Guest contributor Deanne Repich is Co-Founder and Head of School at Great Minds Learning Community, a three-day micro-school tailored to the unique needs of gifted and twice-exceptional kids, featuring personalized, differentiated learning; a sensory-friendly environment; key supports for your gifted or 2e child’s unique gifts and challenges; and student-driven, project-based learning in an environment that nurtures the whole child intellectually, emotionally, and socially. An educator for almost two decades with experience in gifted and 2e kids, she is a Positive Discipline in the Classroom certified educator, a member of SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted), and a mom to two twice-exceptional children. You can learn more at greatmindslc.com or contact Deanne directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Does the following scenario sound familiar to you? Your bright and quirky twice-exceptional child, your amazing child who is destined to change the world with his ravenous curiosity, out-of-the-box thinking, and deep dives into subjects passionate to him, is surviving, not thriving, in his current school.
Take a deep breath. It’s okay. The signals are clear. It’s time to consider a new learning environment for your child, one that is a better fit.
Before we move forward, what do I mean by twice-exceptionality? Twice-exceptional kids (also known as 2e) are kids who are intellectually gifted and have a learning difference (differently wired), challenge, or disability. Some common twice-exceptionalities/challenges/learning differences are dyslexia, ADHD/hypermobile, sensory processing challenges, vision challenges, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, chemical sensitivity and allergies, autism, Asperger’s/high-functioning autism, anxiety, and social difficulties.
When considering a new school for your 2e child, here are some helpful questions to consider:
Does my child learn best in small or large class sizes? Many 2e children do better with small class sizes. Small classes provide the individualized attention necessary to promote differentiated learning, get support for lagging skills, and fuel their immense intellectual curiosity while minimizing sensory overload.
In what type of sensory environment does my child learn best? Does your child like music playing on headsets while learning? Playing with fidgets? Frequent breaks to be active? Make sure the school culture has a built-in daily sensory “diet” individualized for students with specific tools for sensory challenges as part of its core school culture.
What is my child’s preferred mode of displaying mastery? Choose a school culture that truly celebrates your 2e child’s differently wired brain—not just in words but in its actions—by allowing her to display mastery in a way that meshes with her learning style a majority of the time.
Think touch-screen laptops and typing for those who struggle with handwriting; think video portfolios or hands-on visual models for visual thinkers; think oral reports and songs for auditory learners; think movement-oriented projects for ADHD learners, to name just a few options. Lagging skills need to be practiced separately and to gradually be integrated into displaying mastery in “just-right” bite-sized chunks.
In what ways does my child like to be challenged intellectually? Seek a school that provides student choice and has a core value of deep dives into student passions. Think student-driven playlists, project-based learning, and differentiated learning so your child can move at his own pace. It’s also important for your child to be with true intellectual peers, not just age mates, to provide intellectual stimulation and a sense of community with like-minded kids.
Does the school nurture the whole person? Does the school incorporate social-emotional learning into its daily structure and interactions, every day, not just as a one-hour weekly add-on? It’s a matter of “walking the walk” and not just “talking the talk.”
Does the school specialize in intellectual, emotional, and social support for 2e kids’ unique needs? Make sure that the school has experience in supporting the unique intellectual, social, and emotional needs of gifted and twice-exceptional children, as they have very different needs in many respects from other kids.
Many non-traditional schools (and some traditional ones) provide student choice and small class sizes. However, you need much more than that for a 2e child. For 2e kids, a completely self-directed learning experience without specific support structures for their unique 2e needs can be a poor fit.
It is a school’s job to both nurture the intellectual thirst and address challenges that come with a 2e child’s immense intellectual capacity and uneven development, to work as a co-collaborator with your 2e child. Ensure that the school offers key supports for a 2e child’s academic, emotional, and behavioral challenges due to “lagging skills and unresolved problems,” as Dr. Ross Greene, author of Raising Human Beings and The Explosive Child, describes.
Think specific supports for phonetics, fluency, and comprehension for a dyslexic child, for example. Think specific processes to uncover lagging skills and unresolved problems in social communication, self-awareness, and executive functioning skills for behavioral problems. Think vagal tone exercises for 2e kids who are anxious, have sensory overstimulation or social difficulties, and are stuck in fight/flight/freeze mode, to name just a few examples.
Is the school just “accommodating” or actively celebrating my child’s way of thinking and being? It’s key for the school to have a built-in culture of celebrating differently wired bright and quirky kids, not only “accommodating” them and trying to make them be like other kids. You want your 2e child to be accepted and nurtured, not just tolerated. Celebrate the differences!
By finding a school that is in step with your 2e child and her unique gifts and make-up, together you, your child, and the new school can help her truly thrive!