The Down Low on School Accommodations (or how to keep your sanity when advocating for your 2e child)
Hey Fellow Parent!
Have you ever wondered what it is about school accommodations that make them such a touchy subject? I mean, until my oldest daughter started having trouble in kindergarten, I didn’t even know school accommodations existed. But, man, over the past twelve years, I have had to become somewhat of an armchair expert on school accommodations and the process in which to get them. My two very different, multi-exceptional daughters have required some very creative approaches to education. We have tried a number of different types of schools: public, alternative-public, specialized private, and even boarding schools. But, no matter where they were going to school, some sort of accommodations were still needed for my girls to be successful. Developing the right accommodations for each child was not so much about the particular child as it was about that particular child in that particular environment.
Over the years, parents have asked me what I would recommend when asking for accommodations for their twice-exceptional (2e) children (those who have high abilities and learning differences). Since 2e encompasses so many different flavors of unique gifted+ kids, I usually suggest that parents instead understand a few important concepts about school accommodations and the process. Once parents have a handle on these concepts, developing appropriate accommodations for their particular 2e child will be more focused and individualized.
1. Your kid is awesome
This is the one thing you need to remember if and when it all goes to pot. Take it from me, I lost myself in years of “shoulds”, trying to bend myself and my child to accommodate the desires of the school. We were trapped in a cycle of what other people thought (most often focused on my kids’ biggest weaknesses) and stopped recognizing the awesomeness of our 2e child. Parents need to ask themselves this question: “When I look back at today 15 years from now, what is the most important thing I want to remember about my child’s educational journey?” Hint: strive for their joy.
2. Your children are children
Whether they are 6 or 16, the time that your child has been alive, let alone talking, walking, reading, and writing, is relatively short in comparison to the adults trying to dictate their worth. Adults can get caught up in life and forget that they were once children themselves. Adults sometimes lose sight of the fact that kids are not small adults here to follow rules or serve as a source of social media pride. Our insecurities are not our children’s insecurities. Our job is to be our children’s biggest cheerleader and support them along their journey through childhood.
3. Establish a good working relationship with the school
Remember that each year there will be new members on your child’s education team. You and your child are the only known constants year after year. It will probably be necessary to distribute information on twice-exceptionality to your child’s team and, specifically, your child’s particular 2e “bent”. Assume that the school knows nothing about twice-exceptionality. Most importantly, and I can’t stress this enough, be nice. There may come a time when the school digs in its heels, refusing to accommodate your 2e child in a way you believe is right. Those old adages about flies and honey will become extremely relevant. It is possible to be both kind and firm–which leads me to my next point.
4. You are an equal member of the 504/IEP team
I don’t know why this is, but I have found that many schools are all in on not accommodating each child as an individual. Schools may tell you things like, “Your child doesn’t meet eligibility or your child’s scores are not low enough to qualify for services.” But, remember, you are an equal member of your child’s team. If you aren’t sure about what the team is suggesting, ask clarifying questions. Do your own research to make sure you know the law. You are your child’s best advocate; your child is counting on you.
5. Never go to an IEP/504 meeting alone
If you are super stressed out, you are not yourself. Make sure to bring someone with you to all of your meetings with the school. It doesn’t need to be a paid advocate or someone who knows the system (although that is super helpful). Just another supportive human being to listen and take notes. Having a second set of eyes and ears will help you debrief the meeting and organize the next steps. We know that our 2e kids don’t learn as well when their anxiety is high, so why would we be any different? Plan ahead and bring a friend.
6. Accommodations are fluid
Many parents think that they need to ensure that all of their child’s accommodations are perfectly listed on the initial IEP/504. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Accommodations are fluid. The IEP/504 is a living document. Depending on the type of status (504/IEP), modifying the accommodations list may be as easy as sending an email to the administrator in charge. Some school districts will tell you that an accommodation that you have suggested doesn’t allow for learning. Don’t let them bully you. Remember, this is your child and the final decisions are yours.
7. Asynchronous development is just that, asynchronous
Twice-exceptional expert Dr. Susan Baum talks about 2e kids being 5-10-15 at the same time. What she means is that a child may be 5 years old in social skills, 10 years old in chronological age, and 15 years old in academic achievement. (Some 2e kids have this stratification in just one subject like Language Arts: 5 in writing, 10 in reading, and 15 in critical thinking.) This type of development will require accommodations that both accelerate learning in one area and scaffold learning in others. Understanding asynchronous development may be one of the most challenging areas to communicate to the school team. For many years, strength areas have not been considered when developing accommodations for students. But, tapping into your 2e child’s strengths to balance their potential challenges is a natural solution to oftentimes complex issues.
8. Work toward strengths & dual-differentiation
Dual-differentiation is when a child is able to work to their strengths and be accommodated for their challenges. Watch your children doing different activities in different environments. When are they at their best? What do they like to do? By focusing on what they do well, you can write accommodations that will be strengths based and specific to them. Making sure you discuss the dual-differentiation needs for your 2e child and accommodate for both their strengths and challenges lays the groundwork for your child to thrive in their school environment. For non-preferred subjects, the school should allow connections to your child's current interest areas as entry points to bridge to the lesson objective. Twice-exceptional kids should be able to delve into advanced concepts even if their lower level skills may not have been mastered. For example in math class, the school should allow for alternative problem solving if it results in correct answers. Or in English class, a student who is a great writer but struggles with attention and visual processing could use high-interest graphic novels to encourage intrinsic motivation in the writing process.
9. It’s not about compliance
Be careful of accommodations that focus on behavior and compliance. Many twice-exceptional students have sensory differences and executive functioning challenges that look like defiance. Also, many 2e kids don’t see the difference between adults and children, so adults may view them as argumentative. But, accommodations should not be punitive. Accommodations and interventions should not be designed to make your child more like their (more compliant) non-2e peers. Rather, they are meant to ensure that your 2e child can access the curriculum in an equitable manner.
10. Be specific
The more specific your child’s accommodations are, the better it is for everyone involved. In some situations, accommodations suggested by the school district come from a boiler-plate, drop down menu in a software program. It is important to do your research and ask questions if you are confused or have concerns about the school’s suggestions. Better yet, come to the meeting with your own specific suggestions. Some examples might be: Instead of “use of a calculator”– “use calculator on all tests and assignments.” Instead of “assistance with notes”– “receive a copy of the teacher's notes prior to class” or “provide a dedicated note taker.” Instead of “50% extra time to submit assignments”–“no penalty for late work”. Or, suggest that teachers offer a choice board in which all of the students have the opportunity to show their knowledge through their strengths.
11. Put it in writing
Phone calls and Zoom meetings are great and important to discuss accommodations in real time, but make sure that you follow-up with an email. Everything should be written down. Since the accommodations are listed on a legally binding document, a paper trail is key. If this is not your strength area, recruit someone to help.
12. Teach Self-Advocacy
Finally, it is important to talk to your child about their accommodations. Being an advocate for themselves will ensure that your 2e child gets what they need at that moment and throughout their lives. Some teachers and administrators may not like it when a child self-advocates, but it is your child’s right under the law. Our 2e kids are not trying to be difficult; they are asking for equity. When both the teacher and the student understand the accommodations, using them becomes a seamless process.
I know that was a lot. It wasn’t meant to overwhelm you into just throwing in the towel. Understanding these basic concepts will reduce your anxiety. Remember that your kid is awesome and that you are an incredible parent for continuing to advocate for their joy. Twice-exceptional kids are all unique individuals. However, what they all share is that they are gifted students who deserve to access their giftedness in school and the best way to do this is to advocate for timely, individualized accommodations so that they can reach their potential.
You’ve got this.
About the Author:
Gabrielle Boles is currently a doctoral student at the Bridges Graduate School. She is a 20 year veteran of the California higher education system primarily working with marginalized and underrepresented students. Her current research interests include the perception of gifted/2e outliers and identifying internalized bias in the classroom. Gabrielle lives in a comically twice-exceptional house with two teenage daughters and a husband.