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As parents of twice-exceptional (2e) children, we are aware of their strengths and talents as well as the areas in need of support. Although there are always exceptions, we also know that our schools have difficulty making accommodations for either. Our children are not often recognized as students in need of support, and often their gifts and talents likewise remain unappreciated. The reasons are many. One is often insufficient staff training in recognizing and accommodating the gifted in our schools. Another may be a child’s ability to compensate for deficits with high performance in other areas in order to stay on grade level.
We know from often painful experience that much work needs to be done within our education system as a whole when it comes to properly educating this population. This endeavor is an essential one and should be our long-term objective; but how do we support our children now?
As parents of twice-exceptional students, we need to personally advocate for our children. To do this well, we need to gather clear information about who they are as learners, understand what their learning environment has to offer, and know what additional modifications to request. Following are suggested steps that parents can take in order to maximize their child’s school experience, plus useful resources and strategies for parent-based advocacy.
We come with a wealth of knowledge about both our child’s strengths and weaknesses, but gathering examples that tell the story of our child without overwhelming teachers can be tricky. Here are some tips for gathering information that can help both parents and educators better understand a child’s learning profile.
As you gather information, try to remember the moments you found revelatory in terms of your child’s abilities. The more educators know about a student’s interests, strengths, and learning preferences, the more they can enhance the student’s learning experience. With that in mind, you need to be clear and concise but not overwhelming; think snapshots as opposed to steamer trunk.
For example, you want them to know that Michelle composes her own music but is also unable to focus with the slightest distraction. You want them to know that Jake knows every American president plus their political stances on most issues, but he has difficulty transitioning from one activity to another. You want them to know that, along with her strong verbal skills, Shana has a great deal of anxiety about writing.
Listed below are some tools that can be extremely useful in gathering good information about your child’s learning profile.
These tools offer a vocabulary helpful for communicating with educators about who your child is as a learner. This alone can be very helpful in getting school personnel to understand how your 2e child straddles both ends of the learning spectrum and struggles to see where he or she fits in the world.
The next step is to assess your child’s current school experience. The most efficient way to familiarize yourself with the learning environment at school is to take a methodical approach, viewing each component independently with your child’s needs in mind. Doing so allows you to more easily identify what is presently being provided and what may be missing.
Make the following part of your assessment:
Once you have properly assessed your school for what it has to offer, you can begin to create a wish list of changes that you believe would be beneficial to your child. This task is not easy, but having a basic understanding of both your child’s learning needs/interests and the learning environment will make it easier to communicate realistic possibilities.
The purpose of your wish list is to help educators recognize the best and most easily obtained modifications that will contribute to a better learning environment for your child. These can be simple changes such as making a change in seating or providing more challenging literature. Some of your recommendations, on the other hand, may require more planning such as a mentorship with the art teacher or creating an advanced learning plan for math. A wide range of possibilities exist, given the abilities, interests, and needs of children and the resources that exist at a given school. However, it’s important to be realistic. The school’s resources and the staff’s abilities will determine what requests can be and will be considered. Furthermore, when dealing with teachers, administrators, and education professions, be patient; you will be asking them to change their ways, and being diplomatic will pay enormous dividends in the end.
Here are some examples of requests that might appear on a parent’s wish list.
Learning the Language
Learning the following terms will be helpful in thinking about and collaborating on suggested modifications.
Acceleration: A student progresses through the curriculum at a quicker rate or younger age than the norm.
Alternative Choice Assignments: Students are given product choices to demonstrate their learning, to acquire information, or to determine a topic.
Competitions: These provide students with the opportunity and support to compete with others on a plethora of topics.
Curriculum Compacting: After showing a level of proficiency in the basic curriculum, a student is given the opportunity to exchange instructional time for other learning experiences: acceleration or enrichment.
Enrichment: The student takes part in activities that add or go beyond the existing curriculum.
Differentiation: Modifications are made to curriculum and instruction in terms of content, pacing, and/or product to meet unique student needs in the classroom.
Flexible Grouping: This strategy is used to group students in receiving instruction based on their ability, learning style, and/or interest.
Independent Study: The student engages in a self-directed project in which the teacher acts as guide or facilitator and the student plays a more active role in managing his or her learning.
Mentorships: A community member shares his or her expertise with a student who has similar interests.
Purposeful Placement: This approach to making an appropriate placement for an upcoming school year takes into account all of a child’s needs.
Remember, what you have created is a wish list. You want it all, but the next step in the process is to meet, listen, communicate, and establish rapport with the professionals involved in your child’s education. It’s important to consider the teacher’s perspective here. Most teachers want to reach every student everyday in creative and challenging ways, but in most cases there are many students, there is a lot of curriculum to cover, and the district is constantly introducing new programs and initiatives that need to be mastered. Being a teacher in today’s classroom is an extremely challenging job.
What will work best for you is to establish collaborative working relationships at school as opposed to taking a “demand/blame” position. Here are some opportunities for relationship building at school.
After completing the four steps just described, you can pause to evaluate how effective your efforts have been. What support and opportunities are still missing? If you have achieved a large number of the goals represented by the items on your wish list, you’ll probably want to stay put; you’re in good hands. If on the other hand, your child’s school can meet only 70 percent of your child’s needs, or only 50 percent, or even less, you may want to consider other options. For example, you might think about hiring an advocate, changing schools, or homeschooling.
The academic and social experiences we have in the classrooms of our early years shape our lives for better or worse. By taking an informed approach and by building good relationships with teachers and other professionals, you can be your 2e child’s most powerful advocate in school. The end result can be the creation of the optimal environment for your child’s education.
Resources to Help You Become an Effective Advocate for Your Child
Here are some resources for learning about both the gifted and LD side of 2e: