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Possibly Twice Exceptional (Gifted with Special Needs)

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: Our daughter is very advanced for her age (5) and has shown signs from an early age of giftedness - at 15 months she knew her shapes, the alphabet, and could count to 10 and recognize the numbers meaningfully. This is not something we pushed for, she naturally wants to learn. That's the up side - the down side is that she is emotionally immature, she is currently in kindergarten and it is the 4th school she has been to - we were asked to leave 2 of the child learning centers, and she was able to graduate preschool from the last school although she was very needy and they accommodated it. at the end of the preschool year, last May the teachers asked to meet with me and advised that I contact her doctor because they saw her emotional development at that of a 3 year old.

We have been in counseling with a specialist who deals with high anxiety children, something we were told was at the crux of her emotional development. Yesterday i was called to her current school to pick her up - this is one of the tell tale signs that the school simply cannot deal with her disruptions in the classroom. She decides what she will or will not do and won't budge, what follows is typically an escalation of emotion that at times they are unable to get under control. We are at a loss and I feel like she will be removed from kindergarten at this school. Do you have any advice?

A: I believe that your child may be twice exceptional - cognitively gifted with some behavioural issue that causes impacts learning. Dealing with children who are twice exceptional can be extremely confusing. On one side, the child is very able and on the other side, the child may be lagging behind peers. Hence, it is not surprising for these children to be misperceived as disruptive, lazy, stubborn, careless, or unmotivated.

As parents, you probably know that the description is not accurate, but the evidence presented by the schools sometimes is hard not to believe. More so in a school environment where teachers are not trained to recognise or deal with such kids, this can be a common misconception. The average teacher would recognise that the child has remarkable abilities in some areas, yet confused when the child becomes disruptive and misbehaves in class. The inconsistencies can be highly confusing to most preschool teachers.

Moving schools all the time is not the solution, although looking for a school that may be prepared to help such kids may require some movement. As parents, you really need to share issues concerning your child with care and sensitivity. At the end of the day, more than anything else, most teachers do want to help their students succeed but some just may not be able to deal with certain situation due to lack of experience and training. Perhaps, you may need to look up resources to understand your child's needs at school and have a discussion with the teachers, by sharing what can be done to improve things for both the child and the teacher. Bear in mind that for a gifted child, an interesting, challenging and meaningful learning environment is crucial for the child's development.

Counselling is necessary to help the child and parents. Therapies may also be necessary and you may need to see a specialist who may recommend some diagnostic test to get to the core of the issue. Do not rely on one specialist; always seek a second opinion. If the counselling is not helping, let the counsellor know. But these things take time and a lot of effort.

Lastly, one mother's suggestion on how to help such kids includes (taken from NAGC site):

  • Get a complete evaluation of your child's strengths and weaknesses

  • Read and learn as much as you can

  • Share information about your child's strengths and weaknesses with the teachers, as well as his/her likes, fears, etc. (e.g., by asking each new teacher not to call on the child to read aloud until s/he had gained trust and requested to read. This helped with the fear of being embarrassed in front of the class.)

  • Try to work on the most serious or immediate problems and minimise the secondary ones. For example, help your child with the reading problems and don't make a big deal of the tantrums, bed wetting etc. They will be minimised as competency and confidence increase.

  • Identify and emphasize strengths. Assure that they receive at least as much attention as the weaknesses. Praise the child for strengths and give assurance that s/he got opportunities to develop and demonstrate these things.

  • Bolster your child's self esteem (by emphasising abilities as above; by helping him/her put his struggles in perspective, and by helping him/her develop self-efficacy through gradual successes).

  • Assist your child with developing a supportive peer group by helping find friends with similar interests.

  • Be an advocate for your child at school, not an adversary. (This parent found that teachers were very open to hearing about a child's needs if it was couched as giving them information to help them do their jobs, rather than telling them how to do their jobs).

Two interesting site that you may want to read:



Wishing you all the best!


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