An open letter to Farrah Alexander

I was getting myself ready for bed tonight and I made the mistake of checking my Facebook feed one last time before turning out the lights. I didn’t know that seeing a link to your Huffington Post piece was going to cause me a myriad of emotions; mainly anger and sadness. Mostly though I want to start with an apology to you.

I want to apologize to you because you are hurting. Clearly you are hurting. Any parent who takes to an international stage to humiliate not only their child but a whole community of people they have never met is hurting. You went beyond making an off-the-cuff ignorant remark about your child and made full dismissive statements about a lot of good folks. That kind of anger comes from inner trouble which I truly hope you can heal. So Farrah Alexander, I am sorry for your deep hurt. Allow me to educate you just a little bit about the amazing community of people you think you are so much better than.

Next to your name it says that you are a mother, a writer, a doula and lover of nap time. I love nap time too. I just doesn’t happen much in my house. You see I am the parent of two gifted children. I can tell you that far from regularly enjoying naps, I regularly sit up with kids whose minds are so active that they cannot sleep for hours on end. Minds so curious and so demanding of more that they will go weeks at a time on just a few hours of sleep all night from the early days. My kids also can’t sleep because they come with secondary sensory processing issues which can occur as part of the gifted package. When the average person thinks of giftedness they are actually thinking of academic ability.

A lot of misinformation is out there about what giftedness really is. It is not the ability to ace a test. That would be so lovely were it true. It is not always the child in all AP classes or taking all the extracurricular activities. It can and is more likely the desperate introvert with few to no friends because they have developed so out-of-sync with their age peers that they don’t have the tools to relate. These are the children who are introverts mainly, and some painfully so. Anxiety and perfectionism is rampant and the self-correcting that tags along to those things can be crippling. Due to their asynchrony, finding academic or social help can be near impossible. Dyslexia and other learning disabilities go untreated because they aren’t far enough behind the normal level to warrant care. For that gifted child the learning disabilities are a real daily struggle but ignorant views deem them not worthy of help. I am sorry that there are people in this world who feel that all children should be the same. Each child has the right to meet their full potential, whatever that may be.

Within the gifted community support is strong because parents of gifted children can often need extra help. The National Association for Gifted Children exists for a very good reason. The groups online and in communities all over the world exist for a very good reason. Did you know that the Huffington Post has traditionally been a supporter of the gifted community? We are parents and teachers and friends who want to support our children and grown gifted loved ones. While gifted and talented children may not grow up to cure cancer as a rule of thumb, isn’t that a lot of pressure to put on a child? Are you really sure you want to stop supporting the social and academic needs of a whole community because of your personal view of worth? Who are you to judge what value these students gained during their years?  Is a person who grew up to being a loving member of society or even a doula not worthy of academic programs?

Another wonderful program I would love to tell you about is SENG: Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted. You see giftedness doesn’t end when you finish school. Giftedness is a neurological state which a person is born with and they will carry until they die. Living your entire life out-of-sync with your age peers can be a hard road. More often than not the gifted child is misunderstood and mislabeled. Their natural need to move and innovate, to think spatially or in non-traditional routes can be perceived by others as neurological or social problems, even deficits. Their unique abilities are misdiagnosed as ADHD, OCD, or Asperger. Depression can start quite early for gifted children. Imagine how lonely it is to be the child told to color during preschool when they really just want to finish reading Harry Potter.

Another thing I feel sorry that you don’t understand is that your child is simply on the spectrum of giftedness. Being gifted is a full range. The child on the start of the gifted spectrum may very well do great in school and social settings. This child may be smart and know their letters like your child does. On the other side of the gifted spectrum is the highly and profoundly gifted. These children are often in need of social and academic support well beyond their years. To ask them to stay at age level is a recipe for a child who either learns to lie about who they are or acts out. Imagine you were a high school graduate and your classroom only allowed you to color for hours at a time. Do you think you could make it through a day, let alone a full school year? When you decide that all children are gifted you dismiss the psychological, academic, and social needs of these children.

Along with the image of the academically excelling child is the idea that giftedness is a ticket to Easy Street. It isn’t. More and more parents are leaving their jobs to care for their gifted children because the American education and social system is failing them at astounding rates. The more gifted the child is, the more specialized support they need. This can come at the cost of one parent having to stay home to facilitate education. Imagine trying to balance Paw Patrol birthday parties with community college applications where the school laughs at you and doesn’t believe your child is truly that needing of college level materials. Take a visit to Hoagie’s Gifted Page and take Gifted 101 to get a primer on what you don’t know.

The social stigma of the gifted child ranges from person to person. Some of these stigmas come with a weight of truth. The more gifted a child is, the more likely they are to have medical issues. The more gifted a child is, the more likely they will need a gifted community just for them. In medicine there is a saying “you do not see what you do not know.” You clearly do not see the truth before your eyes because you know not the struggle of this beautiful community. I wish that you could open your eyes, your heart, and your mind to what is around you. Comparing your child to others is never a good thing. Every child is a gift. Every child has their own potential and is beautifully made. Not every child is gifted. Slighting a whole community because you don’t understand it is just mean and sets back the cause of modern global connectivity and understanding. What is the point of having a platform like the internet if you are going to use it to insult your own children and whole communities?

As a doula I challenge you to open your heart and mind to what you see daily. Each child you help to bring into the world is not in competition with the next. These children are all gifts and are all deserving of love and support. If you still don’t believe in the range of giftedness and the many difficulties of living that life from school age to beyond, I ask that you at least not judge it. To judge the value or needs of others gives nothing but more anger and ignorance to this world. Be the goodness and the kindness. Give the support and love to each child like you would give to your clients.

With love and hope for greater understanding,

A gifted mother to gifted children who just want to be understood and accepted.

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11 Comments

  1. This is brilliant, thank you for writing this. I hope millions of people see and understand more about what giftedness is, unfortunately though, you cannot teach people who do not want to learn.

  2. Thank you for such a well-written response to Ms. Alexander’s letter. You kindly refuted her misinformed points and shared important information about this wonderful group of children, who often receive little-to-no support.

  3. What a great response, I am in Illinois with no funding for gifted anything, your fourth paragraph is the very life my 11 year old son lives. I am so tired of “explaining” my son since preschool. I wish people actually knew what parents of actual gifted children go through. Overexcitabilities, perfectionism, up late worrying about global warming, 3 hours to write a homework paper, in between crying about boredom, you know the sun will burn out one day, what happens when you die, these jeans are too itchy, crying over a school novel assignment because the dog in the story dies, teachers playing Dr. and diagnosing your child and refusing to see it any other way, finding an awesome gifted program and realizing you can never afford it, expensive specialty toys from magazines, since they cannot even fathom why someone would play with an action figure. All this in one day. We struggle, but he is a wonderful, funny, insightful giant ball of energy, and he makes me a better person. Thanks for sticking up for this unique group that deserves more support.

    1. You just described my son & our life! DS is 17 now & a Sr in HS so we’re preparing for college & mom is the one not sleeping at night. Will he be able to juggle the college schedule? He can DO the work, but will he sleep? Will he eat? He IS wonderful & I’m so glad for this article! We are just part of a club that few people understand.

    2. Oh my gosh that was my childhood and I so desperately want my own daughter’s childhood to be different. She is two, and we suspect she is gifted. I’m fortunately part of a great online community of parents of gifted kids, and will be able to more appropriately advocate for her. But goodness… growing up gifted was so hard.

  4. Thank you! From one armed forces wife with 2 gifted children with sensory processing issues who has given up work also (living in uk). Totally agree of lack of support and am yet to find a gifted community ☺

  5. Oh, the joys of Harry Potter in early elementary. I remember a K teacher laughing because my daughter didn’t care about her letter names. She was reading Harry Potter at the time as the family rule is that you have to read the book before you watch the movie. We turned down summer school as we didn’t think it would take long to pick up on the letter names.

  6. I appreciate that you were able to compassionately challenge the Ms. Alexander’s thinking, and correct some myths about gifted education. Focusing on the academic needs of a child regardless of what those needs looks like is the only way to serve ALL children. Thank you for your thoughtful response.

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