Ever since our son was identified as twice exceptional, we were told of this elusive tribe* that we will find if only we talk to the right people, join the right community, attend the right event. It’s been seven years, and we’re still looking, but there is definitely hope.
Being twice exceptional implies at least two dimensions to one’s identity: giftedness and learning difference. We have two kids and both of them are profoundly gifted and neurodivergent. Furthermore, their special needs are distinct: our son is autistic, our daughter is a stealth dyslexic. But these are not the only facets that define them. They are both Russian heritage speakers. Plus, we homeschool. On top of that, our son is into all things science, and our daughter is artsy and creative. The question of which piece of this Venn diagram puzzle we belong to has been on our minds. So, at the advice of experts, we embarked on a journey in search of our tribe* or better yet, our people, and, frankly, it’s been rocky.
First, we tried the Russophone community. Having been raised in the former Soviet Union myself, I knew nothing about giftedness or twice exceptionality. These terms did not exist in my time and are still largely unknown to the Russian community. In fact, our Russian pediatrician insisted that our kids’ quirky behavior was caused by us not being strict enough with them. When the kids were little, it was working out ok, but the older they got, the more misunderstood we were.
After that, we tried the community of astronomy enthusiasts. Our son has been interested in astronomy ever since he put together a space-themed floor puzzle at the age of 3. He was obsessed with watching YouTube videos of rocket and space shuttle launches and Mars landings. Eventually he started watching lectures given by prominent Russian astronomers, at which point we signed him up for an online college course at Moscow State University. He even virtually met a boy from Moscow of similar age taking the same class! We also bought a telescope and started attending star parties and public astronomy lectures at local universities and colleges. It seemed like we might have found our people. Alas, the majority of those who could interact with our son at his level were adults, not kids. In hindsight, this sojourn was more of a search in support of our son’s interest rather than a search for our people. While they can be one and the same for one member of the family, it wasn’t addressing our needs as a whole.
Third, we tried the disabled community. We joined a local 4-H group that provided horseback riding lessons to disabled children and enrolled in swimming lessons for kids with special needs. After several months, we realized that disabled and special needs are such broad terms that even though our son fell under both umbrellas, he didn’t belong in either of them, as there is a vast difference between a profoundly gifted (PG) autistic child and a child with more severe intellectual or physical disabilities: while both disabilities are real, and neither one is easier to deal with than the other, the underlying needs vary greatly, and what works for one, does not necessarily work for the other.
Then we tried the gifted community. We toured several private schools and looked at special programs for gifted learners, such as Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. However, these programs had a competitive and overachieving vibe to them that just didn’t match our family. They seemed perfect for hardworking, mainstream kids. But they weren’t so welcoming towards quirky kids like our son, who could not sit still for longer than ten minutes at a time if he was not challenged or sufficiently engaged, whose knowledge of science was years beyond that of his peers, and yet whose writing was, well, years behind. In fact, we were told that to keep up with the writing requirements for these programs, we would have to hire a private tutor. And that would be on top of the school tuition (which, by the way, is on par with that of a university). Clearly, we did not belong in this space, either.
Next, we tried the profoundly gifted community. We attended retreats and conventions organized specifically for PG families. Though the events were a good experience, we could not shake off the feeling that maybe our family is not as PG as the rest of the crowd and, therefore, maybe not entitled to be here.
Then we finally took the plunge and tried homeschooling. We were lucky to join a gifted homeschooling community right off the bat. This community has been the most welcoming of all so far because it is an extremely diverse group of people with kids of varying backgrounds, abilities, interests, and special needs. We found a lot of support and guidance, but have we found our people?
Having been on this journey for the past several years, we have come to accept that the community we are looking for is going to be small, and it will take time and persistence to find it. And that’s ok! Just think about it: in a Venn diagram, the intersection of circles that represent at least some of the dimensions we face – Russian, science, special needs, gifted, PG, homeschooling – is quite small. No wonder we’ve been having such a hard time! But, we haven’t abandoned our pursuit – we are always on the lookout. And our perseverance pays off: over the years we’ve met a couple of families whose values and views of the world are in line with our own. And even though our kids are not necessarily all friends with each other (though some are), this is probably as close as it gets to our people – a small group of quirky homeschooling PG families with some overlapping interests and similar struggles. So, keep looking, keep reaching out, keep connecting. Because when you do find your people, it’s so worth it!
*The specialists we consulted as we started our journey often referred to finding "our tribe," which upon reflection I find inappropriate, but is an often-used term in our culture to connote finding your crew, people, crowd, squad, team, etc.
About the Author: Guest blogger Yekaterina (Katrina) O’Neil is a homeschooling mom by day, a doctoral student by night, and a software security researcher by trade. The mom to two 2e kids in middle and high school, she began homeschooling them after public school turned out not to be a fit. To understand and support her kids better, Katrina is pursuing a Doctoral Degree at Bridges Graduate School of Cognitive Diversity in Education, while attempting to juggle a career in cybersecurity at the same time. She is passionate about neurodiversity and hopes to spread awareness and acceptance of neurodivergent individuals at home, at school, and in the workplace.She holds a B.S. and M.S. in Computer Science & Engineering from UC San Diego.