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Twice-exceptional children: paradoxes and parenting.

For seven years, I have been the parent of a wonderfully uniquely gifted little boy, who has taught me all about "exceptional" parenting. Adrian is a "twice-exceptional" (see, e.g., Kiesa, 2000) child who is both intellectually gifted and has special needs that negatively impact his development and learning. Initially, the contradictions of parenting a twice-exceptional child left me feeling confused and alone. While being a parent is joyful it is also full of struggles and frustrations that shape how I see my child and myself and ultimately how others see me as a parent. Over time, I have developed into a parent who listens to herself and her child rather than dwelling on the critiques and questioning of others. Through my experiences, I have learned some lessons that I reflect upon when making decisions that may affect my son's success in life. I hope they inspire others looking for comfort and connections in parenting a child with special needs.

Trust yourself as a parent and trust that you know your child best

As parents, we are inundated with expert advice from every professional discipline, making it extremely difficult to trust and value our own instincts, knowledge, and experiences when making decisions regarding how we raise our children. Like most new parents, I entered this unexplored territory excited about the potential of my child and scared about what the future might hold. After only a few short months, however, my expectations were shattered as I recognized that Adrian was different from other babies. A developmental evaluation determined that he had motor delays, characterized by low muscle tone and sensory processing difficulties.

From time to time, we all look to others for help, emotional support, and a nonjudgmental ear as we try to be the best parents we can be, and I often turned to the early intervention providers working with my son for support. While they had vast knowledge of their field, however, they often provided over-generalized advice based solely on their clinical opinion of Adrian's deficits. I learned that professionals rarely view families as experts who bring valuable insights, perspective, and experiences to the discussion of their children's needs. I was tired of leaving meetings regarding my child feeling beat-up and defeated rather than embraced as a valuable team member and an advocate for my child's best interests. While I tried to be a good parent, the intervention negatively changed my view of my child and affected the quality of our interactions in ways I could not have expected; despite all my efforts, I felt like a bad mother.

As he grew up, the differences between Adrian and his peers only became more pronounced. Shortly after his first birthday, Adrian expressed how he was different from his peers: He asked why he was a "crawling boy" and his friends were "walking girls and boys." I worried that this realization would hurt his developing self-esteem, yet it had the opposite effect; it motivated him to achieve his goal of being a "walking boy" while rejecting his therapists' and my attempts to intervene. At that moment, I began to trust myself to see the potential rather than the problems in the unique way he approaches the world and learns; he was a very observant, articulate, and perceptive child. In his second year, Adrian was re-evaluated; the results confirmed my belief that he was twice-exceptional. Like so many other gifted children, he was learning to compensate for his deficits, thereby making his disability "invisible" (Nowak, 2000).

Believe in your child's potential and focus on his or her strengths

One of the great paradoxes of giftedness is that children sometimes have extremely high potential and abilities in some areas while deficits in other areas block the full development of their gifts (Bailey, 2000). For example, Adrian's development is uneven; while he has a natural flair for mathematics, language, and music, enabling him to solve complex problems, tell elaborate stories, read fluently, and decode music, he has difficulty engaging in familiar daily routines. It is hard for him to have a body that does not move as fast as his mind, and Adrian is painfully aware that he moves differently than his peers. Like other children with sensory integration dysfunction, Adrian uses cognitive processes to direct movement, which is less efficient and results in his moving slower than normal and appearing clumsy (Kranowitz, 1998). While he can tell me exactly how an action should be done and can accomplish it with extra work, the results are not up to the level of his peers. Adrian's main issue in school is his inability to organize himself and his belongings; losing homework, forgetting books, not being able to organize school projects, and not liking to change classes are a few of the challenges he faces.

The best way to address the learning difficulties of gifted children is by promoting their strengths. It is vital for gifted children to have experiences and intellectual stimulation that allow them to offset their weaknesses in their own unique ways (Reis & McCoach, 2000). Teachers often can see the academic potential of gifted children, but they are also quick to identify them as slow and lazy. For example, Adrian's kindergarten teacher constantly encouraged him to try harder, as if this were an effective means to achieve success on tasks that were just too difficult for Adrian. She was seeing the giftedness and ignoring the disability. It is difficult to achieve a balance between challenging children academically and not frustrating them by constantly asking them to do things that are too difficult.

Believe that your child belongs and include them whenever possible

Twice-exceptional children (Kiesa, 2000) often recognize their differences and find rather appropriate mechanisms for coping with the challenges they face (Kay, 2000). Adrian rejected therapeutic interventions early on, so I had to explore all of his interests for their potential therapeutic value. One of the greatest benefits for Adrian has been his inclusion in general education. While Adrian entered school with superior reading and math skills, he could not yet write, draw a recognizable form, use scissors, or dress himself independently, which are all perceptual-motor tasks expected of children his age. Each new teacher commends and appreciates his early reading ability, even as she dutifully explains that Adrian cannot produce the written work necessary to confirm that he integrates what he reads. No one knows this more than I; I labored with my child over each word he writes on a page, often taking two hours to complete a simple homework assignment.

In addition, while Adrian is proficient at having lengthy conversations with adults, he struggles to engage with his peers. Being in an inclusive class provides him with opportunities for developing social skills through cooperative learning groups that are designed to achieve a common goal. While the academic content may not be sufficiently challenging, the effort required to explain, demonstrate, and share information and ideas creates a demanding and rewarding educational experience.

Participation in extracurricular activities also is helpful in developing motor skills and a strong self-concept (Anderson & Weinhouse, 1997). Adrian has always had a love of music and we have used piano lessons as one method for addressing fine motor development. In addition, I worried that peers would tease Adrian for his lack of coordination, so I encouraged him to practice ball skills in the hope that he would develop the motor planning abilities necessary for success. Eventually, I stopped pushing him, realizing that he only tried so I would not be "disappointed" in him. Adrian is now self-motivated to practice soccer, baseball football, and basketball skills. I have found that individual activities are the most therapeutic and least competitive. For example, rock climbing, karate, swimming, and gymnastics have shown great promise in developing his skills and self-confidence. He is now an active child who is motivated by activities and interactions that are enjoyable and engaging while promoting acquisition of much-needed skills.


I will always worry about Adrian and strive to see that he is never left out, humiliated, taken advantage of, or negatively judged by children and adults. The lessons I have learned from my son have significantly changed how I view him and how I view myself as a parent. The point is that we must recognize each part of our unique children's development, their strengths and weaknesses, as gifts. Each child is special and deserves to be seen as full of potential and successful. It is only through this belief that children can find hope and confidence in themselves and their future.


Anderson, M., & Weinhouse, D. (1997). Learning disabilities--twice blessed. Young Children, 52(4), 29-31.

Bailey, A. (2000). Pardoxes: A parent/ teacher perspective. In K. Kay (Ed.), Uniquely gifted: Identifying and meeting the needs of the twice-exceptional student (pp. 61-67). Gilsum, NH: Avocus Publishing.

Kay, K. (2000). Uniquely gifted: Identifying and meeting the needs of the twice-exceptional student. Gilsum, NH: Avocus Publishing.

Kiesa, K. (Ed.). (2000). Uniquely gifted: Identifying and meeting the needs of the twice-exceptional student. Gilsum, NH: Avocus Publishing.

Kranowitz, C. (1998). The out-of-sync child: Recognizing and coping with sensory integration dysfunction. New York: Perigee.

Nowak, M. (2000). Pain, waste, and the hope for a better future: "Invisible disabilities" in the educational system. In K. Kay (Ed.), Uniquely gifted: Identifying and meeting the needs of the twice-exceptional student (pp. 50-57). Gilsum, NH: Avocus Publishing.

Reis, S. M., & McCoach, D. B. (2000). The under achievement of gifted students: What do we know and where do we go? Gifted Child Quarterly, 44(3), 152-170.

Tricia Giovacco-Johnson is Assistant Professor, College of Education, The University of Wyoming, Laramie.
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Title Annotation:For Parents Particularly
Author:Giovacco-Johnson, Tricia
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2007
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