Before I describe any more case studies, I want to focus on ways to handle the challenges for twice exceptional or 2e kids. (These comments apply primarily to parents but I’m sure teachers will see applications to their roles, as well.)
1. Perspective is everything: It’s possible to view 2e as a curse, a terminal illness, a bottomless pit. But I think it best serves everyone if you focus on the child’s unique patterns of learning as positively as possible. Is this a pie-in-the-sky kind of mentality? I think not. Heartache can lead to greater empathy and perseverance in life. Hopefully, parents (and teachers) can now or will be able to empathize with others who struggle. You have probably met folks whose life seemed to be a breeze. Would you turn to them for support? Or would you seek out someone who has fought through hard challenges? How many suffering parents have started foundations to support kids with terrible battles in life, kids who may not have survived, in order to make it easier for those who come after them? Consider the Exceptional Delaware blog. The father who authors that blog has seen his son suffer horribly; he now works like crazy to provide a voice for special needs kids and their families. Would we want his son to suffer for the sake of helping others? No! But has good come out of suffering? I would say it has.
Use your 2e kid’s struggles as an opportunity to teach them empathy for others and perseverance, as well. Is this easy? Again, no! But there are abundant examples of overcoming adversity in the lives of many well-known figures, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., whose parents had to tell him that he was “as good as anyone.” Find a character with whom your child can identify. Many well-known celebrities are candid about their struggles with dyslexia or ADHD. An online search of books dealing with disabilities could be a starting point.
2. Parents must be the child’s staunchest advocates. Here are some tips:
- Trust your instincts. No one knows your child better than you do.
- Get advice from trusted folks. There are parent organizations, online resources, etc. Better yet, talk to parents whose child struggles with similar issues.
- Learn as much as you can about your rights. Again, there are wonderful resources available to help you navigate the special education maze.
- If you have the financial resources, get a professional evaluation from a reputable and experienced psychologist. You could ask other parents or teachers for referrals. A good child psychologist will explain the evaluation and be available for follow up questions. Many will come to the school for official meetings. Remember that a school psychologist does not provide diagnoses; a clinical psychologist can offer explanations and insight into conditions that do not fit neatly into those 14 categories of educational disabilities.
- Find an advocate at school, someone who will go above and beyond. It may be the classroom teacher, an assistant, a guidance counselor, a resource teacher, a gifted specialist, or the school psychologist. A relationship like this may help you avoid an “us” versus “them” situation; even if it doesn’t, it’s great to know that people care.
- If you are a teacher, recognize that parents must be their child’s staunchest advocates. Encourage them. Listen. Provide resources. Be willing to go the extra mile.
3. Focus on your child’s giftedness. Learn all you can about education for gifted students. Again, there are abundant resources online, in libraries, and through school districts. Be an advocate for this important aspect of your child’s education. How will the school engage your child with stimulating activities? You can help by providing information about your child’s interests and strengths. Both an educational and private evaluation can pinpoint areas of strength.
4. Help your child survive these early school years. None of this is easy. Kids can take serious body blows as they stumble through school and their disabilities may impact their understanding of what’s happening. Spend fun, quality time with them. Give them mental health days from school. I have found that by spring of a school year, kids on the autism spectrum are starting to burn out. Whether it’s informally agreed or on the IEP (preferably the latter), make sure you can modify how much homework they have to complete. Forget homework if your child is melting down or at risk for melting down. Listen to books on CD instead of reading. You know your child best, so decide if they need quiet time, physical activity, play with friends, or all of the above. Be cautious when discussing your child’s school issues with another adult. Kids don’t need to carry your worries along with their own.
5. Help your child become resilient. At one time, no one really knew much about resilience and figured it was simply hard-wired into some lucky kids. Perhaps some kids are naturally more resilient, but you can help yours join the ranks. Role-play is a powerful tool for improving social skills and problem solving. Don’t avoid tough situations; instead, practice ways to respond to them. Pick the most crucial skill/s and work from there. You can use movies, cartoons, and books as a springboard for teaching resilience. Ask “How did that kid handle his fears?” or “How would you deal with that problem?” Follow your child’s lead. Coordinate social skills instruction between home and school so that it will become more effective, with everyone using the same language.
6. Take care of yourself. I think parents suffer more than their twice exceptional children. Feelings of helplessness can lead to depression. You may be suffering from “battle fatigue,” depending upon the circumstances in your school. Give yourself permission to leave the kid/s with a babysitter. Get enough sleep. Eat well and exercise. These healthy routines are all things that can get washed away in the coping-with-disabilities flood. Read funny books or watch comedies if that’s the only way you can get yourself laughing. And don’t blame yourself! (Well, you can take credit for the giftedness, for sure.)
Do you have any tips for parents and teachers of twice exceptional kids? Please share them here!