[ABCs of SPED] G is for Gifted (and Twice-Exceptional) Students

abcs of sped Apr 09, 2018

I'm going to let you in on a surprising and little known fact:

Gifted education often falls under the umbrella of special education.

Huh? You might be thinking, "But my child's disabilities mean she's struggling to meet average benchmarks-- why is she in the same category as those students who are way above average? Shouldn't special education focus on students like mine who really need the help?"

And you wouldn't be the first to think that. 

But let's go back to what special education is really about...

It's about serving students who require specially designed instruction in order to access an appropriate education.

And gifted students fall into this category.

So what does "gifted" mean, and why should this matter to you? 

Intellectually gifted refers to a child whose intellectual abilities, creativity, and potential for achievement are so outstanding that the child's needs exceed differentiated general education programming and adversely affect educational performance.

Here's where I often hear push back...

"Shouldn't a gifted student have EXCELLENT educational performance? Isn't that what giftedness is all about?"

Not necessarily! Let me tell you about a student I worked with-- we'll call him Simon. Simon was in 4th grade and struggled mightily with his behavior. He didn't want to complete his work in class and was often drawing inappropriate pictures of violence in his note book. He was constantly getting office referrals, was in and out of in-school suspension and was being evaluated for a possible secondary diagnosis of "emotional disturbance" (he already had an IEP for his ADHD). If this new diagnosis came through, the school was hoping to transfer him to a placement they deemed more suitable for his needs and challenges-- a specialized day school for students with behavior issues. So they did what made sense-- they had him tested.

And you know what the test showed? Simon DID NOT have a behavior problem.

He was highly gifted.

His scores on both the cognition tests and creativity tests fell several standard deviations above his peers. 

It turns out that his giftedness left him bored and frustrated in class, feeling unchallenged and unappreciated, and caused him to act out. Have you ever worked at a job that felt so far below your pay grade that you didn't care about it at all? That's how Simon felt about school, and his behavior showed it.

Once his IEP was amended to include more challenging objectives, opportunities for him to share his expertise with other students, and ways to express his creativity, his behavior improved. He's stayed at his neighborhood school, and his social relationships are improving as well.

Students like Simon are what we call "twice-exceptional" or "2E" students-- they are students who have a documented disability but who also qualify as gifted.

More and more, the benchmark for eligibility as "gifted" includes educational performance, yes, but also creativity, cognition (IQ score), and "characteristics of giftedness" such as leadership ability. 

And because of this wider net (which I believe is more appropriate than an IQ score or achievement scores alone), we occasionally see students like Simon who have a diagnosed disability and who also qualify as gifted.

Other examples may include:

> A student who has non-verbal autism who is truly exceptional in the area of art or music

> A student with epilepsy whose IQ score is through the roof

> A student with dyslexia who struggles in reading but who seriously excels in math and science

And so many more!

Having a disability, and having an IEP for that disability, cannot preclude a student from receiving gifted services if they qualify and if the school offers them to students without disabilities.

So what do you do if you think your child may be gifted and is falling through the cracks?

First, make sure that your district/state offers gifted programming. While special education for those with disabilities is protected under I.D.E.A., there is no federal mandate for gifted education.

Second, ask to see your district or state's eligibility criteria for giftedness. You may also be able to find this on your state's Department of Education website. Compare the criteria with results you have from previous assessments, and review any stated qualitative criteria to see if it aligns with what you know about your student.

Then, ask for an assessment for giftedness to be completed alongside any other assessments during your child's next re-evaluation. You don't have to wait three years! You can have your student evaluated as often as once a year (though I don't suggest this unless you have a new concern).

After they've been evaluated, you'll meet with the IEP team to discuss eligibility like you would for any other "educational diagnosis." The team will consider your child's strengths, their educational performance, and the strategies that have been used in class already in addition to the test results. If the team determines that your child is gifted, the IEP will be amended (or developed, if a student is not twice-exceptional!) to reflect your student's unique academic needs.

Want more information about twice-exceptional students? This resource is a good place to start!

Is this new information for you? Do you have more questions or want to share about your experience with this? We'd love to hear from you over on our IEP Guru Facebook page!

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