By definition, a twice-exceptional (2e) student is one with two exceptionalities—giftedness along with a disability. Familiarizing yourself with the world of gifted education is a difficult task in itself, but when coupled with trying to understand special education options, it can be overwhelming. Unlike gifted education, in the world of special education, there are federal mandates governing the way in which students qualify for services and the ways in which school professionals deliver those services based on students’ individual educational needs. The purpose of this post is to introduce some of the legal and educational jargon associated with 2e.
There are two different avenues in public schools that can be taken to offer a twice-exceptional student accommodations and/or modifications in the classroom. The first avenue is through special education services and the creation of an individualized education program (IEP), and the second is through a Section 504 plan. Public schools operate under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, which stipulates 14 disability categories under which students can receive special education services and an IEP. Your 2e child may qualify for services under a number of disability categories, however, autism (AU ), Other Health Impaired (OHI ), and specific learning disability (SLD) are the three most common categories used with gifted students. Some of the disability categories overlap with medical diagnoses and some do not.
Educational labels (like giftedness or AU) are given by schools. If you have ever swapped stories with other parents about their experience with special education, you probably realize that there can be confusing overlap between the educational disability categories/labels and some (often related) medical conditions. Two examples of such overlap are autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some medical conditions, like Autism, have their own educational label (i.e., AU). Other medical conditions, such as ADHD, fall under a broader educational label (i.e., OHI). Only medical personnel should diagnose ADHD. However, it is important to remember that a child may have a medical diagnosis of ADHD but not qualify for special education services because the student is performing on grade level and functioning appropriately in the classroom. A child only qualifies for special education services if a medical condition is impeding learning and necessitates differentiated instruction.
Medical Diagnosis vs. Educational Labeling
Medical conditions such as autism and ADHD are diagnosed by medical professionals and licensed psychologists. To do so, they will consult the criteria set forth by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a manual defining psychological disorders through a standardized checklist system. On the other hand, school psychologists must use the criteria stipulated by the 14 IDEA disability categories to assign an educational label. Thus, students will often have both a medical diagnosis and an educational label.
Medical Diagnosis without Educational Labeling
It is possible that a student could have a medical diagnosis but no educational label. As mentioned above, students only receive an educational label if his or her medical condition requires special education according to IDEA. If your gifted child has a medical condition but only needs simple accommodations—like extended time on standardized tests but not intensive special education services (i.e. modified instruction)—then the second avenue to accommodations can be considered, a Section 504 plan. Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, students with disabilities are entitled to accommodations that help them access a Free and Appropriate Education. With a 504 plan, students can receive testing accommodations even without an educational label, as long as their diagnosed medical condition necessitates them.
If you suspect your child might be 2e, a good first step is to set up a meeting with your child’s classroom teacher as well as the school psychologist or student support team to discuss the process for conducting a psychoeducational evaluation. Depending on your specific concerns, particularly if your concerns regard a potential ADHD diagnosis, the school might recommend you also make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician. The process for determining the appropriate educational label for special education services can be frustrating for parents, as it often feels like an obstacle course of paperwork. However, there are many resources that provide information on how best to navigate this process. Additionally, many states have a handbook of parent rights that the schools are required to provide prior to initiating the special education eligibility process. With a better understanding of the educational jargon and legal regulations mandating special education, you will be better equipped to make an informed decision for your 2e child’s educational programing.