[This is a response to josiahd’s I don’t like the concept of “gifted”. It took on a life of its own so it gets its own post. Warning: It’s all concrete personal experience, not an abstract deconstruction of IQ. Because that’s how my brain works.]
I hate it. In gifted programs I saw kids being indoctrinated into arrogance, elitism, etc. I think that’s how they get ideas like “I don’t even know how to talk to someone with a normal IQ, let alone a low one.” They’re often the same ones who refuse to believe my IQ went down to 85, and would probably be even lower now. Because talking to me online, or knowing I was once in gifted programs at school, they think they can predict my IQ.
In fact I was tested three times in my life and only the first time, probably because of hyperlexia, being white, and a biased tester, did I test in the so called gifted range. I mean reading superficially well at an age when most kids barely just learned their alphabet goes for a lot, especially with a tester who doesn’t believe it’s truly possible to get both high and low subscores. Getting older just exposed my weaknesses, my losses, and my failure to shoot forward in a typically developing way, so my IQ shot downward. It’s like having a big head start in a couple areas of a race of academic skills when first grade started, but then walking slowly, turning around backward, and wandering off the track entirely. I know a lot of autistic people of my general subtype this happened to.
And what happened to me as a result of this classification of gifted when I began falling behind is awful, even if it postponed my classification as broken for a couple years (but amplified that classification when I crashed and burned for good). But I’ve gone into that other places and lack cognitive spoons to describe it again right now. Being presumed bored when falling behind leads to pressure that can kill you. Everyone presumes this false idea of giftedness is permanent. And it’s horribly biased on the basis of race, class, and disability. There’s a terrible underside to this classification that affects both those classified and those not.
I went to a college when I was 14 that was not only for gifted students but just anyone who went to college at high school age. It had college classes mixed with some high school curriculum. I hung on by my fingernails but not very well at times, very much doing the faking of comprehension. Which only helped sometimes. The next few year, I was only in institution schools and special ed. When I was in school at all.
This gives me a fairly unique opportunity to observe things that most people flat out wouldn’t believe. They wouldn’t believe it because they tell themselves stories about what gifted and special ed mean. Those stories make them interpret identical behavior in extremely different ways. Then they don’t remember the behavior, just their interpretation and the stories in their heads. This is maddening to me because they just cause so much destruction that way.
So what I saw was that in both places you saw identical behavior. Lying on the floor. Eating inedible substances. Stimming. Playing with objects in highly abnormal ways. Motor and vocal tics. Etc. But in gifted settings that stuff is considered endearingly quirky and a sign of an advanced mind. In special ed it’s because you’re too stupid or crazy not to.
It made me so angry when I needed to lie down on the floor during a visit to MIT. I was terrified to and my hosts were bewildered and told me everyone did things like that there. Mind you I was terrified to be at a place like that at all because during my last attempt at university I was told people like me don’t belong on university campuses. But the lying down. I’d been through years of humiliation, behavior programs, and being pathologized for lying on floors until I was deeply ashamed and afraid to do it when necessary. And here was this place for gifted people telling me I could do it and talking about their endearingly quirky students. I’d just come there directly after a developmental disability conference and was acutely aware most people like us are forbidden in such places. And it really fucked with my head. I couldn’t handle it.
Mind you I think it’s right for people to be allowed to lie down on floors. That wasn’t my problem. It was the contrast. It was things I can’t even name that make me want to cry. It was horrible. I felt so acutely uncomfortable on the MIT campus. The same way I do in the kind of neighborhoods most likely to call the cops on me for being outside alone. I felt like everyone would discover who I really was, under their admiration for me. I felt like a traitor to other people like me. It’s so hard to explain.
That was when I discovered I am more comfortable at self-advocacy conferences, full of people who live roughly the way I do, usually as clients of the same system, than I am in any other place full of tons of people. I don’t ever have that experience of coming home to any community, but there at least I feel I don’t stand out or feel weird and out of place or like I have to prove my right to be there. And around here at least it’s a real community. One that gets things done that help real people, and helps its members, and sees its members as people, and doesn’t require us all to have the same opinions or believe in an ideology. Which is more than I can say for a lot of things that call themselves communities. It’s far from perfect but it’s better than anything else I’ve seen.
So when I went from there to MIT I was in culture shock. I mean I spent only maybe a total of six years (and I may be counting some things as years that were shorter) in academic gifted programs, but I’ve been in disability programs, either DD or mixed psych/DD or physical/DD, for about 18 years now. And my parting with attempts at college and university was far from on good terms. So visiting MIT felt intimidating as hell and like… just wrong all over. It’s indescribable.
And the place felt wrong too in a way that wasn’t connected to me. Because I know that only certain types of people can go there as real students. I wouldn’t be among them. Even though I could very well contribute to their projects in ways that they couldn’t. There are huge amounts of people who could contribute but aren’t allowed there. I did my best to see if they would let more people do what I did. But that’s not enough. It bothered me that they had this exclusive place where weird behavior is tolerated and encouraged and considered endearing and part of the culture because they are gifted enough to earn that right when millions of disabled people around the world will never be able to earn that right in that manner. I don’t mind that there are places that allow it. I mind that it has to be earned through presumed intellectual capacity.
That’s why I was so angry when they let me lie down. I’d just come from a place full of people who are very much my people, who would have been punished and may still be, for doing things like that. I knew this was a privilege they think they earn. I knew I was being falsely invited into the group of people who have earned it through what they believe intelligence to be. I knew they meant well and had no clue the significance of their actions towards me or other disabled people they were not even imagining. Especially DD people, who are usually presumed not smart enough for the privilege. And it just felt so very wrong in ways that can’t be described. This isn’t how the world should work.
So much of “gifted” and associated concepts involves picking out a group of special people who then get things everyone should have. And it has an undertone of a really toxic competitive outlook. I just get to see it from both sides because I’ve appeared to both professionals and laypeople as both gifted and an empty shell. That gives me a perspective most people will never have.
Yes, this. A million times this.
Except I wasn’t pushed as hard and when I fell apart I just sort of didn’t have to go to school anymore, and when I fell apart again people helped me. And people kind of informally accommodated me a lot.
But that’s not because I’m not the kind of person that happens to, and those nerds — being uncool in high school does not compare to being dehumanized this way. And my experience with that has been a lot less extreme than yours, but I do know what you’re talking about. I know the shape. I was lucky, because for me it mostly existed in threats and desperate things I did to avoid the threats.
I probably still have a high IQ, but that doesn’t actually matter in the way that people think it does. People with a high IQ can be stupid. A lot of them are. Gifted programs encourage them to be stupid, and to be arrogantly stupid in ways that get people killed. (And that’s why people need to stop telling us not to say stupid, there’s no other way to say that and it’s an important thing to be able to say).
And I agree with you about MIT. It’s all built on it’s ok for them to do this because they’re better than everyone, and above considering what other people think. They don’t say it’s ok to lay down because they think it’s ok and morally objectionable to prevent people from doing so; they just think that they’re above politeness and consideration towards the opinions of normal and therefore inferior people who think it’s rude.
I tried to be one of those guys. I really, really tried. And I wasn’t good enough, and couldn’t make myself care about math and science enough, and couldn’t make myself care about school enough, and I crashed hard trying. And I’m lucky that my crash happened in a context where people were willing to help put me back together again rather than declare me crazy and retarded. And people still try to pressure me into those fields, because then I could earn the right to be acceptable as a person and to act like the kind of person I am.
And I still often pass as just smart, because I am good academically in other areas, and people see what they want to see. And I’m afraid to let that go, because I don’t want to be cast out. I want to stay welcome. I want to get to do my work. And I’m still, even now, even many years after any intentional direct threat, afraid that I’m one crash away from living in the crazy retard box, or being unable to do anything because no one will let me anymore. I don’t know how to evaluate how realistic that is.
And people who identify as gifted think it’s ok that most people are treated this way when they do the things they want to be allowed to do. And aspie supremacism is the same thing.
And that has to stop. Because it’s not only narrowly defined nerds who have particular skills that are arbitrarily valued who matter.
Just one thing. On the IQ test where I scored 85, I thought I scored relatively high. Especially after the tester started gushing about how smart I was and how much better I did than he expected. So you never know until you get the results.