Emotionally Disturbed Gifted Children

Updated on April 20, 2016

Twice-Exceptional Gifted Children

Many people often tend to think of gifted children as perfect students who have never struggled or found school difficult. In reality, gifted children may have difficulties too. Some of these challenges are emotional, some are academic, and some are physical. Gifted students who have a disability are often referred to as twice exceptional, often abbreviated as 2e.

Twice-exceptional students often go without gifted services, because their disability often overshadows their talent. Because of this, an effective intervention, gifted instruction, is often overlooked.

According to IDEA, the following criteria must be used to determine whether a student is emotionally disturbed (ED):

  • The student has an inability to show appropriate behavior under ordinary circumstances.
  • The student has an inability to have positive relationships with peers or teachers.
  • The student has an inappropriate affect such as depression or anxiety.
  • The student has inappropriate physical symptoms or fears in response to school or other personal difficulties.
  • The student has an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.

Unfortunately, these criteria are often the same or at least similar to the criteria by which teachers are asked to identify students on gifted characteristics checklists. There are numerous characteristics often associated with gifted children. While most of these characteristics are mere stereotypes, some are more IQ based and thus more accurate. According to common gifted checklist identifiers, gifted students may:

  • emphasize and debate fairness of a situation
  • exhibit signs of depression
  • show signs passive withdrawal or disruptive, perhaps aggressive, behavior brought about by boredom and frustration.
  • fail to complete work because of distractions
  • exhibit signs of fear, both academic and social

According to gifted checklists, an angry gifted child may appear to be ED. He/she might argue, show signs of frustration, have difficulty getting along with other people, be afraid of school, and inexplicably perform poorly on assignments. Consequently, one has to wonder how many gifted children are being diagnosed as ED or how many emotionally disturbed children are being considered for gifted identification as a result of gifted checklists. Either way, this overlap might have a tendency to result in the misidentification of both populations. Do gifted checklists really work?

What strategies should a gifted teacher use to help twice-exceptional students who have been identified as both gifted and ED? Largely, the same strategies are used regardless of whether a student is gifted or not. In fact, the same strategies are typically used in every best-practice scenario in education.

Twice-Exceptional Emotional Problems: Emotional-Disturbance Strategies

Get to Know Your Student
The first step is to become familiar with the student’s educational history. In order to do so, a teacher may need to consult parents, previous teachers, and psychologists. In addition, the teacher will need to become familiar with functional behavioral reports and IEPs.

Develop Classroom Rules
Every effective teacher has classroom rules. With ED students, these rules are even more important. Both ED students and gifted children often fixate on whether a rule is fair and whether or not it is being used consistently. Good rules provide the structure for self-discipline that is so important for any child, including the gifted student who is also ED.

Rules should be limited in number, positive, and specific. They should be posted in a prominent place in the classroom. Emotionally disturbed students often benefit from immediate feedback, both for positive and negative behavior. Consequently, rules should be tied to both positive and negative consequences, depending on behavior. With gifted children who are emotionally disturbed, consistency and fairness are always the primary concern.

Triggers to Avoid
Gifted instruction is often more open ended. The lessons are seldom structured in a traditional way. Students do not always progress from lesson to lesson, story to story, and assignment to assignment. Instead, students may be working individually or within groups and often on different projects. This can be quite difficult for ED children, because routines and schedules are so important for them. Extra care must be taken to ensure smooth transitions. Timers, music, and visual cues are often helpful. Breaking down projects into smaller portions and providing additional breaks can also help.

Gifted and Social-Emotional Disturbances

Helping Gifted Students With Social-Emotional Problems Is a Team Effort
Helping Gifted Students With Social-Emotional Problems Is a Team Effort | Source

Strategies for Teaching Twice-Exceptional Students Summary

Gifted and emotionally-disturbed children have many possible characteristics in common, according to gifted checklist identifiers. This might make the identification of both populations more difficult. Couple the two identifications together, and you have a very difficult scenario, both in identification and treatment.

Ultimately, all students identified as twice-exception benefit from fair and consistent rules, classroom organization, routine, and a caring teacher who is trained in gifted instruction. As with all populations and identifications, socially-disturbed children benefit from these best-practice strategies.

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