We were chatting about our kids, like moms do. I mentioned that Mr. C (at five years old) had just finished reading Charlotte’s Web and I was trying to decide what he should read next and I got the blank stare.
The grocery clerk asks Mr. C what grade he’s in, and he looks at me confused. He answers her.. “Well, my books are mostly second grade, but I’m five, so I guess I’m in kindergarten?” He’s already learned that some people are really asking how old he is, while others want to know his actual grade level.
I call about the homeschool co-op and they say Mr. C will be in a group of preschoolers and kindergarteners. I try to explain that he’s already reading chapter books, and we’re going into third grade for most subjects because he’s gifted.
“Every child is gifted, they just unwrap their gifts at different times.”
I’ve heard it more times than I can count. I would love to agree with this statement. The thing is? It just isn’t accurate.
Every Child Isn’t Gifted
Every Child is Special, But Every Child Isn’t Gifted
Here’s the thing. Every child is special. Every child is a gift. But every child isn’t “gifted”.
If I said “every child is autistic, they just struggle with communication and sensory input at different times” you would look at me like I was insane. Because I would be.
Not every child is autistic, and saying that they are takes away from the true strengths and struggles that autistic people experience.
Gifted children (and adults) have different sets of strengths and struggles from neurotypical people, and saying that every child is gifted takes away from those strengths and struggles being recognized.
Every child is special. Every child is a gift. Every child even has gifts. But not every child is gifted.
“Gifted” is a Specific Educational Term
This is where the disconnect really happens. People tend to assume that “gifted” and “having gifts” are the same thing, but they aren’t.
“Gifted” is a specific educational term used to identify children (and adults) who meet certain criteria. That criteria can vary based on the situation, whether it’s a school or psychologist, at a state level or federal, or even school district to school district.
Here’s one definition:
“The term ‘gifted and talented,” when used with respect to students, children, or youth, means students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in such areas as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.”
Now, that is not to say that gifted children are better or worse than non-gifted children. Just like autistic children are better or worse than non-autistic people. We, as a society, need children all over the neurodiversity spectrum to function.
“Gifted” Does Not Mean “Really Smart”
This is another huge misconception about giftedness. It is not simply about “being smart”. There is so much more that goes into it that people who don’t have first-hand experience with gifted kids don’t realize.
Ever heard of asynchronous development? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Many gifted kids experience asynchronous development (where they excel in certain areas and lag behind in others, developing asynchronously or “out of sync”). In fact, so many gifted people experience this that many people would argue that a person is not actually gifted if they don’t experience at least some asynchronous development.
There are also overexcitabilities. Gifted people often have one or more overexcitabilities or OEs, and they tend to be more prevalent in people who are more profoundly gifted. There are intellectual, sensory, emotional, imaginational, and many other different OEs that gifted people can experience.
Many times gifted kids can be labeled “sensitive” or “know it alls” because of their OEs.
Also, I feel the need to point out that you can be “really smart” without being gifted. I found this really useful chart and post for explaining the difference between bright kids and gifted kids. I also have a post on this planned to do soon-ish.
Twice-Exceptional Gifted Children: Understanding, Teaching, and Counseling Gifted StudentsLiving With Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and the Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and AdultsUnderstanding the Social and Emotional Lives of Gifted StudentsThe Underachieving Gifted Child: Recognizing, Understanding, and Reversing UnderachievementSpecial Populations in Gifted Education: Understanding Our Most Able Students from Diverse BackgroundsThe Social and Emotional Lives of Gifted Kids: Understanding and Guiding Their DevelopmentLeading By Example: A Parents’ Journey into Understanding and Nurturing GiftednessUnderstanding Gifted Adolescents: Accepting the Exceptional
Being “Gifted” is Different Than Having a “Gift”
I 100% believe that every. single. child. out there is smart, and they all have unique and special gifts. Some children are wonderful at singing, others are incredible at sports, and others have incredible kindness.
My entire issue with the phrase “Every child is gifted, they just unwrap their gifts at different times” could have been avoided if they simply said “every child has gifts, they just unwrap their gifts at different times”.
I know that somewhere my mom is reading this and thinking to herself, “they’re just words!”, and you may be completely agreeing with her. But here’s the thing, friend.
Words are important. And not just because I’m a writer.
The words that we use shape our beliefs. They shape our values. They shape our laws and our school policies.
There are a lot of school districts that aren’t equipped to help gifted students thrive. That is just as unacceptable as the school districts who aren’t helping disabled children.
All children deserve to have their individual needs, strengths, struggles, and abilities recognized and supported, and saying that all children are gifted takes some of that support away from children who are truly gifted and need it.
So I will continue to say, to anyone who will listen:
Every child is special. Every child is a gift. Every child even has gifts.
But not every child is gifted.
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