In celebration of National Parenting Gifted Children Week, Great Potential Press is pleased to present a series of guest blog posts covering some of the biggest topics in childhood development and gifted education today. Helping Gifted Children Soar and A Love for Learning authors Dr. Carol Strip Whitney and Gretchen Hirsch describe the unique experience of parenting and teaching twice-exceptional gifted learners.
Twice-exceptional children—those who are gifted but with another condition such as a learning disability—are a puzzle for both parents and teachers. How can a child tie together complex mathematical ideas, but be unable to tie his own shoes? How can a student outpace all the others in her classroom in her ability to create imaginative stories, but fail every spelling test?
The answers lie in the brain. Gifted students tend to have efficient neural pathways in their areas of giftedness; they make the switch from “novel” to “routine” learning much more quickly than other students. But having efficient neural pathways does not preclude also having a genetic defect or other brain-based issue, such as an auditory or visual processing disorder, dyslexia, or ADD/ADHD, that makes it difficult for the student to read, write, or interpret information gained through the senses. Linda Silverman, Ph.D., of the Gifted Development Center, says that “higher abstract reasoning enables children to compensate to some extent for these weaknesses, making them harder to detect. However, compensation requires more energy, affects motivation, and breaks down under stress or when the child is fatigued. Giftedness masks disabilities and disabilities depress I.Q. scores.” It’s no wonder, then, that these children may fall through the cracks at school.
Parenting and teaching a child with obvious talent and a concurrent learning disability is frustrating and confusing because in some ways the child’s brain is at war with itself. Where the pathways are efficient, he learns almost without trying. In other areas, he may struggle, flounder, give up, and become a classroom chair-filler.
Because their exceptionalities often are misunderstood by the educational and medical establishments, these children may be mislabeled as oppositional and defiant or lazy and underachieving. They may be subjected to needless—or even harmful—medications and interventions.
Gifted students who are struggling in the classroom also may be dealing with a host of social and emotional issues. They may want to fit in with their peers, but they don’t, first because of the giftedness and secondly because of their disability. They may be lonely or find themselves subject to bullying. The self-critical nature that burdens many gifted children is heightened because they understand that they are failing in areas other students are mastering. They may suffer from crushing anxiety and depression.
Helping such children requires a multidisciplinary approach. First, the child must be accurately diagnosed, which may require extensive psychological and medical testing. Then the parents must communicate the test results with teachers and other school personnel who will be involved in the child’s day-to-day education. Parents should insist that both exceptionalities be addressed and accommodated. The child’s curriculum must be challenging enough to engage his intellect, but also provide support for the learning disability. Whole-class instruction should include not only worksheets and drills, but also project-based learning and problem-solving activities that allow the gifted child with a learning disability to demonstrate his true brilliance.
When it comes to testing, alternative assessments such as oral examinations or constructing models may be as indicative of learning as a pen-and-paper test. Teachers are sometimes simply blown away by the results when they widen the learning and testing options for students who have learning disabilities but also are gifted.
Beyond the classroom, these children may benefit from educational therapy, an intervention that is brain-based, but also includes social-emotional and academic components. Many educational therapists work closely with neuropsychologists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, and other clinicians. In addition, out-of-school mentorships, summer programs, and interest-area clubs can allow the child to develop the talent areas without the pressure of performance anxiety.
Parents and teachers alike benefit from conferences and groups such as SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted: www.sengifted.org) that have resources available to help adults understand the twice-exceptional child’s unique gifts and areas of concern. Websites such as Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page (www.hoagiesgifted.or), the National Association for Gifted Children (www.nagc.org), the Davidson Institute for Talent Development (www.ditd.org) and the Gifted Development Center (www.gifteddevelopment.com) offer abundant information.
Remember that a learning disability doesn’t close the door on a fulfilling and successful life and career. After all, even Einstein, Edison, and Mozart were considered to be learning disabled, and today, one need look no further than Richard Branson, Ted Turner, and actor Patrick Dempsey to see that a learning disability may be a stumbling block, but not a barrier to achievement.
Dr. Carol Strip Whitney and Gretchen Hirsch
Read previous posts from National Parenting Gifted Children Week:
Read all the posts from our National Parenting Gifted Children Week series:
Technology and 21st Century Parenting - Arlene DeVries
A Parent’s View From the Psychiatrist’s Couch - Suki Wessling
ABCs of Being Smart . . . F Is for Fit and Flexibility - Dr. Joanne Foster
Misdiagnosis: An Idea Whose Time Has Come - Marianne Kuzujanakis
The Difficult Question of Gender Identity - Suki Wessling
The Pressures Bright Children Feel, and Why They May Underachieve - Dr. Sylvia Rimm
How Other Parents Add to the Challenge of Raising Gifted Kids - Suki Wessling
The Role of Parents In Identifying Gifted Children - Suki Wessling
Spanking: An Ineffective Punishment With a Hidden Cost - Dr. James T. Webb