When people have a high intelligence and also have a learning or developmental difference, they are considered to be twice exceptional. This term helps acknowledge that these individuals have an additional layer of complexity in their presentations: their challenges interact with their giftedness in ways that are sometimes unexpected.
High intelligence is a tremendous strength, allowing for sophisticated reasoning and ability on certain topics. However, sometimes that intelligence comes at an early age, before children have built the social-emotional resources and life experience to process that knowledge easily, without extra stress or anxiety. The co-occurring challenge can make that disparity even harder, such as when pre-existing anxiety gets activated or when a language disorder makes it hard for a child to express their deep thoughts. ADHD is often associated with low frustration tolerance, so that can also exacerbate an anxious situation.
Another potential problem that twice-exceptional children and adults can face is that of high expectations. Many twice-exceptional people recall hearing, “If you’re so smart, then why can’t you…”, filled in with any number of judgmental statements. High intelligence—especially strong vocabulary skills—tends to be a “stand-in” for others’ assumptions of what you’re capable of. They may not realize that, even though your words are sophisticated, you may not fully understand what they’re saying to you, what they’re communicating nonverbally, or the subtext or implications of what you’re saying back to them. They may also not understand that you need more help with comprehending what you’re reading or with organizing your next steps on a project.
Additional problems can arise when high intelligence masks certain challenges. Many very intelligent people can learn “workarounds” for how to meet others’ expectations, and these workarounds can be quite effective in making you look perfectly at ease with a given lesson or social situation. The reality may be that you’re actually having to work much harder than others in your same situation, and this can be exhausting and unsettling.
It’s important that your neuropsychologist understand all these potential issues. A thorough assessment will gather all relevant information about your or your child’s intelligence, academic and executive functioning abilities, and real-world challenges. Our neuropsychologist will also use in-depth interviews with multiple sources to uncover the systems you or your child has built up to cope with expectations and demands and then incorporate that information into our systemic understanding. Using that information, our recommendations will then focus on the best strategies and new methods for coping with expectations and challenges, in ways that are less stressful and more efficient.