The Difference One Word Can Make for 2e Kids*

Linda Kreger Silverman

Many years ago I was asked to conduct a day-long workshop with the coordinators of all gifted programs in a state. They were reviewing their identification plans to determine how to improve equity. In preparation, I read all of the district G/T identification plans in the state, and concluded that they all shared the same fatal flaw. 
I started the workshop by announcing that I was delivering a message from On High: Change “And” to “Or”! No, I didn’t encounter a Burning Bush, so that was a bit of a stretch. However, I did encounter a pervasive problem that needed correction. One conjunction can mean the difference between a twice exceptional, low income or bilingual child obtaining placement in a gifted program or being shut out. 
All of the plans required demonstration of ability “and” achievement.  That “and” narrowed the program to children with greater opportunity, more books in the home, English as the native language, excellent reading, writing and mathematics performance and high motivation. No underachievers allowed. Asynchrony is not welcome here.
When the goal of the selection process for gifted programs is to increase accessibility to children from diverse backgrounds and to those who also have learning disabilities, then “Or” is an essential conjunction. “Or” recognizes that gifted children are not all well-rounded; they come in different shapes and sizes. Some gifted children can demonstrate their advancement on some parts of an ability test, while others have a better chance of showing their need for advanced work by their performance on one or more sections of an achievement test. And those who are test aversive may show their capability in class rather than on a test. It takes subjective judgment to make a gifted program equitable. 
And now to a reverse situation—where it is necessary to change “or” to “and.” We have had way too many debates in gifted education as to whether a list of characteristic indicates giftedness or some type of disorder. I do not feel that these lists are helpful. They may actually dissuade parents from seeking interventions at critical points in their child’s development.
In nearly all cases in which parents have come to us hoping that their child’s behavior is explainable by giftedness or overexcitabilities or visual-spatial learning style, they have discovered that their child is both gifted and disabled—twice exceptional (2e). It is our 2e population who are most at risk when the question is posed, “Is it giftedness or …?” 
Comprehensive assessment can spot giftedness, even when hidden by other issues. Visual-spatial learners (VSLs) and the strength of different overexcitabilities (OEs) are also revealed. So are central auditory processing, visual processing, sensory processing, attentional, social and behavioral issues. Renaming the issues as giftedness, VSL or OEs does not make them go away.
Early intervention is essential to optimal development. And symptoms frequently overlap. When children’s eyes do not team well, they may have difficulty with the timing of the two ears, or with eye-hand coordination and handwriting. We frequently suggest multiple evaluations with specialists in different disciplines—diagnosticians who have experience with gifted children—to rule out co-existing disorders. 
Sensory processing disorder can be dramatically improved during the primary years by sensory integration therapy from a qualified occupational therapist. (See An ear filter can synthesize the timing of the two ears. (See Vision therapy can improve tracking, eye teaming and how the brain processes visual information. (See We have seen remarkable improvements in reading comprehension in 6 months of vision exercises practiced daily for 20 minutes. We recommend dietary interventions, such as protein snacks every two hours, to stabilize glucose absorption and improve focus. Aerobic exercises also help.
Once a disability is identified, it is also possible to get accommodations in the classroom and on standardized tests, such as College Board exams. Accommodations can make the difference between dropping out of school and getting into a college of choice.
So let’s stop trying to figure out if it is this or that, and focus on how to diagnose and support giftedness and symptoms that are likely to respond to interventions and accommodations.
*Silverman, L. K. (2014, April). The difference one word can make for 2e kids. GDC Newsletter.