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A Child’s Hidden Gifts

How my son with a big brain learned to wash his hands and show love.

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My boy—who taught himself to read at age two, who at four could recite the moons of Jupiter, and who memorized my license plate before he walked—learned last year, at age six, to wash his hands. By that I mean, learned to get them wet without tears; to soap up without hyperventilating over germs.

Although my son spoke at nine months, it took four years for him to say he loved me, his momma who whispered those precious words to him 100 times a day.

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Psychologists label my son “twice exceptional.” Some gape when they see my second-grader skip through high school math or devour classic literature. They imagine our life is breezy, blessed, one super-stacked with college scholarships or a Nobel.

The truth is, we sweat through multiple breakdowns a day—some of them mine. Tying shoes is a feat. Stepping into a bath is an accomplishment. My son can count the slats of our window blinds or rock in silence for interminable hours. And he has two younger, neurologically-typical siblings who mimic him with awe.

Those siblings, a four-year-old brother and two-year-old sister, can identify all the planets, thanks to big brother. They cozy up to him with Magic School Bus books I’m too harried to read. They sing his made-up math songs and laugh at his grammar jokes.

I’ve discovered we’re not alone. Psychologists say that many highly gifted and talented (HGT) students experience sensory sensitivities. A significant number are autistic. All are a gift.

Our family has dabbled in public school, private therapies, home schooling, and an HGT magnet school. We joined every social skills group in Denver and role play incessantly at home.

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Most importantly, my husband and I have learned, with the guidance of a cadre of therapists and supportive relatives, to set up our son for success. My new job is to guide unexpected brain patterns, and to shape and channel positive social and emotional skills.

We still have hard days. We get dreadful looks when our son kicks children at the playground or hugs strangers. I rarely go to bed not exhausted. My husband braces himself whenever he walks through our door: home is never calm.

But home is happy—and getting happier as therapy, love, and mercy make a difference. I don’t know where my son’s big brain will take him, but I thank God his heart is making room for others. He can sit through a meal. He’s not terrified of water. He says he loves me.

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