Back when I was still trying to figure out why my intense son was so different from other kids I did a lot of research online. (Read ‘Spent hours googling Why does my child have so many meltdowns? How to parent my explosive child without losing my sanity,’ etc.)
One of the terms I came across on US websites was ‘twice-exceptional’ (sometimes shortened to ‘2e’). The GHF defines twice-exceptional as referring to a child who ‘is both gifted and has identified learning differences or other emotional or mental health disorders’.
Although my intuition told me that my sensitive, intense, intelligent son fell within the definition of ’twice-exceptional’, I felt very uncomfortable using the term, even in my own mind. The dictionary defines exceptional as:
Exceptional: 1. unusual; not typical / 1.1 unusually good.
Who was I to go around describing my son with a word that others might construe as meaning ‘unusually good’, let alone doubly so?
I also disliked the word ‘gifted’. I knew my son was bright, but aren’t all kids gifted in their own ways? Besides which, Jasper’s intense emotions often felt more like a burden than a gift.
If it weren’t for the use of these words and my cultural prejudice against them, I might have found answers and support a lot sooner. I suspect that many British parents of kids with overexcitabilities have a similar experience.
The Dutch lady who tried to ask British parents about giftedness
Simone de Hoogh’s experiences with her own bright, sensitive, intense children inspired her to found PowerWood to support children with OEs.
When Simone, an ECHA Specialist in Gifted Education, moved to the UK from her native Netherlands she was shocked by how giftedness is perceived here.
Simone’s first surprise was her discovery that in Britain hardly anyone uses the word ‘gifted’. The UK government defines the term to include the top 10% of children who achieve consistently high academic results, so as to warrant their inclusion in the school’s Gifted and Talented Register. When, as part of her research, Simone began asking parents about giftedness, their reaction was actively hostile. Most Brits, Simone discovered, perceive giftedness as elitist and as conferring even more benefits on already overly-advantaged white, middle-class children.
Children who fall through the cracks
It became apparent to Simone that the official UK definition of ‘gifted’ excludes many high-able children, like (i) those who aren’t achieving due to socio-economic factors (like a lack of time or space to do homework), (ii) kids with unrecognised learning disabilities (like dyslexia or sensory processing issues), and (iii) those with a high level of overexcitabilities.
Simone could see that out of all these groups of youngsters whose high ability was not being recognised (and who were therefore under-stimulated and often unhappy at school), kids with overexcitabilities were the worst served by existing institutions. She set up PowerWood to fill this gap and support children and families dealing with OEs.
Simone’s challenge was how to connect with her target group in a country in which the concept of ‘overexcitability’ was practically unheard of. In the US, OEs are rarely mentioned except in the context of giftedness. In the UK, however, Simone found that it was only by avoiding any mention of giftedness that she could reach the people she was trying to help.
(Incidentally, the latest research suggests that OEs are not only found in the highly able. Nor do all highly able individual have OEs. But where OEs are present, they are usually more intense in the highly able, which Simone suggests is one reason they’ve been considered an aspect of giftedness for so long. The other reason is that the highly able are more likely to go searching for, and find, answers about themselves and their children.)
What twice-exceptionality looks like in our family
Both my children have overexcitabilities, but my son’s are more extreme. Cordie and Jasper have been home-educated since they were 6 and 5 respectively. I suspect that if they’d stayed in school, Cordie would have been identified as gifted but Jasper would not.
Jasper’s every bit as able as his sister – more so, in some areas – but already after two terms of school I could see that his intense, hyper-reactive behaviour and in particular his need to constantly be in motion was beginning to get him labelled as a naughty trouble-maker.
The teachers were obsessed with Jasper’s handwriting – I once spent an entire 10-minute parents-evening session being shown the ‘snappy-snap crocodile’ pencil grip which I was supposed to make my 4-year-old practise daily.
Jasper has sensory issues which cause him to feel overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of a typical classroom. And he has mild dyslexia, which probably wouldn’t have been identified or supported at school because, like many high-able kids, he was able to compensate for it and therefore ‘keep up,’ which is often the only thing teachers have time to be concerned with.
Is twice-exceptionality recognised in the UK?
The UK equivalent of twice-exceptionality is DME – ‘dual or multiple exceptionality’. DME refers to a child who is not only exceptionally able but also has one or more special need or disabilities. I’d never heard of the term until I began researching this blog post, which shows how often it’s used.
Unfortunately there are no real advantages to being identified as having DME, unless a child is lucky enough to have a teacher with the means and inclination to support him or her. Children on the Gifted and Talented Register are given enrichment opportunities of an academic nature (though funding for such activities is negligible) but the kind of practical and emotional support twice-exceptional children need is pretty much non-existent.
Homeschooling a twice-exceptional child
I’m so thankful that I’m able to home-educate my twice-exceptional son. At home Jasper can leap around the room as he solves maths problems, take trampoline breaks whenever he needs to, and read quietly on his own when he’s over-stimulated.
He can dictate to me or use a keyboard to write his stories. He can ask the incessant questions his intellectual overexcitability stirs up in him without being seen as disrespectful or a know-it-all. And when Jasper starts describing his new invention in the middle of a fractions problem I can listen and even help him take notes, knowing that the maths question can wait, while my son’s intense imagination needs to be nurtured and appreciated right now.
Gifted, twice-exceptional or DME – how we feel about these words doesn’t matter. In the US they’ll probably help you find community and support. Here in the UK they may not. What matters is that we embrace the incredible neurodiversity that nature has created, and ensure that every child is loved, appreciated and supported as the precious individual that he or she is.
PowerWood – An Introduction to High Ability in Children
Special Educational Needs Magazine – Young, Gifted and Special
Support for families dealing with overexcitabilities – PowerWood Facebook Group
Gifted Homeschoolers Forum – Resources: Twice-Exceptional (2e)
Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults by James T Webb
Living With Intensity by Daniels & Piechowski
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Do you use the word ‘gifted’?
How do you accommodate your twice-exceptional child’s special needs?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments on at the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page!
To read more about what makes high-able 2e kids twice-exceptional, visit the other blogs in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop.
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