I love words. They hold such power, such rich descriptiveness in their grasp. My husband half-jokingly calls me a “wordsmith,” a surprisingly poetic description from such a prosaic man. As a child, I was the kid lugging a huge bag of adult books to the library checkout. The librarians routinely made little jokes about how I would be busy for a while. I finally stopped trying to reply and just smiled and shrugged because they wouldn’t believe how fast I could read.
I’m still that way as an adult. Give me a gripping new book and I’m constantly lured by it until it’s finished. Of course, chores and kids rather get in the way, but I’m still a fast reader.
I’m a fast writer too. My brain whirrs along faster than I can write, and I can bang out a blog post in no time. I’ve always struggled with handwriting because I can’t write as fast as my brain processes. My mom had me take typing lessons as a teen and it made a huge difference in how I write.
I used to think that everyone could write easily. It wasn’t until I went to college that I realized that I’m not normal. That I’m some freak of nature who lives and breathes words. I was the weirdo in my History of Journalism class who cheerfully dove into the massive research paper requirement that was the bane of the entire major. That paper ended up presented at a symposium and published, so I guess my summer of breathing old newspapers and scouring online archives paid off.
I’m not writing this just to brag about my abilities, because truthfully, I didn’t do anything to earn them. It’s something I was born with. No, I’m writing about it because my son is not like me.
Words don’t come easily to him. Not yet, at least. He’s highly verbal and has a massive vocabulary, but he can’t read. He hates writing. And he’s gifted.
Wait, he’s gifted? Then why isn’t he reading? Aren’t all gifted kids early readers? Shouldn’t he be reading Harry Potter by the age of 2? Then he must not be gifted. Right?
Wrong. He’s gifted. No doubt about that.
I’m not sure if it’s a disability holding him back like dyslexia, or if he’s just not drawn to reading. Either way, it’s not fun for him. It’s a boring chore. I’m pretty sure that when he decides he needs reading for something that he really wants (like Minecraft or coding) that he’ll flip that desire switch and boom! Reading.
It makes me a little sad. I want to share what I love with him. I want him to taste the satisfying crunch of a word, or the rich nuance of a sentence. I want him to know the joy of effortlessly putting your thoughts down on paper. I want him to lose himself in the millions of imaginary worlds hidden between the covers of a book. I want that for him, even knowing that it might not be what he wants.
For now, I read to him. I recite poetry to him, and he sits enthralled as I recite Donne’s sonorous stanzas: “Death be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so…”. I tell him “full fathom five thy father lies, of his bones are coral made…” and have to stop to define what fathom means, and discuss coral types. When he’s older, I’ll share some of my writing with him, those broken, raw words that came when we lost his older sibling in a miscarriage.
He loves words too, just in a different way. He wants to know “everything about everything” and words are a way to categorize and explain. He’ll read when he’s ready, because he’s stubborn like that. That’s ok. After all, this is the child who wouldn’t take my word for it when I told him the pan was too hot to touch – he had to test it, just to be sure.
So if your child is like mine, don’t let them fool you. Not all gifted kids are early readers. Not all kids will love to read. That’s ok. This touches back to the gifted = achievement fallacy that makes us all feel like imposters. Gifted is how you think, not how you read.
(note: many gifted children read early. I’m not minimizing that fact at all, just pointing out that not all gifted kids read early. If you’re dealing with a twice exceptional child like mine, then the reading/not reading dilemma takes on an added urgency: what if it’s a learning disability?)