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Bully Proofing Your Twice-Exceptional Child

February 16, 2018


Bully Proofing your Twice-Exceptional Child

Casey was identified with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when he

was about 3 or 4 years old. His mother noticed that Casey was an outcast at school, and he

often felt angry and frustrated. However, as a one-year-old, Casey’s speech was fluent. He

could recite some nursery rhymes, sing the national anthem, and have conversations with

adults. He was a creative child who invented his own games and stories.

School assessments identified Casey as having an IQ in the gifted range, but the school

didn't inform his mother of this until he was a teenager. Casey had difficulty with social skills,

self-esteem, and self-control. He did not get along with other children, and he seemed to live

in his own world, playing by himself. Other children saw him as strange and teased him.

Unable to manage peers’ teasing, Casey acted out. He talked out of turn, talked too

much, left his seat, and fought with peers during group work. Teachers punished him for those

behaviors. He reacted negatively when he was punished, which made it worse. Punishment

after punishment and failure after failure, he lacked self-esteem. His mother reported that he

often said, “I don’t know why I was born; I’m worthless.” Because of this, he hurt himself.

When she went to get Casey from school one day, Casey’s mother found him sitting on the

floor at the classroom door hitting his head with a sandal. She found out he was punished that

day and got upset about himself. Each day, on the way back home from school, he would

complain about how peers and teachers didn’t understand him, how they treated him unfairly,

and how he felt low and worthless.

Twice-exceptional (2E) students are those who demonstrate a gift or talent in one or

more areas and have a disability in another area. Only in the past decade or so has this

population of youngsters come under significant scrutiny (Neumeister, Yssel, & Burney,

2013). One of the most important identifying characteristics of 2E children is asynchronous

development. This means that the student shows unusual talent or maturity in one or more

areas and struggles or develops slowly in others. According to the Idaho Department of

Education (2010), there are two ways that asynchronous development may show in two ways:

internally and externally. Internally, this issue may show itself in different rates of physical,

intellectual, emotional, and social skill development. In contrast, external traits may include

lack of inclusion with both same-aged peers and age-related expectations of society. These

external traits illustrate the importance of special efforts to facilitate healthy social and

emotional development among 2E children.

The social and emotional issues that 2E children demonstrate can be as debilitating as

their other challenges. Parents see a frustrated, angry, depressed child, and they may

experience similar emotional and psychological issues. According to Nielson (2002),

psychological issues are often hidden behind negative behavior. For example, antisocial

behavior can indicate a lack of social skills in general or a disability that affects social skills,

such as Autism. Inappropriate behaviors such as teasing, clowning, anger, withdrawal, apathy,

and denial of problems can indicate poor self-esteem. The twice-exceptional student’s lack of

initiative can indicate frustration when directly associated with a low level of academic

performance (Nielson, 2002; Trail, 2011).

The discrepancy between performance in gifted areas and performance in areas of

disability are one underlying cause of social and emotional difficulties for 2E students. These

students often have high expectations of themselves, so they could misunderstand poor

performance and quickly become frustrated (King, 2005; Trail, 2011). Balancing efforts to

overcome learning challenges with the high expectations that accompany giftedness is a

critical challenge for 2E students. Anger, fear of failure, a strong need to control, low self-

esteem, and even fear of success are common emotional issues that 2E students face (Strop,

2001; Trail, 2011). These emotional issues influence both academic and social achievement.

In this respect, it is critical to teach 2E children to manage expectations realistically (King,

2005; Barber & Mueller, 2011).

Twice-exceptional students often struggle with developing healthy social

relationships--suffering from isolation, teasing, or aggressive bullying. Negative social

experiences leave these children wounded and alienated from peers, in many cases well into

adulthood (Wood & Estrada-Hernández, 2009). Furthermore, it is often difficult for schools to

provide the specialized attention and learning environment that these children require. Parents

can play a vital role in helping their 2E child build resiliency in the face of difficulties by

intervening and advocating on several levels. Resiliency is an individual’s ability to manage,

cope, and recover from difficulties, or “bounce back” (Wood & Estrada-Hernández, 2012).

Strategies to Help

There are many ways that parents can help their 2E child develop social and emotional

resilience. Early identification and support in problem areas is the most effective way to

support positive social and emotional development, and parents have the earliest opportunities

to provide vital input and guidance to their children. Furthermore, students who know,

understand, and accept their strengths and weaknesses are most likely to achieve desired

outcomes. One activity that enhances deeper understanding and self-esteem is for 2E children

to learn about famous people who are also twice-exceptional. Through learning about such

people and how they have overcome their exceptionalities, 2E children can see that they, too,

can excel. For example, Agatha Christie, a famous novelist, had difficulty with writing and

spelling, so she used a Dictaphone to write her novels (Bradunas, 2017).

Even with a tailored learning program, 2E children will experience negative emotions

and setbacks. During these times, children need to talk openly about their feelings and

problem solve about resolving negative emotions in a specific situation. This support can take

place in informal discussions with teachers, parents, or peers. In some cases, a more formal

intervention may be appropriate, such as individual counseling for mild issues or therapy for

more severe issues (Strop, 2001; Olenchak, 2009). Parents can take the following actions to

help their 2E child develop a healthy social and emotional foundation. With practice, your

child can become bully-proof.

Interventions for Social and Emotional Health

Emotional Understanding Social Understanding

 Facilitate your child’s understanding of  Model a respectful environment that values
personal strengths, interests, and individual differences
weaknesses  Provide opportunities for your child to work
 Encourage and teach empathy with others with intellectual peers and those with
 Facilitate the development of self-esteem similar interests and abilities
 Nurture your child’s personal awareness,  Encourage your child’s involvement in
understanding, and acceptance school clubs, interest groups, or other
 Help your child learn to set realistic extracurricular activities
expectations and engage in structured goal  Attend friendship groups to aid your child in
setting developing social skills, building peer
 Celebrate attaining individual goals and relationships, and maintaining friendships
self-actualization  Provide instruction on self-advocacy skills
 Seek specialized counseling for children  Learn to empower verses enable your child
who are exhibiting signs of anxiety,  Provide explicit instruction to help students
dysfunctional perfectionism, depression, improve relationships with peers, teachers,
stress, or suicidal tendencies and family
 Help your child develop a healthy locus of  Facilitate mentorships or apprenticeships
control and the ability to self-regulate  Seek specialized counseling to assist
children who are dealing with intensities,
sensitivities, feelings of being different, and
Adapted from Trail (2011)

These interventions make sense to most people. However, it can be difficult to

translate these ideas into words and actions to teach your child. One of the most important

things parents can do is to self-educate about 2E children and their issues. Self-educating

allows parents to advocate more successfully for their child when it is necessary. It is also

important to remember that social and emotional health go hand in hand, so both emotional

and social wellness are critical to social resilience for 2E children. The following scenarios

from parents of 2E children illustrate some of the words and actions that parents can model to

help their child resolve difficult situations.

Scenario I: I taught my son how to think and respond when there are
unpleasant situations, like being teased. I told him that ‘we can’t control
others’ behaviors; we can only control ours. People that tease you want to see
you angry and react, so you must not serve them. If they call you names, give
them unexpected responses, such as telling them thank you for teasing me, or
telling them you take that as a compliment. They will soon learn that their
teasing can’t affect you.’ It was hard for him, but he tried to practice it for
years until later when he grew up, it appeared that he had bullying immunity.
When he was in high school, bullying could not affect him.
Oh! Another thing was to help him understand other kids. It’s funny
that among those that bullied him verbally, most of them also had ADHD like
my son. So, I explained to him they shared ADHD in common, and that instead
of being angry, he could be empathetic.

Another parent described a situation where some outside intervention was appropriate.

Scenario II: “Socially she's … very empathetic, and she doesn't ever want to
hurt her friends' feelings even if it's to say, ‘No, that's my snack. You can't have
my snack.’ She sees it as, ‘I'm sharing’, but sometimes the way that they do it is
more … aggressive … and she really does need to stand up for herself and say,
‘No, this is my snack. You need to ask.’ We've progressed, and … the school
psychologist is working with her. At the end of the school year … she was in a
friendship group, and her focus in the group was about advocating and
standing up for herself to her friends. She has a really good friend, but she is a
very aggressive friend [who] tells her more what to do [more] than asks, and
when Anna does eventually stand up to her, she gets really nasty. I'm like, ‘No,
you're doing what you're supposed to do, and I know this person is not being
kind about it because you're actually telling her you're not okay with being told
to do everything.’

In conclusion, positive parental involvement is critical to the social and emotional

well-being of 2E children because they frequently face significant difficulty in these areas.

Self-awareness, self-acceptance, empathy, and social flexibility are key factors in developing

social and emotional resilience. Lastly, the importance of the behavior that parents model

cannot be overemphasized. For example, this parent’s comment illustrates the importance of

managing expectations and modeling healthy responses to difficult situations or negative

experiences: “So, it's not the high expectations. It's how you handle the child not meeting

[them]. Do you encourage them to keep going?”

Social and Emotional Wellness Resources:


Barber, C., & Mueller, C. T. (2011). Social and self-perceptions of adolescents identified as

gifted, learning disabled, and twice-exceptional. Roeper Review, 33(2), 109-120.

Bradunas, G. (2017). Understanding and helping twice-exceptional students. Connections

Academy. Retrieved from


Idaho Department of Education, (2010). Twice-exceptional: Students with both gifts and

challenges or disabilities. Retrieved from



King, E. W. (2005). Addressing the social and emotional needs of twice-exceptional students.

Teaching Exceptional Children, 38(1), 16-20.

Neumeister, K. S., Yssel, N., & Burney, V. H. (2013). The influence of primary caregivers in

fostering success in twice-exceptional children. Gifted Child Quarterly, 57(4), 263-


Nielsen, M. E. (2002). Gifted students with learning disabilities: Recommendations for

identification and programming. Exceptionality: A Special Education Journal, 10(2),


Olenchak, F. R. (2009). Effects of talents unlimited counseling on gifted/learning disabled

students. Gifted Educational International, 25(2), 144-164.

Strop, J. (2001). The affective side. Understanding our Gifted, 13(3), 23-24.

Trail, B. A. (2011). Twice-exceptional gifted children: Understanding, teaching, and

counseling gifted students. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.


Wood, S. M., & Estrada-Hernández, N. (2012). Rehabilitation counselors' awareness,

knowledge, and skills regarding twice-exceptional consumers. Journal of Applied

Rehabilitation Counseling, 43(1), 11-18.

Wood, S., & Estrada-Hernández, N. (2009). Psychosocial characteristics of twice-exceptional

Individuals: Implications for rehabilitation practices. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation

Counseling, 40(3), 11-18.