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Twice exceptional children
 Moderated by: AmyZ  
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Joined: Thu Feb 22nd, 2007
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 Posted: Fri Mar 2nd, 2007 10:34 am
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Many teachers do not know what "twice exceptional" means, let alone what to do with these kids! I am putting this description (written by me) in this Special ed forum, because while they do also require gifted services, their education is "special" ;) Sorry for the length..... yes, this is an "essay," but don't expect that from all my posts!

Some students display high intellectual ability yet do not perform in school at their apparent intellectual capacity. Underperformance of such students is not due to lack of effort, inadequate instruction, or adverse home or school conditions. These students may have been identified by teachers as possibly gifted due to their verbally expressed knowledge, unusually high interest in particular subjects, and high levels of cognitive reasoning and problem solving skills, yet they have difficulty meeting grade level standards. Additionally, educators have noted that some children diagnosed with learning disabilities (LD) display higher level reasoning in some subjects. These students may be both gifted and learning disabled and are described as “Twice Exceptional” (sometimes called “2E”). A number of different learning disabilities are found in the 2E population, including autistic spectrum disorders, ADD/ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorders, bipolar disorders, and dyslexia (Lovecky, 2004; Web et al., 2005). School districts vary on criteria for special services, but generally any child who qualifies as learning disabled and is also gifted should be categorized as 2E. An estimated that 2% to 4% of the learning disabled population are also gifted; however, this is probably a conservative estimate due to under identification of 2E students (Nielsen, 2002). To best address the cognitive and emotional needs of 2E children, timely and proper identification and appropriate services are essential. This paper will address means of identifying 2E children and serving their needs for the best cognitive and emotional outcome.

Up until recently, it was not acknowledged that children were capable of being both learning disabled and gifted. Besnoy (2006) points out the dichotomy between the expected metacognitive abilities of gifted students verses the apparent lack of metacognitive skills of learning disabled students, which results in a unique cognitive and emotional presentation for 2E children. Often the combination of learning disabilities and giftedness mask each other in 2E students. As a result, these students are often grade-level performers and are difficult to identify as requiring special services.

Twice exceptional children are identified in three different categories, as first described by Baum (1990). The first category consists of children who have been identified as gifted yet who find schoolwork difficult. These children may display high levels of verbal reasoning and have high achievement test and/or IQ scores, but are underachievers in the classroom. As they progress through school, this discrepancy between ability and achievement intensifies, leading to frustration on the part of students, parents, and teachers because even “increased effort is still not enough to generate achievement” (Besnoy, 2006, p. 6). These students are especially at risk for emotional and self-esteem problems because they are aware of their giftedness yet still face academic difficulties.

The second category of 2E students includes those who receive assistance for learning disabilities and whose giftedness is not readily apparent. In some cases, these students’ strengths and interests may only be evident in extracurricular or home-based activities while in-school assistance may focus only on the disabilities. Inadequate cognitive assessment or possible depression of IQ scores as a result of learning disabilities may make giftedness difficult to diagnose in these students.

Finally, some 2E students may not be identified as either learning disabled or gifted. These students may manage to perform around expected grade level in the classroom because their giftedness may mask their learning disabilities, and vice versa. These students are able to compensate for their deficiencies, and thus are unrecognized as requiring assistance for either their LD or giftedness. Often the exceptionalities of these students go unrecognized into adulthood. The fortunate are sometimes identified if a teacher’s classroom methods or approach is able to reveal uniqueness in these students or if they excel at a particular subject.

Some educators argue that students who are LD and/or gifted should not receive special services if they are performing at grade level. In response to such situations, the United States Department of Education (1995) has specified that a student who qualifies for special services cannot be excluded from such services based solely on the fact that the student is performing at grade level. A high IQ child cannot be excluded from special education services and must be measured according to “his or her own expected performance, and not some arbitrary general standard” (para. 3). Therefore, a student who has some capacity to compensate for his or her LD should not be denied special education assistance. The United States Department of Education (1995) makes this clear:

"Many students identified as having LD are not failing to achieve commensurate with their age level and are passing from grade to grade at the same rate their peers. Yet these same students are still in need of special education and related services in order to benefit from education. This is true for students with above average intelligence as well as students with average intelligence." (para. 12)

Similarly, a student whose giftedness is not readily apparent in schoolwork due to LD should not be denied gifted enrichment. 

Identification of 2E students is a challenging first step in providing assistance. The first step is to inform educators about the characteristics of 2E children. A study which surveyed Mississippi school districts concluded that “Lack of knowledge, from the state department level downward, appears to be the principal reason that twice-exceptional students are under-identified in the state of Mississippi” (Perkerson, 1999, p. 27). In this study, many administrations were not familiar enough with the characteristics of 2E students to properly identify students who would qualify for the survey. Complicating matters is the general lack of interaction between special education and gifted departments in schools. Educators in one department may not have a process in which to assess and refer students who may need assistance by the other specialty. Researchers find “the majority of school districts in the United States do not have procedures in place for screening, identifying, and serving GT/LD students” (Weinfeld, Barnes-Robinson, Jeweler, & Shevitz, 2002, para. 4).

While IQ tests may demonstrate giftedness, such tests are designed for non-learning disabled children, so LD may depress scores and influence the accuracy of the results (Nielsen, 2002; Perkerson, 1999). Some researchers feel that the best way to assess a learning disabled child for giftedness is to compare the child to others with similar LD. Alternatively, children with high performance on gifted global screening yet who perform poorly on standardized exams may also be considered for 2E status. Informal assessments including interviews, observations, and reports of extraordinary extracurricular activities may be more informative. Checklists have been developed which give educators indications of whether to consider a child for 2E status. Qualities of giftedness in 2E children may be demonstrated by highly specific talent or interest, superior vocabulary, ability to see the “big picture,” high level problem solving and reasoning, insights and opinions about complex issues, creativity in completing tasks, high curiosity, unusual imagination, and advanced and/or bizarre sense of humor. Challenges to 2E students may be evident by uneven academic skills resulting in school-task avoidance and frustration, low self-esteem, discipline problems, stubbornness, slow processing speeds, long- and short-term memory difficulties, distractibility, gross- or fine-motor difficulties, lack of organizational and study skills, difficulties following directions, impulsiveness, and poor social skills (Montgomery County Public Schools, n.d.; Nielsen and Higgins, 2005).

Schools cannot assume that 2E children will be best served by simply providing special education and gifted services: such students need a unique program to cater to their needs to ensure consistency rather than fragmentation in their educational experience (Nielsen & Higgins, 2005). To date, there are few prototype programs, but educators have identified several helpful teaching tactics for 2E students. Implementation of programs requires teachers to be knowledgeable about the needs of the 2E student and cross-discipline coordination and consistency throughout the educational plan.

Researchers familiar with 2E students give a top priority to identifying to the student his or her strengths and weaknesses, enabling the student to have a realistic and positive self-attitude (Besnoy, 2006, Nielsen & Higgins, 2005; Weinfeld, 2002). Twice exceptional students often have low self-esteem due to overemphasis on their LD. To enhance self-esteem and motivation, Weinbrenner (2003) emphasizes, “Never take time away from their strength areas to create more time to work on their deficiencies” (p. 133). Through cross-curriculum and unit studies, students can use their strengths to practice areas of weakness.

Secondly, teaching to the student’s learning style will help the student overcome weaknesses and succeed. Many LD have a sensory aspect, so the classroom environment should be taken into account to aide learning for 2E students (Winebrenner, 2003). Often 2E students learn best through movement and kinesthetic projects. Giving students a choice of projects allows students to find work in which they can use their strengths and gives 2E students a feeling of control over their schoolwork. Guided discovery, hands-on projects, and art in the curriculum have been found to be effective learning tools for 2E students. Rote learning, worksheets, and teacher-centered lessons may exaggerate the weaknesses of 2E students (Nielsen & Higgins, 2005, Weinfeld, 2002).

Interactions with peers are sometimes difficult for children with both LD and giftedness. The feeling of “not fitting in” is common with 2E children. This is sometimes exacerbated by the ways in which 2E students are different from learning disabled children with whom they may receive services. Twice exceptional students may not feel they fit in with learning disabled, gifted, or average peers, so it is important that connections with other 2E children is nurtured (Nielsen, 2002; Nielsen & Higgins, 2005). Winebrenner (2003) believes that in addition to teaching about cultural differences in the classroom, teachers should instruct all “students to appreciate, respect, and support individual differences in everything from observable physical differences to apparent differences in LD” (p. 133). In addition, students should learn to respect and appreciate the contributions of gifted students, and teachers should provide differentiation for all levels of students.

            Twice exceptional students often have difficulty with memory and organizational skills. These students benefit from teaching tactics that build on previous knowledge, such as pre-tests, advance organizers, concept mapping, charts, graphs, and timelines. Breaking work into smaller parts helps 2E children follow tasks, and giving credit for intermediate goals motivates students. Strategies that aid in memory retention are also helpful to 2E students. Bisland (2004) believes that teaching learning strategies will help 2E students become independent learners in their gifted areas while also assisting them with their weaknesses. Teachers need to instruct 2E students in thinking skills and should not “assume that students already know thinking strategies and can apply them without ongoing practice” (Weinfeld, et al. 2002, para. 29). In addition, 2E students often need to be taught easy ways to organize their notebooks, desk and locker, and workspace (Nielsen, 2002; Swanson, 2001; Winebrenner, 2003).

The emotional state of 2E students should be a primary concern for those involved with 2E students. Nielsen and Higgins (2005) emphasize “The emotional vulnerability of these students is extreme” (p. 12), and 2E children often display behavioral problems in the classroom. These students often have high feelings of inadequacy, isolation, depression, self-hatred, anger, and failure. Studies describe emotional difficulties resulting from low performance by gifted students due to their LD (Assouline, Nicpon, & Huber, 2006; Gardynik & McDonald, 2005; King, 2005; Robinson, 1999). The emotional situations faced by 2E children is a problem which is has not yet been adequately studied; a few case studies document that 2E students who are not adequately assisted with both learning disabled and gifted services exhibit emotional disorders, defiant behavior, and low self-esteem (Benge & Mongomery, 1996; Morrison & Omdal, 2000; Lindquist, 2006). A well-rounded effective approach to 2E students must include consistent and ongoing counseling services (Hishinuma & Nishimura, 2000; Nielsen, 2002).

            Since 2E students require a number of special services, collaboration and communication between all school services is important to maintain consistency in the education of these students (Nielsen & Higgins, 2005; Winebrenner, 2003). In addition, “this approach assists students in making connections between disciplines and ultimately helps them use their strengths to compensate for weaknesses” (Besnoy, p. 23). In the same way, communication between teachers and parents is important to maintain consistency between school and home for 2E students, particularly for homework organization and completion.

Some schools and districts have formally instituted programs designed for 2E students. Nielsen and Higgins (2005) describe two models: the Autonomous Learner Model and the Schoolwide Enrichment Model. In the Autonomous Learner Model model, the curriculum consists of a three-year cycle of unit studies presented in multi-grade classrooms of 2E children. This model was spearheaded in Albuquerque Public Schools in the early 1990s in one of the first programs identifying and serving 2E students. In the Schoolwide Enrichment Model, there is school-wide integration of services so that a student is able to bring strengths from one area to another part of the curriculum. Specialized services are delivered when and where a need is found; for example, differentiation in specialized topics such as robotics for students who demonstrate the interest (Renzulli & Reis, 2002).

In 1986, the Montgomery County Public School District in Maryland instituted a comprehensive program to assist 2E children in grades 2 to 12. This “strength-based, integrated and collaborative program” (Weinfeld, et al. 2002, para. 1) is managed by specialists with both special education and gifted/talented teaching experience. Throughout the Montgomery County school system, 2E children are served by individualized programs either in their home school or in a dedicated center available for students requiring extra services. The program guidebook contains checklists useful for identifying 2E children and specific interventions used in each subject area in either the mainstreamed or the self-contained environments (Montgomery County Public Schools, n.d.).

A specialized self-contained private school in Hawaii caters to 2E, learning disabled, and gifted students (Hishinuma & Nishimura, 2000). The integrated program provides each student with an IEP, counseling, and academic and behavior management plans. The school’s counseling program consists of daily class meetings, weekly individual sessions, and referral and emergency counseling by a multidisciplinary team. Counseling lessons include instruction on reflective listening, sharing feelings, respecting and trusting of peers, group problem solving, mutual respect, and tolerance of exceptionalities. The curriculum incorporates project- and theme- based active and independent learning and includes enrichment courses for all students. Additionally, of thinking skills, research skills and organizational skills are emphasized. This program was rated by parents as more effective than services provided for their children in the students’ previous schools.

Creating appropriate environments for 2E students is instrumental in ensuring their success. In describing the Montgomery County Schools 2E program, Weinfeld, et al. (2002) explain: “Designing a classroom like the ones described here, be it a GT/LD Center class or a general education class, does not happen serendipitously. It requires careful analysis, planning, and thoughtful implementation” (para. 11). Currently the 2E population is under identified, and therefore there is a lack of long-term research data concerning the best methods of serving 2E children. Conscious and coordinated effort must be devoted to identifying 2E students, implementing 2E programs, and analyzing the effectiveness of these interventions.



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