Note: This article was originally published in the Winter, 2012 issue of the Gifted Education Communicator.
Parents of gifted children have it hard enough: each time our children interact with a new adult, whether a teacher in school, a camp counselor, or a new violin teacher, we have to be prepared to train yet another adult in how to work with gifted children.
Parents of twice-exceptional gifted children face a much higher barrier: Most teachers have never even heard of the term “twice-exceptional.” Not only will some of them have no training in giftedness, but most of them will believe that a child with learning differences could not possibly be gifted at the same time.
The first hurdle parents face, therefore, is whether to mention the word “gifted” at all.
“Mention giftedness, and be mentally prepared for eye-rolling,” advises J. Marlow Schmauder, founder and executive director of the Asynchronous Scholars’ Fund (asynchronousscholars.org), “although there are definitely teachers out there who will respond with an open mind and intent to help.”
“Mentioning my child is gifted has never really helped,” says Linda Hickey, mom of a profoundly gifted six-year-old. “Even a teacher who was a developmental specialist and was the head teacher in a developmental preschool my son attended, and who claimed she has worked with lots of gifted kids, did not truly understand.”
Marté J. Matthews, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who works with families of gifted children in San Jose (martejmatthewsmft.com), suggests that it may be a matter of wording.
“Teachers are less likely to be receptive to parents using terms like ‘gifted’ or ‘twice-exceptional’ or criticizing every fault their child has,” Matthews explains. “’All or nothing’ descriptions tend to be a red flag for teachers that this parent is going to be a handful to deal with all year.”
Lyn Cavanagh-Olson, GATE Coordinator for the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, agrees that the starting place for parents should be to clarify their intent to support the teacher rather than to define their child and appear to predict failure.
“Most teachers welcome insight into their students,” Cavanagh-Olson says. “If parents approach the teacher not with demands but with information and support they will be doing their child a great service.”
Whether or not their training included giftedness, most teachers will likely have little understanding of twice-exceptionality. Linda C. Neumann, editor of 2e: Twice-Exceptional Newsletter (2enewsletter.com), says that parents need to be strong advocates for their 2e students.
“Teachers may not realize that a student’s strengths are helping compensate for the deficits and that this compensation can use up a lot of the child’s energy, making it hard to keep up a consistent level of performance,” Neumann explains. “If a teacher becomes aware of this situation right from the start, it can save the child from embarrassment, discouragement, and even worse, anxiety, depression, and loss of self-esteem.”
Offering information can backfire, however, if the parent implies that she believes that the teacher is inexperienced, or gives an overwhelming amount of information that the teacher will not be able to use. Parents need to draw on the teacher’s previous experience, be good listeners, and offer information in a non-threatening manner.
“Parents need to be respectful of the teacher’s time when sharing information,” Neumann advises. “Instead of saying, ‘You should read this book,’ or ‘You should read this 50-page report about my child,’ it’s better to provide the teacher with a brief summary of the situation and suggestions for accommodations and strategies.”
“Write out a short summary with the highlights of your child’s strengths and needs to share with your child’s teacher,” advises Matthews. “Bring the additional testing, grades and reports, but don’t lead with them. Ask your teacher about successful approaches they have used with kids who ‘love math but avoid spelling’ or ‘tend to distract others when they need more intellectual challenge’.”
When giving advice about working with a 2e child, try to stay very specific. A generalization like “too many options overwhelm him” will not necessarily result in the teacher changing his strategies, but a specific suggestion like “please assign him to a learning station rather than asking him to choose” will help the teacher adapt in actual classroom situations.
“I will alert teachers of specific things they might want to watch out for with my son like how he gets wound up easy and gets really excited,” Hickey explains.
“Mention strategies you find helpful at home,” Schmauder suggests. “Provide fidgets and such similar assistive things from the start, if not against the rules.”
“Goal setting and organizational strategies are important for all students,” says Cavanagh-Olson. “But most 2e’s need specific instruction and tools, so if parents can share past success in these areas, most teachers will be open to building on what has worked in the past.”
In acting as advocates for their children, parents will benefit from refocusing from the negatives of the past to the positives they hope will come from the new relationship. Lyn Cavanagh-Olson says that parents she works with see greater success when they frame the discussion in the positive.
“The concept of 2e may be foreign to some teachers,” she says. “So stressing the need to focus on the child’s strengths and compensation strategies will keep the conversation constructive.”
“Often, the strengths aren’t easily recognized,” Neumann explains. “2e children can appear to be uninterested, lazy, distracted, or disruptive; and their inconsistency can make it look to others as though they can achieve when they want to, but they don’t always want to.”
Schmauder, who developed “The Healthcare Providers’ Guide to Gifted Children” for the Gifted Homeschoolers’ Forum (giftedhomeschoolers.org/professionalresources.html), is in the process of creating a similar brochure for educators.
“Tell the teacher you are so happy to have them be able to help your child succeed, and that you’re willing to help in any way, and that you appreciate their support,” Schmauder suggests.
Teachers say that this approach completely changes their ability to work with students. Rebecca Hein, who teaches cello and wrote a memoir about raising her two profoundly gifted children (caseofbrilliance.wordpress.com), offers testimony that learning about a student’s learning disability made a huge difference in how she approached teaching.
“I had a young Suzuki student whose progress was quite slow for her age,” Hein remembers. “I had no idea why until the mother finally told me. It was much easier for me to work with her, knowing that she had this particular issue in her learning. I was grateful to have the information because it helped both me and this little girl.”
Cavanagh-Olson has seen a lot of gifted students in her district suffer from their other exceptionalities. She reminds parents that 2e students need even more support after they have suffered difficulties in school.
“They often feel defeated about school because their deficits have defined them. Focusing on the whole child with the balance tipped toward their strengths is a good vision for parents and students to work toward.”
New teacher checklist:
- Set up a brief meeting to talk about your child’s learning needs
- Offer a short summary of your child’s strengths and weaknesses
- Do not overwhelm with information, but be prepared to offer other resources such as testing/diagnostic results, articles that define your child’s exceptionality, and suggestions for modified teaching strategies
- Be a good listener, and make it clear that you want to draw on the new teacher’s experience
- Offer specific advice that has worked in other classrooms
- Be your child’s advocate, focusing on success
- Offer strong support to your child
2e Resource List
Resources regarding twice-exceptional children and adults are changing daily, with new research, treatment options, and understanding of what comprises giftedness and learning disabilities. Hopefully some of the resources below will be helpful as you seek to understand your 2e children and students.
- Academic Advocacy for Gifted Children: A Parent’s Complete Guide by Barbara Jackson Gilman MS
This general guide helps parents navigate advocating for their gifted students in school, and offers advice on homeschooling when advocacy fails.
- Helping Gifted Children Soar by Carol Strip & Gretchen Hirsch
This book is a general guide for parents and teachers on the educational needs of gifted children. It offers a basis for understanding the educational and emotional needs of gifted children, with some mentions of issues specific to twice-exceptional students.
- Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults by James T. Webb et al
Because giftedness itself often leads to behaviors shared by such disabilities as ADHD and autism, this book is an important guide for parents and educators of the gifted. Misdiagnosis is common in gifted children because so few psychologists and therapists are trained to recognize the traits of giftedness separate from disorders that present similar behaviors.
- Smart Kids with Learning Difficulties by Rich Weinfeld et al
This is a straightforward guide to navigating the public and private school experience with a gifted, learning disabled child. The book includes information on a range of disabilities including Asperger’s, ADHD, Dyslexia, and social/emotional difficulties. Each chapter includes tips for educators, parents, and students, and is accompanied by helpful worksheets and guides for identifying and solving problems faced by students in school.
- Successful Strategies for Twice-Exceptional Students by Frances A. Karnes and Kristin R. Stephens
This resource book useful for parents, teachers, and homeschoolers, offers focused advice for a variety of learning challenges. Rather than starting with the source of the disability (e.g. autism or ADHD), the book is organized by the educational needs themselves: difficulties with mathematics, writing, reading, spoken language, and social-emotional issues.
- Teaching Kids with Learning Difficulties in the Regular Classroom by Susan Winebrenner
This book addresses a wide range of learning difficulties that teachers may encounter in the general education classroom. Winebrenner addresses twice-exceptional students early in the book and emphasizes teaching to the strengths of all children, regardless of ability.
- Twice-Exceptional Gifted Children by Beverly A. Trail
This book aimed at educators presents detailed research about the characteristics and learning needs of twice-exceptional students in school. It offers concrete guides for identifying needs, selecting strategies, and developing a comprehensive plan for each student.
- Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner by Linda Kreger Silverman
Though the visual-spatial learning style is not defined as a disability, it can manifest itself as one when a VS learner is placed in an inappropriate educational environment. Silverman’s book offers tips for identifying, teaching, and parenting VS learners.
- Davidson Institute for Talent Development Database: http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/browse_by_topic_articles.aspx
The Davidson Institute offers this enormous database of articles about all aspects of giftedness. On this page, take a look at the far right column to see the list of twice-exceptional topics that they have categorized: ADHD, Asperger’s/Autism, Asynchrony, Dylexia/Dysgraphia, Learning Disabilities, and Sensory Integration. The breadth of this collection may seem daunting, but you can find unexpected gems here.
- Gifted Homeschoolers’ Forum: http://www.giftedhomeschoolers.org/2eresources.html
Whether or not you homeschool your child, this resource page will point you to many organizations, websites, support groups, and books about your child’s specific disability.
- Hoagies’ Gifted 2e Page: http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/twice_exceptional.htm
Hoagies’ offers their own comprehensive list of 2e resources, with links to websites, books, and magazines with a variety of approaches and target audiences.
An online database of articles, webinars, and speeches on all topics of giftedness.
Specific articles available for download:
- “The Paradox of Giftedness and Autism,” from the University of Iowa: http://www.education.uiowa.edu/belinblank/pdfs/pip.pdf
Designed for educators, this detailed discussion of educating gifted children with Autism/Asperger Syndrome will be also helpful for parents who wish to offer specific tips to teachers working with their children.
- “Strategies for Teaching Twice-Exceptional Students,” by Susan Winebrenner: http://www.2enewsletter.com/article_strategies_winebrenner.html
This article offers tips for parents and educators that can help students with a variety of exceptionalities succeed in a classroom setting.
- 2e: Twice-Exceptional Newsletter: http://www.2enewsletter.com
2e offers a free semi-monthly e-mail briefing as well as a fee-based semi-monthly PDF newsletter. The magazine’s accessible articles are written by expert educators, psychologists, and others who work with gifted children with learning challenges. 2e also offers a series of Spotlight on 2e booklets, which cover a variety of issues of concern to parents and educators.
- Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities Newsletter: http://www.smartkidswithld.org
This newsletter offers short articles on news, research, and support for parents and teachers of children with learning disabilities.
SENG groups are run by a facilitator (a parent, teacher, or counselor) who has been trained by SENG. This can be an excellent way to connect with local resources, including learning more about other parents’ experiences with your schools and teachers.
For twice-exceptional kids:
- Free Spirit Publishing’s books for kids: http://www.freespirit.com/
Free Spirit offers lively books written for kids on a variety of topics of interest to twice-exceptional learners: ADHD, autism, anxiety & fear, etiquette & manners, social skills, and more.
- The Gifted Kids’ Survival Guide by Judy Galbraith
For kids 10 and under, this book helps kids understand giftedness and why they may feel different from other kids.
- The Gifted Teens’ Survival Guide by Judy Galbraith and Jim Delisle
This is a general-use manual for gifted teens. It covers what giftedness is, how different gifted children’s lives look, school, homeschool, college, and careers. There is a lot of good advice in the book, which encourages teens to see themselves as a full person rather than an IQ. The book also covers topics such as sexuality and depression.
- How to Talk to an Autistic Kid by Daniel Stefansky
This touching book is short and to the point. Written for neuro-typical children who interact with kids with autism, it could also be used to help an autistic child understand better how others perceive him and what he can do to help them understand him. The book is most suitable for adolescents and teens.
- Neuroscience for Kids website: http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/neurok.html
This fun, free newsletter features links to interesting articles that help children understand their brains.
- The Smart Teens’ Guide to Living with Intensity by Lisa Rivero
Rivero’s book is like an owner’s manual for the teen gifted brain. It presents teens with information on what intensity is and how to manage their emotional and social lives. It also helps teens learn about learning and how to become more self-directed in their studies.