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Chatting about Twice-Exceptionality with A Speech and Language Pathologist

Updated: Apr 4

‘Sally’ (not her real name) is a Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sally and I got to know each other a few months before the pandemic. My autistic son was getting SLP services through his homeschooling charter, which it outsourced to a third-party. Since the services were provided to him only during the school year, every year he would be assigned a new SLP because in the summer his time slot would be taken by somebody else outside of the charter. That year Sally became my son’s new SLP, and soon enough it seemed like something finally clicked: we finally met someone who was on the same page with our own philosophy and who was able to find the right approach to engage our son. We liked Sally so much that even when she decided to leave to establish her private practice, we followed. And even though my son graduated from speech therapy several months ago, we keep in touch.


When Sally starts working with a new client, she begins by studying the recommendations provided by other assessors who have worked with this child previously. These recommendations might include things such as a need for sensory support, movement breaks, accommodations for testing time and testing environments, or daily check-ins to help the student understand their emotional state. Sally thinks that it is critical to share these recommendations with the child to help them become more aware of their needs. They need to be able to discover for themselves that, for example, a movement break really does make them feel better. Otherwise, when they become dysregulated, they run the risk of not knowing what to do to prevent their distress. 


According to Sally, the number one thing that helps twice-exceptional kids in any environment – be it at school or at home – is building trust and relationships, especially when it comes to asking 2e children to do tasks. Twice-exceptional students in general often don’t feel understood and believed due to the dichotomy of having both strengths and needs. Sally emphasizes that in order for emotional check-ins to be successful, they must be conducted by trusted individuals with whom a student has a positive relationship.  Otherwise it can backfire, especially when the check-in is done by someone who is putting a lot of demands on the student or doesn’t treat them very kindly. Similarly, outside of school, it is important for the child to have a safe space to calm down free of additional expectations on them after an already exhausting day at school.


Unfortunately, Sally does not often feel positively about her clients’ ability to thrive at school. Instead, she sees a lot of school trauma. In order to put it behind them, her clients need time to repair and heal before they can have any success in the school setting. This is what homeschoolers call “deschooling” – a time to pause, heal, reset, regroup, and recover before going forward. The recommended rule of thumb is one month for every year the child spent in their previous school environment. 


Sally has experience working both at a school district and in her private practice, and according to her these environments are vastly different. She is convinced that nontraditional schooling and homeschooling are the best educational environments that can support most 2e learners at present. In fact, the more frustrated she gets with how traditional public schools operate, the more convinced she becomes that nontraditional schooling and homeschooling is a great educational environment for all learners, 2e or otherwise. In Sally’s experience, traditional schools embrace the right ideas on paper, but do not know how to implement them in reality due to lack of understanding, training, and resources. It is not enough for the school to say that it embraces inclusion by moving all the students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) into the regular classroom without providing the right training for the teachers on how to implement and support inclusive strategies. As for the gifted schools, most of them in Sally’s area are not appropriate for twice-exceptional learners either, as they primarily cater to high-achieving compliant students or follow principles that go against the recommended practices for supporting twice-exceptional learners. 


Sally acknowledges that kind and well-meaning individuals do exist in the traditional educational system and she fears that they are too tied up by the limitations of the current system to be able to swim against the tide. Being part of the rigid system affects their thinking and makes it tricky for them to think outside the box. They become limited by being too accustomed to the way things are done and struggle with accepting the feasibility of another approach. Ultimately, this became the reason why Sally left the school district to focus on her private practice. She felt that it was impossible for one well-intentioned human to bring change to the system, whereas if she worked from the outside, family by family, she could be more effective. She finds herself a much stronger agent for change being a private practitioner and teaching her clients how to advocate for themselves within the school district. Additionally, at her private practice she is not bound by how she does her assessments and instead chooses the best methods (as opposed to the mandated ones) in order to figure out how to best support the needs of her clients. On the bright side, Sally thinks that increasingly, spaces that welcome 2e individuals are becoming available. Unfortunately they are still rare, and often parents end up having to create them. According to Sally, parents are still the main drivers of the 2e movement, and I agree with her. 2e is not talked about in Sally’s speech therapy community, and there are only a couple of parents in her practice with whom she can talk to about twice-exceptionality. Sally observed that her field has spaces for autistic folks, but not so much 2e. (This is similar to my own experience with the Russophone community. While most Russian-speaking members of my community are familiar with the term gifted, and 90% are familiar with the term learning difference, only 56% have heard of twice-exceptionality before.) 


Sally’s ultimate piece of advice to parents, teachers, administrators, and pretty much everyone is to not get stuck thinking that what you know now is the answer to everything. Over the years Sally has met many practitioners who simply cannot accept the neurodiversity affirming movement. Sally hopes that others can learn from her own personal experience. She came to embrace neurodiversity affirming practices by reading blogs authored by autistic individuals. She eventually realized that she needed to change her own practice in order to suit their needs. Even though change is hard, and even if you are a good practitioner, there is always room for growth.


My interview with Sally was lovely and empowering. It was incredibly heart-warming to be talking to a person whose ideas and thoughts are so in line with my own. Sally is truly open to listening, sharing, and learning. Our conversation highlighted several important points that are salient in the twice-exceptional community. First and foremost, we need to accept and celebrate all kinds of brains. Instead of trying to fix people, figure out how to support them within their environment. Every individual has their own needs and develops according to their own timeline. Many twice-exceptional individuals experience trauma and feel misunderstood, excluded, and often depressed because of their confusing combination of strengths and needs. In order to provide help and support to these individuals, we need to establish trust and positive relationships with them. The focus must be on strengths and talents – this is what will motivate them – while also accommodating their challenges, thus making learning accessible. We can apply this formula to all individuals – not just the ones who are twice-exceptional – because everyone deserves to feel safe, accepted, and appreciated for who they are.



 

About the Author: Guest blogger Yekaterina (Katrina) O’Neil is a homeschooling mom by day, a doctoral student by night, and a software security researcher by trade. The mom to two 2e kids in middle and high school, she began homeschooling them after public school turned out not to be a fit. To understand and support her kids better, Katrina is pursuing a Doctoral Degree at Bridges Graduate School of Cognitive Diversity in Education, while attempting to juggle a career in cybersecurity at the same time. She is passionate about neurodiversity and hopes to spread awareness and acceptance of neurodivergent individuals at home, at school, and in the workplace.She holds a B.S. and M.S. in Computer Science & Engineering from UC San Diego.

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