An Imperfect Analogy – what “gifted” looks like

The term “gifted” is a loaded one. One that seems covetous to some,  but for those who live it and their families, the journey is hard. And people seem to have little understanding for the unique challenges that this label brings, so I’ve been thinking about ways to somehow make it clear that “gifted”, especially in a world without accommodations, can be pretty miserable.

Imagine, if you will, that your child has been born with a genetic mutation that causes him to be 20% taller than the average classmate. That means that when the other 7yos are 4 feet tall, he’s 5 feet tall.

People say that being tall is a perk, a bonus, something to celebrate, but for your child, it’s actually rather uncomfortable.

Desks at school don’t fit. Playground equipment and gym activities are awkward, clothes made for this height have inappropriate content for a 7yo who would rather be in the world of Ninja Turtles or Legos. 

Teachers say he should just adapt, that the other kids will probably catch up, that he doesn’t need modified activities (the pull up bar in gym involves no pulling up whatsoever), and often enlist his help getting items off of high shelves. 

His classmates resent him in sports because he seems to have it so much easier than they do. They find it unfair when he scores a basket or runs the fastest. He has an advantage, after all! 

Out in public, he’s often mistaken for an 11 or 12 year old and held to the same behavioral expectations. In fact, his family and teachers also unintentionally expect more of him, just because he *looks* more mature than he actually is.

For as long as he can remember, he’s felt like an outsider, like he doesn’t entirely fit in. 

When he hangs out with 12 year olds, he breathes a sigh of relief. He doesn’t stand out, at least initially, and the environment is definitely more comfortable. But then their conversations and interests, once again, exclude him as he can’t keep up with them in other ways, especially when the subject of girls comes up. When they play sports, he seems awkward and unskilled, as his motor skills and body control are years behind those of his same-height peers.

He’s unsure of his future. Everyone expects him to be a basketball player, or some other occupation where height is of an advantage, but he’s not sure that’s what he wants to do, and he is only 7, for goodness’ sake.

Left with his same age peers, he starts slumping down to minimize his height, and he refuses activities that look like they would be uncomfortable or make him stand out. His teachers label him as withdrawn and oppositional, and they leave him to sulk in the back of the room.


Now. This is an imperfect analogy and a pessimistic point of view. In this story, the adults in his world don’t know how to cope with a kid like him and therefore don’t handle it well.

Imagine if training and supports were in place (as is the case for some but not all gifted students) that would allow him to be himself and comfortable in his own skin. 

That’s what we want for our gifted kids — not preferential treatment but appropriate supports because they are unique learners with unique needs who struggle in a regular classroom environment unless their needs are recognized and considered worthy of accommodating.

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