Some of you may have caught me referring to myself and/or my son as 2e. This was a categorization of sorts that I’d heard thrown around in the gifted community for a while, but it felt like a distant notion. When my son, and then I, got an ADHD diagnosis this year, my first thought was, “Oh my god… we’re 2e!” I was surprised but relieved. I also had a sense that I was now part of a secret club that I’d watched from afar, feeling like I identified with them but not having gained entry.
Well, now I’m a full card-carrying member.
2e means twice-exceptional, which means gifted AND a learning or developmental disorder—think gifted AND autistic, gifted AND ADHD, gifted AND dyslexia, etc. It actually matters quite a bit because giftedness can mask disorders (as it did with my ADHD) or the two together can also enhance traits that cause someone to be misdiagnosed. (In my case, I’d been misdiagnosed as bipolar for long enough to cause damage.)
But let me back up and talk about gifted first. I’ve attempted to explain it before, but I didn’t fully comprehend why so many people don’t understand or accept what it is. I didn’t have the language to explain it. Now I do. This post is not meant to be a shameless plug for Kathleen Humble’s (blogger of Yellow Readis) book, but I am going to plug it. She wrote “Gifted Myths: An Easy-to-Read Guide to Myths on the Gifted and Twice-Exceptional.” (FYI: The link is an affiliate link for GHF Press, the publisher.) I’m an editor for GHF (Gifted Homeschoolers), and I did the final edits of this book. And no, I did not write this post entirely to talk about the book; after reading and editing her book, I could not wait until it was published so that I could finally talk about and explain this gifted thing, now that I understood how to do so.
So before I even get into the 2e thing, let me explain gifted.
For most people, when they hear gifted, they think “high-achiever” or “good at math.” That’s what educators think of it as, and that’s what the “highly capable” programs are geared toward. This is what I (and people in my gifted community) refer to as “bright.” The only criteria for this classification of gifted is high-achievement in school. Kathleen refers to them as “E-gifted” (educationally gifted) in her book and says that educators define this as being in the top 10 percent of their class. She also says that the E-gifted kid are “generally well-behaved. They like learning at school, are socially well-adjusted, and are well-liked. They have fewer mental health problems. They will often have high-achieving careers and a higher-than average number of degrees, journal articles, and end up in the top rungs of their profession. They are relatively easy for teachers to spot in a class.”
The part about being well-adjusted and well-liked is significant because it plays a big part in why the “other” type of gifted kids struggle so much. This (the “educationally gifted”) is not what I mean when I tell you that my son (and I) are gifted.
When psychologists, medical professionals, and neurologists (and myself) refer to gifted, they mean something else. They are referring to the “Both” group, which means the aforementioned E-gifted PLUS “P-gifted” (psychologically gifted). This is, as Kathleen says, “the medical model” of giftedness. What’s “P-gifted”? Continuing to quote Kathleen:
This group will have an IQ score in the top 2.1 percent of the population, which is two standard deviation from the norm or average score. For the WISC-V, this would be a score of 130+. For children with a diagnosed disability affecting their communication or motor skills, they will instead have some subscores in the top 2 percent and an average score, if it can be calculated, at least one standard deviation above average. For the WISC-V, this would be 115+.
These children are more likely to have problems in school. They are more likely to be tested for disabilities, even if none are present. Most will have behavioral characteristics that are often described as OEs (over-excitabilities) but can also be described using the Five Factor Model of Personality as an overabundance of Openness. They also are much more likely to have sensory processing issues significant enough to be classified as a sensory processing disorder. They are not all high-achieving. They are present in all populations and at all socioeconomic levels. If they are from a minority group or a poor background, they are unlikely to be identified. This group is the group more likely to show up at testing centers, like the Belin-Blank Center, or to psychologists and counselors.
Then there’s the 2e group (P-gifted and ADHD, for example), also referred to as “Gifted Learning Disabled.”
My son and I fall into the “both” group and the “2e” subset. Why does this matter? Here’s an example: When he was struggling in his last school, I was banging my head against the wall telling his teacher that he was “gifted.” All that “gifted” meant to her was “bright.” She refused to hear me or understand when I tried to explain to her what I now know as the “p-gifted” stuff: his emotions, the sensitives, the ADHD, the behavioral characteristics. An educator who doesn’t know better will refer a “smart” kid to a psychologist for things they view as a problem, instead of understanding that it’s an innate (and manageable) component of being gifted (p-gifted or both). I kept telling her he was gifted to explain his issues, and she kept telling me she “knows” (cause he picked up math quickly), but that he seemed to have severe anxiety and a disturbing comprehension of “adult” issues. I came back and said, “YES, BECAUSE HE’S GIFTED.” I tried to explain to her that being distressed about things happening in the world (such as the fires in California) are an innate part of his “giftedness.” I also tried to explain that he’s extraordinarily sensitive and that his “anxiety” and emotional issues in the classroom were because she was problematizing him; she was causing his anxiety and upset. I was right. Once we started homeschooling, his “anxiety” went away.
One of the hallmark “features” of our type of gifted is what’s called “asynchronous development.” In a nutshell, that means that a child can be years ahead in reading and writing skills but years behind in math and “on target” for science (or some variation of). Primarily, however, it means that their intellectual development outpaces their emotional development. Gifted people also tend to have bigger-than-average emotions to begin with. So when my son was sitting in class displaying an “emotional disturbance” while crying about the fires in southern California, that’s because intellectually, he’s aware of and can grasp events and their repercussions; emotionally, he was (at the time) still a seven-year-old. Kids like him have complex, adult intellect without the skill or ability (yet) to manage the emotions that come with it. They also often have deep empathy, but haven’t learned how to separate their own feelings from others’. They don’t need anxiety medication, they need someone to guide them through the outsized emotions and help them regulate. (I never learned to regulate because I was always told that my emotions were inappropriate or their size was unwarranted. When I got older, anxiety medication didn’t help. Anxiety was not my issue.) Now that we homeschool, my son’s “anxiety” is gone. We deal with and talk about emotions as they come up. This is true of ALL people, not just “gifted” kids: when you don’t validate or create space for emotions, they get bigger and more unmanageable. He didn’t need medication, he needed to be allowed to feel what he felt without feeling problematized for it. (He also now has a phenomenal therapist that works only with gifted kids. This man is a godsend, I wish I could have seen him when I was a child! For gifted children, mental health professionals that understand and are familiar with how gifted kids operate is imperative.)
People like to wave away the idea of IQ as being some “made up” thing, but the fact is that there are common characteristics across high IQ groups and there are several very identifiable characteristics across the “p-gifted” group. There’s a connection between high IQ and personality/social issues. (Think: Bobby Fischer, John Nash, Einstein, and all the other “quirky geniuses” in history.) High IQ does not correlate with being good in school, quite the opposite. High IQ does correlate with emotional and mental issues. There are several studies attesting to this fact. Here’s two, but you can easily find many, many more:
Behavioral Profiles of Clinically Referred Children with Intellectual Giftedness
Emotional and Behavioral Characteristics of Gifted Children and Their Families
My IQ and my son’s both fall in the “98th-99th percentile” range. I’m not telling you this to “brag,”—I’m telling you this to give context and to explain what all of this means. (And honestly, that score has only made me feel like more of a failure in my life.) A high IQ is not an indicator of “success,” and it doesn’t mean I think I’m better (or even smarter) than you. There are IQs far, far higher than ours, and there are lots of people with “lower” IQs that are far smarter and more successful than I am. I don’t see IQ as a measure of intelligence so much as a measure of differently my brain processes things. The terminology of “gifted” is problematic—but that doesn’t negate the reality of it.
My “giftedness” masked my ADHD (a common occurrence), meaning that I was skilled at finding ways to compensate for my inability to focus and stay with things. I could “fake” my way through things with my ability to think fast on my feet and by asking the right questions. I found clever ways to rationalize my way out of things that, in reality, I just couldn’t manage because of my ADHD. My giftedness has, in some ways, helped me survive my ADHD. Largely, most of my issues are hidden by the fact that, through sheer luck, I married someone who has a successful career. It’s been both difficult and a relief to admit this. What I mean by that is I now have the freedom to pursue work that I love, to freelance, and to set my own schedule. If I’d have had to be working 9-5 office jobs for the last decade, I can only guess how many jobs I’d have quit or been fired from. (I say that because I have been fired and quit many jobs.)
One of the major traits of giftedness is “intensity” of emotion. If you read stories from gifted people, you’ll frequently hear them talk about having been told they’re “too much.” With my therapist, the biggest theme for the last several years has been about my having learned, from a very young age, that I was “too much,” “too intense,” “too sensitive,” “too emotional,” “too difficult,” etc. My emotions were—are—huge, but because I’ve consistently been told they were wrong or “over the top,” I learned to turn them inward. (I developed many self-destructive behaviors and fell into abusive relationships because I thought that I was so hard to deal with that I “caused” men to abuse me.) My ADHD contributed to my big emotions and inability to regulate… I was eventually diagnosed as bipolar and subsequently everything I said or felt was dismissed because I was “crazy.” Turns out I’m not bipolar and never was. I don’t swing from one extreme to another, it’s just that all my emotions are so much bigger than “normal,” that, to the untrained eye, there’s no other explanation. My ADHD states of “hyperfocus” and disinterest can also look like manic/depressive cycles, except that there aren’t any emotions involved when I’m hyperfocused. I just swing from “really productive” to … not. I’ve gone through many, many psych meds (for bipolar, depression, anxiety) and none of them worked. Those meds couldn’t work on the mechanisms that made me “appear” bipolar or anxious or depressed. My “intensity” is an inherent part of the different wiring of my brain. Brain scans—fMRIs—of people identified as gifted have been described as looking like “brains on fire.”
This “P-gifted” thing is real, and it’s equally damaging to deny it as it is to deny depression, autism, ADHD, schizophrenia, or any other mental health disorder. We tend to not think of “gifted” as a disorder and yet… in many ways, it is. (Remember, I’m not talking about that “educationally gifted,” bright type.) But I come from the point of view where “disorder” just means “different from the norm.” The fact that there’s some “smartness” involved doesn’t make it easier, especially when you consider the fact that it is very often comorbid with other, recognizable disorders (see: 2e).
[ And how does this affect me—and others? To be continued. ]