Almost nine years ago (I cannot believe that much time has passed), I started a parent group for those families with children that had been identified as talented and gifted (TAG) in our school district. I did it out of great respect for our TAG teacher, who I asked if I could be of help to her in any way. On several occasions, she replied, “yes, you can start a support group/parent group for the families of students like yours.”
Hmmm. I resisted this suggestion for a few years if I remember correctly. But, when she was getting acquainted with my third child, I asked again. Her response was the same; I acquiesced and a district-wide talented and gifted advocacy group was formed. The group included parents, teachers, and administrators from our district that had an interest in serving (or preventing service to) this subset of students. It lasted three years.
This group was my first experience with leadership. Sure, I developed and led an after school garden club and had to communicate with students, parents, and teachers. But, that was in one building – a building where I was well known. This was a district-wide group, with more visibility, and people I only knew by their email address. It was interesting and I learned a lot from the experience.
During our first year, we received a lot of advice that seemed well-meaning at the time. Now, I’m not so sure. It included:
- Follow Robert’s Rules of Order
- Put out an Agenda
- Record Meeting Minutes
- Involve PTO’s – recruit membership
- Attend Parent-Teacher Conferences with information on TAG (posters, brochures, how it works, and resources)
- Develop those resources and media (brochures & posters)
- Determine Mission and Vision statements.
- Define Giftedness and our district’s services
It was the last two items on this list on which we lost ground. I have come to believe that the direction to develop mission and vision statements was a tactic to delay us from addressing our (parents and students) real concerns. The group originally formed to increase awareness of what giftedness entails and what students who were identified as gifted needed to continue to stimulate their “gifts.” We could have done all of that without the formalities of Robert’s Rules and Mission/Vision statements. Instead, we got weighed down deciding what the group’s mission and vision would be. For a group that met once a month, this took some time during that first year. Unfortunately, we lost some parent membership over it.
Deciding what gifted students need from a community and from a school district is based on an understanding of giftedness itself. It is a concept that is hard for some – even educators, administrators, and parents – to understand. Being gifted is not a bed of roses. Just like anything that sets one apart from the general populace, it comes with baggage.
Part of the baggage is what is known as Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities. Dabrowski was a Polish psychiatrist who noted that the gifted are more likely to exhibit these over excitabilities. Overexcitabilities are defined as inborn, intense reactions to different types of stimuli. There are five areas in which overexcitabilities exist: intellectual, psychomotor, imaginational, emotional, and sensual. Essentially the gifted might react more strongly and for longer periods to stimuli or events that someone else might not even be bothered by and shrug off. This leads to a misunderstanding of their reaction, especially when it comes to emotional overexcitability, which is often one of the first behavioral manifestations of giftedness that parents notice.
The gifted child/person hears a lot of the following phrases:
“It’s not a big deal.”
“Let it go.”
“Why does it matter so much?”
“You’re making too much of it.”
“You are too sensitive.”
“You are overreacting.”
Of course, anyone can have strong reactions to things if they are very invested, very attached, or just a very emotional person. But, the difference with the gifted population is that the reactions are more intense, last longer, and might seem very much out of proportion to others.
I had coffee with a friend this week who has gifted daughters. I believe she, herself, is also gifted. We share a common bond in how we look at life and how we believe others look at us. Intensity is hard. It can be lonely. I know I wish I could be less intense or react in a different, more generally accepted way. An understanding and acceptance of why you are the way you are are essential for any gifted person. Even if you know others do not understand, when you understand yourself or are lucky enough to have even one other person in your life understand, it makes it easier to know that despite all your intensities, oddities, and overexcitabilities you are okay.
On October 8th, a post I wrote in 2017 entitled Outliers and The Gifted became my most viewed post to date with over 200 views on that day. There is an obvious interest in this topic. The post today is just another piece based on the unique people in the world that are labeled gifted. Thanks for reading.