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Unlocking Students’ Potential through ‘Twice-Exceptional’ Education

Dr. Claire E. Hughes, Professor of Special, Gifted, and Twice-Exceptional Education submitted the following opinion piece to this November 2023:

What if Stephen Hawking, renowned for his groundbreaking contributions in theoretical physics, had only been seen for his ALS -- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease? Or if Simone Biles, a gymnastics sensation, had been restricted because of her ADHD? Or if Glenna Wright-Gallo, the US Assistant Secretary of Education who oversees the Office of Special Education and Related Services, had not been encouraged to use her ability to speak and write on behalf of children because of her hearing disability?

All these high-achieving individuals, and countless others, exemplify what it means to be twice-exceptional: individuals who are gifted but also have disabilities. Such talent often goes unnoticed or unsupported in schools, but Cleveland State University is at the forefront of changing that narrative.

Mid-October’s “Twice-Exceptional Teacher Education Conference” at Cleveland State was more than an event -- it was a statement.

The welcome by Wright-Gallo highlighted the program’s significance “on behalf of twice-exceptional children and their families and teachers everywhere.” As someone who had to make a difficult choice between her honors English class and support because of her hearing impairment, Wright-Gallo’s rallying call underscored the urgency of the matter: Teachers must be equipped to support twice-exceptional students.

Cleveland State University’s groundbreaking online Twice-Exceptional Teacher Education Program is a beacon of change. By merging the best instructional strategies from both special and gifted education and providing a focus on developing strengths while mediating for challenges, the CSU 2eTeacher Education program offers teachers in-depth training that can lead to a graduate certificate, a master’s degree, or even a Ph.D. in Urban Education, arming educators with the expertise to holistically serve and advocate for these learners.

Research finds that as many as 1 in 100 kids may be identified as twice-exceptional, though most schools are currently only finding 1 in 500 or 1 in 1,000. Traditional education systems often struggle with identifying and serving these learners. They are either placed in programs tailored for their disabilities, overshadowing their gifts, or in gifted programs that struggle to offer the support they need for their disabilities.

Modern brain science is unveiling the intricate tapestry of human cognition, from the earliest stages of childhood to the complexities of adulthood. Each revelation is a testament to the importance of tailoring education to suit the unique needs of every individual. Twice-exceptional individuals, both children and adults, are each a unique blend of profound potential often stifled by the challenges they confront.

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