Jen from Laughing At Chaos brought up something that I often think of – the fact that I have two children who fall on opposite sides of the bell curve. Neither falls at what is considered the “norm” or average, one is not better or worse than the other, they are just different. Different from each other, different from average. I do need to add a disclaimer here in that we do not have a definitive diagnosis as to what my little one’s challenges are, and at this time she is considered to have “Global Developmental Delays”.
In all honesty, I think their differences actually create quite a bit of common ground for both of them, and what it takes to parent them. They both need special accommodations and different ways of doing many things. They both have challenges and as a parent those challenges can be intimidating, frightening, frustrating, confusing and exhausting. They are also both unique, beautiful, funny, caring and loving girls who sparkle, at least in their mama’s eyes.
What is so very interesting to me, is how differently people perceive and react to children (and their parents) that fall on opposite sides of the bell curve. I have no problem discussing the special needs of my little one, but I rarely ever discuss the needs of my gifted child. It’s almost taboo. Socially unacceptable. Unwelcome.
While nobody would expect a child who is three standard deviations below the average to act, think and understand the world the same way the average does, every day people expect that out of kids that are three standard deviations above the average. While people get that there is a big difference between being one standard deviation below and three standard deviations below (could be the difference in caring for one’s self, holding a job, being able to drive a car), the other side of the curve is just one group, all lumped together.
When I talk about my little one, with her delays, people are (or at least attempt to be) understanding. They respond with things like…
- Recognizing that it must be hard and tiring to be a special needs parent.
- Suggesting that I talk to this friend or that friend of theirs who has been there, or this program or that resource.
- They commend me (which sometimes confuses me, I didn’t honorably apply for the gig – you do what ya gotta do, right?).
- They understand (or at least pretend to) when she acts out in public, or I decline an invitation because I know it’s a setting or situation that will not work well for my little one.
- They tell me she’ll be okay (will she? I don’t know, but I guess it sounds like a good thing to say to someone).
- They don’t compare their child to mine, and instead say that all children are different, and how great that it.
- They tell me all of the things that they think are so great about her.
- Find reasons and justifications as to why she may be a picky eater or have sensory issues.
- They appear to look for ways to be supportive.
- They recognize that she’s different, and that it’s okay (well, most of them).
Now let’s talk about the child who is on the other side of the bell curve. That info is not something I tend to volunteer. But from my experience, and that of others who are walking the same path, the responses are along the lines of…
- Eye rolling and acting annoyed.
- Responding with “well all children are gifted”.
- Responding that “no child is gifted”.
- Responding that “everyone thinks their child is gifted”.
- Telling me how proud I must be of her.
- Asking me how much work/time/money it took to get her to be gifted. (I’ll roll my eyes now…)
- Telling me how lucky I am and how easy I have it (HA!)
- Changing the subject.
- Justifying why their child is not gifted.
- Telling me I’m too hard on her.
- Telling me I’m too easy on her.
- Telling me I should medicate her.
- Say she’s spoiled or being difficult for being a picky eater and having sensory issues.
- Treating her like she’s being a brat or a problem when she in fact actually knows what she’s talking about and has a very valid point and a reason for it to be heard.
- Providing disapproving stares and comments when she acts out in public.
- They recognize that she’s different, but do not accept or understand it, nor do they attempt to.
It’s amazing how different the reactions are. Such a contrast. Two kids, both a few standard deviations from the average. Both kids requiring different things, marching to the beat of their own drum. But the issues that one has gets understanding and empathy and other gets annoyance, comparison and even contempt.
I’m not sure if it’s our society being familiar with disabilities and therefore more understanding or if there is something about gifted that people take personally, and somehow find upsetting or bothersome. The reactions I get to having a gifted child are things people would never dream of doing or saying with my special needs child. I work so hard to teach my oldest that everyone is different and that we should embrace those differences and not make others feel bad in any way about what makes them unique. Ironic given the fact that I then turn around and so much of the time play down what makes her different.
I know some people will say that gifted isn’t the same as special needs (and in some ways it’s not) because she’ll always be good at school, things will come easy, she’ll get a great job and life will be good. Not so easy. While she may know every answer on a test, that doesn’t mean she might not fail it. She knows it all, she just can’t be bothered to capitalize or punctuate, and can’t understand why she should have to (even though she’s been told a million times).
Sure she may be a natural born leader, but our long time joke is she’ll be leader of the free world, or leader of her cell block. Being bright, working hard, having common sense and knowing how to navigate the world is not the same as being gifted. A 1991 study showed that between 18-25% of gifted students drop out of school. And I won’t even get started on interpersonal issues and friendships. Being the kid that’s “weird” or “different” isn’t easy, and girls can be mean. It’s hard to watch your child go to school beaming with excitement because she dressed like Laura Ingalls Wilder, only to have her come home, crushed that everyone, even her friends, made fun of her for it. And the educational challenges and problems is a whole separate series of posts. Being gifted does not automatically mean a child will be successful, happy, have straight A’s, be well adjusted or even finish high school. Not in the least.
I’m starting to ramble, but at the end of the day I have two kids. Two different kids. Two kids with their own strengths and weaknesses. Two kids that pose unique parenting challenges. Two kids that can be a handful and two kids that can generate “those stares” while with me out in public. Two kids that can fall outside of what is considered normal or average. But it’s amazing how with so much in common, discussing their issues brings such different reactions. I’m only a short way in to the journey of being a special needs parent of a child with delays, and a few years down the road in parenting a highly gifted child and I am fairly certain I have a very interesting sociology experiment on my hands. I hope that instead of it frustrating me on a daily basis, I can explore it, learn from it, teach my children compassion, understanding and kindness from it, and maybe, just maybe, have some fun with it.
For anyone interested in reading more on this topic, I highly recommend a wonderful article – Two Tails Of The Normal Curve.