The ultimate goal is to empower your child with a positive self-identity, an exercise crucial to a healthy and centered child. Indeed, with and through this foundation, the child can develop social skills, learn emotional regulation, develop an expressive vocabulary to communicate deep thoughts and emotions, and learn executive functioning skills necessary for lifelong success.
In more than two decades working within the field of both gifted education and gifted advocacy, I have worked with hundreds of students and families (and teachers) who are struggling to support the diverse needs of the gifted and/or twice-exceptional child. Given the scads of research, both qualitative and quantitative, available on the developmental needs of the G/2e child and, more recently, the new revelations on atypical neurological growth, asynchrony remains as one of the principal issues. The fact is that G/2e children have divergent growth patterns within the areas of social/emotional regulation and intellectual development. In a sense, they embody two very different people— one with extreme intellectual potential, intimately accompanied by another that struggles to cope with negative (and sometimes, positive) external stimuli. In essence, with the gifted or 2e child, we find a puzzling paradox of brilliance and dysfunction. This does not have to be. If, at an early age, we institute a balanced approach to both intellectual and social/emotional instruction or guidance, we can equip our children to accommodate regulatory shortfalls that impede optimal growth patterns.
The first step is to understand the importance of building metacognition (or self-awareness) within your G/2 child. The child’s brain development is atypical. They are born with intense limbic and sensory systems; meaning that the limbic system is susceptible to delayed development due to the impact of powerful sensory prints, which easily disrupt and delay optimal development. The limbic system is responsible for a person’s basic functionality. It supports sleep, appetite, language development, pain, emotion, self-regulation, long term memory, and behavior. It is designed to protect the body—to keep one alive and functional. When overwhelmed by intense sensory prints (knowledge gained by using one’s senses), the limbic system will resort to basic survival techniques characterized by fight, flight, or freeze responses. As the G/2e child grows, they experience millions of new sensory prints. Some can be positive or neutral, while others can be negative—e.g., prolonged stressful environments or unwarranted, negative criticism. There is evidence that children may begin developing sensory prints very early (even in the womb). Unchecked, the accumulation of sensory prints (memories) can overwhelm the child, leading to meltdowns both internally and externally. Given this dual development, it is essential to teach our children coping mechanisms to deal with harsh external stimuli. This is why coaching our student to develop positive metacognition is so important.
Metacognition is thinking about thinking or knowing about knowing. At the core, it is building an understanding of schema or who a person is within the context of his/her environment. Because G/2e children experience asynchrony, they learn that they are different from their peers. They learn that they may struggle to get along with others. They learn, in turn, that the world does not understand them or even accept them. Imagine a child with a highly developed intellect and low social/emotional functionality attempting to fit into a system that is not designed for them. It is as if they are living in an alien world. Unhindered, the child may experience frustration, annoyance, anxiety, social isolation, anger, and even existential depression. In my own work, I have seen an increase in cases of existential depression and occurrences of depressive states in children as young as four or five. It is for this reason that, as caring adults, we must intervene. We must teach them coping mechanisms to better understand themselves, why they may appear different, and how to use strategies to overcome the effects of an intense limbic system. The first and most important step is to tackle metacognition.
From an early age, our G/2e children need to understand who they are within the context of their environment. They need to understand that from a physiological standpoint, they are different than their peers. You need to teach them about atypical neurological growth and, more importantly, that it is okay to be different. You need to train the child to understand asynchrony and give them the vocabulary to express or explain it to others. So many G/2e children, teens, and even young adults continue to struggle with the basic concept of being atypical. They struggle to formulate a positive identity and fail to build a positive self-image that, in turn, affects how they interact with others. In this state of dissonance, their thoughts spiral as they continually examine the deep and probing questions of existence. We need to instruct them that being different is okay. In fact, it is more than okay. It is a gift to be cherished and shared. We need to address those intense feelings through dialogue or some other method of expression. We need to assure them that these thoughts and emotions are not pathological but common within the gifted community. We need to use every tool at our disposal to build positive metacognition. Using concept maps is a nice way to start; write down a key word or phrase, e.g., neurodiversity, and brainstorm what it means, what it looks like, impacts, facts versus myths, vocabulary, or other concepts related to the main term to help the child formulate a better understanding of self. Other strategies that one may employ to teach metacognition include bibliotherapy (a study of famous persons who experienced asynchrony and succeeded), finding older mentors who have experienced similar paths, teaching resiliency, reframing normality, and cultivating interests and strengths. The ultimate goal is to empower your child with a positive self-identity, an exercise crucial to a healthy and centered child. Indeed, with and through this foundation, the child can develop social skills, learn emotional regulation, develop an expressive vocabulary to communicate deep thoughts and emotions, and learn executive functioning skills necessary for lifelong success.
Healthy social and emotional development are the key to achievement. It is unfortunate that our school systems do not address nor systematically teach these skills. Thus, it falls upon the parent to shoulder this burden, and the earlier we start, the more effective the methodology. Our G/2e inherently possess incredible potential to make a difference in the world around them. They, however, must get to know themselves first, because they will encounter obstacles and experience environmental dissonance and misunderstanding. Together, as responsible, caring adults, we must stand in the gap for them.