A Tale of Two Labels


I want to share a story.  It’s the story of two children and their school experiences.

Child A struggles.  She wears a small leg brace on her left leg due to a bit of cerebral palsy.  PE was hard for her, but with her teacher’s support, she learned to jump rope, to climb, to enjoy physical activity. She was often withdrawing in the classroom, running out of the room, looking for a place to hide.  She even would lash out in crying fits that nobody could seem to calm.  She got to go to “social skills” group with the counselors and they worked with her in a way that helped her so much.  Eventually, she received a diagnosis of Asperger’s.  That diagnosis immediately resulted in a big meeting, a room filled with school psychologists, teachers, and paperwork to document support.  Her mom cried at the table at the way everyone came together to help her child.  There was support. Sensory Breaks. 15 minutes to swing, to play with sensory tools.  It helped her so much. Her struggles?  They belonged to everyone and nobody was fighting for her learning alone.  She thrived. She grew.  She still struggled, but she had support.  Support makes all the difference in the world.

Child B struggles.  She learns differently.  Her memory makes “facts” stick and she rapidly progresses.  But her motor skills are lacking. Her handwriting is almost unreadable. Her math is 3 years above and her reading is 4 years above.  These kind of “gaps” create real problems in the classroom.  Eventually, her parents discovered that it she is gifted. That diagnosis was met with misunderstanding.  She needed a higher level, to relieve her frustration.   But, “it wouldn’t be fair for her to get different math,” it was often said.   The sensory breaks?  They would help with her overexcitabilities.   She learned differently and needed tasks broken down so that her overly fast processing could allow her motor skills to catch up.  But, people thought now, that since’s she’s “so smart, can’t she overcome the Aspergers.”  People assumed, “She must just be spoiled.” Thoughts that were just wrong and misguided.  She needed something different too.  The meeting never came.  There were no documents, no written plans, and no outpouring of sympathy and hugs.  Her mom cried again. This time alone. Because nobody understood anymore.  Even worse, they think saying your child is gifted is bragging. Even when THAT couldn’t be further from the truth. Her struggles?  They continued.

That mom is me.  Child A and Child B?  They are the same child.  I’ve cried tears at the amount of support and tears at the lack of understanding.  There are parents in every school, in every town, in every place in America.  People who feel lost, misunderstood.  People who know what 2E, or Twice-Exceptional, truly means because they are living it, every day.  They know very well the heartbreak of what it means for very few to understand.

This story is personal, but I will continue to share it.  Because if I can help one administrator, one teacher, or one parent see that our failure to look past labels and understand needs is the most damaging thing we can do in education, then sharing is worth it.   If even one of you who reads this, reaches out to a parent to ask how you can help? Then our journey has been worth it.  It’s already worth it — our child is exactly who she is. Not defined by labels.  Defined by spunk, spirit, wit, and a drive to improve and overcome.  She is beyond capable, greatly loved, and has a happy spirit that notices sunsets, glowing lights, and beauty in things most of us don’t take time to notice.  It is because of every person in her life that has looked past the labels to understand her.  Be that person for someone else.

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I too am a mother of a gifted child who has many struggles to accompany her many strengths. I have seen wonderful things happen when educators understand her special needs and I have seen horrible things happen when they don’t. I am also a teacher of gifted students. I teach in an intensive support program. I have taught many children like your child, like my own child, and they are ALL MY children. I approach each and every one of them as an individual with their own unique strengths and needs. I program to help meet their needs, and when I don’t succeed, I just keep trying. I have had so many people, including many other teachers say “oh they are gifted it must be so easy for them” or “oh you teach gifted, it must be so easy for you”. There is a quote from Linda Silverman from the gifted development centre in Denver on the top of my blog which states “Giftedness is not what you do or how hard you work. It is who you are. You think differently. You experience life intensely. You care about injustice. You seek meaning. You appreciate and strive for the exquisite. You are painfully sensitive. You are extremely complex. You cherish integrity. Your truth-telling has gotten you in trouble. Should 98% of the population find you odd, seek the company of those who love you just the way you are. You are not broken. You do not need to be fixed. You are utterly fascinating. Trust yourself!” I also have this posted on my classroom for my students to see each time they log in. We need to continue to educate the wider community about the unique and often changing needs of gifted students.
    Thank you again for sharing your story.

    • The replies written by these parents and thoughtful teachers are very comforting. Yes, we truly do have unique, sensitive, intelligent and insightful children. Sometimes it “feels” like we live in a totally different universe. It is so refreshing to communicate with others who “get it”. My 15 year old son had a terrible time in the public school system but now we have found a great high school community of supportive classmates and teachers at the George Washington University Online High. He has made such great progress in his first year. Hopefully, as we all share our stories with the “outside world” others will learn to accept and support our children. Let’s all continue to share our stories and encourage parents to place our kids in supportive environments. It can make all the difference in the life of that special child.

  2. I am the mother of an Aspie gifted 15 year old girl trying to hold it together every day on school, family, marriage, sanity, you name it. I also teach. I am so very tired. Fortunately, we found an alternative, small, compassionate, sideways thinking high school. I would love to be in touch with others on this journey.

  3. This is so common it’s scary!

    The young adult male who gets plenty of accommodations for his Aspergers (or ASD, as I believe it is now called), yet forced to work in the dumbest of all possible environments, with no effort being made to ease his suffering intellect, thus producing ever increasing frustration leading to psychotic breaks.

    The young girl whose giftedness almost masks her ADHD, and her ADHD almost masks her giftedness, that keeps slipping under the radar on both accounts.

    The woman whose health finally succumbed after not having either exceptionality recognized until the age of 43, and will probably never be able to hold down a full time job again, despite the giftedness and all the experience.

    Refusing to recognize and accommodate for “brains on fire” is extremely damaging, yet the overwhelming majority of people prance around claiming “they will be fine”.

    They see the dandelions pushing through the concrete, admire and envy their grits, but never even stop to wonder how many dandelions lie dying down there, unable to break through because there’s no tiny crack above them.

  4. Michael Buist says:

    Principals, you are not building managers. you are teachers first and foremost. And you can’t forget that. I understand districts put enormous pressures on you, but you knew this when you signed the contract. And because you are the lead teacher on your campus, you must understand your students. You must understand what it means to be gifted. You must understand that just because your students are “smart”, that also means they are just as likely to be ED, ODD, SPED, etc. Principals, this is where you need support of your special education coordinator. This person needs to be just as versed in the ways of the gifted. Us classroom teachers have significant impact on the success of our gifted learners, but so does the administration.

  5. What a deeply touching story and so brave of you to share it with us. How hard it must be to go through this up and down of support and feeling alone. I am also so sorry that you had to be left to feel the way you did. It’s never right or ok. It is so important that we teach and support the whole child, think outside the box, work to their strengths while supporting their areas of weakness. It is also very apparent to me what an amazing mother you are and great advocate you are for your daughter. I hope that things change and what you need for child b has you feeling the same support, success and acceptance of child b.

  6. Yes! That is it exactly! Thank you for sharing! I know personally it is not easy to share such painful experiences especially about your own child, but sharing is the only way to hopefully help others to understand our gifted children. We do need to move past labels and just work to meet the needs of every child no matter what those needs are! THANKS Krissy for an absolutely wonderful post!

  7. I actually think labels can be very helpful, particularly in a set of systems (education, government, medical, etc.) that provides funding based on labels. If children ever get appropriate services and funding for gifted education, it will probably be via a label. Labels can also help people become better educated on how to help someone. The support your daughter received as ‘Child A’ came through people who had been educated via labels.

    We have labels we envy and labels we don’t. We will usually help people through programs who have the labels we don’t envy – disabled, minority, obese, short, low income, etc. – and find ways to punish, ignore, or redistribute the people with labels we envy – rich, white, thin, tall, gifted, etc. Not only do we not ask if people with these labels have special needs too, but it is often viewed as offensive to suggest that these people might have needs not being met. “You’ve been discriminated against because you are white? You are privileged and don’t know discrimination!” “You claim you are thin because of an eating disorder? Everyone wishes they looked like you, so don’t complain!” “Your child struggles in school because she’s gifted? I wish my kid had that problem! Your child doesn’t need special programs. Mine needs the help!”

    Getting rid of labels sadly will not change the envy. It will continue. If we want change, we need to move our schools and society from a proficiency mentality to a growth mentality, where the emphasis is on helping each person be the best they can be. That’s a much harder job than getting rid of labels.

  8. I must be too sensitive, but I have been moved. I feel identified with this. I suffer from giftedness; 18 years old. And yes, to me, it is no “gift” when so many things in our cookie-cutter bullshit system clip your wings when all you want is to truly exploit your abilities. Years have passed without me doing as much as I could, and as much as I wished. It becomes a curse to suffer the fact that you cannot be yourself inside the frame of normal society. It’s lonely.

    This frustration welling inside me has been delved by this short text. Thank you, loving mother who wrote this, for recognizing these things; for living them despite not being the subject in question. May these little bits of art keep shining hope, and more importantly, understanding among all.

  9. Every child must be treated as an individual who has needs that must be met for success. This story is all too common. If we are to help children become contributing citizens, we need to figure out ways to ensure their success; to move them forward from where they are. That is our job: to embrace their strengths and abilities.

  10. Your article was included in the Parenting Gifted Children Party (blog hop). http://www.positivedisciplineandgiftedchildren.com/2014/02/february-parenting-gifted-children-party.html
    I cannot express how much I enjoyed reading your article and how important I believe it is for any parent to read. Such a beautiful article.
    As a courtesy we add you to our Pinterest Parenting Gifted Pin Party Board. http://www.pinterest.com/gruenerconsults/parenting-gifted-pin-parties/. Thank you for writing and contributing for gifted children.
    Catherine Gruener

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