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Learning at home: Supporting twice-exceptional learners

Twice-exceptional children are gifted in one or more learning areas but also have co-existing learning difficulties. These learning difficulties could affect specific cognitive (thinking) processes, socio-emotional or behavioural interactions, and/or physical capabilities, all of which impact upon a child’s ability to learn. Helping twice-exceptional children to fully develop their potential requires knowledge of the individual child’s particular combination of gifts, talents and learning difficulties and how these interact to influence the learning process.

Parents and caregivers are uniquely positioned to assist their twice-exceptional children in developing the skills necessary to help with learning. After all, parents/caregivers spend the most time with their children and therefore have insight into how they best learn and play. The following suggestions are designed to help parents/caregivers who are currently at home with their school-aged twice-exceptional children to provide some academic learning in their daily routine.

1. Routine, routine, routine

Most twice-exceptional children (especially those individuals on the autistic spectrum) take comfort in knowing the structure of their day. They appreciate consistency in the design of learning activities so they can mentally prepare for learning to occur. Jointly preparing a schedule of ‘events’ and deciding upon the purpose of those events helps both children and adults to buy in to the plan . When designing the schedule, remember to attempt more difficult learning activities for an individual child during a time when that child is most open to learning a new task. Perhaps start off with an enjoyable activity first off, then move onto a more challenging task that requires effort in the learning area where the child is most affected by their learning difficulty. Then finish with time spent in an area of giftedness to enhance development of that talent. Remember that every twice-exceptional child is unique in respect to their combination of gifts and learning difficulties, so each schedule will need to reflect that child’s particular combination.

2. There is learning in everything!

Everyday activities such as playing and gardening can include authentic and valuable learning. Even simple activities like baking combine maths, reading and chemistry in one fun activity that (hopefully) has a delicious outcome. Playing on a trampoline could include discussion and further research into the physics of energy transformation and transfer, while skateboarding allows children to delve into the wonders of gravity and friction. Reading a recipe together develops literacy skills, and calculating ratios in mixtures develops numeracy and measurement abilities. Spending time drawing and/or examining artwork in nature (spider webs are fascinating and flower petals demonstrate concepts like the Fibonacci sequence and the golden ratio) are also pursuits that develop thinking and academic wonder about everyday life.

3. Investigate individual interests

Children have many and varied interests as they develop into young adults. It’s good to take the time to explore what current wonderings your children have about the world, and which skills they want to develop. You might also encourage your children to try new things. Often gifted children become risk-averse in respect to taking up new activities as they don’t want to appear to ‘lack’ talent in a new area of learning. This behaviour is often unwittingly reinforced by well-meaning adults who praise children for demonstrating talent in a particular area rather than for the pursuit and development of new skills. The chance to tackle a new activities, which might include the feelings of failure and despair, helps develop skills such as resilience and perseverance, both of which are important learning attributes.

4. Developing skills is fun!

Explicitly teaching thinking skills such as mind-mapping, developing structured overviews and using open versus closed questioning is a great way to help twice-exceptional children stop and analyse their own thinking processes. Often twice-exceptional students will rush to complete a task that holds little interest for them. When children slow down their thinking and make clear the processes involved in developing an answer, they can be explicit about the problems associated with working out that answer. This allows early correction of errors in thinking that can impact upon a child’s ability to express their actual capability in a learning area. For twice-exceptional children, this approach also affords parents/caregivers (and teachers) an opportunity to evaluate the degree of difficulty faced by a twice-exceptional child in a particular learning area.

5. Enhance family relationships

Every child wants to be accepted for who they are. During time at home, it’s important to take time to further develop relationships between family members. Developing the different skills sets of different children requires investment in getting to know one another. This in turn develops greater trust between individuals, allowing further sharing of both the trials and triumphs of learning as a process. For example, a twice-exceptional (dyslexic) child might not understand why their sibling/friend has no difficulty reading a whole book while they struggle to read a single sentence. They have no concept of ‘difference’ in learning as they have only their own experience to refer to. Taking time to teach your child about their specific combination of gifts and learning challenges can help develop such understandings. This also helps to enhance individual wellbeing, as discussing strengths and relative learning weaknesses means we are better positioned to manage them in our everyday lives. Reach out to experts, including other parents/caregivers with twice-exceptional children, for ideas on how to help your child overcome their challenges and develop their gifts into talents. There is lots of information available from credible associations on the internet including New Zealand-based resources such as the Ministry of Education’s TKI website as well as overseas organisations such as The 2E Resource which hosts a 2E newsletter.

By Sue Ng