The Kid with all the Questions | Translation
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Translated by MC Editorial
[Benjamín Equiza]: You have to cover your eyes. A magician never reveals his secrets.
[Daniel Alarcón]: This is Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
[Benjamín]: There is nothing inside this hat? OK, look. It’s impossible, how did this pigeon come out of my hat?
[Daniel]: Today we are going to meet this boy…
[Benjamín]: My name is Benjamín. I am, uhh, 7 years old and I am from Argentina.
[Daniel]: Well, actually he’s already 8. We spoke to him in July 2022, and he was very excited because it would be his birthday soon.
[Benjamín]: My God, for God’s sake, tell everyone that my birthday is on August 13.
[Daniel]: He knew what really mattered: where he was going to celebrate and the kind of cake he would get…
[Benjamín]: A Messi cake.
[Daniel]: In other words, he likes magic, celebrating his birthday, and soccer, among so many interests. Also tae-kwon-do. He had already gotten a white belt with a yellow stripe and had plans to go further.
[Benjamín]: I think I will take the yellow-belt test this month. And then comes the green stripe, green, blue stripe, blue… Red stripe, red…
[Daniel]: Benjamín doesn’t like to read, but he loves to play Roblox.
[Benjamín]: You find a game, you log in, you like it, and you choose that one and you play for a while until… another game comes up, and you say, “Ah, now, this one is good.”
[Daniel]: When we spoke with him, he was very excited about the arrival of his grandmother, Mirta. In a few days she would go to visit him in La Plata, the city where he lives with his parents and his dog, whose name is Preciosa.
Well, you heard Benjamín, and without a doubt, he seems to be a child like any other, so far. A child like many… but he is not. In one very particular aspect, he is totally unique. He defines what he has experienced in recent years like this:
[Benjamín]: I would like to tell you that I went through a lot, through judges, lawyers, Ministry. I went through everything, everything, everything. It was not easy. It was like a big mission.
[Daniel]: For Benjamín, this great mission helped him find his own place, one where he felt comfortable and at ease with himself.
After a break, our producer Aneris Casassus brings us the story.
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[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. Here’s Aneris:
[Aneris Casassus]: Benjamín’s story is also the story of his parents. So let’s start with them:
[Soledad Heit]: Well, my name is Soledad, ehh, Soledad Heit. I am Benjamín’s mother.
[Andrés Equiza]: I’m Andrés Equiza. I am Benjamín’s father.
[Aneris]: Soledad and Andrés became the parents of Benjamín on Wednesday, August 13, 2014. That day, in the 40th week of her pregnancy, Soledad gave birth to a 3.5-kilo baby via C-section. It was her first child and the third for Andrés—he had two other children from a previous marriage, who were 12 and 14 years old at the time. Soledad was discharged the next day, and for the first few hours everything was bliss. But two days later, Soledad began to notice something strange: Benjamín cried too much. Just when she had to take him to the doctor to get the usual vaccinations for newborns.
[Soledad]: When we take him, they tell me… we have to admit him.
[Aneris]: They told her that Benjamín was dehydrated. He had not latched on well and was not getting enough milk.
[Soledad]: I almost died. Imagine, me as a new mother. I don’t even remember the surgery stitches from the C-section; I don’t remember anything about the postpartum period. That is, when I talk to other mothers, “Did the stitches from the surgery hurt?” I have no idea.
[Aneris]: The only thing Soledad wanted at that moment was for her son to recover soon so they could go home together. That happened two weeks later, once the doctors made sure that Benjamín was eating well.
But Soledad kept noticing something strange about him. Although he was her first child and she was inexperienced, something in her maternal instinct told her that things were wrong.
[Andrés]: And suddenly, Sol, more than I, began to realize that he was getting worse.
[Aneris]: Soledad noticed that Benjamín continued to have difficulty suckling, his eyelids drooped, and his voice was kind of hoarse.
[Soledad]: I would take him to the pediatrician and say, “Benja does not seem the same,” right? The pediatrician tells me, “You exaggerate too much. You are a new mother.” And I said, “No, it is not good; that is, it cannot be normal…”
[Aneris]: Soledad was not satisfied with what the pediatrician told her. Then one day, when Andrés had gone to Buenos Aires for work, she called him on the phone and said she was leaving for the hospital with Benjamín. He was just over a month old.
[Soledad]: They checked him. When they come out they tell me, “He is dying.” I fell to the ground. I mean, I took him just in time.
[Aneris]: Benjamín was admitted to neonatology for severe breathing problems. Those days were very hard for Soledad and Andrés. They were allowed to visit him for a very short time and they tried to make the most of it.
[Andrés]: Most of the time, he was connected to a respirator, so aside from grabbing his little hand and fingers and stimulating him like that and talking to him… little or nothing at all.
[Aneris]: They couldn’t even hold him. But even more serious was that no one knew what he had.
[Soledad]: They inserted a probe, a catheter, they did studies, uhh, magnetic resonances. Everything was fine.
[Aneris]: All the results were good, but Benjamín continued to seem paralyzed. The neurologists would go to examine him, but they could not find the diagnosis either.
It had been almost two months of hospitalization until one day, Andrés’s father, who is a retired pediatrician, suggested that they test him for botulism, a disease caused by a bacterium that weakens the muscles, affecting the respiratory system. The doctors took a sample from Benjamín for analysis. He tested positive.
[Soledad]: At neonatology, we celebrated that he had botulism; it was a party.
[Aneris]: They just had to wait for Benjamín to eliminate the bacteria from his body, and support him clinically in the meantime with respiratory assistance. Benjamín soon began to improve and regain movement in his muscles. He was hospitalized for another month, and he was discharged as soon as they verified that he would be able to breathe and eat on his own. He was just over four months old, and between the two hospitalizations, he had spent more than three and a half months in neonatology.
For Soledad it was a happy but difficult return home.
[Soledad]: When we got here, I was in a panic mood. At night, I did not sleep because I was afraid that he would not breathe well, or when he took the bottle he wouldn’t suck well and choke and aspirate and have to go back. No, no…
[Aneris]: But over the days, the fear of being at home, without the support of doctors and neonatology machines, gradually dissipated.
When Benjamín was discharged, the doctors had told Soledad and Andrés that when he turned six months old they should take him in for a developmental study. They wanted to make sure that so much time in the hospital had not left any aftereffects. So, almost two months after leaving the hospital, they took him to the medical center where they had been told to go. A doctor was there to see them:
[Andrés]: He looks at him, assesses him, and tells us to stop stimulating him because he was way ahead for his age.
[Aneris]: In the study, the doctor had verified, for example, that Benjamín could already identify colors. In general, babies achieve full color vision at 7 months and are not able to classify them until age two. Andrés and Soledad looked at each other in surprise. Benjamín had spent more than half of his life in neonatology, and they only saw him for a short time each day. How could they have overstimulated him in that context? But they didn’t know what to say.
[Soledad]: I thought, “That is good, he is fine, the hospitalization did not affect him at all.” So we didn’t go further with that and just accepted it.
[Aneris]: It was a first sign, but at that moment they didn’t think much of it.
Around the same time, there was also another sign.
[Soledad]: One day we were like this. He started, pa pa pa pa pa… “papá.” But he was very young, very young.
[Aneris]: “Papá.” That was his first word, and he said it at six months.
When he heard him, Andrés felt proud but also amazed. He had experience as a father, and if his memory did not fail him, it was still too early for Benjamín to start saying his first words. In fact, most babies do it around the age of one. Soledad, on the other hand, took it naturally.
[Soledad]: I had no one to compare with, and since I always hated comparing with other kids, to me Benja was normal and that was the way he was. Period.
[Aneris]: From there, Benjamín began to add more and more words.
[Andrés]: But it was crazy how he started talking. And he started talking right away. He had conversations at a very, very adult level.
[Aneris]: He began to walk at a year old, like most children, but by a year and a half he was forming complex sentences, while at that age children just start with simple sentences of between two and four words. His relatives and friends told them that it was surely because Benjamín spent too much time with adults and he needed to be in contact with other children.
Soledad clearly remembers one day, when Benjamín was a little over a year and a half, that he said a very particular phrase to her:
[Soledad]: I was sitting in the chair. Benja had gone to the bathroom and he comes out with his diaper, that is, walking, and he tells me, “Mama, I don’t want this anymore. This is uncomfortable,” and at that moment I said, “Good, I will not have to deal with diapers.”
[Aneris]: At that point, Benjamín stopped using diapers very easily. With most children, this only happens between the ages of two and three, and it is usually a long and difficult process, not only for the child but for the parents, too. But in Benjamín’s case it was so simple that from that day on he peed in his pants just once.
The signs were still there but it was very difficult for Soledad to see them.
[Soledad]: The idea that Benja was different did not cross my mind.
[Aneris]: Benjamín was also a very observant child—he looked at each situation as if he were X-raying it. He seemed very independent: He wanted to dress himself, feed himself… But at the same time, he was very demanding: He wanted to be doing things all the time, but not the things most children like.
[Soledad]: And I told my friends, who did not understand, “There is no way he will play with a toy car.” He never played with cars, Benjamín. I mean, and he had a lot of toy cars, and I would go do things and I would say, “Okay, now we are going to play this and we are going to put this together.” “No, no, no.”
[Aneris]: It was pointless. Benjamín wasn’t interested in cars or stuffed animals or the children’s songs that Soledad sang to him. Instead, he was exploring a chessboard in the house. That did capture his attention, at least for a while. He put the pieces in order, and since Andrés used to play, he soon learned the location of each one and a few moves. But when he got bored with that, he wanted to keep doing things. He wanted to draw, play the piano, play dice. Soledad no longer knew what else to offer him, and she was beginning to worry:
[Soledad]: I used to tell the pediatrician, “He does not stop.”
[Aneris]: Benjamín was not yet two years old when the pediatrician advised them to take him to what in Argentina we call a preschool. Children can go there from the age of one and a half months to two years. They are separated into rooms, that is, in different classrooms, according to their age: a lactation room for the smallest babies, a toddler room for those who are already walking and are around one year old, and a two-year-old room. That way, he could entertain himself and play with other children. Andrés remembers that the doctor told Soledad:
[Andrés]: He needs to be stimulated, and you need to not go crazy.
[Aneris]: So Soledad and Andrés followed the doctor’s advice and put Benjamín in a preschool for three hours in the morning. But things did not go well. All the children took a nap at 11, but Benjamín never wanted to sleep and he was very restless. So, during the time when all the kids took a nap, the teachers left Benjamín on a chair with a cell phone so he wouldn’t disturb and wake up the others. One day, Soledad and Andrés saw that scene on the video cameras that the place had set up. Parents had access to those images through an application on their cell phones to see how their children were doing. When they saw how Benjamín was being treated, they complained and immediately got him out of there.
They looked for another preschool, where he started in the 2-year-old room. It was a small group of eight children. Although he was the only one without diapers and the most talkative of all, Benjamín enjoyed going and spending time with other children. The teachers were struck by the independent way he moved around the preschool and how he tried to make every game that he was offered more complex.
But the real problems started in 2018, when he went to kindergarten. In Argentina, kindergarten is also separated into rooms according to age: 3, 4, and 5-year-olds. The school year here runs from March to December and the cutoff to divide the children is June 30. In other words, a child can start in a 3-year-old room at age 3 and turn 4 in the middle of the cycle. It all depends on each one’s date of birth.
When Benjamín went from the two-year-old room in the kindergarten to the three-year-old room in the kindergarten, the group grew larger: from eight children to 18. And Benjamín was beginning to question everything. If the teacher told a fantastic story, Benjamín would interrupt her with comments like:
[Soledad]: “Ma’am, you can’t be saying that wolves laugh because wolves don’t laugh.”
[Aneris]: The teacher was completely taken aback by Benjamín’s comments. And he went home and told Soledad:
[Soledad]: “Mom, I am bored. My classmates don’t speak. The teacher has to repeat to them where the cups go, she has to repeat where to put things, how to wash their hands.” Eh… he tells me, “I don’t know why they have to repeat things to them, mom; if they already say it once, that should be it.”
[Aneris]: Soledad tried to explain that those were the rules of the kindergarten and that the teacher wanted him and all his classmates to learn them. But he wasn’t quite convinced by Soledad’s explanations, and the daily routine in the kindergarten bored him terribly.
[Soledad]: So he was sitting there, and he pushed one kid, pushed another and that’s when the problems began. The children began to cry. Chaos.
[Aneris]: The teacher punished him by sending him to the office, but for him, that was not a punishment. Benjamín felt comfortable there. He chatted for a while with the director of the kindergarten and, best of all, he knew there was a chessboard there.
[Soledad]: A very serious mistake was that his behavior to attract attention allowed him to get what he wanted.
[Aneris]: The kindergarten authorities summoned Soledad and Andrés to meetings constantly.
[Andrés]: We knew that he was starting to have social issues, behavioral issues, but we did not know where that was coming from.
[Aneris]: It was maddening. The school asked them to please put more limits on Benjamín.
[Andrés]: And they told us at the kindergarten that he had to be quiet and learn to wait. He has to show solidarity with his classmates who also have to learn.
[Aneris]: They no longer knew what to do. They tried to reason with him, convince him to change his attitude, but nothing seemed to work. What hurt them the most was seeing Benjamín’s behavior at school events or at his classmates’ birthdays:
[Soledad]: It was terrible for me, as a mother, to see that all the children were playing and he was not enjoying it.
[Aneris]: The games seemed very simple to him, so he needled his classmates to pick another game that interested him. Or sometimes, he would simply grab Soledad’s hand and ask her to please take him home.
[Soledad]: It was such an agonizing situation, so hopeless. I didn’t know how to help him because we ended up coming home from the events and I ended up challenging him many times. I say, “Benja, but why?”
[Aneris]: Everything got worse in 2019, when Benjamín moved to the 4-year-old room. He continued to have behavior problems at school but they also began to notice problems at home. He was very irritable and kind of depressed:
[Andrés]: We had a totally clever, happy, affectionate son. And suddenly he became a dull boy.
[Soledad]: We saw a boy who was very curious, very happy, very enthusiastic with a desire to learn, and then a boy who was dull and who began to vomit, cyclical vomiting, he would vomit at night, and in the morning he was fine.
[Aneris]: Because of the vomiting, they took him to the doctor, but physically there was nothing wrong with him.
Meanwhile, Benjamín had begun to work individually with the kindergarten psychologist. And when she informed Soledad and Andrés how he was doing, she told them that Benjamín did much more advanced things than would be expected of a 4-year-old child. For example, he already knew the numbers and letters. Soledad and Andrés couldn’t explain how he had been able to learn that without anyone having taught him.
[Soledad]: Everything that Benja was absorbing was as a result of questions, questions that he asked us and he later drew his conclusions and believed it was that way.
[Aneris]: She vividly remembers that one day…
[Soledad]: I was cooking, and the little one came up to me. “Mama, mama, how much is ten times eight?” “80, Benjamín. Why do you want to know that?” “For no reason.” And he leaves.
[Aneris]: A while later he came back and began to tell her the multiplication tables. Two times one is two. Two times two is four. Two times three is six. Soledad couldn’t believe it.
[Soledad]: Those things did made me think, and I was even afraid to say, “How does he know, where does he get this?”
[Aneris]: Another evening, when Soledad was reading him the same story that she read every day, Benjamín pointed at a sentence and said:
[Soledad]: Here it says, “The three little pigs.”
[Aneris]: Soledad thought he was saying it from memory, because it was a story he already knew. But Benjamín insisted.
[Soledad]: He read a word from the book, which I don’t remember what it was. And then I realized that yes, he was reading. This is the A, this is the… he spelled it for me, too.
[Aneris]: Soledad began to get used to the idea that perhaps her son was, in some way, different. Perhaps it was time to start listening to the signs that for four years she had wanted to ignore.
For Andrés, on the other hand, that had click a little earlier. He was in charge of Benjamín’s daily bath. It was a time that the two of them really enjoyed playing and chatting about anything. One day, one of those talks made Andrés’s jaw drop. Just like that, out of nowhere, Benjamín, no more than 4 years old, began talking to him about infinity.
[Andrés]: He arrived at it using numbers. And he started to explain it to me. You can have larger and larger numbers, and you can always keep adding. So, there is always a larger number. So that is infinity.
[Aneris]: He had not only arrived at the concept of infinity but had done so in an abstract way. During each bath, Andrés doubled the game: Count from one to ten, now backwards from ten to one, and then in English. Benjamín did it with ease, and Andrés couldn’t believe that he was capable of counting down using numbers that he didn’t use much. From then on, Andrés would get up in the morning and before going to work he would leave a piece of paper with a sequence of various numbers taped to the fridge, where each number was double the previous one, or something was added to it… but one of the numbers was always erased and Benjamín had to figure out what it was. When he woke up, Benjamín had breakfast and went to the fridge to see the sequence. Later he called Andrés on the phone:
[Andrés]: “Papa, I found it. It is
.” That—well, he loved it.
[Aneris]: He did the same with the educational psychologist, but at other times, such as when the kindergarten director asked him to write his name, he would begin to scribble.
One day, when Andrés went to pick him up at school, he saw that Benjamín was asking the teacher for help buttoning his jacket. He thought it was very strange because Benjamín had been dressing by himself for a long time.
For the directors of the kindergarten, the situation was very confusing. They told Andrés and Soledad that all parents believe that their child is very intelligent, but that when they had asked Benjamín to write his name, he had done nothing more than a set of dashes.
[Soledad]: So, of course, it was like saying, “You are telling me that the boy can write, but I bring him here and he does not write. It is not like he was a brilliant boy, that he performed operations for you in class, no. At times he showed it and at times he didn’t.
[Aneris]: For Andrés, it was very clear what was happening:
[Andrés]: He was putting himself down so he could fit in with his classmates.
[Aneris]: There was one thing, however, on which they all agreed: Benjamín was having a harder and harder time in kindergarten, he got bored with all the activities that were offered to him, and he did not feel comfortable with his peers. He evidently was somatizing all that anguish through non-stop vomiting.
It was then that the psychologist decided to unravel the issue. One day she told Soledad:
[Soledad]: “Why don’t you start looking into the subject of high abilities?” So she was shooting very high, because they didn’t quite believe it either.
[Aneris]: And, to tell the truth, neither did Soledad. But she started googling anyway, to see what she could find on the subject.
After spending a while on the computer, she came to the page of Creaidea, an association dedicated to children with high abilities that coordinates, among other things, a play library in the city of Buenos Aires. It was created at the initiative of members of Mensa Argentina, the local headquarters of the international organization that brings together gifted people, that is, people with a high IQ, something that only 2% of the world population has.
Through Creaidea, Soledad discovered another play library of this type, also in La Plata, called “Divertido Alberto.” She logged on to their Facebook profile. Their home page shows a cartoon of Albert Einstein riding a bicycle. Without thinking about it, she sent a chat message, and it was soon answered by the coordinator of the play library and mother of two children with high abilities. They exchanged numbers and spoke on the phone.
[Soledad]: I started to tell her Benja’s full story, in a sea of a thousand emotions and a thousand sensations when you don’t know what is happening to your son. On the one hand, they talk to you about giftedness, and you don’t understand anything, so you start searching.
[Aneris]: But for this mom, it was super easy to understand her. As she listened, she was remembering everything she had had to go through in the past with her own children…
[Soledad]: So I kind of felt mirrored in another mother.
[Aneris]: From what Soledad told her, it was quite clear that Benjamín was a highly capable child. But to corroborate this, she recommended that they go see Patricia Simao, a psychologist specialized in the area, who had been the coordinator of the Creaidea play library in Buenos Aires for seven years.
Soledad sent a WhatsApp audio to Patricia and told her what was happening to Benjamín: That he was bored in kindergarten, that he challenged the teachers, that he wanted to learn new things all the time…
Listening to her, Patricia recognized in Soledad the many parents that she had already seen before her. Somehow, they all try to justify themselves, saying that they don’t know whether their child will have high abilities or not, that they weren’t the ones who taught the child all the things they know…
The first thing Patricia wanted was to meet Soledad and Andrés. She gave them an appointment at her office in Buenos Aires. In that first interview, they took a tour of Benjamín’s entire life… they talked about the milestones of development, about how he ate and how he slept, what he played, how he acted at the kindergarten, what frustrated him…
It was only after talking with them that she made an appointment with Benjamín. They told him that he would go play with Patricia, but did not mention anything about his being evaluated. He entered the office quite happily. Patricia noticed he was very observant and independent. And, above all, very talkative for a four-year-old boy. This is Patricia:
[Patricia Simao]: His language was an impressive thing. He asked everything and also looked very interested, looking into your eyes and asking, “Hello, how are you?”
[Aneris]: Patricia had liquid paper on her desk, and Benjamín asked her what that was. She explained that it was a correction fluid to erase on paper.
[Patricia]: He knew how to write perfectly. So he starts writing. “Would you give me a piece of paper to write on?” “Sure.” And he makes a mistake on purpose. He says, “Oops, I made a mistake.” Very strategic, very good, I want the liquid so I’m going to make a mistake on purpose to, uh, to correct it.
[Aneris]: There are several tests to measure intelligence quotient, or IQ. Patricia gave him the Weschler scale test for children. This type of test measures people’s ability to apply logical reasoning and solve problems. In the case of the Weschler test, the mean of the scale is always 100. The range between 90 and 109 is considered the standard score. Those who score between 120 and 129 are well above average, and those who score over 130 are considered gifted.
But although the test result can be obtained on the same day, Patricia needed much more than that to give a diagnosis. So she saw him several times. She talked to him to see how he was doing, what he was feeling, what his interests were.
[Patricia]: The cognitive side is evaluated, the creativity side, the personality. I mean, it’s not just the IQ. It’s not just the number, but also all the other features that compose it.
[Aneris]: After the meetings with Benjamín, Patricia had reached a conclusion. In about ten days, she would give them a detailed report, but she wanted to call Soledad to go ahead with the psychological diagnosis.
It was a very cold day when Soledad received Patricia’s call. She was in the car waiting for Benjamín to get out of his soccer class.
[Soledad]: And she tells me, “I have the report, I still have to finish writing it,” but she tells me, “Uh, Benja has high abilities, Benja is gifted.”
[Aneris]: Soledad was dumbfounded….
[Soledad]: And I cried like a child. I could not answer Pato. I couldn’t. Deep down I wanted him not to be gifted. It’s totally unbelievable because anyone else would pay for their son to be gifted.
[Soledad]: And I say, “Now how do we proceed? How? How will he adapt?” And… well.
[Aneris]: Patricia told Soledad that during the evaluation she had verified that Benjamín was very intelligent and creative. He excelled in mathematics but also had high verbal reasoning and a great ability for abstraction.
She explained that many of the things that happened to Benjamín also happened to other gifted children: they are intense, curious, perfectionists. They have a low tolerance for frustration and injustice, they speak and reason like adults, and they find it difficult to work in a group.
Even that erratic behavior that Benjamín sometimes displayed—scribbling when asked to write his name, seeking help to zip up his jacket when he knew how to do it himself—is a characteristic of gifted children. They mask when they start to see the difference with their peers, when they realize that they know how to do many more things than the rest of their peers.
What Andrés had intuitively defined it as “he’s putting himself down” even has a clinical name: low performance syndrome. That is why it is very common for these children, despite their intelligence, to get low grades in school.
During that call, Soledad’s mind flashed through the last four years of her life:
[Soledad]: When I found out that Benja was gifted, I realized that I had not had a baby. He was born and suddenly I had a tiny adult, ehhh, and that cost me a lot.
[Aneris]: A tiny adult who didn’t want to play cars with her, but instead asked her how much ten times eight was while she was cooking.
Soledad was still processing the news when she told Andrés. But at that first moment, he was a little more optimistic. He thought now that they had a clear diagnosis, it would be easier to help Benjamín.
However, he soon realized that he had been naive:
[Andrés]: Then begins the ordeal of really knowing what it means to have high abilities. I discovered that it is a blessing, or a curse.
[Daniel]: Or maybe it would be both at the same time.
We’ll be back after a break….
[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Before the break, Soledad and Andrés confirmed that Benjamín, their 4-year-old son, was gifted. Now they knew that the vomiting and irritability at home and the misbehavior in kindergarten had an explanation. But they faced a new challenge: accepting that their son was indeed different, and dealing with all that that meant.
Aneris Casassus continues the story.
[Aneris]: Soledad and Andrés spoke with Patricia about how to approach the topic with Benjamín. They agreed that it would be good to tell him about the diagnosis. Then Soledad said:
[Soledad]: “Benja, you know that you went to see Patricia, what you were doing… She did an evaluation and, well, you are gifted; you have high abilities.” He looked at us, sighed, like he was relieved, like he was waiting for us to notice.
[Aneris]: They told him that he was different from the others, that he had a different way of learning things, but that they would always be there to accompany him and help him. From that moment on, he stopped vomiting at night. It was as if he needed to be seen once and for all as he was.
[Andrés]: And, well, everyone got to work, because we didn’t know how to be the parents of a highly gifted boy. It is something completely different.
[Aneris]: Soledad and Andrés continued to see Patricia. They needed guidance to manage Benjamín at home. Andrés remembers that Patricia told them:
[Andrés]: Don’t argue with him, because he is ten times faster and he turns it around and wins. Because they are tremendous; they are very fast. They know where it hurts, they know where to hit you. They know how to challenge you. So no discussions. Do not argue, do not fight, because he is a four-year-old teenager.
[Aneris]: They had to find a way to set limits from another perspective. Authoritarianism didn’t work with him; he needed to understand why he had to do everything his parents told him.
[Andrés]: The issue is that as long as he’s not done with a topic, he doesn’t stop asking you things. It is question after question.
[Aneris]: They established a kind of democracy at home, with two basic rules: love and respect. And Patricia helped them with some techniques to contain Benjamín’s emotions. For example, if he got very frustrated when he lost at a game, tell him that that was also part of learning; explain that some limits were non-negotiable but that others could be agreed upon; that many times they didn’t really know the things he was asking, but they could look for information and learn together.
Benjamín also began to go to the monthly meetings at the La Plata play library, and he had a great time; he finally felt comfortable. Soledad and Andrés enjoyed seeing him arrive. It was as if all those children had a magnet that attracted them to each other. They played board games, did experiments, talked about things that interested them… But also, for Soledad and Andrés it was a space for catharsis: they could share their experience and learn from other parents. For example, that the mind of a gifted person works very differently from that of the other 98% of people on the planet. They have a different way of processing information and greater efficiency at the neural level. This can even be seen on imaging studies. But Soledad explained it to me in a simpler way:
[Soledad]: Picture a brain and a jungle. In other words, a lot of branches, a lot of leaves, a lot. Well, that would be the mind of a gifted person when he receives information or when he tries to solve something. In other words, it does not go to something concrete; it always branches out.
If you say two plus two to a child like Benja, for example, he stares at you. But he stares at you because he is looking for complexity, because he cannot understand that what you are asking is so simple.
[Aneris]: Along with the psychological diagnosis, Patricia had prepared a special report for Benjamín’s kindergarten. There she stated that Benjamín is gifted, that is, his IQ is greater than 130, but the exact number was not specified. There is a general consensus among parents to keep it private and so avoid generating a kind of competition. In addition, it is often a number that can be misinterpreted by teachers.
In the report, Patricia recommended that the following year, 2020, the 5-year-old Benjamín should start first grade of primary school, together with 6-year-old classmates. That is to say, he will skip the room of five-year-olds in kindergarten. Not only did he already know a lot of the content that is given at that grade level, but he was mature enough to be with older children.
This was in August 2019, the middle of the school year. But in order to implement this grade skipping suggested by Patricia, Benjamín had to request an authorization from the General Directorate of Culture and Education of the province of Buenos Aires, that is, what would be the provincial Ministry of Education. Provincial education law establishes that kindergarten rooms 4 and 5 are mandatory for all children, as well as the six years of primary education and the six years of secondary education.
While they waited for authorization from the Ministry, the kindergarten moved him temporarily from room 4 to room 5 for that remaining half of the year. According to what Patricia had told them, it would also be better for Benjamín because he could close the kindergarten cycle with a graduation at the end of the year. But the room change did not turn out as expected.
[Soledad]: The room 5 parents did not want Benja. And the children would come and tell Benja, “I want to be your friend, but my mama won’t let me.” Because he had snuck in.
[Aneris]: They even held two meetings to discuss the case of Benjamín and gifted children, but they would not inform Soledad or Andrés about the specific content of those meetings.
[Soledad]: It was the adults being angry, being angry with a child.
[Aneris]: Benjamín began to be more irritable than ever. Soledad went to the Ministry every so often to try to speed things up, but there was a lot of bureaucracy. And, since the room change had generated conflict among the parents, the kindergarten decided to return Benjamín to a room of 4-year-olds.
[Soledad]: It was like ripping Benja from all sides. In other words, no one cared to protect him at that moment, and we as parents who were in the middle of something new, that is, it was all disorganized, inside, I don’t know, inside a topsy-turvy sea with Benja right in the middle.
[Aneris]: Soledad and Andrés felt that the kindergarten was handling things very badly. More than once, they had offered them the free training that Mensa provides for teachers, but for one reason or another they never got it going.
It was not until December 2019, at the end of the school year, that the Ministry authorized Benjamín’s promotion from the 4-year-old class to first grade. In order for Benjamín to have that closure of the cycle that Patricia had advised, he ended up participating in the event of leaving the 5-year-old room, but on the morning shift. That way, he wouldn’t have to run into afternoon-shift parents who had turned him away.
[Soledad]: Just picture the cruelty. Benja ended up receiving his medal at a morning shift where he did not know anyone. Less feeling, less belonging, less humanity than that…
[Aneris]: They had had enough. It was time to find another school for Benjamín.
They enrolled him in a new private school, and in March 2020, when he was five years old, he started first grade. He was all excited on his first day of school. He believed that they were finally going to teach him new things. But on the third day, Soledad and Andrés got a call from the principal. Benjamín had shown up at her office saying that he wanted to “resign.” He had used that exact word. The principal told them almost laughing, that she even thought it was cute. But for Andrés and Soledad, who were beginning to gain experience, this set off the warning signs:
[Soledad]: Be careful, because he is already giving you a message. If he wants to give up on the third day, it’s because he is really bored.
[Aneris]: Let’s remember one thing: Benjamín already knew how to do almost everything that is usually taught in first grade. Read and write; add and subtract. Even though he was a year ahead, the first-grade curriculum was also too easy for him.
Everything went from bad to worse, because a few days after school began, the coronavirus pandemic arrived and face-to-face classes were suspended. Benjamín had only 30 minutes of Zoom classes a day. It wasn’t enough for him: everything seemed too easy and he wanted to do more. Then Soledad and Andrés spoke with the principal, and Benjamín also began to participate in the second-grade Zooms. Towards the middle of the year— July 2020—they came to the conclusion that it no longer made sense for him to continue attending the first-year Zooms. Everything they gave him in second-grade classes, he solved easily. The issue was that, legally, Benjamín was still in first grade.
To normalize this situation, Soledad and Andrés thought of a plan. Benjamín would do second grade on his own. In other words, an equivalency test would certify that he knew all the content corresponding to that grade. But this type of validation test is not allowed in the province of Buenos Aires, where they live. Because, as we already said, the law establishes compulsory attendance during the six years of primary school. So they decided to do it in the City of Buenos Aires, a district that does allow this system.
But before putting the plan into action, they spoke with Benjamín. They asked him whether he wanted to take the test, and he said yes.
In November 2020, at the age of six, Benjamín took the second-grade test. It was oral and written via Zoom because the restrictions due to the pandemic were still in place. Andrés and Soledad weren’t sure how things would turn out. They knew that when Benjamín felt evaluated, he used to mask. But this time, he didn’t:
[Andrés]: It was spectacular. He scored ten on everything.
[Aneris]: From that moment on, Soledad and Andrés remained calm. In addition to having completed the second grade via Zoom at the school in La Plata, they had the certificate from the city of Buenos Aires stating that he had completed the year with an outstanding grade.
So at the end of the year, Soledad submitted all the papers at school to enroll him in third grade. In other words, he would be two years ahead of the children his age.
But there they got a surprise. The principal told them that, since the exam had been in another jurisdiction, they still needed special authorization from the provincial Ministry. Soledad couldn’t believe it—once again they would have to deal with all the bureaucracy. She gathered up the papers and submitted them to the Ministry.
Days went by and they had no answer… In March, when classes were about to start, they were still waiting for a resolution. But Andrés and Soledad stood firm. They spoke with an inspector from the provincial Ministry of Education:
[Soledad]: I told Silvia, “Benjamín is not going to start by repeating the year. But if you don’t send him, you’re going to get into trouble because I have to file a complaint. A social worker will pay you a visit.” I tell her, “Look, let them come, let the social worker come, let the Minister come, let whoever has to come, come. In other words, I am not going to make my son, just because of you and someone higher up who does not answer me, I am not going to make my son repeat something that he not only studied, but studied on his own.
[Aneris]: After that talk, they managed to get the inspector and the school principal to grant them an emergency authorization so that he could begin the third grade pending the Ministry’s resolution. That year, classes began in person and Benjamín was happy. He finally felt that he was learning something new.
But in June, when Benjamín was halfway through third grade, the Ministry issued its resolution: Benjamín was to return to second grade. They argued that, for one thing, he had already been allowed to pass exceptionally, and for only one time, when he went from class 4 to first grade. And for another, he had to spend six calendar years in elementary school, as stated by law.
Soledad and Andrés still remember the Zoom meeting they had with the Ministry official when she broke the news.
[Soledad]: And I said, “Are you serious? You are telling me that my son, after spending half a year, or half a school year, in a grade with his classmates, has to be pushed back simply because the Province says that every child has to sit for six years. In other words, how are you caring for my son’s emotional health first? His rights? I mean, where is Benjamín in all of this?”
[Aneris]: Andrés and Soledad exploded with anger.
[Soledad]: And we said, “We have to put an end to this. We are not going to let them continue destroying Benja, or continue destroying more children.” That’s when we said: enough. We were different parents, not the parents of 2018, 19, but parents with more experience, and sick of the manipulation by educational systems.
[Aneris]: Educational systems that, according to Soledad, are not prepared to handle differences:
[Soledad]: All children must wear size 35 shoes; it doesn’t matter if they are big or small; if they are too small, live with the pain. If they are too big for you, deal with them being loose on your feet.
[Aneris]: Soledad and Andrés decided to go to court. They went to the La Plata Bar Association to find someone who would represent them, and on the list of registered lawyers they found her:
[Fabiana Rogliano]: My name is Fabiana Rogliano. I am Benjamín’s attorney.
[Aneris]: Fabiana specializes in children and teenager’s rights. She clearly remembers the day when, after meeting Soledad and Andrés, she met her little client:
[Fabiana]: When he approaches my desk, the first thing he tells me is, “I don’t know what you’re going to do and I don’t care what you’re going to do. The only thing I’m telling you is that if you don’t succeed, I won’t go back to school.”
[Aneris]: Fabiana explained to Soledad and Andrés that two of Benjamín’s basic rights were being violated. First, the right to education…
[Fabiana]: And another was the right to health, because as a result of this rejection, a lot of problems were generated for him in his psychic, emotional aspect.
[Aneris]: And that for this reason they could start a lawsuit against the provincial Education Ministry. Fabiana wrote up a document asking for Benjamín to continue third grade, and submitted it in the courts. She accompanied the letter with the psychological diagnosis prepared by Patricia and with the results of the second grade equivalency test that he had taken in the city of Buenos Aires. Also with a report from the school where they said that Benjamín had been able to generate social ties with his peer group and had achieved a sense of belonging in third grade, and attained emotional stability.
While the case progressed in court, Fabiana and Benjamín’s parents managed, with an expedited measure, not to change his grade level.
[Soledad]: I felt revived. Benja was safe. They couldn’t send him back. And now we could start all the legal proceedings.
[Aneris]: They requested the intervention of the advisor for minors and the national defender of children and teenagers. They both wanted to meet Benjamín. And then the judge also wanted to interview him.
Soledad knew that was the path they had to follow, but at times she couldn’t bear to have Benjamín go through that situation.
[Soledad]: I asked Fabiana and the judge to stop observing him. For as long as he can remember, he’s always been watched. In the kindergarten by the educational psychologist, by the director, by the teacher. I mean, that is enough.
[Aneris]: Months passed and Benjamín finished third grade in the midst of uncertainty. He had been able to continue thanks to a provisional authorization, but there was still no final ruling on his case.
It was not until February 10, 2022, eight months after filing the lawsuit and a few days before the start of the next school year, that the sentence was handed down: Benjamín, aged 7, was ready to start fourth grade.
In addition to agreeing with the family, the ruling required the educational authorities to submit a plan for his school trajectory, taking into account his high abilities. Benjamín’s case set a precedent:
[Fabiana]: There is no other case of high abilities with such a forceful judicial ruling, and one that orders the General Directorate of Schools—that is one branch of government giving an order to another branch—to carry out a plan that includes them and does not leave them out of the system.
[Aneris]: In March 2022, Benjamín started fourth grade at another private school. Changing schools again was like starting a new phase.
[Soledad]: It was the first year that he started physically and legally in the same place. And luckily, he started very happily. He has a wonderful school; they take care of him, they protect him a lot, while setting limits, obviously.
[Aneris]: Soledad and Andrés found a school that is willing and eager to learn how to deal with gifted children.
In fact, Patricia, the psychologist, has already given a talk on the subject to the teachers. She talked to them about the characteristics and myths of gifted children and about what they can do with them to help them learn and feel comfortable in the classroom.
In addition, Benjamín’s teachers, Ministry officials, and parents meet regularly to check whether adjustments need to be made to his curriculum.
It’s not that like there aren’t problems. Sometimes Benjamín fights with a classmate; it’s normal, it happens to all children. But they solve it differently at this school. In each situation, the teachers talk with Benjamín first and then talk with the whole class to see what the best way is to reach a solution.
[Soledad]: And he ceases to be the focus. He becomes one more, even with his differences, because he has them, that is, all his emotions, his intensity often in some aspects, but he is just one more.
[Aneris]: And finally, he goes to school happy:
[Soledad]: Benja used to go with his head down, as if feeling ashamed of who he was, but not anymore.
[Aneris]: I went to Soledad, Andrés and Benjamín’s house on a Monday, and they were still surprised by what had happened that Saturday. It was the day of the play library, but Benjamín had preferred to miss it and go to the birthday party of one of his schoolmates.
[Andrés]: For him to skip the play library, which was his top priority, where he could be with his peers. And he doesn’t want to go because he was going to miss his friend’s birthday party—for us this is excellent.
[Aneris]: In these years, Soledad and Andrés learned that being gifted is far removed from the typical Einstein stereotype that many of us have in mind. They have a different way of learning, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to be stimulated, taught and accompanied.
[Soledad]: Giftedness is associated with being the best, with being super, with being… and it is not like that. I am not saying my son is the best. I say my son is what he is. And the reality is that there are many more tears inside the families of gifted children than people imagine.
[Aneris]: The majority do not arrive at the diagnosis because their child discovered a mathematical formula, but because that child comes from having a hard time for a long time.
When they grow up, some of these children may shine in some area, some others will go unnoticed, and others may fail at everything they set their minds to. But ultimately, only one thing matters:
[Soledad]: I want, like every parent, for him to be happy. In whichever way. If he wants to be, say, a door painter, and he is happy, so be it.
[Aneris]: Let him just be happy and do not expect anything fabulous from him.
Maybe he will change my mind at some point but, for now, Benjamín is pretty clear about what he wants to be when he grows up:
[Benjamín]: Soccer player and dentist…
[Aneris]: The choice has a rather compelling explanation:
[Benjamín]: Because if you’re a dentist, they pay you a lot of money and it is easier to buy a house.
[Aneris]: Well, a house and something else:
[Benjamín]: And buy PlayStation 6 when it comes out.
[Aneris]: Do you have a PlayStation now?
[Aneris]: 5-2? 3
[Benjamín]: I have a PlayStation 3…
[Aneris]: The issue is that Benjamín, like any child, cannot stop being who he is. In his case, a gifted one. 5-2, instead of 3. Why keep it simple— it’s more fun when it’s complicated.
[Daniel]: Last week Benjamin finished 4th grade and in March 2023 he will start 5th grade at age 8. He will be two years younger than his classmates.
Aneris spoke with a representative of the Ministry of Education of the Province of Buenos Aires. She said that as a result of Benjamín’s experience, they are reviewing regulations and internal processes to avoid making the same mistakes again.
Although it is not fully proven, it is estimated that giftedness is, in most cases, hereditary. But so far neither Andrés nor Soledad have wanted to take the test to find out their own IQ. They prefer not to know…
Aneris Casassus is a producer for Radio Ambulante and lives in Buenos Aires.
This story was edited by Camila Segura and me. Bruno Scelza did the fact-checking. Sound design is by Ana Tuirán with original music by Rémy Lozano. Thanks to doctors Ignacio Appendino, Diego Montes de Oca, Gabriela Morell, Franco Scattolo, and Esteban Vaucheret for their help with this story.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Nicolás Alonso, Lisette Arévalo, Andrés Azpiri, Pablo Argüelles, Diego Corzo, José Díaz, Emilia Erbetta, Camilo Jiménez Santofimio, Juan David Naranjo, Ana Pais, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill , David Trujillo, Elsa Liliana Ulloa and Luis Fernando Vargas.
Natalia Sánchez Loayza is our editorial intern.
Selene Mazón is our production intern.
Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is a podcast of Radio Ambulante Estudios, produced and mixed in the Hindenburg PRO program.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.