In celebration of National Parenting Gifted Children Week, Great Potential Press is pleased to present a series of guest blog posts covering some of the biggest topics in childhood development and gifted education today. GPP author and blogger Suki Wessling takes a closer look at how parents can support their twice-exceptional children.
This is Part 5 of her guest series. Return to Part 1 for links to all the posts.
I promise that I am neither exaggerating nor joking when I tell you that I could have gotten any sort of diagnosis for my five-year-old daughter.
Confused as to why our bright, funny, active child couldn’t make it through half a day in a classroom, we sought help from a child psychiatrist. She held up the diagnoses like a bouquet.
“Here we have ADHD, which comes with this lovely drug. Or you might want to choose Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which comes with a drug of a stronger flavor. Of course, there’s always Bipolar Disorder. The drug for that diagnosis is very popular with parents this year.”
Now I am, of course, being facetious. She didn’t speak that way, but the implications were obvious. She could see that we were desperate, and she was there to solve our problems with pharmaceuticals.
However, if she’d paused to ask us, she would have found out that we had a very different mission in mind. We didn’t want to know how to calm our daughter down—we wanted to know what was causing the problem in the first place.
I found the answers on the SENG website and in the book Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children, and those answers gave us the courage the fire the psychiatrist and seek completely different ways to help our daughter succeed in life.
You could say that I’ve offered a happy ending, but here is the way I look at it: I am a highly educated mother, a writer who responds to questions by getting out her smartphone and looking up the answer. My own mother is a medical researcher who supplies me with information from Medline. My experience at the psychiatrist’s office is a common one, but my reaction to it is not. Most parents bow to the authority because they don’t see any other choice.
In my daughter’s life, we have sought help from the realms of psychology, psychiatry, family medicine, family therapy, educational theory, alternative medicine, and traditional Chinese medicine. In that time, a few constants have held true across disciplines:
- No one ever asked about her intellectual profile
Despite the fact that the research is solid, easily available, and accepted by leaders in many disciplines, no one ever considered how giftedness might interplay with her behavioral issues. Not once did a practitioner recommend testing of any kind that might relate her problems in the classroom to her learning styles and needs.
- No one ever asked about her diet
Parents of autistic kids upend their entire families’ diets because of the amazing results they see. Parents of kids with Down Syndrome see fantastic improvements with nutritional supplementation. Yet, despite the evidence, gifted kids are treated as if they have no special needs at all. Pediatricians should hear alarm bells when the parents of a delightful, highly verbal four-year-old say that he always throws fabulous tantrums in the mid-morning. Everyone should have “reactive hypoglycemia” on the tips of their tongues. But not one practitioner ever mentioned it to me.
- No one ever suggested that the problems were with her environment
It took hiring an educational consultant (not paid for by insurance) to get the straight dope on a kid like mine: “I can’t imagine a school that could serve her needs,” the consultant told me. So why couldn’t all the teachers, school principals, and everyone else suggest that perhaps school was the problem? School administrators are so sold on the idea that one-size-fits-all education is good for all kids that it doesn’t occur to them that their method can’t possibly work for all kids.
I think that the misdiagnosis of gifted kids is tied into our general cultural uneasiness with distinguishing “smart” kids from other kids. It’s like our culture is still in the high school locker room, unable to get past jocks vs. nerds.
But if we are truly trying to serve all kids’ needs, then that’s something we have to get past. Pediatricians should feel comfortable telling parents of obviously gifted kids about resources they might need when they run into trouble. School administrators should admit when their school doesn’t serve a child’s needs, and be ready to offer information and advice to parents who need it.
Finally, psychiatrists need to stop viewing high intelligence—and the accompanying overexcitabilities that send parents into their offices—as a disease to be masked with drugs. My heart goes out to all those families raising children with severe problems for which drugs are truly an answer. But it is simply wrong to offer drugs to high-IQ kids instead of advice about understanding typical psychological profiles, dietary needs, and appropriate educational environments. Drugs should be the last resort, not the first option.