What’s the Difference Between Gifted and Disabled?

There are many definitions of giftedness. And there are many reason to test for giftedness. But the bottom line is how that giftedness is treated.

I was so moved by this letter I received from a homeschooling mom in Australia. She has generously allowed me to reproduce it.

Of course ALL children ARE gifted! ALL people ARE gifted!

What people seem to refer to by the use of the word ‘gifted’, is actually referencing ‘intellect’ or ‘intelligence’ or just plain good ‘ole ‘smarts’! or is it speed? ie, the child can do the work faster than other children and have more time to spare. Or is it their ability to concentrate better in such a busy environment as a classroom? aren’t easily side-tracked? extremely focused?

My children are extremely gifted, and I have never thought of them in any other way except that. Yet they have been diagnosed with several ‘disabilities’ (I refer to them as ‘diffabilities’ – different abilities) and if the doctor’s had their way, they’d be diagnosed with more!

So, why are they considered ‘disabled’? because they meet a set of criteria which isn’t the norm. Why is someone considered ‘gifted’? because they meet a set of criteria which isn’t the norm. Why is one considered to be on one end of the ‘intelligent/ability’ spectrum and the other on the opposite end? semantics? perception? social conditioning?

What is normal anyway?

If I compared my children’s IQ test with most children, my children would win – only saying that from the numbers on a piece of paper, not pride.

Yet, because of many other challenges they have, they can’t even survive in a classroom environment, and would be considered for remediation classes, not the advanced classes. They would be considered intellectually disabled and shunted to a special needs learning unit (separate ‘schooling’ on same campus as ‘normal’ school and the aim is to integrate them into the ‘normal’ school classroom).

Yet, my gifted, brilliant munchkins are struggling with learning higher math concepts, because, although we have spent more than 7 years trying to learn and retain the basic math facts, it just seems out of their ability to grasp. Yet we do university level science and computer studies, etc.

Gifted? Disabled?

All I know is that it’s a daily challenge for our munchkins and many others like them, who may or may not benefit from labelling in our society. I sincerely have no idea whether labelling is a wise course to take or not. Unfortunately we don’t have parallel lives so that we can compare the two with the same people and situations – wouldn’t that be fabulous?

One thing I didn’t understand for many years was this particular comment from parents, therapists and professionals alike “it’s so obvious you love your children” – what the??? doesn’t everybody love their children??? But sadly, I started seeing that although parents LOVED their ‘gifted/disabled’ children deeply and painfully, they just couldn’t tolerate their behaviour, so their interaction with their child looked like intolerance, disgust, despair…

…and a lot of shame and guilt in the mix.

It’s so sad that we don’t feel we have the freedom to show how much we love our children in our society, especially when our children just don’t ‘fit’ anywhere. They are too different.

But isn’t that what we should be celebrating? their difference?

We do.

But I won’t say it’s always easy to do so 😉

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2 Responses to What’s the Difference Between Gifted and Disabled?

  1. Yes, all children have gifts, but are all children disabled? We have no problem saying that someone like Steve Jobs, John Williams, or Stephen Spielberg are gifted (or incredibly intelligent and creative). Their gifts most likely were obvious in childhood, too. Children with high-intellect and specific talents need mentors and the right environment for it to flourish. If you want to know what profoundly gifted looks like, checkout the Davidson Institute website. All children deserve excellent instruction and safe, stimulating schools. Some children will need acceleration, challenge, and more depth in order to develop their gifts. Is a 7 year old who is doing algebra and enjoying it not gifted? And if this child also Asperger’s he has a disability. It’s called “twice exceptional” by some. Whatever the label, we should be unapologetically looking for and nurturing tomorrows’ leaders, scientists, innovators, and thinkers.

    • I agree, Evelyn! We do need to do whatever we can to find and nurture the gifts in every child.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

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