Thanks to my brief time as an educator, I can always fondly look back on the class of wonderful children I instructed. I was blessed to be assigned a room of 18 curious and amazing first graders. We started the year off with a thematic unit on bears, and eagerly delved into the world of numbers, letters, reading, and science. One seven-year-old boy always stood out from the group.
“Garrett” always knew the answers, worked extra hard, and was a pure joy to instruct. He always paid attention, raised his hand, and offered valuable insight to lessons. He was definitely a high ability learner, a model student, and never showed signs that he was struggling.
Early in the fall, the school district conducted hearing and vision tests. To my surprise and that of countless other teachers, Garrett’s test came back showing that he was almost completely deaf on his left side. I would have never guessed or caught this potential problem based on his performance in the classroom.
Joys and Challenges of Twice-Exceptional Children
Many parents and educators may be surprised to learn that gifted children often have other special needs. These can range anywhere from ADHD, dyslexia, Autism Spectrum Disorder, sensory disorders, and more. A common problem for gifted children is that their natural abilities can hide or cover for their special needs.
This group of learners is unique and has a new outlook on their world. The free brochure, Twice Exceptional—SMART KIDS WITH LEARNING DIFFERENCES, alludes to the benefit of perceiving the world differently than most people. Creative thinking allows these students to solve problems and reach achievements in the arts. Twice-exceptional learners often develop strong interpersonal relationships that are very rewarding.
Twice-exceptional children often perform well during early elementary school, but as the coursework increases they begin to struggle. Recognizing a twice-exceptional student can be difficult, because their giftedness often compensates for their weaker areas, which also makes teaching this demographic more difficult. Educators need to focus on the giftedness and special needs equally so these children will succeed.
11 Strategies for Adapting Lesson Plans
Teaching twice-exceptional learners can be a wonderful experience if the teacher takes into consideration the following details when planning lessons:
- Include multiple objectives that meet educational and personal goals.
- Look for topics or concepts the student excels in to make it fun or encouraging when you want to focus on a behavior or therapy.
- Prepare your lessons by looking for some common misconceptions or potential problem areas so you will have an idea or technique available to avoid “hitting a wall.”
- Take frequent breaks when working on a new concept or difficult subject. Watch for cues that they are stressed and know that children with special needs often get tired easily. Not acknowledging this need can lead to mental shutdowns, tantrums, and exhaustion.
- Use a variety of techniques to teach concepts. Look for appropriate activities with tablets, hands-on activities, games, apps, and more. This could encourage understanding, foster new skills, and strengthen areas which may need extra practice.
- Look for assistive technologies to benefit your students. For example, a variety of educational apps are available which help students with dyslexia read better, You could also allow typing instead of writing or use stress balls to help overcome hurdles in the learning process.
- Include movement some way in the lesson. This can be through an activity, allowing chewing gum, Velcro fidgets, or standing. Each child will have different needs so keep those in consideration.
- Avoid focusing on grades. Twice-exceptional students often get by with average or exceptional grades, but these marks usually don’t offer true feedback. Children often have to work on behaviors and try twice as hard to master new information. It is a good idea to evaluate specific behaviors to show progress or problem areas.
- Teach ways to handle adversity in life. Give children the tools to problem solve or calm down so they can overcome problems.
- Reduce repetition school work. Avoid giving repetitive homework or writing assignments after the student has demonstrated a sound understanding of the concept.
- Acknowledge that an activity might be difficult, but you have faith in them.
Looking Forward to Many Exceptional Years
Luckily for Garrett, we caught the hearing challenge early in his school career. The first grade had just started and his giftedness allowed him to compensate for his lack of hearing. If we hadn’t caught the problem, Garrett might have faced future learning obstacles and struggled with school. He graduated in the top of his class and his smile can still brighten a room.
Twice-exceptional children can be a joy to interact with. With these tips in mind, you will start to see them at their best.
Amy Williams is a journalist and former social worker and is passionate about parenting and education. Follow her on Twitter @AmyKWiliams1.