Parents of 2e kids often have the same look when they come see me for the first time. They are worried about their kids, confused about the behaviors they see, and feel alone because the people around them cannot relate. They are holding it together, but sometimes only by a thread.
Many are exhausted and battle-weary, having talked to multiple teachers and counselors who have never heard of “twice-exceptional”or “2e,” terms to describe kids who are both intellectually gifted and neurologically atypical.
One client recently told me, “It’s painful to think about what we went through and all the things we had no idea what to do. We didn’t know who to go to, who the village of helpers were.”
Many do not understand the conundrum: 2e kids are so bright and have so much potential, yet their unique brain wiring makes some things more challenging than for “typical” kids.
I start by telling parents the good news: In my almost decade as a licensed marriage and family therapist, running 2e parent support groups, running an online 2e summit, and raising two 2e boys, I have noticed a predictable roadmap that many families follow that leads to thriving, happy, and successful 2e kids.
The roadmap has six stages which, more often than not, culminate in a robust lane of thriving for a 2e child. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen when parents understand what the journey entails.
I offer here the 2e Roadmap, with many thanks to the family members, clients, and colleagues who have helped me crystallize a path for this transformative, quirky, beautiful journey.
STAGE 1: SIGNS
What kind of signs are you seeing in your child?
Most parents first make contact with me in Stage 1. They ask some version of, “Here’s what we’re experiencing. Should we be concerned and if so, what should we do about it?” Then we start exploring questions like:
- What are you noticing?
- Are these things getting in the way of your child’s healthy daily functioning?
- What kind of feedback are you getting from school, relatives, or friends?
- Are similar age peers doing something different?
- Is there an incongruence between the child’s intellectual potential and what they are producing?
Stories, such as the following, often ensue:
Seventh grade was a disaster—assignments not turned in, even though complete. He was failing math tests. The teacher wasn’t reaching out. This is a kid who gets math. He was struggling with writing. Abstract concepts were really challenging. It was a bad year. He spent hours in front of his screen and made no progress on a Saturday, week after week.
And stories like:
Our son was always spacey, but not hyperactive so we weren’t thinking ADHD. But then in second grade, we got called in. “You really should have him checked. He’s in his own world. Deep in his own thoughts. Not really listening, not hearing instructions, not able to repeat what he just heard.”
When I hear stories like this, with that bold and spicy 2e flavor, we move on to Stage 2.
STAGE 2: ASSESSMENT
How does your child’s brain work?
If you are seeing persistent signs that your child is having a tough time academically, socially, emotionally, or behaviorally, and it is not typical of their age and stage, it is probably time for a neuro-psych evaluation.
Unlike other forms of assessment, the neuro-psych evaluation provides a deep dive into naming the challenges a person has, as accurately as possible. This is extremely helpful in starting the problem-solving process. As the saying goes, “A problem well stated is a problem half solved.” Parents will see many facets of how their child’s brain is wired, in terms of both strengths and weaknesses.
To find a highly qualified child psychologist, like Dr. Dan Peters, who will be in our upcoming 2e summit, you can start by asking the gifted association in your state. Make sure your evaluator is familiar with 2e kids. If they ask, “What’s 2e?” keep looking. If you suspect learning issues, an educational psychologist would be particularly helpful. If you suspect sensory or social issues, be sure the evaluation will assess for autism. Though waiting lists can be long and testing may not be covered by insurance, it may be one of the best investments you make in your child’s health and well-being.
If you or the professional you are working with are leaning towards assessment, do not delay. Early intervention can be key. As I tell clients, if a light lit up on the dashboard of your car, would you take care of it immediately or wait five years? Assessing a struggling child is no different.
As an outcome of assessment, your child might get a diagnosis. Common diagnoses for 2e kids include ADHD, high functioning autism (formerly Asperger’s in the US), learning disabilities like dyslexia or dysgraphia, or anxiety. Here’s how one client tells it:
I was relieved with the diagnosis. Okay, yeah he has a label, but at least we have something to call it. My wife was hesitant; she didn’t want his school record to say it. I told her, yeah, but if you tell them, he gets a 504 plan.
Another client shared, “Getting the diagnosis means being able to get help with the things he needs help with. The testing teased out ADHD, mild dysgraphia, and sensory. Nice little cocktail.” Keep in mind that this sort of “cocktail” diagnosis is very common for 2e kids.
The upside to getting a diagnosis is potentially gaining access to services from schools and specialists, and getting insurance to pay for them. It can be the key that unlocks many doors to effective treatment.
On the downside, because the diagnosing process looks primarily for what is wrong in a person, not what is right, your child is on the receiving end of a label that likely includes the word “disorder.” No one wants to be a walking disorder and a child is not well-served thinking that they are one.
But, as you will see, being differently wired does not mean “defective”; it just means being different, and often better!
STAGE 3: STRENGTHS
What is your child good at and what does he or she enjoy?
I have to admit, treating Stage 3 as a distinct destination on the 2e roadmap is relatively new in how I work with clients, and I have Drs. Susan Baum and Robin Schader from our Bright & Quirky Summit to thank for it.
Identifying strengths is absolutely critical to your child’s long term flourishing. Most thriving 2e adults I have met typically find an area of interest, get excited about learning, unleash their intellectual horsepower, then make exciting things happen.
In this stage, we want to identify what lights your child up. We explore questions like:
- What does your child like to do for fun?
- What are your child’s favorite subjects in school?
- What lessons, clubs or activities does your child enjoy?
- Does your child like reading or learning about certain topics?
- What does your child enjoy doing at home or away from home?
- What does your child enjoy talking about and doing for hobbies?
- What is your child especially good at (e.g., sports, music, building things)?
Once you have identified strengths and interests, become what Dr. Schaeder calls an “opportunity maker.” As your budget permits, offer classes, camps, and outings that can help develop those talents and interests and help your child connect with like-minded peers.
Also, some of those signs we see in Stage 1 can have a positive flip side. I worked with one 10-year-old girl who was very sensitive. One day she came in my office, sat on the couch, and exclaimed, “Your couch feels different. Was someone large sitting here?” I was shocked. Her spidey-sense was picking up on the fact that a 400-plus-pound man had sat on that side of the couch two days prior.
I predict that your child’s strengths, interests, and passions will be key ingredients in the secret sauce of her future success.
STAGE 4: SOLUTIONS
What will help strengthen the areas that need strengthening?
Each diagnosis in the medical model generally has a recommended treatment plan. For diagnoses such as ADHD, ASD, learning disabilities, anxiety or ODD, a 2e treatment plan might include some combination of coaching, counseling, educational therapy, behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, skill-building groups, classroom accommodations or modifications, parent training, or medication. Specific interventions are typically listed in the recommendations section of the report you receive as a result of a neuro-psych evaluation.
As we do not know which options will work best for which kids, we embark on a process of experimentation. I suggest an iterative process of hypothesizing your child may recognize as a “science fair” approach:
- Formulate a hypothesis
- Experiment with a solution
- Evaluate how it is going
- Keep at it or try something new
The process of finding the best solutions for your child can feel like a marathon, making self-care vital. Make sure to treat yourself well since you are an important energy source for your child. Think about what fills your own bucket and make it a priority.
Expect a huge learning curve in this stage and be open to parenting differently. Surround yourself with supportive people. Expect to keep “adjusting the knob” as each new age and stage brings new challenges.
Trying medication is a very personal decision. One parent shared her concern:
I hope my kids don’t look back in time and say, “I can’t believe you made us take those drugs.” Like they used to shock kids who wet the bed. I hope they don’t say, “I can’t believe what you made us do.”
Another parent shared:
I didn’t know it at the time but I struggled with ADHD as a child. If my parents told me there was a magic pill that could have made it all better and they didn’t give it to me, I would have been furious.
Each family gets to decide which solutions are a good fit for them.
Know that second-guessing your parenting decisions is a natural part of the 2e roadmap. You are not alone. At the end of the day, we all make the best decisions we can with the information we have. The “right” answer is rarely clear cut, but you will find having a supportive community with other parents who get it and are problem solving along with you tremendously helpful.
STAGE 5: FIT
Is your child’s learning environment a good fit?
At some point in the 2e journey, you or your child may feel a lack of belonging. After all, being gifted sets a person apart from the mainstream in terms of IQ, and atypical brain wiring can set them apart in a other ways. Finding the right fit can be tricky. One client advised:
Don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole. Focus on the joy of having these little people because they grow up so fast. It might seem really hard, but seek out the positive people. If things don’t feel right, get them out of the situation. There are other options, other environments. Always look for the right fit.
Another client shared:
My husband had some history with this as a kid. He was an extremely bright, off the charts kid, and then in fifth and sixth grade he started losing interest in school, not performing well. His teacher sat down with his parents and said he was going to amount to nothing. His parents said, “You’re wrong about our kid.” He then got into a different school and soared. Once he was in the right environment, he took off.
You know your child best. If it is time to explore a change in learning environment, or work on accommodations or modifications in the current environment, there is no better resource than GHF: Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.
STAGE 6: SELF-SCIENTIST
Does your child know how to experiment with life hacks?
Most successful 2e adult I have worked with or heard about have at some point made a conscious decision to engineer their lives in a way that works for them and the way their brain are wired. Dr. Ned Hallowell calls this “life sculpting.”
Danny Raede of Asperger Experts boils it down to a simple mantra: “Do more of what works. Do less of what doesn’t work.”
Author Peter Shankman calls it a process of trial and error: “It’s about learning how to put gas in your own tank, learning how to fuel yourself.”
Shankman says that when he was little, ADHD was called the “sit down you’re disrupting the class disorder.” He has developed a multitude of life hacks for himself, like simplifying his wardrobe, doing jumping jacks to increase his heartbeat before a meeting, connecting with his breath when he is having trouble listening, and prioritizing sleep and break-of-dawn exercise.
What does the self-scientist method look like for kids? Over time, they will learn those little life hacks that help them get the best out of their unique brains, such as shooting hoops for five minutes to raise their heartbeat when they find it hard to focus on homework, or taking a picture with their phone of assignments on the whiteboard, or laying out their clothes the night before to make the morning easier, or using the yummy toothpaste to make teeth-brushing more interesting.
Life hacking offers endless possibilities. The outcomes may vary, but knowing the process of self-experimentation to guide yourself to a lane of thriving is a priceless life skill.
This stage’s mantra is, “Know thyself.” The culmination of all the stages that precede it, Stage 6 treats your brain as a high end sports car and you get to learn how to fuel and drive it. It is self-actualization in action.
Congratulations! You made it through the six stages. Remember:
- It’s going to be ok. There is a positive, flourishing lane of thriving in your child’s future.
- The world needs your child’s unique talents and contributions.
- You are not alone. Get the support you need.
You can start by attending the FREE Bright & Quirky Child virtual summit, where all of the experts mentioned in this post will be speaking!
Debbie Steinberg Kuntz is a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) in private practice near Seattle. She enjoys working with twice-exceptional children and their parents, many of whom work in Seattle’s high tech field. Debbie’s favorite job is parenting her two twice-exceptional boys. You can learn more about Debbie and the experts mentioned in this post at the FREE Bright & Quirky Online Summit, beginning April 25, 2018.
Don’t miss these topical books from GHF Press:
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In her new book, Kelly Hirt, a public school teacher with 25 years experience, outlines 12 strategies to design a supportive, safe, and encouraging learning environment for twice-exceptional students. By utilizing Hirt’s strategies, educators will join with parents and students to create an educational experience in which all students can thrive and excel.
Parents of asynchronous children are often criticized as “helicopter parents” for being overly involved in their child’s social development; others take a hands-off approach out of fear or self-doubt. In this book, Corin Barsily Goodwin and Mika Gustavson, have turned their focus to exploring what we need to know and how we know when we are doing too much or too little to create age- and intellectually appropriate social opportunities for our children.