The Eye of the Storm: Services and Programs for Twice-Exceptional Learners

By Nielsen, M. Elizabeth; Higgins, L. Dennis | Teaching Exceptional Children, September/October 2005 | Go to article overview

The Eye of the Storm: Services and Programs for Twice-Exceptional Learners


Nielsen, M. Elizabeth, Higgins, L. Dennis, Teaching Exceptional Children


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.

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