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Helping Your Twice-Exceptional Child

Written By Geoff Nixon . May 13, 2020

The double-edged sword of frustration: 2e, twice-exceptional

Twice-exceptional students can hide their difficulties for years, but then can get frustrated and down on themselves easily. That makes recognizing 2e early important and makes interventions valuable.

2e. You might have heard of this shorthand term for a twice exceptional student. It’s when someone is gifted and talented, plus they have a learning disability/disorder. That might be to do with dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysphasia, auditory processing, ADD/ADHD, executive functioning, autism & Aspergers, or another behavioural challenge, for example.

Being twice-exceptional might be a double-edged sword.

A high Intelligence Quotient (IQ) can help a child cope with and work around a learning disability.  However, it’s also true that a twice-exceptional student might:

  1. Be able to disguise a problem, delaying teacher recognition and intervention
  2. Have high expectations for themselves leading to heightened frustration and doubts when they see others reading, while they struggle

Spotlight on 2e

You can assume every school has 2e students because they account for five percent of children. Statistically, chances are there’s one in every classroom. They often fly under the radar there with their teacher not quite understanding how these kids tick. Twice-exceptional students know how to please parents and teachers and have the superpower of being able to fake it deep into their school career.

Teachers need training and experience to pick up what’s happening, to see through the coping strategies. That’s not always part of their initial teacher education.

The needs of 2e learners is a hot topic of research now. That’s since 2004 when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act recognized the notion of a 2e student. There’s greater understanding it’s not a paradox for people with a disability to also be smart.

Detecting a twice-exceptional student

There is a myriad of ways 2e students can show their ability: capacity, capability, commitment and creativity. Domains of giftedness include intellectual potential, creative thinking, academic areas, psychomotor functioning or the visual and/or performing arts. Such students could be mediocre in standardized tests and their school grades, but be amazing at reasoning or absorbing classroom knowledge. Perhaps they have a deep interest in creating something or a project in a particular domain, such as math, music or language.

The key marker of a learning disability is disparity – a clear difference in achievement from one academic area to another. For instance, and arguably the most common scenario, average in math, but below grade level in reading.

This disparity tends to be quite marked for twice-exceptional students.  In subjects where their intelligence can shine through tey excel, whereas they might be average readers. In fact, a 3rd of 4th grade student who appears to be above grade level in reading, but is excelling in math is very likely twice exceptional, meaning you should investigate further.

At that point, you could observe closely, looking for symptoms of auditory processing disorder, dyslexia or reading problems.

From there, you might want to get a formal neuropsychological evaluation or you could consider a learning intervention like Gemm Learning.

Strategies disguise the real picture

Actually, it’s quite common for gifted and talented children with a learning disability or disorder to draw on various strategies to hide their difficulty. They want to please their teachers. They may initially do well at school academically without trying. The Davidson organization, which specializes in gifted children, suggests that as a parent, you might be worrying about when they “hit an academic task they can’t do effortlessly”, will they fall apart?

“The problem for twice-exceptional children is that they learn an even more damaging lesson – that if they cannot do a task right away, they won’t be able to do it at all … highly gifted children are so good at compensating for their special needs, their problems often go undetected until they finally ‘hit the wall’. By this time, a great deal of emotional and academic damage may have been done.”

That means their disability only gets discovered later, such as in 5th or 6th grade. This is a problem because, by that point, the curriculum has moved beyond building foundational reading and writing skills.

High academic aptitude can mask the disability of a twice-exceptional child. It may mean they miss out on being assessed for their learning needs. In fact, they probably slip through the cracks with regard to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which sets out they’re entitled to accommodations and special services they need to learn. Because that act says the student’s disability must “adversely affect educational performance”, so maybe your 2e child doesn’t qualify for help.

Interventions are high stakes

Then, there are those students whose disability is the focus in their school experience – an estimated six per cent of children in special education are 2e. It’s common to assume a special education designation is the same as an intellectual disability, but they’re not the same. Learners with ADHD and anxiety don’t have intellectual disabilities, but they may need accommodations for learning. If 2e children are in a special-ed program, they may feel unchallenged so become frustrated and restless.

Twice-exceptional students tend to be more aware at a younger age. Frustration can build quickly, This can lead to anxiety issues, depression, low self-esteem and poor emotional regulation, says the Child Mind Institute. And once a child is on that track – unhappy, anxious and lowered self-esteem –  it is challenging to get buy-in for any reading or learning intervention.

But for the twice-exceptional student, such interventions are even more high stakes.  Frustration can turn into a downward spiral due to the talent the 2e child knows he has. This of course is only exaggerated if parents or teachers misread underperformance in particular areas, and accuse the child on not trying.

“Or they seem oppositional to teachers and parents. Frustrated by their difficulties, they act out in infinite ways, and they get mischaracterized or misunderstood as being oppositional,” says Dr. Laura Phillips from the Child Mind Institute.

Twice-Exceptional Symptoms List

The mix of heightened frustration, glimpses of brilliance and struggles in fundamentals is intense.  An expert in the 2e field, Amy Slater, who wrote Educating Twice-Exceptional Students in Compliance with IDEA and Section 504, lists gifted students’ behaviors that could prompt a need for special education services.

They include:

  • Problems paying attention of focusing
  • Difficulty with a particular subject or curriculum area
  • Being absent from school often
  • Not handing in assignments or missing chunks of them
  • Fidgeting, having trouble keeping still or making repetitive movements
  • Issues with transitions
  • Trouble with social interactions
  • Tantrums or outbursts
  • Regular disciplinary issues and
  • Self-harming.

Helping 2e students

2e students have a lot happening in their learning and could well benefit from extra support. Once your child has a diagnosis, reassure them life will get easier. You’ll be able to find out what their school can do offer accommodations for their needs. One of your first questions will be whether your child qualifies for an IEP.

We are biased, but we think an intervention is a critical first step. Actually, twice-exceptional students are amongst our most dramatic results as our learning or reading programs can resolve the shackles on a child and unleash a high IQ that can do marvelous things.

“Rachel received her first trimester 1st grade report yesterday. Her subject grades were as follows: Language Arts 97%, Reading 96%, Math 99%, Science 100%, Social Studies 100%. Plus her DIBELS reading scores were OFF THE CHARTS! Based on this report card Rachel no longer needs any special intervention for her auditory processing issues as she continues to advance at a higher level than her peer group… So it was wonderful to use your service but I do not anticipate we will need Gemm Learning in the future. Thanks for all your help.” (2nd grader)

Beyond an intervention, many of the strategies used with all children with learning disabilities apply.  For instance, you could suggest alternatives for their homework, which engages them more. To protect you child, Seth Perl offers some more thought prompts for parents and teachers in his Exceptional Ultimate Guide:

  • Build upon their strengths and passions through education and life experiences
  • Don’t focus on their learning or emotional deficits primarily
  • Avoid giving them busy work
  • Monitor and evaluate accommodations they receive at school
  • Expose them to a wide range of experiences so they can tap into new passions
  • Allow them time to gather their thoughts to respond to instructions and questions

As well, your child might get frustrated at having to tackle all of the core subjects while they’re in school, but after that, they get to choose their career(s) based on their strengths. That might seem a long way away. Until then, you’ll need to support their gift as well as their disability/learning disorder or delays.

There’s a range of neuroscience-backed online learning programs your child can do for just 30 minutes a day five times a week that could move your child onto a smoother path for learning. The average gain is two years in only six months of training. Find out from Gemm Learning if one of our programs is a good fit for your child’s needs.

Davidson Institute

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