Twice-Exceptional: Raising a Gifted and Neurodivergent Child

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Savannah’s chocolate-colored, twinkling eyes looked up at me. She asked, “Mommy, what is the moon made of?” Her voice didn’t sound like a two-year-old; her diction and articulation were that of a much older child. Yet, here she was, a toddler, asking me questions beyond my knowledge. Her mouth was like a motor, constantly questioning everything, digging deep, and longing for more answers.

“I don’t know, baby. I think the book says it’s made out of cheese,” I meekly offered. Savannah let out an enormous sigh and asked me to do some research to figure it out. She wouldn’t let me rest until I gave her the correct answer. I triumphantly revealed that the moon was made mostly of oxygen, iron, aluminum, silicon, and magnesium. Sav gave a half-smile, partially satisfied, but she still had more questions. She wanted to dig deeper, and I soon found myself learning about lunar magnesium to explain the moon’s chemistry further.

I knew my sweet girl was special and, possibly, not neurotypical. She absorbed information quickly, answered and asked questions with a mature depth of knowledge, and was a creative problem solver. In her first year of preschool, she begged me to enroll her in “real school” because she wanted to learn more.

Savannah entered kindergarten as a four-year-old and thrived academically. Socially, though, her teacher shared concerns about Sav’s inability to engage in dialogue. We noticed that at home, too. She talked non-stop and barely let us get a word in. Her quirkiness and dry, mature sense of humor made it difficult for her to make friends.

I wondered if I made the right decision to let her start school early. Through counseling, extra-curricular activities, and practice with listening skills, my husband and I tried to set Sav up for social success. Surely, the friendship scales would tip in her favor! They had to, right?

Wrong. After her first day in 6th grade, she came home and sadly said, “I don’t have any friends this year. I guess I never did.”

I didn’t know how to respond. She was right. The majority of her positive peer social interactions came from children in our family’s friend circle. As an extreme extrovert, I host parties twice a month, and our house is the social hub for entertainment. Our friends are like extended family and they love Sav for who she is, quirky or not. She yearned for a similar friendship at school.

Savannah often asked for advice on making friends because she was keenly aware that she had social challenges. “People think I’m weird. I talk to myself. I make weird noises. I’m weird.” Sav cried daily and began negative self-talk. My husband and I reassured her that she was perfect in our eyes, but she was inconsolable.

The negative self-talk turned into suicide ideation, and Savannah thought she was too “weird for the world.” She often said she wished she wasn’t alive. Sav began self-harming, biting herself and leaving bruises. I felt helpless, gutted, and afraid. How could someone so special and important not realize it?

A counselor diagnosed her with depression and anxiety. Through a 504 plan at school, Savannah could take a break in the counselor’s office if she felt sad or overwhelmed. She had social groups, weekly counseling sessions (inside and outside of school), and daily check-ins with a school staff mentor.

Fast-forward to 8th grade. We transferred Sav to a school with more rigorous instruction than her home school. The Gifted and Talented program was robust and challenging for Savannah’s beautiful mind. Her standardized test scores indicated that she is scoring at the end of high school for reading and math.

Her dad and I were elated at how happy our daughter was at her new school. The teachers embraced her, and she even made two friends! She was invited to parties and sleepovers for the first time in her life. Sav felt “normal.”

One day, out of the blue, she mentioned that both of her friends are on the autism spectrum. Savannah began asking us daily for an autism evaluation. “Autism isn’t something that rubs off on you,” I explained to her. Just because your friends are on the spectrum doesn’t mean you are.” She countered that research proves that children with autism gravitate toward each other. “Maybe I found my people…or they found me,” she said with an excited smile.

Sav’s dad and I went back and forth, trying to decide if we wanted to take action steps to see if our daughter was on the autism spectrum. Whether she is or isn’t doesn’t matter to us, but it does matter to her. She wonders why she’s unaware of social norms, even though a counselor has been working with her for years. She has questions about her actions, why she has sensory sensitivity, and wants to know why she is so often socially misunderstood.

I didn’t know how to answer her moon question when she was two, and I don’t know how to answer her question about being neurodivergent. All I can do is what I’ve always done—research and reach out to the professionals. Savannah wants answers, and honestly, she deserves them.

I look into those chocolate-colored, twinkling eyes every day. They are bigger and brighter, but they are the same pair of eyes I have loved for 13 years. Savannah doesn’t enjoy eye contact, so sometimes I have to wait a while. Eventually, though, her eyes meet mine. My heart swells every time that happens, and my heart bursts with love for my quirky, chatty, precious baby girl.

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