I feel very odd- my daughter just qualified for the gifted program. On the one hand, I’m thrilled. I TEACH in gifted education- I recognize the absolute need to meet the needs of ALL children, including those who learn differently- and differently includes those who learn faster, quicker and need a challenge that traditional classrooms can’t offer. When children aren’t challenged, they turn that energy elsewhere- and so much potential is lost. Having experienced education myself as a bored, desperately wanting to fit in kid, to a child challenged who found other people interested in obscure, off the wall things, I am a deep advocate of gifted education, particularly public gifted education programs. I have seen too many kids from low income families whose parents didn’t know how to challenge their children, or couldn’t provide the “extras” that middle to upper class families do. Without gifted education and the environment of challenge, those children have not a chance of hoping to “get out”.
But on the other hand, I TEACH in gifted education. I’ve seen classrooms where the linguistic highjinks are stunningly fast and the pace is wonderfully quick, and children are asked to think in ways that are wonderfully complex. A program at the Thomas Jefferson High School in Northern Virginia outside of DC has ninth graders designing and making the technology for children with disabilities and writing grant proposals. Called the IBET program, it’s the Integrated Biology, English and Technology program and is one of the most outstanding programs I’ve ever seen- at any level, much less high school. Much less freshmen in high school. And I’ve written and taught language arts curricula for gifted kids at all levels- where the children are asked to analyze, compare and come up with metaphorical language as early as first grade. It’s a ball asking seven-year-olds to compare and contrast “The Ugly Duckling” with “Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain” to a story that they wrote themselves and asking them what the underlying metaphor for each story really is…
Which was similar to the Twice-Exceptional Program I taught in Albuquerque, NM,except that I also got to include all of the wonderful strategies I know from special education- multiple modalities, breaking it into smaller chunks, books on tape, making it visual, and behavior management. And those kids thrived (and continue to thrive, due to fantastic teachers such as Dennis Higgins, et al). But Twice-exceptional programs are few and far between… and understanding of twice-exceptional children is limited. It is a passion area of mine to bring development of strengths to special education and remediation and working around the areas of disability to gifted education- as a professional.
But this is MY daughter. And my experience is with kids who can’t read- with learning disabilities and behavior disorders. Autism is a whole new ball game with my daughter’s issues of language. Kids with language processing disorders are often a “beat behind”. They’re processing the question, the joke, the response- when typical kids have already moved on. And to be with gifted kids who are often a beat ahead…?
But “Elizabeth” IS bright- her long term memory is stunning- she memorized the multiplication tables in second grade and is tops in her school in the timed tests. She’s unbelievably analytical- she’s currently in the process of analyzing the structure of jokes to figure out how they work, and is writing her own. She doesn’t come up with them immediately, but she comes up with them and she can tell you how and why they’re jokes. I have memories of her banging on the washer and dryer as a baby and listening to the tonal differences between them. She understands how numbers relate to each other. And Lord help me, she’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen. Homework is done immediately and neatly. She works ahead in her math textbook because she’s “got to do more”. She gets very anxious when she doesn’t know how to do something and falls apart when things are out of order in her notebook.
But she tends not to test “well”- her scores are all over the place. Very, very high in visual memory and very,very low in verbal processing. Very high in math, “average” in reading and language. When you lump it all together, she tends to look like a “typical” or maybe an “above average” kid. Gifted? I know she is in so many areas, but in past schools, in past times, not enough to qualify. Too high to qualify for special education, too low to qualify for gifted. The twice-exceptional purgatory.
And now, in this place, at this school, she’s made their magic cut off score, which I know is arbitrary depending on what district you’re in. And I’m terrified- I want her challenged, but not scared; I want her to know how wonderful, deeply talented she is, but not feel “less than”. I want what ALL moms want- my child to grow at a rate and manner that works for her in a supportive environment with friends who are going through it too.
And so, I turn MY child over to professionals with hope and fear. Love her, challenge her, and help her learn how to be all that she is. It’s quite a task we teachers have- almost as hard as the one that we parents have.