Twice Exceptional: What Difference It Makes and How to Help

twice exceptional

By Kathy Kuhl     Part 2 of a series on twice exceptional children. Read part one here.

Understanding that a child is gifted as well as learning disabled is just as as important as learning either fact on its own.

Imagine if Anne Sullivan had known only that Helen Keller was deaf and not blind. It’s ridiculous to imagine Anne fingerspelling across the room to a blind child. But Anne understood both challenges. Teaching Helen to read fingerspelling signed into her hand was one key to unlocking her mind.

In the same way, not understanding all of your child’s challenges could bog down her education.

Giftedness and learning disability can obscure each other

Your child’s giftedness can disguise a learning disability. Her progress may seem okay, but she is struggling. I have friends who began to homeschool because they saw this. (“Maybe she’s just not as bright as you think,” one teacher said.) This can prevent your child from getting help that would decrease her frustration and develop her abilities.

On the other hand, your child’s learning disabilities may conceal giftedness. Your son’s struggle with attention deficit disorder, autism, dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, or other challenges may conceal his high intelligence.

So what looks like average performance may be like the function of a high performance car stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic—so bogged down it has no opportunity to go into the higher speeds it was designed for.

Giftedness disguised as a learning disability

Here’s another complication: a child’s giftedness may look like a learning disability. Maybe the student cannot focus because he is bored with material that is far too simple. Being able to tolerate tedium takes maturity. Parents and teachers need to imagine the tedium of slogging through schoolwork when the student could learn three or ten times as fast.

Giftedness and emotional intensity

If you are teaching an emotionally intense, gifted child, it can be frustrating. “He’s smart. Why can’t he get over this?” we may wonder. It’s very helpful to equip them to name and understand their feelings and give them tools to calm themselves.

Colleen Kessler is a great help to families with twice exceptional students
Colleen Kessler is a great help to families with twice exceptional students

Once, Colleen Kessler told about a young gifted child becoming very distressed after reading that one day the sun would explode. She encouraged the child to Researc how many years away that might be, and the odds of it happening in our lifetimes. That soothed this child. (Having something to do helps reduce stress. So would learning that astronomers estimate our sun has more than five billion years to go!)
Relaxation techniques and meditation on the love and sovereignty of God could also help. But saying, “Don’t worry about it,” wouldn’t help a child overcome the terror of being engulfed by an exploding star.

Gifted students learn differently

Last week a homeschooler I know wrote me about her two sons, now grown. At her request, I’ve omitted their names:

You need to let parents know not to always listen to the educators. I had a few who thought my sons had little if any math capabilities. But thankfully, I did not listen! I found an excellent tutor, a young statistician, who informed me that my sons were talented in math; they were solving the problems in different ways from the book!

Now [one son] is a computer game designer, programing and creating  math computer games for middle school students. And [his brother], although he had extreme medical challenges, graduated in the top 2% from Virginia Tech in Mechanical Engineering. Both have amazing jobs, [are] happily married and [are] creative, amazing adults. I am so proud of them!

Please tell your parents that thinking differently is often a sign of exceptional capabilities and can be very successful if only given an inch of encouragement.

As a math teacher, I agree. Exploring alternate methods to get the answer can demonstrate math ability. For any child, encourage that inclination to play with methods, numbers, and patterns. Denise Gaskins explains this well in her book, which I’ve linked at the end of this post.

When we can’t teach what they love

If you aren’t comfortable with math that your child wants to explore, be careful. Don’t insist that your kid must “do it by the book.” Get a math-loving tutor or relative to nurture that playful attitude toward numbers. Better yet, it’s time to read Denise’s blog and books. Learn to enjoy math yourself.  

And this applies to any subject in which your child shows an interest beyond your ability. Nurture that passion. Look for experts to help. By experts, I don’t mean people with PhDs. Instead, seek out people who are not just good, but those who enjoy their subjects and enjoy teaching. It could be the key to your child’s learning.

What if your child is not twice-exceptional?

Knowing about twice-exceptional children, we can: 

  • Ask questions about our kids’ test scores:
    • Which subtests or standardized tests do our children excel in?
    • What talents do they represent and how can we develop those?
    • What resources for gifted students might help in our homeschools?
  • Check out resources for 2E students and find strategies that can help our “one E” (simply exceptional, atypical) students.
  • Respect the very different challenges parents of 2E students face.
  • Recognize that disruptive, impulsive, intense, very smart kids need our compassionate understanding.
  • Remember that gifted children think differently than the rest of us.
    Raising Lifelong Learners

Three special 2E Resources

Finally, I want to highlight three special 2E resources. Then I’ll list more below. 

Please share your favorite 2E resources in the comments below. Thank you.

More Resources

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