Tuesday, September 8, 2015

She's weird.

I'm an unfaithful, faithful TV watcher.  I get hooked on TV shows early in the season, and either lose interest and abandon the show, or am so intensely interested that I  realize that if I miss an episode, it will ruin the flow of the show for me.  In this case, I sometimes intentionally stop watching a show, hoping to watch the whole season in the spring and summer, when life is less hectic.

In the case of Parenthood, I watched the first three or four seasons, and fell off the wagon.  I bought the DVDs and caught up, but somehow missed the last two seasons.  (I'm pretty sure it was UCONN's fault, as I used that night to work on grad school stuff.)  So discovering this gem on Netflix has given me a whole new binge-watching fascination.

If you are unfamiliar with this classic, give it a gander.  In the first season, we are introduced to Max, and the rest of his family, as he is diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.  Autism has a profound effect on families, and the directors of Parenthood do a fine job illustrating some of the many quirks that are reality in many homes and classrooms.  And yes, a kid can be autistic and gifted.  Really.  I've had quite a few on my caseload in seventeen years, and learned so much from them!

But not every perceived obsession or overreaction signals an autism diagnosis.  Gifted kids are just darned quirky, sometimes.  Heck, we all have our obsessions.  Some of us -- gifted, and non-gifted, could be diagnosed with a veritable alphabet soup of disorders, if we spent too much time on WebMD.  There is a terrific article by the Institute for Educational Advancement (IEA) about "The Bright Side of Overexcitabilities in Gifted Children" that had me flashing back on one of my favorite scenes in Parenthood.  

After the diagnosis of Max, his aunt and uncle, Julia and Joel, begin to suspect that their daughter, Sydney, is also autistic.  The family pulls together, and Sydney is whisked away to be tested by Max's psychologist, who immediately calls Julia and Joel into his office for his official diagnosis.  Bracing themselves, they listen carefully to the doctor, who confirms their suspicions.  Something is amiss with Sydney.  She is different from other children.  

Sydney is gifted.

Joel and Julia exchange looks of astonishment, and then relax.  They spend some time hiding this newfound fact from the family, a bit embarrassed by this new revelation.

The reality is that this is not, necessarily, good news.  Sydney is gifted.  AND -- the writers of Parenthood fail to mention this -- she needs specialized goals and instruction to reach her full potential.  She may have a quirky fascination with a weird topic.  She might have a photographic memory, or synesthesia, tasting music or seeing colors where letters should be.  She may be alphabet soup, with a host of other diagnoses that require specialized interventions.

The world snarks at gifted -- and the reality is that it isn't something that should cause anyone to relax.  If anything, it's a call to action.  Because that newly-identified kid is already under-served, and has a whole lot of catching up to do to reach his full potential.

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