Thursday, 28 May 2015

[Straits Times] Help nurture gifts of 'twice-exceptional' kids

WITH the rise in the number of children with special needs, it is heartening to learn that both awareness and support have been given to such people in our society ("Maximise talents of special education kids" by Mrs Koh Soek Ying; last Saturday, and "More special needs schools using arts to help students"; May 9).
However, among this population, there is a small percentage of children called "twice-exceptional students" - intellectually gifted children who have some form of disability.
They require more opportunities to promote their individual strengths and talents.
In my years of teaching children with learning disabilities, I have encountered such children who display artistic, musical or mathematical intelligence.
Mrs Koh suggested that we look beyond the traditional vocational training route, in maximising the talents of such children.
In order not to let the talents of special education children go to waste, the curriculum needs to be relooked.
When teachers plan for educational needs, it is crucial to focus on the development of the children's strengths, interests, and intellectual capacities.
Teachers and parents should know the importance of teaching and encouraging the use of compensation strategies.
For example, such strategies may include the use of assistive technology devices such as advanced organisers, augmentative and alternative communication, mobile applications, and others.
Besides strategies, teachers need to help students shape a healthy, realistic self-concept, in which students learn to accept their personal strengths and weaknesses. These children need an appropriate curriculum that addresses both their giftedness and learning challenges.
It should be noted that the gifts of twice-exceptional students often remain invisible to teachers, and sometimes even parents.
Often, the disability itself masks the student's expression of special gifts and talents. One should look for individuals who generate unique ideas, produce creative solutions or are extremely motivated to engage in complex and sustained creative activity.
These students need an environment that will nurture their gifts while attending to their learning disability.
It is also important to provide them with the necessary emotional support so that they can better deal with their inconsistent abilities. Only then will the talents of special education children not go to waste.
Arnold Chua Chee Keong