When the new website launched, several people asked why the platypus was part of the Gifted Matters logo….Here’s the story of why the platypus is our mascot:
Within the gifted community, there have been a couple of writers who have used animal metaphors to help explain the experience of being gifted. The two most well-known are the cheetah, from Stephanie Tolan’s classic essay Is it a cheetah?, and the pink monkey, from The Legend of the Pink Monkey, about pink monkeys that dress up in brown monkey suits in order to fit in. Both of these animal symbols help to illustrate some key experiences that many gifted and 2e individuals have struggled with.
I wanted to come up with a new image, like the cheetah or the pink monkey, that would capture many of the difficulties our clients struggle with, something that can communicate a complicated idea in a simple image, and to be truthful, something with an easily recognizable silhouette that would work as part of a logo — enter the platypus! The more I read about the platypus, the more I realized it was just right.
Now, I know what you are probably thinking: “How is a platypus like a gifted person?” Actually, there are significant similarities, if you know how to look for them. Below is just a partial list:
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 preconceived 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; our clients sometimes come to us with a long history of misdiagnoses; 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 we 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 we 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 our 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.