By Chris Croll
Did you know a child could be both gifted and autistic? A percentage of children, some estimates are as high as 5-10 percent, have more than one exceptionality such as being intellectually advanced (gifted) plus having a physical, neurological, emotional, processing or developmental challenge. These “twice exceptional,” or 2e, children may score very high on intelligence tests while also having ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, sensory processing disorders, autism or another learning disability.
Twice exceptional students are a challenge to educate and parent. Schools are designed to support special needs students when their needs interfere with achievement. But what if a 2e child’s giftedness masks their disability? Many 2e kids earn average or above average grades. Because of this, some gifted children have disabilities that remain undiagnosed for many years. Teachers assume that because these bright students demonstrate high aptitude, their behavior issues or lack of achievement in the classroom suggest they just aren’t trying hard enough. These kids can be shamed and punished, by teachers and parents, for not putting in maximum effort when, in reality, these children are working as hard as they can without any support for their disability.
Even when a second exceptionality is accurately diagnosed, parents struggle with how hard they should advocate for their child at school. Parents feel awkward asking for more advanced coursework in one breath and special needs accommodations in the next. Many parents don’t push for IEPs for their 2e children because their child seems to be “doing just fine” in school. But is that child living up to his or her potential? We may never know.
And what about the population of students who have a disability that masks their giftedness? It is challenging to identify these students, even with criteria such as universal testing, teacher input and looking at their school work. Some students have disabilities that hinder their ability to show their true aptitude.
Parents struggle with what to expect from children who have one foot on each end of the bell curve. My 2e (gifted/ADHD) son is capable of complex math, but he often struggles to sit still long enough to complete easy math worksheets. Is he capable? Yes … and no. He does a math problem, goes and pets the dog, does another math problem, eats a snack, does another math problem, etc. Homework that should theoretically take under 10 minutes to complete often takes over an hour for him. What teacher has that kind of patience—or time in the day—to accommodate this pace? For that matter, what parent has that kind of patience and time? Not this one on most days, admittedly. We parents tend to hold our 2e children to the performance standards of the child’s gift rather than his or her disability. This isn’t fair to our children and can lead to high levels of frustration, resentment, anxiety and depression.
Author Dr. Daniel B. Peters says, “There are three general roads for 2e kids. First, their strengths outweigh their weaknesses and they do not get identified as having a learning or processing issue. Second, their weaknesses outweigh their strengths and they don’t get identified as gifted or talented. And third, their strengths and weaknesses cancel each other out and they don’t get identified as gifted or learning disabled.” I would like to offer a fourth outcome, the ideal one: Parents and educators recognize twice exceptional students as being both gifted and having a learning challenge and work together in school and at home to support the unique needs of both exceptionalities.
[Chris Croll is a parenting consultant specializing in educating and raising gifted and twice-exceptional children. She leads the National Center for Gifted Services (NationalCenterforGiftedServices.com) and the nonprofit Loudoun County Parents of Gifted Students (LoCoPOGS.org). Her column appears monthly in Loudoun Now.]