a guest post written by Linda Brooksbank
1. An individual can be smart and have learning challenges.
Students who are academically or intellectually gifted can also have learning challenges, such as ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, OCD, anxiety, Asperger’s, etc. The common term for this is twice-exceptional, or ‘2e.’ 2e is a fairly new concept to teachers (including specialists and administrators) and parents.
My son was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder in kindergarten and ADHD in first grade. This was before we discovered his gifted IQ, so, at first my focus was only on his disabilities. It has taken a lot of reading, investigating, and wasted time trying to navigate on my own to finally figure out that he is a twice-exceptional student.
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2. Twice-exceptional students are often misunderstood, undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed.
The three main causes of this are:
- the child’s giftedness compensates for the learning difference or disability so that the student is only considered gifted;
- the disability overshadows the giftedness, causing the child’s disability to be the only thing recognized;
- or, the giftedness and disabilities cancel each other out, meaning the child appears to be of average ability and average intelligence.
Part of my own struggle in identifying my son as 2e may have been that I didn’t want to accept nor refer to my child as ‘special needs’ or having ‘disabilities.’ I could easily say, “He has SPD and ADHD,” but to me, the words ‘special needs’ or ‘disabilities’ meant much more, and I didn’t believe they applied to my son. He blends in fairly well with his peers and his intelligence often disguises his challenges.
Through second grade, teachers saw my son as average intelligence with disabilities. He had been severely underachieving by producing very little work and he hated school. We discovered his gifted IQ at the end of second grade and moved him from his first elementary school to a gifted program in our city, where he fit in better with peers and he finally loved school.
The former school didn’t see his giftedness. The new school for gifted students didn’t see his disabilities. So, even though he was happier in the new environment, we started all over again in our advocacy, and we are still in the trenches today, nearing the end of sixth grade.
3. Twice-exceptional students need both their strengths and weaknesses addressed.
A child whose needs go unmet are at high risk for anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. A psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in the 2e field can help with strategies for home. Also, parents can do their own research to get more ideas.
In public schools, gifted students can have an IEP or 504 Plan and still participate in gifted (or enrichment) programs and classes. The reverse is also true. Parents should expect a long, arduous journey if they intend to pursue special education for a gifted student and the same is true for a student on an IEP or 504 Plan trying to enter gifted programs.
We ended up contacting an educational advocate to help secure accommodations through a 504 Plan or IEP. I cannot emphasize enough: the sooner, the better! In some cases the educational advocate’s services are free. Our advocate was an immense help!
Submit reporting for private evaluations and diagnosis and invite experts to school meetings to provide additional advocacy. These are two strategies (among many!) that will help you advocate for your child.
4. Twice-exceptional students struggle with many unique challenges.
Gifted children, including 2e children, experience asynchronous development. For example, they may be excelling at seventh grade math while in fifth grade, and reading 500-page books for fun, but their social and emotional skills are developing way behind. They may be significantly more immature than their same-aged peers, yet scoring two grades ahead of their peers on tests. This is typical of 2e kids.
Children with disabilities can sometimes perform well one day and not be able to reproduce work at the same level the next day. Combine disabilities with the social and emotional instability of a gifted child who wants to display their knowledge but struggles to do so, and you have a very frustrated and COMPLEX little person. Like Shrek says, “Ogres are like onions. Onions have LAYERS!”
Unfortunately, most school personnel are unfamiliar with twice-exceptionality and how best to support these students. They often comment that a student isn’t “living up to their potential.” What does that mean for you, parent of a 2e child? It means you’ll need to become very knowledgeable about your child’s specific strengths and weaknesses and rely on your own resourcefulness. In order to effectively communicate and advocate for your child’s needs, you may need to research 2e like a detective; initiate many calls, emails, appointments, and meetings; and network with others in order to connect the dots and begin to unlock the 2e mystery.
Gifted students shouldn’t have to feel like they are a ‘failure’ or ‘stupid,’ but if they cannot express their intelligence due to a disability, that is likely to happen.
Although it has been and still is extremely difficult for my family, the level of involvement necessary for your student’s success all depends upon individual circumstances. My child has a multitude of diagnoses and our school district has not been fully cooperative. Your situation will look different from mine, and I sincerely believe for the majority of families, their journey will be much easier. If you’d like to learn more about 2e, check out some of the valuable resources I’ve found on the subject.
On the web:
http://www.yellowpagesforkids.com/help/states.htm (Advocates and agencies by state)
Linda Brooksbank is a proud wife and mom of three twice-exceptional children. She loves her work as an elementary school paraprofessional. Her passion is to raise awareness about 2e kiddos, which will lead to earlier, more accurate identification and access to appropriate services that will help them succeed at school, and in life.