- Need to know: Tips and strategies on raising neurodivergent children.
You have heard of the word gifted used to describe children of exceptional cognitive abilities, and you are pretty certain that your ADHD/autistic/dyslexic/<insert neurodivergence here> child is not gifted. Your child’s experience at school is not remarkable in that sense. Teachers don’t sing their praise and instead are quick to highlight their deficits.
Twice-exceptional children encompass a diverse group of learners who demonstrate exceptional cognitive abilities in one or more areas, and have been identified as having learning or neurological differences. While they may have high intellectual potential, these students can also face difficulties in areas such as executive functioning, social interactions, working memory and processing speed. These challenges may hinder their progress in traditional academic settings, leading to underachievement and behavioural difficulties.
Why it’s important
You’ve wondered about your child’s abilities, they are so bright and you’ve seen glimpses of brilliance, but they only produce average results. School has never been your child’s happy place. Teachers rarely say anything positive about your child and instead might complain about them:
- Being disruptive in the classroom
- Refusing to do anything that involves writing
- Asking too many irrelevant questions
- Not being able to regulate their emotions
- Not sitting still
- Being disengaged
- Not listening
- Getting easily frustrated
- Having difficulty working in groups
- Making lots of mistakes because they want to finish as quickly as possible
- Not trying hard enough, especially in tasks they’re not interested in
- Not having “social skills” or not understanding “social cues”
- Not showing their working out
- Having a messy workbook
- Being bright but not putting in effort
When you think about your child and learning, you might encounter the following:
- Refusing to go to school
- Whining about school work being easy and also hard
- Refusing to do any homework, to the point of meltdowns
- Complaining that their hand hurts when they write
- Protesting that homework is boring
- Absolute exhaustion and dysregulation when they get home from school
At home and without pressure, you might also observe that your child has:
- A voracious appetite for books of their choice
- An excellent vocabulary for their age
- The ability to understand complex concepts
- A need to know more or go deeper on a subject of interest
- Outstanding creativity in the arts or incredible imagination
- The ability to extend on ideas
- A sense of humour beyond their years
- A wide range of interests
It is easy for parents and teachers to believe the common misconception that a child who struggles at school or has difficulties with maths or writing can’t be gifted. Most people think that gifted children are exceptional students who perform consistently years above their grade.
In actual fact, twice exceptional children can fall into three categories:
- first identified as gifted and later shows signs of a specific learning disability;
- identified as having a specific learning disability and who also shows outstanding talent in one or more areas; or
- may appear average or underachieving because the disability area masks any manifestation of giftedness.
Twice-exceptional children are more likely to perform inconsistently because of giftedness and their learning and neurological differences, which are often disabling in a typical classroom with standardised instruction.
Research shows that teachers tend to value conformity to classroom norms and achievement over aptitude. Students with a diagnosis are viewed through a deficit-based lens rather than through a strengths-based view. Not “high performing” enough for gifted and talented programs and not “struggling” enough for education support. This is how twice exceptional students fall through the cracks.
Tips & strategies
Things you can do to support your child at home
Get your child assessed – If you are wondering about your child’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses, it is worth getting them assessed through an experienced educational psychologist who will do a WISC and a WIAT. At the very least you will be able to identify what areas your child will need support with at school.
Encourage interests – Twice exceptional children often develop intense passions or hobbies in specific areas. Even if you consider things like Pokemon a waste of time, it’s important to encourage and facilitate their exploration of these interests, because they provide avenues for personal growth and enhance your child’s overall well-being.
Build emotion regulation skills – Twice exceptional children may experience heightened emotional sensitivity. If your child is deeply affected by criticism, failure, or perceived social rejection, how you navigate these big feelings at home can equip them with the skills to navigate their emotions in other environments. Focus on modelling how to deal with disappointment, giving your child choices for dealing with frustration, and using co-regulation to teach them self-regulation. Use the Keywell app to keep track of your child’s wellbeing.
Focus on the process, not results – Some twice exceptional children can be crippled by the anxiety that comes with perfectionist tendencies. Avoid setting expectations for things like test results and the final mark on report cards, and instead discuss the importance of mistakes in learning, celebrate the chance to practise new skills and recognise their personal effort. Focusing on the process rather than the result can also help a child who procrastinates because of perfectionism.
Support executive functioning – Difficulties in planning, organising, and completing tasks can be common among twice exceptional children. Establishing consistent routines, breaking tasks into manageable steps, and providing visual aids or reminders can help them develop effective strategies for managing these challenges.
Prioritise social interactions through interests – Socialising can be challenging for twice exceptional children, as they may find it difficult to relate to their peers or experience social anxiety. Interest-based communities can provide the perfect platform for social interactions, which in turn can foster social growth and boost self-confidence.
Things you can do to support your child at school
Request an IEP/ILP – Twice exceptional children often struggle with traditional classroom structures. They may require individualised educational plans to address their learning needs. These plans can include things like:
- extended time for assignments – discuss what is possible with your child’s teacher
- preferential seating – usually away from distractions
- modified curriculum with enrichment opportunities and flexible pacing
- alternative assessment methods – e.g. video speeches
- assistive technologies – e.g. voice-to-text, iPad to type instead of write
- sensory tools – e.g. ear defenders, discreet fidgets
- test accommodations – e.g. scribe, extra breaks
Open communication – Maintain regular communication with your child’s teachers to share insights, concerns, and successes. Establishing a partnership between home and school is essential for understanding and supporting your child’s progress. Most teachers don’t have the capacity to follow up on every student, so it will be up to you to check in regularly.
Empower the teacher with knowledge – The typical teacher does not have training on how to identify or support twice exceptional students. It takes experience and knowledge to see beyond some of the behavioural issues that come from boredom and disengagement, and to take a strengths based approach when a student’s learning differences hinder their progress and cause them to underperform. As a parent, you want to ensure that your child is not mistakenly labelled as unmotivated or as a struggling learner. One of the best ways of setting up your child for success is to equip educators with specific knowledge about your child, reports and assessments from professionals.