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Is Your Child Twice Exceptional?, by Ginny Kochis

If your seven-year-old’s mastered algebra but can’t pass a math test at school, chances are, you’re parenting a Twice-Exceptional child. Here are four ways to tell if you’re kiddo’s a 2E, and what to do once you figure it out.


I knew the drill. After all, I was a teacher.

Bright kid; big problem in the classroom. I was at a Parent-teacher conference with the principal (counselor/school psychologist/resource teacher/academic dean) and incident reports laid out on the table. Angry pencil marks on crumpled wide-ruled sheets. Bullet agenda and forms to fill out in triplicate.

I drew a daisy on the corner of my notebook and waited.

I knew what they were going to say.

She’s so bright…

“She’s brilliant – academic skills far beyond those of her peers.”

She has so much potential…

“And we know she has great potential.”

It’s not translating to the classroom…

“But, Mrs. Kochis, we’re not seeing it in the classroom.”

There’s a lot of disruption…she won’t do the work…she’s uncooperative…

“We spend more time dealing with disruption than praising positive contributions. She does only what she wants to do when she wants to do it. She won’t cooperate with us

I knew the drill. It didn’t make it any easier.

She was hiding under tables, hitting kids, and melting down with regularity.

What had happened to my girl?


Why you need to know if your child is 2E


My eldest daughter is a Twice-Exceptional – a gifted child with a disability. She’s one of 0.5% of children who retain this designation. We had no clue until all hell broke loose in kindergarten.

Actually, let me rephrase that – we knew she was different, for sure. First word at nine months, full sentences six months later. Fully representative artwork at two years. At three she was explaining the concept of infinite numbers to the neighbors; at four she started reading on her own. So yes – we knew she was different – but not in the way it would matter at school.

What mattered at school was conformity. As a gifted child with sensory processing disorder, fitting in was impossible. Her brain couldn’t process all the stimuli coming at her. She had to exceed serious effort every school day just to keep from falling apart.Our daughter’s Twice-Exceptionality had a major impact on her experience in the educational world.

On its own, giftedness is a special need. It impacts a variety of developmental factors, from intellectual curiosity to social and emotional skills. What’s more, the neurodivergence present in a gifted brain’s wiring opens a door to psychological and mood disorders at a higher rate than the rest of the population. A Twice-Exceptional diagnosis compounds this. It can wreak havoc if unnoticed or ignored.

Why would that happen? Well, 2E kids are complex. Intellectual and quirky, they’re a moving target you can’t pin down. Some become proficient at passing, at appearing like someone they are not. Others fall prey to a host of difficulties, suffering in silence and educationally written off.

Twice-Exceptional children are at high risk for underachievement.

Their executive functioning skills are low. Many 2E children do not turn in homework or complete assignments. They may also have trouble filtering out noise in a classroom. Test scores and ability may appear low.

Twice-Exceptional children are at high risk for depression, anxiety, and anger.

2E children are perceptive. Keenly aware of their differences but perhaps not sure why those difference exist, Twice-Exceptionals often feel like outsiders. They may work diligently toward masking their disability and find it difficult to fit in.

Twice-Exceptional children are at high risk for behavioral issues.

While intellectual boredom and its consequences are commonplace in gifted children, behavioral issues become more prominent in a Twice-Exceptional child. Poor impulse control, angry outbursts, and sensory meltdowns can be perceived as disruption instead of communication, especially when the same child presents advanced intellectual skills.

Clearly, identifying a child’s Twice-Exceptionality is paramount to her well-being all around.

But uncovering the layers of complexity is like solving a jigsaw puzzle without a completed picture. It’s hard to see it if you don’t know what you’re looking for.


Four Simple Ways to Identify Twice-Exceptionality


Curriculum Access

For many families, the first step toward a Twice-Exceptional diagnosis comes when their child enters school. Suddenly, the kiddo who could run intellectual circles around the next door neighbor can’t seem to put together two and two. Twice-Exceptionality can manifest in a variety of ways in the classroom, but for general purposes, it’s probably easiest to phrase it in terms of “should.” She should be able to solve these math problems, read this book, follow directions, or sit still. You may find yourself asking how she’s composing sonatas in the living room, but can’t read the sheet music for the teacher at school?

Asynchronous Development

All gifted children exhibit some range of asynchronous development. 2E kids present symptoms off the chart. Our daughter, for example, was reading middle-grade books in kindergarten, but her teacher was concerned she couldn’t color inside the lines. Our kiddo could outpace her classmates in focus and concentration, but transitions between activities were an absolute nightmare. Intellectually advanced but emotionally delayed, her asynchronous development was tearing her apart.

Heightened Overexcitabilities and Sensitivities

Where gifted kids are more, 2Es are often more than. Underlying conditions might amplify the need for sensory stimulation or avoidance; an awareness of differences might result in greater emotional distress.

Social Struggles

2E children can have a hard time making friends. While this is common with gifted children, too, the social gauntlet is far more challenging for a child with additional special needs. Missed social cues, the desire for proprioceptive input, poor impulse control, coping mechanisms, and the like can make 2E kids persona non grata. It’s hard to experience and pretty terrible to watch.


So what do you do once you’ve got it nailed down?


Evaluation

If you have a gut feeling your child is Twice-Exceptional, evaluation is the best way to find out. Tests like the WISC-IV, the Woodcock-Johnson, the KTEA, and the Standford Binet help identify what might be going on. You can seek evaluation through your school district (even if you are a homeschooler) or private practice; keep in mind that evaluation through the school system is most often free or very low cost.

Support

Know that you will need emotional support just as much as your child will. There can be a definite period of grieving for parents, intensified by the pain a child may experience with friends or at school. Make sure you have a support system in place for your own emotional experiences. You can’t give your child what you yourself don’t have.

Advocacy

Make sure you know your rights as the parent of a Twice-Exceptional child. Your child is entitled to services under IDEA; you can request an IEP or 504. You are also within your rights to receive services through the school district.

I may have been a teacher and I may have known the drill, but I didn’t know the extraordinary journey we would begin that morning at the parent-teacher conference – a journey that has brought us closer as a family and propelled our daughter to untold heights.

The kid who they said would never participate in a classroom? Who would never be able to function in a group? Recently, she led an hour and a half acting class at our homeschool group co-op by herself.

That’s pretty darn exceptional, if I may so myself.


Ginny Kochis is a Catholic wife and homeschooling mom to three Twice-Exceptional kids. Ginny believes that God gives curious, creative, intense children the exact mother they need to thrive. She offers practical support and prayerful encouragement to Catholic moms raising differently-wired kids at her website Not So Formulaic, where this post was originally shared.

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