By Nicola Killops

My journey into gifted education was a very happy accident. By 2013, I had spent 12 years teaching in mainstream schools. While I cherished my relationships with students, I felt stifled and overwhelmed by paperwork and a rigid curriculum that left no room for creativity. Something needed to change. A friend of mine, who taught at one of the country’s few schools for gifted children, mentioned an opening and recommended me for the role.

When I got the interview, I was terrified. What did I know about teaching gifted children? I doubted I was smart enough to handle such bright minds. But I nailed it by speaking from the heart about my experience as a mother. I was raising a twice-exceptional (2e) child myself without realising it. My son ( 9 at the time) is dyslexic and has high-functioning autism (formerly known as Asperger Syndrome).

What is Twice Exceptional (2e)?

Twice-exceptional (2e) students are gifted children who also have learning disabilities like dyslexia, ADHD, or autism. Their exceptional abilities can hide their challenges, making them hard to identify. 2e kids think differently, may be more sensitive than their peers, and often struggle with tasks other kids find easy.

Davidson Institute

While I knew he was exceptionally bright, the world led me to believe that reading, writing, and arithmetic were the only ways to prove it. Speaking about my journey made the interviewers realise I had all the empathy needed. Plus, it turns out that a lot of what gifted children need is empathy and someone willing to think outside the box.

I began my new job bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. It was the beginning of an eight-year adventure that transformed me and allowed me to be the teacher I always wanted to be. It also allowed me to embrace my giftedness; something that had been alluded to throughout my life but stomped on by circumstances. I was the epitome of a tall poppy.

The Lessons

Over eight years, I connected with some of the most incredible little humans I will ever meet. I also met some amazing parents who bonded with me over our shared parenting experiences and valued my insight. Some of them remain my closest friends. These are some of the most important lessons I learned from teaching gifted children and what I imagine they want the world to know.

  • Most of them may be more intelligent than me, but they need my wisdom to help them harness their superpowers. They are still just kids who need a loving adult to set boundaries and guide them.
  • Giftedness comes in many forms. Not all gifted children carry around a scientific calculator in their pocket and quote quantum theory.
  • Many gifted children are not academic. What counts is their insight, how they question and seek answers, their unique problem-solving ability, and their deep sensitivity. That kid who gets straight Ds is often way brighter than the valedictorian. It’s in real life that they show what they are made of.
  • They just want to be heard. They need to feel safe and know they can have an opinion even if it differs from mine. We can agree to disagree or, where possible, investigate together to find the answer.
  • They want to be actively involved in their learning. They don’t need a teacher to stand in front of the class, spewing meaningless facts. Instead, they want to engage, offer their own theories, consider the ‘What ifs’ and disappear down rabbit holes.
  • Gifted kids are often overwhelmed by anxiety. Their busy minds mean they extrapolate every possibility to the worst-case scenario. And it keeps them awake at night.
  • A gifted super-sensitive brain also leads to heightened sensitivity in other areas. And it can be tough to navigate. Too much noise, too much visual stimulation, strong smells, and a scratchy shirt can render them completely useless.
  • Make the content matter. It’s a means to an end, anyway. Education should be about learning skills, not facts. So, tailor your content around topics that deeply interest them, making the skills your outcome.
  • 2E is real. And 2E kids go through life questioning themselves. Support their challenges but don’t make it the focus. See past it and focus on that incredible mind. There is enough technology in their world to mean they will probably never pick up another pen once school is behind them. Speech-to-text and text-to-speech exist. Audiobooks are a thing. We need to shift what we consider academic success.
  • Avoid repetition. It numbs their minds. If you teach a new concept and they can do two examples accurately, I guarantee they can do 20. But they won’t bother, and it will look like they don’t get it. Very often, poor performance is based on disinterest.

Let the Light Shine

This is just the beginning. I learned so many more lessons and so much more that they wish the world would understand. I was so privileged to learn this firsthand. I left the classroom and reached people on a broader scale: to be their voice and advocate. Parenting gifted kids can be challenging, especially when dealing with anxiety, overexcitability, insomnia, and social challenges.

Their parents need as much support and understanding as their children do. Gifted kids need to be free to be. They need programmes and support groups that allow them to shine without being cut down or branded know-it-alls. However, they also need to be accepted in the mainstream for who they are and not just pulled out so that they can exist outside of the real world. The real world needs to make space for them, too.

Author Bio

Nicola Killops is a dedicated writer and a passionate advocate for the neurodiverse community. Over her 20-year journey from education to media, she has remained committed to sharing knowledge and driving genuine change. Before embarking on her writing career, Nicola specialised in gifted education and autism awareness, teaching at a school for gifted children and raising her son, a gifted teen with high-functioning autism and ADHD. This background shaped her approach to offering tailored support and creating adaptable learning strategies for all students.