Perspectives – The Evolution of 2e

September, 2018

In this issue, we look back on the 15 years since we published the premier issue of 2e Newsletter in October of 2003. Here these members of our Editorial Advisory Board offer their perspectives on the state of 2e from those early days to the present:

Susan M. Baum, Ph.D.

The year was 2003. The idea of twice-exceptionality was just catching on. The seed had been planted during the previous generation by pioneers such as Joanne Whitmore, June Maker, Lynn Fox, Ellen Brody, Mary Ruth Coleman, Elizabeth Nielson, and Dennis Higgins. Lois Baldwin and I, along with Susan Levy, founded AEGUS (the Association for the Education of Gifted Underachieving Students), dedicated to creating awareness of gifted students whose abilities lay dormant due to undiagnosed learning differences. The advent of the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program, which supported model projects and research focusing on twice-exceptional students, helped the seedlings blossom into a budding field.

I had just begun to work on the second edition of my book, co-authored by Steven Owen and John Dixon, To Be Gifted and Learning Disabled: From Identification To Practical Intervention Strategies. It was originally published in 1991,and already there was lots of growth to report.This student population, known earlier as gifted learning-disabled students, now included gifted individuals with attention deficits and those on the autism spectrum. New publications such asDeidre Lovecky’s Different Minds: Gifted Children with AD/HD, Asperger Syndrome and Other Learning Deficits and the book by Jim Webb et al. Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adultswouldappear in the next few years, offering more information about who these students were and how their needs might be misinterpreted.

But still there were very few programs available for these learners. Even more serious was the dearth of practical information for parents and teachers on how to help convince others that gifted students could have learning, attention, and social and behavioral challenges. At this point, few psychologists and learning specialists had experience or training diagnosing students who were twice exceptional or in designing comprehensive programs for meeting their needs. In response to this need, [publishers] Mark and Linda gave the field the 2e Newsletter. They covered conferences, identified and invited those professionals with interest and expertise in twice-exceptional students to contribute to the newsletter’s offerings, and provided readable information to educators and parents alike. The newsletter became a force that fed the growing interest and need for information in the field of twice-exceptionality.

Around this same time (2005), I learned about Bridges Academy, a school for 2e students. When offered the opportunity to become a part of this exciting learning community, I retired from my position at the College of New Rochelle and became a part of that wave of interest. In this setting I deepened my own understanding of the complexities presented by the diversity of this student population. I could help teachers find innovative ways to use the students’ strengths and interests to help these learners develop their gifts and talents.

Today, I am director of the 2e Center for Research and Professional development at Bridges Academy, where we are engaged in a variety of projects to help spread the word about these students. Part of our efforts is hosting events that bring together knowledgeable researchers and professionals whose work is defining our field. In the past year, we have identified at least 50 2e-friendly schools, both nationally and internationally, that are dedicated to meeting the needs of these youngsters. Half of these schools sent representatives to a symposium we held last year in which we shared ideas and challenges.

Yes, those seeds planted years ago are now a part of a legitimate field of education. Many states such as Maryland, Colorado, Idaho, Virginia, and Montana have published policies about identification and guidelines for serving twice-exceptional students. Advocacy efforts are reaching interested parents and professionals through social media. Topics at conferences in gifted and special education worldwide are including sessions on twice-exceptional students.

Best of all, I’m seeing 2e youngsters beginning to excel and become creative, productive adults when they have had the opportunities to develop their gifts and talents and to receive the support they deserve. However, our work is not yet done, not until we can assure that all 2e students are identified and recognized for what they can do and are given the resources and opportunities they need to thrive.

Susan Baum, Ph.D., is an educator, author, consultant, and Director of the 2e Center for Research and Professional Development. The author of To Be Gifted and Learning Disabled, her writing and research cover many areas of education, including differentiated curriculum and instruction, gifted education, gifted learning-disabled students, and gifted underachieving students

Dan Peters, Ph.D.

I am sitting in Camp Summit, watching kids making sock puppets, engaging in LARP (live action role play), playing Dungeons & Dragons, and building a Rube Goldberg contraption. They are all gifted and twice-exceptional children and adolescents, and with very few exceptions, one cannot tell who is “2e” and who isn’t. Why? Because they are interacting with like-minded peers and using their strengths — creativity, divergent thinking, abstract reasoning, and negotiating and debating skills with, of course, a strong orientation toward justice and fairness.

Here we value individuality and “structured flexibility.” The structure reduces anxiety by providing predictability and allowing kids to set their expectations. The flexibility provides choice, making it possible to change one’s mind, to be open to other’s ideas, and to adjust to circumstances that arise moment by moment, as they often do. These 2e kids are with their gifted peers, and their other exceptionalities are not getting in the way of them showing their strengths and talents.

I discovered twice-exceptionality shortly after finding myself in “gifted land,” not long after the beginning of the 2e Newsletter. I remember my “aha” moment when first hearing about the concept of 2e and discovering the newsletter. Of course! A person can be gifted and have a learning or developmental issue. It made perfect sense.

I thought of so many kids I had worked with over the years who were having challenges, yet had something different about them. They didn’t quite fit into the boxes. But why didn’t my colleagues — psychologists and educators — understand this? It seemed so simple. Clearly it was not, especially when it comes to diagnosing and educating these children. Why was everyone focusing on their deficits and overlooking their strengths? That didn’t make sense to me, and still doesn’t.

In the last 15 years I have seen twice-exceptional become a recognizable term. Each year, more and more parents discover this concept and find a community that understands their child’s complexities as well as their associated parental challenges. Each year, I hear about, and meet, more educators excited to learn about 2e and “get” 2e children.

However, each day I also meet with parents who have 2e children who go unidentified, misunderstood, and without the support and differentiation they need. These parents are told their child is “fine” and “meeting grade-expected levels,” even though their child is melting down at home, anxious, depressed, hating school, and underperforming. They are told their child does not qualify for testing and certainly not for an IEP or 504 Plan. After all, they are told, there are students with far greater difficulties who have greater needs. 
What do I wish for 2e kids in the future? I wish that people will truly understand that one can be gifted and have a learning, developmental, and/or emotional issue. I want them to know that people who are bright with challenges thrive when their strengths are emphasized (differentiated and enriched) and their challenges are supported (accommodated) so that they can perform, in any and all areas, to their full potential.

Furthermore, I hope that the educational system comes to understand that a student can perform at grade level but still have a learning disability and that 2e individuals have special learning needs that qualify them for an IEP or Section 504 Plan. And finally, I wish that all 2e children and adolescents may learn to accept who they are — their strengths and challenges — and have the confidence and courage to persevere and thrive.

Dan Peters, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in California. He is the co-founder and executive director of the Summit Center, which specializes in the assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and families, with special emphasis on gifted, twice-exceptional, and creative individuals. In addition, Dan is the co-author, with Susan Daniels, of Raising Creative Kids, and the author of Make Your Worrier a Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Child’s Fears and From Worrier to Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Fears. 

Meredith Warshaw

The 2e world has changed dramatically in the past couple of decades. When I first realized I was parenting a twice-exceptional child, special needs in gifted kids weren’t even on the radar. The term 2e hadn’t been coined yet, and psychologist Deirdre Lovecky was the first person I ever heard talk about gifted kids with ADHD or Asperger Syndrome. It has been encouraging and validating to see the growing recognition that, yes, gifted children can also have learning disabilities or other special needs, and addressing all aspects of their exceptionality is crucial.

When my son was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, I kept being told by members of the gifted parenting email lists that “bored gifted kids are misdiagnosed with ADD all the time. Just get him with kids at his level and he’ll be fine.” My college friend Janis Bestul Ossman and I started complaining about hearing this mantra when we knew our kids really did have ADHD. We decided that the only solution was to start our own email list. GT World had recently been created and I contacted a friend on their board to ask if they’d be willing to add a new list, GT-ADD. The response was “Yes, but we want you to broaden it to include other special needs,” and GT-Special was born.

We decided to have strict rules about respectful posting in order to make it a safe place for parents. First, no questioning that diagnoses exist. It was fine to ask “Why do you think your child has ADHD?” but not to say “ADD doesn’t exist.” Similarly, it was not acceptable to berate parents for giving their child medication or for not using meds. You could ask “Have you considered trying medication?” or “Do you think it’s helping?” We wanted everyone to feel safe and be treated respectfully because we knew that most parents of gifted special-needs kids were facing plenty of criticism and self-doubt in their lives. We also allowed people to subscribe using pseudonyms to protect their and their children’s privacy. Basically, we built the place we needed.

By the end of the first couple of weeks, GT-Special had over 60 members. It was clear that we were not alone, and GT-Special was filling a need. It was such a relief to find out that other people understood and were also struggling. Fellow list members knew we weren’t bad parents if our kids had meltdowns, or kept blurting out in class, or wouldn’t/couldn’t write; and they understood the struggle of dealing with criticism from family and friends.

From our discussions, we all started learning about dyslexia, dysgraphia, and auditory and sensory processing. We learned how important it is to look for scatter among subtests — for test scores that were below the others, even if they were above average; for reasons a timed test score was low (Was the child slow or making mistakes?); and for what kids said or how they acted if they refused to complete some of the tests.

As we learned about our children, many of us realized that we, too, had been 2e students rather than lazy, stupid, or bad. Over the years, a pattern emerged — bewildered, frantic parents would join GT-Special knowing nothing about 2e kids, get support and advice, and in a year or two be sharing helpful, knowledgeable advice with the next generation of new list members. Several of us took the next step and became professionals in the field.

In the gifted world, recognition was growing that gifted kids could have learning disabilities, ADHD, psychiatric disorders, or other special needs. At a conference, I was approached by Linda Neumann about a new publication, the 2e Newsletter. This was the first time I’d heard the term 2e, and I loved it.

Meanwhile, changes were also happening in the world of special needs. Issues in relatively new and sometimes controversial areas were gaining attention, such as sensory, visual, and auditory processing; motor coordination; receptive and expressive language disabilities — areas where there was, at the time, little research. Today, the neurodiversity movement has brought a new perspective, insisting that we not view all differences as defects, pushing for us to look at ways to adapt the environment rather than forcing kids to change who they are, and encouraging us to see the gifts that alternative ways of processing can be.

The internet has enabled us to get information, find each other, and form communities, even as these communities are shifting from email lists to Facebook groups. In doing so, we have also started to realize that twice-exceptionality is not as rare as previously thought, once you know to look for it. Websites, communities, and publications like 2e Newsletter have made things very different, and better, from how they were in the 1990s when I started this journey.

Meredith Warshaw, M.S.S., M.A., is a special needs educational advisor, writer, lecturer, and former contributing editor for 2e: Twice-Exceptional Newsletter. Meredith works to help families of 2e children better understand their children’s needs. She is the creator of the Uniquely Gifted website of information for families with 2e children and the people who work with them. Meredith is co-founder of the GT-Special email list for families with 2e children, and founder of the GT-Spec-Home list for homeschooling 2e families. Her writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including the newsletter of the Association for the Education of Underachieving Students, ADDitude, Life Learning, and the book Uniquely Gifted: Identifying and Meeting the Needs of the Twice-Exceptional Student, edited by Kiesa Kay. She has also spoken at a variety of conferences on giftedness, special needs, and homeschooling.   

Marlo Payne Thurman

The year was 1994. I was a newly-minted school psychologist who needed a job. For my first post-graduate position, I blessedly landed under the expert tutelage of Dr. Linda Silverman. It didn’t take long for her to inspire in me a career that would become my life-long passion — understanding and serving twice-exceptional children.

When I opened my own practice, I specialized in assessment and social skills training for gifted children who struggled with learning. (While I had learned the term twice exceptional from Linda Silverman, few people used it.) Because this population was estimated to be only 15 to 25 percent of gifted children (who were only 5 percent of the general population), I assumed my career path would be slow to grow; but in one year my practice in Boulder, Colorado, had over 300 clients because no one in our area was doing much in the way of special education advocacy for gifted or twice-exceptional children.

Then I suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident and needed to pare down my practice. I chose to take a part-time job observing classrooms, reporting on my concerns, and teaching students social skills. Now I saw and experienced what was actually going on in some of the best public-school gifted classrooms in Colorado. In observing hundreds of K-12 students in over 20 schools, I saw that, even when specifically identified, the majority of 2e students still did not have an easy fit in either a GT classroom or a special education classroom. I also came to realize that dealing with cognitive fatigue, sensory-based difficulties, and the deep frustration that comes from being both gifted and disabled must be at the very heart of any good program serving 2e children.

With these ideas as my foundation, I formulated in my mind what I hoped would be the perfect school. It would marry a therapeutic gifted school, with both special education and mental health teams, to a play-based, project-based, hands-on, interactive curriculum delivered within academic standards, but outside of age- and grade-level expectations. Then, with a large settlement from my accident, I set out to create the very school I had envisioned.

People Magazine described the Brideun School for Exceptional Children, opened in 1999, as the country’s first private school specifically specializing in meeting the needs of twice-exceptional learners (although I believe Bridges Academy was also forming at roughly that same time). The Brideun School years were as glorious as I had imagined them to be, but they were also very exhausting! The school closed after 10 years for a variety of reasons, but we had helped 178 remarkable twice-exceptional children make their way forward into other settings. Today the youngest of these students is now in college.

From Brideun, I learned the following: 

  • Twice-exceptionality can take many forms, and no two twice-exceptional kids are alike.
  • The more discrepant one’s scores are, the more likely one is to demonstrate social, emotional, and/or behavioral challenges.
  • Mental health is secondary to physical, social, and cognitive wellness in most 2e kids.
  • Physical wellness comes from movement, hands-on engagement, and active play combined with proper nutrition, good sleep, and treatment for illness.
  • Cognitive wellness evolves out of finding one’s passion, pursuing it, and working through challenges with self-respect, true peers, and the desire to reach that passion.
  • Social wellness is obtained when belonging and meaningful friendship lead to life-long bonds and a deep sense of belonging.
  • A similarly twice-exceptional friend is a friend for life.

Next, with a continuing soft-spot in my heart for the “Asperger Syndrome” kids from my school, I switched gears to focus on autism. I spoke, trained teachers, and consulted on the creation of numerous small-school settings for kids who were both gifted and on the autism spectrum. I joined the advisory board for the US Autism Association, and I directed the US College Autism Project to train colleges and universities in serving those with autism on their campuses. During these years, I also returned to my private practice and conducted several thousand assessments.

The kids I was seeing at this point, it seemed, were more complex, with severe mental health conditions. For many, physical illness accompanied their twice-exceptionality. I started referring some of my 2e kids for the same bio-medical tests that I had recommended for my clients with autism and, astoundingly, many were coming up with the same medical markers. They were nutritionally deficient, had poor absorption rates for essential vitamins and minerals, had numerous gut-health issues, were not detoxifying toxins properly, and had poor cellular respiration. Similarly, they were also mentally and physically exhausted, and many had resorted to living in a state of adrenal activation (a prolonged response to stress) until their adrenal systems had failed them. I found that treating them in a triage-type fashion, with health and wellness as a first priority, and school wellness as a second or even third priority, made a positive difference in helping them recover, survive school, and become healthy before leaving home for college.

I gained additional insights while getting a Ph.D. in special education, which prepared me to teach educators who will create the classrooms of the future. The work has also served as the basis for my new book to be published in January, Autism is the Future. [See the sidebar below.]

Today, after 25 years in this field, I see advocates, experts, and even schools popping up all over the country for our 2e children. Based on the work of Susan Baum and others, we now have formal definitions and language that we in the field use and hear every day. Few educators still try to argue that giftedness and disability exist in isolation, and I think we are also beginning to understand the wide range of asynchrony in the gifted.

On the other hand, 2e kids today, in my opinion, are more greatly affected by their twice-exceptionality; and their mental health conditions are more severe. Like all gifted children, they take in more cognitive, sensory, and social information than their peers, leaving them over stimulated and depleting the energy they need for compensation. Additional stresses are more screen time, fewer physical outlets for activity, and an increasingly unhealthy planet — a combination that, over time, is simply unsustainable.

Furthermore, 2e children are not getting what they need in school. Because they think, reason, and problem-solve in such different ways from their peers, they simply don’t fit in and lack opportunities to find one another.

Nevertheless, I do have hope. My faith in a better future for twice-exceptional children lies in the belief that every one of these kids who reaches adulthood has the potential to reshape the world in a way that works better for them, for their children, and for the generations of twice-exceptional children to come. In fact, I place my faith for the survival of our very species within the hands of those who are the most neurodiverse because, in my opinion, the challenges of the world can only be met by those who think differently.

Marlo Payne Thurman, Ph.D., is a school psychologist; owner of 2e Consulting Services, a private educational consulting company specializing in meeting the needs of out-of-sync learners; and the parent of two twice-exceptional children. In 1999, she founded Brideun School in Colorado, which offered a program designed exclusively for this “out-of-sync” population. Marlo has published numerous articles and presented extensively on the subject of educating twice-exceptional children and asynchronous learning. In addition, she is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Northern Colorado

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