Friday, February 24, 2012


I just attended an IEP meeting for my twice exceptional 8th grade son, and I was struck again at how simple and yet how hard it is to advocate for him.The solutions to his school struggles seem so simple to me and yet getting the school to fall in line can sometimes be soooo hard. This IEP meeting was actually the most productive and the least frustrating I have ever attended, and I felt like we made good progress in planning for his transition to the high school next year.

I am going to digress for a moment and talk about what twice exceptional or 2E means and how 2E kids are different from the kinds of gifted students we have discussed in the past.

An article by Dawn Beckley in the NRC/GT 1998 Spring Newsletter, (re-posted on the UConn website), describes twice exceptional students this way: 

"Since Terman's time, a widespread belief about gifted children has been that they regularly score high on intelligence tests and perform well in school (Brody & Mills, 1997). Yet during the last decade, increasing attention has been being given to the confusing question of high ability students who also have learning disabilities. These learning disabled gifted and talented students, or "twice-exceptional students" (Nielsen, Hammond, & Higgins, n.d.), need remediation activities. At the same time, they also require opportunities to promote their own individual strengths and talents in one or more domains in which they have previously displayed their superior abilities."

The rest of this article is an excellent overview of the characteristics, identification, and educational needs of 2E children.

Twice exceptional students are gifted, but they also have some sort of disability. Often the gift masks the disability and the disability masks the gift, so the students are seen as being very average. Sometimes, as was the case with my son, the disability is noticed by teachers, or is severe enough that help is given. Ky has a writing disability, which became very apparent in the 2nd grade. Anything that requires thinking and then writing is very difficult.

Sometimes, twice exceptional students are seen as bright underachievers, and their disability is not diagnosed, and other students are just viewed as average students and their giftedness goes "undiagnosed."

The meeting that I attended was for Ky's three year evaluation, so we looked at psychological testing. It was very easy to see his giftedness, as his verbal score was in the 130's, (gifted). Several of his other scores were above 100, (in the average range), and the score that involved writing was 78, (below average). His composite score was just a little bit above average. In the past, the school has fought me tooth and nail to do anything but remediate the writing issue, but this year they were open to options and we came up with a program that is working well. My son is not in any special ed classes, but he does have accommodations which make it possible for him to keep up. Math is especially difficult because it is all "think-write," but finally they are allowing him to use a calculator, which has made all the difference. He knows how to do the problems, but thinking the calculations and then writing them is hard. With the calculator, he can quickly work through his homework and is successful. Incidentally, a test showing his ability to calculate math, (without a calculator), came out on a late 5th/early 6th grade level, while a test on mathematical reasoning or understanding the math concepts came out at a late 9th grade level. Times tables and remembering the algorithms are hard, but understanding the concepts is easy.

My friend Susan Baum is the guru of Twice Exceptional education.  I have taken numerous strands at conferences from her and talked to her at length about my son and my fight with the school to have his needs met. She is my hero, and she has a number of great articles and books that anyone with a twice exceptional child, should read.

Here is an article that gives a great overview of her thinking:

Gifted But Learning Disabled: A Puzzling Paradox

The Idaho State Twice Exceptional Manual, (printed with permission of Dr. Susan Baum), gives another good overview and some ideas for teaching 2E students:

TWICE-EXCEPTIONAL:students WIth Both GIfts andchaLLenGes or dIsaBILItIes

or read her book:

There is also a fabulous newsletter, available to parents and teachers: 2e Twice- ExceptionalNewsletter
 Here is another website I found, with some good information: Twice Gifted

Ky is my second Twice Exceptional child. My older daughter is a very talented RN, who also struggled with writing but was highly gifted in math, science, and hands-on learning. Do not despair! Keep advocating for your student! Susan Baum has told me repeatedly that I just need to get Ky through public school, so that he can go on and be brilliant.

Kids who don't know their times tables can still do math, kids who can't write can still be successful.We as parents CAN make the difference!

Monday, February 20, 2012

They will all catch up by third grade?

I am not sure if it was in my college classes or during my first teaching jobs that I heard the statement, "all students seem to catch up with each other around the third grade."  As a new, young teacher, I accepted this, without reservation.  I was aware of developmental differences in children and I knew that not every baby walked at 12 months on the dot. It was easy to spot differences in my first grade and kindergarten students--some did not speak in complete sentences, and some came in reading,  so when I was told that these developmental differences all seem to end around third grade, I believed it. Then my oldest daughter went to school...

Haylie is very bright and she is schoolhouse gifted.  I could teach her something once, and she had it. I found myself constantly frustrated with her school experience.   Her first grade teacher had her in a middle reading group, ("because she was comfortable there with her friends"), even though she read head and shoulders above the top group. She never pushed Haylie in any way. Second grade was more of the same. Haylie passed every spelling test with 100% without even studying, she used cute little bear manipulatives to add and subtract, even though she could do it in her head, nothing was new or challenging.  Any suggestion I made about advancing her skills was treated with the typical pat on the head and the insinuation that this was my first child and I just didn't understand. (Never mind that I had been a kindergarten and first grade teacher myself.) I was beginning to doubt that all students caught up developmentally at third grade. To me, it seemed to have more to do with making kids sit around and wait while everyone else caught up.

Then we moved to another state. My daughter had a teacher for third grade that had two gifted daughters of her own, and she had studied gifted strategies. She immediately recognized Haylie's giftedness and she pushed her--hard. Haylie thrived.  Her reading level increased dramatically, as well as her writing skills. When the students were asked to do a report on a famous person, after reading their biography, Haylie brought home a book that was written on a middle school level, not a third grade level and it was perfect for her. She learned a ton that year and was NOT on the same level as the other students.

It has been twenty years since Haylie was a first grader, but little has changed.  My sister is dealing with the exact same attitude toward her highly gifted Kindergartener. She is completing the first grade curriculum for reading, but will be expected to do it again next year. She can add and subtract in her head, but she is not allowed to go on to first grade math.  The teacher told my sister that by third grade, all students seem to catch up, so it will be ok.

So, which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Do students really catch up developmentally by third grade, OR is that idea so entrenched in the teaching philosophy that we make it a self-fulfilling prophesy?  Does not teaching bright kids on their level when they are in the primary grades, ensure that all students catch up? I decided to see if any research has been done on this wide held belief. I am still searching for actual research on the subject, but I did find the following articles that provide thought provoking information.

This is a great article by Carol Bainbridge   that looks at this question from several angles. It discusses "hothoused children,"  or children that are drilled on letters, numbers, sounds, etc. from an early age, and then come into school ahead of their peers. Some of these students have had three years of preschool and lots of one-on-one time, but when they enter school, and have to learn required skills at a faster pace, they slip, and they are no longer ahead of the rest of their class. I acknowledge that this happens, but the second half of the article gives good information about how to recognize a truly gifted student.

Here is another article with one mom's opinion about early education and giftedness. The comments are well worth reading.

And just so you don't feel alone in your is a page of "real" situations that parents have encountered while trying to advocate for their gifted kids...laugh or cry, it's your choice!