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The day that I realized my son was probably “gifted” came as a surprise to me. Six weeks earlier, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LFMT) told me she suspected he was gifted based on what I’d told her about him and his social challenges.

I was flabbergasted and reluctant to believe it, though. Was he smart? Absolutely. Gifted? Geesh, I don’t know. The term seemed so…overused. And pretentious! Maybe she was exaggerating?

And even if she was right, could that really be why so many kids were bullying and excluding him? It didn’t seem plausible.

The investigation begins

A play therapist, who met my son a couple weeks later, had a similar hunch. She said he definitely had social anxiety and commented on his difficulty maintaining eye contact. She also thought he had “some type of very high-functioning spectrum disorder” or that he was “off-the-charts gifted.” She added that while she was observing him, she wondered if he could count a dropped box of toothpicks!

My mind began spinning.

If either of these premonitions were true, I was in way over my head. During the drive home – with Rain Man in the back seat – I began to suspect that life was about to change, and in a very big way. My stomach was in knots.

A full psychological evaluation

I didn't realize my child was gifted. Here's how I found out and why it's important to know. (It has nothing to do with academics.)

Now, here we were at one of our district’s elementary schools on the second-to-last day of school break for a “full evaluation.” It had been a difficult summer – and past three years, really – so I was more than ready for definitive answers. Yet, I was nervous for my son and what his tests might reveal.

I had warned the school psychologist in advance about my son’s anxiety, adding that between the appointment with the play therapist and now this, I could tell he felt like he was under a microscope. I worried that this evaluation would make him even more self-conscious.

We agreed to tell him the tests were simply to see if he needed to be in any special third-grade classes. This helped a bit, but he was still wary.

To my relief, the psychologist seemed kind and nurturing when she greeted us. As I watched her leave with my son and head down the hallway, I hoped her demeanor would ease his nerves a bit.

Intellectual intensity in action

An hour and a half later, they emerged for a lunch break. As my son and I ate what I’d packed, he recounted what the first part of his testing entailed. He didn’t understand the point of some of the tasks; however, he thought the challenges were fun. So fun, in fact, that he could barely focus on his meal or our conversation. He just wanted the school psychologist to return so they could start Round 2!

Needless to say, I was relieved this was turning out to be a positive experience for him.

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The second half of the testing was supposed to take approximately 1.5 hours as well. When they finally reappeared about two hours later, my son was beaming with pride. The psychologist apologized for the delay and said that they weren’t done yet – he just needed to sharpen his pencil! As they turned to walk back down the hall again, she added that he could “do a lot academically” and estimated they’d need another 20 minutes or so.

About 45 minutes later, the psychologist brought my son out to me – and he was happier than I’d seen him in well over a year. She was smiling as well and explained that he’d figured out how to do levels of multiplication he’d never been taught; then he proudly told me some of the words he knew that were considered college-level vocabulary.

Comfortable in his own skin

As he and I walked to our car, he told me how much fun he’d had and asked when we could return. His elation continued during the drive home and as we pulled into the garage, he spontaneously announced that he was happy. I couldn’t remember the last time he’d said that; it was both heartbreaking and wonderful.

Did he feel that way because, for once that summer, he was able to demonstrate his strengths rather than fumble through his weaknesses? No question, there.

Was it also because he loved being challenged and seeing how far he could go on those tests? Absolutely. Most kids – and adults – loathe hours of testing. Yet, my son was energized by it. In fact, he wanted to keep going!

It would be another three weeks before my husband and I would see the test results, which confirmed giftedness; however, in that moment, I knew in my gut the two therapists had been right. I mean, why else would someone be that enthusiastic about standardized tests? (Even now, I laugh when I think about it.)

How much would this discovery help us get a handle on our son’s social challenges? I wasn’t sure, but I already felt a bit better because I could see a spark in him again. He was comfortable in his own skin for once, and that was worth its weight in gold.

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