The following is an edited email that parents of a 2e kid sent to his classroom teacher (and gave me permission to post). The family has just moved after two difficult years in a school where Tony’s special needs were minimized. The student is a hard-working and clever guy, who wants to do everything that is asked of him. Unfortunately, the demands upon his inner resources are too great; his battery has not only been run down, it seems to have been removed!
Tony had a complete meltdown today after school and did not get any of his homework completed. Tomorrow he has tutoring and is usually very drained afterwards (tutoring generally last about 1.5 hours) but we can try and work on it over the weekend. Also, Tony wanted me to see if you might be able to talk to your assistant since she is the one who tends to check his homework in the morning, and he is worried (and possibly embarrassed) that she isn’t aware of his homework modifications.
I appreciate your question about whether Tony feels like school is a positive environment. My husband and I would like to pass along our perspective. Tony definitely enjoys learning and works hard at school. I think his battery starts out strong early in the day. However, it wears out faster than other kids because of all the increased effort that it takes him in comparison to other children without disabilities. These are the general ways that I understand that he expends extra effort:
(1) decoding, encoding, and figuring out how to put his ideas down on paper
Instead of the automaticity in reading and writing that other children experience, he’s got to actively be recalling and applying strategies that he has learned as he is doing each exercise, which might be twice the effort. It might appear that he doesn’t have much difficulty with decoding or encoding when he is tested on words or phrases in isolation, but when applying the strategies in “real life” situations in the classroom, it can fall apart for him. And his difficulty is even more pronounced in situations where he can’t use his strength in guessing like when he is reading the instructions for assignments, characters’ names, and passages that don’t have much context or in which he doesn’t have a lot of background knowledge. He also really struggles with categorizing and organizing his thoughts in writing.
(2) figuring out ways to get through the assignments in a way that he can work around his areas of difficulty
From what Tony tells us, it sounds like he expends considerable effort during the day strategizing about what he will do if he gets into a situation where he thinks he might not understand or where he might fail. He’s acutely aware of appearing stupid in front of other kids, and when he can’t keep up enough to meet expectations. He also spends time and energy when writing figuring out how he can say what he wants to say using only words that he can spell, trying to make his writing as concise as possible so he doesn’t wear himself out, remembering things like which way the “b” and “d” go, and struggling to recall all the encoding rules. All the while, he is trying not appear to his peers as “behind” as he feels that he is.
(3) working with processing speed and working memory that are clinically disparate with his intellectual ability
Routines/exercises that other kids probably feel are easy, like copying down the assignment from the board, or copying math problems from the book, are extremely fatiguing for Tony. And he’s got to really work to keep up with the fast pace of the classroom and the exciting ideas he is having, because his intellect is so much greater than his processing ability. I have read that this is a very frustrating thing for kids to deal with, and ultimately one more factor in the fatigue.
As a result of having all of these difficulties exacerbated by his last two years without the benefit of understanding or validation, he has become very anxious about school work and homework. And I think we can all attest to how draining it is when we are anxious about something!
In any case, Tony usually can hold it all together for the 7-8 hours that he is at school, we have been told. But at the end of the day at home, he can fall apart. This is also something that we have read many places and been advised about as something that is common. Fortunately, because Tony fundamentally loves to learn and enjoys his peers and pleasing his teachers and school activities like PE etc., he does enjoy school a lot in many ways. It’s just the cumulative effect of everything above that can become too much.
I hope this is helpful! We can discuss it further when we meet if you would like, and I would be happy to share anything else regarding Tony that might be helpful. Thanks again for your interest and understanding!
Now imagine if you are a single parent, or not much aware of the impact of being twice exceptional, or did not have the resources and education of this family. Or what if this child were not so easy-going and compliant? 2e kids are the not only ones whose batteries are significantly depleted throughout the school day. Kids with autism, behavior disorders, and learning disabilities all expend far more than typical effort in school.
The take-away lesson for teachers is that we need to educate ourselves on the “hidden” impact of disabilities.