Twice Exceptional

Sixth-grader Damon King is a gifted learner with a learning disability. The faculty at Bell Middle School and Damon's family face challenges as they begin to address meeting Damon's unique learning needs.

Teachers meet to discuss the classroom performance of a twice exceptional sixth grader.

The Langston School District serves 1,800 students and consists of three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. Gifted services in the district include half-day enrichment programs in the elementary schools, while the middle and high schools offer honors courses. Each elementary school has a full-time gifted education teacher, with one part-time teacher at each of the middle and high schools.

13-year-old sixth-grader Damon King has been labeled gifted, but his assessment profile shows a pronounced discrepancy between his verbal and non-verbal aptitudes. Although he has been tested twice since first grade, he has never been labeled learning-disabled. While in elementary school, Damon participated in regular classroom activities, pull-out gifted education services, and inclusive learning disabilities services. Although he has never been formally recommended for special education services, a resource teacher worked with Damon’s elementary teachers to help make general adaptations to his classroom assignments. He is currently enrolled in mixed-ability science and mathematics courses and honors English and social studies courses.

See Damon King’s assessment profile below:

On a crisp November afternoon, Damon’s mother met with his teachers in a sunny corner of the school cafeteria. ” Damon’s dad and I were very disappointed with his first middle school report card. He’s frustrated with his classes, but we blamed it on the transition to middle school. But I’d like to learn more about his classroom performance.” Looking around at each of the teachers, she continued, “I am hoping that you may be able to shed some light on the situation, so that we can decide on the best course of action.”

Mr. Scully, Damon’s English teacher, nodded his head as Mrs. King spoke. “I guess I’ll start. Damon is a smart kid, but he doesn’t apply himself. His work is disorganized, especially his writing. His reading, however, is excellent. Damon’s comprehension and reading levels are higher than anyone’s, even the gifted kids. I just wish he would try harder.”

“Hi, Mrs. King, I’m Ms. Thomas,” a friendly looking woman with salt-and-pepper hair at the end of the table said. “I’m Damon’s social studies teacher, and he is a pleasure to teach. His work in my class is almost always done well. When we participated in the model United Nations Project, he was at his best. I agree that his handwriting is sometimes difficult to read, but he’s not the only sixth-grader with nearly illegible handwriting, especially among the boys. My class includes above-average and gifted students, and Damon fits in well.”

Mrs. Wallace let out a sigh. “Well, I guess I’m next. Damon is struggling in my math class, which you can see by his grade. He seems to have a rather weak background in basic number facts and has trouble with computation. He can’t do long division on his own.”

“Well, it’s ironic that you end with me,” laughed Mrs. Lilly, “I am his science teacher, and I find Damon’s work to be somewhere in the middle. You see, when we are reading to prepare for science labs, Damon does very adequate work. But when we conduct labs, recording and analyzing even simple data challenge him. There’s no doubt that he understands rather complex concepts, it’s the physical application of science that seems to be a problem. He is certainly not the worst student in my class, but he’s somewhere around average.”

The group struggles to understand what twice exceptional means.

Damon’s mother was confused. It seemed that Damon’s performance in the honors classes was acceptable, and she knew that they were his favorite courses. But why wasn’t he doing well in his other classes?

Mrs. Coswell, the gifted education resource teacher, joined the meeting. After introducing herself and taking a seat, Mrs. King addressed her. “Mrs. Coswell, can you help me understand what gifted/LD means, and whether it explains why he does well in some classes and poorly in others?”

“Absolutely,” replied Mrs. Coswell. “Some gifted learners possess one or more exceptionalities in addition to their giftedness. In some instances, we find that the interactive effects of both exceptionalities make each area more intense. This means that the greater the difference in the dual roles, the greater the effects are on the individual. So, what Damon is going through is normal for a child with dual exceptionalities. This is most likely causing his frustration with his schoolwork and perhaps even with himself.”

See Definitions related to dual exceptionalities below:

“Why doesn’t Damon receive both gifted services and learning disabled services?” Mrs. King asked, still confused.

Mrs. Coswell thought a moment. “Because twice-exceptional gifted learners differ so greatly from the traditional conceptions of exceptionality, in most instances students do not receive any services at all. Damon’s overall intellectual functioning is an average of his two scores – verbal and non-verbal. Only the full-scale score is usually accepted in identifying giftedness. Given the huge discrepancy between his verbal and non-verbal abilities, his profile fits the twice exceptional gifted/LD learner. So he is placed in the gifted program. Although there are no specific services that target his LD profile, we don’t want to deny him access to the gifted program.”

Mrs. Coswell could see that Mrs. King was still confused. She left to find the school psychologist and the special education resource teacher. She hoped that these two would be better able to help the group understand Damon’s unique situation.

The middle school special education resource teacher and a school psychologist are brought in to meet with Damon’s mother.

After briefly summarizing the earlier part of the meeting, Mrs. Coswell introduced the special education resource teacher, Jerome Baker, and Bonnie White, the school psychologist.

Apologizing for having only a few minutes, Mrs. White reviewed Damon’s most recent intelligence scores before beginning, “Damon’s verbal ability is as good or better than 97% of students his age, while his non-verbal or performance ability is only as good as or better than 37% of the students his age. This is quite a discrepancy in his overall intellectual abilities.” Looking at Mrs. King, she continued, “Because of this, Damon’s overall intellectual aptitude is consistent with very average ability.”

Handing her card to Mrs. King with an offer to discuss the situation more when she had some time, Mrs. White excused herself from the meeting.

Turning to Mr. Baker, Mrs. King asked, “But why isn’t Damon getting help to develop his poor non-verbal ability?”

“Often one exceptionality masks the other,” he explained. “For example, a gifted LD student may appear to have average achievement, but in reality may have very advanced potential and a severe disability. The severity of the two exceptionalities is a wash out on standardized tests, but that’s what dictates allocation of Special Ed services. Federal and state law don’t leave much wiggle room to provide services without appropriate documentation.”

Somewhat confused, but still hopeful, Mrs. King wondered what documentation would be needed to procure special education services for Damon. She thanked Mrs. Coswell and Mr. Baker for their time and left.

Damon’s parents wonder why no option exists for a child with two exceptionalities.

Back at home, after dinner and while Damon studies in his room, Mr. and Mrs. King discuss the events of the day. Neither parent is sure what more to do about their son’s predicament.

One thing is obvious, Damon’s situation is complex. There seems to be no single educator who can ensure that all of Damon’s needs are met. Is it up to the school to figure it out? Or is the burden on the Kings? What can or should they demand for their child? The issue of documentation lingers in their minds as they wonder who, how, when, and what to document.

Damon’s parents are determined to press forward in a partnership with the school in order to develop an appropriate educational plan. The question is: What is the most appropriate plan for a gifted/LD child?