Changing the Landscape for People Who Are Gifted with Learning Differences

Changing the Landscape for People Who Are Gifted with Learning Differences

As the mother of three 2e (twice exceptional) children, Julie Skolnick, M.A., JD, is passionate about helping students, parents, educators and 2e adults debunk the myths about people who are gifted and have a learning difference (2e), or as she defines it, are “gifted and distractible.” She is the author of the new book, Gifted and Distractible: Understanding, Supporting, and Advocating for Your Twice Exceptional Child which includes over 200 pages of strategies and 25 worksheets that address how to better understand and work with this population. It also provides insight on how to go from a deficit-based approach to one that focuses on the 2e person’s strengths and unique abilities.

Skolnick has served as secretary to the Maryland Superintendent of Schools’ State Advisory Council for Gifted and Talented Students since 2016 and provides speaking engagements and consultation for the 2e community. I met with Skolnick to learn more about her new book and the fascinating, yet sometimes challenging world of 2e people.

How did you go from mom to advocate for the 2e population?

My middle son, who is now 20, was really the one who taught me what 2e is. When he was diagnosed as gifted and [having]ADHD, I ignored the gifted part because I just thought he was smart. It wasn’t until I stepped into gifted land that I found that there was a strength-based approach and a talent-based approach. Advocating for my kids in school was a 24/7 job. When we decided the current school wasn’t a good fit, the learning specialist asked me to help parents collaborate with teachers to work towards the same goals for their 2e kids.

You’ve mentioned that being gifted is way more than being smart. How do you define gifted and 2e?

Definitions vary from state to state. Looking at the Columbus Group definition of giftedness (created in the 1980s by parents, educators and clinicians in Columbus, OH) I created the metaphor of the Three-Layer Cake which includes a thin layer of frosting above, around and between the layers that is the “gift” in giftedness, the ability and potential of the gifted person. The three layers, or characteristics, include: asynchronous development, perfectionism and intensity. 2e includes this definition that coexists with learning differences which include social or anxiety related issues.

2e kids are born with this incredible, beautiful intensity and rage to learn. They see their authentic, organic self as negative as opposed to seeing these incredible abilities as positive because it gets in the way of other people’s agendas. All the things that require linear time are exactly how the world works and exactly how 2e kids do not. Unfortunately, the focus becomes changing the kid instead of changing the environment.

What’s one of the strategies you write about in the book to help parents and 2e adults?

The strategy “Drop the Rope” is like a game of tug of war. If one person drops the rope it dismantles the conflict. Getting into a power struggle does not solve a problem, teach a skill or help your relationship. Parents should ask themselves “Is what I’m going to say help or harm my relationship?” It’s all about understanding what the child’s issue and perspective is, and doing a cost benefit analysis of what might help at that time. The strategies in my book address the importance of the long game which is how to deepen personal connection and teach skills.

What do you think is most important for parents to know about raising a 2e child?

So many parents come to me and fear that they have “ruined their child.” In fact, they are living this thing called life that is filled with challenges. The way we role- model handling challenges is far more important than the actual challenges themselves. The last chapter of the book, A Day in the Life of Your 2e Child, talks about the importance for parents to find a way to love themselves so their 2e kids feel love for themselves.

What is the mission of your company and website, With Understanding Comes Calm, LLC?

I want to raise self confidence in 2e humans through supporting and empowering parents, mentoring 2e adults, training educators and collaborating with clinicians. My approach to achieve calm is called “The Cycle for Success,” a three-step process which includes:

  1. understanding behavior, attitudes, and feelings
  2. implementing strategies for success
  3. advocacy or creating collaborative partnerships

On the website, people can subscribe to our free newsletter, Gifted and Distractible, and access blogs, videos, guest speakers and articles.

What is the most important thing you want people to take away from reading your book?

I want people to focus more on the positive so 2e kids can grow up knowing that their incredible abilities can shape their lives and the lives of others. Rather than reacting to challenging behavior, use it as a clue toward understanding a child’s trigger and needs. You can always positively reframe a situation – whether you learn from it, recognize effort or find a new way to connect and understand one another.