I was hiding my tears
Fighting my fears
Living life one day at a time
I was hiding my tears
Fighting my fears
Trying hard to keep my place in line
(Higgins, song in press).
As described by poets and sailors alike, the "eye of the storm" is a peacefully calm time within a potentially devastating act of nature. Humans often search for the emotional calm within the storms that cross their paths. These storms are found externally within our environment or internally within the emotions that confront us daily. The extremes between twice-exceptional students' strengths and challenges create both internal and external educational storms. As teachers of these students, we have an obligation to create an "eye of the storm" within the four-walled space we call our classrooms.
The Storm Begins-Characteristics of Twice-Exceptional Learners
The unique characteristics of twice-exceptional learners often thrust them into an emotional "storm" on entrance into school. For the first time, they are expected to acquire specific academic skills. Many basic skills require abilities that these students do not possess because of their learning disabilities. Further, within the school setting, students are expected to demonstrate appropriate social skills such as cooperation, positive peer interaction, following directions, and independence. Similar to academic skill acquisition, these social skills require levels of ability beyond the reach of many twice-exceptional children. Although it is difficult to generalize about these students, Table 1 summarizes the characteristics of these learners (e.g., Coleman, 1992; Hannah & Shore, 1995; Nielsen, 2002; Nielsen, Higgins, Hammond, & Williams, 1993; Nielsen, Higgins, Wilkinson, & Webb, 1994; Reis, Neu, & McGuire, 1997; Schiff, Kaufman, & Kaufman, 1981; Vespi & Yewchuk, 1992).
The column on the left lists these students' areas of particular strength. Missing from this positive list, however, are items associated with basic academic and interpersonal skills. The right side of Table 1 presents challenges and difficulties faced by many twice-exceptional students. Unfortunately, this second list contains numerous items that are the antithesis of what is necessary for school success. Teachers initially view the high creativity, critical thinking, curiosity, and problem-solving ability of twice-exceptional learners as exciting, challenging, and positive. But teachers' enthusiasm for these positive characteristics soon becomes overshadowed by their frustration with these students' inability to demonstrate academic skills and with their often extreme behavioral difficulties. And thus, the storm begins.
The Storm Identified-Discrepancy Between Intelligence and Achievement
Twice-exceptional students' inability to successfully balance the school's expectations, their areas of academic or social difficulty, and their areas of giftedness frequently results in a referral for a diagnostic evaluation. In most cases the evaluation is requested because of the student's low academic performance and/or behavioral problems. Rarely is the evaluation instigated because of the child's giftedness. Diagnostic evaluation data generally reveals a clear discrepancy between the child's intellectual ability (IQ) and his or her academic achievement scores. Figure 1 presents diagnostic data for 259 twice-exceptional students within a large, urban, public school district. These twice-exceptional students (GT/LD) were identified by the Tivice-Exceptional Child Projects (Nielsen, 1989; 1993). Intelligence and achievement test scores for these students were compared to test scores for two other populations in the same school district: 3,665 students identified as gifted (GT) and 8,614 students with learning-disabilities (LD).
On measures of intellectual ability (expectancy IQ, verbal IQ, performance IQ, and full scale IQ), twice-exceptional students' performance were remarkably similar to that of the gifted population. In sharp contrast, the academic performance of twice-exceptional students in the areas of reading and written language plummeted. Their pattern of academic performance is more reflective of the students with learning disabilities. Although the twice-exceptional students' achievement scores were within the "average" range, the degree of difference between intelligence and achievement is great.
Caught in the Storm Two case Studies
To illustrate the diverse ability of this population, we discuss two case studies-Student A and Student B. Student A was referred for a special education diagnostic evaluation at the end of second grade. The teacher initiated the referral and requested that the diagnostician evaluate the student for a learning disability and for giftedness. The teacher reported that she was puzzled by the student's difficulty in reading and writing because the child demonstrated unusually high critical thinking and creativity. Evaluation data determined that the student's areas of strength included performance IQ, creativity, critical thinking, humor, expressive language, and peer interaction. Areas of weakness included classroom reading skills, spelling, and both visual and auditory processing. These areas of strength and weakness reflect areas noted within Table 1. The child was diagnosed as meeting state criteria both for giftedness and for a specific learning disability in the areas of reading and written language.
Student B's teacher initiated a special education referral because of the child's extreme difficulties with peer interaction, self-control, emotional outbursts, and inability to stay on-task. But the teacher reported that his academic skills were quite high. Similar to Student A, the evaluation indicated that the student had very high creative and critical thinking skills. Other areas of strength included performance and full scale IQ, reading, vocabulary, and spelling. Whereas Student A's areas of challenge were primarily academic in nature, Student B's challenge areas involved attention problems, organizational skills, and classroom behavioral difficulties. Student B was diagnosed as gifted with attention deficits, pervasive development disorder (PDD), and possible Asperger's syndrome.
Shelter From the Storm-An Attitude of Empathy
Research evidence and the case studies presented demonstrate the unique characteristics, abilities, and needs of twiceexceptional learners. This uniqueness demands a specialized set of interventions to ensure the success of this population. Schools must provide twiceexceptional students with appropriate services and programs designed to respond to their giftedness as well as their areas of challenge. This approach to collaborative services is assured when the professionals within the district establish and support a deep sense of empathy for the incongruent messages that twice-exceptional students hear both from within and from without. In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch explains the concept of empathy to his young daughter, Scout:
If you can learn a simple trick... you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. (Lee, 1960, p. 103)
Effective empathy requires reciprocal thinking, that is, both people trying to see things from the other's point of view. Because social interaction is often a problematic area for twice-exceptional students, educators must serve as models of empathy.
Qualitative research data (e.g., Ferri, Gregg, & Heggoy, 1997; Guyer, 1997; Lovecky, 2004; Reis et al., 1995), as well as interactions with hundreds of twiceexceptional children, youth, and adults, indicates that an empathic understanding of this population leads to a global focus on four components: competence, choice, connections, and compassion.
It is essential that adults who work with twice-exceptional students help them to discover their area(s) of giftedness, talent, and ability. Many gifted students with disabilities view themselves as primarily disabled. So much attention has been focused on the things they cannot do well, they find it almost impossible to believe that they are bright, capable learners. Robert Brooks, author of numerous books about resiliency in children, emphasized the need for educators to celebrate the competence within children with learning difficulties:
If we are to help children develop self-esteem, we must focus not only on their areas of vulnerability, but also on their ; strengths. We must learn to identify and reinforce each child's strengths, their "islands of competence," so that a ripple effect may be created, motivating the child to venture forth and confront the tasks that have previously been difficult. (Brooks, 2005, www.drrobertbrooks. com/writings/articles. html)
These words are particularly relevant for twice-exceptional learners, those whose disabilities often mask their giftedness.
There is great pressure in school environments for students to follow directions, obey rules, and do as they are told. Yet, twice-exceptional children are not easily able to do these things. As time passes, these students learn that if they refuse to perform in a required way, they fail; but it is an anticipated failure, one they control. Feeling trapped by impossible demands, they fight back. Confrontations ensue and everyone loses. The provision of simple choices frees the students, empowering them to have control over their successes. Allowing a student to choose from several options the way in which he or she would like to present a research project lets the student use areas of strength rather than demonstrate areas of weakness.
Twice-exceptional children frequently feel as if they are one of a kind. They feel isolated, strange, and pushed to the side. They may recognize that their ideas are similar to those of gifted students, yet their academic skills are far behind this group. Their areas of challenge may be like those of students with learning and behavioral difficulties, but these populations are puzzled by their creativity, humor, and superior vocabulary. It is vital that schools provide ways for twice-exceptional students to connect with one another.
Twice-exceptional children and youth will best learn to respect themselves and others when adults have demonstrated compassion toward them. Compassion is having sympathy for the pain and trials of another person and a desire to reach out and offer help. The example of compassionate educators will show these students the importance and power of this quality.
Safety round Within the "Eye of the Storm"-Collaborative Services and Programs
For twice-exceptional students, targeted services, programs, and interventions create a safe harbor, an "eye of the storm," where they are protected from "winds of chaos," failures, frustrations, and feelings of isolation. These services and programs help build resiliency and success for gifted students with disabilities. There are four key elements that must be present in successful programming for twice-exceptional learners: (a) implementation of an overarching program model, (b) use of interdisciplinary curricula, (c) intensive support for social, emotional, and behavioral needs, and (d) use of gifted education and special education strategies.
Overarching Program Model
Since the 1980s, professionals have continued to call for unique services and programming for this population (e.g., Baum, Owen, & Dixon, 1991; Higgins & Nielsen, 2000; Nielsen, 2002; Pereles, Baldwin, Baum, Higgins, & Nielsen, 2005). These experts recommend that districts have a continuum of service options available to twice-exceptional students.
At one end of the continuum are services within a general education setting with consultative support provided by both special education and gifted education teachers. At the other end are self-contained programs for twiceexceptional students whose needs are extreme. These self-contained programs must be supported by ancillary personnel (e.g., occupational therapists, speech and language practitioners, school counselors).
All programs should be based on a well-defined program model. The complex needs of the twice-exceptional population often lead to fragmented services and interventions. A consistent, overarching program model ensures that services and interventions are well designed, integrated between special education and gifted education, and consistent from year to year.
Two specific program models that documented success with this population are the Autonomous Learner Model (ALM; Belts & Kercher, 1999) and the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (Renzulli & Reis, 1997). Baum and colleagues have explained the use of Renzulli and Reis' enrichment model with this population (Baum et al., 1991). Nielsen, Higgins, and Betts have described specific ways in which the ALM can serve as a successful foundation for twice-exceptional learners (e.g., Higgins & Nielsen, 2000; Nielsen & Higgins, 2000, Nielsen, Higgins, & Betts, 2005). The ALM model has been used within Albuquerque Public school district classrooms for twice-exceptional students since 1990.
In 1996, the Twice-Exceptional Child Projects brought together university faculty, public school administrators, and teachers of twice-exceptional students in an effort to exchange ideas for successful interventions. In addition to supporting targeted programs and services, these professionals unanimously recommended that these students be taught using complex, interdisciplinary curricula. In particular, the teachers who worked on a daily basis insisted that this approach be used.
An examination of the characteristics associated with these students' giftedness within Table 1 clarifies the reason why an integrated, interdisciplinary curriculum is so successful with these learners. Their interest in the "big picture" and unrelenting sense of curiosity make this type of curriculum a perfect match. These students' high levels of reasoning and problem-solving, their penetrating insights into complex issues, and their advanced ideas contribute to their success with interdisciplinary learning.
Within a multigrade, self-contained classroom for twice-exceptional learners, Higgins and Nielsen (2000) have developed a rotating, 3-year cycle of global concepts (i.e., survival, connections, development). Each year, a different concept with an associated generalization serves as the thematic basis of instruction across all discipline areas. The concept, generalization, and key questions are posted throughout the school year. As instruction occurs, students engage in discussions about how the specific lesson, novel, video, field trip, etc. contributes to their understanding of the global concept and generalization. Students are encouraged to use their giftedness to examine complex issues and ideas while acquisition of basic academic and social skills are gently addressed with the process.
Social, Emotional and Behavioral Supports
The emotional vulnerability of these students is extreme. Thus, it is imperative that targeted services and programs for twice-exceptional students address the intense social and emotional issues that these students face on a daily basis. Central to this is the creation of an emotionally peaceful yet intellectually stimulating classroom environment. Because these students have experienced failure within the typical classroom setting, it is important that a different atmosphere be planned.
One way to achieve this is through the use of nonartificial or layered lighting, soft background music (designed to keep students focused and within a zone of effective learning), plants, and comfortable furniture atypical of school (e.g., reading chairs, rockers, beanbag chairs). Separate areas are needed for direct instruction (e.g., desks, whiteboards), for group discussions (e.g., soft furniture, rugs, pillows), for self-reflection and re-centering, and for one-on-one teacher-student interaction. These separate areas decrease and defuse many behavioral issues while responding to students' attention deficit difficulties, sensory-integration needs, and intense need for "elbow-room."
Beyond the actual classroom environment, specific social, emotional, and behavioral interventions must be provided. Students must engage in activities designed to help them understand themselves. Self-discovery activities assist them in identifying their specific talents, areas of strength, interests and passions, learning styles, and emotional needs. In the process, they can reframe their belief that they are "stupid" or "failures." They need to be shown how to use their gifts to compensate for their areas of challenge. These students benefit from the study of giftedness, attention deficit disorders, sensory integration, as well as learning disabilities and other special education exceptionalities. This knowledge empowers students to negotiate assignments, set personal goals, and accept themselves as total persons. As demonstrated by the characteristics in Table 1, challenge areas for many twice-exceptional learners are closely related to behavior control and social interaction issues. Problems in these areas contribute greatly to feelings of failure and isolation. Thus, these students must be provided intensive, direct instruction in anger management, self-regulation, and social thinking.
Instruction in social thinking is particularly important for twice-exceptional students with nonverbal learning disabilities or Asperger's syndrome. Students with these disabilities cannot read nonverbal social cues. Instruction in social thinking focuses on three areas: how you look (e.g., hygiene, hairstyle); what you say (content of your message); and what you do (i.e., body language and gestures, facial expression, tone of voice, physical proximity, pitch, and loudness of voice). Students need to learn how to think about others and to anticipate what people think about them (Winner, 2002). As students acquire these social skills, they become emotionally safer within the classroom, the school, and the larger community.
Gifted Education and Special Education Strategies/Interventions
Twice-exceptional services must be designed to allow these learners to reach their full potential. This can best be accomplished through instruction that targets their giftedness while providing individualized special education interventions. These bright and highly capable youth benefit from strategies advocated for gifted populations (e.g., creative problem-solving, problem-based learning).
These students must have access to sophisticated materials and ideas. Books on tape through Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic allow gifted students with reading difficulties to interact with advanced literary works. Technological advances reduce the impact of the disability and allow students to focus on the more complex, creative, and analytical aspects of assignments. They must be encouraged to apply their advanced knowledge, abstract thinking, reasoning skills, and creativity to group discussions, realworld assignments, and challenging projects.
In addition, educators have an obligation to address students' specific areas of challenge. Research from the field of special education must be examined for targeted interventions and strategies. Examples of such interventions include organizational strategies (webbing, storyboarding), facilitated instruction using graphic organizers, and intensive, structured, multisensory reading programs such as Orton Gillingham (Gillingham & Stillman, 1997), Recipe for Reading program (Traub & Bloom, 1994), and Wilson Reading program (Wilson & Wilson, 2005).
Twice-exceptional learners' challenges are varied; thus, special education interventions must be designed for each child with input from special educators, as well as ancillary support professionals. These unique needs of this population require that schoolwide collaboration take place.
Beyond the Storm-Examples of Student Progress
The goal of programming for twice-exceptional students is to create a safe haven within the "eye of the educational storm." Within this safe haven, they discover who they are, express their gifts, learn to accept and compensate for challenge areas, and acquire strategies for success. This prepares them to successfully reenter the larger educational world. The following work samples from Students A and B illustrate the power of this approach.
Within the shelter of twice-exceptional services, Student A progressed through elementary and middle school. By high school, she participated in the gifted education program for one period each day. The remainder of her classes were in the general education classroom with support from special education on an "as-needed" basis. Samples of her work over her school career provide evidence that she was able to compensate for her reading problems (especially through the use of computer technology) while maintaining her creativity, humor, and unique problem-solving skills. Here, we present one sample, from middle school. Figure 2 presents a segment of a Bloom's Taxonomy learning center created within her middle school, general education math class. Support for this center was provided as needed within her daily twice-exceptional classroom. Her learning center focused on the mathematics system of the Mayans. The center and the individual activity cards were created solely by the student.
When Student B was placed in the twice-exceptional program, his challenges seemed to outweigh his giftedness. He was an above-average reader displaying high fluency in the reading process. When emotionally upset, he often lost the ability to express his feelings and required space and time to regain composure. His oral reading was intermittently strong and demonstrated good expression. When upset, he demonstrated great difficulty with verbal communication. Although there was good evidence that he possessed the ability to read chapter books, he did not verbally communicate what he read. He displayed very high verbal skills when he was calm and was able to find his voice within the walls of the (his) storm.
Although Student B's ability to write with the traditional pencil/paper method was limited, his ability to create stories and compositions using keyboarding technology was advanced for his age group. When using the computer, his stories and compositions became fluent, organized, and elaborative. He responded well to highly creative assignments-especially those that had a futuristic component. His responses demonstrated his unique special abilities, as well as his creative and critical thinking skills. When approaching assignments requiring sophisticated thinking about future events, he excelled.
He was provided with an assignment from the Future ME Project (Higgins, in press) during his fourth-grade year. When he approached this assignment, he became immersed in the required components of the unit. He readily demonstrated the ability to react to abstract futuristic situations that seemed to be above that of his age group. He successfully used his computer skills and creativity to demonstrate his unique view of the future. In this project, he acted as a futurist and created a positive and complicated response to a very complex assignment. Figures 3 and 4 present samples from Student B's Future ME project.
To help our students create their best selves, we must offer them a safe haven in our classrooms. This eye of the "educational storm" allows our students to gain in confidence. As our students gain in confidence, they discover their own internal eye of the storm; and, thus, they are able to weather difficulties with grace, dignity, and a hurricane force of power.
Allowing a student to choose from several options . . . lets the student use areas of strength rather than demonstrate areas of weakness.
Because social interaction is often a problematic area for twice-exceptional students, educators must serve as models of empathy.
A consistent, over-arching program model ensures that services and interventions are well designed, integrated between special education and gifted education, and consistent from year to year.
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Brooks, R. (2005). The search for islands of competence: A metaphor of hope and strength. Available at www.drrobertbrooks.com/writings/articles/html.
Coleman, M. R. (1992). A comparison of how gifted/LD and average/LD boys cope with school frustration. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 15, 239-265.
Ferri, B. A., Gregg, N., & Heggoy, S. J. (1997). Profiles of college students demonstrating learning disabilities with and without giftedness. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 30, 552-559.
Gillingham, A., & Stillman, B. W. (1997). Gillingham manual (8th ed). Cambridge, MA: Educators Publishing Service.
Guyer, B. P. (1997). The pretenders: Gifted people who have difficulty learning. Homewood, IL: High Tide Books.
Hannah, C. L., & Shore, B. M. (1995). Metacognitive and high intellectual ability: Insights from the study of learning-disabled gifted students. Gifted Child Quarterly, 39(2), 95-109.
Higgins, L. D. (in press) Future ME: A futures simulator. Greeley, CO: Autonomous Learner Publishers.
Higgins, L. D. (song in press). "Hiding My Tears-A tribute to Ann Bancroft." Albuquerque, NM: Futures End Services.
Higgins, L. D., & Nielsen, M. E. (2000). Teaching the twice-exceptional child: An educator's personal journey. In K. Kay (Ed.), Uniquely gifted: Identifying and meeting the needs of the twice-exceptional student (pp. 113-131). Gilsum, NH: Avocus.
Lee, H. (1960). To kill a mockingbird. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott.
Lovecky, D. V. (2004). Different minds: Gifted children with AD/HO, Asperger's syndrome, and other learning deficits. London, England: Jessica Kingsley.
Nielsen, M. E. (1989). The twice-exceptional child project (Javits Grant No. R206A90151). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Nielsen, M. E. (1993). Project reach: Addressing the needs of twice-exceptional learners (Javits Grant No. R206A30259). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Nielsen, M. E. (2002). Gifted students with learning disabilities: Recommendations for identification and programming. Exceptionality, 10(2), 93-111.
Nielsen, M. E., & Higgins, L. D. (2000). Responding to the needs of twice-exceptional learners: A school district and university collaborative approach. In K. Kay (Ed.), Uniquely gifted: Identifying and meeting the needs of the twice-exceptional student (pp. 287-303). Gilsum, NH: Avocus.
Nielsen, M. E., Higgins, L. D., & Belts, G. (2005, November). Twice-exceptional learners and the ALM: A perfect fit. Paper presented at 52nd National Association for Gifted Children conference, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Nielsen, M. E., Higgins, L. D., Hammond, A. E., & Williams, R. A. (1993). Gifted children with disabilities. Gifted Child Today, 16(5), 9-12.
Nielsen, M. E., Higgins, L. D., Wilkinson, S. C., & Webb, K. W. (1994). Helping twiceexceptional students to succeed in high school: A program description. The Journal of secondary Gifted Education, 5(3), 35-39.
Pereles, D., Baldwin, L., Baum, S., Higgins, L. D., Nielsen, E. (2005, November) Programming for the twice-exceptional: A panel discussion. Paper presented at 52nd National Association for Gifted Children conference, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Reis, S. M., Neu, T. W., & McGuire, J. M. (1995). Talent in two places: case studies of high ability students with learning disabilities who have achieved. Storrs, CT: National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
Reis, S. M., Neu, T. W., & McGuire, J. M. (1997). case studies of high-ability students with learning disabilities who have achieved. Exceptional Children, 63, 463-479.
Renzulli, J. S., & Reis, S. M. (1997). The schoolwide enrichment model: A how-to-guide for educational excellence (2nd ed.). Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press.
Schiff, M. M., Kaufman, A. S., & Kaufman, N. L. (1981). Scatter analysis of WISC-R profiles for learning disabled children with superior intelligence. Journal for Learning Disabilities, 14, 400-404.
Traub, N., & Bloom, F. (1994). Recipe for reading: New Century Edition. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
Vespi, L., & Yewchuk, C. (1992). A phenomenological study of the social/emotional characteristics of gifted learning disabled children. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 16, 55-72.
Wilson, B., & Wilson, E. (2005). Wilson Language Training Program. Available at www.wilsonlanguage.com.
Winner, M. G. (2002). Inside out: What makes a person with social cognitive deficit tick. London, England: Jessica Kingsley.
M. Elizabeth Nielsen (CEC NM Federation), Associate Professor, Department of Educational Specialties, Special Education Program, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque; and L. Dennis Higgins (CEC NM Federation), Albuquerque Public Schools and adjunct faculty, Department of Educational Specialties, Special Education Program, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.
Address correspondence to M. Elizabeth Nielsen, Department of Educational Specialties, University of New Mexico, Hokona Hall, Room 245, Albuquerque, NM 87131 (email@example.com).
TEACHING Exceptional Children, Vol. 38, No. 1, pp. 8-15.
Copyright 2005 CEC.…