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2e at the B-BC: New Academy for Twice-Exceptionality

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 2eacademy@belinblank.org . 

Introducing the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality

The college experience is an excellent opportunity for academic and personal growth. It is also a time that comes with unique challenges for first-year students. Academic expectations, time management, prioritization, staying healthy, and feeling disconnected are just some of the potential struggles. These areas can be more amplified and burdensome for twice-exceptional students. Twice-exceptional students have the potential for high achievement and also have one or more learning disabilities.

Twice-exceptional students are arguably an underrepresented population in gifted and talented education. Too often, this unique population is missed or denied access to programs and services for advanced learners. Experts at the Belin-Blank Center found that more than 50% of the twice-exceptional students in one study would have benefited from acceleration in school. As the number of students with learning disabilities attending the University of Iowa increases, resources and services to assist and support this population become very important.

Using its expertise in twice-exceptionality, the Belin-Blank Center is collaborating with other UI offices, including Student Disability Services, to establish the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality for individuals with high ability and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or who identify as Autistic. Too often, the school experience for twice-exceptional students is laden with walls and barriers.

The recent emphasis on inequity and injustice in schools has resulted in courageous conversations about the underrepresentation of specific populations in programs and services for advanced learners. Many times, individuals addressing the need for positive change in schools use a metaphor of mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Two goals of the Belin-Blank Center’s Academy for Twice-Exceptionality are to support twice-exceptional students (an underrepresented population) and to tear down the walls and barriers facing these students, replacing them with mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors.

Mirrors (Finding Community)
The Academy for Twice-Exceptionality aims to dispel any sense of not belonging. A group living situation in one of the campus residence halls is crucial to fostering relationships with others like themselves. Through a weekly meeting with other Academy students, individuals have a place to “see” others who are like them and are reaching for the same goal – success in college. The feelings and perceptions regarding the collegiate experience will undoubtedly be different for twice-exceptional students. Through discussions facilitated by the Belin-Blank Center staff, students will learn with and from one another about ways to address issues that arise.

Windows (Learning Opportunities)
As a world-class institution, the University of Iowa seems to have limitless possibilities for its students. The numerous options include programs and degrees, extracurriculars, campus services, fitness and wellness, and student research. With this incredible breadth of opportunities, students can become overwhelmed, especially twice-exceptional students. The Academy for Twice-Exceptionality includes individual sessions with a staff member to assist students in better navigating a large university by pointing them in the right direction.

Sliding Glass Doors (Support for Reaching Goals)
The Belin-Blank Center established the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality with one fundamental purpose. We aim to provide better access for success at the University of Iowa for students with high ability and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or who identify as Autistic. Twice-exceptional students can do great things, especially with support. The support features that are unique to this Academy help to “slide” open the door of access to all that the University of Iowa offers. Specific areas targeted include adjustment to campus life, communication, creating a sense of community, living independently, organization, self-advocacy, and setting goals. Through this Academy, we are committed to opening the University of Iowa’s “door to possibilities” and walking alongside students through it.

We are confident that the Academy’s combination of well-planned support structures and regular communication with families converts the goal of success in college to reality for twice-exceptional students. Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors are commonly found in a home. This Belin-Blank Center Academy strives to create a “sense of home” for twice-exceptional students at the University of Iowa.

Are you interested in finding out if the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality is the right match for you? The Belin-Blank Center would love to share more with you. Contact us today to connect and start the conversation.

SSTP 2018 is in the Books!

Thursday, July 26th saw the close of the 2018 Secondary Student Training Program at the University of Iowa.

To celebrate a summer of exceptional research, participating students concluded their work by presenting their research in a final poster competition. Represented among the presentations was research from the College of Engineering, the Carver College of Medicine, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, to name just a few. Congratulations to all students who presented!

A special congratulations goes out to this year’s valedictory class speaker, Iowa’s own Riley Dejohn, who spent his summer researching physical chemistry in Dr. Alexei Tivanski’s group at the University. Also featured was special guest speaker Dr. Hanna Stevens, professor of psychology and veteran SSTP mentor, who shared her insights gleaned over years of pedagogy during the final banquet dinner.

Thank you to our guest judges from Integrated DNA Technologies, without whom the final poster competition would not have been possible, and to the 2018 SSTP mentors at the University, for all of the guidance and leadership they gave to each student. We know that you have made a huge difference in the lives and careers of these future researchers!

SSTP Group 2018-5