Twice Exceptional/Twice Misunderstood
Ben’s vocabulary and comprehension are quite remarkable for a child his age. This evening he was explaining to me in brief the timeline as it relates to Syria. He is in the 3rd grade. It is very easy, when a child is a gifted speaker, to forget their developmental age. I’ve heard it from a variety of adults in his life, “Sometimes, I just have to stop and remind myself that I am talking to a child!”
This is both blessing and curse for my young man. Being twice exceptional means that, for him, academic development is well off the chart while emotional development is behind for his physical age. So, it would be fairly understandable for him to go from one moment explaining the conflict in Syria, to the next stamping his foot, slamming his cup down, and crying out, “You’re mean!” because it is time to clean up for dinner. Perhaps, most interesting is the way that academic age and developmental age are always shifting and changing, in an ever-moving dance of ability and disability.
Higher Order Functions
Welcome to the wonder that is the Cerebral Cortex. If the Limbic brain is the brick and mortar foundation and the seat of emotional needs and responses, the Cerebral Cortex is the protective roof carefully considering every response. About the size of a large dinner napkin and only about 2-3 mm in thickness, the Cerebral Cortex is responsible for a laundry list of social, emotional and anatomical functions. Like a “bark” of gray matter it starts at your forehead and covers everything, including the limbic brain and brainstem (the lower portion) like a very thin helmet.
The Cerebral Cortex plays a role in :
- body control
- emotional control
- morality and ethics
- foreword planning
- self-awareness and insight
Unlike the limbic brain, the cerebral cortex is not developed at birth but begins its process of growth and development in infancy and childhood and continues through the early to mid-twenties- although the structures continue to change through out a life time.
Being A Role Model not a Bad Example
When Ben stamped his foot, slammed his juice on the table and shouted, “You’re mean!” (an obvious limbic response) I had a choice. I could access my own limbic brain and give the response I would most likely have gotten from my own parents, and the one most likely to be expected from most other adults, and shout:
“You don’t speak to your mother that way, Young Man! Now you go wash those hands for dinner, not another word, or you will…insert consequence...”
Or, I can take the high road, try to see his point of view and access my cerebral cortex. I might say, in a controlled tone:
“Ben, I know that you would rather continue your game, but it is time to eat. If you can wash up now without a fuss you will have more time to play after dinner.”
I can hear the “my kids got spankings and know discipline, they would talk to me like that once and they would never think twice after that” crowd gagging. Yes, if you cause your child pain or injury the hippocampus will make a note of it. The child may not behave that way again but not because they have learned any skill of higher reasoning in that cerebral cortex they are cultivating. They will have simply reinforced their primitive survival reflex.
Use It – Don’t Excuse It
A developing brain isn’t an excuse for undisciplined behavior. In fact, it is much the contrary. It means that our children lack the necessary internal constraints to set boundaries for themselves. That means that we need to rise to the challenge of modeling the behavior we want to see from our kids, set clear boundaries and expectations and in effect function as an external constraint system as they are developing. In other words, a developing brain needs firm, fair and consistent discipline at all times.
We all want to raise our children to be in control of their bodies and emotions, who are morally and ethically upstanding, able to think ahead, and are flexible, insightful and self-aware. All of those things are teachable skills too! It just means that we have to use our own cerebral cortex. A lot.
If you consistently model limbic responses of instant gratification, rage, and loss of self-control; if you fail to use compassion and empathy in times of difficulty, well – that is the person that your child will model and become one day. If you mirror patience, self-control, and understanding those abilities will develop over time as well.
Try to see the developing mind for what it is: a miracle. You cannot and should not be your child’s pal- that will come with age. For now, you have a more important role: you have to be their teacher, their leader, their image of what they can and should want to be. Be an example of what a loving parent is and help them grow into young people who know their own worth, and uniqueness.
…And be patient with yourself too. We all have our days where our emotional limbic brain is just an animal off leash. That too is a learning opportunity.
*Brain Basics Author’s Note:
I am totally unqualified to prepare someone for brain surgery or even to give a literal anatomy lesson. My goal in writing about the way that our minds work is to give you
just enough information to be dangerous a layman’s understanding of your brain, how it works, and how those functions impact our experience of the world and each other. While I will write about parenting and about how the mind relates to autism and neurodiversity, these basic concepts are helpful to anyone with a brain or who has occasion to deal with thinking people. I believe that by understanding the way our brain influences the mechanics of how we work we can take steps away from stigmatizing ideas and start to develop a true understanding of each other and our individual needs.
I will be breaking this subject down into many posts, and trying to keep it short enough that it can be easily read on a busy schedule. I issue this disclaimer: this is very basic, consolidated information and I encourage you to learn more. At the end of this series I will post a list of sources and reading, and as always, the collection will be available on Google +
What Were You Thinking?! : The Mind/Body Turf War
What Makes You Act Like That?! : The Limbic System
Why Can’t We See Eye to Eye?! : The Cerebral Cortex
Is All this Sensory Stuff Real?! : Neurotransmitters
Can We Change Our Minds?! : Neuroplasticity
Well, Now You’ve Done It! : Engaging the brain through intentional experiences
That Was Fun. Now What?! : What to remember when all else fails
What Are You Trying to Tell Me?! : Autonomic nervous system/behavior as communication
Don’t Pull the Switch! A little on the psychology of group thinking
The Lie of 5 : Discussion of how we understand the Senses
Discriminatory Touch : Tactile defensiveness vs. Under Sensitivity
Nocioception : A fancy word for pain and how we sense it
Proprioception : Where is your body in space?
The Vestibular System : How your inner ear is keeping you in line
Synesthesia : How does music make you feel? Can you smell a memory?
original date: 12.16.15