Monday, January 20, 2003

Some students 'twice exceptional'

They're gifted but also have special needs

By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

DEERFIELD TWP. - Eleven-year-old Jill Scott is like most of her classmates in the Columbia Elementary gifted program: a curious fifth-grader who loves to work on complex projects and is an avid reader on her 26th time through the Harry Potter series.

Jill Scott, 11, plays her harp at home.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
But part of what makes Jill stand out from the rest of the class is her unusual mix of special needs. In addition to being gifted, she has been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder and an anxiety disorder.

"But you can have it and still be smart," Jill says.

Indeed, as many as 10 to 15 percent of all gifted children are "twice exceptional," students who fall in both gifted and special needs categories, according to national studies.

Educators starting recognizing this in the late 70s, and in the last 25 years, there has been an increased focus on it.

Most commonly, the special needs stem from problems with sensory integration or auditory or visual processing, attention deficit or hyperactivity, or dyslexia or spatial disorientation, according to author Linda Silverman, director of the Gifted Development Center in Denver.

  Author Marlene Bireley, a gifted coordinator for Clark and Warren counties, has these suggestions for families with twice exceptional children:

• Pay equal attention to the child's giftedness and special need or disability.

• Keep both the special needs and gifted educators involved in the child's educational planning.

• Keep the child informed, and help him understand his unique learning pattern.

• Provide enrichment opportunities that minimize any disabilities and enhance the child's abilities.

• Expect frustration, and support the child through difficult times.

• Help the child organize and prioritize so the entire day is not focused on school and homework.

• Practice self-restraint, because fighting all of the child's battles can lead to learned helplessness. "That can actually be more detrimental than the actual disability," Ms. Bireley said.

To help them excel, schools use their gifted programs to offer individualized projects and extra attention from teachers to make sure that other special needs are met.

"If we can find ways for them to individualize curriculum for these kids, it's far better for them and their understanding," said Marlene Bireley, a gifted coordinator for Clark and Warren counties who wrote a book on the subject. "I like to describe it as the delivery system. What comes in is understood and attacked, but it's getting it out that's the challenge."

Gifted children who are physically disabled also are considered twice exceptionals.

States use a variety of tests to identify students as gifted or special needs. But many twice-exceptional students are not identified properly.

"Some students might not be identified in one area or another because their giftedness can compensate for the disability or the disability can mask the giftedness," said Barbara Duff, Kings' gifted coordinator. "It can balance each other out."

Besides trying to identify the students, educators also have the challenge of balancing the students' schedules. Besides their regular classes, most twice-exceptionals need time for gifted classes and special needs programs, such as occupational therapy.

Beyond school, twice exceptionals and their families also have to deal with people's perceptions.

"There's not too much that's terribly hard about the school part," Jill says. "The hardest part is about people not understanding. How do I know they don't understand? It's different ways. But you just know sometimes."

Jill's parents, Sandy and John Scott, often get looks from other parents who wonder why Jill was allowed into the gifted program.

"It's as if they say, `If your kid's so smart, why can't they do this?'" Mrs. Scott said. "But you're not going to always see the performance you would normally see in a gifted child with Jill. And there are people who just don't understand that. They just don't comprehend."

Jill is one of a half-dozen twice-exceptional students in the Kings district, including others with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and one who is physically handicapped, Ms. Duff said.

Jill sees an occupational therapist, and often uses a laptop because she has problems with handwriting, her parents said.

Jill, who was medically diagnosed nearly 5 years ago, was identified by the school district as a gifted student in the third grade. Even with the individual attention, the Scotts say they were at first hesitant about putting Jill into Kings' Academically Talented Program, fearing it might be too much for her.

But for Jill, the program is her favorite part of the day. She's enrolled in a law sequence, but also enjoys escaping to the engineering sequence to release some energy by rebuilding computers or a two-way radio.

"It's an outlet for her," Mrs. Scott said. "It's a safe place where she can go. It's a place where she's accepted just as she is."


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