Eli doesn't have some miraculous story of survival. But as his mother, I feel that his story is worth sharing as a means of awareness; I don't think that society as a whole understands the gifted community. So many see being gifted as something not even worth mentioning -- because he's seen as showing off -- or struggles he may have aren't taken seriously because he's "smart enough to get over it." His struggles are similar to those within the autism spectrum, but because he is NOT autistic, people (past teachers included) brush it off as misbehavior or ADHD, when, in fact, they're dealing with an under-stimulated, gifted child.
Eli always struck us as intelligent, but we really knew and suspected he was gifted when he spoke in full sentences by age two and, spelling/writing words by age three and committing multiple Bible verses to memory by age four.
In Kindergarten, his teacher recommended he be tested for WINGS, the gifted education program. He tested with an IQ of 146 and we're told that increases by about ten points around second or third grade (he's in second now). To put it in perspective, Einstein was thought to have an IQ of 160.
Some of the most difficult things he deals with is anxiety attacks when it all gets overwhelming, where he totally shuts down and sometimes hyperventilates. Sometimes it's simply a matter of emotional overload. Other times, it's because he got food on the shirt he wanted to wear to school and I made him change. We have to talk him down very gently and then talk through what he's feeling. He's often VERY hard on himself -- severe perfectionism to the point that he frequently calls himself the "worst kid in the world" because he's "always messing up everything." We have a very loving home, so it's heartbreaking to hear these things come out of his mouth even though we tell him frequently that he's smart, God has big plans for him, and we love him unconditionally.
He doesn't sleep well either because he has a very hard time shutting off his mind and relaxing. So, even though he goes to bed at a time that will allow him to get 11 hours of sleep -- and we do several things to calm his mind -- he frequently doesn't fall asleep for at least an hour or more.
Eli had been to three different schools in three years. We haven't moved, but it's been an effort to find somewhere for him to fit in, with each year being a battle in one way or another. This year he doesn't seem to have any strong friendships. He sits alone at lunch and plays alone at recess more often than not. And nobody remembered his birthday at school last week.
On the positive side, he is one of the most compassionate children I've ever known. He can't stand to hear when someone is hurting -- he wants to do everything he can to help. For his seventh birthday, he decided he would rather sponsor a child with Compassion International than have birthday presents, so we asked his guests to donate the money they would have used on gifts and he collected enough for the first three months of sponsorship. Now we pay the monthly cost, but he writes to his "pen pal."
When my grandmother was dying of cancer last December, Eli went with me to see her and he just stood next to her bed, holding her hand, gently talking to her and loving on her. He knows what I do with "On Angel's' Wings" and often asks about how the families or babies are doing, and then will put his hand on my arm and ask how I'm doing. He's very protective of my heart.
While this is an amazing blessing for him and we know that God has beautiful things in store for his future, it's also quite the burden to carry. He deals with emotional intensity: which means that every emotion he has can be quite overwhelming. He sees all possible outcomes for most every circumstance, most often focusing on the negative possibilities. One of the recommendations we're given as parents of gifted children is to not let him watch the news -- it will literally keep him up at night as he tries to think of ways to fix the world's problems. He constantly says things to me like "I feel like something is pushing me down and I want to get up and I want to fight, but I just can't." It breaks my heart. And it's the burden he carries because he sees the world like an adult does, but still has the emotions of a seven year old.
There are so many more resources available to gifted children now, but the stigma still persists. Even now, I'm having to change when I say to him "I used to be gifted" because that's not true, I still am, but society teaches us that saying that is bragging. But I want Eli -- and other gifted children and parents -- to understand that it's not bragging. It's something to embrace, both in struggle and in blessing.
The silver lining is that we are addressing deep issues of worth very early in Eli's life. Our prayer is that he learns early that his worth is not found in what others think of him, what he achieves, or how perfect he is, but it is found in God.
We know that these battles so early in his life mean that he is destined for great things. It's hard in the thick of it to not get discouraged and downcast about how hard it is, but we also know that his compassion and determination will take him far when he finds and pursues his passions as an adult.
Eli's advice to other gifted children: "I don't know about you, but being gifted is pretty hard at first. But it will get better. I know because it got better for me. I always want everything to be perfect. Ant hills are always mountains for me. It gets better because it allows me to control my dreams. And have a good heart. And I got support from family and my counselor."
It's been over a year since this original post -- Eli is almost done with third grade. He started seeing a counselor, which began as weekly appointments but we are on a bi-weekly schedule now. When he first started going and she would recommend coping mechanisms for him, he was completely dismissive of all her ideas, stating that none of them would work. He now is very open and receptive to anything she suggests and has developed a strong affection for her as his confidant.
Last summer we started treating his anxiety holistically and have seen incredible results. He's sleeping better now. His anxiety attacks are less frequent and, when he does have them, he is often able to calm himself in a short amount of time. There have still been the occasional anxiety attacks that are uncontrolled and even concerning -- such as a recent visit to urgent care for an ear infection where the pain overwhelmed him -- but overall there has been marked improvement. He has a momma that diligently researches for anything that can help him with a motivation to keep him off of prescription medication. So far, we've been successful.
His grades began to struggle this year. Third grade is when our school district starts actual letter grades and the pressure was overwhelming him but he wasn't communicating that to anyone initially. Upon investigation we found that he wasn't turning things in because they weren't complete, but was taking too long to complete them because they had to be perfect. Fortunately, Eli has an incredible teacher this year who loves him and sees his heart. She has gone above and beyond to accommodate his academic and emotional needs in the classroom so much so, in fact, that we got a 504 Plan for him, putting all of her strategies down on paper so that all teachers have to provide the same for Eli in order to keep his anxiety at bay. We are eternally grateful for his teacher and counselor -- and that we took the steps with them to do the 504, which has already helped tremendously (just knowing his has it has lifted a huge weight of worry from his shoulders).
We recognize that every year will bring new emotional, mental and academic struggles as Eli grows. We're honored that God chose us to be his parents and guide him on this journey. And we know he is destined for greatness! What a great opportunity to reflect on where Eli was 15 months ago and where he is now. So blessed by the progress he's making. So honored to be his momma.