A common theme among parents who discover their first child is gifted is, “We didn’t realize it. We thought this was normal. We didn’t have anyone to compare her to.” If adults have never experienced giftedness first-hand or spent much time with neuro-typical children, they might not recognize it when it is staring them in the face. It’s just “normal” in their world of parenting.
I didn’t think much about the topic of giftedness until trying to understand Caroline’s uniqueness required me to do a lot of reading and learn everything I could. She and I are so different in many ways and I wanted to understand her. What surprised me during the process is that the more I read, the more I started to think about my own giftedness and how it has shaped my life in ways I didn’t even realize.
At one point I realized that I always think of myself as smart and hardworking, but not gifted (even though I was viewed as gifted in school starting in kindergarten and benefited from that label throughout my entire education, including college). I also realized in a new way how my giftedness often makes it difficult for me to fit in in various settings. Again, I didn’t attribute it to my giftedness but personality, etc.
But in the end, I realized that I’m weird in my own way because of my giftedness. Because (let’s be honest) the truth of the matter is that most gifted people are weird in some way or another. We don’t fit in. That’s one of the difficulties of being a gifted person.
And I also realized that I have no comprehension of what it’s like to not be this way. That is also one of the difficulties of being gifted that I think parents can often miss about their children. We focus so much on dealing with the reality of our child being gifted and what that means in practical ways that we fail to acknowledge that giftedness is our child’s entire frame of reference.
Living with Gifted Overexcitabilities
For example, I have been a voracious reader my entire life. I spend hours each day reading and synthesizing information. It’s just what I do. I don’t know how to not do it. As an overexcitability, it’s like a compulsion.
The reality is that I don’t know how people go through life and don’t take in information and think all the time because it is all I know. I don’t know what it is like to not be endlessly curious about a slew of topics every single day ranging from NFL free agency and the draft to why leaders in the Greek Orthodox Church have the appearance they do to current political intrigue to people who live in English cottages that are hundreds of years old with no modern conveniences and on and on and on.
It’s just the way life is in my world. I can’t easily turn it off. Even when I want to turn it off, it’s difficult. It’s hard-wired into how I was created. And it is something I need every day to be healthy. I remember being so depressed when Caroline was little because I had almost no time to read. I had no mental ability to synthesize information because I was so sleep deprived. And it snowballed into being depressed. It literally felt like a part of me had died. I wasn’t healthy without my reading and thinking.
Gifted Children and Their Overexcitabilities
One of the things we’ve learned about Caroline’s particular bent is that playing with stuffed animals and acting out their stories is not an option. It is a daily necessity. It is like sleep, food, air, and water. It is a basic need in her life. It’s not even a need for play. It is a need for how she processes information. If she doesn’t get it, it negatively impacts her just as it would if we denied her food or sleep or water. We know this as a fact because when she doesn’t get this kind of play time, something in her dies a bit until that need is met.
And she doesn’t know how to be any other way.
That is her reality and how she is wired just like I don’t understand how people can go through life and not be soaking up information all day long.
All gifted children have their “thing” and they don’t know life without it. It is as natural to them as breathing. It is a necessary part of their life. It would be easy for me to look at Caroline’s play with stuffed animals and think it is a childish thing, but it’s not about the stuffed animals, per se. It’s about what they allow her to do and a huge need they meet in her life. They aren’t toys. They are tools.
This is Your Gifted Child’s World
If you have a gifted child, it’s important to understand your child’s world. However she is wired, that is what is normal to her. It might not even make sense to you, but she needs you to understand and honor it.
I’m not sure how Caroline’s stuffed animals will play out in the years ahead. I assume at some point the tool for her processing will cease being the stuffed animals and will become something else. And we will support her through that transition whenever she decides it is going to happen.
Your gifted child’s obsession with whatever it is, is happening for a reason. Gifted children are not completely random in what they do. Gifted kids who seek out stimulation in whatever form it is, do so for a reason. It meets a need and function in their world, the only world and frame of reference they really understand. Our job as the parent is to understand what drives it and determine how we can support it.