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Education for a Twice Exceptional (Gifted + Learning Disabled) Child

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D


Q: In our public school gifted children are not given therapy for things like handwriting difficulties or sensory integration issues unless they get to a point where they are failing. My son, who started reading without being taught at age 2 1/2 and was reading beyond a third grade level by kindergarten and doing addition and subtraction with some multiplication too. Because he wouldn't or couldn't color in the lines or draw very well (due to visual motor integration problems and hypotonia) the Kindergarten teacher recommended that he go to a transitional first grade (a year in between kindergarten and first grade) to give him an extra year to develop fine motor skills with no accommodations for giftedness (she didn't feel that he needed to learn anything since he was so far ahead academically) and no therapy for motor problems.

At the time of the T-1 recommendation (right before he turned 6) we had already scheduled a test at the school to see if he could skip first grade. He didn't quite make the 90% required to skip, but he made what ordinarily would have been considered passing scores on what should have been an end of first grade level test. I was then told by a teacher and the principal that I needed to homeschool.

After homeschooling for one year, spending about two hours a day on school work, he was tested by a certified educational psychologist, and an individual achievement test showed my son to be grade levels ahead of his age mates in reading, comprehension, and math (4th grade) even with visual motor integration at the 1% level and vision issues that required vision therapy. The gifted coordinator for our state said that the school is not required to offer therapy of any kind for kids who are above grade level and the school would also probably not be required to provide any kind of accommodations for his mild disability. At school, he would struggle with the amount of writing and would be held back because of it. At home, he types instead of doing a lot of writing and this works well for him and allows him to learn at his level.

He is now nine with a May birthday and by age should be going into 4th grade but he is reading and comprehending the adult National Geographic magazine and speaks using a more advanced vocabulary than some of his older gifted friends. He is interested in learning about a lot of different things, including psychology and some teenaged friends in his musical theater class predict that he will be a college professor some day. He would not fit well in a regular 4th grade class and smart kids at this school are bullied.

What is an appropriate education for a twice exceptional child like mine?

Is it appropriate for gifted kids to be held back for physical difficulties without being given any kind of help for those issues and also no accommodation for the giftedness?

Is there any harm in letting a twice exceptional child go to school with age mates with no accommodations for physical and mental age differences?

A: This is indeed so unfortunate for a child with so much to learn and offer. These are kids who are intellectually gifted; at the same time have special needs such as ADHD, learning disabilities, Asperger Syndrome, etc. These children have a hard time in the education system due to the fact that their giftedness can actually mask their special needs and more focus is given to their weaknesses/disabilities rather than their abilities. This is also because their learning difficulties hide their giftedness. Unfortunately, it does not come as a surprise when they are frequently labeled as being lazy, unmotivated, and difficult. In fact, most teachers do not even realize that a child can be both gifted and learning disabled.

From what you have described, you are certainly doing the right thing with the limited resources that is available. Home schooling is a very good option for a child like this especially since public schooling does not offer much help here. Unfortunately, there is so much that the school can do, with the number of students with varying ability and limited resources. The teachers too may not be well equipped to handle such children. Accelerating is an option, but as you have mentioned, he may be bullied and that may affect his socio-emotional development.

The best education for your son would be one which recognizes and develops his giftedness and at the same time help him to work on his difficult areas. This can be a very customized education plan as every child with a learning difficulty needs a tailor-made IEP. This may not be possible in public schools; private treatment may be very expensive which leaves the option of home schooling. Having said that, it is not at all easy to home school a twice exceptional child. Parents need to put in a lot of effort, time and equip themselves with the latest.

It is indeed not fair to hold back any child without addressing the problem, but this is something that the school needs to work out with the parents. In this case, there is probably no teacher in the school who is prepared to put in that extra mile, or most likely, this is a challenge most may not be prepared to take. Being a minority group and often only noticed due to their difficulties, public schools may not be a very suitable environment for them.

To allow a twice exceptional child go to school with peers and having no accommodations for physical and mental age differences, certainly may not seem like a good idea. But if there is a teacher who is willing to go that extra mile, this can be made possible. However, there are very few such teachers.

You may need to get the school to refer you to someone in authority in the district education department to see how they can accommodate your son. You may need to move him to another school that may cater for his needs. Explore the options by talking to other parents with similar problems.

You may find the following websites on twice exceptional children very useful:

Uniquely Gifted

Davidson Institute: GT-CyberSource

New Horizons for Learning

Please go through the websites there is a lot of information here and you may be able to get in touch with someone for help. Best wishes.


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