Every parent believes their child is exceptional in one way or the other, but parents of children who are twice exceptional may not always embrace this double label.
What is Twice Exceptional?
Twice exceptional (2E), children are different from the ‘norm’ in two ways. They are gifted in one area, while they have a disability in another area. For example, a child who is gifted visual spatial and in math, but has Dysgraphia so struggles with writing. Alternatively, a child who is gifted creatively but has ADHD and struggles to complete tasks.
For a child to be labeled as gifted, he must have specific scores on intelligence or aptitude tests. A score over 130 IQ in a sub-test of an IQ test, or score 92nd percentile or above in a subject area on a standardized test, would qualify as gifted. For a child to be labeled with a disability, he must have a condition that hampers one or more aspects of daily life. This could be a learning disability, physical disability or psychological disability. In some way his disability affects his ability to learn in school.
If you are a parent of a twice exceptional child, it is very important to recognize the challenges these children face often go unrecognized by the schools. You must understand this so you can be an advocate for your child.
7 School Challenges Twice Exceptional Children Face
1. Performance Discrepancy
There is often a significant difference in a twice exceptional child’s capabilities and how they perform in school. In other words, because of their disability, they perform below their ability level. If they are gifted and perform average, their disability may not be recognized because their grades may be on par with the average student in the class.
2. Good at Compensating
Twice exceptional children are often very bright and resourceful, and they can use their strengths to compensate for their weaknesses. For example, if a child struggles with spelling but he is gifted visual spatial, he can memorize words for a spelling test by seeing them as pictures. Ask him a week later and he won’t be able to spell any of them. Many times these children aren’t diagnosed until high school or college when the curriculum gets so difficult they can no longer find a way to compensate.
3. Denied Services Because of Good Grades
This is a common theme I see as a special education advocate. These children do well in school, and because their grades are fine the school says it does not have to provide support. The Little/Felton letter from the Office of Special Education (OSE) clearly states that students do not have to fail classes to receive services. Despite this, parents will often have to strongly advocate to get their very smart child help for a learning disability.
4. The Child Feels Very Different
All children want to fit in with their peers, and with one difference a child can feel awkward and left out. With two differences, twice exceptional children often find it very difficult to bridge the gap between themselves and their peers. It is important to find interests your child shares with peers, or to seek out peers with similar gifts as your own child.
5. The Child Lacks Persistence
Gifted children can struggle with tasks that are hard because so much of what they do comes very easily. When faced with a challenge, they may give up. They are not used to failing and trying again. At school they may have subjects that are really easy, and other subjects that are too hard. They rarely have schoolwork that is the right level of difficulty for their abilities.
6. People See the Child as Lazy
Adults see the brilliance in the child and they do not realize the child is having difficulty. As a result, instead they label the child as resistant or lazy, insisting they are not trying hard enough. This makes it even more difficult for the child to ask for help because any time they reach out they are just told they are not putting in good effort.
7. Our Educational System Fails 2E Kids
There are few educational methods that help twice exceptional children flourish in the academic environment. Parents have to pick up the slack by engaging the student with after school activities or supplementing instruction with additional curriculum. Many parents will move their children from school to school in an effort to find a good fit, but this is rarely found in public schools. There are private schools that cater specifically to 2E children, but there are few of them and they are usually cost prohibitive for the majority of families.
6 Ways to Support Your Twice Exceptional Child
1. Advocate for Your Child
If you see your child struggling, it is important to investigate what is causing the difficulty. If you believe your child may have an underlying disability, it is important that you advocate for your child, even when ‘experts’ tell you that you are wrong.
2. Focus on the Giftedness
Research has shown that if you focus on the child’s gifts first, not the disability, in the long run it will lead to higher self-confidence (Nielsen & Mortoff, Albert, 1989). So it is important to make the giftedness the primary topic of the child, rather than the difficulties. Focus on strengths, not weaknesses. Help the child understand that everybody has difficulties, and these problems are not unique to him.
3. Find 2E Parent Support Groups
Find a parent of 2E children support group that will give you a forum to ask questions and receive advice. Many parents are struggling to parent 2E children and connecting with them will help you feel less alone. My two favorite Facebook groups are Parents of 2E Children and Raising Poppies.
4. Educate Teachers & Professionals
It is very common in the schools to focus on what the child is doing wrong rather than right. Helping the teachers and other school personnel understand the struggles of a 2E child can go a long way to ensuring your child gets the right support at school. The same is true for doctors, psychologists or other professionals who work with your child. They may see the giftedness and assume the challenges are resistance or laziness. Help them understand how the disability affects the child’s performance, and help them see that it is not a behavior problem.
5. Help Your Child Manage Stress
Twice exceptional kids endure a lot of stress and pressure. Some comes from peers making fun of their brilliance, other stuff comes from their sense of failure when they cannot perform tasks that seem easy for peers. These children also feel a lot of pressure to be super successful because they do have super strengths. They really struggle with fear of failure if their disability significantly affects their ability to perform in school. So help your child talk about this stress, and teach her skills to help her manage this anxiety or sense of overload.
6. Find Like Minded Peers
2E children often suffer socially because they feel so different from the other students. It is important to be proactive about finding like-minded peers who share common interests and enjoy the same activities. You might encourage your child to join certain clubs at school. You might seek out special interest activities outside of school. If you can find at least one place where your child feels at home, that can go a long way in helping your child manage the other difficulties he encounters in life.
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