May 1, 2015
Life with a twice-exceptional child - gifted with a learning disability/difference - can be enormously rewarding and at the same time extremely frustrating when attempting to advocate for an education that meets all their needs.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is circumventing the prevalent mind-set of many school administrators and educators these days who simply do not believe twice-exceptional children exist. It has become increasingly disturbing to read articles in major media outlets that our children are simply spoiled brats who need a little discipline like in the ‘old days’.
Here’s an idea: invite them over for dinner. Then, ask them to tell you again why your child does not have special needs. A simple conversation with one of these kids can be quite revealing. The breadth and depth of their knowledge can suddenly be overshadowed by their inability to complete a thought after being distracted by … well, by just about anything.
A recent study reported in Gifted Child Quarterly (Vol. 59, No. 2, April, 2015), "The Advocacy Experiences of Parents of Elementary Age, Twice-Exceptional Children", found that parents of twice-exceptional children fight an uphill battle throughout their child’s school years. Only after educating themselves about school policies and learning how to use appropriate educational terminology when talking to school officials did they have any success; often sacrificing any sense of working ‘with’ the school.
They found that rarely did school personnel act in the best interest of the child. Parents eventually lost faith in the system and simply did their best to monitor their child’s school for compliance of any meager accommodations gained in the advocacy process.
"Parents felt that school officials were not living up to their professional responsibilities, and feared that one advocacy error on the parents’ part could potentially impede their child’s future." (GCQ 59 (2), p. 114)
This scenario accurately reflects not only my own personal experiences but those of most of the parents I have worked with over the last 15 years. Lack of information, cooperation and education combine to make advocacy a daunting task. Parents feel alone; abandoned by a system they once placed so much value in and are suddenly faced with the reality that it simply doesn't work for everyone – certainly not for their children.
Advocating for the twice-exceptional child is like a never-ending story filled with disingenuous gestures from school officials and lack of respect for parents. Ask any parent who has walked this path and the tales reflect an eerie similarity. Few have happy endings. Perseverance, tenacity, and a thick skin become indispensable life-skills for these parents.
Parents in the above-mentioned GCQ study were driven by a longing that ultimately their child would achieve happiness, and become a self-sufficient and productive member of society. There was, however, a disconcerting sense that ultimately their child’s disability would over-shadow their potential.
When giftedness is identified, the disability is often ignored. In other cases, the disability may render a request for identification of giftedness unattainable. And to add insult to injury, parents who obtain an official diagnosis from private non-school professionals often find that the results are unacceptable in most school districts.
Parents are not the only ones who can benefit from further education. School administrators and teachers who take the time to learn about twice-exceptionality are found to be more empathetic and willing to develop a collaborative relationship with parents. The GCQ article references research (many listed below) conducted over more than two decades which firmly establishes that a child can be both gifted and have a learning disability.
How can this situation be improved? What has to change? Well, for starters, the well-being of each individual child needs to be front and center. They are not simply reflections of data mined from standardized test results.
One-size-fits all education plans do not work with these kids. Identification of giftedness cannot supplant the necessity of accommodating any co-existing learning disabilities.
And finally, progress will only be made when all stakeholders are mutually respected and strive for true collaboration, to provide the child with a beneficial educational experience that prepares them for a fulfilling life.
References from the GCQ Article
- Metacognition and High Intellectual Ability: Insights fromthe Study of Learning-Disabled Gifted Students (pdf)
- Insider, Outsider, Ally, or Adversary: Parents of Youth withLearning Disabilities Engage in Educational Advocacy (pdf)
- Twice-Exceptional Students Gifted Students with Disabilities Level 1: An Introductory Resource Book (pdf) from the Colorado Dept. of Education
- The Twice-Exceptional Dilemma (pdf) from the NEA
- Supporting the Identification and Achievement of theTwice-Exceptional Student (pdf) from the Virginia Dept. of Education
- Helping Your Highly Gifted Child (Tolan)
- Ensuring Gifted Children with Disabilities ReceiveAppropriate Services: Call for Comprehensive Assessment (Position Statement from the NAGC)
- Advocating for Exceptionally Gifted Young People: AGuidebook (pdf) (Davidson Institute for Talent Development)