Foley Nicpon, M.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development
This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Megan Foley Nicpon in which she provides 11 ideas on advocating for your profoundly gifted student.
When I was approached to lead a seminar examining advocating for the twice-exceptional and/or profoundly gifted child in a traditional school setting, I was unsure what direction the seminar would take. I was pleased to see that we took many, interesting, provocative directions that challenged me to think creatively about advocacy efforts for these terrific kids. The following is a summary of the main ideas that were developed as a result of the seminar. It is hoped that this brief report will help guide parents in their own advocacy efforts.
Ideas for Advocacy:
- Be aware that there are resources available to you to guide you in your advocacy efforts. For example, the Iowa Acceleration Scale, by Susan Assouline and colleagues (http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/Resources/IAS.aspx) is a helpful tool that educational teams can use in determining whether some form of acceleration, including whole-grade acceleration, would be a good option for the student. Other tools include A Nation Deceived by Nick Colangelo and colleagues (http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/Nation_Deceived/Default.aspx) and information provided by the Institute for Research and Policy on Acceleration (http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/Default.aspx). The National Association for Gifted Children and the Davidson Institute are also wonderful resources that provide a wealth of information. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
- Know the research behind the issues for which you are advocating. For example, several researchers have demonstrated the effectiveness of acceleration, which is summarized in A Nation Deceived and provided through an annotated bibliography on the IRPA website: http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/Research/Bibliography/. Providing research to support your advocacy efforts is extremely important because it demonstrates that there are objective individuals who have found data that substantiate your views.
- Know your rights. For parents of twice-exceptional students, understand the differences between an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and a 504 Plan. There are websites available that describe the differences, such as http://www.ldonline.org/article/Understanding_the_Differences_Between_IDEA_and_Section_504 and http://www.drcnh.org/IDEA504.pdf. It is important to know both laws and how they pertain to your child and his/her own set of strengths and areas for growth.
- Be positive and approach the school in a collaborative manner, recognizing their areas of expertise. Provide examples of how interventions may work. For example, parents could give a specific example of “quantity” (e.g., completing 40 algebra problems) versus “quality” (e.g., pre-testing to determine knowledge and selecting homework that addresses areas that need to be learned, but with fewer total problems). Another idea is to brain storm with your child’s teacher solutions to the problem. For example, your son has a 5 page book-report due but the task is overwhelming because of dysgraphia and/or processing speed difficulties. Is there a way to ask for the teacher’s expertise in creating an alternative assignment that would get at the same information? You may be met with comments such as “the student needs to learn these skills,” which is true. However, help the student learn them in a way that is manageable and does not create anxiety, disdain, or hatred for writing. Educators likely will respond well if you recognize their expertise and approach the problem collaboratively.
- Be informed. Learn about your school’s gifted programming, acceleration policies, and programming for students with special needs. You can gain a significant amount of information this way in terms of learning your school district’s flexibility, approach to learning and problem-solving, and means of accommodating students.
- Recognize the importance of data. Bring to your advocacy efforts any psychological reports, grade reports, and/or standardized test scores. I would make a list of what your child’s strengths are and what he/she likes, as well as a list of areas that may be problematic.
- When seeking alternative approaches to your twice-exceptional child’s education, provide thorough documentation of his or her strengths and areas of growth. Make sure that the treating psychologist conducted an extended evaluation where diagnostic differentiation was practiced. During the seminar, I gave an example of how I make a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, which includes Asperger Syndrome. I indicated that I typically administer the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Autism Diagnostic Interview, Revised (ADI-R), as well as various other instruments depending on the referral question. The ADOS is an interactive assessment where I work with the student and record observations/behaviors I see that are related to a diagnosis of autism (communication difficulties, social interaction difficulties, and stereotyped patterns of behavior/restricted interests). The ADI-R is a thorough, developmental interview conducted with parents where I elicit information about the child’s current behavior, as well as his/her behavior when he/she was 3 – 4 years of age. This too is in the three areas assessed for an autism diagnosis.
I use a hierarchical method of diagnosis, where I first see if the child meets criteria on the ADOS and ADI-R for autism. There is a “cut score” for each area that is considered a part of the ASD diagnosis, and students must obtain scores above the threshold on all areas for a diagnosis of autism (communication, social interaction, behavior, and difficulties before the age of 3). If they don’t meet criteria for autism, I see if they meet criteria for Asperger Syndrome, which has a slightly different set of criteria: social difficulties, stereotyped patterns of behavior/restricted interests, at least average IQ, and no language delay. Here, I look for scores on the ADI-R and ADOS that are above threshold in the social interaction and stereotyped patterns of behavior/restricted interest areas specifically and make a diagnosis if these criteria are met. If the student does not meet criteria for Asperger Syndrome, I see if they meet criteria for Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified. This diagnosis is the mildest form of ASD and typically means that the student has difficulties in the three areas associated with ASD, but not enough to be considered autism or Asperger Syndrome.
- Understand what the purpose of a diagnosis is for a twice-exceptional child. It is important to remember that with any psychological, developmental, or learning diagnosis, it is only appropriate if it is negatively impacting functioning. From this perspective, students may have certain traits or symptoms that are not negatively affecting their functioning, so it is not appropriate to give them a diagnosis. For others, their symptoms are making a significant impact on their academic or social functioning, and a diagnosis can help to (1) identify and treat the problem; (2) increase understanding, both self understanding and understanding of others; and (3) make the student eligible for accommodations that would assist with functioning in school.
- Understand your child’s strengths and difficulties from both an interindividual and an intraindividual perspective. Interindividual comparisons are when you compare a student to his/her own performance. For example, a student’s reading scores may be in the “average” range in comparison to the normative group for his age, but far below expectations given his reading abilities as measured by the WISC-IV. Intraindividual comparisons are when you compare a student to a reference group, typically to students of his age or grade level. Here, a student’s average scores are not concerning because he is operating at expectations compared to his peer group. It can be difficult to advocate for special services from this perspective, particularly for gifted students with learning disabilities. For other twice-exceptional situations (e.g., ADHD, ASD) I think there are situations when both interindiviudal and intraindividual comparisons are appropriate; thus, a combined approach makes the most sense. For example, the student’s average written language skills may be far below expectations based on his abilities but his symptoms of impulsivity and distractibility are far greater than what would be expected for his age.
- Recognize that you are making a difference not only for your child, but for future profoundly gifted and/or twice-exceptional students. Once schools have gone through the process with you it can help dispel some common objections, such as
- If we do this for your child, we’ll have to do it for everyone
- We’ll be bombarded with parents who also want acceleration
- Our teachers don’t know how to deal with a student who is accelerated
- We don’t have the resources to do this
- Our school does not do it this way
- We can differentiate adequately if he stays in his grade
- We can’t possibly serve all your student’s needs
- Most importantly, take care of yourself and recognize that continually advocating for your child can be draining. Celebrate small advances and let setbacks go. Believe that the real expert is you.