by Teresa Currivan, LMFT, Parent Coach
Of all the quirky behaviors that 2e and gifted children have, the most exasperating for parents and teachers to deal with relate to executive functioning. Executive functioning is the ability to organize, plan, understand time, and basically fit your world into a linear sequence. It’s hard to not feel judgmental when your child has lost his jacket for the 4th time, and it’s still the beginning of winter! Additionally, most of us were reprimanded for such behavior when we were young. We all know that our anger only shames a child who simply cannot remember his jacket, even if he tries, and cares very deeply about how his behavior is perceived.
Some say that the gifted brain, which is by definition, wired differently than the neurotypical brain, does not have the ability to perform many executive functioning tasks until around age 12. (https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/cortex-matures-faster-youth-highest) There are some who say the brain takes another leap in executive functioning ability around age 20, and most people agree that for everyone, the prefrontal cortex is fully developed by age 25 to 30. These ages are important in helping gifted children because it allows us to manage our expectations in a way that gives children the space and guidance they need to experiment with their executive functioning skills in a healthy way.
Often, it seems that once we come up with a label, any label, it seems to define a child. Just by using a word, it is hard to move away from it. The child’s abilities as perceived by adults and then the child, can become stagnant and attached to the word, when in reality, our abilities and disabilities, perhaps especially in gifted children, are quite fluid. Many twice-exceptional/gifted young children often cannot memorize the order of the alphabet, know the days of the week, or the order of months, but by the teen years have more command over these abilities.
Knowing when they may have additional abilities in this area can allow a parent/teacher to be more patient in the earlier years, and kindly challenge the child’s executive functioning skills at these crucial stages. It will take some trial and error to discover if the skills are beginning to show themselves, but the expectation that they may have them can open doors.
Of course, nothing happens overnight. If you lose your patience when it comes to your child’s inability to brush his teeth in less than an hour, most of us can relate (we are only human!). Take a breath and try to be kinder next time. Being honestly interested in a child’s inner process in terms of executive functioning can be enlightening for an adult who had previously given up all hope. A child can become very proud of their new skills, especially when there isn’t too much shame attached to them to begin with. Good luck!
Teresa Currivan lives in the San Francisco, California Bay Area with her husband and son. She’s a mother, licensed marriage and family therapist, and parent coach at Help My Child Thrive Coaching LLC. She is the parent support specialist at Big Minds Unschool, a K-8 school for twice-exceptional children, and leads parent support groups there and in her private practice. In addition to parent coaching, she works with children, teens, and adults. Her specialties are giftedness and twice-exceptionality. Teresa has been published on sites such as Mother.ly and Filter Free Parents. She’s also a writer for GHF Newsletter and a blogger at Hoagies Gifted Education Page. You can find her articles on topics ranging from gifted testing, sensory disorders, appropriate diagnoses, and parenting the gifted on this website, https://helpmychildthrive.com. Follow her on Facebook at fb.me/TeresaCurrivanCoaching.
Do you have questions about your child’s twice-exceptional/gifted issues? Teresa offers free 20-minute phone consultations. Contact her at TeresaCurrivan@gmail.com to schedule a time.
©Teresa Currivan 2020
Some resources on giftedness and executive functioning:
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