Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"Genius" vs. "Gifted"

Confession: I inwardly cringe when you call my child a "genius." I'm sure it's meant as a complement, but all I hear is "stop bragging about your kid."

Maybe it's because growing up, the word "genius" was thrown around as an insult by the other kids at school. Maybe it's because I know the only "real" geniuses are the top 2%, and it's statistically unlikely my child is one of those 2%. But whatever the reason, when someone casually applies it to one (or all) of my children, I withdraw; shut down. You might be saying "wow, your kids are so smart!" What I hear is "stop talking about your kids and making me feel bad about mine." And that very well may be all on me, hearing the wrong thing. My experience, and articles on blogs about how "everyone is gifted" and posts on forums about how someone doesn't believe three years olds can read because her four year old isn't so you must be lying. Because I know all too well that comparison is a thief of joy, I am extra sensitive to not wanting to put other parents in the position where they feel bad about their own child. So most of the time, I don't say anything. Within groups of moms talking and sharing, I smile and nod and keep it zipped. I tired reaching out when I freaked out about my not yet three year old starting to read; I did not get a good reaction from the mom group I asked for help from. So I'm gun shy now about saying anything. Even on my private facebook, with just family and friends, I hold back. I only share the occasional funny thing they say; nothing about academic achievements. Lady Bug is just a baby; not even an advanced one that I can see. But I shared something she did and someone said "don't be surprised she's a genius, just like her brothers." I know, I know, it was meant as a compliment. But please, world, stop throwing the word "genius" around. Genius is a word used to identify 2% of the population. My kids are not geniuses. My kids (at least, my boys are; not sure about the baby girl yet) are "gifted."

Just as "genius" identifies 2% of the population, "gifted" identifies people (adults as well as children) who's brains work differently from most of the population. There are intellectual advantages, as well as some disadvantages to being gifted.  Gifted describes a difference in brain wiring, just like ADD or autism. But some (unfortunately very vocal) people tend to take issue with the term "gifted" unlike ADD or autism. Because, they reason, if only some people are gifted, then they don't have "gifts." (I'm not going to link to the latest blog post gone viral on this. She's not going to get even more traffic from me.) Nope, not how that works. Most people have at least one special talent or ability or personality trait that is a gift to themselves and to others. That is not what the word "gifted" means in this context. And sadly, despite plenty of information out on the internet, people still refuse to accept this. Some refuse, despite evidence to the contrary, that people like this even exist. It's all bragging and lies. Others think that gifted people aren't that different, so they don't need a label; especially one that marginalizes their children. The problem with that is gifted kids, who learn differently from the average student, can struggle just as much as a child with a learning disability. Not to mention the 2E kids who are both gifted and have a learning disability! Just because gifted kids are "smart" doesn't mean they'll do well enough in school. Gifted kids need special education, just like the "special education" kids. And as long as we keep denying them the label, the funding for special education for gifted kids is going to keep being one of the first things cut in the school budget.

Okay, I may have gone a bit off topic there. My point is, gifted people are real; they exist. They are measurably different in such a way that demands a label. "Gifted" is that label. Please stop trying to take that away from them. Just like the label "ADD" doesn't diminish those who don't have it, "gifted" doesn't take away from you either. But if you try to take it away from them, it takes away a lot.

And please don't throw "genius" around, either.

This blog is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page inaugural Blog Hop on The “G” Word (“Gifted”).  To read more blogs in this hop, visit this Blog Hop at


  1. I totally understand where you're coming from and I'm certain many others share this conundrum too. It's unfortunate, unfair and totally not right. When my children starting speaking extremely early in full sentences, starting reading and writing before 2, I had a much older than me teacher friend who visits me occasionally and one who shares private thoughts with me. So, I thought it was ok to share these abilities with her and my little one then even happened to write his name out in front of her while we were talking. I mentioned his reading and she immediately dismissed it to cast it off as 'you mean he memorizes'. I rest my case. Never again did I 'tell' or 'mention' anything. Instead, I post some drawings they do on FB and have received wonderful responses. I have an older son in an Ivy League and posted his letter of acceptance. And my younger son received an invitation to participate in a full time gifted state program clearly identified as PG in the letter and how his abilities would enhance the rest of the program members experience. All these acknowledged by the various entities making the g-word REAL without me ever saying so personally whether in writing or spoken. My FB page is just for close friends and family ~ people who support us!

  2. I really do need to take a page from you on this. I keep trying - in vain, but still trying - to make those people closest to us understand that I'm not looking for a disorder, or a diagnosis. I'm looking to understand my child, my husband, myself, and how our minds work, and why it is that we're so different from the rest of the general population. Finding a name for that difference has been a blessing - and you remember the freakout that came shortly thereafter, as it was what brought me to you! Sadly, too many people are insistent that Gifted is not a real thing - just "a head start" or "we're all the same on the inside" - and it's damaging to all of us who genuinely are different. And I need to accept that some people are never going to get it, no matter how much information, how many studies I put in front of them, or how many hours worth of "informal" study goes into learning everything I can get my hands on about this. And those are the people I need to talk to about... knitting. They love that I absorb information like a sponge when it's useful to them - like when they need computer help. But when it's something that interests me (GT studies, books, relationships, homeschooling, compacting learning...) nobody really wants to hear about it. They just want to talk about what happened on The Biggest Loser, The Amazing Race, or Dancing With The Stars this week - extra unfortunate, because I don't watch any of those shows (and couldn't, no matter how much I might want to see before I leave my little bubble!).

  3. Is it just me, or does anyone else think top 2 percent is "gifted" but "genius" refers to PG?


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