What I want you to know about my 'gifted' son

<i></i>
 Photo: Getty Images

Recently, I ran across a great article about gifted children that I wanted to share on Facebook. As the mother of a gifted son, every word rang true - from the over-excitability, asynchronous development, and the fact that raising a gifted child is not always easy.

But I hesitated before sharing.

It's the same way I hold my tongue when a group of third-grade mums are talking about how difficult the last math test was - that they themselves couldn't even understand the questions. I know my son could explain the questions to them (and that I could not). But of course, there would be no way to mention that without seeming to brag.

I don't like the term "gifted." It seems too exclusive a term, and doesn't encompass the breadth of talents that children can have. My son isn't especially gifted in sports, visual art, dance or public speaking. He's gifted in all things academic. He's brainy. And his giftedness doesn't always feel like something to brag about. In fact, some of my real parenting struggles are related to the way his brain is wired.

But I feel so alone, like I can't share this with other parents.

From birth, my son had an intensity about him that made him different from most kids. When he was happy, he was ecstatic, but when he was upset, he was prone to epic tantrums. Even as a young toddler, he argued with a voracity that was biting, complex and unrelenting.

I think it's normal to lack self-confidence as a new parent. But almost a decade into parenting my gifted son, I still often feel completely and utterly lost. I wonder: Is he normal? Is it really supposed to be this difficult? Does he need more intellectual stimulation? Does he need less?

And I wonder about me, his mother. How on earth will I muster enough patience every day to deal with his willfulness, his outspoken personality and unrelenting energy? How can I create appropriate boundaries without squashing his unique abilities? How can I help create a life for him that nurtures his innate gifts but also gives him the ability to function normally and be happy?

Like many gifted children, my son reached milestones at a different rate than his peers. He began reading when he was 3. At 4, he was multiplying and doing long division. We didn't push these things on him. He begged for more knowledge, more information.

Advertisement

When he was in pre-K, he took the New York City Gifted and Talented Exam to see if he was eligible to attend one of our city's coveted gifted programs - and also because we were curious to see how he would score. He not only tested as "gifted" but received the highest possible score on the exam.

And yet, at the same time that he excelled in his young academic pursuits, he was slow to meet other milestones (toilet training, independent sleep and certain fine motor skills). This is what experts call "asynchronous development," and while my son certainly has accomplished all his toddler milestones by now, he still lags behind in some developmental areas where his peers seem to excel.

It should probably be noted that gifted children share many of the same characteristics as children diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, including an absorbing interest in a particular topic, and an uncanny ability to hyperfocus.

While many children are diagnosed with both - often called "twice exceptional" - this is not the case with my son. He does not exhibit the socialising difficulties that are the hallmark of Asperger's. He is very social, makes friends easily and doesn't have trouble expressing his feelings.

We decided early on in his education that we wanted him to have as normal a childhood as possible. Even though he gained admission to some of the city's top gifted programs, when we found out how competitive the programs were, and how much extra work the kids are given at such young ages, we decided not to send him to any of them. Instead, we enrolled him in our small neighbourhood school.

This plan has worked out well for the past few years. His teachers give him extra challenges when he finishes the regular class work, and he has plenty of time to pursue his own brainy interests outside of school. He certainly spends a fair share of his free time playing video games, but he also has also learned how to code and create video games himself.

I can't predict what his life will be like. I certainly want him to be successful, but I also know that he has an intensity that can make life difficult sometimes. As his mum, I worry. I worry that he will start to find school annoying or stressful. I worry that his seriousness and impetuousness will make him seem aloof or unfriendly. I worry that his profound drive for perfection will leave him feeling frustrated and disappointed.

And yet, I know I have little control over any of this, and that all I can do is love him unconditionally, guide him to make good decisions and then trust that things will work out the way they are supposed to in the end.

I want my son to know that wherever life takes him, I will always admire him deeply. I'm his biggest fan. And I'm thrilled to watch him grow up to see where his dazzling mind takes him.

This is an edited version of an article which first appeared in The Washington Post.