Interview with the author of “Twice Exceptional: Smart Kids with Learning Differences”

4-kids-standing-tallSo many people really have no idea what it means to be twice exceptional, much less that a child with learning differences or disabilities can be gifted, too. So we produced a brochure to help you explain it to others. It’s called Twice Exceptional: Smart Kids with Learning Differences, and it’s available here.

We’re pleased to have the brochure’s author, J. Marlow Schmauder, with us today to answer some questions.

Why did you write this brochure?
GHF had such a strong response to the Healthcare Providers’ Guide to Gifted Children and Educators’ Guide to Gifted Children brochures, that it was clear that people were finding them useful. But a great many people mentioned that they’d like something that talked about twice exceptionality, and about the needs of 2e kids. So GHF approached me to write this brochure, and I was honored to be able to help again, so I said yes.

I have two 2e kids myself, and based on what I’ve learned in my parenting and education journey with them, it’s clear to me that I was a 2e kid as well. But I’ve also learned a great deal about twice exceptionality through my work with the Asynchronous Scholars’ Fund, advocating for gifted and twice exceptional children and families.

What is twice exceptionality, anyway?
Just being gifted, but especially being highly, exceptionally, or profoundly gifted, means that you are many ages at once: maybe 10 socially, but 7 chronologically, 14 when you do math, but only 8 when you read. That makes it very hard to fit into conventional educational situations, not to mention society or even family life.

Mix a learning difference into that, like dyslexia or ADHD, or any of the many other learning differences or disabilities that seem to accompany giftedness with a high frequency, and you seriously compound the challenges. This is critically difficult for children to weather. They need understanding and help, not pathologizing. They need to be allowed to work at the level of their intellectual age (versus chronological age), but to get there, 2e kids need more scaffolding than more typically asynchronous gifted kids do.

But perhaps most of all, these kids need to be recognized for their strengths. The system is set up to pigeonhole a kid as being learning disabled because she’s one year below grade level in reading and writing, even if that same child is intellectually several years older than her chronological age and has advanced understanding of science concepts. Failure to meet her at her intellectual age does tremendous harm, especially over time. There are myriad ways to support the areas that need scaffolding, so kids like this can soar to their intellectual-age level. The brochure points out some of those ways, but even more can be found on the GHF website.

Is this brochure just for parents?
The brochure is really aimed at everyone. Parents of 2e kids will be relieved to know that they’re not alone, that there are other kids like theirs out there, and that there is a name for the combination of giftedness and learning difference. Extended family members may find it helpful to explain a 2e child relative to others, especially during visits. And I would hope that educators and healthcare providers, as well as anyone else who works with 2e kids, find the brochure informative and helpful in explaining not only what challenges these kids face, but also what strengths they have. 

Is there anything else you want us to know about 2e kids?
The key thing about twice exceptional kids is that they are defined by their intellectual age. So you can have a highly gifted 9-year-old who can discuss advanced math ideas with you verbally, but who cannot read or write numbers and do basic written calculations because he has dyscalculia. If you build accommodations for him that focus on his inability to do written math at grade level, you will kill his love of learning and rob him of the potential to soar to that higher level that he can achieve verbally and intellectually.

Figuring out the intellectual age of twice exceptional children can be as easy as viewing them in the prism of their greatest strength, or as complicated as having to have a specialist in testing 2e children do a full assessment using extended norms on an IQ test, plus achievement testing. It really depends on the child. A globally gifted child who has a single disability like vision challenges may easily present as her intellectual age, working multiple years ahead in one or more areas. But a child with ASD or sensory processing disorder, or with multiple learning differences, may have test scores dramatically depressed across the board by those challenges, even if he is working above grade level.

And this leads to another point I think is critical: No child should be left to work out her challenges by herself just because she’s able to perform at or above grade level. Being smart doesn’t mean you don’t need help. Ironically, the smarter the child—the more different from the norm—the more intensely he will need help. This is compounded by having learning disabilities. The goal should be, really must be, to do what is necessary via accommodations and scaffolding to allow the child to work at intellectual age, regardless of chronological age.

If I could send everyone home with one bit of true understanding about twice exceptional kids, it’s let them work at intellectual-age level. Do whatever is necessary to let them get there: social support with radical acceleration; permission to do homework verbally with recordings, or to use a keyboard instead of handwriting things; scaffolding dyslexia or visual processing disorder. Whatever it takes. Support them, and they will soar.

You can read Marlow’s bio here.

The brochure, Twice Exceptional: Smart Kids with Learning Differencesis available here, as a web page and as to download in PDF format to share electronically or print double-sided and fold in half to make a brochure to share.

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