Christine Koh

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I'm Christine Koh, a music and brain neuroscientist turned multimedia creative. I'm the founder + editor of Boston Mamas, co-author of Minimalist Parenting, co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast, and creative director at Women Online. Drop me a line; I'd love to chat about how we can work together!

Lessons Learned: 7 Things I’ve Learned From Raising a Gifted Child

I will admit that there have been times when I've heard parents talk about their gifted kids in a way that has made me (internally) roll my eyes. This Lessons Learned essay submission from reader Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley opened my eyes and shifted my perspective about the complexities of giftedness, and I'm grateful to now better understand. Read on for Caitlin’s essay on 7 things she has learned from raising a gifted child.

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My son is gifted.

When you read gifted just now, what popped into your head? Do you think I'm bragging? Do you picture my son as a budding prodigy? Do you assume that I'm a Tiger Mom, and that my husband and I have hot-housed him since birth? Do you imagine my son performing well in school? Do you assume he must be easy to parent? Do you think we're lucky?

My son is gifted, and it's not what you think. Gifted is a loaded term. The word gift implies that one has been given something; that one has a leg up over others. This couldn't be further from the truth. As the parent of a profoundly gifted and twice-exceptional child, I have learned so much about this population.

1. Gifted children are asynchronous. When my son was just two years old, I entered his room one night to find him sobbing, unable to sleep. As I held him in my arms, comforting his trembling little body, he explained that he was afraid of extinction. "Mama," he sobbed, "The dinosaurs are extinct and the scientists don’t know why. What if we all die, and become extinct for some unknown reason?!" While the average child develops in a relatively uniform manner, gifted children are asynchronous. My son is many ages at once. Chronologically, he is seven years old. Intellectually, he is more than twice his age. His social-emotional development, however, is probably that of a five-year-old. His little mind houses thoughts that his emotions cannot yet process.

2. Gifted children are emotionally intense. When my son is happy, he's really happy. As in, overjoyed, literally bouncing-off-the-walls happy. When he is sad, he collapses into a mushy mess on the floor. When he is scared, he is terrified. When we are out in public and he meets with frustration, he can throw a fit to rival that of any two-year-old. I still have to underarm him out of public places on occasion. He tests my patience and keeps me humble on a daily basis.

3. Gifted children are sensitive. My son is supremely sensitive. He was unable to watch television for many years; the themes were just too much for him to handle until recently. And I cannot recall the last time we watched the news in our home. He already worries about crime, poverty, endangered animals, global warming, and war without exposure to current events.

4. Giftedness and achievement are two different entities. When my son was in kindergarten, his academic skills were 2 to 5 years above his grade-level. He read Harry Potter on the bus ride to school, but did he perform well in school? Not at all. In fact, he floundered. He was the fidgety kid in the back of the class, tipping in his chair and singing the Frozen soundtrack in reverse order. He was the kid who brought his paperclip collection to school to fidget with, the kid who doodled on his neighbor's paper rather than listen to the teacher. As the year wore on, the pile of behavior slips increased in height. At home, he was a joyful learner and yet, when I picked him up from school, he'd climb into my car and grimly ask, "Do I have to go to school tomorrow?" At only five years old, he was wholly misunderstood.

5. Gifted children can be learning disabled. My son's cognitive abilities are above the 99.9th percentile but he struggles with sensory processing disorder and ADHD. He is twice-exceptional: gifted and learning disabled, and he is not alone. There is an entire population of twice-exceptional students who struggle to have their needs met in a public school setting.

6. Gifted children need intellectual peers. When my son was five, we went out to breakfast with some of his friends. As we were leaving the restaurant, my son pointed to a garden trellis and shouted, "Guys! Look! Doesn't that lattice work remind you of a portcullis?" His friends smiled and carried on with their play as I Googled portcullis on my phone. He was right, it did look like a portcullis. And then my heart sank because I wondered if he will ever have friends who truly get him and his unique thinking.

7. Gifted is not what you think. My son is a funny, brilliant, creative, energetic, frustrating, demanding, and exhausting little person. He is a joy to raise, however, parenting him has been the greatest challenge of my life. Over the years, it has gotten easier, but it’s never been easy. He has taught me so much over the past seven years including patience, understanding, grace, and humility. He is my wisest teacher and for that, I am forever grateful.

Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley is a school psychologist who has worked in the Boston, Chelsea, and Lowell public schools. She is currently – unexpectedly -- homeschooling her PG/2E son and she writes about the journey at My-Little-Poppies.com. Caitlin is a Year Round Homeschooling contributor and a member of the iHomeschool Network. She volunteers for and is published by Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.

Image credits: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

Do you want to submit a Lessons Learned essay? See submission guidelines here.


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