Graduation of a Gifted Kid

Catherine from Oregon

Click for printer-ready Graduation of a Gifted Kid

My son is valedictorian of his high school, but he’s not giving a valedictorian speech at graduation. As far as we can tell, it's because he acted goofy: he danced around the school singsonging about being valedictorian (thinking he was being ironic and self-effacing); he wore a cape at the school's honors trivia bowl; he told friends he might talk about Batman in his speech.  He lost his right to give a speech. Thinking about this, and thinking about our long, sometimes confusing  journey with this young man, I’m writing my own speech.  Grit, patience, appreciation.  Gentleness, perseverance, attention.   As mom, I claim the top GPA in this endeavor of raising a child who is different.

My child has dyspraxia.  It’s a diagnosis that is better known in Great Britain than the United States. Dyspraxia is when a kid’s brain doesn’t connect effectively with his muscle system.  It can effect posture, speech, fine motor skills, spatial sense, organizational skills and social skills.  Kids with dyspraxia can speak too loudly, mispronounce words, stand too close, talk too much, act immature for their age and have trouble picking up nonverbal signals.  There is some correlation between dyspraxia and giftedness. Some aspects of dyspraxia can look like Asperger’s.  At school, my kid has had an IEP for dyspraxia since 5th grade, and this has allowed him to use a word processor instead of handwriting and have a little more time on exams. 

My kid also ‘has’ giftedness.  For what it’s worth, he scores in the 99.9 percentile on typical standardized intelligence and scholastic tests, but let me you, most of the time that is not worth much. This is my kid. He has many fierce interests—math, physics, international politics, Game of Thrones, Africa, the Middle East, Nordic skiing, trail running, American history, nature.  He’s intense, sensitive, introverted, introspective, athletic, loyal, sometimes clueless and too often these days, cranky. This is my kid. He’s a gifted kid, diagnosed with dyspraxia. There are times when he exhibits occasional Asperger's traits. This is what his life has been like.

My kid was bullied.  He was shunned in middle school for about a year and a half. Two kids did the slandering; every other kid rejected him--even his best friend.  He lost ten pounds, became depressed, and scuttled, alone, to the library for recess and lunch.  The school couldn’t seem to resolve the problem.  Parents couldn’t resolve the problem, and we finally switched schools.  This is what a gifted kid diagnosed with dyspraxia, with a few Asperger’s traits, looks like.

My child is the kind of kid who gets mistreated by adults.  He was twelve.  We were at a state park. A bunch of us were standing around and we saw a fuzzy caterpillar in the middle of some smaller children playing.  My kid gently removed the caterpillar out of the way.  Another mom started yelling at my kid, accusing him of hurting the creature. The yelling lasted for about ten minutes; she then gossiped about him for months—asking our friends “what’s wrong with him?” Then there was the race volunteer that played a practical joke on my kid this last winter.  My kid does Nordic skiing.  He loves it.  He won third in the state race, and that is what a kid, working really hard and overcoming his dyspraxia, can look like.  The volunteer handed him a cup and him to do a urine test.  Having just raced the race of his life, worn out, befuddled, my kid does the test. Fills the cup. It’s a joke. The adults replace the contents with Mt. Dew and pretend to drink it. Thanks guys—what a way to be supportive.  Special shout out to the mom who told me this story, somehow making it my kid's fault. This is what a gifted kid, diagnosed with dyspraxia, with a few Asperger’s traits, looks like.

My kid has been excluded, jostled, taunted, and made fun of, for most of his life.   My kid is naïve. I remember when he came home with the F word in every sentence--some kid at middle school told him it was a good word to use as much as possible. My kid tested into college algebra at 12, completed every locally available 200 level college course in math by age 14, earned A’s in all those courses, then taught himself linear algebra and real analysis online.  This is a kid who is acing 300 level university art and literature classes. This is what a gifted kid, diagnosed with dyspraxia, with a few Asperger’s traits, looks like.

My kid has had an unusual school career. This kid finished middle school and went right into his high school’s eleventh grade International Baccalaureate program. He did two senior years, and graduated valedictorian after a total of three years, with the highest ever GPA at his school.  This is what a gifted kid, diagnosed with dyspraxia, with a few Asperger’s traits, looks like.

This is the kid who wore a cape during the school trivia bowl.   Apparently, a teacher thought my kid’s behavior was so disrespectful he should be disqualified from giving a graduation speech.  In the back room at that event?  Other students were harassing him about his GPA.  “Hey, what is your GPA, what is your GPA?” My kid: “it’s higher than yours…because …I’m Batman!”   This is what a gifted kid, diagnosed with dyspraxia, with a few Asperger's traits, looks like.

This is the kid met with his mom, school counselor and principal, to talk about his Valedictorian speech on Tuesday.  This is the kid who, thinking he was being funny and self-effacing, walked around the school saying "I'm valedictorian" in an ironic way--on Thursday.  This is the mom who heard from the principal on Thursday morning--her son couldn't do the speech--and Thursday afternoon--her son could do the speech as long as he agreed to not talk about being valedictorian. This is the mom who heard from the principal again on Friday morning--her son couldn't do the speech because two staff members had strong feelings about his attempt at irony and his behavior at the school trivia bowl.  This is a kid who was shocked that the principal wouldn’t keep his side of an agreement. This is the kid who stayed in his room for two days, in anguish, and grieving. This is what a gifted kid, diagnosed with dyspraxia, with occasional Asperger's traits, looks like.

This is my kid. Bold, brash, clueless, occasionally impulsive, feverent and tough. I’m not excusing his behavior. He made mistakes. He owns them like the man he is. This is my kid: a kid who runs a math club for grade schoolers; a kid who tutors college students in calculus; a varsity athlete; a kid who helps his little brother with his homework; who cooks dinner for his godparents; who makes an excellent apple pie.

This is the kid who wrote a valedictorian speech he will not give. The first line is this quote by Charlie Chaplin:

“We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery.”

This is my son, my soon to be graduate, and we are blessed. We are so thankful for him, and for the people who support him.

Thanks you, true thanks, to the pediatrician who diagnosed our guy with dyspraxia at age nine.   Heartfelt thanks to the same doctor who was the first one to tell us: “this is what a gifted kid looks like”. Thank you doctor, I have tears in my eyes as I type this.  Thank you to my son’s middle school—you let him take college courses; many schools wouldn’t do that.  You did what you could.

Thanks, true thanks, to our son’s second middle school. You taught our son to turn his work in on time, to value team work, be part of a team, find solace in nature and adventure, be humble, work to his level, and excel at his college courses.  You truly made a difference for our son.

Special thanks to the IB  coordinator at my kid’s high school—you supported our kid starting IB right out of middle school, you made high school work for him.  Special thanks to our boy’s high school counselor, Mr. W. You advocated, you listened, and you mentored. You were essential to our son’s well being.  Thank you.

Thank you, to the local community college faculty, staff and students.  You supported my skinny twelve year old kid, you stretched him.  Math faculty--Becky, Kathy, Doug, Franz--you spoke his language, you placed him with his peers. Branch state university literature and art professors--Neil and Henry--you opened his world.   Thank you.

To Hampshire College Summer Studies in Mathematics, you challenged him, you made him think, you made him do proofs, you gave him a mission and  you gave him lifelong friends—thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. To my son’s high school IB teachers, thank you, and thank you, and thank you, and thank you again. You tolerated, you explained, you got his jokes, you gave him projects, you gave him honest grades, and you insisted he do his best work.

To our son’s friend who runs with him and serves as his confidant, bless you.

To his team mates, you listened, you cared, you let this talkative, crazy-about-international-politics, awkward guy be part of your group, bless you.  To my son’s ski coach--you saw more than his gifts, more than his deficits.  He was channeling you when he told me: "Mom, we have to uphold ourselves with dignity and honor.  We have to forgive, we have to move on."  He honors you, we honor you, bless you.

And finally, to my son, my first born.  Look at you.  You’re here.  You’ve made some mistakes, but then, to be human is to make mistakes. You know this. You are resilient.  You’ve retained your passion for learning and for your sport.  You know you need a team. You know how to be a friend. You know you need alone time.  You know yourself.  You have a personal code of ethics, you have honor, you have dignity.   You’re embarking on a wonderful college adventure with a fabulous scholarship.  You did it.  You grew up. I’m so proud of you.  And THIS is what a gifted kid, diagnosed with dyspraxia, with some Asperger’s traits, looks like.


This article printed from Hoagies' Gifted Education Page,  Original URL is