Category Archives: Twice-exceptionality

Message from the Director: At the Edge of Knowledge, What do Students Need?

The needs of gifted students come from their strengths, not their deficits. 

I’m paraphrasing, slightly, what Executive Director of Western Kentucky’s Center for Gifted Studies, Professor Julia Link Roberts, expressed last month during Denver University’s annual Gifted Education Conference.  This simple yet elegant statement captures the essence of the Belin-Blank Center’s model for serving gifted and talented students from grade 2 through college.  Our strength-based model features various systems for discovering domain-specific talent and then developing that talent.  A strength-based model is synonymous with talent development.

Although highly effective, there is one critical group of educators who neither implement nor advocate for a strength-based model in which talents are developed.  The group is comprised of the vast majority of faculty in colleges of education across the country; the same individuals who prepare future teachers and counselors.  

This was the situation decades ago when I was preparing to be a science teacher, and it remains true today.  For example, students with strengths in science reasoning need to be able to do what scientists do – create hypotheses, conduct research, experience success…and fail, and start all over again. It’s the rare science classroom where students with strengths in scientific reasoning have regular opportunities to experience “science” during the school day.  The same is true for individuals with talent in mathematics. 

To some extent, the lack of emphasis on talent development in schools explains the popularity of university-based summer programs among parents and students.  Every summer, tens of thousands of elementary, middle, and high school students across the country take advantage of myriad programs and courses that build on their strengths and nurture the development of their talent.  The Belin-Blank Center’s programs are among these. Our students explore their interests and stretch their intellectual muscles in the Blank Summer Institute, the Perry Research Scholars Institute, the Secondary Student Training Program, Summer Art  Residency,  and Summer Writing Residency and find respite from the lack of challenge during the school year.

Educators who participate in the Belin-Blank Center’s summer professional development can observe talented pre-college students in programming that is uniquely strength-based and talent-development focused.  Our hope is that by observing a strength-based classroom, educators will see the importance of taking this model into their own classrooms during the academic year.  This is one of the most critical lessons from their professional development experience because for every student who attends a summer program in a university setting, there are several others who are equally talented but don’t have this opportunity.

Education doesn’t have to be strengths vs. deficit.  In fact, every program we offer, including outreach programming such as the STEM Excellence program, now in its sixth year of implementation in nine rural schools across Iowa, is an excellent example of a thriving strength-based program that aims to develop the math and science talents of middle-school students.

Our work in twice-exceptionality offers additional evidence that understanding a student’s strengths is as important as understanding their challenges.  Individuals with a diagnosed disability or disorder face challenges (deficits) that can – and must – be addressed. However, this should be done in alignment with developing their strengths.

The strength-based approach is the essence of our collaborative twice-exceptional research agenda with our Iowa Neuroscience Institute partners. This work uses an unprecedented amount of data from our Assessment and Counseling Clinic to better understand the relationship between high ability and challenges in learning, social-emotional development, or behavior. Indeed, understanding the role of cognitive strengths within the context of learning and social-emotional difficulties is a critical aspect of the research we are conducting.  It is only with a sample of twice-exceptional individuals, who have both intellectual strengths and cognitive challenges, that each of these can be controlled for, allowing researchers to examine their effects both independently and combined.

We are looking forward to bringing together researchers, clinicians, educators, and parents to learn about the research on twice-exceptionality at the Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality this July. We invite you to join us in discussing new, unprecedented studies of twice-exceptionality, the future of research in this field, and the possibilities available for collaboration among institutions, gifted education organizations, and talent development centers in order to advance our understanding of this unique population and their strengths and challenges.

The needs of gifted students – and the professionals who are involved in their education – come from strengths not deficits.  Yet, for the foreseeable future, deficit models in education will likely dominate our thinking – and funding.  I recommend that we “lean into” the current deficit model and use it as a platform to reveal the many advantages to including a strength-based approach in gifted education and talent development.  We will continue to share our perspective and research findings, and we hope to see you at one of our events or programs soon.

Summer Enrichment for Middle School Students

The Belin-Blank Center specializes in academically talented kids. If you have 6th-8th grade students who show a deep curiosity when a topic sparks their interest, a love of learning, or a particular talent in an area, they will feel right at home in our Junior Scholars Institute (JSI)! JSI is a summer program designed specifically for bright students who want to take a deep dive into a topic – all while having fun with other middle school kids who share their level of interest and ability. 

Students get to choose one class to focus on all day, for a full week – and these aren’t regular classes! With options like Archaeology, Women in Engineering,  Mixed Media Art, Leadership for Students Who Want to Make a Difference, Robot Theater (and more!), there’s sure to be something for your inquisitive kids. Class sizes are small, and they take place on the University of Iowa campus, giving students access to valuable university-level resources and experts.

JSI students also get to experience a taste of college life by staying overnight in the dorm with their peers for the week! Plus, they get to hang out with their new friends and attend plenty of fun cultural and recreational activities in the evenings.

We understand that many bright students may also have a disability or impairment that can present behavioral, emotional, social, or learning challenges. Our experts in twice-exceptionality offer specialized social and academic support for these students.

Payment plans and financial aid are available. Participation in your school’s talented and gifted program is not required. If you think JSI sounds like a good fit for any of your students, be sure to recommend that they check it out at www.belinblank.org/summer or contact Ashlee Van Fleet at summer@belinblank.org!

The Scoop on Summer Programs at the Belin-Blank Center

If all the recent school closure days have you thinking ahead to how you’re going to keep your children occupied over summer vacation, now is a great time to start planning! At the Belin-Blank Center, we specialize in bright kids. Whether or not they participate in their school’s gifted and talented program, if your child shows a deep curiosity when a topic sparks their interest, a love of learning, or a particular talent in an area, they will feel right at home here!

Our summer programs are designed specifically for students in grades 2-11 who want to take a deep dive into a topic while having fun with other kids who share their level of interest and ability. Students get to choose one class to focus on all day, for a full week – and these aren’t just any regular classes!

For example, grade school students can choose from classes such as Harry Potter, STEAM, Mixed Media Art, Virtual Reality, and Programming in our Blast program. Middle school schools students can apply for our Junior Scholars Institute (JSI) to explore Leadership, Women in Engineering, Archaeology, 3D Printing, or a Mixed Media art workshop, among many other options. High school students can learn about the research process and just what is involved in creating new knowledge in our Perry Research Scholars Institute (PRSI). Class sizes are kept small (a maximum of 16-20, depending on age group), to ensure that each student has a positive experience learning something they enjoy.

The programs take place on the University of Iowa campus, giving students access to valuable university-level experts and resources. Our instructors are vetted professionals, including classroom teachers, local artists, and professors who have the expertise to delve into a subject at an advanced level, while keeping it accessible for the age group. Classes utilize specialized spaces and equipment, such as research laboratories, the Van Allen Observatory, 3D printing facilities, the National Advanced Driving Simulator, art studios, maker spaces and the university library.

We understand that many bright students may also have a disability or impairment that can present behavioral, emotional, social, or learning challenges. Our staff are experts in gifted education and talent development, and we offer specialized social and academic support for these twice-exceptional students.

If you think our programs sound like a good fit for your child, be sure to check them out at www.belinblank.org/summer. Payment plans and financial aid are available. With options for students from elementary to high school, covering a wide range of topics, we’re sure to have something for you and your family. We can’t wait for you to join us this summer!

Gifted Education Awareness Month: Services at the ACC – Educational Assessment

In Iowa, October has been declared Gifted Education Awareness Month! To celebrate, we’ll be revisiting some of your favorite posts from the blog all month long. We get a variety of questions about what our Assessment and Counseling Clinic does and how to know if a particular service is right for a given child. Today, we’re focusing on educational assessments.


Services at the ACC: Educational Assessment

Dr. Alissa Doobay, Licensed Psychologist, Supervisor of Psychological Services
Dr. Alissa Doobay, Licensed Psychologist, Supervisor of Psychological Services

Individualized educational assessments are conducted to assist with academic planning.  They involve individual assessment of intellectual and academic skills, including above-level skills, as well as a screening of psychosocial factors that may be relevant in academic planning decisions.  These assessments are not diagnostic in nature; therefore, they cannot be submitted to insurance for reimbursement.

Following the assessment, parents are provided with a comprehensive report detailing the test results and our recommendations. The cost depends on the number of hours spent, but a typical educational assessment includes approximately 6 hours of testing and costs $730.

Some initial reasons to consider an individualized educational assessment include:

  • You’re considering whole grade acceleration and would like to get the bulk of the information needed all at once.
  • The student is in 3rd grade or younger, and therefore too young for most other assessments.
  • The student has behavioral/cognitive factors that result in individualized assessment being more accurate than group-administered (e.g., 2e students who don’t “test” as well as expected based on knowledge).

We also offer twice-exceptional assessments, which include intellectual and academic testing in addition to a diagnostic assessment to determine whether the child meets criteria for a particular psychological diagnosis (e.g., Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Specific Learning Disorder, anxiety or depression, etc.). These evaluations are conducted by a licensed psychologist and may be submitted to insurance depending on your insurance provider. There is a currently a waitlist for twice-exceptional assessments.

Could an educational assessment help your child?  You can request an appointment through our online intake form.

Originally posted on January 12, 2017

Summer Social Skills Group for High School Students

The Belin-Blank Center Assessment and Counseling Clinic is offering a social skills group for high ability students who are entering 9th – 12th grade who demonstrate strong intellectual or academic abilities and social skills challenges (possibly due to ASD, anxiety, ADHD, etc.). The goal of the group is to facilitate development of improved social skills and peer relationships through natural social interaction and video modeling techniques.

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There will be 6 group sessions, each 50 minutes in length, conducted on the 5th floor of Blank Honors Center. The group will meet weekly on Tuesdays at 3:30 p.m. beginning on Tuesday, July 10, and running through Tuesday, August 14.  The fee is $45 per session, and we do accept BC/BS insurance. We will accept up to 6 students for our summer session.

If you have any questions or would like for your child to participate in this group, please contact alissa-doobay@uiowa.edu.

New Network for Parents of Twice-Exceptional Students

A new group has been organized in the I-380 corridor to provide an informational support network to parents and educators of twice-exceptional (2e) learners.

Understood.org has partnered with Amanda Freese to offer monthly meetings that provide information about strength-based advocacy for 2e individuals as well as resources and services related to enrichment academic opportunities and learning and attention challenges.

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The group meets on the third Tuesday of each month from 6:30-8:00 p.m. Odd monthly meetings are held in North Liberty and even monthly meetings are held in Cedar Rapids. The April meeting, “Building a 504/IEP Success Binder Workshop,” is scheduled for Tuesday, April 17 at Grant Wood AEA.

In addition to the monthly meetings, a Facebook group has been established to help parents and educators connect and collaborate. To join the Facebook group, please visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/487101151673454/.

Further questions can be directed to Amanda Freese at Amanda_Freese@hotmail.com.

Kids with ADHD—We Would Like to Hear About You!

Are you a middle schooler (or parent of one) who has ADHD? We are interested in learning more about kids like you and their friendships, and you have the chance to earn an Amazon gift card. Keep reading to learn more!

Interested individuals are invited to participate in a research study investigating the perceptions of friendship quality amongst middle school students. Information you provide through your participation can help us gain insight that may one day help students like you. This information may help researchers better understand how students with ADHD view their friendships compared to their peers, which may later help clinicians develop and modify social skills interventions and other supports for students.

We are looking for students in Grades 6, 7, or 8 (or the equivalent) who have completed standardized assessments (e.g., Iowa Assessments, Wechsler Assessments, CogAT, etc.) and would be interested in participating in our study. You will also be asked to provide demographic information about your child along with documentation of their cognitive ability (such as Iowa Assessment scores from school) and ADHD diagnosis. To participate, students will complete an online survey. The survey should take no more than 10-15 minutes to complete.

Participants who complete the study will be entered in a drawing to win a $10 Amazon gift card.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact the Principal Investigator (Staci Fosenburg, staci-fosenburg@uiowa.edu) for more information about how to participate in this study. Thank you!