Yes, gifted children can receive special education. These children are commonly referred to as twice exceptional or 2e learners. Even though it’s not specifically mentioned or specified as twice exceptional or gifted, twice exceptional children are protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA. The IDEA specifically states that states must provide a free appropriate public education or FAPE to any student with a disability who needs special education and related services, even if the student has not failed or been retained in a course or grade and is advancing from grade to grade with their peers. Students do not have to be failing to qualify for special education. Children can have exceptional ability to do well in school and still have significant learning difficulties in other areas. Children can indeed qualify for gifted programs based on their intelligence and academic performance while also qualifying for special education services.
What is Twice Exceptional or 2e?
Twice exceptional or 2e is a term used for children that are intellectually gifted children who have one or more learning disabilities such as dyslexia, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, dyscalculia, sensory processing issues, emotional and behavioral disorders, or physical disabilities. They are gifted but they also face learning or developmental challenges. Twice exceptional children process information differently. While they may do exceptionally well in certain subjects, they can benefit from additional services, programs, and instruction that assists with both their giftedness and their disabilities.
Both of my sons have tested gifted and talented and both have been diagnosed with ADHD as well as other diagnoses. It’s been a difficult process to obtain their IEP and 504 Plans because their grades weren’t suffering and they weren’t failing any grades or courses. After years of trying to find the right answers, I now realize they may in fact be twice exceptional. It’s an area of special education that is misunderstood and can be difficult to navigate. I wish that I was able to obtain their IEP and 504 plan years ago to help them thrive rather than watching them silently struggle while still making all A’s and B’s in school. Getting an IEP or 504 plan can help prevent you from going through years of struggling like I did.
What if the School doesn’t Believe that my Child has a Disability?
It can be difficult to get the right support and accommodations that your child needs. Many twice exceptional students are often overlooked as having a disability. Your child’s school may overlook their disability because neither their gifts nor their disabilities stand out because they can easily mask each other out. Twice exceptional children can be labeled as not trying hard enough, lazy, or unmotivated if they are good at masking their disabilities. It’s easy for twice-exceptional students to fall through the cracks because they are usually performing exceptionally well at their grade level. Being twice exceptional can be a double-edged sword. If they are placed in the gifted program, they may fall short of the gifted program’s expectations. If they are placed in a special education program, they may not be challenged enough. This can lead to frustration and behavioral problems.
Where do I Start?
If you believe that your child is twice exceptional and needs assistance, you should request a special education assessment in writing from your school or school district. The assessment will test your child’s capabilities as well as any specific issues or disabilities that you believe your child may have. The IDEA requires that the evaluation must “sufficiently identify all of the child’s special education and related service needs, whether or not commonly linked” to your child’s disability. If your child’s evaluation determines that they are eligible for special education, you should request an IEP or 504 plan in writing.
IEP or 504 plan?
It’s so important to advocate for your child at the IEP or 504 meeting. I recommend asking for an IEP first because your child may get a greater level of support. An IEP is part of special education and it will provide services as well as accommodations. A 504 plan is a plan that only provides accommodations. Since most schools use boiler plate IEPs and 504 plans, it’s extremely important to advocate for specific and tailored accommodations that meet your child’s specific needs. Make sure that you present your child’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to ask your child what areas they are struggling with at school as well as what areas they are doing well. They may surprise you with what they think would help them learn.
What Services are Provided by my State?
Unfortunately, the federal government doesn’t provide guidance or requirements for gifted services. Gifted services and programs can range from state to state. States and school districts use different tests and criteria to identify gifted and talented students. The National Association for Gifted Children publishes a biennial survey of how each state regulates and supports programs for advances students. You can find your state’s Department of Education and state gifted education association point of contact on their website. They can provide valuable information and advice on how to proceed if your child’s school doesn’t help.