Walk a mile In my shoes

How would you describe yourself to someone who doesn't know you well?

I would say I am gifted and I am special because I am good at academic and sport.

Tell me about the word 'gifted'.

I can't explain it. I don't know what to say.

Image chosen because..."It's hilarious!"

How do you think your family would describe you?

A kind young person. I am caring.

What sort of things do you like to do in your free time?

Have as much screen time as possible, but that does not include staring at glass or at the wall since that is olden days 'screen' time (he says with a twinkle in his eye and indicating that walls and windows by definition are screens too). Play with Lego. Build really cool vehicles, but I have ever only made one really good vehicle. Also read. Andy and Terry make books like The Seventy Seventh Treehouse book that also hasn't been released yet.

What do you like to learn about?

Let me think. My favourite subject is having screen time. Ha ha ha ha. Well, I like to do paper mache; I only did it once and I liked it and I made a jet plane of the plane that we went in to Christchurch. Maths, games and let me think...drawing, French, science.

What was it like starting school?

Can't remember. Anyway it was boring entirely. Everything - writing, reading, maths - you name it. Everything was boring.

When you were going to a regular school, what did you like about it?

Friends. That's all.

Tell me about anything you didn't like about it?

Everything except for friends. That my principal punched me. I didn't learn anything really. I only learned one thing really and that was 'elipse'. Really, only that one word.

This was where the questioning was terminated. The conversation which had begun to be defensive, suddenly closed down. He buried his head in sudden discomfort and distress and wanted to stop.

This is the view of a six year old as he shared it with his Mum. A young child who struggled to settle and find his fit in preschool over two years. A boy was sent home several times for 'bad' behaviour in his first week of school as he struggled to settle in. A child who was then deemed a behavioural problem because of this, and invited only for a 'trial period' when the parents decided to remove him and take him to a different local school. A child who was then enrolled in-zone as a last option because his parents knew he couldn't be turned away with this unfortunate label, only to be excluded within three terms of attendance because the teacher's did not know how to support him and refused training and external supports available to them (incidentally none of which included a gifted education focus).

This is a child that teachers gave up on. A child that principals gave up on. A child that Boards of Trustees gave up on.

A child that was lost in the system.

A child who lost hope.

This is his story, and he wants it told to help to make school a better place to help other children who might experience something similar to him. He understands and is happy with the fact that what he has shared during this conversation would then be shared further through the Gifted Awareness Blog Tour to people who understand what it is to think and feel like he does - with sensitivity and intensity. He chose his words carefully for this purpose.

I had planned to ask him how things were going for him now that he is homeschooling. I wanted to ask what he would say to other children if they were struggling like he was. I wanted to ask him what he would change to make things better for all children. In light of his response, I had hoped to lead him back from what are clearly intense dark memories, to a place of light, where he was thinking about all the amazing things that he is experiencing now, and his earlier expressions of having feelings of release.

But more than anything, I wished I could say it was all a dream and that everything was okay.

This child had given up on learning at creche. From as young as two he desperately wanted to be taught to read. As a preschooler he sought to delve into maths that six and seven year olds might be learning. He was busting to be able to share his interests with others his age and have deep and meaningful conversations with the teachers. When this was not forthcoming, he initially wished for school, but this soon faded to a loss of hope that he would ever get to learn from teachers. Sadly, his beliefs were all too accurate and school was a further disappointment, with colouring in, walls covered in ABCs and sight words which he was well beyond by then, and worksheets with activities for numbers 1-10.

At creche they got the kids to flick the switch to make the rotor fly up into the air. He had already been making circuits independantly a year earlier.

He was disappointed, alienated, bored and frightened. He had to do activities he could do years earlier, suck up waiting while others learned, and wait for opportunities to be stretched appropriately, which were few and far between. He was expected to look forward to school, be content there, grateful for the opportunities he was being provided, and blend in with his peers. Value was shown to be in fitting in and doing as his peers did. Not only was there a lack of respect for him as an individual, but also his identity as a gifted learner. There was no interest in parental perspectives or opportunities to develops understanding about the unique characteristics and needs of gifted learners.

Because the learning in his areas of interests and strengths was not accessible, he was failing to be engaged and failing to learn how to learn. When the challenges did come, they were in areas he struggled with - writing and drawing all those ideas of his down on paper how he wanted them to be. His focus quickly shifted from what he could do to what he couldn't do. He began to very quickly see himself as a failure.

The result, a very stressed out, highly anxious child who sat permanently on the edge of his survival instincts. A child who tripped over to fight/flight and had melt-downs at school when he just couldn't cope any more.

The desperate bid to survive in a hostile environment

A child who the school wanted to be kept home while the Education Review Office was visiting, a child that the school wanted kept home any day the principal was away from school...A child who was shamed, punished and abused by educators for his lack of ability to cope. It is therefore no surprise that he began to own the labels of 'naughty' and 'bad' and began to feel he was simply not good enough.

Where are our children's human rights? Where is the change that is so desperately needed to keep all our children safe, content, and learning? Where is the accountability when it all goes so terribly wrong?!

Our children deserve more.

Children of all abilities, with varying personal qualities and needs, are screaming out for help, some getting in serious trouble for their attempts at communicating that the provisions being offered are simply not a match for their needs. Just how many of these children who are deemed to 'be' (experience) behavioural challenges are actually misunderstood, under supported gifted learners who have great potential to fair so much better?

What frightens me is it that I have personal knowledge of three children who have been excluded from school recently who fall within the 5-9 year old group shown in the statistics for my region, and all these children are gifted. Furthermore, these three have been excluded at either age 5 or 6 years old!! What happened to "change the environment, not the child"? Why are so many children, so young, being excluded from school?

It seems that the children and their families' get the blame and are left picking up the pieces while schools get to walk away from their responsibilities. I challenge the Ministry of Education to have students at risk of exclusion screened and assessed for giftedness by an external specialist (for a non-bias view) in identifying giftedness and talent, and have a process of true accountability that requires schools to step up and meet the unique needs of gifted learners.

Where is gifted education in our schools I ask? Where are the provisions that build the self belief and confidence in our children so that they may be content and progressing? Kudos to those teachers, early childhood centres and schools which are doing this well. If only this was the case everywhere!

Walk a mile in these children's shoes...walk a mile in their families' shoes...unlike many seem to believe, the educational journey for gifted, twice and multi-exceptional learners is not a kind one.

Gifted children should be able to belong and be supported appropriately in schools


feel like they belong and are appropriately supported in schools

so we don't end up with children who are broken by the system and the people working within it.

The conversation which leads this blog took place between mother and son. These following thoughts are the reflections of his Mum, a parent of a wonderful, loving, caring, sparkly and inquisitive young boy who just happens to be a multi-exceptional learner. Mother and child share his story with the hopes that it might help make change for the better for gifted children in schools.

Disclaimer: For legal reasons no identifying information such as names or places have been included in this blog. Because of the nature of the claims made by this child, and the choice by the author to share these word for word as they have been spoken in order to allow the child to have a voice, the author has been advised to state the following. The child's memoirs which are included at the beginning of this blog reflect the child's present recollections of his experiences at school. Events have been recreated from memory and in some cases may not be reflective of the actuality of circumstances. Due process has been followed for the allegation of abuse.

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Created with images by Greyerbaby - "boy walking teddy bear" • geralt - "primate monkey orang utan" • Cea. - "Friv.com" • mdpai75 - "cry at loud" • thisguyhere - "teddy bear silhouette evil" • Megyarsh - "Tears are tasteless" • klimkin - "flower life crack" • Average Jane - "Post-Color Run sneakers" • cocoparisienne - "mourning woman sculpture"