Category Archives: Twice-Exceptional

Acceleration Considerations

This isn’t my first run at the difficult topic of acceleration. In February 2015, I addressed how acceleration was a  (Not So) Simple Fix, and more recently in a post about Math and the Gifted Learner, I reflected on acceleration as one of the options available to students who were gifted in math. Having been involved in many accelerations and conversations about acceleration over the past few years, it is rare that I have a straightforward, rubber stamped, “this child is perfect” for acceleration meeting. Here are some of my observations from full grade accelerations.

  1. Sometimes the testing does not look like we would expect. I have had situations where the cognitive testing has not matched up with the off-level or achievement testing.  While the IAS (Iowa Acceleration Scale) allows for some flexibility on this, it is important that the team discussion take a careful look at demonstrated levels of achievement and what might be contributing to a lower cognitive score, particularly if there are gaps in subtests so appropriate supports can be put in place if necessary.
  2. The interpretations of the testing results may vary. As the gifted specialist, I get to work with different psychologists as we review applications for acceleration. I have worked with psychologists who have recommended acceleration to parents based on testing results that fall below the IAS recommendations. I have had psychologists recommend against acceleration when the testing supported what was outlined by the IAS but they felt that the cognitive flexibility results were lower than they would like to see. While testing is only one part of the process, it is important to weigh everything out carefully during sometimes difficult conversations.
  3. The other interests of the student. Students who are actively involved in competitive sports may find that they are disadvantaged at certain points in their development. One student recently pointed out that the only drawback to acceleration has been the fact that being one of the smaller players on the team has felt like a disadvantage. While they are likely to grow out of it, it may have a longterm impact if this sport is part of a career goal.
  4. The receiving school and teacher. Never accelerate a child into a situation where the receiving school and teacher are not supportive.  Even when they are supportive, monitoring expectations is important. It may take time for a child to adjust academically and socially to the grade skip. Teachers sometimes have expectations of how a gifted child “should be” that differ from the child who is being accelerated behaves. Sometimes students are comfortable with other students knowing they’ve been accelerated while others want it kept very low key. Other students have experienced frustration that the fact they’ve been accelerated isn’t acknowledged as an accomplishment. As students get into the higher grades, a single grade acceleration usually goes unnoticed, students who have been accelerated more than a single grade will continue to need advocacy and support as they are in a sense a “visible minority” and will need to continue to manage perceptions.

These observations around acceleration get complicated when they become part of the news like the recent article in the Business Insider that is interested in defining a certain measure of success for a particular group of gifted students. The article draws on research that supports acceleration and creates a sense of urgency around  the necessity of challenging our youth while focusing our perceptions of “genius” on a particular set of variables. While it tracks the success of 5000 students at or above the 99th percentile, the actual number of individuals who constitute 1% of the total population of the US is well over 3 million people who, I imagine, are as diverse as any group of 3 million people. Those of us who work with an even larger group of students (the top 2.2%) get caught up in the urgency in unexpected ways while working to act in the best interest of the gifted.

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Understanding Overexcitabilities: The Basics

Overexcitability is part of the larger Theory of Positive Disintegration. (TPD) developed by Kazmierz Dabrowski. TPD is an important theory offering insight into personality development and the role anxiety and psychoneuroses play in reaching one’s developmental potential. Looking at the overexcitabilities independent of TPD is problematic as they drive developmental potential and need to be understood and supported in that context.

WHO experiences TPD? At the 2014 International Dabrowski Congress there seemed to be some controversy over the use overexcitability scales particularly as a predictor of giftedness. This makes sense as Dabrowski believed that the percentage of the population that experience positive disintegration is somewhere around 30-35% while giftedness is considered to occur in 2% of the population. While research indicates that the overexcitabilities occur to a larger degree within the gifted population, they are not exclusive to gifted individuals.

WHAT is “overexcitability”? “Overexcitability is a characteristic of the nervous system involving higher than average sensitivity to stimuli (a lower threshold to stimuli) and a higher than average response to stimuli.  Dabrowski described five main types of overexcitability: psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational and emotional, and emphasized that the latter three are critical to development and in particular, that emotional overexcitability drives and guides higher development.” (Taken from PositiveDisintegration.com.)

WHEN is it an overexcitability vs “something else”?  The key element here is focus. A child with an intellectual overexcitability may exhibit ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) behaviors until they are given a task that they find intellectually stimulating at which time they are able to focus. Sometimes this incredible focus can look like OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). There are also times when an emotional excitability can look like a trauma response. And there are also times when there can be a dual diagnosis where an individual has been diagnosed with ADHD and be gifted as well. Webb et al. have done a great job of working through Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of the Gifted which you can find here. This article does a great job of describing how the intensities and sensitivities can manifest themselves in gifted children.

WHERE can you find strategies to cope? Again, as I work through understanding Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration it is very important to note that the overexcitabilities are not distributed in equal measure and the various dynamisms do not contribute to developmental potential in the same way. Every child is unique so there is no cookie cutter fix. That said, this article at SENGifted is a great place to start to put together something that may work for you and your child. There are also some specific strategies relevant to specific overexcitabilities here.

WHY does it help to have an understanding of Dabrowski’s theory? In my experience of working with individuals who experience emotional and intellectual overexcitabilities, the danger of seeing this independent of personality development through positive disintegration is that there can be a tendency to pathologize it into a behavior problem rather than work to understand and acknowledge the transformative work that is taking place.  The approach we use in supporting children with overexcitabilities is the difference between them seeing their sensitivities as “bad” “immature” or  “overreactions” and developing a self-understanding to how they experience the world as part of a quest to become their best person. For parents and teachers here is the gift/burden: “The richer the developmental potential, the greater number and variety of conflicting and mutually opposing elements are brought into play, and the more disequilibrium is produced.” (p. 64. Theory of Levels of Emotional Development, 1977.)

HOW we handle overexcitabilities can make all the difference. The first and most important step is to manage our own reactions. How we respond to that “intense response to stimuli” will go a long way to nurturing the safety and trust required to build a relationship where the adult can empower the child through finding strategies that will help regulate responses but not inhibit developmental potential.

For more information/perspectives on overexcitabilities you can follow Hoagies Blog Hop at the link below.

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Twice-Exceptional: Giftedness Served Up with a side of Lagging Skills

“Kids do well if they can.” When I first heard these words at a Ross Greene PD day, I sat up to listen more carefully. We’ve heard all kinds of words used to describe challenging students who may not doing well: lazy, disruptive, immature, attention seeking, manipulative…  These descriptors when coupled with behaviours like lying, crying, hitting, cheating tend to get an immediate reaction: to stop the behaviour often through punitive measures as the safety of all of the students in our class is and should be our paramount concern. But if it doesn’t stop the behaviour are they just “bad” kids? The product of “bad parenting”? Coming from the “wrong” neighbourhood? Hanging out with the “wrong” crowd? What I like about Ross Greene’s work is that he tells us not to accept any of these excuses because ultimately, “Kids will do well if they can.” and it’s up to us to figure out what is keeping them from doing well and find ways we can support them.

In our search for finding a reason why we are seeing the behaviours we are seeing, Ross Greene would have us focus on lagging skills. Another way of expressing lagging skills is “when children lack the ability to adaptively respond to the demands or expectations being placed on them.” While we would tend to think that the term “lagging skills”  does not seem to fit with the profile of a gifted child, we must remember a few things. First the lagging skills may not be “academic” skills. Second, asynchronous development may make some age appropriate abilities seem to be lagging in comparison to others.  And finally, there are many gifted students who also have learning disabilities. The real tragedy in is that in any of these scenarios, the behaviour and/or the disability often keeps us from seeing the gifts which, if supported, could help everything else become more manageable.

Try to imagine what it would feel like to be able to name all of  Greek gods, their  hierarchy and relationships to one another as well as the role they played in key myths and yet not be able to read when called upon to do so in class.  To understand calculus yet struggle to write a sentence. To have a keen and exact sense of the rules of social order and then be the only one who gets punished when in your rage you point out when these rules are being violated. Now imagine that the only thing that gets any attention from the people in your world is the fact that you can’t read, can’t write a sentence or that you have tantrums. (And it may well be that it is you yourself who focuses on these things to the exclusion of seeing anything else.) What do you teach yourself about the best way to respond to the things that you are not able to do? What kind of relationship do you need with the adults in your life in order to find a way out of these frustrations?

While not all students with lagging skills would be considered twice-exceptional, twice-exceptional students generally tend to come to my attention when teachers are struggling to reach/teach a student in whom they have seen “flashes of brilliance” most often in their ability to think or reason far beyond what is expected at their developmental stage. Yet at the same time, the “work” or “results” are not always there. Sometimes testing can provide answers but even then, it often presents more questions as the results on different subtests can vary substantially and lower a composite score. While use of the GAI can mediate these discrepancies (see NAGC position paper here), is it asynchronous development or a learning disability that is creating the big differences? And is a student’s strength in one area is able to compensate for weaknesses in another? All of this makes it difficult to understand the full extent of a disability or giftedness.

So what is one to do with those challenging students?  As always, focus on building strengths and relationships…so you can begin the collaborative process of identifying and problem solving around what is keeping them from responding adaptively to expectations. You may need additional assessments. You may need to do more research on things like stealth dyslexia or visual-spatial learners or auditory processing disorders.  It can be a puzzle to work out, but without support these students can face a lifetime of difficulties, beginning with struggles with their self-esteem, self-efficacy, depression and under achievement. When you believe “Kids will do well if they can,” it gives you a new way of looking at the child as well as a renewed commitment to finding solutions that will work.

Read more about twice exceptional students in this month’s blog hop by clicking on the button below.

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The Gift of the Twice Exceptional

In the summer edition of Gifted Child Quarterly, there is an article by Megan Foley-Nicpon, Susan G. Assouline and Nicholas Colangelo that explores the awareness of the concept of twice-exceptionality within gifted educational community. The conclusions of the study indicate that there is definitely a need for educational professionals to learn more about how to respond to this group of learners. How many of our gifted students might be twice exceptional? Depending on definitions (this varies from state to state), gifted students constitute 2-20% of the student population and it is estimated that between 2-5% of these students would be considered twice-exceptional.

For the purpose of this study, the researchers focused on four disabilities: autism spectrum disorders (ASD), specific learning disabilities (SLD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and emotional disturbances (ED). They sent out surveys to teachers, psychologists, specialists, parents and administrators familiar with gifted education. What they discovered was that although most respondents were familiar with the notion of twice-exceptionality, we are still struggling to find the best way to meet the needs of this group of students due to the complexity of their needs.

In my role as coordinator of gifted programming I can attest to the “struggle to find the best way to meet the complex needs” of this group of students. Oftentimes we see behaviors before gifts and it is not easy to know whether to begin with behavior management or gifted programming or finding a way to do both.  Because the needs are so different from what we may have encountered before we are often breaking new ground. What has made all the difference in most cases has been the willingness of parents and teachers to meet together and explore possibilities. Some days the task seems enormous and the little incremental steps we take almost imperceptible. But every once in a while you get the chance to step back and you see that things are happening and we are making progress.

It’s not the kids who fit easily into the system who will help us make the changes needed to create a more responsive education system for all students. It’s our exceptional and twice-exceptional who make us stretch and go further than we ever thought we could. Who knows where they will be able to take us as long as we are willing to be flexible?