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Twice-Exceptional Dogs

 

I’m currently taking a class in the psychology of the exceptional child, and my favorite discovery, during the first few weeks of class, was a subject barely mentioned in the textbook: twice exceptional children. These are gifted kids who also have a disability, like ADHD, a mood or anxiety disorder, a learning disability, or an autism spectrum disorder. When I started to read the research I felt like the clouds had parted and rainbows and light were filling my eyes.

This was me.

Me, and my fashion sense.

Me, and my fashion sense.

I was gifted. I wasn’t a prodigy in the 160+ range, but I was gifted enough to not fit in with my classmates. My teachers were so impressed with me that no one noticed how much I was struggling – socially, emotionally, and with certain academic tasks. I couldn’t judge distance. I couldn’t read maps. I could not make sense of a fast food menu up on the wall at McDonald’s. God forbid I tried anything like interior decorating and my intelligence level dropped like a rock.

But none of those things were noted, or even tested, when I was in elementary school. And when there was a spatial relations section on an achievement test in ninth grade, no one but me seemed to notice the results. I scored in high 90’s for math and verbal and at the 50th percentile for spatial relations. I was so excited! I’d been telling my parents and teachers that I had a learning disability for years, and they would all look at my grades and laugh hysterically.

Not funny.

Not funny.

My hope was that this almost 50% gap between my strengths and my weaknesses would be a neon sign to get people to look at me more closely, but no one cared. To be fair, they didn’t notice that I was suicidal either.

I think Cricket is twice exceptional too. She is very bright, but she has such anxiety that she struggles to learn. Cricket can read even the smallest body language cues: she knows the difference between Grandma getting dressed to go outside alone, or to go outside with dogs; she can hear every whisper and know when it is about her and when it’s not; she not only knows specific words, but what the tone of voice they are said in implies.

Cricket, reading Grandma's mind.

Cricket, reading Grandma’s mind.

But, she is a terrible student. She will never do something just to please her people. She can’t focus when she’s emotionally agitated, which is a lot of the time. And if she doesn’t want to do what she’s being asked to do, she won’t do it, no matter how many chicken treats I offer her.

I refuse!

“I refuse!”

When she’s calm and focused she can learn new skills in minutes. She can sit and stay and even twirl. Her name recognition and ability to come when called were perfect, at home, but once she got to her obedience class she was a mess. If she were a shedding dog she would have been sitting in a puddle of hair by the end of each class.

If she were a human she might be diagnosed with ADHD, or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or Social Anxiety, or all three. If she were a human, she’d be in talk therapy, and taking a drug cocktail, and she’d probably be in special education, despite her high intelligence. She is a classic twice exceptional dog.

For my paper, I spoke to a professor who runs a program for twice exceptional students at a local college, secretly hoping she’d give me some ideas for Cricket and me. She talked about creating a scaffolding for these kids, including: faculty trained to adapt to their needs; a social skills counselor; study skills classes; peer mentors; academic advisors who can give them emotional support. She said that the fundamental thing these kids need in order to succeed is love.

It’s such a simple idea. We all need help. We all need praise for our strengths and support for our weaknesses. The idea that each and every one of us should be able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and reach our full potential alone, is bullpucky.

Butterfly loves to help her sister, even as a pillow.

Butterfly loves to help her sister, even as a pillow.

But I’m not sure how to apply this scaffolding to my life, or Cricket’s. I haven’t been able to find the doggy equivalent of special education, let alone twice-exceptional education, for her. The classes I can afford are mostly one size fits all and Cricket has to sit in the back and watch the Golden Retrievers heel, and roll over, and shake their beautiful tails in her face.

Delilah, the A+ student

Delilah, the A+ student

Just once, I wish I could help Cricket get a gold star on a test, and give her a chance to stand tall and let everyone see her extraordinary potential, the way I do.

 

"More!"

“I can do it!”

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

97 responses »

  1. You know how smart she is, and that’s what’s important. It doesn’t matter that she can’t do all the tricks. She loves you. ❤

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  2. But you see it, and that’s all she needs! You love her (and Butterfly, too!) This is a full-time job, how do you manage time for anything else!

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  3. Rachel, I love the way you draw out the personalities of each of your dogs. In this case, you’ve described Cricket’s being “twice exceptional,” a concept that is fascinating to me (and one I’d never heard of before) especially as applied to dogs. Very interesting post indeed!

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  4. Beautiful … and it all really comes down to love … if only everyone could understand that, how different our world would be …

    I can’t wait for your next post!

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  5. Cutest dog ever! She sounds wonderful and much like my old mutt was.

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  6. I must say you looked really smart and pretty when you were young. I can understand about couldn’t read maps cos I couldn’t either even until today ( ◡́.◡̀). And Cricket and Butterfly are as cute as ever.(^◡^ )

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  7. I love the photos of you and your fashion sense! I also love reading learning more abotu Cricket & Butterfly. It is all about love

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  8. I love the photos of you and your fashion sense! I also love reading learning more about Cricket & Butterfly. It is all about love

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  9. That is the sweetest story, but Cricket already knows she’s “top dog” in your book and that’s all that counts.

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  10. You say that you’d like to help Cricket get a gold star and to stand tall. My guess is that she gets a gold star from you every day. And you’re the only one who counts with her.

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  11. Hm…I’m not terribly worried about Cricket…I think she lives the Good Life with you so she probably doesn’t even need to go to school at all.
    And btw, you were an adorable little girl…I wish that little girl could have been happier…

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  12. Love and tail wags to you and your fur family. Your beautiful way with words and ability to understand your dogs is, indeed, a double exception. We love you! Woof!

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  13. I always love to read your posts Rachel, and hear about your lovely dogs, may you have a great weekend.

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  14. What do you do if you’re like me-zero exceptional.

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  15. I had never heard of “twice exceptional” until reading your post, but that was me, too! And no one bothered to pay attention to my needs, either, so I can relate. I think we all ended up getting back at the world by becoming bloggers! Some days I think that my fellow bloggers are my true family.

    Reply
  16. As owners, we know our dogs, their potential, fears, loves and capabilities. We would never push too hard, but encourage gently, this gradually increasing until they reached the ultimate goal.
    As Humans, tell someone they’re stupid often enough and they’ll eventually believe it, their self esteem crushed.
    Everyone has a gift.

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  17. I so understand momwithoutpaws did not know till she was 58 that she was dyslexic. SHe took a class to help tutor children to read because she did not want them to struggle, while taking the class she realized through speaking with the instructors she is dyslexic. When she told dadwithoutpaws he said “Wow that explains alot. Woof some dogs have OCD and ADD also each with their own special way of doing things High paw!

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    • I love that we’ve gotten better at recognizing the different needs we all have, and can better understand why one person would struggle with something that’s easy for someone else. Fingers crossed this leads to more compassion!

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  18. Well I can’t speak for Cricket but yes you do sound like you would fall under the autism spectrum disorder category. Having a son with similar issues has been an eye opener. Fortunately, there are many more services available for children now a days then there were when you or I were growing up. I often think of classmates who were dismissed as hopeless or weren’t even recognized for the issues they were dealing with who could have been helped. I hope you are getting the help you need as it is never too late to work on these issues.

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  19. Bark accolades and hugs to all of you exceptionals!

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  20. That was very, very interesting and it’s totally worth to ponder about. I will watch Easy more precisely, what you wrote about Cricket sounds a little familiar to me… many thanks, for opening my eyes with a fabulous post!

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  21. I enjoyed reading this post! I love that term – twice exceptional. Cricket is special in the most positive sense of that word.

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  22. Totally understand. Hope you find those scaffolds. But as long as you know the truth, and Cricket knows you love her for herself, maybe those public gold stars will matter less? Wishing you both all the best, and thanks for such a thought provoking post.

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  23. I had to share this post with my daughter. Very interesting. You have such great insight, I love your posts.

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  24. What a lovely piece of writing. I have a border collie-heeler cross named Poppy who reminds me quite a bit of your Cricket. She is frightfully smart, and when focused, also learns at the speed of light. But I have no idea what her purpose is, though I suspect learning agility or tricks isn’t it. Search and rescue? Once a distraction came along, off she’d go. Thank you for giving me a better framework in which to think about her.

    Reply
    • I’m so glad. I think, if Cricket could choose a career, she’d want to be a gardener’s assistant. She’s not great at the big picture, but she is persistent and focused when it comes to digging. She could spend hours every day on that. Her other choice would probably be marathon running. She just hasn’t found a human willing to do the training with her.

      Reply
  25. Rachel, this about made me cry. Who knew this about dogs?! Cricket gets a gold star from me with everyone of your posts. She is a total non-conformist and I love it! Why be like any other dog when you can be Cricket–who has her very own blog, by the way. Seriously though, this was most interesting and sad, too, that no one focused on you. Academics…phooey. It’s like every man for himself. Love to you.

    Reply
  26. I love this! I’m twice exceptional, but my (disabilities) were ignored because I made superior grades. And yet… and yet… I was held out of the EG/AP classes time and time and time again because I “didn’t play well with others.” Wow! I think about all that I missed out on, and I STILL don’t understand what socializing has to do with being brilliant. Ugh. I hate people anyway – school was a complete and total social misery to me.

    I think my dogs are all twice exceptional as well: Baby is perfectly house trained and would explode before she’d potty in the house… but within the last year she’s developed such severe anxiety I’ve had to hospitalize her twice for eating things she shouldn’t (like an entire bottle of Rimadyl – maybe she’s suicidal too?), so now she has to be crated when we’re not home or even when we’re not in the room with her; Max is the smartest dog I’ve ever had, but he’ll lay down and submit if I ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do; Maggie is all about me, and I’ve never raised a hand to her, but if I move too fast and startle her, she’ll hit the floor screaming; Nanuq… Ah, Nanuq is a special case: He’s the only one we’ve had from puppyhood, and I know for a fact that he’s ADHD.

    Maybe it’s good that you and I were overlooked for being twice exceptional, and maybe it’s good that dogs aren’t judged by the same standards as people. After all, our struggles made us who we are today.

    For the record: I STILL can’t judge distance; I can read a map now but I’m easily confused – especially if someone distracts me; I can’t hang pictures, curtains, or arrange furniture in anything resembling a logical pattern; and I haven’t the foggiest what all the hullabaloo is about making friends.

    Reply
    • I’m with you on everything up to the “making friends” one. I would love to be better at making friends and managing social anxiety. Growing up, it was assumed that we would all figure those things out on our own, whereas math would be a struggle. And for me, it was exactly the opposite. I did my math workbooks before school started each year, but social concerns made me panic all year long.

      Reply
  27. I’m pretty familiar with children who have ADHD and who are highly intelligent. I’d say the two go together more often than not. But when it comes to dogs I’m stumped as well. I have two Vislas who are both skilled hunters-their noses and pointing instincts are truly a wonder-but one is gun shy to the point that hammers and loud cars send her under the bed (ok, only her head is under there, but don’t tell her) and the other is super needy and anxious. We call her the “attention whore” because if you talk pet one of the other dogs or even play with the kids, she sqeezes between you. I have tried praise, and walks, and giving them more jobs, and so far nothing has really worked. Good luck in your quest!

    Reply
    • I love that dogs are as complicated as people. So now we need to create some dog therapy groups and supportive services for them, so they can help each other through the hard times. Maybe one of the other dogs could whisper to the scaredy dog that only her head is under the bed, give her some tips on getting her butt under there too!

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    • We have a Vizsla also and while not afraid of loud noises, he’s a bit timid and very clingy. As he’s getting older, he’s getting more neurotic and doesn’t like it when I leave him during the day. He’s an attention whore too – love that description! – and the beagle has gotten used to getting knocked over in the quest for all of mommy’s attention. It’s a good thing I have two hands to pet them both at the same time!

      Nancy

      Reply
  28. The Gospel of Barney

    Sissy, my corgi, is my quiet time to de-stress, unwind and let go!

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  29. I think everyone needs praise, and my pup loves to be touched by me or my husband. She is very selective about who else she is comfortable with. It is apparent that they have many of the same issues as we do.

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  30. Both of my children were diagnosed with ADD and ADHD. And just about any other DD there might be in life. Maybe that explains why one of our dogs seems so to be smart about some things and really not so smart with other things.Your class sounds interesting. Good luck with the class and with Cricket. I am sure things will work out. Animals are very smart about things when they want to be. 🙂

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  31. I agree with you; both people and dogs need positive feedback and reminders that they are important and valued. Jack is smart when he wants to be, but for the most part he is ruled by his little tummy so a lot of stuff goes over his head. 😀

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  32. Seeing human traits in our dogs is quite an experience. 🙂

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  33. Oh Cricket, I am so with you! Don’t those smug Golden Labs just drive you nuts? Nobody understands us emotionally intelligent types – and you’re right, we do all need a bit of help now and again, especially while we’re growing up. Millie xx

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  34. Loved this post, Rachel! Important at multiple levels. And as to Cricket, the love and appreciation from you might just be enough 🙂

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  35. Just tweeted this and two other wonderful posts 🙂

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  36. There’s something to be said for Cricket marching to her own drummer( love the shot of her with Grandmom, btw)…but this is why we love them ❤

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  37. I’m working with an exceptional kid myself! I’m pulling in as much understanding, patience, support, love and possible. And really she is just pretty “normal” I think in comparison to some.
    So far my golden retriever also gets an A. cheers… wendy

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  38. Ellie is a dog that doesn’t walk. Plainly speaking, strangers and unknown noises such as bikes, lawn mowers and garbage trucks terrify her. But she is a very smart dog. She too, can learn a trick in minutes. We aren’t able to share her with the world because she’s very scared of it. But we love her and she loves us. And no matter how hard we try and try again, that’s all that really matters.

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    • Butterfly has very strong feelings about what she will put up with and what she won’t/ Cars and buses and loud noises are a big fat no. But she doesn’t mind. She loves what she loves and stays away form the things that scare her, and she’s pretty happy about that. Seems to work for her.

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  39. As a former special education teacher, I enjoyed your story and the notion of “twice exceptional.” Another way to look at it is we’re all exceptional in some way and disabled in some way. The trick is to understand this early enough so that self esteem isn’t harmed. And to get help learning how to compensate for the weaknesses. I doubt that Cricket has a self esteem problem. Dogs are so lucky. Just love her as she is. They sure don’t make snarky remarks to each other! At least according to Foxy they don’t. 🙂

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  40. So much love going on here! So many lucky dogs! I appreciate how caring and perceptive you are about your animal companions. I’m wishing right now more people will come to care as much as you and those who’ve commented here.

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  41. Brilliant post your pups are sure in the best hands. Love the photo and story behind it.

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  42. Hello from Artsyberger. Thanks for visiting my dogs. I have another blog about Asperger with lots of info not available anywhere else. Love your blog. Stop by!

    http://aspergerhuman.wordpress.com

    Reply
  43. Reblogged this on sarahlouiseclark's Blog and commented:
    Beautiful post, Cricket doesn’t need others approval when she so obviously has your love

    Reply
  44. I would say she has enough gold stars from you to rest content. After all, you are her world. Communication and love are the substance of life and all anyone needs.

    Reply
  45. What a fascinating subject to study.. us dogs are very complex creatures sometimes, as are you humans.

    Reply

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