There was a conversation that I had quite some time ago that is still bugging me, and being a writer, inevitably that means I end up putting words on paper in order to figure it out in my own head. The conversation, for all its twists and turns could be boiled down to one question . . . ‘Is giftedness a bad thing?” You see, once you let go of the assumptions and myths that surround giftedness, and start to understand how many of the characteristics and behaviours of gifted people either resemble certain other conditions (like Autism, ADHD, OCD etc), inevitably, giftedness starts to lose some of the false-shine of being a ‘gift’ . . .
But after a lot of mulling and brooding (see, writer!) I think the question is phrased the wrong way. The question should really be, “Why are Autism, OCD, ADHD, and other special needs considered bad things?” Things that ‘knock the shine’ off giftedness?
I think part of that reason is due to the stereotypes we hold in our minds about what these conditions look like, but I also think there is a little more to it as well.
In my experience, many professionals when they’re trying to help families of newly diagnosed special needs children tend (whether they mean to or not), to emphasize the bad, or the difficult. This makes sense for them, as their job is to see endless streams of kids with the difficulties associated with a particular diagnosis. But it does make it hard to see the good. Or to see how adults with these conditions thrive not despite, but because of their different brain wiring. After all, as my DH puts it, “It’s easier to think outside the box if you’ve never been in the box.”
When we start to understand that different wiring in the brain or body can be both a blessing and a curse, no matter what that difference is, we will start to see the beauty of difference, rather than being afraid or envious. Different doesn’t necessarily mean easy, but nor does it mean devastatingly awful either. Difference, is just that. Different. Whether it is a good, or a bad thing depends on your point of view, and the point of view and support offered by your community.
It’s a powerful message: and I think it’s a message of hope. It breaks up the old assumptions of special needs = bad, gifted = good, because it steps back and says, ‘Hey, I think we’re looking at this the wrong way’. And I think it’s more nuanced, and honest.
As Hamlet says,
“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
Maybe it’s time to turn the conversation in a different direction. Maybe it’s time to stop looking at what these differences are not, and start to look at what they are and could be, outside the box of our own assumptions.