A unique IEP solution for our twice-exceptional son

Because of our older son’s high test scores and big vocabulary, his teachers have often suggested that he be placed in gifted and talented (GT) classes. But since he also has issues with executive functioning, social skills, and learning, it’s not that simple.

Back when he was 8, my son got his first IEP. The school recommended that he be placed in a self-contained class to help with his meltdowns and difficult behavior. Although my wife and I initially resisted, the class turned out to be just what he needed. He was able to learn in a safe space and soon got better at managing his emotions and coping with stress.

As he got older and developed more social skills, he gradually moved out of the self-contained class and into a mainstream grade school classroom. But then a new problem surfaced.

Our son is a very intelligent and logical thinker. By fifth grade, he was trying to connect what he was reading in class to larger social issues, like criminal justice. But his teacher and peers just weren’t ready for that.

While our son is smart, he also tends to see things in black and white. He can get frustrated with other kids for not “getting things” as quickly as he does. Combined with his trouble with social skills, this led to a lot of friction.

We started talking to him about the possibility of taking GT classes. We told him GT would let him work with peers closer to his academic level.

Our son, however, felt anxious about trying GT. His biggest concern was the increased workload of being in an accelerated class. Rightly or wrongly, he felt like a lot of school was just busy work, and that he’d rather stay in a regular classroom and not deal with the pressure.

My wife and I would always rather our son be happy and OK than accelerated. So we accepted his decision. Our son continued to get the supports and services in his IEP and did well in middle school. But the issue didn’t go away.

In his ninth-grade English class, he was again feeling a lack of challenge. The material in the class had a lot of gray area, which doesn’t match our son’s strengths. And what was taught often felt too basic for him. He was feeling frustrated and alone.

We called an IEP team meeting and asked for help. How could the school accommodate our son’s learning differences and out-of-the box thinking, while also making sure he was challenged academically? And could all of this be somehow worked into his IEP?

Most of our son’s IEP goals have been focused on behavior and his need for concrete instruction. To include a program for his giftedness in his IEP, there had to be an academic impact on him. In other words, we had to show that his high intellect was preventing him from learning in the regular education classroom!

Thankfully, his high school was on board. Together, the IEP team created a hybrid program for English that combined classroom time and independent study to meet our son’s needs. This was something the school had never tried before.

Here’s how it works. With the help of the GT teacher, his English teacher provides him with more challenging assignments than he would normally get. For instance, rather than short worksheets and quizzes on Romeo and Juliet, he’s writing a longer essay to explore the play in depth. The due dates are spread out to give him time to focus on bigger projects like this.

On most days, he works independently in the library or study hall. But once a week or so, he joins the English class to participate in class discussions and to practice the skills he’s working on. He still attends regular classes for all other subjects. Thankfully, he doesn’t feel any stigma about the program, and it’s working out well so far.

As we’ve managed to work out a solution for our older son, we also have one eye on our younger son who is in grade school. He has , and is also intellectually gifted like his brother.

Our younger son does just fine in the regular education classroom with supports. Right now, we don’t have goals around our younger son’s giftedness written into his IEP. His teacher simply does her best to challenge him a little more in the classroom.

I’m hoping, however, that we find a solution that’s unique for him, just like we did for his older brother. For twice-exceptional (or 2e) people, sometimes giftedness can be just as tricky to work with as their other issues.

Read myths about 2e kids. Learn more about gifted children’s challenges with learning and thinking differences. And fine out how a documentary about 2e kids made one mom a more hopeful parent.


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