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Stones Across the River:
an Analogy on the Twice-Exceptional Child and School

by Deborah J. Paquette

Worry is a permanent uninvited-guest in the twice-exceptional household. It eats the stomach and lines the face of every parent of a “2E” child. The children, with their fragile self-concepts and broken spirits, aren’t much better off. 2E families seek help from various professionals. They try various therapies. They often push for special accommodations at school.

Those who have never experienced life on the twice-exceptional side often don’t understand why this happens. After all, these children look just fine on paper. Their grades are often average or above. Their full-scale IQ’s are also often average or above. Concerns about learning disabilities in a child who is performing reasonably well seem completely unfounded. Sure, the child might have problems, but all kids do. Certainly the solutions lie in the same kind of “tweaking” involved in the raising of all children. Why would parents of such children expect schools to treat these kids any differently when they are doing “just fine”?

Let's say for a moment that school expectations are a large pile of stones that must be moved from one side of a river to the other. Most kids have access to a wheelbarrow and a bridge – all the things they need to accomplish the task.

For some reason, there is the occasional child who doesn't have a wheelbarrow, or can't use the bridge, or both. Usually, these children are spotted immediately because their stones aren't making it to the other side of the river at all. A teacher might even spot them frantically drowning in the middle of the river as they try to swim some of the stones over. This method of getting the stones across, of course, is completely unreasonable and dangerous. No self-respecting teacher would ever EXPECT a child to do it because it is just wrong.

At least they wouldn't expect it from most kids. Every once in a while though, there is a child who doesn't have access to a wheelbarrow and/or a bridge, but who is remarkably strong. This child, at least at first, is capable of swimming the stones across. Sometimes this is never noticed, let alone addressed. Yet trouble brews. On some level, the child knows – as probably do her parents – that there is something wrong. Perhaps through this Herculean process she becomes acutely aware of her amazing strength, yet can't understand why her stone output is just the same as the other kids’. Perhaps she can even tell that the other kids have wheelbarrows and bridges or some other advantage that she doesn't have. She may feel misunderstood, resentful, frustrated, and confused – not to mention exhausted.

Her teacher, unaware that this child has no access to a wheelbarrow or bridge, might see her large muscles and her relatively meager stone output and tell her she isn't working hard enough. The teacher may even comment on the fact that because her stones are wet, mossy, or are in some other way "sloppy work" that her efforts are unacceptable. Sometimes, even when the clues are blatantly apparent, the idea that something is wrong is completely dismissed. Perhaps the teacher in question just cannot fundamentally believe that it is POSSIBLE for a child without a wheelbarrow and/or bridge to get the stones across at all. The very fact that this child CAN get the stones across is irrefutable evidence that there IS a bridge, AND a wheelbarrow. Any other problems that occur, it is assumed, are only evidence of the child's lack of character or poor upbringing.

Sometimes it is recognized that the child is swimming the stones across. It is enraging when accommodations are not made at this point. For some reason, some people believe that the child doesn't DESERVE a wheelbarrow and bridge if she is strong enough to swim. If a child has access to great strength AND a wheelbarrow AND a bridge, this is somehow an unjust situation. The child without a wheelbarrow and bridge is only getting what she deserves. "This child is fine," they say, with just a hint of contempt, "See the nice pile of stones she has! That is enough for anyone."

But what happens to the child in Grade 7, when the river partially freezes? Not enough to support her weight, but enough to cause frostbite and hypothermia? What happens in Grade 10, when the alligators who use the river as their breeding grounds, come back? Nobody else might even know about the freezing or the alligators, because NO ONE ELSE HAS EVER BEEN IN THE RIVER BEFORE!

It is easy to misunderstand someone who is waterlogged and dirty when you are standing above them on the bridge, safe and dry.

Maybe this child, for some reason, really can't ever use a wheelbarrow or bridge, but would it really be the end of the world to get her a canoe?

Deborah J. Paquette 2005

Last updated December 01, 2020

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