The real question here is whether my journey has enabled me to come full circle with accepting my own giftedness. My answer continues to be, “It’s a journey!” The relationships I’ve developed with my colleagues, cohort, friends, and fellow parents on this journey are priceless as they cheer, encourage, question, and hold up the mirror so I can see myself with greater clarity.
When I was approached to write this piece, I knew I could easily write about my son’s giftedness. We were open about what giftedness means, how others see giftedness, and even examined the lack of better terminology. The outdated myths and stereotypes about giftedness didn’t apply to my son, but I wasn’t as forgiving about letting those myths go when it applied to me.
My relationship to the gifted community did not begin as a child, rather as a parent looking for support and answers. It started with Facebook groups such as GHF, Parents of Gifted and Twice-Exceptional Kids, Parents of G&T Kids, Parents of Twice-Exceptional Children (2e), and SENG. I attended conferences such as Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG), read books, spoke to professionals, and found kindred spirits in parents struggling with the same issues. I was not alone. When my son sped through skip counting, integers, and signal triangulation in PreK, I knew I was going to need advice. Teacher friends suggested I attend the California Association for the Gifted (CAG) for help. It was at my first conference that I met Dr. Jim Webb. His charm and humor were the anchors I needed to help me advocate for my son through the public school system. He always handed me books to read, gently providing the needed encouragement to believe in myself again.
This journey of trying to find the right “educational fit” for my little square peg influenced my decision to enroll in a master’s program in education. I was ready for a career change, but never felt the overwhelming urge to repeat the same lesson five times per day in a public school classroom. Nevertheless, I learned some important lessons from my graduate program. I learned how children learn to read, symbol systems, theory, and most importantly, what is NOT taught in preservice teacher education programs. Beyond the shock that giftedness is never mentioned in a preservice teacher program, it was utterly appalling that any program that prides itself on “social justice” and “equity” forgot to address the psychological aspects and needs of the gifted.
I recently learned of my reputation in my school district. Apparently, I was the first person who ever mentioned the term twice-exceptional (2e). Yes. That’s right. You read that correctly—a term that has been in use for almost fifteen years had never been used in my midsize school district that once had a thriving Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program. Before I finished my master’s degree, I knew I needed to find a school with professors familiar with these terms and could support me in my quest to advocate for children who could not yet speak for themselves. Dr. Tracy Cross once said that all research is really “me-search,” and as I finish the last year of my doctoral journey, continuing to self-actualize, his wise words continue to ring true.
Several gaps exist between current research and practice, as well as research and policy, making it difficult to provide an appropriate education for twice-exceptional students.1 Foley-Nicpon, et al.2 identified the continued lack of comprehensive knowledge regarding twice-exceptionality among classroom teachers, gifted education specialists, school administrators, school counselors, school psychologists, and special education teachers that continue to perpetuate the masking effect, preventing identification.3 Parents, teachers, and administrators will find determining appropriate goals even more troublesome without data that outlines the developmental trajectory of twice-exceptional students.
Twice-exceptional, like gifted students, appear to have an asynchronous developmental trajectory regarding their academic and psychosocial development.4 It is this asynchrony that makes this population appear to deviate5 from the typical student population. Foley-Nicpon asserts that for twice-exceptional students, academic success is closely tied to their social and emotional development.6 Willard-Holt et al. conducted a mixed-methods study analyzing twice-exceptional students and found that all participants demonstrated a need for resilience and perseverance.7 Similarly, Baum, Schader, and Hébert’s qualitative study revealed that a strengths-based approach with both curriculum and instruction positively impacted the academic, social, and emotional development for this population.8 While differences between the academic, social, emotional development exist, they are nonetheless related.
The persistent problem of practice is twofold. First is the lack of research regarding the developmental transitions of twice-exceptional students. There is no real body of research outlining the developmental trajectory of gifted students compared to neurotypical students. In this case, “neurotypical” refers to students who are not gifted or identified with a specific learning disability (SLD). Following the timeline as outlined by Erik Erikson (when children meet developmental transitions and milestones) may prove more difficult to identify twice-exceptional and gifted students without a baseline of when these populations meet the same developmental transitions. Second is the lack of a subsequent body of knowledge for professionals to reference for how to support successful developmental transitions
My doctoral research project, “The Space Between: Examining the Perceived Developmental Transitions of Preadolescent Twice-Exceptional Students,” studies these perceived developmental transitions from the perspectives of parents, teachers, and a clinical psychologist. The twice-exceptional students in this study were identified as gifted with ADHD as the second exceptionality. The results of this study will inform educational leaders on the need for expanded professional development and university preservice teacher programs on incorporating the results to ensure that preservice teachers are providing equitable access to education for all learners. This study aims to inform and update our current understanding of preadolescent development, developmental milestones, twice-exceptionality, and appropriate instructional practices.
The real question here is whether my journey has enabled me to come full circle with accepting my own giftedness. My answer continues to be “It’s a journey!” The relationships I’ve developed with my colleagues, cohort, friends, and fellow parents on this journey are priceless as they cheer, encourage, question, and hold up the mirror so I can see myself with greater clarity. I only hope I can do the same for them.
1. Susan M. Baum, Robin M. Schader, Thomas P. Hébert, “Through a Different Lens: Reflecting on a Strengths-Based, Talent-Focused Approach for Twice-Exceptional Learners,” Gifted Child Quarterly 58, no. 4 (September 2014): 311–327, https://doi.org/10.1177/0016986214547632
2. M Foley-Nicpon, “The Social and Emotional Development of Twice-Exceptional Children,” in The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children: What Do We Know?, eds. M. Neihart, S. Pfeiffer, and T. L. Cross (Waco: Prufrock Press, Inc., 2015), 103-118.
3. M. Foley-Nicpon, M., S.G. Assouline, and N. Colangelo, “Twice-Exceptional Learners: Who Needs to Know What?”, Gifted Child Quarterly 57, no. 3 (May 2013), 169–180, https://doi.org/10.1177/0016986213490021
4. L.K. Silverman, “The Construct of Asynchronous Development,” Peabody Journal of Education 72, no. 3–4 (1997), 36–58, https://doi.org/10.1080/0161956X.1997.9681865.
5. J.C. Terrassier, “Dyssynchrony: Uneven Development,” in The Psychology of Gifted Children: Perspectives on Development and Education (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1985), 265–274.
6. Fole-Nicpon, “The Social and Emotional Development of Twice-Exceptional Children,” 103.
7. C. Willard-Holt, J. Weber, K.L. Morrison, and J. Horgan, “Twice-Exceptional Learners’ Perspectives on Effective Learning Strategies,” Gifted Child Quarterly 57, no. 4 (August 2013), 247-262, https://doi.org/10.1177/0016986213501076.
8. Baum, Schader, Hébert, “Through a Different Lens: Reflecting on a Strengths-Based, Talent-Focused Approach for Twice-Exceptional Learners,” 311.
Nikki Hegstrom says
This is such incredible work you’re doing, Karen! I just keep thinking how different my (or my son’s) school experience would have been had teachers simply been made aware of this during their training. When we left my son’s last school (a Montessori), I made enough noise that the director started wondering why so many “bright” students were struggling. (My son was not the first.) We’ve stayed in touch, so she told me this, and that she brought in a specialist (who identifies and works with children with different learning needs) to observe students and train the teachers. The director told me they identified a couple students with dyslexia right off the bat. And working with these kids with that information has eased their emotional issues that had previously been at the forefront. (Meaning, his teacher kept telling me that my son needed to be seen for anxiety. And I kept trying to tell her that anxiety wasn’t the issue. Anxiety was a result of being misunderstood and forced to conform to things that will not work for his little 2e brain.)
I’m excited to see where this research takes you, and the gifted community at large!
Dennis Hulick says
Karen I doubt that at 18 you would have choose the path that you are now exploring but many people stand to benefit from your journey. Your interest, determination, curiosity and view of the landscape will bring a clarity that is at this point is cloudy at best and nonexistent at worst. I am humbled by your drive to bring to light all that you discover. May you also grow personally as I know the strength that lies within you.