Different is as Different Does

Let me first say what an honor it is to be selected to guest blog for Christina. She has done some very remarkable things within the gifted community and I’m thrilled to contribute in any way I can.

That being said, I come with the Learning Disabled twist on Giftedness, so it’s a niche within a niche and not a huge population, but significant for more than just humanitarian reasons, and I’ve been thrilled to see more 2E folks out and about. Some may have a mental double take going on when thinking about how a person can be both LD and Gifted at the same time.  It’s not hard to imagine a person who is gifted and blind (Stevie Wonder / Ray Charles) or gifted and paralyzed (Stephen Hawking), but for some reason many people often think that if you’re gifted, you can’t be learning disabled. It would be an oxymoron like jumbo shrimp or broken Black Box. I was a little pained when it came out so recently (again) in a study posted by the L.A. Times “Dyslexia not related to intelligence, study finds” but I guess since I’ve been trying to dispel this myth for 15 years, I should be happy with any help in de-mything it.

The difficulty lays in finding/diagnosing such individuals because they often have learned how to jury-rig their life to get by at a rather early age.  They figure out how to compensate for areas that may be weak. I’ll use myself as an example here. I have dysnomia. This means that I have the “word on the tip of your tongue” syndrome. Everyone has that occasionally, but for me it’s once or twice per sentence, not once or twice per day. I developed a large vocabulary early and use analogies and examples often when expressing myself. This worked in many situations, but not in all.  Once I received a 90 out of 100 on a college sociology test in which I missed all 10 points in the “fill-in-the-blank” section.  I was still undiagnosed at this time. I always knew I stank at fill-in-the-blank but I didn’t know there was a reason behind it still. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was a semester away from either graduating college or dropping out.

Very rarely are these twice-exceptional individuals recognized as both. More often than not when they are discovered at all, it is the learning disabled aspect that is diagnosed and not the gifted. I don’t want to bash the LD system as a whole, but we often times find a very low-expectations system in place when it comes to kids in LD programs. Also when students with LDs are placed in “regular” classrooms as opposed to placed in Special Ed. classrooms they have greater success, as noted in No Disabled Student Left Behind posted in the Boston Herald earlier this year.

What I have not read in reports, but I hear from actual LD labeled students, is that they are “spoon fed” answers and often if they ask for further understanding of a question, they are simply given the answer instead. Imagine a gifted student who sees questions in multiple ways needing clarity on what is being asked. In a gifted program this is looked upon as creative. Unfortunately this same instance is looked at as slow in the LD room and confirms their LD label.

The real problem occurs when we start looking at the emotional issues that come forward as students are not understood and don’t understand themselves. They don’t fit in and feel it’s something they are not doing that everybody else can do, so they should be able to too. One of my colleagues wondered what it would take to make other people think, “I wish I had a learning disability.” I think that’s wonderful.  The new challenge should be finding the positive in the difference; celebrating our diversity and knowing we bring a rare perspective into most areas. Maybe we’ll see more studies like “The Upside of Dyslexia” soon.

We really need to change how we view differences, especially in students that have so much to contribute.  Maybe we need to start with:

1)       Identify and understand the differences
2)       Identify and understand distinctive aptitudes
3)       Build on strengths

What do you think?

12 thoughts on “Different is as Different Does

  1. I love this post, and so appreciate the work you do with/for 2E kids. It is really important that we keep in mind that giftedness is not a mutual exclusive dx – and human beings seldom fit in a little box. We are all a mixture of mulitple things, the lines between dx blurring. It is so important to see the person through the maze of labels and working to utilize our strengths in order to adapt and work around some of our barriers.

    I am thrilled to see what posts you will be bringing! THANK YOU!

  2. It’s very hard to have a 2E child. Her Giftedness often overshadows the fact she has a LD. I find I constantly have to remind her teachers that she has a 504 and that it needs to be followed for her to preform at her best.

  3. What do I think? Well, I think I have had undiagnosed dysnomia for 45 years. I prayed that professors would just give me an essay exam so I could talk my way around the answer that I knew was at the top of page 234, on the left, above the picture. I dreaded fill in the blank questions. I’ve always just called myself a holistic thinker, and I use paragraphs if words escape me.

    Funny however, I met my husband at a trivia game- the very worst thing for someone like me. I was faking my way through b/c a friend had brought me along and I guess my future husband wasn’t bothered by my “stupidity.”

    • I love trivia, but I need a team mate to do well. I can often think of the right answer, but then it becomes a verbalized game of Charades as I try to explain the answer without recalling the word.

      As for feeling stupid when you can’t retrieve the word, I’m betting you have developed a coping strategy of sorts to get you by. You could recall the placement of where that information was in the book, so in real life you could look it up easily enough. The “disability” is only really a disability in context. How we jury rig our life to make things work is sometimes even more amazing than what we could be if we didn’t have the difference in the first place. :)

  4. Great post! I’m glad to see more interest being paid to this subject. I just touched on 2E in my latest post “The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations” at http://rochestersage.org/2012/02/10/the-soft-bigotry-of-low-expectations/

    However, I’m writing from the perspective of an outsider and can’t communicate what life is like being 2E or what some of the experiences are. Hopefully we can reach the educators as I’ve heard so many parents say that the teachers don’t understand how someone can be 2E or how to meet both needs.

  5. Tom,

    I am so glad to have your voice as part of this conversation. It is only through the learning I have done trying to parent my children that I have realized that many members of my family are gifted with dyslexia. And, many of my brightest friends who didn’t do well in school were identified as dyslexic later in life.

    I am fascinated by neurodiversity and how we can best support the most people. I am convinced that stepping back from the modern trend of pathologizing difference is key. We can identify differences without value judgements. I also believe that starting from people’s strengths and supporting their weaknesses is better than the other way round.

    I look forward to exploring this issues further.

    • Kate, I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m thrilled to be with the community and feel the dogma of LD within education treats people like victims rather than seeing the strengths first. It’s no wonder we see so many 2E kids with self esteem issues. I really love your wordsmithing of “identify differences without value judgements.”

  6. Pingback: Gifted AND LD! :Different is as Different Does | An Intense Life | Students with dyslexia & ADHD in independent and public schools | Scoop.it

  7. I am just so thankful and relieved that someone else “gets it.” Twice-exceptional exists! My son, my brother, my dad. Sheesh, probably me if we look closely (though I have and can’t see it). We finally had to pull our 2e son from school to homeschool him, because the school couldn’t see the giftedness and it would either be a LD (which I doubt they’d find) or Emotional Disorder (NO).
    I just wish I had part of a page of a handbook to help him.

    • I wish I had a page in the handbook to use for life as well. There really is so little out there documenting 2E despite how many of us are around as you begin to talk about it more. To be misunderstood and feel so outcast is a real problem that ends up taking its toll over time. I truly believe we are missing many of the people who could contribute greatly back to society if we just took the time to understand, accept and let them fly.

      The same feeling some people have when seeing gifted kids missed by closed minded schools, I see as common with 2E. It feels like a crime against humanity, but society imprisons the 2E mind without realizing it by focusing on the LD label if recognizing them at all.

      I’m sorry your child could not receive a free and appropriate public education, but I’m glad he will get a great one from you at home Jen. It always makes me want to cry when schools make this mistake. Kids most often feel it’s their fault for not fitting in, which compounds the problem.

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  9. Pingback: From Disability to Difference to Normal | An Intense Life

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