Growing up, no one ever called me “gifted.” I was, however, often referred to as “smart,” which I took as a great compliment. In grade school, I knew everyone, and everyone knew me. Although the term “gifted” wasn’t used, everyone accepted me as “smart” and treated me just like everyone else was treated. I really felt like I belonged.
By the time I began junior high, there had been many changes in my life. The biggest change came when my family moved from Missouri to Illinois—from a school where there were thirteen students in my class to a school with nearly three hundred students.
At this new school, I did not know where I fit in. I was a proverbial small fish in a big pond. I quickly noticed that the kids who were labeled as “smart” were treated differently. I did not want to be treated differently; I just wanted to fit in like everyone else.
My junior high class was required to take a test on the Constitution of the United States. Out of nearly three hundred students, I received the highest grade possible, surpassing those who had the reputation of being “the smartest” in the class. The school had a practice of posting the high scores for everyone to see. I was informed by another student about my score—everyone seemed to know about it except for me. When I walked down the long hallways after receiving the highest grade, people looked at me, called out to me, and focused on me. I just wanted to hide, blend in, and fit in with the masses. Because of the unwanted attention I was getting, I decided to underachieve to fit in. I did this for several years. Thankfully, I had decided to only underachieve enough to be considered mainstream and not “smart.” I did enough to earn As and Bs, but I did not apply myself fully and, of course, was not challenged.
Since I was getting As and Bs, my parents didn’t question what I was doing in school. They were both educators and knew I was smart, but educating gifted students had not been part of their university studies. Although they knew I was smart, they didn’t recognize the element of giftedness. There was not a community of gifted people around them who could help them see that their child was displaying gifted characteristics. Instead, my parents thought my advanced abilities were due to them being educators and that they had influenced my abilities by the activities we did at home. And since my underachieving hid my abilities, they didn’t give it a second thought, and my giftedness went largely undetected.
Giftedness was not discussed in my schooling or in my social circles. I followed my parents’ example by studying the field of education. Unfortunately, gifted education wasn’t stressed in my higher education studies, either. Instead, my courses focused on educating students who needed special education services. I didn’t learn about giftedness until much later, when, at the suggestion of her preschool teacher, I had my daughter tested for giftedness. It was then that I started to truly delve into the gifted world.
Once I found out where my daughter was on the IQ scale, I questioned everything. I had questions about her (and later, about my son). I had questions about what it was going to mean for our family. I had questions about what it was going to mean for me as her mother. I asked myself, “What does it mean to have a gifted child? What does my child’s giftedness mean for me?” Eventually I started to question my own life and wondered, “Could I be considered gifted as well?”
We know that traits are passed down through generations. I thought perhaps this could be the case in my family. Although research is limited in the area of multigenerational giftedness1, I discovered that in my family, gifted traits could be seen through generations.
It was through this exploration and seeking answers to the questions I had about my daughter that led me to a greater understanding of myself. I was able to look back at my experiences as a child in school and could better understand why I reacted to my experience in junior high the way that I did.
In her article titled “Gifted Girls,” Joan Smutney stressed, “At times, [they] do not even realize they are gifted, they just know that they are different and sometimes feel like they are strange or something is wrong with them.” She included, “[T]he discrepancy between ability and self-image may assume different forms.”2 In my case, I chose to hide my abilities.
In junior high, I just wanted to blend in with everyone else. As I got older, this desire changed. As I became more comfortable with my abilities, I began to focus less on fitting in with the masses. Instead, I gravitated toward people who could relate to me and I to them. In exploring my own giftedness, I looked at the relationships I had fostered. I discovered that most of the adults that I had a close connection with were ones who would consider themselves gifted. Many of those gifted adults also had children who were gifted. These relationships gave me the opportunity to connect to those who could relate to me as a gifted individual and as a parent of gifted children.
Further exploration led me to connect with groups of parents of gifted children. In these groups, individuals are no longer floundering. Together, we as parents of gifted children can attempt to answer the questions, “What does it mean to have a gifted child? How can I help my gifted child thrive? What does my child’s giftedness mean for me?” We can explore the implications that giftedness has brought to our lives—not just as parents of the gifted but to ourselves as individuals.
We can realize that even though we may still be proverbial little fish in a big pond, there are others out there who can relate to what we have gone through as children and what we are going through as parents. We can seek advice and, as we gain experience, share our advice with others. Through our journey into the world of the gifted, we can find our own support system so we can most effectively meet the needs of our gifted children.
Kristen M Perrone et al., “Multigenerational Giftedness: Perceptions of
Giftedness Across Three Generations,” Journal for the Education of the
Gifted 33, no.4 (2010): 606–27, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=shib&db=eric&AN=
2. Joan F Smutney, “Gifted Girls,” Understanding Our Gifted 11, no. 2 (Winter 1999): 9-13, http://www.davidsongifted.org/search-database/entry/a10171
You must have had wonderful, smart and wise parents
Dr. Kirsten L. Stein says
Thank you for your comment. I most certainly do! They are amazing, loving people and have always been my biggest supporters. 🙂
Barry Gelston, M.Ed. says
Are those your parents?
Dr. Kirsten L. Stein says
Hi, Barry. If you’re asking about person behind “anonymous,” I am not sure who that person is.
I was fortunate to grow up in a town that, even though it was small, had a “gifted program” for elementary students. I have some great memories of being able to leave the regular classroom and pursue some individual interests (that’s when my love of Greek mythology started) and be with some of the other “smart kids.” I’m glad you are able to help your daughter (and son) pursue those things!
Dr. Kirsten L. Stein says
Thank you for sharing, Becky. You were fortunate to have a program like that. It is wonderful that you were able to connect with like-minded students. Regarding helping my children—thank you! I am glad too!