Through my work with the Michigan Association of Gifted Children (MAGC), I’ve had the privilege of meeting a significant number of parents seeking both information about giftedness as well as a network of others with whom they can connect. One parent, Claire*, noted the importance of being able to share experiences with others who understand both the joys and challenges of parenting a gifted child. There is comfort in knowing one is not alone on this very unique journey. Here is Claire’s story.
While Claire was living in Rhode Island, she and her husband adopted a 10-month-old baby girl from an orphanage in China. After some time had passed, Claire noticed that her daughter, *Amy, began exhibiting unexpected behaviors as early as age two. “Even when she was two, she already was not getting along with other kids and saying things that would blow my mind,” Claire said. “She told me, ‘Mom, when I was a baby, you weren’t there and I missed you.’ What two-year-old says that? Since then, I’ve talked with other parents of gifted children and realized it is not uncommon for them to have memories from infancy.”
Amy exhibited other signs of giftedness as well. She learned to read the alphabet at age one and spoke in complete sentences by age two. Between ages two and three, Amy imitated a store’s eight-tone doorbell melody on a piano, without any practice or instruction. At age three, Amy’s interests were to “know things.” By age five, Amy stood in front of the piano and played classical music by ear with both hands and effectively used the foot pedal‒without having ever had piano lessons. “It was breathtakingly beautiful,” Claire remembered. “It was not just a song or something she was making up. She was feeling it.”
At first, Claire felt like she was living in a constant Twilight Zone and did not realize she had a daughter who is gifted. Later, when Claire attended a Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) meeting, the speaker said, “Chances are, if you are gifted, you will have a gifted child.” Claire realized that it took longer for her to recognize Amy’s giftedness because she was not gifted and did not personally experience the struggles that other gifted parents have gone through.
A common struggle includes having difficulties at school, and Amy was not immune. She experienced constant problems during pre-school and elementary school, including but not limited to boredom, intense reactions when observing social injustices, unsavory conduct grades, and alienation from peers. In fact, since age three, Amy has enrolled in several pre-K and elementary schools, most of which did not appropriately support her cognitive, social, and emotional needs. One school administrator acknowledged Amy’s impressive abilities but refused to allow her to accelerate because of her age and “immaturity,” evidenced by Amy’s “throwing leaves at other children.” Claire remembers observing Amy at another school, where she hoped Amy would fare better. “It looked almost like she was catatonic. It was like watching a caged animal,” Claire said. “I could see her braining kicking, needing exercise. She said she couldn’t take it; it was too boring and all they did was sit. It might be a wonderful school if a child is mainstreamed, but I could not send Amy back.”
Claire recognizes that Amy is indeed “extraordinary.” But she also realizes that, in some ways, giftedness can be a burden, especially if the parents are not gifted. She said:
You realize that even if you want to, you cannot just put your seven-year-old child in a regular second-grade classroom at a public school. It won’t work. Without their needs being supported, these children can start having psychological and emotional issues. They think differently and take in the world a different way than most kids. People don’t realize this. Life is much harder for them.
Eventually, Claire and her family moved to Michigan, and Claire joined MAGC because she realizes she needs to find other people who know what being gifted means. Claire explains,
It took me years to realize I just can’t talk about this to anybody. I can’t just walk up to a friend and say what my kid is doing like playing classical piano at age five. People compare, whether they want to or not. And the parents are also alienated, not just their children. We need help.
Currently, Amy attends an independent day school that offers small class sizes and IEPs for each child, gifted or not. For instance, Amy’s IEP allows her to work at the fourth-grade level in English/language arts even though she is in second grade. Amy and her parents are looking forward to a hopeful and encouraging journey in their new state and new home.
Claire’s biggest challenge now is finding a social network for Amy near their home, a group of like-minded peers with whom Amy might connect. Claire states,
The social piece is probably the hardest piece. It’s heartbreaking when your child just doesn’t connect. And they want to. They want to make friends, have interaction, but they think differently. They are ostracized by other children who are very astute and aware that they are different.
Do you have a gifted child who needs to connect with like-minded peers? Do you want to connect with others both knowledgeable about giftedness and/or who are parenting gifted children? Join your state association such as the Michigan Association for Gifted Children to get involved. MAGC provides leadership, advocacy, support, and services to assist families and educators in meeting the unique needs of gifted and talented children and youth.
*Names have been changed.