GIFTED is the word and label, the label du jour. It’s a word I have heard tossed around in all manner of ways to describe today’s smart kids or even kids who are, gasp, doing well in math. Being gifted is very trendy these days. Just as every cool company these days is reducing its carbon footprint, the really neat kids are “gifted”. Another reason I don’t necessarily like the word gifted is that it haunts me. Back in the day I was described as being gifted by my 6th grade teacher, one chain smoking, gruff voiced, red-faced, potbellied but very endearing Mr. Marsalone. He was yelling, yes yelling, at my parents during a parent teacher conference which I attended shaming them for not having recognized my “giftedness” and scolding them for not putting me into a highly academic private school in town where the kids graduated onto Johns Hopkins and Harvard. He was yelling “I can’t teacher her! She’s too smart! I don’t want to have that on my shoulders! She’s constantly bored!” He was right. I aced my way through school, defeating all 30 of my classmates in sentence diagramming races at the blackboard, earning every possible bonus point that was offered on tests all the way through grad school, and getting kicked out of 8th grade and high school classrooms and sent to the library to do special projects because “I already knew this stuff” as one teacher put it . There was always a nagging sentiment in my teachers and I that I didn’t belong where I was. Not having done as well as I would have liked on standardized tests (no college prep at my high school) nor having attended an ivy league college which I knew I was capable of doing, I did always wonder, what were my parents thinking? Why didn’t they push me more? Why did they let me coast my way all the way through college instead of putting me in a more challenging environment? I had even begged to go to the highly academic public high school that graduated a large number of national merit scholars every year (did I mention that my high school had NO college prep? Unless you consider studying for the nunnery college prep). I had many theories on that, but never did I expect the reason my Dad informed me of just months before his death. “They wanted us to put you in this special school for gifted kids, and…I dunno, maybe we shoulda done that honey, but your mother and I just wanted for you to be normal and not be singled out… ya know, we didn’t want you to feel all that pressure”, was his explanation. What could I say? Their intentions were noble, but I wasn’t normal and not being in an environment with kids like me did put a lot of pressure on me – to be normal.
In great irony even though I have been hearing teachers and adults refer to Finbar as gifted, like my parents I am hesitant to push him any more beyond what is the norm. I don’t want to be “one of those moms” putting a lot of pressure on my child. I shy away from the whole idea of calling my child gifted these days because it seems that any child with reasonable book smarts ( who is good in math!) whose parents are ambitious or paying attention will be enrolled in gifted camps, gifted courses, gifted whatever , when in fact they are just bright high achieving kiddos who probably fall within the two standard deviations on the IQ test. But not gifted a la Einstein, a la Stevie Wonder, or Steven Hawkings. Thus far that is what I have deemed Finbar to be. Just a bright kid, smarter than I am, maybe even with a very high IQ, a kid with intense curiosities, a large vocabulary and a capacity for memory common to Asperger types. But my conversation with his Brain Integration Therapists gave me something to think about.
As I mentioned before Finbar had been very out of sorts during the previous 3 months. So I called in the BIT troops last month and again last week to work their magic on him. They invited Bill and I out to dinner saying that they wanted to talk to us about Finbar. It seemed to be in connection with my constant malaise over Finbar’s constant posturing - what I call stimming. To me, stimming is the last frontier standing between Finbar appearing to be normal but very bright, and well, NOT normal and very bright. But it seems impossible for him to stop stimming and therefore appear normal. There he was a week ago, having volunteered to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at his cub scout pinewood derby night, decked out in gold and blue looking the picture perfect scout and sounding very articulate (a proud mama moment to be sure). When the pledge was over and the pack leader started going over the derby rules, Finbar continued standing on the steps of the stage looking like a marionette, arms flailing in the air, fingers snapping and flicking, goofy look on his face, chin clenched and feet bouncing up in down in different directions - posturing. You might as well have shone a cinematic spotlight on both Finbar and his parents. Bill and I glanced at each other, shaking our heads with uncomfortable smiles calling “Hey Finney, come down, stop jumping on stage or you’ll fall.” hoping no one would notice. Of course they noticed! They were all lined up facing the stage, sigh. I have never heard of any behaviorists that could explain or eradicate stimming. Stimming is like nail biting or shaking your knee constantly while you sit. It is a subconscious act that is releasing some sort of nervous energy. And it is hard to control or break the habit, especially if the person is unaware they are doing it, which seems to be always in Finbar’s case.
But here my friends were explaining that after working on Finbar for two years that they have a different opinion of what his issues are, particularly with respect to his posturing. Qualitatively, they explained, he appears to them to be gifted. And drum roll here folks…many gifted kids exhibit psychomotor excitabilities. Psychomotor excitabilities are a physical manifestation of over excitability in the brain (posturing!) which is due to an excess of excitability neurons in the brain, extra brainpower if you will. For this reason fidgety gifted kids are often mis-diagnosed with ADHD (moms take note!). They have an excess because their nervous systems are not like normal minded or even over achiever ones. They have nervous systems that operate altogether differently, which is why they rank beyond 2 standard deviations on the IQ test. The excess neurons, or brainpower, must be blown off in some way by stimming or fidgeting or running around the room or any other ADD behavior you like! Finbar always told me that he stims when he is “very interested” or “very curious” about something, i.e. when he is thinking intensely.
Here was a new way of looking at my child and his quirks if you will. Stimming and posturing is part of who he is, part of his inner brain workings and therefore hard to control. Is he gifted? They seem to think so. His teachers, psychologists and other adults who interact with him seem to think so. But you won’t see me signing him up for a barrage of cognitive tests to “prove” it. I will leave that to the overachievers and for now just be content to believe that stimming maybe part of his giftedness, not his autism. Why would I want to take that away?
PS: I found this definition of a gifted child. See if it suits yourself or your child. It certainly does mine, particularly the last two sentences :0
The interests of a child with an IQ of 120 are not the same than those of a child with an IQ of 140. They will prefer, for instance, different ways to spend their leisure time. The probability that a child has an IQ of 140 is about one in fifty, so that from fifty children only one may be in this situation. In a school class, this child will probably be the only of his type. Most certainly, his interests and his values will have little in common with the rest of the class.