Professionals and educators love labels. Sometimes, those labels are wrong. Intensity, sensitivity, and asynchronous development are traits. Here’s how to parent when a label doesn’t fit.
My memory is foggy, but I do know we met with the psychologist first. She sat across from me, poised above a stack of institutional evaluations, tapping a manicured finger on the margin of the top sheet.
“After we review the findings with your daughter’s principal and kindergarten teacher, you’ll have the opportunity to sign your consent for the IEP.”
She slid a stack of papers across the fake wood table. I felt my husband’s gentle hand squeeze my knee. My daughter’s faults stood in sharp relief on the paper in front of me.
…difficulties in social interaction, social communication, and transitioning throughout the day…significant problems in regulating her behavior and emotions…low tolerance for frustration that sometimes results in emotional meltdowns…sensory sensitivities and the presence of rigid thought…adversely impact her daily functioning with the school setting and her availability for learning.
I couldn’t breathe.
What about her intellect? Her wit and creativity? Her penchant for insight and emotional connection?
I found a single mention on page two:
Strengths are reported in her scholastic potential. It is noted that she is reading above a first-grade level and possesses a wide vocabulary. She is described as articulate, bright, and creative.
And then the IEP – five pages of focus on perceived social and emotional concerns.
Her academic needs?
“We don’t offer acceleration until grade three.”
Misunderstood and Gifted
You have to really know gifted to understand it.
My seven year old suffers from extreme anxiety. She has violent outbursts and fights me on everything, but she is not Emotionally Disturbed.
My three-year-old is not a sleeper. He wakes screaming and needs me multiple times a night, but he does not have a sleep disorder.
From the outside, their behaviors look like pathology. In truth, it’s normal life for a lot of gifted kids.
Intensity, Sensitivity, Asynchronicity – Oh My!
Everything a parent needs to know about gifted children, they learn in kindergarten, or at least the first time they send a child to school. Many educational professionals are hardwired to view gifted traits as pathological concerns, and part of me can’t blame them, really.
I used to be an educator; putting kids into categories was my thing. I had to educate large groups of children in one institutional setting. My classroom was far more manageable – my students, more teachable – if my world was organized and clean.
But what gifted parents know by experience catches most teachers unaware: atypical thinkers are gloriously messy. They harbor traits like intensity, sensitivity, and asynchronicity most educators don’t have time to study.
- Instead of being viewed as having a passion for learning and a drive to explore, they see our children’s intensity as defiance, impatience, or perseveration.
- Instead of appreciating our children’s heightened awareness of their surroundings, they see their sensitivity as hyperactivity, distraction, or emotional fault.
- Instead of recognizing the individual nature of a child’s development, they see our children’s asynchronicity as inappropriate behavior or developmental delay.
The end result is is a one-off perception: our children become subject to “One Label per Customer” thinking, a situation where children are “defined by their gifts or their deficits, not both,” (Dietrich and Webb).
As neuropsychologists Webb and Dietrich point out, once one label has been applied to a child, the quest for answers ends. Regardless of whether the label is incomplete, inaccurate, or just flat out wrong, there’s no impetus to fund further study or exploration.
This is where we have to step in.
How to Parent When a Label Doesn’t Fit
Change your own perception of labels
This was the hardest for me. Maybe it was my background as an educator; maybe it was my wounded pride. But in either case, I didn’t want to view my daughter as anything other than my own perception of perfect.
I was angry – at her, at myself, at the school – at anybody who came within a five-foot radius of my carefully crafted world.
It’s taken four and a half years of prayer and consideration, but I’ve finally reached a point where I can accept the 2E designation as a gift. It’s an opening to greater possibilities for our children, the beginning of a quest for answers and phenomenal growth.
Be ready to advocate, and make sure you know your rights
As the parent of a gifted child, both you and your child have rights. Read through the Children’s Bill of Rights with your child, and teach her how to advocate for herself. If you have a Twice Exceptional, familiarize yourself with IDEA and ADA. Become familiar with the concept of an IEP, and be sure to know your rights during the IEP process.
Create or build up a supportive community
Giftedness is a lonely path, one much easier to navigate in a group setting. Seek out families with similar interests and situations and help yourself and your child make friends with those who understand. Don’t know where to start? Look to organizations like Davidson Gifted, Johns Hopkins CTY, and Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.
Be open to educational alternatives
My father had a favorite saying: “Square peg don’t fit in a round hole.” That bit of Texas wisdom has stuck with me through my own parenting, especially when it comes to the choices we’ve made for school.
I thought a private, Catholic education would be the right place for my children. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We eventually made the decision to homeschool and it’s been a game changer. I encourage every gifted family to consider the variety of options available; not every child will thrive in a traditional public school.
My memory of those kindergarten days may be foggy, but our direction forward is clear.
We’ve chosen a path for our children that celebrates the whole child rather than focusing on deficits or gifts. The journey hasn’t been easy – we still second guess ourselves and fight fear. But when we look back at where we started, we all much happier here.
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