Q: My Twice-Exceptional Child Is Failing High School
Twice-exceptional students who are both academically gifted and living with ADHD may lack the tools and opportunities to showcase their talents and learning in some classroom settings. Learn how to stem the self-esteem crisis that often ensues in high school, and help your teen engineer their own systems for success.
“My 15-year-old son is twice exceptional. He’s intellectually gifted yet faces challenges with executive function. He also has been identified as having autism spectrum disorder and has had trouble completing assignments since he began middle school. Now that he’s a high school freshman, getting him to complete and turn in his homework has become a crisis. He is failing two core classes and is in danger of being held back. Given his social issues, and the fact he’s already one of the oldest in his class, we fear this could be catastrophic for him. It used to motivate him if I sat with him to do challenging assignments. Now he seems completely disengaged. It’s killing me and his father. His 504 review is approaching. What can we do to help our twice exceptional teen reach his potential? (I have ADD as well, so I’m very sensitive to his struggle.)”
Twice-exceptional (2E) children have great abilities, but often lack the tools and opportunities to demonstrate their gifts and strengths — as well as their needs — in ‘traditional’ classroom settings not designed to foster neurodiverse learners. Talking to a 2E child, you may assume that his obvious knowledge and skills will translate to success in school. Intellectual capacity, however, is in no way correlated to the executive functioning and self-management skills that help teens navigate the demands of school and social relationships.
Twice-Exceptional Teens Face Unique Challenges
As twice-exceptional children move into adolescence, their executive dysfunction can become a source of personal frustration. They begin to recognize their own great potential — and the fact that they are not achieving the expectations of others, or of themselves. As a result, 2E kids may become frustrated, anxious, and depressed in middle and high school.
Happiness, Not Homework, Is the Priority
Given your son’s apathy and recent failures at school, it makes sense to first address your concerns related to his mood and self-esteem. In other words, put a lot of effort toward improving his mental health and self-esteem. School will follow.
I’d seek intensive individual psychotherapy with a therapist who works with teens on the autism spectrum. The therapist must be able to connect with your son and learn about the things that motivate and interest him. The therapist should use a cognitive behavioral (CBT) approach that can address the depression and negative thinking you said your son may be experiencing. Finding his spark, improving his self-esteem, and connecting him with a few peers can go a long way in helping your son.
I also encourage you to consult with your child’s pediatrician. The pediatrician may have some thoughts about whether medication or another treatment would be appropriate.
Finally, work with your son to find areas that engage him. If possible, find ways to leverage his interests into activities that connect him with his peers. If he is interested in science, you could encourage him to join a robotics club. If he loves technology, encourage him to play multiplayer online games or to attend a live class on coding or computer programming.
Time Management for Twice-Exceptional Children
You also mentioned that your son struggles with time management and has received poor grades at school. Rather than managing his time for him, help him learn and refine some of his own time-management skills. This may improve his sense of self-esteem and give him the autonomy needed to grow and develop. Here are some sample conversations you can direct to your son to help him improve his time-management skills:
Solutions to Discuss with Your Son:
Use a smartphone or smartwatch. Smartphones are one of the greatest technologies for improving time management. Program your mobile device with alerts to remind you of regular appointments, deadlines, and to stay on task during homework time. The timer on a phone or smartwatch can also help you keep track of how long you’re spending on a given task. It’s always illuminating to compare your initial estimate to the actual time a task required (see below).
Learn to estimate. Before starting a homework assignment, cleaning your room, or taking on some other task, write down how long you think it will take you. When you are done, see how close you were to your estimate. If you write down and track your time on a regular basis, you will get better at estimating how long tasks will take you. This will help you make sure you have enough time to complete what you need to do so you’ll have time left over for what you want to do.
Reward yourself. Recognize what an accomplishment it is to finish something quickly and efficiently. For example, set a realistic amount of time to complete your homework and, if you are able to do so, reward yourself with an activity you enjoy such as texting your friends, having a snack, or playing outdoors when you meet your goals.
The opinions and suggestions presented above are intended for your general knowledge only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your own or your child’s condition.