In my work as a diagnostic tester at the Kingsbury Center, I have worked with many gifted students who struggle with underachievement and learning challenges. Often called “Twice-Exceptional” or referred to as GT/LD (i.e., gifted and talented with learning disabilities), these students are perplexing to their parents and teachers, and they encounter considerable frustration. These kids amaze in their insights and “out of the box” thinking, yet they can find basic skills challenging.
In the early Elementary School years, it is not uncommon for Twice-Exceptional children to struggle with reading skills, and they continue to face challenges as they progress in school. Managing complex projects, coping with complicated schedules, and juggling school and extracurricular activities all place demands on their organization and planning skills. Inconsistency is the hallmark of these early years—one day they grasp things quickly, only to seem totally unfamiliar with the topic the next day.
While Twice-Exceptional students are complex and confusing, they can also possess amazing perseverance and have unusual talents, often in nonverbal or spatial domains. I often tell parents if they can just get their child through school, their child will likely have success in adult life, if provided with the supports and accommodations needed to work around learning challenges. Some of our clients keep in touch whenever their diagnostic testing needs updating and I have had the pleasure of seeing Twice-Exceptional young people go on to higher education and lead successful and interesting lives. As I wrote in my book, Creating Effective Programs for Gifted Students With Learning Disabilities, gifted students with learning challenges profit from: strength-based instruction, an open and communicative environment, addressing their social and emotional needs and receiving appropriate accommodations.
Parents of Twice-Exceptional children play many roles, often conducting the orchestra of tutors, psychologists and teachers remediating and supporting their students. It can be easy to get caught up in managing these necessary details, but parents also have a more important role: providing the emotional ballast needed for their children to cope with extraordinary challenges. Parents are best suited to help their children identify and develop their personal talents that often lead to success in adulthood and help them weather the storm of frustrating school experiences.
In his book, In the Mind’s Eye, Tom West describes famous innovators who also had learning challenges. These historical figures faced their learning challenges in a dark time when disabilities were feared and misunderstood, yet West argues that each of these exceptional individuals had a parent who supported and nurtured their talents. Twice-Exceptional students thrive when parents embrace the ride with humor and a sense of adventure. “Out of the box” kids need “out of the box” parents.
For more on “out of the box” parenting, check out my article at Washington Parent.