dialogue possible. I appreciate Jess’s original post, her willingness to engage in dialogue and to provide a place for others to do the same, and her follow up post. I know she has a diverse group of readers — I’m pleased to be among them.

  36. I’m wondering what everyone here would think of replacing “gifted and talented” with “academically precocious”. I feel it’s a much more precise and accurate term.

    • Love it. I’d even order the t-shirt ;)

      here’s another comment from FB that contains a couple of alternative ideas .. i particularly like ‘accelerated learner’

      Tough one; lots of thoughts.

      I totally agree with you that the term G&T is a bad one. As a former G&T teacher I was instrumental in my town’s changing the name of their entire program for the very reason that you site…all children are gifted and talented. Many programs around the country have changed that name to various other titles. (Enrichment and Challenge Support, Accelerated Learner, Advanced Academic Achievers…etc,) While no “title” or “label” is perfect, some have fewer negative implications than others.

      I also agree with the folks who said that most people have no ill intent when using this label. All parents have the natural instinct to brag about their kids and are unaware that they are not taking into account all possible audiences around them. However, I do not think you were in any way saying that you felt anyone had ill intent. These moments do have a powerful way of tapping into the part of us where our despair, terror and grief lay dormant, yet ready to pounce instantly.

      Those feelings, amongst others, are a very legitimate reason to rant. And we should allow each other our rants respectfully and compassionately. If we’re not safe to rant to each other, then where? I do think commentators were trying to respond to you with respect and compassion, while expressing their feelings.

      As a former ‘’G&T” teacher I can attest to the fact that a large percentage of accelerated learners are Twice Exceptional; have co-morbid learning and/or social disabilities. Many of them have a rough road of their own. I’m not talking about the spoiled, precocious, snobby kids whose parents filled out their Harvard application in the delivery room; and as a teacher I’ve had those as well. (Rant worthy in its own right, trust me.) But it’s hard to hear those comments without feeling like you’re talking to one of those parents.

      All that being said, I think what you ultimately did, as you often do, is to have opened up another important dialogue that touches many deep issues and hits many deep nerves. And there is NEVER anything wrong with that.

  37. Thank you for including Rojo on the TAG list. As a former TAG teacher, I can say that yes, all kids are TAG. All. There is a need, however, for programs that challenge those that aren’t challenged, but I know you already know that.

  38. I agree with Ashley, in that labels can assist children in receiving the assistance they require from a school system. As the mother of a “gifted” child, I have also seen this label work to his disadvantage. Often teachers assume he needs little to no instruction when completing his “general classroom” work, and he is embarassed to ask for it. I sometimes think because he knows he is “gifted” he puts little effort into simple task like spelling. This backfires quite regularly causing low grades on things like reading journals, spelling, and memorizing math facts. In closing,I believe labels have their purpose and there is no way aroung using them, but we have to be careful to understand no one can fit perfectly under a single heading.

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