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Harnessing a Racehorse

We just got back from preschool story time at our local library, and it got my mind spinning in many directions. Jenna(27m) can sit through the half-hour story time curriculum for 3-5 year olds and participate like a champ. She pays attention, answers questions, makes meaningful connections when appropriate, and behaves like a come-to-life doll in just about every respect. I’m sure that when other library parents look at me they probably think, “That lady must be a good parent. Her daughter is a little angel!”

Taking Bruce to story time when he was little was a different experience altogether. He would do okay for the first ten minutes, and then get really bored by the level of material being presented. Sitting still, listening to the responses from his three-year-old peers, and not being able to share his obscure literary references were just too much for him. After a few attempts to make story time work, I finally gave up because I was positive the other parents were looking at me and thinking, “That lady must be an awful mother! Her child is sure acting like a brat.”

Parenting Bruce(6) is like trying to harness a racehorse every single day. The years pass and some challenges fade away, only to be replaced by new ones. The good news is that my son is now attending our school district’s gifted program and for the most part thriving. There are still lots of time when people look at how spirited he is and think I am a bad parent. But now people know he is “officially” gifted, and that helps a little bit with the judgment.

Jenna on the other hand, manifests her intelligence in entirely different ways than Bruce. Like me, she is very well behaved and eager to please. My parents claim I only ever threw two or three tantrums in my entire childhood. Growing up in the San Diego School District’s Seminar program, I was surrounded by a lot of gifted students with this same temperament: intensely articulate and curious children who were also well-behaved. But it seems that there was always at least one kid in every class who was the harnessed-racehorse type, like my husband and son.

At the library story time today there was a three year old girl who was this exact type. She was a thoroughbred filly, trying to attend story time with neurotypical children (and Jenna.) 🙂 This little girl kept interjecting, interrupting, offering suggestions, getting up to dance, and when she was allowed to speak, spewing forth long involved sentences that nobody could understand. Even our wonderfully patient and experienced librarian was at her wits end. To me it was like deja vu.

When story time was over I went up to the mother and offered my unsolicited opinion that her daughter should be tested for our district’s gifted program when she was in Kindergarten. The mom looked at me like she was about to cry. She said her daughter was in speech therapy and was being recommended for a developmental preschool. My teacher-ears perked up and I inwardly thought Asperger’s Syndrome? But then I asked her if she meant speech therapy for articulation of language delay. It turns out that the little girl just needed articulation help. It was no wonder, because this child was using high level vocabulary and sentence structure that nobody expects a three year old to have mastered.

So I told this mother, “Many people here might be seeing naughtiness but I’m seeing a child who is highly verbal, inquisitive, energetic, intense, and clearly bored with the material being presented because it is probably too easy for her. Those are all signs of giftedness.” That’s when the mom shared that her husband was gifted, and had been in gifted programs throughout his childhood. She didn’t know what to do about preschool, but was at her wits end. I suggested she look into Montessori, and that she check out Dr. James Webb’s book Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, Ocd, Asperger’s, Depression, and Other Disorders. (There is also a SENG article about this subject.) Then we said goodbye and she thanked me profusely.

Was this little girl gifted or not? I don’t really know. I’m just a non-qualified random stranger making an unsolicited assessment based on a thirty minute observation. But I am also a teacher, parent, and gifted person myself. Sometimes you just see a kid and know. The trouble is, I’m seeing “harnessed racehorse” but everyone else in the room is just seeing “brat”.

P.S. The metaphor between the gifted brain and a harnessed racehorse is something I first heard about at the 2011 SENG conference.  Unfortunately, I cannot remember at which presentation, otherwise I would give proper credit where credit is due.


  1. Debra Cummings says:

    Thank you! I have a 7.5 year old boy race horse! I believe I should get him tested, but I think they only do that in 3rd grade when they can test into GATE. Are there other places where you can go separately from the school district to do this? I feel he is always being judged, but those that know him know he has a lot of deep questions and thoughtful answers…
    frustrated~ MB, CA

    • jenbrdsly says:

      I feel your frustration! You could get your son privately tested through a psychologist. That would run you anywhere from $400-$2,000. Tests to ask for would be The Stanford Binnet or the WISC. Try looking through your health insurance, and then see if there is some way that it might be covered. It probably won’t be covered, but you might as well look. Good luck!

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