- The platypus, when first encountered by Europeans in Australia in 1798, was believed by scientists at the British Museum to be a hoax. Many gifted/2e individuals are not believed to be gifted. It’s not uncommon for the parent of a self-taught early reader to hear “It’s not reading, it’s hyperlexia”, or “You are just pushing your child — they aren’t really doing the work you claim.”, or “You can’t be gifted, you don’t fit <my preconcieved notion of what gifted looks like>!”.
- The discovery of the platypus threw the scientific taxonomy on its ear — I mean, what were they supposed to do with a venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed, egg-laying mammal? It’s not what they expected to find, that’s for sure. And parenting a gifted/2e child is rarely what one expects, either. A puggle (baby platypus) is sort of like other children in some ways, wildly different in others, and just plain alien at times. And the difficulty classifying the platypus also mirrors the experience gifted/2e individuals find at classifying themselves: schools frequently have programs for gifted or “special education” students, but not both; my clients sometimes come to me with a long history of misdiagnosis; and of course, it can be really hard to find others to connect with when you do not feel like any existing group is right for you.
- Did you know that there is no word for a group of platypus? This is because they are very solitary creatures — there is no need for such a word. And gifted/2e folks are frequently solitary — some by choice, others not. Some struggle with isolation, others with a need for more solitary time than they can get, but belonging, isolation and identity are all issues that come up frequently for the people I work with.
There is one more aspect of the platypus that, at the end of the day, makes it a great symbol for the people I work with. As weird as a platypus might seem in the context of traditional biology and zoological science, a platypus is SUPPOSED to be exactly as it is. It goes on living its platypus life, doing its platypus things, and just being itself. This is my fundamental philosophy about giftedness and twice-exceptionality: There is nothing broken here to fix. Certainly, there are bumps in the road, and getting help figuring out educational, parenting and emotional challenges is useful. But the fundamental experience of being gifted or twice-exceptional isn’t wrong, or temporary or pathological. Once we can understand that being a platypus is who we, or our children, are, we can celebrate the things that make us different, interesting or even a little weird – like the amazing platypus.