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A Strengths-Based Approach for Children Who Are Twice-Exceptional

Gifted and Twice-Exceptional

From the Davidson Institute’s guidebook, Twice Exceptionality: A Resource Guide for Parents

Pete’s Story

In the fall, we asked the school for a 504 Plan, but the biggest challenge we have is that one side of the bell curve is addressed but not the other. My son has extended time on tests and the ability to take breaks when need. However, the school is not accommodating his gifted side at all. Also, because he is performing at or above grade level, he does not qualify for services (such as occupational therapy or psychological counseling) through the school. Any interventions we have for him have been entirely out-of-pocket for us. What is upsetting is that, if he was below grade level, he would be getting more attention and support. But he’s not, so all of his needs are ignored. And he continues to disengage in school. (Anonymous, personal communication, April 21, 2015)

Pete’s story is not unusual. Susan M. Baum, Robin Schader, and Thomas P. Hébert (2014) state that “although students [who are twice-exceptional (2E)] possess gifts and disabilities simultaneously, the two exceptionalities are often addressed separately in educational settings, with little regard for the influence one exceptionality may have on the other” (p. 311). When strengths and weaknesses are addressed separately, often the default is to focus on areas of challenge.

There is a persistent belief among professionals, educators and parents that children who are 2E will flourish if “appropriate accommodations are in place” for a child’s areas of weakness (Baum, Dann, Novak, & Preuss, 2009, p. 13). However, these accommodations often “focus mainly on meeting grade-level objectives while ignoring gifted potential” (Baum, Dann, Novak, & Preuss, 2009, p. 13). What this means is that a child receiving accommodations at school that allow her to successfully navigate her challenges with ADHD may still not be working at her potential. She may be using a ball chair, receiving extended time on tests and getting direct instruction in organization. But she may still be acting out, floundering grade-wise or losing motivation if she has no opportunities to develop her strengths. For this reason, the National Association for Gifted Children (1998) has called for children who are 2E to receive “a dually differentiated program: one that nurtures their gifts and talents while accommodating for learning weaknesses” (para. 6). This dually differentiated program is also called a “strengths-based approach.”

What is a Strengths-based Approach?

A strengths-based approach considers the whole child. It recognizes the child, first, as a gifted individual who deserves opportunities to develop her talents and interests, and second, as a student who deserves the appropriate support in areas of challenge so that he can fully demonstrate those talents and interests. By putting their strengths in the forefront, children build on the inner-resources they already have which puts them in a better position to work on areas of difficulty; as a child grows in one area, other areas can follow.

How Do I Move Forward After Learning Me Child is 2e?

Building a strengths-based plan for a child doesn’t happen overnight and doesn’t just address a child’s education. It’s an overall approach for all aspects of a child’s life: her intellectual, social, emotional and talent development. It accounts for her life at school, at home and the places in between (extracurriculars, therapy, camps, tutoring, etc.). Some places to start may be to

  • Educate yourself. In addition to learning about twice-exceptionality, you may want to learn more about giftedness and your child’s diagnoses. You may also want to learn more about your district’s policies, your state’s laws and federal law.
  • Assemble a team. When thinking through how to productively intervene and advocate on behalf of your child, it can be helpful to identify potential allies and to build a support network for your child and yourself.
  • Evaluate the environments that your child is a part of. Consider how school, extracurriculars, social spaces and more are already working for your child and if you would like parts changed to better fit her.
  • Set goals. Once you’ve educated yourself, assembled a team and evaluated your child’s situation, you’re ready to set goals based on the information, people and resources you have.
  • Monitor and Modify. As you implement your plans for your child, observe how these changes are affecting her. Remember that changes can often take many weeks to really take hold and produce the outcomes you were hoping for.

It can take many tries to find the plan that works for your child. And what works right now will not always be what works next month or next year. Sometimes, that is exciting; it can mean your child is growing. Sometimes, though, it can be frustrating.

It’s okay to take a break from some goals or plans and focus on something else for a period. For example, perhaps instead of focusing on turning in homework, you focus on enjoying family nights together. A break can make us reconsider our goals and help us set better goals for the future.

Even in instances where you don’t need a break, your child may. As psychologists Megan Foley Nicpon, Allison Allmon, Barbara Sieck, and Rebecca D. Stinson (2011) remind us, “In general, gifted students are lauded by society, whereas children with disabilities can be misunderstood or ostracized. The twice-exceptional child must navigate both kinds of feedback, an undoubtedly disorienting experience.”

For parents, navigating the 2E world can be similarly disorientating, exhausting, confusing and overwhelming. You and your child’s path forward may not be linear. But you can always revisit the steps presented in this section to think through other ways of moving forward.

Note: This is a modified excerpt from a Davidson Institute’s guidebook. Please see Twice Exceptionality: A Resource Guide for Parents for the full chapter and addition information.

Additional Reading and Resources

In-Text Citations

Baum, S. M., Schader, R. M., and Hébert, T. P. (2014). Through a different lens: Reflecting on a strengths-based, talent-focused approach for twice-exceptional learners. Gifted Child Quarterly 58(4), 311-327. DOI: 10.1177/0016986214547632.

Foley Nicpon, M., Allmon, A., Sieck, B., and Stinson, R. D. (2011). Empirical investigation of twice-exceptionality: Where have we been and where are we going? Gifted Child Quarterly 55(1), 3-17. DOI: 10.177/0016986210382575.

National Association for Gifted Children. (1998). Students with concomitant gifts and learning disabilities [White paper]. Retrieved January 17, 2016, from Montgomery County Public Schools


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