I hear this a lot, mostly from the parents of gifted kids. They say things like “I tested gifted in school, but now I’m just average,” or “my parents and teachers said I was gifted but I never did anything with it.” Sometimes it’s said to discredit the whole idea of giftedness: look at me! I’m supposed to be gifted but I’m normal. So there’s no such thing as gifted!
Sometimes it’s sour grapes. Sometimes it’s frustration speaking. Sometimes it’s a genuine belief that you can “grow out of” being gifted. Well, your brain is your brain. You’re stuck with it! You don’t just “grow” out of being gifted: it’s a life-long kind of wiring. In a sense, yes, you could “grow” out of being gifted – if you were never gifted in the first place. If you were labeled gifted because you were a high achiever, then that label withers and dies without an academic setting.
Our schools focus on identifying high achievers as gifted. Those of us who don’t fit in the neat little G&T box of education often don’t think we’re gifted. If you spend your whole childhood hating school and never getting an A, would you think that you were gifted? Probably not. What if you were female, or Hispanic, or African-American? Would you think that you were gifted? The stereotypical gifted child is white or Asian, and male (with glasses!) If you don’t fit in that stereotype it’s easier for imposter syndrome to creep in. To assume “not gifted” or “mistake” in the first place.
If you’re truly neurodiverse, then you’re stuck with gifted. Because gifted is how your brain works, not what grade you get in class. It doesn’t matter if you’re 7 or 70, gifted is gifted.
This is a really tough trap for our kids to fall in: thinking that when I grow up it won’t matter any more. Wrong! When you grow up, there’s a little more tolerance for quirks and diversity. Sometimes. Age differences don’t matter as much because you’re all adults. You can find your tribe a little easier, find those who share your interests.
Adulting makes hiding giftedness easier in some ways. You aren’t constantly compared to a cross-section of your peers. Differences seem less, or less important. Sometimes differences are expected if you go into a “nerd” dominated job field like science or programming.
It’s important to realize that gifted never goes away. The way you look at the world, the way you think, the way you reason/feel/imagine/sense does not change. It matures, it finds footing and grows, but it doesn’t disappear. We need our kids to understand this, because their neurodiversity will affect them in their adult life too.
I find facets of this in my daily life as a gifted adult married to a gifted spouse. It matters. It’s why this middle-aged mom has streaks of color in her hair. It’s why I read poetry to my babies when they were infants, and play Gilbert & Sullivan arias or Imagine Dragons for my 6-year-old. It’s why I don’t mind spending money on a batch of Lego gears but balk at buying clothes for myself (because clothes are boring and Legos are for learning!)
One of my biggest challenges to living with a gifted spouse is communication. We’re often worlds apart, and we find it hard to communicate at times. He doesn’t want to listen to me talk about my feelings. I get hurt and upset if we have a misunderstanding. We struggle to communicate in ways that both of us understand. We don’t always mesh, despite living with each other for 14 years and learning so much about each other. (yes, some of that is just male/female stuff – but like everything else with gifted, it’s more. More difficult.)
If someone had told me as a child, “here, this is why you’re different, these are the traits that gifted folks have. Let’s help you work on the weaknesses to balance your strengths” my childhood would have been so much easier. I didn’t know why I was different, and at times I didn’t realize I was different. I thought everyone got goosebumps listening to music, or stopped dead in their tracks to watch a hawk fly overhead. Finding my way as an adult has been difficult, but as a child it was harsh. It was feeling alone and left out, feeling like a misfit, weirdo, and failure.
I want to spare my kids that. I want to tell them that they’re gifted, and here’s what that means to you as you grow and become the person you are meant to be. I want them to sally forth into the wide world of adulthood knowing their strengths and their weaknesses. I don’t want them to use the label gifted as a crutch or a bludgeon, but as a tool to help them understand themselves.
That’s the key point here: know thyself.
Gifted or not, that’s a great philosophy for everyone. Know who you are. Love it. Accept it. Run headlong into life with that knowledge, secure in yourself.
Gifted kids become gifted adults. It’s that simple. And it’s that complicated too. So parents, take a good, long, hard look at yourself, and decide if that old label of gifted is still a good fit for today. Because your gifted kids need to know that they’re not alone, that they too can grow up to be successful, awesome people because of and despite their gifted brain. Gifted doesn’t define who we are – it simply explains it.