Tips for Parents: Meeting the Diverse Needs of Twice-Exceptional Students
Nicpon, M.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Megan Foley Nicpon, who discusses a number of ways to conduct successful educational interventions and the definition of "Twice-Exceptional."

My name is Megan Foley Nicpon, and I am a licensed clinical psychologist and Supervisor of Psychological Services at the Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic. A few weeks ago, I led a parent seminar for The Davidson Institute Parents entitled, “Meeting the Diverse Needs of Twice-exceptional Students: What Parents Need to Know.” The following “Tips for Parents” will highlight the main topic areas covered in the seminar.

  • A student is considered “Twice-Exceptional” when he or she is gifted and talented yet also possesses a learning, social, behavioral, or emotional difficulty. Twice-exceptionality can therefore take many forms, but the most talked about co-occurring diagnoses in the literature are autism spectrum disorders (ASD), learning disorders, ADHD, and anxiety. While this seminar was originally designed to focus on all aspects of twice-exceptionality, it quickly became a discussion mainly about gifted students on the autism spectrum.
  • It is important to remember that only a small minority of gifted students are considered twice-exceptional and an even smaller portion are thought to be both gifted/talented and on the autism spectrum.
    • It is generally agreed upon that ASDs are developmental disorders in which difficulties with social interactions, impairments in communication, and repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities represent underlying central nervous system dysfunctions.
    • Giftedness and ASD are not mutually exclusive; they can and do co-exist. While there are no data that document the prevalence of gifted and talented children with ASD, there are many clinical cases as well as classroom anecdotes of this co-existence (e.g., Lovecky, 2004; Neihart, 2000; Webb, et al. 2005). Also, it has been noted (Gallagher & Gallagher, 2002) that in some individuals, symptoms of ASD can obscure giftedness, whereas in others, giftedness can mask characteristics of ASD.
  • Evaluation of gifts and talents, as well as a disability, is a complex process, and requires a comprehensive assessment that is tailored to the student’s specific presenting issues. Only a comprehensive evaluation can lead to an accurate diagnosis of the student’s particular impairments and academic strengths. As well, an accurate diagnosis drives appropriate recommendations; therefore, from a psychological and educational perspective, it is critical to gather comprehensive information to answer the referral question. This may include data collection in any of the following areas: ability, achievement, memory, cognitive processing, fine-motor, gross motor, executive functioning, social/emotional, behavior, interpersonal relationships, communication, developmental, and adaptive functioning.
    • It is also important to remember that not all professionals are equipped to make all diagnoses. For example, as was discussed in the seminar, a properly trained audiologist is in the best position to make a diagnosis of Central Auditory Processing Disorder, and a properly trained psychologist or psychiatrist is in the best position to make a diagnosis of ADHD.
  • It is important that parents determine that the evaluator who they chose to work with their child has a thorough understanding of giftedness/talent development, as well as training in psychological assessment. For an ASD evaluation, I recommend that parents determine that the evaluator has received specialized training in ASD assessment as well.
  • Interventions to help gifted children and adolescents with disabilities are diverse. The primary goal is to provide an environment that balances nurturing their strengths and supporting their limitations with socialization (Neihart, 2000). An interdisciplinary collaborative team that includes an administrator, school psychologist, occupational therapist, social worker, behavioral specialist, speech and language specialists, classroom and special topic educators, and a gifted specialist is optimal to ensure appropriate and consistent services.
  • Successful educational interventions must be based on an extensive assessment; otherwise, educators intervene based on perceived needs rather than evidence-based needs. Interventions also require (1) educator and counselor awareness about the student’s giftedness and disability; (2) positive and consistent collaboration among regular educators, special education teachers, and gifted education teachers; (3) individualization of educational and psychosocial interventions to address strengths as well as areas for growth; and (4) communication between parents and educators as to what is working and/or what changes need to be made.

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