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Gifted Education Communicator, Fall/Winter 2006 (vol 36, nos. 3 & 4)
Many years ago, as a college student, I took an introductory course in psychology. We were required, as part of the course, to serve as guinea pigs in experiments that more advanced students conducted. In one, I had to give answers to some fairly simple questions and math problems. With each answer, I found myself completely out of sync with the four other people in the room. Before too long, I figured out that what was probably going on. My reaction to the situation was the focus of the experiment – would I go with what I thought was right or would I go along with the crowd?
I remember how uncertain and uncomfortable it felt to be in that situation, even when I knew what was going on. As the parent of twice-exceptional (2e) children, I often remember that experiment and the way it made me feel. In raising my children those feelings have often returned as I ponder – Should I do what feels right for my kids or do I follow conventional thought?
Parents of 2e kids find themselves with a foot in each of two worlds: giftedness and special needs. Straddling these two worlds is what makes our experiences as 2e parents so unique and is often what leaves us so uncertain. Having this combined perspective affects many aspects of our parenting, in particular what we ask for and expect of our children’s teachers, coaches, peers, relatives, and the professionals who work with our children. It often makes us feel that we need to explain their differences to others as well as protect them from the opinions and judgments of those who can’t see what’s hidden, be it their gifts or their disabilities.
In this article we’ll consider some questions that all parents of twice-exceptional children face: What sets our 2e children apart from others and makes our job of parenting them such a challenge? What does it take to meet these challenges?
Twice-exceptional children have two sets of conflicting traits, one related to their high capabilities, the other to their limitations. Like other intellectually gifted children, they are likely to think in different ways from average children and to experience the world differently. Often, they display many of the characteristics typical of gifted children, such as:
Unlike other gifted children, those who are twice exceptional find themselves hampered by deficits that interfere with their ability to perform the tasks that classroom learning requires. The deficits, often invisible to others, can do any of the following:
As a result of deficits like these, twice-exceptional students may display behaviors and characteristics that can be baffling, annoying, or even infuriating to the adults around them. For instance, these students might:
A combination of strengths and limitations such as these leads to children with a unique, and often quirky, profile. They can have difficulty finding peers and, as a result, may have a small number of friends or no friends at all. Coping with their deficits can take a toll on their stamina, leaving these children exhausted from the strain after a day at school. Furthermore, having to confront these deficits day in and day out in the classroom can take a toll on the 2e child’s self-esteem. As psychologist and author Linda Silverman (2003) states, “It’s emotionally damaging to be unacceptable in the place you spend six hours of every day for 13 critical years.”
Perhaps the greatest challenge that parents of 2e children face is trying to make sense of what they’re seeing – the uneven performance at school, the low self-esteem, the difficult behavior. These children are easy to label and pigeonhole. People do it all the time with statements like these: they’re just lazy; they’re just troublemakers; they’re disabled and we can’t expect too much from them.
It can take a long time, plenty of money, and a great deal of frustration to get a more accurate picture of what’s really going on with a 2e child. Parents often face a daunting task searching for professionals with the skills, experience, and insight needed to accurately assess and diagnose these children and then give them the help they need. Oftentimes, the search doesn’t end until the child is in middle school, high school, or even college.
Another of the challenges that parents face is coming to terms with their child’s twice-exceptionality. It’s often a matter of letting go of the child you thought you had and learning to celebrate the child you do have. For instance, parents may see from early on that their child is very bright and creative. They might imagine what the school years will bring – the outstanding report cards, the honors and awards, the full scholarship. However, few 2e kids match that stereotypical image of a gifted child; and for parents, it may be hard to give up that traditional view of success. It may be even harder to continually answer the question that puzzled relatives and others in their lives often ask, “If that child is so smart, then why…?” – the type of question that most parents of 2e kids probably ask themselves from time to time. There can be difficult emotions for parents to deal with as well – grief from knowing that their child has a disability and guilt that comes from not seeing it sooner or, on the other hand, from not recognizing the child’s gifts sooner.
A third challenge for parents is finding the right learning environment for their children. According to the book To Be Gifted and Learning Disabled (Baum & Owen, 2004),thisenvironment is one that provides “educational experiences that assure appropriate challenge, while offering instruction, accommodations, and compensation strategies that minimize the effects of the learning disability.”
Some parents may be fortunate to live in districts with programs that meet this description, specifically designed for twice-exceptional students. Most parents are not. For those in the latter group, finding the right learning environment can be an elusive dream. Some years the mix of teachers, administrators, classmates, curriculum, and services works better for their child than others. For some children, it never works at all. When the blend is right, the child is happy, the parents are grateful, and the year goes well. When it isn’t, grades can plummet along with the child’s self-esteem, and stress can plague the family.
Unfortunately, there is no handbook on the market titled Successfully Raising Your Twice-Exceptional Child. However, following some general guidelines can help parents meet the challenges they face.
As mentioned before, there is no handbook for raising a twice-exceptional child. You’re writing your own as you go. You’re bound to feel uneasy and doubtful at times, but having confidence in your instincts and judgment and the knowledge and support to back your decisions will bolster you for doing what you think is right for your twice-exceptional child rather than feeling pressured to go along with the crowd.
Baum, S. M. & Owen, S. V. (2004). To Be Gifted & Learning Disabled: Strategies for Helping Bright Students with LD, ADHD, and More (Rev. ed.). Connecticut: Creative Learning Press.
Bireley, M. Crossover Children: A Sourcebook for Helping Children Who Are Gifted and Learning Disabled. Reston, Virginia:Council for Exceptional Children, 1995.
Lovecky, D. V. Gifted children with AD/HD. 2e: Twice-Exceptional Newsletter, April, 2004.
Lovecky, D. V. Gifted children with asperger syndrome. 2e: Twice-Exceptional Newsletter, June, 2005.
Maker, C. J. & Udall, A. J. (1985). Giftedness and learning disabilities. ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. (ERIC EC Digest #E427)
Seay, Mary. Working with the Gifted Learning Disabled Child. Session presented at the World Conference for Gifted and Talented Children, New Orleans, August, 2005.
Silverman, Linda. Characteristics of giftedness scale: a review of the literature. Retrieved August 21, 2005, from http://www.gifteddevelopment.com/ Articles/ Characteristics_Scale.htm
Silverman, Linda. The Universal Experience of Being Out-of-Sync. Keynote address delivered at the New England Conference for Gifted and Talented, Nashua, NH., October, 2003.
Webb, J.T., Amend, E. R., Webb, N.E., Goerss, J., Beljan, P., Olenchak, F. R., (2005) Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger's, Depression, and Other Disorders. Scottsdale: Great Potential Press.
Linda C. Neumann is the editor and co-publisher of 2e: Twice-Exceptional Newsletter, a bi-monthly publication that focuses on twice-exceptional children, those who are gifted and have learning or attention difficulties. The audience includes parents of twice-exceptional children plus educators, advocates, and social service/medical/mental health professionals who work with these children.