Twice-Exceptional Students: An Under-Served Population of Learners
It seems like an oxymoron for a child to be gifted and at the same time disabled, yet that is exactly the challenge faced by individuals who are “twice-exceptional”. To possess very strong intellectual ability but to have some condition such as dyslexia, or ADHD, or a processing deficit that limits one’s ability to access that cognitive strength in a classroom can be incredibly frustrating for twice-exceptional students and their parents, as well. These kids frequently are berated by teachers saying things like “I know that you’re really smart, now work harder!” Their parents hear things like “I’ve tried everything to motivate your child but he just won’t produce anything close to what I know he’s capable of.” These negative messages not only impact the cognitive development of twice-exceptional learners, but stunt their emotional growth and well being.
The traditional view of gifted learners is that they are highly intelligent and high achievers – that intelligence and achievement automatically go together. According to this view school is easy for all gifted learners, and they produce high quality work with very little effort. They engage in intellectual debate easily and are leaders in the classroom and the community. Unfortunately, this stereotype leaves behind many bright students who require specialized instruction to access their gifts and talents. Some of these kids struggle to read efficiently, but by using audio books they comprehend efficiently and can analyze literature at a very high level. Some of these kids have amazing ideas going through their heads, but asking them to put those ideas on paper can only be facilitated through the use of graphic organizing and/or speech-to-text software. And some just require extra time and attention from a teacher to assist them in processing their thoughts. The idea that intellectual capability equates to being automatically adept in all of the organizational and clerical practices that are necessary to be successful in school is simply a farce.
This lack of understanding, unfortunately, often begins with the educators serving these children. Educators in “regular” classrooms of 25 students or more, with no training or understanding of these exceptional learners, only have time to look on the surface of things. If a smart kid is only making C’s, it must be because he’s unmotivated. The problem is complicated by the fact that educators in the public schools are being asked to focus on those students who are low-performing and pull down the school’s test scores. As long as this bright student is making a C and can pass the state tests, good enough, right?
Not right. Simple explanations are frequently wrong explanations, especially when it comes to students with complex learning profiles like those of twice-exceptional learners. It requires well-trained teachers in small classes to provide those students with the tools and the self-understanding necessary to succeed. Allowing our brightest students to languish because of learning differences is a travesty of our educational system. Schools like Chesapeake Bay Academy help these exceptional learners to access their intellectual gifts while managing their educational challenges.
Twice-exceptional students possess a rare gift. Perhaps it is our society that is disabled when we limit the thinking of these brilliant minds by failing to acknowledge their true potential.