Understand the particular strengths and needs of twice/multi exceptional learners.
"I didn’t succeed despite my dyslexia, but because of it. It wasn’t my deficit, but my advantage. Although there are neurological trade-offs that require that I work creatively [and] smarter in reading, writing and speaking, I would never wish to be any other way than my awesome self. I love being me, regardless of the early challenges I had faced."
In their profiles of the gifted and talented, Betts and Neihart (1988, 2010) describe twice- (2E) or multi-exceptional learners. These are learners whose special abilities are masked by learning, behavioural or physical disabilities. Some may be especially gifted in one aspect of learning but not in others.
2E or multi-exceptional learners are sometimes referred to as double-labelled, or having dual exceptionality. These are gifted learners whose performance is impaired, or their high potential is masked, by one or more specific learning disabilities, physical impairments, disorders or conditions. They may experience extreme difficulty in developing their giftedness into talent.
Gifted learners with disabilities are at risk, as their educational and social/emotional needs often go undetected. Educators often incorrectly believe that 2E learners are not putting in enough effort within the classroom. They are often described as ‘lazy’ and ‘unmotivated’. Hidden disabilities may prevent learners with advanced cognitive abilities from achieving high academic results. 2E learners perform inconsistently across the curriculum. The frustrations related to unidentified strengths and disabilities can result in behavioural and social/emotional issues.
Traditional methods of identification have not picked up gifted learners with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. These learners typically score ‘average’ in standardised achievement tests. However, average scores often mask peaks and troughs in performance (i.e., both special abilities and disabilities). Significant discrepancies across test categories often indicate a learning disability, with scores from oral responses typically being much higher than scores from written responses. In addition, teachers can identify gifted learners who have learning disabilities by examining their behavioural profiles.
A typical profile might include:
Recognising and nurturing the gifts and talents of these learners is likely to require the involvement of specialist teachers and assistive technologies. Such learners often have a negative self-concept and may need support to recognise and value their areas of strength. Learners with learning disabilities who have also been identified as gifted respond positively to a responsive learning environment approach, especially if a Universal Design for Learning framework is used, leading to improvements in motivation, commitment, performance and self-concept.
Some gifted learners may have behavioural difficulties such as ADHD. Other learners may have exceptional gifts and talents and be identified as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Some gifted learners have physical and sensory disabilities. The ‘disabled gifted’ are among the ‘hidden gifted’ because their special abilities are masked by their more visible physical and sensory disabilities. However, by adulthood, their exceptional talent can be outstanding – consider, for example, musicians who are blind. Early identification of learners with disabilities who have special abilities is important. While teacher observation and the use of rating scales can be used to assist with this, some of the most effective methods of identification are self-, parent and peer nominations. However, caution is needed. While the observations of others are invaluable, the assessment of whether a child has a disability, and what that disability is, should be conducted by a suitably qualified specialist.
Working with learners who are exceptional in more than one way requires cooperation among classroom teachers and specialist teachers, as well as engagement by parents and whānau in developing individual educational plans. It is important that gifted learners’ strengths are recognised as soon as possible and that opportunities are provided for their development alongside remediation for any difficulties.
Be aware that 2E learners often perform as ‘average’ on standardised testing (i.e., between the 40th and 60th percentiles). Their high ability level enables them to find coping strategies to mask their learning disabilities. Their learning disabilities, in turn, limit their ability to achieve at a level that is commensurate with their high abilities.
It is important to look at the strengths of 2E learners separately from their weaknesses, rather than averaging their scores. Low scores or abilities in specific areas should be perceived as real weaknesses, not just ‘relative’ weaknesses.
The self-confidence of 2E learners often becomes a barrier to their participation in the classroom. They often withdraw and do not freely contribute their ideas, thereby reducing the opportunity to notice their high skill levels.
Helpful measures for assessment of 2E learners, or learners whom you suspect may be 2E:
For more-detailed information go to Inclusive Education (NZ).
Bright children are often referred to psychologists (or paediatricians), as they exhibit behaviours commonly associated with ADHD (e.g., restlessness, impulsivity or daydreaming). However, almost all of these behaviours can be present in gifted learners, particularly 2E learners. Little attention has been given to the similarities and differences between these two groups, which increases the potential for misidentification in both areas –giftedness and ADHD. While it is possible to be ADHD and gifted, it is also possible to present as ADHD but actually just be gifted and bored … or misunderstood.
APD is a hearing disorder in which the ears process sound normally but the brain cannot always understand or ‘hear’.
ASD includes Asperger Syndrome, which is a form of autism at the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. People with Asperger Syndrome are of average (or higher) intelligence and generally have fewer problems with language, often speaking fluently, though their words can sometimes sound formal and ideas that are abstract, metaphorical or idiomatic may cause confusion and be taken literally. Unlike individuals with ‘classic’ autism, who often appear withdrawn and uninterested in the world around them, many people with Asperger Syndrome try hard to be sociable and do not dislike human contact. However, they still find it hard to understand non-verbal signals, including facial expressions.
If you suspect a child has characteristics of dysgraphia, an assessment with a paediatric occupational therapist may be useful to gain individualised strategies.