Prepare to be shocked: gifted children are not disabled

Posted on Nov 6, 2012 | 27 comments

Here is what I discovered this week: there are A LOT of parents out there who, while accepting their challenges may be different, honestly believe that raising their gifted child is as difficult as raising a disabled child.

A LOT of parents.

Oh, and they don’t like to be told to shut up. I learned that too.

Here is the opening of the post I wrote on BabyCenter called ‘Shut up about what a burden your gifted child is‘:

Last week, the New York Times published ‘How do you raise a prodigy?‘ The article quickly dissolved into another “woe is me” piece about the burden of raising gifted children. The stunning realization that their child is “different”. The impossibility of filling their days with meaningful activities. The age old question: Should my child focus on classical piano or physics?

You know: the hard questions that keep us all awake at night.

These kind of stories appeal to parents who feel their child has talent (every parent, surely), and offend every parent, like me, raising a child of lesser abilities or – even worse – normal ability. It is far more offensive to those families since these articles are always peppered with the deep anxieties of parents whose greatest fear is that their little prodigy will be forced to attend school with normal children. God forbid that an intellectually superior child ever learn patience or tolerance or the social skills to work with us normal folk.

After referencing his ten years of research, Andrew Solomon, the author of the article writes, “Prodigiousness, conversely, looks from a distance like silver, but it comes with banks of clouds; genius can be as bewildering and hazardous as a disability.”

No, Andrew Solomon, genius is not a disability. It is not as hazardous as a disability, nor as bewildering. There is no equal to discovering your child won’t ever see a bird fly, or hear its chirp. There is no equal to wondering how exactly to teach your brain damaged child to feed themselves. Genius will not stop them from walking or speaking or raising their own family… (click through to read the rest)

Here are some of the disturbing comments I received back. If you’ve read the article in full, you will know that many people wrote specific insults in about me, but I’ve left out those because they didn’t disturb me nearly as much as the idea that people actually believe their “gifted” child poses as much of a challenge as our disabled one:

I’m surprised you wouldn’t have more empathy about those on the other end of the spectrum: incredibly smart, maybe, but just as ‘different’, hard to place, hard to know the right course of action for, hard to predict the future, etc. etc.

I don’t think intelligence is a disability, most of the time… the real genuises and not just people who can memorize easily or something, are disabled by intelligence.

I am a parent of a gifted child, and indeed do find aspects of it remarkably difficult, most particularly in that my gifted child is very aware of being different than other kids and struggles with that difference. I have no idea how the challenges we face would compare to the challenges that you face, and whose would be “worse.”

Um… I do know whose would be worse. There is no comparison.

This isn’t some kind of “mommy judgement” where I don’t understand the complexities of a gifted child’s life and the anxieties that come with that. This is the literally back-breaking reality of carrying my daughter up the stairs for the rest of her life. I’ve spent the last month trying to figure out how I can save enough money to support her for the rest of her days because she will never hold down a job. And, my worries extend beyond her schooling, to things like how May will never be able to describe her pain, or tell us who hurt her.

Or, how about that fact that when her nose itches, she struggles to scratch it.

Having said that, I’ll quote one reader, who said it far more succinctly: “I feel quite sure that Stacie would rather May struggled to find a stimulating age-appropriate book than know that her child may never be able to feed herself. Please let’s get a little perspective.”

Yes, please.

27 Comments

  1. Well said Stacie.

    I have to say though that that’s the last time I visit your blog on BabyCenter – or at least make a comment on it. Apart from wasting my time in pointless spats, I just can’t face ‘debating’ with such awful, myopic and hateful people. I really did think that everyone would see that raising a disabled child is much worse. That being disabled is much worse. But they didn’t. They really do believe that raising a ‘gifted’ child is just as bad.

    What is it with them? A lack of empathy and understanding? Stupidity? Contrariness? Parental competitiveness? I don’t get it.

    And so much of it came with a hideously passive-aggressive niceness – all that ‘can’t we just accept that all children have their own challenges’ bollocks. Really, do fuck off.

    It’s as if it’s all some kind of competition. And maybe that’s the problem – the arena in which the debate took place. Maybe sites devoted to parenthood attracts the kind of wingnuts for whom being a parent is absolutely everything. More than that: being a better parent than other parents is absolutely everything. If you see what I mean.

    Utterly depressing.

    • It was the passive-aggressive niceness that really got me down as well. These are the same people who would have come out in droves to support that inane “end the word retard” campaign. It is depressing how many nice people thought they were completely justified in comparing our lives, particularly our daughter’s lives, to that of their oppressed “gifted” children.

  2. These comments are the most fucked up response I have heard in a long time. Here is what I wrote Stacie. Gifted parents like the ones on this site are such selfish individuals. They don’t have a fucking clue.

    “I can’t believe I am reading such awful comments to a Mom whose child is 100% disabled. Stacie’s daughter can’t do one thing by herself and most things she will never do eve with help. It is beyond severe to begin to compare her daughter to some gifted. Also to the person who said we need genius’ to accomplish great things is totally wrong in almost all cases of discovery. They are made by educated mostly average individuals who have the love of discovery and the willingness to continue after many false starts. Read about the inventors and you will see they did poorly in school and were average on most everything. Gifted kids with all their difficulties don’t begin to compare to a kid who has no sense of self, environment and can’t care for themselves and NEVER ever will be able to do most things if not all things we take for granted. I am appalled at the meaness here. Give yourself a big pat on your selfish backs. I think you wouldn’t be able to handle a “truly disabled” child.”

  3. Keep on fighting the good fight, Stacie!!

  4. Fully support you Stacie – and I never post comments on babycenter – but I did for you. hugs to you and all your family.

    • Thanks, Kristina – I saw your comment on the post before I saw this. Much appreciated!

  5. Isn’t it slightly ironic how the parents of these “gifted” children are so stupid? I agree with your post 100% it’s not the same challenges. Yes parents of gifted children may worry about the education for their child but they know that their child will at least get one, that’s nothing like the parents of children with disabilities. They don’t have to worry about the kind of care their child will receive in the future or how their child will be able to have access to services that increase their independence. It’s just stupid. I’m sure my parents would have rather had to worry about how I could possibly go to a school with the so-called less intelegent than which school would actually agree to provide work in the right format for me, or let me study the subjects I want, or bother to employ people to support me. I don’t see how those parents can argue they have it as hard as parents of disabled children.

    • If we are to take the comments section of the post as truth, than what we learn is that the parents of gifted children have a lot of problems with spelling :)

      • It just completely goes over my head how they could have a go at you like that. I get that they may have challenges, I’m sure every parent does, but they don’t have to worry about how their child will lead an independent life, be able to eat without constant support, get ready in the morning etc. All parents struggle about things to do with their children but there’s just some things you can’t, and shouldn’t, compare. I think this is one of them, they might worry but it’s not the same kind of worry in any way. Also, there’s things they can do to help their “gifted” children, I saw one comment which used money as an example, pointing out that money could allow “gifted” children the chance to access all those extra activities but no amount of money will enable some kids to gain basic independence skills. It actually makes me really mad how people criticise you for being angry…how are you not justified? I suppose I’m biased as I have a disability but seriously…surely what you say is common sense?

  6. I commented on your babycenter blog too but just wanted to add here that I thought it was interesting that those of us who had experience of both gifted and disabled children agreed with you (for the most part, I think), and those with gifted children only took offence. I guess that’s a whole other debate on empathy.

    You’re fantastic Stacie. A true inspiration for parents with disabled children. If only all parents would learn something from you. Many I work with could do with a bit of Stacie Lewis attitude.

    • Thanks, Becky! And I think you are right – the people who took offense seemed to me to be the exact ones I was referring to. Whereas everyone else – maybe they didn’t like my tone – but they got the message behind it all.

  7. tbh stacie this is why I don’t go on babycentre any more as it’s full of pretend mommies, mommies who like to compete with each other and their kids are the pawns in their games. :(

    they all need a wake up call!!

    • Those were exactly the kind of mom I was referring to in the post. In regards to BC, I know what you mean about that competition element – and of course, it is always easier to be rude when you are completely anonymous – but, on the other hand, on Mama Lewis everyone is going to agree with me. So I like the balance of the two.

  8. I have been following the BBC comments. It’s hard for me to believe the idiots coming out of the woodwork over there. There are no words to describe the level of narcissism and stupidity it must take to actually compare their supposedly “gifted” child’s struggle to that of someone with May’s level of disability. Amazing. Also, I refuse to believe that so many of them have children who are actually gifted. Everyone thinks their little snowflake is the smartest and most special.

  9. To MadgeW-
    You read what my sister tells you about May, but you missed allot. May CAN do something for herself! If you turn on music she moves her legs and her hips and DANCES. If she is in her standing frame she moves her arm, to hit the buttons, to make the music turn on. She even was able to walk ON HER OWN when put in a walker for the first time. I am a proud Auntie and I see my Neice for who she is. Everytime I am with her I see more of what she is doing on her own. When I say “Hello May!” on Skype I see her move around in her chair because she recognizes my voice and she laughs and smiles. I just wanted to share that with you!

    • That’s really lovely, and I can see why you’re such a proud auntie. I think it’s ridiculous that a post like this even needs to written. I loved the last comment about some perspective. Keep up the good work May, all the best to you!!

  10. Sure, gifted children have some real struggles. But to suggest that those struggles compare to challenges that Stacie describes? That’s several miles beyond the last exit to sanity.

  11. I suppose I’d been avoiding BBC for a while; I am apparently not missing much. Ew.

    I am generally not in favor of “which parent has the worse what”, but wouldn’t gifted children have difficulties socially? I can’t believe someone would compare the two; it seems totally ignorant to me. UGH.

    It’s 7:30 and I’ve been up for an hour and a half, so I wish I could say more and more eloquently. I’m thoroughly disgusted.

  12. As the parent of a gifted as well as an autistic child I find that the parents of gifted children bemoaning their problems in education and stimulation similar to someone complaining about having too much money. There is no comparison in the difficulties between the two ends of the spectrum, none at all. While we all agree that there will always be issues that we come up against in parenting, I’d much rather have to work hard to find things to keep my gifted child engaged than try to figure out why my autistic kid is stimming by putting things in multiple orifices.

    That said, keep up the good fight. This other Mama is proud of you and the awesome job you’re doing with your two great kids!

  13. I’m shocked by the ignorance of the guy that wrote that article and really too offended to read past the first page. Good on you for speaking out I think your response was completely justified. When John was really little one of my friends had a baby 6 weeks younger and was always complaining about the stress of getting to all her baby classes, when I was dragging my ass across town on 3 buses twice a weeks for physio groups and appointments in the hopes that one day my floppy little boy might actually sit on his own. Also my sisters youngest is showing signs of high intellectual abilities and whilst he sometime baffles her with the things he understands at his tender 3 years of age she would never consider his abilities a disability. Theses parents make me so mad, sorry I’m rambling now because I’m angry. Must stop ranting and breath x

    • Parents like your friend with the baby drive me CRAZY. Feel free to come on here and rant anytime you want Claire!

  14. For people to have said that raising a gifted child is anything like raising a disabled one- I had my disbelieving face on. The responses however made me feel sad that their are such mentally deficient parents out there raising these so called ‘gifted’ kids. Oh I don’t deny some of them are of higher intelligence then their age mates but really? the parents need to stop with the ‘my kid is a special snowflake’ and go hey- my kids smart but s/he isn’t any different to any other able bodied kid.

  15. As a kid of ‘above average abilities’, some of this shocks me. Yeah, okay, there’s a pressure on me, and yeah, my parents find it difficult to relate to me sometimes but that’s nowhere near the difficulties faced every day by children and adults with disabilities. I’m the first person to say that there are issues with how gifted children are educated, but I would never say that my abilities are a disability. They come with up sides and down sides, just like most things. It’s completely different from having a disability. The two should never have been compared.

  16. I did read the article and couldn’t believe that a professional would put his name on it. Not only does he equate being a prodigy with physical disabilities, he equates being a prodigy with being gifted. They are not the same thing. Not all prodigies are gifted. Gifted education defines it as a particular number on a IQ test.

    The reason the you attracted the comments that you did is because everyone, teachers, administrators, and other parents, tell us to sit down and shut up. Just because someone is smart doesn’t mean that life/school is easier than for any other child in school. You might not want to hear that my child came home crying everyday from first grade because he was in the reading group with kindergarteners and all of his classroom instruction was with the same group. I understand, neither did the teachers or administrators who refused a written request to assess him for a learning disability because he wasn’t two years behind. If my son had the same issue and wasn’t gifted, then he would have had the support that he needed. I advocate for my son because I am the only one willing to do it.

    There is no way I can understand trying to equate gifted with a physical disability. It’s not the same thing. However, it can be equated with a learning disability. Equal distances from the norm on either side of the bell curve have the same issues in American classrooms.

    PS kindergartener is not misspelled. The original word is German.

    • The difference between you and I, and our children, is that we are both strong advocates for them but no matter how I struggle and fight, my daughter will never feed herself and yours will attend university and has endless possibilities open to him. My daughter doesn’t have any of those possibilities. It isn’t the same on any level. And yes, I get sick of hearing that it is.

      Before you write anything more, you should read a little of this blog and see what I’m up against. What my daughter is up against. It is a far cry from your son’s troubles.

      • I didn’t disagree with you, as I stated in the first paragraph. I was very shocked that the author of that article compared physical disabilities with being gifted. I am sure that most of the parents that made comments had assumed that he had referenced learning disabilities.

        I was simply explaining why you attracted the type of comments that you did.

        If you like to read, you could take a look at the babycenter post by Joyce Slaton, “I hate hearing about your gifted child”. This is perhaps, another reason that you got knee jerk reactions by parents who didn’t take time to read the original article.

  17. I’m not sure how coherent this will be, as after reading everything it’s late and I’m tired, but I support and agree with you, Stacie. I don’t believe Solomon’s article was intentionally offensive, but it is a perfect example of privilege. In this case, ability privilege. So many people who have privilege are completely blind to all the benefits of their privilege, and the blindness leads us to say ridiculous, irresponsible, and hurtful things, all while denying that we are being ridiculous or hurtful.

    I do appreciate Solomon as a writer for his book “The Noonday Demon,” which presented a great deal of research and his personal experience with depression. The book helped me tremendously, and ironically, I distinctly remember his frustration with others who compared depression to other chronic physical illnesses. And yet here he has made similarly inaccurate comparisons due to his lack of personal experience with a profoundly disabled child. Sigh. Happens to the best of us, I guess.

    Profound disabilities are not akin to giftedness. I have a high IQ. I was poorly adjusted, suicidal, and a complete misfit. However, my intelligence and basic physical abilities allowed me to seek and benefit from therapy for my mental illness, and learn how to follow social cues and “play the game” to fit in as needed. Sure, it was bewildering and hazardous to not understand why my peers disliked me. But at the end of the day, I could walk home, turn on the tv or read myself a book, and feed myself a snack while thinking about my future and what I would do when I was fully independent. In no way is that similar to the difficulties faced by the profoundly disabled, not even with mental illness (disordering my thinking by occasionally equating independence with death).

    Anyway, you, May, and the rest of your family are amazing. I send you good thoughts for May’s continual growth and development, Iuean’s gifted future as a barista, ;) , and your complete recovery and remission from leukemia.

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