After a few years of trying to conceive hubby and I overcame a number of hurdles to achieve pregnancy. After surgery, and a long holiday in California, the goal was achieved. We were absolutely elated. The nine months passed quickly enough culminating in a long labour which resulted in the arrival of our son. He suffered some trauma during the delivery and was whisked away to the special baby unit. There were frightening mutterings of ‘possible brain damage’ from one of the attendant pediatric doctors whose English was highly accented and difficult to understand. Fortunately for us it turned out that he was completely wrong.
We brought our baby home and quickly settled into parenthood learning as we went along. There was plenty of advice, often unsolicited, but the best bit of advice I got was to ‘talk to him’ all the time. It seemed strange to do chat away to a little pixie sized thing about what I was doing, our surroundings, the sounds we could hear and the smells in our kitchen spices, fruit, coffee et cetera. But I babbled on and before he was a year old he knew lots of things. He could show you his finger, he could make his “funny face” on request and he knew some colours and shapes.
There were lots of young mothers where we lived and, in turn, we had birthday parties for our children. There was always a mix of babies, toddlers and young children at such gatherings and these events were a good opportunity to experience childrens’ behaviour. I began to notice that children older than he did not appear as aware or informed as he was. And babies of his exact vintage were not engaging at the level which he did. For a long time I thought that other peoples’ children were a bit slow, stupid even. Finally it dawned on me that all these children were perfectly normal and perhaps my child was different. We kept him occupied and stimulated with books and toys and he kept us busy with his never ending curiosity because, before he could speak clearly, he was forever pointing at things and asking ‘whastha’ (‘what’s that’)?
As he got older I was aware that he would need more than what we could offer. He enjoyed his time at Montessori school but he always played with the older children. A friend of my sister is the mother of three gifted children and, having a degree in psychology, was well placed to advise me. Not only had she a wealth of information to share she also ran a weekly ‘Explorer’s Club’ for young gifted children. Thus began a two year stint of cross city journeys which were worth every mile and minute because, finally, he had met his peers.
Primary school followed and in his eight years there he received no special attention whatsoever. Nothing extra was available for him. His class teachers never gave him anything challenging to do or learn. There was no special classes for gifted children even though approximately 5% of the population is gifted. In his school of five hundred pupils there were probably twenty five similar children.
I joined the school’s Parents’ Association, not because of his talents, but out of a sense of community. One year our representative for the National Parents’ Council could not attend her meeting so I went in her place. The meeting I attended was about funding for special needs. Naively I went along thinking that I might speak up for the gifted children because they have special needs too. But pitched against mothers with autistic children, physically challenged children, Down’s syndrome children it seemed almost petty to say that my son had special needs. So, resentfully, I said nothing.
We were fortunate to be able to send him to the weekly CTYI (Centre for Talented Youth in Ireland) classes which he adored not merely for the challenge but because he was with his intellectual equals again. In his first few years of secondary school he did the three week residential course that CTYI runs and made some wonderful friends that he still sees. He is now studying at university.
What is my point here? My point is that there are hundreds of children like my son. Not all of them are born into a home where there is enough money to pay for things like ‘Explorers’ and CTYI. Many are born into homes where parents do not recognise the child’s gift. Gifted people may make up as much as 20% of the American prison population and this is an indication of where unnurtured talent can lead. It is my opinion that the gifted child needs to be encouraged, he needs to have enriching experiences and to meet similar children on a regular basis. He needs to learn to know and accept his talent. He also needs to know how to enjoy doing silly, pointless things, to learn that people are not perfect, to be less pedantic, to be normal. I cannot see the advantage of sending exceptionally bright children off to university at a young age because, socially and physically, they are not mixing with their peers. Nor do I see the benefits of over-educating a child. I’ve read, for example, of parents engaging their children in two hour scrabble marathons before school. I really don’t see the need for this, or maybe I’m just not bright enough to understand.