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Q: In nursery and kindergarten, my son was always ahead of the curve. He learned his letters before the rest of his class, and he was always using vocabulary words that were well beyond his years. Since he’s been in first grade (this past year), his teachers have been complaining that he is not focused, doesn’t ever know the answer, and is generally below grade level. I don’t understand this – how could he change so quickly?

A: It’s interesting that you started noticing this change once your son entered first grade – and there could very well be legitimate reasons for this change in behavior. Obviously, it is impossible to positively identify your son’s issue without a formal evaluation – however – my instinct is that he falls into a category known as “twice exceptional.”

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The term is still new in the educational world – but it is something that I see more and more in my practice today. Twice exceptional children have a combination of exceptional intellectual power and uncommonly formidable mental roadblocks. Coupled with enormous intellectual capacity, these children might also suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Aspergers Syndrome, Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD), or dyslexia.

Often, these children excel in nursery and kindergarten when sitting quietly in rows, raising their hand, and speaking in turn are not of premium value. However, when they hit first grade, their learning disability trips them up. Suddenly, it is not enough to simply know the answer. Behavioral issues come into play, frequently turning twice exceptional children into “problem students” – even as they are head and shoulders above the crowd intellectually.

A perfect case of a child who was twice exceptional is Albert Einstein. Even though Einstein was brilliant when it came to visual and spatial reasoning, as a child he had behavioral problem, was a terrible speller, and had trouble verbally expressing himself. In many subjects, his report card grades were close to failing. Obviously, there was something else going on for the young Albert Einstein – though brilliant, his needs were not always met by the school system.

So, what can you as a parent do to ensure that your child has a positive learning experience?

            Get him evaluated. Many parents resist getting their children tested because they do not want to label them with a learning disability (LD). While I understand this impulse, there is no way to help a child unless you understand what is going wrong. Understanding LD is the first step towards a constructive educational experience.

            Don’t ignore his intellect while trying to fix the problems: Many children who are twice exceptional need their curriculum to be modified, “dumbing down” the curricula will backfire. You must also feed your child’s thirst for knowledge; otherwise, he might get depressed when not learning something new.

            Don’t ignore the problems while trying to feed his intellect: Even though your child is extremely smart, it doesn’t mean everything comes easily to him. After all, who wouldn’t be frustrated if required to consistently do things he felt he couldn’t do?

            Trust your child: If your child tries to do something several times and then insists that he cannot do it – believe him. Do not think that he is being lazy, stubborn, or unmotivated. Instead, figure out a method of attacking the problem from a different angle. You are the one who knows your child the best – and should be his biggest supporter.

Research shows that twice exceptional children account for roughly 2%-5% of the student population. The more we understand about these exceptional children, the better we will be able to teach them.

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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@gmail.com.