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 problems.
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.