Hail to Our Heroes



I am in constant awe of the families we work with.  Their children come first. They will move heaven and earth to find the key to their children’s success and happiness. They do not give up when faced with obstacles or derision.
They are an inspiration for us all.

I am sitting here this afternoon overwhelmed with gratitude for the quality of folks that Betty Maxwell and I, and all the staff members of the Gifted Development Center, have the privilege to be able to interact with every day. Parents of gifted children are often derided because they fiercely advocate for their children. But most of the parents who come through our doors are extraordinary human beings. They are unsung heroes who give all of themselves, and often give up their own dreams, in order to nurture the unusual potential of their children.

I want to share with you some of their stories, because I find them inspiring. One father came to our Center to find out where the best schools for the gifted were in the country. He visited a half-dozen schools all over the U. S. to find the best match for his daughter. Many families have uprooted their lives, leaving their friends and relatives behind—not to pursue career advancement, but in search of a school environment that would support their children’s strengths.

I know Dads who gave up lucrative employment opportunities, who risked being fired by their employers for not being willing to move, and who actually faced dismissal from their jobs, because they refused to give up a school placement where their child or children were thriving. I know several Dads who maintain two separate residences, sometimes half-way across the country, and visit their wives and children on week-ends, so that their children can attend a school or college that meets their needs. Unsung heroes.And the hundreds of Moms who have given up their personal lives to homeschool their children. What amazing selflessness. Everyone thinks they’ve lost their minds. And at the beginning of that journey, they sometimes wonder themselves. "Can I do this? Do I know enough? How will I know what to do? Can I be both Mom and Teacher? Will it hurt my child? Will it harm our relationship? When will I have time for me?"

Locating opportunities, chauffering to various classes, finding mentors and tutors, learning subjects with their children that they hated in school, exploring distance learning, connecting with other homeschoolers, planning curriculum, and orchestrating each day so that learning is fun, strengths are developed, and weaknesses dealt with. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. And all the other responsibilities that fall upon wives and mothers don’t go away when Moms decide to bite the bullet and educate their children themselves. Homeschooling is an added responsibility—on top of everything else.Then there are the Moms who send their children to school for the social experience, while spending the rest of the day driving them to clubs, mentors, sports activities, art class, music lessons, community college classes, and other educational endeavors.

The Advocates Extraordinaire go to school with their children—helping out in the classroom, making instructional materials, assisting the children who are struggling, organizing volunteers—all the while monitoring their children’s emotional safety and well-being. My hat goes off to those who are determined to change the system by sitting on parent committees, running for the School Board, and lobbying for legislation.Parents of exceptionally gifted children have to have exceptional inner strength and tenacity to make decisions for the good of their children that fly in the face of societal wisdom. "He definitely should go to his neighborhood school." "Don’t advance her in math or she’ll be a misfit." "You can’t allow him to skip grades. You are depriving him of his childhood!" "How will she learn to adapt to the real world?" "My child did fine in the regular classroom. Why do you think your child needs special treatment?" I know parents who moved with their children when they were accepted as early entrants to college in far-away cities.

These young pioneers were so hungry to learn that they raced through elementary, middle and high school courses, so that they could get to college-level work that was finally challenging enough. But they were certainly not old enough to go off to college by themselves. So their parents made hard choices. And I haven’t met one yet who regretted those choices.When I first started the Gifted Development Center, 22 years ago, parents would call very sheepishly and spend an hour telling me everything their children did from birth, followed by a hesitant, "Do you think she’s gifted? Do I need to get her tested?" It took all their courage to make that call. "What if I’m wrong? What if I’m just another doting parent who thinks everything my kid does is special? I’ll look so foolish if she doesn’t come out gifted." Despite their fears, nearly all of those who made the call were relieved to discover that they did, indeed, have gifted children. This was the end of the assessment process.

But times have changed. Thanks to Internet, parents are much more savvy than they were two decades ago. They have talked with other parents of the gifted, they’ve read lists of characteristics, they’ve done their homework, and they know they have gifted children. They also trust their own perceptions more than the test scores. Instead of bringing their children to the Center to find out if they are gifted, today’s parents ask, "Just how gifted? What is my child’s learning style? Any hidden weaknesses? How do we develop strengths?" And the majority of our clients have had their children tested several times, because they were certain that the earlier test scores were underestimates. Unfortunately, the ceilings of most IQ tests are so low that there is no way of knowing how accurate the scores are. Still, it takes the utmost bravery to take a child across the country to determine if that moderately gifted IQ score is an underestimate of a profoundly gifted child. "Do I really want to know?"

It costs a small fortune to raise exceptional children. However, we have had very poor families who found a way to get their children assessed and served. One mother had been on Welfare, and when she got her first job, she scraped together every penny she had to fly to Denver to have her children assessed. Another homeschooled her child, buying and selling homeschooling curriculum on the Internet. Several single mothers doggedly pursued scholarship assistance so that their children’s needs could be met.The most valiant parents are those who have twice exceptional children.

I could tell you endless stories of misdiagnoses, masked disabilities, obstacles and frustrations—even public humiliations faced by gifted children with learning disabilities and their parents. We’ve had parents come to the Center with a wheelbarrow full of previous test scores, but who have received no help. We’ve handed them two pounds of handouts to read, and they’ve devoured every page. We’ve told them their child needed a sensory-integration evaluation by a pediatric occupational therapist and a central auditory processing battery by an audiologist and a vision evaluation to determine if vision therapy was warranted and a program for dyslexia and an evaluation by an AD/HD specialist and an elimination diet to determine if the child’s behavior was affected by particular foods and modifications for the child’s introversion and sensitivity and distance learning classes, like the Educational Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY), and a laptop computer for written work, and a special school for gifted children that will develop the child’s strengths while shoring up the weaknesses orpossibly radical acceleration or homeschooling. They’ve left with their heads swimming, but these amazing people actually follow through on the majority of the recommendations.

These parents don’t view themselves as heroes. When you give birth to a child with special needs, you do whatever it takes. But, clearly, the most heroic parents I’ve met are those who have chosen to raise twice exceptional children that are not their own. One single Mom adopted a boy with multiple handicaps and breathed new life into him. One family adopted a child with cleft palate who had been abandoned at birth. Another family adopted a child from another country who had serious learning disabilities and spoke very little English. Grandparents frequently raise their grandchildren when their children are not capable of doing so. And one woman, who was disabled herself, became the legal guardian of a neglected great niece with Asperger’s Syndrome. These are impressive acts of valor.

As parents, you all lead such busy lives and are so preoccupied with what you haven’t done, I’ll bet you don’t realize how remarkable you really are, and how lucky your children are to have your loving support. It’s time to take stock of your successes and to take pride in your assertiveness on behalf of your child—even though it was scary. Take some time tonight and think about all the ways you have made a difference in your child’s life. And give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.

Linda Silverman