Students with disabilities are often underrepresented in gifted education programs. Being “twice-exceptional,” (the coexistence of disability and high ability) seems paradoxical to many, despite growing awareness of and research on twice-exceptionality. Here are a few tips for increasing twice-exceptional (2e) students’ access to gifted services.
Increase communication between gifted, general, and special education teams. Often, students who are identified for special education services first are eliminated from consideration for gifted programming (either intentionally or accidentally). Increasing opportunities for collaboration across classroom environments can promote the identification of talents among students with disabilities.
Use universal screenings in place of nomination or referral processes. As with other underrepresented groups, unconscious biases can prevent the referral of 2e students for further evaluation. Reliance on nomination or referral procedures as an entry point for further evaluation will likely exclude students who could otherwise benefit from participation. Benchmark assessments and other curriculum-based measures can be used as screening tools without requiring additional testing.
Use domain-specific rather than global talent identification processes. Reliance on one overall measure of talent will likely inaccurately exclude 2e students, whose cognitive and academic profiles are often more variable. Consideration of available programming can help determine the domains to assess, as identification processes should always be aligned with services.
Twice-exceptional (2e) students experience co-occurring high ability and disability that can make it difficult to access appropriate services for both their strengths and their challenges.The Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic is excited to introduce several new programming options for twice-exceptional students in 2022. This post is the first in a series detailing these opportunities. Be sure to check back soon for the next installment!
Many individuals who identify as autistic also have exceptional gifts and talents. When cultivated, these gifts and talents contribute to great advances across a variety of domains in society. However, many individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may also experience difficulty with a variety of skill areas, like executive functioning and adaptive skills that are necessary for flexibly navigating everyday life. While many individuals who identify as autistic may have been supported within their primary and secondary education, there has been a proverbial “cliff” described for the significantly fewer services and supports they receive after leaving high school. The Belin-Blank Center is bringing a new program to the University of Iowa to support college students who otherwise might have come upon such a cliff. This program is called the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality.
The Academy for Twice-Exceptionality is for University of Iowa college students who are on the autism spectrum or identify as autistic and have high cognitive ability and/or academic achievement. Such students are also known as “twice-exceptional” (2e), given their exceptionality in both their cognitive ability and/or academic achievement, as well as in their neurodevelopment that results in a disability. Participants in the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality will be supported through weekly meetings with a graduate assistant, organized social events, and a weekly seminar, where they can identify goals, as well as gain knowledge and skills to support their adjustment to campus life and the increased expectations for greater independence. Additionally, professional staff at the Belin-Blank Center will communicate and work closely with parents to support their student’s success.
The Academy for Twice-Exceptionality is currently in a pilot year, supporting 2e University of Iowa students who identify as autistic. Activities include individual goal setting, and assistance navigating and adjusting to campus life. Emily (Emmy) Kuhlmann, a graduate assistant for the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality, meets with students on a weekly basis, to encourage their overall well-being and offer information regarding ways to seek appropriate supports if needed, either on- or off-campus. She described her work with the students: “I have been working with students on individual goals to ease their transition into college student life. Some students wish to discuss organization and time management, others want to discuss stress and imposter syndrome. All are hoping to work on their goals to be successful college students – beyond the classroom.” Additionally, she added, “Goal setting and adjusting are a big part of my work. I want students to feel they can set big goals. I also encourage them to take smaller steps to reach their goals or adjust their timeline or approach if it’s not going well.”
One current participant in the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality shared how they have found meeting with the graduate assistant to be helpful. They shared, “Emmy helped me get through college with ideas and suggestions for what I can do better or improve on for exams, projects, and life in college, overall.” This U of I student identified organized social events as helpful in introducing them to new people on campus, as well.
Emmy also described the importance of a strong working relationship with students. She stated, “with my background in counseling, I have learned that the most successful growth and change comes through the support of a strong working relationship. With each student I am working with, I try to build relationships to really get to know the students – their interests, their strengths, and their needs. It is only by understanding more of who they are that I am able to assist with individualized support to work towards their goals. This has also been the most enjoyable part of my job, as I now know many wonderful students!”
In addition to these invaluable relationships and weekly meetings, which are supervised by a licensed psychologist, weekly seminars are designed to support University of Iowa students who are in the Academy. More specifically, seminars were developed with input from University-wide stakeholders who share expert knowledge regarding the needs of college students who identify as autistic. Seminars were designed by Belin-Blank Center experts in education and clinical psychology to provide instruction aimed at building important knowledge and skills for independence, social-emotional maturity, effective communication, and career readiness, Belin-Blank Center professional staff and faculty also utilize instructional strategies and accommodations to help twice-exceptional students understand the importance of gaining and using new skills, such as instruction with visuals, support in perspective taking, and peer-mediated instruction. “It has been such an honor to be a part of developing this much-needed service,” shared Dr. Amanda Berns, a clinical psychologist at the Belin-Blank’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic, with expertise in supporting twice-exceptional individuals who identify as autistic. An integral team member in the development of the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality, Dr. Berns also indicates, “I am so excited to see the impact the Academy will have in so many young autistic people’s lives!”
The Academy for Twice-Exceptionality is currently accepting applicants for the 2022-2023 academic year. If you or someone you know is interested in attending the University of Iowa and participating in the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality, more information about the academy and the application can be found on the Belin-Blank Center’s website: belinblank.org/2eacademy. Questions can be sent through the website or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .