Interview with a Gifted Kid: Arley

In this installment of the Interview with a Gifted Kid series, we’ll meet Arley, an eleven-year-old girl from Texas.

I usually keep these interviews to about thirty minutes, but Arley and I ended up chatting and chatting forever. It was such a blast. There are two key takeaways from this interview that I hope you’ll find valuable.

The Interview with a Gifted Kid Series

As part of my mission to make the world safe for the gifted, I interview gifted kids (and grown-up gifted kids) and share their stories of life in Giftedland.

My hope is that it will create a body of voices that will be persuasive that gifted students have needs, that giftedness isn’t some “get out of hardship in school free” card, and that it will give hope to gifted individuals that they are not alone.

If you’d like to be interviewed, please contact me. I want the stories told.

If you’d like to read all of the stories, you can find them here.

Let’s jump into my interview with Arley.

When did you first realize you were gifted or hear the term “gifted”?

I first heard “gifted” in first grade when I got tested.

How was giftedness explained to you?

At the beginning of our GT lessons, we have a talk about what GT really means and what it means to be gifted. The program really started in 2nd Grade.

They told us that GT kids approach things differently and the GT program was there to help kids with that. It’s to help kids who struggle socially or with grades because of being GT.

How does being gifted affect making friends?

I have friends in GT, but also friends with kids not in GT. I don’t prefer one or the other. I can connect on a deeper level with other kids who are GT, but some really good friends who aren’t in GT.

What about being gifted causes hardship or is hard for you?

Sometimes I score very high academically and kids will say, “Oh that’s because you’re gifted,” and tend to think that if I do well it’s because I’m gifted everything comes easy. They don’t acknowledge the work I put into it.

How do you experience other people’s expectations of you?

I feel a lot of kids have expectations that I know everything, that I know it all, and that it comes easy. A lot of times I have to ask questions to learn. It doesn’t mean that it comes easy. I have to work as hard as other kids.

I don’t feel expectations from adults because they don’t think highly of me because I’m a kid and I’m very young. They don’t realize I am high in intelligence and understand where they’re coming from.

I have expectations of myself because I like to see how far I can go.

People are shocked if I don’t get 100%, and if I don’t do well or get it right away, I feel those expectations.

If you could go back and tell your younger self something, what would it be?

I wish I knew I wasn’t the only person like this. I’m not the only one who thinks like this and struggles with the same issues I do. I have panic attacks and freak out a lot.

What is something school does right?

I like how other people don’t know what you’re doing as much in middle school. In elementary school, everyone knew your grade, and it was a big event. Now, kids are more focused on themselves.

My GT teacher went into that depth, that complexity, that GT kids enjoy. She understood us, and knew how to help us learn and knew how to help us.

In elementary school, we didn’t go to separate classes. Once a week, we went to GT class for about three hours. We would have a lot of time to relate with each other and have good conversations.

Now it’s a separate class. I enjoy that much more. In middle school, I have a full class of twenty-something students who are like me, and I feel more comfortable because I’m surrounded by more kids like me, and I get a whole class period with those kids.

I only have one specific GT class.

I’m doing the same thing as everyone else in my other classes. Some of the classes have enrichment – after you’re done there’s a challenge for you to complete – it’s optional. Also pre-AP classes. I took as many as I could. It’s kind of like GT [in elementary school], but not exactly. It’s harder and more difficult. The kids in the pre-AP classes are not necessarily smarter, but they want to push themselves and get ahead.

[Note: The elementary program she’s describing is called “pull out.” It’s my second favorite model (after a dedicated class), but it has to be combined with differentiation in the gen ed class to be effective.]

What is something school could do better?

They could have actual enrichment challenges or a specific period or requiring teachers to have things to let us use our creativity in regular classes.

[NOTE: I explained the concept of differentiation and Arley said, “YES!”]

How do you think your giftedness will affect your adult life?

I think as an adult being gifted will help me because I think more creatively and outside the box, and I think that will help me. If there’s a problem, I can use that as a problem to challenge myself, and I can come up with something creative to solve it.

What do you wish general population knew about giftedness?

One of the main things is that the program can be called GT (gifted and talented). The name confuses people. They think it means that you’re smarter or things come easily, but you can struggle emotionally or socially.

I can break down easier than most kids will. Sometimes being gifted can give you an advantage because you see things differently, but it can be a problem, too. If I have a test I didn’t study for, I will freak out where other people might just say, “Oh well, I’ll do my best.” Just because we’re gifted, doesn’t mean we don’t struggle.

I’ve seen plenty of kids and you bring them outside of school and you see how some things come easier to them, but they don’t put in that extra effort.

I’ve met plenty of kids who understand that gifted and talented doesn’t mean that things come easier.

We use our different way of thinking to help us.

If you’re gifted, you’re likely to struggle in different ways than other kids will. If you’re GT, you tend to struggle differently because you think differently. There’s a difference in how you approach it. There’s a certain way of being – certain mindset, certain creativity, certain way you feel that make you GT.

[NOTE: I totally disagree with her description. I explained that cognitive giftedness *does* mean that you’re smart, and it *doesn’t* mean that you are going to have more social/emotional struggles than others. Lots of people have issues and struggles of all kinds. After a fifteen-minute discussion about this, she added the following.]

They don’t give us many details about how they find us as gifted. I never saw that side of that. I agree that just because you feel a certain way doesn’t make you GT. I’m kind of torn in the middle now.

I don’t know exactly. They don’t give us many details about how they find us as gifted. I never saw that side of that. I agree that just because you feel a certain way doesn’t make you GT. I’m kind of torn in the middle now. I don’t know exactly. There are plenty of kids who aren’t in GT and can have those kinds of issues.are plenty of kids who aren’t in GT and can have those kinds of issues.

[Update: When Arley saw the article, she reached out to clarify this point. Here’s what she said: I wanted to let you know that when I read the part about what gifted means I realized I had a hard time explaining. What I was trying to say was GT kids are smart, but we approach things differently. And in our program we learn how to handle struggles specific to gifted kids. I didn’t mean to say that all gifted kids struggle socially or that no other kids do.

Can you describe your ideal day?

I’m an active person, so during the summer I like to go outside. I like games where I get to move around. I don’t like to sit down and play with toys. It’s not just because I’m older. A lot of kids my age like to play with toys. I was never like that. I like to get up and move around. It depends upon the day.

I like to change it up. I like doing different kinds of sports, strategy games. I don’t prefer imaginative play games.

Checkers is a strategy game. I got a board game called “Brain Games” – it will give you different allusions. What’s fake and real?

I like Monopoly because you have to balance out what you have and what you’re going to spend. I’ve also been playing volleyball for four years.

I like to follow the rules. I’m a person who likes to do things by the book. My little sister likes to play however she wants. I like to play the way the game is supposed to go. Some games we have family rules. In Go Fish!, if you run out of cards, get to pick another so you don’t have to go out of the game. Card games are more flexible, but board games need to be played the “right” way.

Do you have any pets?

I have two cats, both boys. One is very hyper, and the other is not. I like to play with them. Just the other day we took them outside so they could hang out. I like to do crafts for my cats. I like to do arts and crafts. We had a spare backpack, so me and my sister turned it into a custom-made cat backpack, complete with mesh so we could take them outside. I like that kind of hands-on type of project.

What are some things you care about or worry about?

I care about how I do academically. I set high expectations for myself. My parents will be like, “It’s fine. You got a B+, you’re going to live.”

Whereas, I have to redo the assignment.

People don’t have expectations for me, but I have them for myself. I prefer an average of 95 or above. Other kids are like, “C+ is fine for me!”

I like to push myself to the limits physically, too. During the school year, we did the pacer test for running. I ran it 65 times before I was done because I wanted to see how far I could go. I like those kinds of challenges. In a game called Egyptian Ratslap, I lost five times in a row, but I like going back to the challenge. I like to keep making new challenges even when there are none.

What are your hobbies:

Loom banding. My sister and I like to do different styles. I found out new way to add beads. I recently started doing that. I like to change it up.

[NOTE: I told her the story of how I got a loom band and made potholders I sold to neighbors for fifty cents before realizing they cost me more than fifty cents to make. It was a painful and effective lesson in microeconomics.]

I’ve stuck with volleyball. I can always improve, and it keeps me active. Other than that, I like to keep it open so I have room for new stuff.

What do you like to watch on TV?

I like everything from reality TV shows to cartoons. I don’t have a specific kind of TV genre that I like. I like comedy, and I like reality. I don’t like horror. I like baking shows.

One of my favorites is Nailed It! I watch around, and I like to keep it open. I’ll rewatch old stuff or have it playing in the background while I do something else like loombands or crafts.

What do you like to read?

During COVID, I ran out of stuff to read. I couldn’t finish the 7th Harry Potter because it had slowed down too much. If it’s not interesting, I’ll stop. I don’t see why I have to finish it.

[Note: This is a controversial idea among serious readers, and I’m 100% Team Arley. You don’t owe an author your life. If the book isn’t worth your time, walk away [except my books, of course]).

Tell me about your GT project.

For my GT project this year I took a step up and had people donate socks, and I made 250 toys out of the socks. I donated them to an animal shelter that I’d donated to before.

girl surrounded by sock toys

I wanted to do something with animals because I love animals so much. I wanted to do something shelter-wise. I volunteered there, and I also donated $125 and made the toys.

girl with box of stuffed toys in front of animal shelter

Do you have any books you’d recommend?

When I was younger, loved the Dork Diaries and Magic Tree House. Not this summer but last summer I  liked Hunger Games. I like smaller books that have smaller story – not super detailed.

[Insert big discussion about animal training, adopting animals, animal shelters, volunteers, animals begging from the table, dopamine, the amygdala, neuroscience & giftedness and on and on.]

NOTE: If you would like to find all of the books kids I’ve interviewed have recommended, check out the list. [They are affiliate links.]

Takeaways:

  • I love this early identification that enabled her to have years of pull-out services. Yes, it’s tricky, and yes, you need to have an exit program for kids who are precocious rather than gifted and need to be exited, but it is still fabulous.
  • I strenuously object to the characterization that the GT program is basically remedial social skills. Sometimes adults are so concerned that a child may become conceited by being identified as GT that they go the other way. Intellectual ability is not social and emotional disability. Giftedness should be normalized like any other human trait. No one tells tall people that they’re not actually taller than other people, they just have a harder time finding pants that are long enough. Pathologizing giftedness helps no one. This isn’t a criticism of Arley – it’s a criticism of the anti-gifted movement.
  • That project, though! Wasn’t that amazing? It’s a wonderful idea for other GT programs to emulate – using the GT class as a way to facilitate that strong, early moral concern.
  • As these interviews continue, I love the opportunity to see the patterns emerge. Anyone reading them can truly see how these students benefit from gifted programs. At a time when many districts are abandoning them, these kids’ voices are a strong call to preserve and protect GT programming.

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