In celebration of National Parenting Gifted Children Week, Great Potential Press is pleased to present a series of guest blog posts covering some of the biggest topics in childhood development and gifted education today. GPP author and blogger Suki Wessling takes a closer look at how parents can support their twice-exceptional children.
This is Part 3 of her guest series. Return to Part 1 for links to all the posts.
I remember the day when our family therapist suggested that I refer to my daughter as a child with special needs. The suggestion literally gave me pause. I remember the swirl of ideas in my head: it seemed at the same time to be the most preposterous suggestion and the most practical one I’d heard.
I grew up, like many of us, thinking of “the helmet boy” as the poster child for kids with special needs. When I was in school, disabled kids were just starting to be mainstreamed. Nice kids knew that we shouldn’t make fun of these kids, but we weren’t given any guidance on how to integrate them into our world. Adults suddenly expected us to pretend that we didn’t notice these kids’ differences, which was obviously ridiculous. I had the benefit of knowing a family friend who was developmentally disabled, but throughout my childhood, kids in special ed at school were “the other.”
So there was my adult self, sitting on a comfy couch, being told that I should identify my daughter—helmetless, verbally adept, mathematically quick, with an incisive wit and a keen eye for irony—as belonging to the same category as truly disabled kids. It was a hard thing to do, and it took me a few years more to understand why.
Twice-exceptional kids are a conundrum that our culture has no mechanism for dealing with. Since I was a child in the 70s, we have evolved. We now teach our children about differences; we teach them about multiple intelligences; we teach them to accept each person as he is. When my kids see a child in a wheelchair, or have a conversation with a child who is developmentally disabled, they have many more tools than I had as a child.
But what to do with the hardly verbal boy who is four years advanced in math? The verbally brilliant child who can’t read? The chess wiz who can’t go to tournaments because so many bodies in a room make her shake and cry?
Our culture is nowhere near understanding what to do with these kids, but we parents have had to take a crash course in dealing with our twice-exceptional children. And to make it worse, each 2e child is so different that we can’t crib notes off our neighbors. We need to ace a test that no one else has ever taken.
I remember the day a parent joined an online support group I belong to and introduced herself like this: “I have two sons. One of them was clearly gifted, and we thought that it would help to have him evaluated. So we decided that we should have our other son, who was in special education at his school and had been diagnosed developmentally disabled, get evaluated too. Imagine our surprise: Our gifted son was gifted; our developmentally disabled son blew the top off the IQ test.”
2e kids fool everyone around them. Sometimes they seem like well-rounded gifted kids, and people wonder why their parents don’t treat them as completely normal. Sometimes they seem so disabled by their other exceptionality that people can’t see their giftedness. And sometimes their disability masks the giftedness just enough that they seem completely average, not in need of any remediation.
I decided early on that forewarning was prudent where my daughter was concerned. I developed a vocabulary to use with caregivers of all sorts: new teachers, the coach at soccer camp, other parents who might notice her unusual behavior. “My daughter is ‘unusual.’ We don’t have an exact diagnosis, but you can use what you know about autistic kids to help her along when she’s having trouble with group activities.”
As she has grown and learned more self-regulation, I have fewer occasions to use this speech. Sometimes I give the speech and it turns out to be completely unnecessary. But sometimes I forget the speech and I remember why I started giving it in the first place!
But also as she has grown, I have realized how delicate the balance is when you’re raising a child with special needs. So many parents know that their children with special needs will never live outside of a group home, never hold down a job, never be able to marry. But parents of 2e kids just simply don’t know. On any given day, you might find me wholly confident that it’s going to be all right, or in despair over whether she’ll ever be able to lead a fulfilling life.
Sometimes when people ask me what I’m up to, I joke that I’m getting my PhD in Psychology—with my dissertation focusing on one child. When you have a twice-exceptional child, humor helps. Talking to other parents helps. But what would really help is knowing that when I utter the words “twice-exceptional,” others would have a bit of understanding, moving our culture a little further into accepting that people truly do come in all flavors, with no box the right shape to fit us all.