The 2E Chronicles: Insight into the Twice-Exceptional Mind, from Superstar to At-Risk
By Wendy Hirsch Weinet, Ed.D.
A mother of 5 boys came to me in tears 4 years ago regarding her gifted son Jonas. As a young child he played well with other children and spent hours building with Legos, taking appliances apart (and occasionally putting them back together again) and showed talent in the arts. He was a wiz at math and memorized lines very quickly in school plays. Jonas was looked upon as the “perfect” student. The third grader most admired.
Fourth grade, the grades started to slip and blame was put upon boredom. Jonas did not know why his grades had gone from As to Bs, but gladly accepted the reason as being bored, as the onus was then up to the school to find new and exciting ways to peek his interest. By fifth grade, Jonas was a B/C student and hardly the student who two years prior was revered. Jonas was now known as the lazy student who would not turn in his work. He became the student who didn’t follow directions, put his head down frequently on his desk and no longer played with friends outside of school. Depression and anxiety were setting in and Jonas could not figure out how he could be considered so smart and felt so dumb. Why was school so difficult? More important was this concept of being lazy. Jonas put in just as much effort in learning when he was 7 as he did when he turned 10. What changed? These were the questions to be explored.
By the time I met Jonas, he was an eighth grader and had completely shut down. He spoke little and preferred to sleep than to have human interaction. Jonas expressed that he was a failure, could not learn and would never be a success. Therapy was doing little for him and school attendance was not a regular occurrence.
The first year with Jonas was non-graded. He was so full of anxiety and low self-esteem that he would not turn in assignments nor participate in class discussions. For the first month, He spent much of his time with his head down on the desk. This behavior was a continuation of the last few years of school. We then put Jonas with an intern in a separate room all day. The intern was instructed to find activities (through trial and error) which would interest Jonas. The goal was not to continue to find out what was ‘wrong’ with him, but rather what was ‘right’. Within a month, Jonas was laughing with the intern, firing off rockets in the field, categorizing precious stones and creating movies with stop animation. We slowly introduced one class at a time, but found he really was not ready emotionally to participate, nor ready to learn skills necessary for him to be successful in the classroom.
Year two was time for Jonah to transition back into the classroom. Being that the school is geared towards 2E learners, the teachers were well aware of signs to look for and address. For Jonas, modeling expectations (especially directions) was very important. We also realized that once he heard a set of directions, his mind would wander at the prospect of the different outcomes. He almost seemed to be in a trance at times. One day he came to my office to discuss this issue with me. He recognized that the teacher modeled instructions and the other students seemed to be able to get right to work. Jonas revealed by the time he thought through every scenario, the rest of the students were on a different assignment and he felt lost. He mentioned that in other schools the teachers would be angry with him for not paying attention. Our next step was to establish a signal when Jonas was ready for his next assignment. This became routine for the remainder of the year.
As Jonas entered his sophomore year, he excelled in electronics, theater, film and Latin. He trusted us enough to ask for strategies so that he could help himself. We spent time on specific strategies each week and his grades and self-esteem soared. His mother was thrilled to have back the son she once knew. Jonas still had moments of anxiety and frustration, but these were worked through.
After the first semester of his sophomore year, the parents and Jonas requested a meeting to inform me that they were pulling him out of our program and going to a public school. I asked if there was something more we could have done for him. The parents told me that it was because of our understanding of their son and allowing him to be the person he is, that he now feels confident enough to leave.
At the end of the semester I received a call from Jonas and his mom. Jonas made the honor roll and re-connected with other gifted students he had been friends with during elementary school.
Students such as Jonah often feel different and don’t know how to help themselves to be successful in school. Unconditional support and giving them a place to feel emotionally safe, is key. Once they accept themselves (brilliance as well as shortcomings) they will be able to tackle their issues.
Dr. Wendy Hirsch Weiner is principal and founder of Conservatory Prep Schools, Inc. in Davie, Florida. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org