Making sure the twice-exceptional student is challenged

As adults responsible for the growth of the next generation, we …[must give youth] a…society in which men and women, rich and poor, the gifted and the handicapped, have an equal opportunity to use and to increase all of their abilities, each according to her or his talents.
Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Talented Teenagers: The Roots of Success and Failure (1993)

Last week, we looked at strategies to engage the twice-exceptional child (gifted and learning disabled). This week, we focus on methods to ensure that the twice-exceptional child is appropriately challenged.

As a parent, perhaps the easiest way to do this is to raise the issue at the IEP (Individualized Instruction Plan) conference. Areas of strength are listed in the IEP. In fact, experienced professionals have recommended, “when writing the IEP, always start with student strengths.” This is a great segue way for asking how the school plans to challenge the twice-exceptional student in his areas of learning strengths. Data from the case evaluation, such as test scores or summative information, should provide support for inquiries about gifted programming.

Wouldn’t it be nice if parents, teachers, and specialists worked from one document?
There’s a huge benefit from addressing learning strengths and learning weaknesses at the same time; it provides an opportunity for collaboration early on. If parents and staff worked from one document, call it an IEP/GEP (GEP stands for “Gifted Education Plan), it would be easier to implement and manage. Theoretically, students’ strengths and weaknesses would be given “equal time” so that there’d be less of a chance that enrichment would take a back seat to remediation, a common problem.

Though it’s an interesting idea, that’s not going to happen soon. Currently, Section 23 of the Administrative Code defines an IEP as a document that covers disabilities. It has been suggested that information related to a students’ strengths could be included in the Accommodations Section of the IEP. Though the State of Illinois has acknowledged the special needs of the twice-exceptional student, no specific legislation has been enacted on identification, the requirements of a plan, teacher training, and programming, et al.

Until legislators address these issues, parents will most likely receive two plans, an IEP and a GEP. And that’s not all bad. When the IEP and the GEP are written properly, parents will have a good sense of when enrichment and remediation are taking place. As a leader in special education law observed, the IEP is a management document, a communication document, an accountability document, and a record of a meeting. GEPs should serve the same purposes.

Whatever the format, parents need to stay on top of student work and placement. Are the IEP/GEP teams collaborating? Is my child getting necessary supports, like extra time or preferred seating in advanced classes? Is my child being included in gifted and talented programming, when appropriate? This requires ongoing supervision, best done through bi-weekly communications with school staff and informal conversations with your child.

What if there is no IEP or GEP in place?

Bring in EVIDENCE!
Years ago, the mother of a transfer student, Sam (then diagnosed with Aspergers), presented extensive records to school staff. Her objective was to show school staff that Sam, a fourth grade student, was capable of participating in gifted programming. Her evidence included:

• Psychological assessments
• Academic assessments
• Teacher evaluations
• Report cards
• Portfolios (this includes work and projects done at school and at home)
• Social History

With these records, we were able to quickly identify Sam as gifted and a GEP was drafted. Parental involvement did not end there. Sam’s mom and I communicated weekly; making sure that Sam was completing his work and engaged in class.

We also wanted to make sure that Sam was connecting with his peers. Sam’s mom came up with a great idea to build Sam’s relationships with peers. She told me that Sam loved Lego Robotics and suggested that we use Lego Robotics as a tool to encourage peer interaction. With staff help, we found money for a Lego Robotics’ kit. We even formed a cross grade Lego Robotics club. The other children admired Sam’s aptitude and he became the informal leader of the club.

What if a parent has emerging concerns?

Not every case is resolved as easily as Sam’s. In a subtle way, parents must pay attention to daily work and behavior to make sure the students’ needs are being met. If a parent suspects that a child is struggling with school, contact the classroom teacher and the specialists, the gifted teacher and the special education teacher. Presented with evidence, the school district will most likely test the child, and the resulting data will be relevant to IEPs and GEPs. Private testing is also an option. Don’t be afraid to contact the school or seek private testing if you have a primary student. Learning disabilities may surface at a very young age. I’ve worked with parents of twice-exceptional first grade students who wisely realized that interventions were necessary.

A gifted child has the right to “learn something new everyday and “not be gifted at everything.” The Gifted Children’s Bill of Rights, www.nagc.org

Sounds like an IEP/GEP student!

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