Why We Need the Label
by Jennifer de la Haye
When I summarize IEA’s work to people outside our network: “…we are an educational nonprofit that works with gifted kids,” I am often met with skepticism and confusion. The most common response I have received is, “I believe all kids are gifted.” I do too! All kids have special giftings. As a mother of a four-year-old and one-year-old, I exist in a state of perpetual awe as I watch the personalities of my own children and the children in my community unfold. My preschooler has a remarkable propensity for language; she has been holding elaborate conversations since before turning two, and through language, she has been able to reveal a deep understanding of her own emotion and the emotions of others. One of her best friends, who wasn’t interested in speaking as early, has LEGO architecture skills that could land him a job designing hoverboards and intricate skyscrapers and giant ships right now, at age four. A three-year-old I know can draw a Mr. Potato Head picture that he could easily slip into a book of 1920s surrealist art and no one would know the difference. And every child I meet astounds me with either a wild and creative imagination, a surprisingly sharp sense of humor, a well of empathy, or all of the above.
Yes, of course all kids are gifted, in that all kids have creativity, beauty, love, special talents, and unique modes of intelligence comprising their very being.
But this is not what we mean by “gifted.” As a society, we needed a word to describe people whose experience of life is measurably different than their peers. I like the definition created by the Columbus Group in 1991: “Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm.” When we dismiss the term “gifted” because we have disdain for labeling children, or because all children are gifted, we are denying the existence of an entire body of people, whose inner workings are remarkably different than most.
A few years ago, Dr. Patty Gatto Walden, Yunasa Senior Fellow and psychologist, presented at the Beyond Giftedness Conference in Colorado. I had the privilege of listening to her speak. One idea from her discussion especially stood out to me: she talked about the incoming “channels” that each person experiences. In a classroom, a child might take in several channels at once – the message of her teacher, the mutterings of her classmates, the sound of the shifting leaves on the pavement outside, the feeling that her desk-mate is melancholy, the way the new piece of art on the left wall of the classroom makes her want to paint. A person whom we have deemed “gifted,” whose “inner experience and awareness is qualitatively different from the norm,” takes in hundreds of channels. Hundreds. Not several. She might be absorbing the message of the teacher while feeling that something is happening in the teacher’s life that is new and exciting; she feels her desk-mate’s melancholy, and her skin starts to tingle and her tummy begins to sink; she listens to the mutterings of her classmates and feels their emotions, too; she hears every sound in the classroom and outside, and each sound makes her body feel something different. For the sake of time, I won’t describe all 200 or 400 channels that our gifted child might be taking in. Dr. Patty took it further and said that a highly gifted person takes in thousands of channels. That is a lot for anyone. It is a lot for a child who is still learning who she is.
When we say someone is “gifted,” we are not inferring that he is “better” or “more special” than other children. We need a label, though. We need a label because we need special programs. We need different types of classes, camps, workshops, counseling sessions, support groups, books, retreats, scholarship options, learning centers, and more, so we can help these children understand themselves and flourish. And at IEA, we want to provide gifted kids and their families with a community of people who deeply connect with them, so they don’t feel alone.