“Boy is he an EXTREME thinker! If he actually took the time to sit and focus on his work, he could accomplish anything…”
As helpful and positive as his preschool teacher thought she was being, words like this can set some of our most intelligent kiddos up for a lifetime of failure. So, why do some gifted children struggle so much?
If they’re really as smart as we say they are, why can’t some of them just do their work? Or behave better? Or act nicer? Or…?
I remember watching my son spin in circles in the back of his preschool classroom while the others sat raptly taking in their teacher’s read aloud. And cringing. Why couldn’t he just sit still? All the other kids were managing it.
Never mind that he understood everything that was going on in the story, and could recount whole passages, identify individual characters and speak to their motivation, inferring cause and effect at a much higher lever than any of his intently listening classmates. He couldn’t do it in a way that didn’t disrupt the others – or distract the teacher.
What do Twice Exceptional Children Look Like?
Twice exceptional children are gifted kiddos who struggle with other neurological, learning, or physical issues. Twice exceptional children can look perfectly ordinary in a classroom setting. Their abilities mask their disabilities, and their disabilities mask their abilities, making them seem perfectly average.
Sometimes, though, a child’s giftedness might shine through more than his disability, making it seem like he’s not living up to his potential. He seems like he should be achieving so much ore than he is, but is choosing not to. The reality is that his difficulties make it impossible to live up to his potential. He just can’t overcome them without intervention.
I remember the fall parent-teacher conference we went to when our son was in first grade. We were invited to look inside his desk to see what his teacher “had to put up with.” Our kiddo, who meticulously organized his action figures, cars, and LEGO each night before he went to bed, had a desk full to the brim with crumpled papers, broken pencils, dried out markers, and ripped folders. There was also a thick stack of unfinished worksheets in a folder.
Those were the ones he’d never turned in because they’d gotten lost somewhere in his desk or classroom. The teacher had recopied them and placed them in a new folder for our bright, hyperactive, wiggly, and sensory kiddo to work on instead of going out to recess with his friends.
Does this sound familiar?
Many twice exceptional children struggle with executive functioning issues, and can’t organize their thinking enough to turn things in, keep things organized (when they’re not interested), or follow multiple step directions. It doesn’t matter how smart they are, they just can’t do it. Their lack of organizational skills results in a messy desk, overflowing backpack, and problems keeping track of books and papers. Difficulties with prioritizing and planning make it impossible for them to complete assignments in a timely manner. They are easily distracted and struggle to focus and sustain attention.
Related: Homeschooling Twice Exceptional Kids
Why Do Twice Exceptional Children Struggle?
The extreme frustration these kiddos feel when they can’t meet their own and others’ expectations, combined with the frustration of adults who don’t understand why a bright child does not achieve, can lead to conflict, misunderstandings, and failure.
Our twice exceptional kids can seem stubborn, opinionated, and argumentative, but they also appear to be overly sensitive to criticism. Many of these kiddos struggle with social skills which leads to feelings of isolation when they have trouble making and keeping friends. In order to avoid failing, 2e kids may try to manipulate the situation or simply refuse to try an assignment.
These kids are literally wired to struggle.
I mean, really, can you imagine how incredibly difficult it must be to have big thoughts swirling around your head, with the cognitive ability to understand things at a much deeper level than kids your age normally can, but have trouble spelling or reading words?
My 6 year old struggles mightily with sensory processing disorder, anxiety, and reading. She solves math problems for fun. Asks for science experiments and documentaries. Can converse at length about an incredibly intricate and imaginative world that lives only in her head. But she can’t read the simplest text. Her thinking is complex, but she lacks the skills to work independently because she has such trouble with words. It is incredibly frustrating for her.
And, since she already battles anxiety, the difficulties she faces with reading make her feel like a failure, and she acts out and argues when it’s time to read.
Yet she adores stories. She’ll look at the pictures in books for hours and listen to audio books and read alouds all day long. She can make the most amazing connections between what’s happening in stories she hears and the world in which she lives.
Living a Twice Exceptional Life
We’re in a wonderful position because with homeschooling, we can easily nurture her giftedness while remediating for her disabilities in a loving way. It’s often thought that kids need to have their problems solved before working on pushing their strengths further, academically, but research shows the opposite is true. When we focus on a child’s strengths and build them up, they gain the confidence they need to tackle those deficits.
When gifted kids struggle with anxiety, ADHD, learning disabilities, sensory processing disorder, or other struggles they need to be nurtured and built up by the ones they trust most – parents, teachers, and friends. It’s important to work together with the other people in your kiddo’s life to help them understand how best to help your child.
And your twice exceptional child needs to know what a gift he or she is to you. When someone says or implies that, if your child is so smart he should just get it and be able to be successful, you need to be the one to educate – whether it’s a family member, friend, or teacher.
You’re your child’s biggest advocate. And he’s perfect just the way he is.
Extreme thinking and all…
What “If he’s really so smart…” moments have you had lately?
More About Twice Exceptional Kiddos
This month, bloggers from the Gifted Homeschoolers forum share their own thoughts about what twice exceptional is and what it looks like at home and in the classroom. You can click on the image on the left to be taken to the page with all of those posts collected for you. Below, I’ve pulled together some of the past posts I’ve written about twice exceptional children and how to parent and homeschool them. If you wish there was more about a specific aspect of being a mom or dad to a 2e kiddo, email me or leave a comment below to let me know.
Latest posts by Colleen Kessler
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