One of the greatest privileges of my job is occasionally
I am given the opportunity to change a parent’s perspective his/her child’s
mind. One of the greatest misconceptions about giftedness is that a gifted
child is a perfect child. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. A
gifted mathematician might struggle to read and a talented musician might
struggle to sit still in the classroom.
Most gifted children struggle with asynchronous
development, which confuses parents and teachers alike. For example, a five-year-old
child may read a book intended for eighth graders (well above age level) and
ask her bewildered father for help tying her shoe (age appropriate) while
sucking her thumb (below age level). Difficulty with social skills, overexcitabilities,
extreme perfectionism, fear of failure and many other things can mask a
student’s giftedness. Uncovering that
giftedness can change a child’s life–and the lives of their entire family.
About a month ago, I realized that I had something
unusual in my hands as I read a student’s test results. While some of his
scores were in the gifted range, others were far lower than I was used to
seeing. I went back to his cumulative files and realized that this student was
staffed in special education. Twice exceptional! So I nervously ventured out to
meet the elementary special education coordinator for the first time.
Notes were compared, documents were drawn up, parents
were met and our departments became fast friends. How did the student turn out
you may ask? I’ll never forget his first day. I picked him up at his classroom
and instead of the quiet tap on the shoulder that most of my students prefer,
his teacher winked and said loudly, “It’s time for you to go to GT now.” The
proud look on his face as everyone watched him leave brought tears to my eyes.
He grinned the whole hour.
It was only a few days later that my new friend, the special
education coordinator, came to knock on my door! Our work with the first student
made her think about another student with similar traits. We invited the school
psychologist to our party and she decided to update the second student’s
testing profile. Sure enough, twice exceptional! A little more paperwork,
another parent meeting and another department added to my network!
On this student’s first day, he walked up, wide-eyed, to
my collection of Rubik’s cubes, puzzles and blocks. I told him he could choose
one for the hour and a broad smile spread across his face. The two twice
exceptional students spent the entire hour huddled over a 3-D block puzzle,
only surfacing to blurt out the answers to each math puzzle, usually faster
than the other students and without any explanation. Before he left, he gently
placed the completed puzzle back on the shelf, making sure I noticed and gave
me a hug. “This was the best day ever,” he said, and wiped a small tear from
the corner of his eye. I told him not to worry because he’d be coming back
twice a week. He laughed and ran out the door.
About a week and a half later, the school psychologist came
to me with pictures from a testing session of a young student, describing the
intricate things he’d built to amuse himself during the “boringest test ever.” For
years, this student had low reading scores, severe behavior problems, you name
it! However the child didn’t qualify for special education and teachers/family
couldn’t figure it out. As she continued describing the student, I began to
understand the trouble. The student had some occupational therapy needs and yet
was clearly highly gifted and creative. Being gifted and yet unable to express
that giftedness in appropriate ways led to an exaggeration of the
overexcitabilities that often accompany giftedness, leading to the behavior
We met with the student’s father to explain that we had
determined the underlying cause for his son’s difficulties and to begin to
formulating a plan. It was amazing to see the change in his father’s face from
the beginning of the meeting to the end. He was being given a new insight into
his son’s life and this new insight was on the opposite end of the spectrum
from what he had expected. This time, the tears were in the father’s eyes as he
walked out of the meeting.
This school year I have had the opportunity to work with
five newly identified twice exceptional students–four at school and one child
of a friend. Each of these experiences has been unique and amazing, and I’m
honored to have been a part of them.