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An Anomaly:
Parenting a Twice Exceptional Girl

by Kiesa Kay

Originally published in Highly Gifted Children,
newsletter for The Hollingworth Center for Highly Gifted Children, Volume 12, Number 2, Fall 1998

Filly has a natural flair for mathematics. From a very early age, the opportunity to do math problems became a powerful motivational reward for her. Filly reads complicated texts and expounds upon them. Despite her voracious reading and obvious intellectual acumen, it takes her a very long time to write a simple sentence. The letters leap and dance on the page, and it's only with the most painstaking effort that she can write at all. She's been diagnosed as a profoundly gifted girl with sensory integrative dysfunction.

"Sensory integrative dysfunction would be much easier to diagnose and treat if the problem were the same in each child," writes Jean Ayres. "Sensory integrative therapists have a somewhat bewildering diagnostic job since every child they see has his own set of symptoms." (Ayres, p. 56) The stereotype of the absent-minded professor resembles some of the traits of this kind of twice exceptionality, because for all her disorganization, Filly's mind never stops discovering. Asynchronous development is common to children with Filly's disability, just as it is common to children with her profound level of giftedness. Even as the sensory integration renders her unique, children with Filly's I.Q. of 191 are statistically one in a million.

In the classroom, her extraordinary ability and her disability seemed to cancel each other, and she was identified early as a very bright child who balked at completing written work in class. She did not demonstrate any academic inadequacies at all, although she received criticism for losing materials and lacking organization. Her teachers were loving, kind women who reminded her daily to organize her work, and struggled bravely in a public school system that offered little support. "In a national survey of teachers of grades 3 and 4, the majority reported that they had no training in gifted education. Of the 2,300 respondents, 61 percent of the public school sample and 53 percent of the private school sample had no training in gifted education." (Gubbins, pg. 2). Even fewer teachers have training in assisting twice exceptional or profoundly gifted students. What's more, as they strive to teach every school day in mixed ability classes of 20 or more students, they often lack the time to obtain training when the need arises in the classroom setting.

When Filly was tested at the Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado, a seventy point spread existed between her highest and lowest scores, and the lowest score was still above average. Since even a ten-point spread indicates the presence of a learning disability, the test results necessitated further investigation. In the regular classroom environment, few resources existed for a child as unique as Filly. The classroom teachers had to teach twenty-five students, including students who were not performing at grade level. Since Filly performed above grade level even on those things that were extremely difficult for her, sometimes her needs often did not seem as pressing as the needs of other students. If she had not received testing, then it's likely that her talents would have been subdued in a traditional classroom setting. Quite simply, no one would have known that she needed anything extra, because her brilliance covered up her learning problem, and her learning problem dimmed her brilliance just enough to make her appear somewhat gifted, instead of profoundly gifted. We had her tested because her brother had been identified for his intellectual gifts at an early age, and research showed that siblings tend to be within ten I.Q. points of one another. We feel glad to have discovered her abilities when she was seven years old.

"The necessity of finding gifted girls early in life is underscored by the fact that their advanced abilities, observable before they enter school, may be diminishing as a consequence of the educational process," Dr. Linda Kreger Silverman writes. (Silverman 2, p. 59) We found that risk factor for Filly, despite the very great efforts of her competent, caring classroom teachers.

Due to her obvious advanced skills, Filly was assigned to do more difficult mathematics problems in the corner of a classroom while the other children learned in a large group. The attempt to differentiate instruction, without an ability-appropriate cluster group, meant that Filly spent learning time alone, often wearing headphones to obscure the sounds of the lecture given to the other students. At the same time, acceleration was not an option due to the constraints imposed by her lack of handwriting ability. Ideas crowded her mind, but she could not express them in writing. Since she made no trouble and excelled at learning, her disability and her giftedness both remained at risk for going underground and out of sight.

We began a desperate search for a more appropriate environment for our daughter. We finally chose a nearby school that promised to individualize the curriculum for students, the Rocky Mountain School for the Gifted and Creative in Boulder, Colorado.

Unfortunately, the school was an hour's drive from our Estes Park, Colorado, home, down a winding mountain road. Filly has vestibular dysfunction, and her motion sickness occurred every time we went down that road to school, or up again to home.

"The rarer the talent, the greater the responsibility of both the individual and society to develop that talent," writes Barbara A. Kerr. (Kerr, p. 205). Several individuals have intelligence quotients higher than Filly's 191, but allowing her the opportunity to develop her talent and strengths remains imperative.

"Since gifted girls excel at imitation and adaptation, they often blend into the group rather than demonstrating their unusual abilities," Dr. Silverman writes. (Silverman 1, pg. 122.) "They need the safety of other gifted girls in order to value their talents."

We took our parental responsibility seriously, and relocated on weekdays to Boulder, Colorado, so that our daughter would not have to be sick on the mountain roads every morning and every afternoon, and started occupational therapy for her. Once again, we have been lucky to have the resources that would allow that kind of circumstance. It is my supreme hope that someday every profoundly gifted child with a disability will have easy access to individualized education.

In 1942, Leta Hollingworth "noted that in the regular elementary classroom moderately gifted children wasted almost half their time and exceptionally gifted children almost all their time," Deidre Lovecky says. ". . . it is the exceptionally gifted whose needs are more difficult to meet by virtue of being so few in number and because of the differences of their cognitive skills." (Lovecky, pg. 120). Now, more than fifty years after Leta Hollingworth's discovery, as we explore ways to meet the needs of profoundly gifted children, it becomes increasingly essential to identify and serve the children who have twice exceptionality. Early identification, coupled with individualization, could save more than a few minds. Much of the research in the area of twice exceptionality seems to focus on the needs of the moderately gifted child with a learning disability, perhaps because the pool of possible research subjects is greater in this group.

It may be that the presence of a learning disability enhances some aspects of perception, in combination with the workings of a highly brilliant mind. The unique perspective and experiences provided by the blending of these disparate intellectual factors already support creative problem-solving. Perhaps the most innovative thinkers include not only the ones with the greatest intellectual talents, but also the ones who blend that intellect with perceptive dysfunctions that allow them to function beyond the norm.


Ayres, A. Jean. Sensory Integration and the Child. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services, 1979.

Baum, Susan; Owen, Steve, V.; and Dixon, John. To Be Gifted and Learning Disabled: From Identification to Practical Intervention Strategies. Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press. 1991.

Gubbins, E. Jean. "NRC/GT: Research Should Inform Practice," The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented Newsletter. Storrs, CT. pgs. 1-2. Spring, 1997.

Kerr, Barbara A. Smart Girls Two: A New Psychology of Girls, Women and Giftedness. Dayton, OH: Ohio Psychology Press, 1994.

Lovecky, Deidre. "Exceptionally Gifted Children: Different Minds," The Roeper Review, Vol. 17, No. 2, pgs. 116-120. December, 1994.

Silverman, Linda Kreger. "Helping Gifted Girls Reach Their Potential," The Roeper Review, Vol. XIII, No. 3, pgs. 122-123. April, 1991.

Silverman, Linda Kreger. "What Happens to the Gifted Girl?" Defensible Programs for the Gifted. pgs. 43-89. 1986.

Copyright 1998 by Kiesa Kay


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