Journey to a Diagnosis: 2E (Twice-Exceptional)
As many of our friends and family know, our 6 year old son, Bennett, has been struggling in a variety of ways since he was about 10 months old. Over the years, so many little issues have “set him off” – all resulting in epic, sometimes hours-long meltdowns and serious anger. Everything from not crawling as a baby and wanting so badly to move, certain triggering sounds such as crinkly paper and fireworks, the inability to self-soothe…
And even as a toddler and 3 year old – oh, the screaming. The loud noises, the socks not being just right, the crack in the bread (ruining the sandwich), misalignment of the bread slices while eating it (also ruining the sandwich), the bubbles spilling onto the driveway, never able to be put back again. Things not being perfect when he needed them to be. One morning, when he was 3, I was trying to pack for the beach, on my own with Ben, his twin sister, and a newborn. The screaming started over the waffle. The peanut butter wasn’t perfectly in each square. I took him down from the table – breakfast was over. The meltdown that ensued stays with me as one of my worst parenting moments ever. The newborn had to be nursed, the other twin forgotten. That’s the day I realized that Bennett had separation anxiety. That old trick I had often been told? “Go sit in that room by yourself. You can come out when you’re calm.” Yeah…he almost broke the door down. I shut it because he wouldn’t stay in the room and I didn’t know what else to do. At one point, I put him on the deck where I could watch him through the slider. I was at my wits end, I had no idea what I was doing…he panicked, screaming the whole time, and flipped all my deck furniture over. I was nursing a screaming newborn, pacing, and the neighbor came over to ask if we were okay. If only I could redo that entire meltdown, knowing what I know now.
These behaviors didn’t stop at 4. They simply became new issues. Refused to potty train (I blamed myself at the time for “missing the window”.) Melting ice cream – just forget it. He couldn’t stand praise for complying with directions – you might as well have lit him on fire for saying “Good job”. Lack of independence with tasks he could do himself, such as getting dressed, getting shoes on (those Velcro strips had to be perfectly in line)…name the task, he wouldn’t do it. He hated the feeling of water on his face or head. He was defiant. He refused to comply, no matter the consequence. Rules and a stern voice meant nothing.
By this time, I had many people trying to help. Maybe you need some strategies, I was told. Try stronger discipline. Make sure to be consistent. Make sure he knows who’s in charge. Try gentle parenting. Try reward charts. Try taking things away that mean a lot to him. Time outs. Time ins. He didn’t act like this at relative’s houses or at school. Only in our home. All of this brought a lot of anger within me that I still feel to this day. What was I doing wrong? Why was everyone else rocking at this parenting thing except me? What was wrong with me and what was wrong with my son? He was miserable, he hated life. I tried every single idea you could think of. Some felt right (gentle parenting, for example), and some didn’t. Either way – none of what I tried worked. Reward charts are great for students, but not for my son, who immediately became super anxious that he might not get a perfect score and therefore melted down before we even got it started.
What I needed weren’t people’s ideas for what to do with a “normal” kid. My son is different, despite what he shows the world outside of our home. He needed a diagnosis.
At 4, we had him tested – a full neuropsychological workup. The results came back surprising – something called 2E, or twice-exceptional. Gifted. Possible anxiety. Retest in a few years. None of what I read made much sense to me and I tucked the report away. Meanwhile at 4, we had a miracle occur in our home. Bennett was gifted a world map. He was, shockingly, thrilled. In a few weeks, he memorized and could locate 90% of all countries on the map. He learned every state in the U.S. and its location. He once colored in a United States map by memory at home, choosing colors that matched his preschool’s wooden puzzle map. The colors he chose matched exactly, 100%. It was so cool to see him with a map, but the best part was that it made him happy. He was thrilled, he was beside himself. I had never seen him like this. When learning and memorizing maps, his behavior improved. He wasn’t defiant. He was agreeable, easy-going. I couldn’t believe it.
Two years later, he remains “gifted”. The topics have shifted over time but are always math and science based. He went through an astronomy phase, now he’s into animal science and nature. Math comes easy – he’s dividing in his head when we snuggle at bedtime, he loves fractions and explaining complex patterns. He enjoys memory games. His math and reading levels are approximately at a 3rd grade level. He has a deep love of the outdoors. This is all pretty fun to watch, considering math and science aren’t exactly my specialties. However, the happiness learning brings for him is like none other. All his worries melt away when he’s being challenged. It’s like watching a different kid. His eyes brighten, he’s excited to share all that he knows.
Now that he’s in kindergarten, I have dug out that report and revisited his diagnosis of 2E. So what IS 2E? No one I know had ever heard of it, including his teacher. Twice-exceptional, in simple terms – is being both gifted/super intelligent (over-ability) and being “behind” in at least one area socially/emotionally/developmentally (disability). The “disability” is typically Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), ADHD, Dyslexia, and/or anxiety. We suspect Bennett has more than one of those.
I wish I hadn’t tucked the report away two years ago, because now I am absolutely, 100% sure that 2E describes my son. Yes, the other night he read a book to us on his own, with words like “muttered” and “muscles”. Yes, he fully understands the relationship between multiplication and division and we are working on division of multi-digit numbers in his head. Yes, he understands higher level science concepts. I often teach him what I am teaching my 5th graders. He wants to be an engineer, an astronaut, a scientist of any and all kinds.
But he gets off the bus and starts screaming before we step in the house every day, often taking it out on his siblings. He melts down when he first wakes up, before his eyes are fully open. He is anxious at bedtime and often calls us 5-10 times before his brain can settle. He worries non-stop, has separation anxiety from me specifically. He cannot stand to be alone in a room at all. He’s still super angry. He’s sensitive to exhaustion and hunger. The screaming continues to be…like nothing you’ve heard before. Not at school, not at other’s houses. Just at home. There’s still defiance every day. Refusal to dress himself often. Refusal to comply with directions. Refusal to try strategies or tools we provide him. Anger, so much anger.
Bennett is 2E. That is why I’m so happy that he’s in kindergarten and not first grade. Both way above his peers academically, and behind them socially/emotionally. A year ago, he would flat out ignore a friend who called his name. Unable to speak to other kids. Now, he’s got friends and much better social confidence. We are starting the process of retesting him, so we can get a better handle on exactly what the other “E” is. (My guess is it’s more than one thing). His wonderful teacher was willing to read his report and find some ways to challenge him in the classroom. The day he starts acting out in school, we will work on getting him an IEP or a 504.
I find that I’m still angry, too. I go to counseling. I work on trying not to feel like a failure as a mom. I work on taking the blame off of myself. I work really hard on not becoming furious when my well-meaning friends and family offer another “suggestion”, as if I haven’t already thought it, read about it, or tried it. I work on focusing on my favorite parts of my son, and not internalizing those meltdowns which haunt me in my sleep.
Overall, watching him thrive academically has gotten me through. He’s also loving, affectionate, and sensitive. He’s got a bright future ahead of him, we just need professional help and guidance on that other “E.”