* 2e: Count the cost

If you’ve been following the struggles of Tony, a twice exceptional student, you know that he is gifted and dyslexic.  He makes twice the effort at school, and unfortunately, his parents also make twice the effort to help his teachers understand their child’s struggles.  If Tony were less compliant and eager to please, he would already have the full attention of all involved.  If he were not so adept at masking his disability, his teachers might also better understand the tremendous effort he makes each day. For example, as we completed his writing survey, Tony admitted that he expends considerable effort working around his spelling weaknesses.  He will try to think of easily-spelled synonyms for words he wants to use but can’t spell.  Given his strong vocabulary, this “work around” is within his reach, but that process takes a toll.  Not only does he exhaust mental energy and working memory in this process, but he must confront strong feelings of stupidity (“I can’t spell like other kids”) and panic (“I won’t finish on time”).  All the while, he is trying to appear on task, trying not to alert his teachers or peers to this laborious process.  Here’s a review of his perspective on writing (described in more detail in post on writing graphs).

Writing survey 3See all that red?  That spells d-i-s-t-r-e-s-s.

Tony’s parents are quite remarkable advocates for him, as you probably noted in their email to his teacher.   With their permission, I am copying an excellent document they created to help Tony’s teachers understand factors that mask his struggles.

Factors that mask issues for 2e kids

I look forward to the day when we have effectively conveyed these concerns to his classroom teachers, improving the quality of life for Tony and his family (hence my desire to improve my skills in Crucial Conversations).  I’ll keep you posted!

* Update on student learning adjectives

In a previous post, I elaborated on a strategy I was using to support a student with writing difficulties.  This student is Tony, my twice exceptional kiddo.  He continues to struggle with the writing process, specifically when trying to generate ideas.  After we discussed his writing graphs, in conjunction with my observation of his work and verbal interactions, I decided to address his weakness in generating adjectives.  He has a fantastic memory, so I want to avoid simple memorization tasks.  On the other hand, he needs a repertoire of adjectives which can be recalled fairly easily.  I know he will be asking his brain to retrieve this information when he is highly stressed, so Tony does need to overlearn some adjectives.  Currently, his preferred adjectives are ‘fun,’ ‘nice’ and ‘annoying.’  Interesting combo.

I am using three activities for practice: matching worksheets, timed verbal responses to a category (such as ‘buses’), and Quizlet, where he must match adjectives to nouns.  Here’s an example of his first effort with adjective matching (created on Super Teacher Worksheets):

adjective 1

We previewed all the words on the paper first; it took him 75 seconds to complete the page with multiple errors.  (Note the quality of his lines.  You can see the unsteadiness/weakness in his graphomotor skills.)  On a second sheet, Tony completed the paper in 60 seconds with fewer errors.

Tony’s verbal production of adjectives is consistent with his efforts on the matching worksheets.  Since he is a HUGE fan of timed activities, he is allowed three minutes to generate words that describe familiar nouns.  His scores range from 6 to 14.  I allow a maximum of three color words and his three favorites (above) are not allowed at all.  He thinks that’s a bit mean.

FInally, he is matching adjectives and nouns on Quizlet, which is a way for him to overlearn some paired associations.  With his spectacular memory and love of timed activities, Quizlet’s Scatter game is a perfect match for him.

Will these strategies help Tony when he writes descriptive paragraphs?  Will they reduce the mental effort and working memory he must now exert?  Will they improve his confidence in generating descriptive words?  I’ll keep you posted.

* Twice as nice!

batteryThis is a follow up to a previous post of the effort required by twice exceptional students at school.  The same parents who allowed me to use their email to the teacher have graciously permitted me to attach the following description of Tony’s strengths and weaknesses. His parents felt that they had emphasized the considerable challenges he faces, but had not provided sufficient descriptions of his strengths.  It’s a marvelous document and should help Tony’s teachers understand this complex student.  Tony as a twice exceptional learner

* Twice exceptional: twice the effort

batteryThe 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!

Hi Isabelle,
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.

(4) anxiety

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.  

* Using analogies with kids

I have found that using analogies is an effective strategy for helping kids improve self-awareness and self-control, providing emotional validation, and enhancing communication with adults and peers.  These strategies are effective for kids who are on the autism spectrum, twice exceptional, and learning disabled.  With every analogy, a visual component is one of the most important features.  No artistic skill is needed, just paper and marker.  The goal of these analogies is to provide a common vocabulary and benchmark for current and future discussions of difficult topics.  Five of my favorites are listed below.sharpie

1.  Climbing a mountain

This picture often describes the plight of learning disabled kids who see a mountain of work, skills to master, and effort ahead of them.  The mountain is also an apt analogy for kids with social issues; they may feel that everyone else has already reached the top while they are stuck at the bottom.  For each kid, I adjust the slope of the mountain to reflect both where they are with regard to specific skills and how that part of the mountain “feels.”  I always include an encouraging view of how far they have come and emphasize that they are closer to a resting place or the summit than they realize.

2. Snowball

This analogy is reserved for kids at the edge of a crisis or debriefing after a melt-down.  I communicate that their actions or feelings could or have had a snowballing effect (and even the unhappiest kid usually smiles when I draw them as a flattened stick figure under a giant ball).  I suggest to kids that they can stop the process of rolling downhill, especially if they stop sooner rather than later.  On the other hand, kids who are flattened at the bottom can see that this is not the end of the world.  Snowballs do not destroy that little stick figure, even if it looks pitiful at the bottom.  No, I never mention avalanches.

3. Ladder

I’ve referred to this analogy in a post on understanding reading difficulties.  The ladder picture can be used to compare two sets of skills, with one ladder depicting the rungs that have yet to be climbed while the other ladder indicates strengths in another skill.  For instance, in social skills, one ladder might depict a kid’s weakness in maintaining conversations while the other ladder indicates his strength in playing sports with other kids.  The ladder analogy is useful in helping kids see that learning is a series of steps, not pole vaulting.  This image can reduce anxiety while demonstrating that the process can feel fairly natural.  Most kids are pleased to see that they are high on a ladder of success; some will even ask how many steps it will take to get to the same height on the parallel ladder.

4. Volcano

This is a dramatic analogy that captures the intensity and struggle of managing strong angry feelings.  (I do not mix metaphors for these angry kids, so we are not going to see pictures of snowballs anywhere.)  First, I normalize the volcanic experience by referencing the real world.  There is a layer of magma everywhere under the earth’s crust, meaning that we all have the capacity to blow up if the pressure is too great.  The “volcanic” kid is responding to pressure, so questions include “How high is your magma (or scientifically incorrect, hot lava) right now?” and “What caused the volcano to erupt?”  Effective use of a volcano picture identifies triggers, self-awareness, and incorporates ways to cool down when the pressure is great.  Angry kids are often scared of their feelings and scared about the reaction of others.  I have seen kids erupt but recover when they realize that they are going to survive, that we can capture the distress on paper, and that all is not lost.

5. Battery

This is one of my favorite analogies because it is easily understood by kids and accurately depicts what happens to them when tasks at school leave them drained.  The battery can represent mental or social energy, emotional reserves, ability to focus, and other typically depleted internal resources.  While a battery can be drained, it can also be recharged.  As with the other analogies, there is a sense of empowerment when kids learn what drains them and how to re-energize.  As brain research tells us, the emotional levels of stress do not automatically disappear when a kid has left the stressful situation.  The battery analogy can help with this problem, too.  Kids may be confused by their inability to put school “behind them.”  They may be as shocked as their parents by acting out behavior or other responses to long-term stress.  The battery analogy can prompt conversations about the benefits of certain activities, such as sports, music, art, and games which serve to recharge a depleted kid.  Kids may become better at self-advocacy when they can identify battery “killers.”  This analogy can validate their sense of depletion.  The battery analogy is also normalizing; instead of regarding themselves as weak or incompetent, they can identify specific activities that are especially draining for them, just as other kids are drained by different tasks.

* Canary in a mine: anxiety in the classroom

canary-20522_640I am convinced that kids will let us know when stress at school is unmanageable.  Like a canary placed in a mine to warn of toxic atmosphere, children who develop uncharacteristic tantrums, outbursts, defiance, and sleep problems can alert us to school anxiety.  For students who are twice exceptional (gifted with a disability), high functioning autistic, and learning disabled, stress and anxiety at school are common emotional states.  Anxiety is not benign.  As Mariale Hardiman states in The Brain-Targeted Teaching Model for 21st-Century Schools, “although mild stress in specific contexts may enhance performance and recall, prolonged stress appears to reduce the ability to acquire, retain, and recall information.”  Further, brain research tells us that prolonged stress sets the brain’s “stress thermometer” at a higher level (Eric Jensen).  Students do not automatically return to a state of lowered anxiety when they get home.  In fact, home may be the one place where kids feel free to demonstrate the cost of going to school.

Note: Sexually abused kids may also exhibit unusual behavior described above, so be alert.

The following are some warning signs that a child’s “oxygen” at school may be running low.  

1.  The child becomes unwilling to go to school.  As anxiety increases over time, the child may become distraught and outright refuse to go to school, having tantrums or throwing up.  It is especially worthy of attention if these problems do not occur on weekends or school holidays.

2.  The child acts out after school.  I remember one mom telling me that her son started throwing furniture when he got home.  That was a clear signal to change some expectations in his school environment.  Parents of stressed kids may report that their child is exhausted and irritable, refuses to complete homework, and cries frequently.

3.  The child acts out in school.  I have found that this is often the last resort for kids, regardless of their disability.

What should a teacher do?

1.  Learn as much as you can about the impact of disabilities on life at school.  Don’t assume that these kids are OK because they work so hard.  Don’t assume that compliance is an automatic sign of well-being.  Many dyslexic and autistic adults have shared their struggles publicly in order to help these kids who are going through similar battles.

2.  Ask parents how their child is doing at home.  Most likely, parents will have already mentioned “difficulty” with homework or getting ready for school.  Avoid being judgmental.  I’ve found that many parents feel embarrassed and wrongly internalize their kids’ problems.

3.  Check the emotional climate of your classroom.  What does your room feel like to kids with disabilities?  Ask another teacher to observe.  Watch videotapes.  Use student community meetings to assess the climate.

To repeat what Mariale Hardiman has said: Setting the emotional climate for learning may be the most important task a teacher embarks on each day.

* VoiceThread

VoiceThread is a cool platform for encouraging student collaboration and reflection.  It may also serve as a digital student portfolio and authentic assessment by teachers.  The platform serves as a forum for sharing ideas, based on an uploaded image, video, or document.  Let’s assume a teacher wants her students to comment on the plot of a read- aloud book.  She may post a picture of the book, assign accounts to students, and moderate their comments.  There are five ways to respond on VoiceThread: audio recording, video recording (using webcam), text, uploaded audio file, and phone conversation (the latter method is probably not useful for elementary school!).  Students or teachers may “doodle” while recording comments, using an online pen (with a nice palette of colors) to emphasize or add to their thoughts.  I use a free account and keep my VoiceThreads private, with comments allowed only by invited participants.  Teachers may purchase a license for up to 50 student accounts for $79 a year, or a district may purchase accounts for thousands of kids (at greater cost, of course).

If you have never tried VoiceThread, check out this one (scroll to the bottom of the page for the actual thread):  Fifth grade student-led parent conferences.  The teacher has written a clear description of her goals for the project, along with a step-by-step process for creating this 15 page thread.  She includes tips and challenges (but notes that it was an easy project).

VoiceThread has much potential for special needs students.  It allows collaboration which requires no written responses, which can allow twice exceptional students to capture their advanced ideas without the laborious writing process.  It is useful for ASD students who may not participate easily in a group discussion that flows too quickly for them to “jump in.”  It can also be useful for improving social skills for high functioning autistic students; it allows feedback on videotaped role-plays, photos, and other prompts to which kids can respond.   VoiceThread also supports more reflective thinking, since collaboration does not occur in real time.   The platform is so engaging that it may be a useful reward for students on a behavior contract.

* Brain-based assessment: journal writing and 2e students

In her book, The Brain-Targeted Teaching Model for 21st-Century Schools, Mariale Hardiman draws upon research to emphasize the benefits of journal writing as both assessment and a means of improving student learning, especially in eliciting meta-cognition.  Through reflection-based journal writing, students are free to consider what they have learned and its applications and personal connections to their lives.  For typical learners, this is an exemplary means of encouraging students to deepen their awareness of the material while providing teachers insight into students’ understanding.  It can create an important dialog about past instruction and guide future lessons.brain-targeted teaching model

But what about the twice exceptional (2e) student with reading/writing difficulties?  The teacher may be shocked that this kid, who made remarkable applications of the material during group discussions, seems to have a weak grasp of both the journal assignment AND the underlying concepts.  The 2e student has written three brief statements that only summarize content.  There’s no written evidence that this kid has any higher understanding of the material.  It would be fairly easy for the teacher to “forget” the stimulating verbal discussions in the light of this skimpy journal response.  Or the teacher may conclude that the student is not applying himself, for some reason, and could spend time trying to motivate the student “to do your best.”  Over time, the student may even stop participating in those once-engaging discussions.

What is happening here?  The 2e student is being asked to share his complex ideas, the type of analytical thinking he most enjoys, in a form which creates frustration and reinforces feelings of stupidity. The reason for his growing disinterest in those stimulating discussions?  He is readying himself, with increasing levels of anxiety, for the time he must translate complex ideas and “long” words into written text.  Eventually, he may reason, it would be better not to share those ideas for which he is now accountable to produce in writing.  Even seasoned teachers can be perplexed at the disparity which characterizes twice exceptional kids, those gifted students who also have a learning disability.

The good news?  In this digital era, there are alternate ways of capturing a student’s voice and supporting meta-cognition without paper and pencil.  Using a webcam or an application that allows students to record their thoughts and add images (such as VoiceThread, see note below), the 2e student can successfully share his or her superior reasoning and creative thoughts.  Digital portfolios have been used for many years now, with the advantage of being easily stored, portable, and readily shared with families.  As with any form of communication, students need assistance in using digital recording effectively.  I have found that they are initially distracted by their onscreen image, but once allowed time to produce every silly expression and wacky voice imaginable, they will use digital recordings seriously and effectively.  Depending upon available computer resources, digital journals could be an option for all students in a class.

Note:  I will share my experiences with VoiceThread in a later post.

* Homework? Yea or Nay?

People (like me) have strong opinions on this topic while the research is inconclusive. In fact, more recent studies suggest that homework may be detrimental, not just ineffective.  After decades of debate, without any conclusive evidence that homework is beneficial, I think it’s past time to abandon this “strategy.”  If homework were truly valuable, that should be evident by now.  I do get passionate (and frustrated) about this topic because I’ve seen too many kids and their parents go through nightmarish struggles for no good reason.

1.  For special needs kids, but especially twice exceptional kids, the school day has been hard and long enough.  Sometimes attendees at a workshop on learning disabilities participate in activities that mimic the struggles of learning disabled kids.  Participants typically report that they had no idea school could be so difficult.  Here are some examples of worst case scenarios I’ve seen numerous times:

  • You have a reading disability. You spend the day surrounded by written directions and worksheets that cannot be deciphered.  You rely on other kids for a sense of what to do.  You don’t bother with the directions that you can’t read them, so you make many mistakes, even while copying others’ work.  Some kids get annoyed at you for copying them. You may be good at math, but you can’t read the word problems.  You struggle to copy words and sentences from the board.  Even working as hard as you can, you lag behind the other kids.  It’s impossible to keep up!  You spend your day stressed and trying not to appear as stupid as you feel.
  • You have a writing disability.  You discover that you must write all day long.  You write in reading, math, science, social studies, and then there’s writing itself.  Even though you are great at math, now you have to “explain your thinking” by writing a paragraph, so math is no fun any more.  You have no idea how to spell most words correctly, so you try to copy what other kids have written or hunt for words somewhere in the room.  You feel like an idiot when you’re told to use a dictionary, because you have no idea how to get beyond the first letter (or maybe two).  If you do finish your writing assignment, it doesn’t look anything like the other kids’ work.  You spend the day stressed and trying not to appear as stupid as you feel.
  • You are on the autism spectrum.  You are trying your best to understand the directions, but the teacher is talking too fast.  You have no idea what’s important and what’s not; it’s a jumble of words.  You try to copy a kid nearby, who gets upset.  Now you’re in trouble and feeling mad.  The teacher isn’t fair at all, you have no idea why she is upset with you, and you still haven’t finished that work.  None of it makes sense and the other kids are driving you crazy.  You feel like you are crawling out of your skin.  Will this day ever come to an end?  You spend the day stressed and trying not to appear as stupid as you feel.
  • You have an attention problem.  You thought it was going to be a good day because the class did this “brain jam” action thing first thing in the morning, but now, you have to sit for a LONG time and listen to the teacher talk.  You notice that another class is walking by the room and you wonder when it’s time for recess.  Your feet accidentally hit the chart stand and the teacher calls your name, telling you to sit at the front of the group.  You move up there but the other kids don’t give you enough space.  Then you notice a beetle crawling right along the edge of the wall.  Someone pokes you because the teacher is calling your name.  Now you have to sit in a chair next to the group.  Some kids make faces at you so you do the same back at them.  Then the teacher assistant calls you to her desk, asking why you can’t pay attention.  You spend the day stressed and trying not to appear as stupid as you feel.
  • You are twice exceptional.  You used to love school but now it’s one boring thing after another.  On top of that, you can’t read like other kids.  That doesn’t make sense, since you can understand more about the characters and plot than many other kids.  You are terrific at math, but can’t read the directions so you skip them.  It looks like really easy math, anyway, but after you finish, the teacher says you did it all wrong.  You try to pay attention but nothing is interesting.  You feel this knot in your stomach because reading group is coming up.  You imagine how you could get the teacher to cancel reading groups, coming up with a couple of good ideas.  But then reading begins, after all.  You spend the day stressed and trying not to appear as stupid as you feel.

My point is that school is stressful for kids with special needs, probably in far more ways than I have ever observed.  Then what happens?  They are assigned more work on what appears to be an endless school day.  After exhausting their mental effort and emotional resilience all day, they are required to find some fresh source of concentration and energy on tasks which only trigger memories of their failings during the day.

2.  For special needs kids, homework is usually ineffective practice.  There’s a reason that students are identified as having special needs.  Even with an inclusion or mainstreaming model, these kids often need work that is tailored to meet their unique learning challenges.  By definition, practice means that key skills are already in place.  Homework is not the time for students to learn new concepts.  Many parents fill in that knowledge gap by “helping” their kids through assignments which their kids find confusing, boring, repetitious, and unpleasant.  The learning disabled kid who did not have the requisite skills to complete a similar assignment in class, long before it was 6 or 7 PM, must now tackle the same type of work.  The ADHD kid may be completing unfinished classwork as homework, which is punishment for having a miserable day.  For the twice exceptional kid, it’s more drudgery after a grueling day of drudgery.  For the ASD kid, this may be the first time they actually attempted work of this sort, having missed the instructions and eventually tuning out the barrage of teacher-speak.

3.  For the parents of special needs kids, homework is often a source of confusion and misery as well.  Many parents find themselves in the unenviable role of homework coach or hapless cheerleader, trying to pull their child through the homework tangle.  Just when these kids need a chance to chill, they may spend more than twice as long as their peers on “practice,” accompanied by unintended conflicts with parents.  Some special needs kids are so rule-oriented that their parents can’t stop them from slaving away all night.  Other parents are fully convinced that the teacher must know best, so they badger and cajole their kids through inexplicable assignments.  Even if an IEP provides modifications for homework, such as transcribing or reduced time, many parents feel guilty about using these modifications, as though they have failed in some way (perhaps conditioned by their own homework experiences).

Special needs kids do often need additional practice on skills, but that should occur during the school day.  If that isn’t occurring, then something needs to be changed at school, not added to the child’s backpack.backpack

* 2e: gifted and dyslexic

What shared characteristics have I observed among 2e kids who are both gifted and dyslexic?

1.  These 2e students tend to become acutely aware of their disability at an early age.  I’ve known a few who recognized it before their teachers.  Even those with some degree of attention problems are astute at noticing patterns of learning and behavior in their classroom.  They see that most kids are reading and writing without too much difficulty.  They expect to do the same or even perform better than average (as they do in other subjects), but that doesn’t happen.  Which leads us to the next point.

2.  These kids usually suffer what I call “body blows” to their self-esteem.  They typically conclude that they must be stupid for not reading with ease.  After all, they are often curious and eager learners, perhaps excellent in math, and yet they are stymied in reading.  They are likely to be a puzzle to their teachers (and parents), who may think they aren’t trying hard enough.  Some of these kids will continue their struggle to master reading, while others will head off into the land of “I’d rather look silly/ mean/ cool than stupid.”  When I was talking to a middle school student who was disrupting his classes, he was straightforward: no one was going to see that he couldn’t read well, so he effectively stopped all work in the room!  (It is very sad that he is still struggling….)  The child who continues to work hard at reading is often absorbing an ongoing sense of defeat.  They lose sight of their strengths in the midst of this unexpected failure.

3.  These students have strengths and weaknesses that mask one another.  For instance, many dyslexic kids memorize a LOT of words.  Unless they are taught phonics systematically (along with phonological skills), they rely heavily upon beginning letter sound and visual similarity to other words.  Because they are bright (often in verbal reasoning), they can make good sense of a text even if they misread a high number of words.  Teachers and parents may assume these kids are doing fine.  Teachers will reassure parents of kindergarten and first graders that it is common for kids to memorize books they read, which is true.  But the 2e kid is memorizing to the exclusion of other skills, especially if they are not being taught other skills.  Eventually this student’s brain cannot accommodate the number of visually similar words, usually by third grade, depending upon the type of reading instruction provided.  This masking of underlying phonological difficulties leaves the brighter students with average but not failing grades in reading.  Again, the discrepancy between these kids’ abilities and performance is unexpected for both students and parents.  Granted, a student may be gifted in one area and not another, but when you carefully assess the dyslexic’s reading skills, you see the typical delays with sound manipulation.

4.  These kids will eventually struggle with writing, which is the flip-side of the reading coin.  In fact, their writing problems may be more evident than the reading ones.  If a student cannot decode effectively, they will struggle with encoding, which is the translation of those letter-sound relationships, as well as sound order, into a written form.  At least in reading, these kids can make it through a book.  In writing, unless they can copy something, they may end up with words which they are unable to reread themselves.  It is one type of skill to recognize a word when you have context; it is altogether different to create that word without effective phonological and phonics skills.  When given prompts to “stretch” out a word, these are the kids who will add numerous additional vowels and consonants as they spell.  They are much better served by prompts to “tap” or segment sounds as they write.  Despite the best prompts, these 2e kids do not come close to approximating their verbal fluency.  In fact, they may spend a considerable amount of time trying to think of easily spelled synonyms for words or phrases.  Now that takes some effort- and brains!

5.  These twice exceptional kids are often anxious.  They did not likely start out that way, but the world of learning has been turned on its head.  School used to be easy or should be easy but something has gone wrong.  Unless they are identified early, these kids will continue to bang their heads against a wall in reading.  Early identification increases their chance of reading success and may decrease anxiety as they begin to understand how they learn best.  For some kids, anxiety is not reduced despite early intervention.  The gifted side of these kids may still rail internally against their own learning “failures.”  They remember each agonizing reading session where they had to read out loud, stumbling through words.  They relive each miserable writing session, where the empty paper conjured up despair at not being able to communicate their creative ideas.  If they have not already wandered into that land (see point #2 above) of “I’d rather be..,” they will most likely take out their frustration in some other venue.  They may develop school anxieties or even phobias or become depressed, aggressive at recess or lunch, or disrespectful to teachers.

The worst case scenario:  Teachers and/or parents do not recognize the “dyslexic side” of the twice exceptional student.  That leads everyone to ask: Why isn’t this kid doing what is expected?  The wrong answers include: attention problems, laziness, behavior problems, and emotional disorders.

The best case scenario:  Teachers and parents recognize the duality of this kid’s functioning.  This leads everyone to ask:  Are we teaching reading effectively for this child?  How can we help this student feel better about himself or herself?  How can we provide opportunities for this child to shine?  How can we provide engaging and creative learning opportunities?  What modifications and accommodations can we put in place to support this child?