This is a note of encouragement for those parents of twice-exceptional children. It can be a very lonely, heartbreaking, and difficult road to walk with your child, but it can also be very rewarding.
The youngest of my three children, Nicholas, is twice exceptional.
Nicholas had a lot of problems with speech, auditory processing, reading, writing, dyslexia, ADHD, social skills, and friends. And he was very gifted in math, physics, abstract thinking, and similar areas. Because of his language problems, he first started speech therapy when he was 2 ½ years old.
In preschool, he would walk up to a classmate and jabber something in what we called “Nicholese.” They would look at him trying to understand what he was saying, and then would just walk away puzzled.
In 1st grade he was identified by an excellent school district as both gifted and learning disabled. The most difficult part was that he had to spend so much time and effort on his weaknesses (a very frustrating experience for him) and couldn’t concentrate on his strengths as much as we would have liked. After all, reading and communication are so crucial in life. He was blessed with an exceptional special education teacher in elementary school who found all sorts of ways to make the children feel knowledgeable and important. For example, they were in charge of giving tours to the children who were new to the school.
But as we all know, children can be cruel to each other and especially to someone who is different. So friendships were challenging.
I kept promising Nicholas that as he got older, he’d be able to explore and excel in the areas he loved. That came true in middle school. One nice thing about excelling in math is that there are lots of math competitions in school. He finally was able to start showing off his strengths.
In the effort to learn more about Nicholas’ challenges and find helpful tips, I went to many lectures and read lots of books and articles. In one of these lectures, I learned that many children with these learning styles have issues with seeing double. I didn’t think that applied to Nicholas, but I happened to ask him anyway. He looked at me as if I were crazy and told me that of course he sees double when trying to read—doesn’t everyone? That meant that when trying to read a line in a book, the double of the line above would get in the way of reading the target line. This evidently is not exactly a vision problem, but a processing and wiring problem that we worked on for several years to mitigate.
No wonder he hated reading. Plus the ADHD continued to make it hard for him to pay attention long enough to read more than a few pages.
Socially he was awkward and teased or bullied a lot.
High school was much better for him in that way. But still he always wondered if he was smart or “dumb.” As the subjects became more difficult, it was hard for him to pay attention and take notes because of his ADHD and dysgraphia (which affects motor skills needed for writing).
In high school he really shined in the math competitions. The only problems he’d miss were those that he would misread due to his reading comprehension issues.
One particular day really summed up Nick’s high school experience. We returned from the governor’s mansion where he had just received a medal for scoring the highest in the state on a national math contest. Then my husband and I spent the rest of the evening working with him on his English assignment because he was flunking English.
He had a special education class in high school where they practiced reading a book into a tape recorder. The funny part is that the book he was reading into the tape recorder for his special education class was his physics book.
Social skills were still difficult. His interest in and habit of speaking endlessly about the physical creation of the universe did not help him connect with others! So I connected him with some math and physics professors at the local college. They never got tired of speaking about their areas of expertise. (In retrospect, I realize Nicholas probably has a form of Asperger’s syndrome.)
Fast forward to college. He was mostly able to take classes in the areas of his strengths, which went well for him. He graduated with a degree in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science from the University at Colorado Boulder. During college, one of his professors helped him get an internship at Ball Aerospace & Technologies.
Recently I heard this story from his boss at Ball Aerospace, Joe. Joe was approached by another manager who said he had an intern (Nicholas) and he didn’t know what to do with him. The manager asked if he wanted the intern. Joe said, “I don’t know, let me interview him.” Joe told me that the interview was painful and awkward. But Joe explained what their department did, and Nicholas was very interested. Joe could tell from some of Nick’s comments and questions that he was very intelligent. So Joe took him on as an intern. When Nicholas graduated from college, Joe recommended that Ball hire him full-time into their department. Joe continued to mentor Nick.
|Author Vickie Hall and her son, Nicholas, on his wedding day in 2005.|
Then about eight years ago Nicholas met and married the love of his life, Lynn. They make a great couple and spend a lot of their spare time running marathons and climbing 14ers (mountains 14,000 feet or higher).
Fast forward again—Nicholas has now been at Ball Aerospace for 10 years. He works in the Aerospace Engineering department as a structural analyst of the optics that they send up on the space satellites—utilizing his math, physics, and computer science skills.
A few years ago Nicholas mentioned that he’s never sure whether he’s doing a good job. He doesn’t always feel like he’s pulling his weight because he can only pay attention to his work for around five hours a day and feels unproductive after that. He was encouraged that he survived numerous layoffs at Ball Aerospace and got a great review and raise recently. Nicholas is the only one at Ball who does what he does. They have recently hired a person to work with him so Nicholas isn’t the only one who knows that particular job.
Joe says that Nicholas has gotten much, much better at communication and relationships with his fellow engineers. Joe attributes that to Nick observing how the other engineers make their presentations and then changing the way he presents and phrases things. As well, Joe thinks Nicholas is in a positive "spiral" with the other engineers—Nicholas feels more comfortable with his skills and knowledge, which relaxes him and his communication, which in turn makes the other engineers more comfortable with him, and it continues the upward spiral. Plus Nicholas has developed his great sense of humor. Humor is a wonderful way to grease relationships with your coworkers and friends.
Nicholas had a great week recently. Every month they honor the Engineer of the Month for outstanding engineering contributions to Ball Aerospace. As you can probably guess, Nicholas received this month’s award. He is very young, at 31, to have received that rare honor. He was stunned!
There are more than 1,200 aerospace engineers at Ball. While my math skills don’t match his, that number tells me that every engineer has only a 1 percent chance of getting that award during any given year. Wow! Evidently the time he is able to concentrate on his work is extremely productive.
So my twice-exceptional son, who struggled all through childhood and into his adult years, has received a huge “attaboy.” Tell other parents to not despair, that all their hard work does make a difference. Their child also could become a rocket scientist!