Developing a Tough Skin


It’s a thorny subject and one I haven’t found the answer to yet. If I ever do.

When people (almost always strangers) ask me about my son – do I use the word ‘gifted’? Or should I use ‘asynchronous’?  Some of the more fraught conversations I have had have been with parents of homeschooling or special needs kids. Which was a surprise for me.

The thing is, in Australia, people are very rarely rude to your face – particularly not parents who have their own challenges with their children. Even more so when it’s obvious that your child does have disabilities – say when your in the waiting room of a specialist in cerebral palsy or ASD. But even still, I pause and think, should I use the g-g-gifted word? Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. But these days, I’ve developed a tough skin and a little bit of a crusader attitude. Because if I don’t use the word, then the weird disconnect between gifted and disability** as somehow mutually exclusive will remain. And in various circumstances, I have experienced either side of this weird divide.

The thing is, in many cases, even when another parent I’ve just met knows that I have children with challenges – even the same challenges as their kids, once the gifted words are uttered, I can see the shutters go down. The parent has exited the building. They are no longer listening. I have, in some strange way gone from potential comrade to pariah. This has happened to me in the special needs community. It has happened to me in the homeschooling community – particularly in those segments that believe that simply because they have removed themselves from the school system they don’t need to know about neuro-atypicality. This for want of a better word, gut reaction, seems so ingrained in our culture to such an extent than even outliers and rebels absorb and parrot it back despite having experienced prejudice against their own outlier situation. Some days it’s enough to make me want to curl up in a ball and retreat from the world.

And yet, I keep uttering the words. Gifted. Twice Exceptional.


Because when I’m standing in line to sign my son up for disability services, I’m met with the teller-from-Mars who says wonderfully inane things like,

He doesn’t look disabled.“***

Or when he reads the label on her water-bottle that just happens to be on her desk, “Wow, he’s smart.” as if having a disability automatically means he must be intellectually impaired.

Disability or special needs doesn’t mean that an individual is somehow a lesser person – even if they do have intellectual or physical impairment. Gifted doesn’t mean they’re somehow superhuman. And yet . . . neuro-atypicality is still treated as an illness. Or a fiction. Or just as a I-feel-uncomfortable-and-I-kind-of-wish-you-went-away thing. Even with people who should know better because they’ve been on the other end of that conversation.

So I develop a tough shell. Because the more people who become aware that ‘my son with a disability’ is gifted, and ‘my son who’s gifted’ has disabilities, the more chance there is for people to break out of these weird world-views and maybe, just maybe, start to look at the amazing, wonderful child in front of them.

**My brain is weird, and whenever I say disability, in my head start singing a syncopated rap-song that goes something like dis-Society, dis-society, dis-society, why don’t we call is dis-society . . . ?
*** Maybe he should wear a large neon sign on his head that can flash through his many diagnoses? No I didn’t say that. Yep, I bit my tongue. Bureaucracy doesn’t appreciate sarcasm, alas.

This article is part of the GHF Blog Hop,  How Do You Say “Gifted”?

17 Replies to “Developing a Tough Skin”

  1. "once the gifted words are uttered, I can see the shutters go down." <—This is just such a universal reaction, isn't it? I've seen this so many times.

    The reality is, it is a reaction to the assumption that a parent is bragging. Saying your child is gifted is bragging. And then the child is forgotten. The needs, even significant needs are forgotten and neglected simply because the child is gifted, and being gifted is a magical state of being capable of overcoming any disability–NOT!

    Thank you for such an eloquent post, Kathleen!

  2. It's possible they might. I've found that 2e/ twice exceptional usually does confuse people. But when they ask what that is, the response is often sadly just the same, a polite 'oh' and a quick exit from the conversation … sigh.

  3. Lol at the 'magical state of being'. Somedays, I wish it was a bit like that – I could do with a few Marvel superpowers ans some nice costumes, lol. But then again, it would probably be just like the early scenes from 'The Incredibles' or 'Jack-Jack Attack' . . . :p

  4. You make a lot of good points, but I think the on that sticks out to me is your point that people tend to assume that having a disability means intellectually impaired. That needs to be challenged so much more.

  5. Great read! I don't even dare say how clever my son is around certain circles as you get the eye roll treatment. I swear people would be more comfortable with the words "Excessive Intellect Disorder". They cannot comprehend that despite a child's very high IQ, that they can have learning 'disabilities' as well.

  6. Puppets Paula! I'd co-write plays with a lovely lady who was three times my age but still a brilliant acrobat. Then we'd perform for preschools and libraries. It was an awful lot of fun.

  7. The assumption that a parent is bragging when using the word GIFTED. SAD. Maybe because many "gifted" programmes are geared really towards the bright and not exactly the "gifted", which has caused the definition to be misunderstood by so many.

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