THE BLOG

Gifted+Learning Disabled = No Desk For You, Says New Study

03/31/2014 01:57 pm ET | Updated May 31, 2014

The National Center for Learning Disabilities just released an article citing new data from the U.S. Department of Education, which states that "students with learning and attention issues are shut out of gifted and AP programs, held back in grade level and suspended from school at higher rates than other students."

This new data shows:

  • Only 1 percent of students who receive IDEA (Individuals With Disabilities Act) services are in gifted and talented education programs, compared to 7 percent of general education students.
  • Students who receive IDEA services make up 12 percent of all high school students but are only 2 percent of students enrolled in an AP course.

This data shows what my colleagues and I who specialize in gifted and twice-exceptional children have been seeing at alarming rates since the inception of No Child Left Behind and Response to Intervention (RTI). Most gifted kids are unable to qualify and access special education accommodation due to meeting minimal "grade level requirements" and the lack of access to comprehensive or special education evaluations. The result? If you have advanced cognitive and/or academic abilities, you are able to score below to low average and then considered to be doing "fine."

Many are unaware of a population of children know to be "Twice-Exceptional" or 2e, meaning they are both gifted AND having a learning, processing, developmental, emotional and/or behavioral challenges. These kids are more commonly known as having ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, autistic spectrum disorder, sensory processing disorder, depression, and anxiety. 2e kids have these challenges yet are still gifted, with the host of strengths which comes with this profile -- a desire to learn, investigate, and explore at advanced levels.

There are three general roads for 2e kids. First, their strengths outweigh their weaknesses and they do not get identified as having a learning or processing issue. Second, their weaknesses outweigh their strengths and they don't get identified as gifted or talented. And third, their strengths and weaknesses cancel each other out and they don't get identified as gifted or learned disabled. The result for the 2e student is frustration, under performance, fatigue, and an emotional toll that often leads to depression and anxiety.

2e kids have real challenges that require real accommodations. They often need more time to complete tests and writing assignments; require assistive technology such as audio books and the ability to keyboard; need assistance in organizing and managing their workload; and may need help transitioning throughout their day and navigating the increasingly complex social world. Just as kids with these challenges need IEPs (Individual Education Plans) and 504 Plans (classroom accommodations), 2e kids need the above accommodations to work and perform to their potential. Further, many 2e kids need these accommodations just to advance through grades and graduate (even though they are very smart).

Here's what happens day to day in schools across the country, and what the new data is shows. A gifted child is either under performing or performing at "grade level." The child is frustrated, the parent is concerned and knows something is wrong, and the teacher is often perplexed. The child does not get identified for a SST (Student Success Team) meeting or an RTI (Response to Intervention) meeting, or IF they do, they often are not seen to need services or accommodations because they are "meeting grade expected requirements."

Thus, these students do not receive comprehensive testing to tease apart and identify their learning and processing disorders. Over time, the student under-performs, cannot access mainstream curriculum, is not allowed in (or fails out) of advance, honors, and AP classes, and is set on a trajectory of underachievement, low self-esteem, and limited opportunities.

The Individuals With Disabilities Act (IDEA) was enacted to protect students with disabilities and ensure equal access to curriculum and learning. Further, every student is entitled to what is known as FAPE, a Free and Appropriate Education. There has been much debate as to whether 2e children in the U.S. are getting an appropriate education. There is a myth that students with disabilities should not be allowed accommodations in gifted or AP classes because it gives them an edge on other students or is simply "not fair." How is getting assistance with reading if you are dyslexic or getting to type if you are dysgraphic give you an edge on a gifted child without disabilities? It doesn't. It gives a gifted/2e child and opportunity to access curriculum at their intellectual level.

We all celebrate our 2e heroes once they accomplish something great. Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, and Helen Keller all had disabilities. They all needed accommodation, though many did not receive them. We do not need our 2e children to be famous, but we do need them to get the assistance they need to do well in school, and further to bring their talents to bare. They have a civil right for a free and appropriate education and the protection of special education laws designed to give ALL students equal access to learning and achievement.

Changing the tide for 2e students across the country requires commitment and change from all stakeholders.

What can we all do?

According to experts in the field, here are suggestions for what schools and the educational systems can do:

1. Schools should provide comprehensive assessment whenever a disability or second exceptionality is suspected in a gifted child. Utilize comprehensive assessment for diagnosis, eligibility determinations, and to guide interventions and accommodations.

2. Educators must inform parents who report performance concerns in a bright child of the student's right to comprehensive assessment, the protocol required to request it, and the right to due process if the request is denied.

3. Districts should provide teacher training in the personality and performance patterns of twice-exceptional students to improve classroom identification of gifted students with deficits and raise academic progress benchmarks for gifted children.

4. Legislators and educational administrators should eliminate any absolute performance requirements from federal, state, or district policies for the identification of children with specific learning disabilities that prohibit the inclusion of higher ability children from needed services.

I write and speak often about what parents should do:

1. Trust yourself. You know your child better than anyone. If your child is struggling and he/she is not performing to her perceived potential, advocate for him/her.

2. Talk to your child's teacher and/or appropriate personnel and let them know where and how they are struggling. Request a meeting to discuss your concerns and for strategies to be put in place.

3. Request a comprehensive evaluation in writing if your child's challenges are not improving despite initial school intervention or services. Pursue qualification for an IEP or Section 504 Plan.

Every student deserves the room, the space, the opportunity to excel -- the metaphorical equivalent of a desk of his or her own.