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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Understanding Your Child’s Gifts — and the Struggles that Come with Them

By Carrie Vittitoe

As a toddler, Sarah Grace Benz’s verbal skills were impressive. At age 2, she was speaking not only in complete sentences but in complete paragraphs. But she was also prone to intense meltdowns that made Ashley question whether adding more children to their family was a good idea.

In seeking answers to explain Sarah Grace’s behaviors, Ashley phoned two friends, one of whom is an attorney advocate for the gifted and the other a physical therapist. Their comments to her were strikingly similar: “I have been waiting for this,” and “I knew you’d figure it out eventually,” respectively. Those initial calls were the first steps on the Benzs’ path to help Sarah Grace learn to manage her giftedness and sensory processing disorder (SPD).

Initially, the Benzs considered many of Sarah Grace’s behaviors to be just peculiar preferences. For example, she would put all of her toys and stuffed animals into her bed at night. “We thought she had a quirky fashion sense because for five years straight she wore headbands all the time,” Ashley says. “She had sleeping headbands and awake headbands.” While they could manage these things, there were other troubling issues such as extreme meltdowns that occurred if they took Sarah Grace to the mall. Ashley says Sarah Grace would sit between clothing racks, rocking back and forth and crying.

Although at the time the sensory issues confounded them, the Benzs weren’t completely surprised by Sarah Grace’s giftedness since Mark was identified as a gifted child himself and even skipped the fourth grade. Still, they knew they needed support and advice to help them parent their daughter effectively.

There are a number of challenges in having a gifted child with SPD, not the least of which is having other parents not understand your child’s sensory meltdowns because they “look normal.” People often expect gifted children to be as emotionally mature as they are intellectually mature, but this rarely happens. Most children who are gifted experience asynchronous or uneven development. A gifted 5-year-old might have the intellect of a 9-year-old but the emotional maturity of a 3-year-old.

Over the years, the Benzs have done many things to help Sarah Grace. They consulted with Edward Amend, a clinical psychologist in Lexington who specializes in helping gifted children. Sarah Grace began occupational therapy at Greenhill Therapy, which uses hippotherapy to help children with sensory-motor challenges. Ashley and Mark also began attending the Parents of Gifted Students (POGS) support group in Louisville. “It was so relieving to hear that what I was experiencing was common,” Ashley says.

The couple’s research into giftedness and SPD and the support they have received have helped Ashley and Mark better appreciate Sarah Grace’s charm and quirkiness. She is funny and blunt, so much so that her parents have developed a hashtag for her: #littlesheldon, a reference from The Big Bang Theory TV show. Ashley says Sarah Grace recently rattled off her “Top Five Favorite Chicken Nugget Brands.”

“It is a blessing to figure out who your kid is, and Sarah Grace is a really cool kid,” Ashley says.

1 comment:

  1. Timely ideas ! I was fascinated by the facts - Does anyone know where my assistant might be able to grab a fillable UK VAF1B version to complete ?


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