In this interview, Dr. Dan Peters, psychologist, author, co-founder, and Executive Director of the Summit Center will explain what it means to be twice-exceptional, how to test for it, and what you can do to support your 2e child.
There is a debate within the education field on whether gifted and talented programs should be separated. Dr. Dan Peters discusses the difference between the two, explaining that that giftedness is when a person has advanced cognitive potential in one or more areas. Whereas, talent is when a person is actually showing their aptitude, skill, or thinking in specific areas such as advanced math, robotics, or writing.
Being gifted and talented is a good thing, but this doesn’t mean that you can do everything well or that everything will come easy. This is often surprising for parents to learn as many people assume that giftedness is always associated with high performance. Yet it is possible for a learning disability to overshadow giftedness. There can be giftedness in one subject, such as math, but a learning disability that affects performance in other areas of the curriculum. Some gifted children with great potential may also have a disability such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, ADD, ADHD, and autism, that they struggle with and this is known as being twice-exceptional. Dr. Peters will give you some insight on how to identify your kid as 2e (or twice-exceptional) and what you need to do to support them.
Full Interview Transcript
Kelly: In this interview, Dr Dan Peters, psychologist, author, co-founder and Executive Director of the Summit Center. He will explain what it means to be twice-exceptional, how to test for it and what you can do to support your 2e child.
Kelly: twice exceptional was interesting to me. So I don’t think a lot of people know what that is and can you explain what does twice exceptional mean?
Dan Peterson: In this case, we’re often talking about kids who have advanced cognitive, ability or potential compared to the norm. It can be seen in not only cognitive ability, it can be seen in academic abilities like someone strong in math or engineering, or literature can also be seen in the performing arts, the visual arts and leadership ability. In reality, we don’t have tests or identification metrics for a lot of the non-data driven like cognitive ability and academic ability. So people don’t think about performers and artists and leaders as gifted as often, unfortunately. So that’s gifted. So, if you’re on the high end of the bell curve in any of those abilities, you would be in this quote, gifted range. Well, a lot of people also have other conditions or situations or profiles or differences on the other end of the bell curve, which sound like ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, dysgraphia, the fine motor issues and so when you are twice exceptional, you are on both ends of the bell curve and so what happens is one of three things generally, your strengths outweigh your challenges. So people don’t recognize the challenges that you’re having. The other one is your challenges outweigh your strengths so people aren’t focused on any of your advanced abilities and interests and passions, it’s all focused on remediation and fixing what’s wrong with you and a lot of times what happens is they both collapse and so you have a child who is doing fine is average. But actually that child is struggling and languishing because everything is just collapsing on each other and they’re not getting support for their strengths or remediation and intervention for their challenges. That’s twice exceptional and I will add, most of these people we call are actually multi-exceptional because they’re usually pretty complex and it’s not just one other thing.
Kelly: How is that identified or what are the signs that your child?
Dan Peterson: You often see precocious verbal development and asking penetrating questions. Highly observant, very strong memory seems to know things that they haven’t yet been taught yet. Understanding nuances, has a sophisticated sense of humor, can be advanced in reading and math, have this natural proclivity, highly creative. So you’re noticing they’re different, and they’re more advanced and if it’s your first child, you don’t really realize it until you go to play groups and then it becomes a thing that you can’t really talk to other people about because it seems odd or different, or like you’re bragging or being boastful. So that would be just an overview of the gifted side. Then on the other challenge side, it can be often in the way of sensory processing. So kids being completely overwhelmed by loud noises, bright sounds, textures of foods, socks, pajamas. So there’s a whole sensory processing component that can cause lots of problems. You also can have a lot of emotionality. So trouble with your emotional regulation, big feelings or we sometimes call over excitabilities. Trouble with sitting still just like driven by the motor sort of thing that we see with more classic ADHD trouble concentrating unless you’re doing just the thing that interests you and then as you get to more school age, when there’s more of the learning attentional issues, writing issues, it starts to present itself because you’re not meeting typical milestones, even though in other ways, you’re seemingly beyond your chronological age.
Dan Peterson: The only other word that was popping through my head is within both gifted and twice exceptionality is the idea of what’s called developmental asynchrony or asynchronous development, and what we see in this is uneven development. So within twice exceptionality, and within many gifted people, developmental asynchrony is actually the norm and so again, it goes back to that other myth that if someone is gifted, they’re developed evenly at a very high level and that’s often not the case.
Kelly: So then someone who’s asynchronous development, are you implying that they could catch up or will they always be out of sync?
Dan Peterson: Well, actually it really depends again on what the thing that’s out of sync. So for example, what we often see is advanced reasoning abilities. So you have the 10 year old who can argue like an attorney and make you totally second guess your point and what you heard, and that you have any logic whatsoever, which is well beyond their years and then the same 10 year old when you tell them no, they can’t play an extra video game, melts down like a five year old and throws a major temper tantrum. Right. Generally that’s what we see often the delay in social and behavioral regulation with the intense emotions, that generally catches up over time.
Dan Peterson: However, if you have dysgraphia, a fine motor issue, and it’s really hard for you to write, that’s not necessarily going to catch up. So you just start keyboarding. When it comes to ADHD, and you’re having trouble with sustained attention, focus, some people their maturation, they do catch up and they do develop coping mechanisms and some other people. It’s harder for them.
Kelly: Those are the twice exceptional signs. How is that tested then?
Dan Peterson: first of all, we try to wait as long as possible just because the older child is often the more valid the test results are going to be. But that being said, a commonly used test called the wipsi, the Wessler primary preschool scale of intelligence, you can give a partial test at two and a half years old and then you can give the full test at age four and there are a lot of people, kids that are showing such advanced ability parents do have a need to say, should I be keeping them in preschool? Should we try to be moving them on to kindergarten, you know, they already know their ABCs like two years ago, and they’re going to be working on the letter A for a week at the beginning of school. You could get a solid IQ test score, cognitive abilities score at age four. Also, you could layer in achievement testing. So when we think of cognitive testing, that’s your child’s engine. So it looks at verbal abilities, it looks at visual spatial abilities and it often looks at visual motor processing speed, which it usually lags for these kids behind their reasoning abilities.
Kelly: Then you would only want to give the test if they were showing those abilities otherwise, then the test wouldn’t really show you much.
Dan Peterson: Well, for the cognitive test or the IQ test, it’s not showing anything in writing and math, it’s actually showing verbal skills and it’s showing visual spatial skills. So when it comes to just thinking, which is apparent, you know, it is expressed with all children before academic ability, you would just give that test but it doesn’t make sense to give the achievement test if someone is not reading or writing yet.
Kelly: How accurate are those tests then?
Dan Peterson: I think the gifted profile that the world thinks about you know that I thought about growing up. Like my friends who were in all the gifted classes were, they were smart, and they were really good at school, right. So that’s the stereotype of gifted and so there are a lot of gifted achievers. Gifted people who love doing reading, writing and math and are good at it. However, there’s a lot of gifted and creative thinkers that do not really like school stuff that much. They’re not, especially when they’re younger, they’re not intrinsically motivated, and they’re not really interested in learning it or showing it. So this is when we get into the discussion of the difference between gifted and talented because a lot of the states have adopted gifted and talented education when there’s money to support it and there’s a debate within the field of should these things be pulled apart and what should be focused on because giftedness, the idea of giftedness is this advanced cognitive or academic ability or potential, and I use the word potential because a child showing all of these thinking signs. Whereas a talent is you’re actually showing the ability, you’re showing your thinking is turning into advanced math, into robotics, into advanced writing and so they’re actually different things but we’re trying we do, of course want our high thinkers, our gifted thinkers, to express a talent, but they don’t all do that, which is why many of them don’t get identified for school programs if the schools are just looking at academic performance to identify giftedness.
Kelly: how do you get identified as twice exceptional, if you don’t even know what it is?
Dan Peterson: coming up with a plan for twice exceptional individual is a plan that both differentiates for the advanced abilities and accommodates and intervenes on the areas of challenge or difference or in educational code disability and so the way to put together an ideal plan and actually some states, not California have gifted programming and special education all fall under the same umbrella and kids who have an IEP, just as they do for a child who has a specific learning disability.
Kelly: Oh, gifted persons have IEP’s?
Dan Peterson: Yeah, and so that is really the ideal model. Even if you’re not doing it formally, the idea that you actually need written goals and focus on let’s say, you again, a simple way to look at it because it’s quantitative, it’s math. So you have a child who’s in second grade, and is in fourth grade level math. How can you differentiate that child So they’re either getting clustered an idea of cluster grouping is one of the models that you could do it in class, partial acceleration going up, bring that to third or fourth grade to be at the level that you are, while at the same time, you might be dyslexic and because you’re dyslexic, you’re having trouble reading, you’re definitely having trouble writing and you’re having trouble with your fine motor output and so that person would also need multi-sensory intervention in a special education or resource classroom and also support with writing, while at the same time we’re supporting that strength area and we want to do equal because you know, nothing is worse than someone always focusing your weaknesses, and that I have a quote from a long time ago client, who was very quiet twice exceptional, very shut down. She was actually unschooled because she completely melted from depression and anxiety of being misunderstood in school. She said, she was in third grade at the time, I finally figured out what school and special ed is like, said, What’s that? She said, they find out what you’re not good at and then they make you do it over and over and over again.
Dan Peterson: I find it’s the experience of many twice exceptional people. Because when you have advanced thinking and ability, you have very high standards for yourself, and you’re used to parts of your life coming much easier, and being able to go at whatever pace you want and then so imagine you have also a part of you that not only is not easy, but it’s hard and you’re actually behind everyone and so it really an internal angst and struggling situation if we’re just focusing on that.
Kelly: Can they can be successful in a public school setting, or do they have to have some kind of special schooling?
Dan Peterson: let me start by saying every twice exceptional profile is different and every category is different. So for example, if we’re talking about a twice exceptional person with high functioning autism, that is different than talking with the same person, twice exceptional person with ADHD or dyslexia, or an auditory processing disorder, because there are different needs. So the answer is maybe, and it really depends upon the child’s profile, the severity of needs, and when I say severity of needs, if you’re highly too profoundly gifted, many schools aren’t able to support you being three, four or five plus years beyond your chronological age and if you are significant in your deficit area and your social skills or your body regulation that can be difficult too. So I want to say it’s possible if you have a profile that the school has the resources to support and does understand what the profile is.
Kelly: School by school basis, you just have to be an advocate, basically and make sure.
Dan Peterson: Yes, and can I take it one step further.
Dan Peterson: Because people often assume it’s also a matter of resources and I can tell you that in some twice exceptional, you can’t assume that a private school that you’re going to pay a lot of money for is necessarily going to do any better job with the twice exceptionality as the public school because in the same way, you have to have a school that’s set up to understand the profile and both differentiate and nominate and support.
Kelly: I’m just curious as the gifted kids that you see, what percentage do you feel is genetic? Do you think is that they’re just born gifted or is it the parents?
Dan Peterson: Some people in the field look at giftedness, as we call it a state versus the trait. So some people say, yeah, you’re born that way and regardless of what your family resources are, you are going to express this advanced ability at least with your comprehension and your knowledge. Other people say no, it’s a state of being and it’s what your state of mind is at that time or development in your life. how I would attempt to answer that is with the difference between gifted and talented. My experiences with very involved parents in more affluent areas, you can generally impact talent. Right? So and the best talent program we have in the United States is sports and if we look at this, you know, if you’re advanced in sports at an early age, you get the best coaches on the best teams and you play most of the year. That’s called talent development and we both know there are people who are athletes, who are natural athletes who make it and there are people with not all that much effort, and there are people that don’t have the same amount of raw talent but work super hard, and then compete at very high levels. So that’s the talent portion. I think the giftedness portion for a big section of field talks about giftedness as again, advanced thinking, sensitivity, perceptive, strong memory, strong awareness. I feel a lot of those people come into this world expressing that and then it’s what do you do with that?
Kelly: Then it just depends on what their circumstances are if it becomes expressed or not?
Dan Peterson: And the opportunities they have, which is why there’s such a push to try to get the underrepresented populations of giftedness where people aren’t looking and they don’t necessarily have the same opportunities as the more affluent areas.
Kelly: What would be false misconception that people have about gifted children?
Dan Peterson: A main primary myth is they can do everything well, and everything comes easy for them. So that’s a big one. That they are, if they’re not, if they’re gifted at one thing, they should be gifted at everything. That’s another big one. Another one is, well, they’re smart, and they’re fine. So they don’t need anything extra and I would say those are the huge ones and if there’s something that I, it’s important for me to get out to the world is when you look at the bell curve, and we have this, my imaginary bell curve. So you have people on the high end, let’s say the top 5 to 10% of the population and then you have people on the lower end and those are the kids that would be considered more developmentally disabled, delayed, and those people are both just as far from the Center which is considered neuro-typical or normal. So the myth is that these people need all the help and that these people are fine. But many of these people, particularly the higher up you get, because there’s different levels of giftedness of highly exceptionally profoundly, are more and more different, which generally have more and more needs that can make life more and more difficult for them just different from the other kids. They often do need to be identified and understood and they often feel like they don’t fit and it’s hard to find peers.
Kelly: Right. This is very interesting.
Kelly: I appreciate you sharing all your insight and in there a website where people can get more information about your services and what you offer?
Dan Peterson: Yes, check us out at www.summitcenter.us, we have lots of information about twice exceptionality and resources and what it is and helpful information.
Kelly: Thank you
About Dr. Dan Peters
Daniel B. Peters, Ph.D. is a psychologist, author, and Co-founder of Parent Footprint, an interactive parenting education community and website that offers Parent Footprint Awareness Training with the mission to make the world a more compassionate and loving place — one parent and one child at a time. He is host of the “Parent Footprint Podcast with Dr. Dan” and is a contributor to The Huffington Post and Psychology Today.
For over 20 years, Dr. Dan has been passionate about helping parents to parent their children with purpose and intention in order to guide them in reaching their potential while their children are also reaching their own. Dr. Dan is the author of Make Your Worrier a Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Child’s Fears, its companion children’s book From Worrier to Warrior, and the Warrior Workbook. He is a contributor to Twice Exceptional: Supporting and Educating Bright and Creative Students with Learning Difficulties (edited by Scott Barry Kaufman) and toughLOVE: Raising Confident, Kind, Resilient Kids, as well as co-author of Raising Creative Kids and many articles on topics related to parenting, family, giftedness, twice-exceptionality, dyslexia, and anxiety.
Dr. Dan is Co-Founder/Executive Director of Summit Center (CA), specializing in the assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and families, with special emphasis on gifted, talented, and creative individuals and families as well as anxiety. He speaks regularly at national conferences and to the media on a variety of topics including parenting, learning differences, special needs, family, education and more.
Dr. Peters was recognized as “2018 SENG Mental Health Professional of the Year” by Supporting Emotional Needs of Gifted, and as “2016 Allen Ewig Champion for Children” by Aldea Children and Family Services. He also received the 2013 CAG Distinguished Service Award from the California Association for Gifted. He is co-founder of Camp Summit, a sleep-over summer camp for gifted youth.