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Twice exceptional: Children with special needs who are also gifted

In your lifetime, you have undoubtedly crossed paths with a child labeled lazy, unmotivated and underachieving but also marveled when that very same child showed signs of high creativity, imagination and curiosity. What about the child with a disability that might also have a strong problem-solving ability, and a single, all-consuming expertise? These students often have giftedness that overshadow their disability, or a disability that overshadows their giftedness and are identified as being “twice exceptional.”

Often misunderstood in schools, our response typically focuses on one or the other, but not often enough on both at the same time. The same student who throws his shoe at the principal with great disregard for the “system” might also have spatial reasoning skills far past those of typical peers. However, in the midst of the chaos we can miss that strength all together because the misbehavior becomes our area of focus.

Imagine how different it would feel to the child if we focused on strengths first. What if we focused on what students can do, before focusing on what they can’t? When we only focus on the disability we miss opportunities to use the strength or area of giftedness as a lever to assist in narrowing the learning gap. We inadvertently can get bogged down by the area of need and the need can become all consuming for educators, parents and the student. Rushing to only suspect a disability or provide gifted education is a limited response when a student is twice exceptional.

Taking into account interests, ability and talent while providing choice is the right path to take. With clear intentions and a team approach, schools can focus on student strengths while still ensuring that learning is happening at high levels. How does this happen? Scheduling collaborative time for counselors and teachers who have expertise in both special education and gifted education is a first step. This teaming within the school walls, along with partnering with parents and guardians, will result in individualized targeted plans for twice exceptional students.

Consultants at Central Rivers Area Education Agency are experts in meeting the needs of all students and are available to support teachers and parents. Do you have questions about how we can help? Simply reach out to your child’s teacher or principal to learn more. Together, we can ensure that twice exceptional children feel valued for their strengths and supported where they feel challenged. Our world will be better for it!

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Amber Dietz is a Regional Administrator and expert in twice exceptional students with Central Rivers Area Education Agency. She can be reached at adietz@centralriversaea.org.