In This Issue . . . ▪ Dear GHF:Balancing your 2e child's commitments and their atypical needs▪ Dan Peters, Ph.D., of the Summit Center: Twice-Excep

Dear GHF: Balancing your 2e child's commitments and their atypical needs
Dan Peters, Ph.D., of the Summit Center: Twice-Exceptional (2e) Youth: An Endangered Species
Homeschooling Success Story: Dave Mayer: Dave Mayer of Chasing Hollyfeld interviews his nine-year-old daughters
What's Up, GHF?: New offerings, how to support GHF, and much more


Dear GHF,

My son is signed up for a 4-H club involving animal husbandry. We signed up for extra shifts of animal clean-up when some of the other kids in the group had scheduling difficulties. My son enjoys the work, but being there for the extra shifts is turning out to be sensory and social overload. I hate to back out of the commitment, but I also need to balance his needs. How do I decide what to do?

~Divided in Danville

Dear Divided,

Having a child whose needs are atypical can be a huge challenge. You can’t always predict what will work for them and what will not. As a result, you make your best guess and then hope for a positive outcome. When it is clearly not working out, you have to make choices. On the one hand, you don’t want to put your child in a position where they are almost certain to melt down. On the other hand, you are trying to model responsibility, which means following through on your commitments. In your own head, you may be arguing with yourself over whether you are making excuses or explanations. You also may worry about the impact on others whose problem this isn’t.

We’d suggest managing this by taking the following steps:

1. See if you can slightly compress or downsize the commitment (can you end a week earlier?). Looking at reducing the expectation, even if it turns out not to be possible, provides a good opportunity to show your son that you take his needs seriously, as well as modeling good “real-world” self-management skills.
2. Plan ahead with your child for what you will do if it gets too hard (for example, a mass escape of animals from the pen), and how each of you will manage your stress. A planned break in a predetermined, relatively quiet location can ease transitions and ensure that your son has an opportunity to take a few deep breaths and regroup if he feels he is becoming stressed.
3. Provide support and scaffolding so that the time he is there is as positive an experience as possible. For example, not sending him to do hard tasks all alone would be a great suggestion, but then you are faced with potential criticism from others who say you are undermining his independence. Ignore them. You know what your child needs better than they do. They’ll think even worse things if your child has an actual meltdown.
4. When the activity is over, discuss it with him and share your perspectives. Was it as bad as you or he thought it would be? Why or why not? What parts went well? What can you do differently next time?

We have no doubt that your child will find 4,698,573,948 reasons why the entire experience was awful, but hang in there. Far too often, we tend to accept our child’s negative first response and run with it, which cements the spontaneous opinion in place. If your child says, “Oh, I hate this,” and you remind them that they had fun last time, you are in fact inviting them to find a zillion reasons why it was even worse. If instead, you can approach it obliquely, you have a much better chance of helping them to break out of the all-or-nothing paradigm which holds them hostage. Sometimes we need to respond to “this sucks” with “Really? I can see how you would say that but I thought this part was pretty good. What about you?”, and gently model a third way of looking at it that is less binary.

Remember that these are all life skills you are helping him with, and it will take time and practice. You don’t expect your child to learn his academic lessons overnight, so try to be patient while he works on learning these.

For more information on twice-exceptional children, check out GHF's Resources: Twice-Exceptional page. For online support, we encourage you to join GHF's online community.

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By Dan Peters, Ph.D.

Twice-exceptional individuals are both gifted (show advanced abilities) and also have significant learning or processing delays, as well as emotional and behavioral challenges. While our world has benefited greatly from the minds of 2e individuals such as Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, Steve Jobs, and others, our educational system does not seem to understand the complexities and needs of these kids. Many 2e kids face daily struggles in public and private school, while others end up being homeschooled in order to preserve a 2e child’s self-esteem and love of learning.

So what’s the problem? Many 2e kids are not identified as either gifted or learning challenged because their strengths hide the depth of their learning and processing challenges, and their weaknesses pull down their strengths. Basically, we often get a 2e child who is performing in the “average” range and is “doing fine” since he or she is performing at “grade expected levels.” However, when a gifted or highly gifted child is performing “average” or at “grade expected levels,” he or she is not fine. It means that something is getting in the way of learning and output. The 2e child knows that something isn’t quite right, and parents may know too, but can’t quite but their finger on it. Unfortunately, the 2e child is often seen as, and called, “lazy” or not “working to her potential.”

People often ask if this 2e thing is new. No, it isn’t. However, the consequences of being 2e in today’s educational environment seem to have significantly more negative consequences for 2e kids. The main culprit seems to be the well-intentioned Response to Intervention (RTI) movement that was put into practice with the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004. In short, RTI is a program that allows all kids to get intervention in the classroom without having to be qualified for Special Education services. This is a good thing overall. But it turns out the being 2e is the most vulnerable type of learner you can be in this model.

Why are 2e learners vulnerable? The reason is that, under RTI, students are deemed to need support based on performing “below grade expected levels.” What’s worse is that in many states “below grade expected levels” is being deemed as the 12th percentile or lower. Yes, that right. So gifted child with intellectual abilities at the 98th percentile or higher have to perform as low as the 12th percentile in reading, writing, or math; or being showing significant attentional and processing issues that impacts their performance to a similar degree, in order to be identified as being behind. Thus, 2e kids are not getting identified, and are not being qualified for Section 504 Plans that give them more time to perform and other free, yet necessary, accommodations. This is happening all over the U.S., as I am working closely with colleagues in several states across the country who are seeing the same things and are equally concerned.

So what can we do? We need to be aware that 2e kids have the characteristics of gifted kids—advanced thinking abilities, uneven performance, intensity, and sensitivities—yet have trouble with inconsistent performance and output. If you see a smart child struggle, there is something wrong, and they need help. If your child is in school, talk to your child’s teacher and ask they be referred to the RTI or SST (Student Success Team) to start the assessment and intervention process. Advocate for comprehensive testing by the school. Educate them about the characteristics of 2e kids and the consequences of daily challenges your child experiences, such as homework and testing taking, for example. Use a collaborative approach with the teacher and staff. We want them on our team. Advocate for an individualized learning plan that maximizes and differentiates for your child’s strengths, while also supporting and accommodating your child’s weakness area.

In sum, a 2e child has high potential, yet is also at great risk for underachievement, depression, and anxiety due to being misunderstood and not living up to their own and others’ expectations. It is critical to understand a 2e child’s strength and weakness profile. Parents may need to seek private testing if the school will not provide this service. Twice-exceptional individuals have changed our world, and will continue to do so. We just have to keep them off the endangered species list.

Dr. Dan Peters is co-founder and Clinical Director of the Summit Center, specializing in the assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and families with special emphasis on gifted, talented, and creative individuals and families. He presents at state, national, and international conferences on a variety of gifted topics.


Note: initially, I had encouraged my twin daughters H and E (nine years old) to write their own perspectives on homeschooling, the thought being that they could best tell their own story best. But that was before they discovered, quite by accident, that Dad owns a sweet-looking Blue Microphones Yeti (which I use for music recording). At that point, it was all over, and they wanted to be interviewed for the piece that follows. So, without further ado, I give you two nine-year-old girls trying their best to sound very grown-up in my office.

Dad: Tell me about how you got started with homeschooling, and what you thought of it initially.
H: [Who contends with dyscalculia] Although I know you guys were trying to find a good fit with a tutor, it wasn’t working very well for me. I was really excited to try homeschooling, but I didn’t really know what to expect.
E: Neither did I. You did a good job explaining what we were going to be doing, but I think you assumed that we knew how it was going to work.
D: So, you’re thinking, “I’m behind a traditional desk, and I’m writing MR. MAYER on a blackboard . . .”
H: I kind of did wonder if it was going to be like regular school.
E: I did, too. But I liked the way it worked out.
D: We’re a little less structured.
E: What I liked best was that you let us do what we’re interested in right now. Like the coefficient of friction thing this morning. (We decided to investigate the coefficient of friction by sliding around in sock feet on different surfaces in our house.)
H: That’s not really something we’d do in school.
E: Not because it wouldn’t be something, you know, scientific. Just that it was . . .
H: . . . kind of goofy and fun.
D: So the unstructured nature of what we do is something you enjoy?
E: Yeah. If we’re working on something, and it’s really exciting, we can go as long as we like. If it’s boring, or we finish the work early, we can move on. There’s no waiting and there’s no hurrying. It’s like it all fits the exact right pace.
D: Is the amount of time you have to do something in school a problem?
E: Yes.
H: Yes. It’s either too much or not enough. The way we do it wouldn’t work in a regular school.
D: So that’s the knock on homeschooling, though, that you’re missing out on social interaction. What do you think is the best way to learn something? On your own? In small groups? In a large class?
E: Depends on what we’re learning.
D: Depends on what, though? The subject? The student?
H: I think it’s the student. Whatever works best for them.
E: I think it’s the subject. If we’re all doing the same thing, there’s no reason not to learn it as a group. Art is like that.
H: But I want more time in art class!
E: That’s a different problem, though, like we talked about before.
D: Do you miss learning in a large group?
H: We still get to do some of that. [H and E both spend the afternoon at their local school for ‘specials’–art, music, and PE–and lunch.]
E: What we’re there for is a good fit for learning in a large group. I don’t know how well dodgeball would work with just the three of us. [I have to stop the recording for five minutes while they get their laughter under control.]
H: But I like writing better with just the three of us.
D: Let’s spend a minute on that. For the benefit of the audience reading this, we do a lot of swap-writing on Google Docs: one of us writes a sentence or two, then another of us, then another.
E: I’d never done anything like that before I started homeschooling.
H: Me neither. I didn’t even know you could do that.
D: Do you like writing in that setting?
E: Yeah. It’s exciting to work together on a project, and I like getting feedback about my writing while we do it.
D: In real time.
E: Yeah.
H: It’s more fun to write with you two. You write very differently than I do, and I like watching how you put together ideas and sentences.
D: Do you pick up things that we do? Change your writing style as a result?
H: No. I just like writing with other people with different styles. I like reading the finished product.
E: It is really interesting. Sometimes I forget who wrote what parts!
D: Okay, let’s wrap up with one last topic: thing you like most and least about homeschooling.
H: Best? There’s a few. I like working just with you on some subjects, like critical reading and writing. I like being able to speed up and slow down as I want to.
E: I like being able to work in my pajamas. (More laughter.)
H: And have chai.
E: Definitely. But I agree that the pacing is the best thing for me. Regular school divides everything into sections and periods that don’t always fit with what I want to do.
H: It mostly goes by too fast for me, but some things I’d like to speed up.
E: It mostly goes by too slow for me. That’s funny. I’d do more things in a day if I could.
H: And I like being able to add in interesting things as we go, like running the spa. (Note: the girls run a fictional spa as part of their project-based learning work.)
D: What do you like least?
E: [Pause] There’s not a lot of hiding out. You pretty much know if we've done the reading for the day, or if we’re slacking off on a writing project. But that’s on us. I don’t think there’s anything I really don’t like.
H: Me neither. It’s been great.

Dave Mayer and his wife Kathy blog about homeschooling their family at Chasing Hollyfeld. He is also the creator of the "Zombie Apocalypse Homeschool" fashion line.

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October 2012 • Volume 3 • Issue 3

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