Tag Archives: Gifted

The Trouble With Gifted Is That No One Understands What It Is

colourful patterned owl - Laugh Love Learn - trouble with gifted

Only super-intelligent, rational, high-achievers are gifted, right?

That’s certainly what I believed for most of my life.

Gifted people, I was sure, never let their emotions influence their judgement. Gifted people only believed in hard science – they didn’t waste their time in frivolous contemplation of metaphysical worlds. And gifted people were born with a clear purpose which they devoted their lives to achieving.

I knew plenty of those sort of gifted people. They were my classmates at Oxford, and my colleagues at the commercial practice where I trained as a lawyer.

Perhaps my fellow students and my colleagues thought I was gifted, too.  But they didn’t know the real me.

Sure, I was intelligent.

But I’d also been the child who snuck into the adult library to read about hypnosis, dream analysis, and graphology.

I was the teenager who read about meditating in a magazine and who’d chant nam-myoho-renge-kyo at her bedroom wall after school each day. (If one of my family happened to walk in, there’d be snorts of suppressed laughter as the door was hastily pulled shut.  Normal people didn’t meditate in 1985.)

I was the trainee lawyer who felt so overwhelmed at the thought of writing a research paper that she sat in her office, staring at a blank page, until hers was the only light on in the building.  Who cried with exhaustion in the bathroom when a client needed contracts signed urgently and she had to work all night. Who survived – just – by spending weekends ensconced in her favourite, new age, bookshop (England’s only, back then in 1994).

Yes, I had the kind of brain that could pass exams. But I was also clearly slightly loopy.

Why else was I the only person I knew who was into all this weird metaphysical stuff? Who was too sensitive to cope with life in a law firm? And whose meandering mind meant she took three times as long as her colleagues to get anything done?

On the outside, I was a successful twenty-something lawyer. On the inside I felt inadequate and desperately lonely.

I’d come to believe that the parts of me others considered frivolous were completely separate from my intelligence, detracting from it, even. A shameful secret to be hidden away.

It never, ever occurred to me that my quirkiness was a part of my intelligence.

By the time I became a parent, the denial of my own giftedness was so complete that when my 6-year-old’s schoolteacher described her as ‘the most naturally gifted child I’ve met in 30 years’ teaching’, I didn’t take in the meaning of her words.

When we started homeschooling, I’d occasionally come across blog posts about gifted homeschoolers. Even though much of what they said resonated with our experience, I put it down to coincidence. After all, we weren’t gifted.

My definition of gifted (rational, serious, focused) was watertight, and I was firmly outside it. If someone had suggested I go to a workshop to help with the challenges of living in a gifted family, I’d have laughed out loud.

Gifted or not – isn’t it just semantics?

So, I never realised I was gifted. What’s the big deal? Does it really matter whether or not we apply the G label to ourselves or our children?

I believe it does matter. It matters because until we understand what giftedness  is, we lack the means to fully understand and accept ourselves as the complex, multi-layered, beautifully paradoxical individuals that we are.

Turning gifted upside down

For me to begin that journey of understanding, someone had to turn giftedness upside down. She advertised a workshop to help parents of ‘intense, sensitive, over-anxious, easily overwhelmed and hyper-reactive’ children. Those words described my son to a T, and I signed up on the spot.

Throughout the workshop, I listened with tears in my eyes as I learned about the inherent character traits known as overexcitabilities. When Simone de Hoogh  talked about sensitivity, intensity and heightened awareness she wasn’t just describing my children – she was describing me.

And then I heard something that rocked my world. These traits, I discovered, are most commonly found in the highly able, and their intensity tends to increase with IQ.

Could it really be possible that my sensitivity, my meandering mind, and my curiosity about things beyond this world, weren’t signs that I wasn’t gifted, but that I was? Apparently so.

The vulnerability of the gifted

One of my favourite parts of the Columbus group definition of giftedness is this:

‘The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counselling in order for them to develop optimally.’

Two years have now passed since I acknowledged and began to embrace my giftedness. I can’t imagine my life now without the loving gifted community that supports me – even just by knowing it exists and that it welcomes me.

My heartfelt wish is for every other vulnerable gifted person to to have access to this kind of support.

The world won’t change overnight, but I hope that by writing posts like this and having my lovely readers share them, we can take a few steps in the right direction.

Further Reading

Blog Posts

High Ability and Society – PowerWood article with interesting observations about how gifted children adapt (often to their own detriment) to fit society’s norms.

‘Because of the significant different ways gifted children, teenagers and adults experience their inner and outer world they are part of a minority and have to find a way to express themselves appropriately without losing their sense of self in a situation with people who experience the world in a different way.’

Simone de Hoogh

What Does Gifted Look Like? Clearing Up Your Confusion – Your Rainforest Mind

Laugh Love Learn posts about giftedness

Podcasts

How to Embrace Your Beautiful Rainforest Mind – 2 part interview with Your Rainforest Mind author Paula Prober on The Alchemist’s Heart podcast

Embracing Your Fire – weekly interviews with strong, sensitive, intense women (including me!)

Groups

PowerWood –  for sharing ideas and support about intensity, super-sensitivity and hyper-reactivity (in particular raising children with overexcitabiilties)

Intergifted – ‘coaching, connecting and inspiring gifted people around the world’

League of Excitable Women –  for ‘intense, sensitive, dynamic and spirited women to come together and help each other ignite their own power and balance their highly sensitive need for extra self-care and TLC with their strong drive to push forward with their passions’.

Books

Your Rainforest Mind, Paula Prober

The Gifted Adult, Mary-Elaine Jacobson

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To read more about the difficulties of being gifted,  head over to this month’s GHF Blog Hop.

The difficulties of being gifted - child hiding under cushions - Laugh Love Learn - Trouble with gifted

 

 

Main graphic: BellaOlivera

How Do I Know If My Child Is Highly Sensitive, Has SPD, Is Gifted or Has OEs?

Toy sheep - highly sensitive, spd, gifted OEs - Laugh Love Learn

 

I started this blog to connect with other parents raising quirky kids, so I’m always pleased to hear from you. A kindred spirit recently asked this great question:

 ‘How do I know if my child 1) is highly sensitive, or 2) has a sensory processing disorder, or 3) is gifted, or 4) has some of the OEs? How do we as parents determine when intervention is needed? I have had to work through a lot of issues with my child(ren). Sometimes want to completely throw in the towel because it’s exhausting and difficult even while we have some extra-special times too. The problem is I know public school would not do better for them than what I can currently provide. I am also a sensitive mama and get really overwhelmed or akin to triggered by some of the meltdowns that can happen. How do I determine which of these different ways of thinking applies to my child? I can glean ways of interacting with and support them, but I do know there is occupational therapy and other supports available for 2e kids or those with SPD. What would you recommend? Thank you so much. I appreciate your time and whatever advice you can give.’

Let me start out by saying I’m not a professional in child development, just a mum of two differently-wired children. I hope that by sharing my experience I can help you navigate the sometimes confusing abundance of information out there.

(1) Highly sensitive

I read Elaine Aron’s Highly Sensitive Persons when my children were about 6 and 7. While much of it resonated, we had a lot going on that high sensitivity didn’t explain.  HSP didn’t address the intense energy, incessant questions, intense drive and the (sometimes aggressive) competitiveness we were dealing with, for instance.

(2) Sensory processing disorder

When my son was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder at age 8 I felt so relieved to finally have an explanation for what was going on. At last I had a way to explain his unusual behaviour to friends, family and teachers (or so I thought)!

However, after a year of occupational therapy there was no change in my son’s behaviour. During a football course run by the OTs I noticed how different Jasper was from all the other kids who had sensory issues.  I realised that there must be something else going on besides SPD.

(3) Overexcitabilities (OEs)

A couple of years later the words, ‘Intense? Sensitive? Easily overwhelmed? Reacts out of proportion?’ jumped out at me from a flyer. They led me  to a PowerWood workshop, where I learned about the innate personality traits known as  overexcitabilities.

As I listened to the characteristics and challenges of emotional, imaginational, sensual, intellectual and psychomotor OE, I wept with relief. Finally someone understood. THIS was what was going on with my son! And not just him, but also my daughter and myself, too.

(4) Giftedness

At the OEs workshop I discovered that there’s a lot of overlap between OEs and giftedness.  Not everyone with OEs has a high IQ, and not everyone with a high IQ has OEs. But the high degree of co-morbidity means the gifted community provides invaluable resources to support families dealing with OEs.

How do we as parents determine when intervention is needed?’

I’m guessing from your question that you’ve read about high sensitivity and that it didn’t  provide all the answers.

Take the OEs questionnaire

My next step would be to take the overexcitabilities questionnaire and read the excellent description of OEs in the PowerWood OEs flyer. If you discover that your child has OEs, remember they’re not a disorder. They’re personality traits that can bring many benefits as well as challenges. Individuals with OEs often experience above-average creativity, energy and enjoyment of life, for instance.

Parenting coaching

Consider having an introductory chat with a parenting coach who specialises in OEs to find out more about how they apply to your family. Skype coaching with OEs expert Simone de Hoogh helped us enormously.

Identify your specific concerns

Shift your focus away from puzzling over what theory applies and ask yourself,  ‘What challenges does my child needs help with?’ Are you worried about her inability to focus on learning? Her social behaviour? Anxiety? Identifying your specific concerns will help guide you towards solutions and the people who can provide them.

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy can be a great support to some families. Read about sensory processing issues. If you think OT might help, consider consulting a therapist. My son enjoyed his OT sessions but they were expensive and when we’d seen no behavioural changes after a year we stopped them (by which time Jasper was getting bored anyway).

Educational psychologist assessment

Read the Columbus Group definition of giftedness. How (if at all) might having your child assessed by an educational psychologist help? The answer will depend on your location and circumstances.

We homeschool in the UK, and an assessment with an ed psych helped us identify asynchronies and twice-exceptionality.

The psychologist identified issues like (relatively) slow processing speed and working memory, mild dyslexia, and dysgraphia.

The information and resources the psychologist recommended has helped me meet my children’s needs better. It also got us into the system for accommodations (such as the ability to use a keyboard in exams) later down the line.

‘Sometimes I want to throw in the towel because it’s exhausting and difficult. I am also a sensitive mama and get triggered by some of the meltdowns’

I hear you! Raising these amazing kids can be super-tiring. Intensity and sensitivity are hereditary traits, so it’s not surprising we get triggered by our children.  Let me give you a virtual hug and reassure you that you’re probably doing much better than you’re giving yourself credit for.
I’m glad you recognise that, ‘public school would not do better for them than what I can currently provide.’  You’re an intelligent, loving mum who understands her children better than anyone else does. Appreciate yourself for the great job you’re doing. Forgive yourself when you don’t always live up to your high standards.  Prioritise meeting your own needs. When you do, you’ll have more energy to be the kind of parent you want to be. Have realistic expectations of everyone (including yourself). Appreciate small victories, and take one day at a time.
Tilt Creed - How do i know if my child is highly sensitive, has SPD, is gifted or has OEs
The TiLt Parenting Creed – click to visit the TiLt website

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What are your favourite resources for raising differently wired kids?

What professional support has been most helpful to you?

Do you have a question of your own?

I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

Resources

High Sensitivity

The Highly Sensitive Person: How to thrive when the world overwhelms you by Elaine Aron (book)

Happy Sensitive Kids (blog)

Sensory Issues

Understanding Sensory Issues  10 informative articles about sensory issues in children

Sensory STUFF My Little Poppies (blog)

Sensual OE

OEs

OE questionnaire (a great starting point – highly recommended)

OE info (PowerWood flyer all about OEs – highly recommended)

Living With Intensity (book) by Susan Daniels & Michael Piechowski

Giftedness and twice-exceptionality

GHF (Gifted Homeschoolers Forum)

SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted)

Your Rainforest Mind by Paula Prober (book)

General support

TiLt Parenting Inspiring website for parents of differently-wired kids, including weekly podcast and blog (recommended)

Understood.org Resources about all kinds of learning and attention issues with useful tips for getting professional support (US website)

Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults (book) by James T Webb et al

Self-care

Why our intense children trigger our suppressed pain

5 Keys to staying sane as a mum to sensitive, spirited kids

Why raising our personal baseline is they key to parenting our intense and sensitive children

A surprisingly powerful tool to raise your energy and resilience (downloadable MP3 meditation recording)

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Header image by Alexa Fotos

Your Rainforest Mind – Book Review

Your Rainforest Mind Book Review

Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth is a life-affirming book about ‘excessively curious, idealistic, sensitive, highly intelligent humans’. Author Paula Prober refers to these individuals as RFMs or ‘rainforest minds’.

I loved Your Rainforest Mind so much I read it twice in a row. This post has ended up far longer than I intended because it inspired so many thoughts I wanted to share. I trust that you, my fellow RFMs, will understand that!

Why should you read Your Rainforest Mind?

  • Because the countless examples of what it’s like to be an RFM will make you laugh and cry and feel validated for the amazing being that you are
  • Because the book is filled with practical strategies to help with the everyday challenges RFMs face
  • Because of the dozens of links to books, articles and websites for further research
  • Because after reading it you’ll be a hundred steps closer to knowing your place in this world
  • If you’re bringing up a young RFM, you’ll worry less and enjoy your child more

What is a rainforest mind?

I love the rainforest analogy. Not only does it neatly sidestep the controversial G word, but it captures the complexity of what’s  going on inside an RFM so much better than the word ‘gifted’. Likening people to ecosystems, the author explains,

“While all ecosystems are beautiful and make valuable contributions to the whole, rain forests are particularly complex: multi-layered, highly sensitive, colorful, intense, creative, fragile, overwhelming, and misunderstood … The rain forest is not a better ecosystem, just more complicated. It also makes an essential contribution to the planet when allowed to be itself, rather than when cut down and turned into something that it is not.”

Here are some of my favourite things about Your Rainforest Mind:

1.  The abundant examples of what it means to have a rainforest mind

When you grow up believing there’s something wrong with you because you’re so different from other people, you get used to camouflaging yourself to be accepted. Buried deep within, your authentic self yearns to be heard – and yet you don’t even realise the extent to which you’re denying it.

And then you read stories like the ones that fill this book, and you nod and you cry as you realise you’re not the only one who feels this way. And that beautiful, frightened child who survived by hiding her true nature all this time gradually begins to feel safe to come out and be seen.

A highly unscientific quiz

The book begins with a “highly unscientific” 23-question quiz to discover if you have a rainforest mind. One of my favourite questions is: “Have you ever called yourself ADHD because you are easily distracted by new ideas or intricate cobwebs, or OCD because you alphabetize your home library or color-code your sweaters, or bipolar because you go from ecstacy to despair in 10 minutes?” (Oh, yes!)

Your Rainforest Mind then continues to explore what having a rainforest mind means and the challenges it brings, illustrated with case studies from the author’s 25 years’ experience counselling RFMs. With every insightful example, my authentic self felt slightly more validated and the voice saying “there’s something wrong with you” became a little quieter.

2. Perfectionism explained

A few years ago I noticed how my kids both hate making mistakes, so I bought a book about perfectionism in children. That book put the blame squarely on parents’ shoulders. Perfectionistic kids, according to that author, are created by pushy, competitive parents.

Now, I admit I’m not the perfect parent (ha), but I’ve raised my kids with a keen awareness of the value of a growth mindset and intrinsic motivation. We unschool, and if anything I err on the side of not pushing them to achieve. So that book just didn’t resonate.

I now realise that that other author dealt only with extrinsic perfectionism and had no understanding of an RFM’s intrinsic drive for perfection – “That deep soulful desire for beauty, balance, harmony, and precision,” as Your Rainforest Mind author Paula Prober describes it.

While reading this chapter we heard from my daughter’s French teacher that she’d got 87% in her exam. Cordie was crestfallen. “I was hoping for more than that. I wonder what I missed?” As Paula says, “you may never feel satisfied because you strive for perfection. You keep raising the bar.”

3. Possibilities and choices

Sadness over the road not taken

Chapter four, Too many possibilities, Too many choices, deals with “the depth of [an RFM’s] sadness over the road not taken”. I was reminded strongly here of my daughter, who has experienced “the existential dilemma … in making choices” since she was a toddler.

I can remember three-year-old Cordie coming in after half an hour joyfully playing in the garden, then bursting into tears because,  “I wanted to colour my picture!” I was genuinely bewildered. No one had forced her to play outside instead of colouring.  It took me a while to figure out that she was sad simply because she hadn’t been able to do two things she loved at the same time.

Freedom to be multipotential

This chapter also discusses the challenge RFMs face in choosing a career path, bearing in mind their many and varied strengths, interests and passions. I found myself shouting ‘yes!’ when the author acknowledges that RFMs can be both scanners, who love variety and novelty, and divers, who choose one thing to examine thoroughly.

“Understanding your multipotentiality … can free you up to pursue many of your interests without guilt or shame.”

As a homeschooling mum who sometimes feels frivolous and guilty about the time I spend on my own hobbies and dreams, I resonated with the author’s client who said, “I’ve gotten so overwhelmed by the ideas and projects coming into my head that I’ve tried to convince myself that I could just turn them off and just be happy being a mom.”

This chapter also contains some great strategies for embracing our multipotentiality, which I’ll talk about in the next section.

4. Practical strategies

I’d have loved Your Rainforest Mind simply for the warm, validating way it describes RFMs. But, even better, at the end of each chapter are pages of practical strategies to help with the issues RFMs face.

One strategy I took on immediately was to make a  journal filled with ideas for projects and career possibilities. “Use it to write, draw, mind-map, list or plan without any attention to practicality or reality. These may never be developed, which is fine.”

I can’t tell you how much fun it’s been to write down all the instruments and languages I’d love to learn alongside my dreams of studying astrophysics, photography, horticulture, hair science and economics while being an expert gymnast [crying with laughter emoticon] … and that’s just a small sample from a long, long list!

One of the things I liked best about this exercise was being given permission to dream, plan and research just because I enjoy it. Yes, endless research can get in the way of producing results, but that doesn’t mean that from time to time we can’t do it just for fun.

Your Rainforest Mind Book Review

5. Authenticity, creativity and spirituality

I’ve spent most of my life feeling embarrassed about my lifelong search for spiritual meaning and connection with something greater than myself.

Brought up in an atheist family, at 12 I wrote long letters to God, at 14 I practised Buddhist chanting after reading about it in a teen magazine, and in my 20’s I sought secret respite from an unfulfilling legal career in the self-help shelves of my local bookshop. In my 30’s I attended regular personal development workshops and approaching 40 I discovered a life philosophy that has resonated with me to this day.

As I’ve grown older I’ve become more comfortable with the spiritually-seeking part of myself, yet I’ve always seen it as an aberration, somehow incongruent with my intelligence. So the relief I felt was visceral when I read Paula Prober’s sensitive discussion of authenticity, creativity and spirituality.

I resonated with Paula’s comment that from an early age most RFMs have a strong inner guidance system. I love the quote from one of my favourite authors, Steven Pressfield: “Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine ourselves to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” I shed a tear as I read that RFMs often find it difficult to find the spiritual community they yearn for. And I empathised whole-heartedly with Paula’s many clients who found spiritual connection in nature.

6. Loneliness and the rainforest mind

“Loneliness may be the number one challenge for the RFM.”

This chapter talks about the difficulties RFMs face finding peers – in school, in the workplace, as partners, and as friends.

I find it difficult to talk about my personal experience even here, because I’m afraid of sounding like I think I’m better than other people, which is ironic considering I’ve spent most my life thinking there was something wrong with me because I’ve never felt comfortable or been fully accepted in groups.

I’m an introvert so I don’t need dozens of friends, but the better I understand myself, the more I’ve noticed how energised I feel after spending time around my more rainforest minded friends. Your Rainforest Mind has inspired me to overcome my fear of rejection and seek out more RFMs in my life, bearing in mind the author’s advice, “It is likely fellow RFMs will be shy or awkward for the same reasons that you are, so be brave and take the first step.”

Further resources

Your Rainforest Mind – author Paula Prober’s blog

Your Rainforest Mind webinar – hear more about RFMs and the book direct from Paula

Your Rainforest Mind has contributed enormously to my understanding of myself, my children, and my RFM friends, and I’d love for it to reach as wide an audience as possible. Please help by sharing this post . If you read the book perhaps you could even write your own review, on Facebook, your blog or Amazon.

To receive my weekly posts about life in an RFM family that embraces its quirkiness, don’t forget to leave your email address in the box below or top right, and to like the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page.

Have you read Your Rainforest Mind?

What was your favourite thing about it?

I’d love to hear from you, friends. 🙂

 

 

* I bought my own copy of Your Rainforest Mind and was not compensated for this review other than the pleasure of sharing a wonderful book. I am an Amazon affiliate so if you buy something from Amazon after clicking on my links I will receive a few pennies to go towards hosting this blog. 

Help Twice-Exceptional Children by Supporting Their Parents

Help 2e Children by Helping Their Parents

I was pleased to see that the Huffington Post recently commissioned a new series, Young Minds Matter, which is:

“… designed to lead the conversation with children about mental and emotional health, so youngsters feel loved, valued and understood.”

The Duchess of Cambridge launched the series with her excellent post, Let’s Make a Difference for an Entire Generation of Young Children.

When the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum suggested I write an article for the series, I turned to my friend and mentor Simone de Hoogh, who I knew would have plenty of wisdom to share. Simone didn’t let me down, and our co-authored piece was published in the Huffington Post today.  You can also read it below.

Please feel free to share on FaceBook, Twitter etc. 😉

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Help Twice-Exceptional Children by Supporting Their Parents

By the time my son was six, other boys his age had outgrown tantrums but Jacob still had meltdowns apparently out of the blue. He couldn’t tolerate play dates for longer than 20 minutes. And surely it wasn’t normal to take 15 minutes to put on socks?

To help our son my husband and I sought professional advice. Several experts later we received an answer: Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Our son’s meltdowns were the result of his brain struggling to receive and respond to the messages his senses were sending. Armed with our diagnosis, we enrolled Jacob for occupational therapy.

After a year of therapy, during which we saw little change in our son’s behaviour, we signed him up for a football course run by the practice. Although Jacob was happy to join the other children, he never lasted more than 20 minutes before storming off in angry tears. I asked the head therapist why the other kids with SPD could cope, but not Jacob? She suggested that he might have ADHD and advised us to consider medication. After all, we didn’t “want to miss the narrow window in which he can learn socialisation skills.”

I felt desperate to help my child but without a clue how to start. We were faced with numerous possible diagnoses—SPD, ADHD, ASD—none which really fit. Was I creating the problem by protecting my son from overwhelming situations? Should we instil more discipline? I knew my child, how desperately unhappy he often felt. I knew that if Jacob were capable of behaving like other children, he would behave like other children.

It would take another two years to discover the truth. Why so long? Jacob isn’t gifted within the UK definition of the highest-achieving ten per cent of school children; he is ‘twice-exceptional’ (2e). Children who are 2e combine a neurological diagnosis of giftedness with an additional special need, such as dyslexia, ADHD or other learning challenge. Jacob has a set of innate personality traits often found in the gifted known as Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities (OEs). People with OEs are intense. They may have excessive energy or love to touch things, or the buzzing of  overhead lights may drive them nuts. As children struggle to manage their strong reactions and emotions, they often display socially unacceptable behaviours.

I first learned about OEs at PowerWood, a UK community which supports 2e children and their families. Founder Simone de Hoogh, a qualified ECHA Specialist in Gifted Education, explains that “the further you get from the middle of the population bell curve, the less reliable the criteria for diagnosis become, because the sample size is so small.”

So how do we go about understanding what 2e children need? How do we teach them to meet their needs so they can develop into emotionally resilient adults? Human behaviour is strongly influenced by our environment, so one of the fastest ways to effect change is to change the environment. Most children have a family member as their primary caregiver, so if we want to help 2e children learn to manage and channel their intense natures, we need to empower their families by:

Reframing ‘normal’

For 2e children, ‘anti-social’ behaviour may be a normal response to a challenging situation. If we focus less on diagnosis and more on understanding the behaviour, we can help parents see challenges as opportunities for growth.

Informing parents and teachers

We can empower caregivers by providing them with information and tools to support 2e children, but first we need to relieve parents of the burden of self-doubt. Only then are parents ready for the strategies and knowledge that will help their kids.

Creating supportive communities

If we want 2e children to accept and appreciate themselves, we need to foster supportive communities for their families, where parents feel safe and respected rather than judged and blamed.

Our 2e son still has meltdowns, struggles in groups and has to move his body to focus on maths. But now we realize that Jacob’s intensity and sensitivity are the reasons for his behaviour, we’ve stopped worrying about what’s wrong with him and can instead focus on the child in front of us, educating him about the positive side of his twice-exceptionality and teaching him ways to manage his OEs.

We’ve found tremendous support from PowerWood, the UK’s leading not-for-profit organisation committed to raising awareness and supporting intense and sensitive 2e children, and from GHF, an abundant source of information and encouragement. With these communities at my side I’m optimistic I can help my son find his place in the world.

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{Thank you, too, to the GHF team for all your support and fabulous editing.}

To receive my weekly posts about life in an intense and sensitive family direct to your inbox, don’t forget to leave me you email address in the box below or top right. 🙂 

Why Being British Stopped Me Finding Help For My Twice-Exceptional Child

british and twice-exceptional

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.

Resources

Websites (UK)

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

Websites (US)

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum – Resources: Twice-Exceptional (2e)

Books

Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults by James T Webb

Living With Intensity by Daniels & Piechowski

* * *

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!

GHF Blog Hop - British & Twice-exceptional

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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