28th November 2017

Does your child feel like a square peg in a round hole at school?

Does your child feel like a square peg in a round hole at school? Cover Photo

Denise Yates, chief executive of Potential Plus UK, explains the support available for Dual and Multiple Exceptional (DME) children...

Does your child have strength in one or more areas; a good vocabulary, a good grasp of words and reading, good problem solving skills? At home, do you often feel that they are able to do things which other children may find more difficult or are they able to take part in discussions at school which cover lots of issues? Do they have a good memory for things they see or hear? Are they very creative especially outside school?

Yet at the same time, are you worried about the difficulties they have at school; difficulties like poor handwriting or spelling, the inability to do tasks which look simple to most people, poor work when they are under pressure? Or do they find it difficult to finish work which has lots of steps or to pay attention? Do small setbacks make them want to give up and do they often feel a failure at school, making them sensitive to criticism, with low self-esteem and a high degree of frustration with themselves? Do they have poor social skills or feelings of being different from others?

Does all of this affect their behaviour in class or at home? Can they be disruptive; or are they the class ‘clown’? Do they seem unmotivated to stick to the task; disorganised, impulsive? Or are they quiet or withdrawn, unable to explain to you what is happening to them?

If any of these characteristics describe your child, have you ever thought that they might be both highly able and have a special education need? These children are called Dual and Multiple Exceptional (or DME) children in the UK (Twice Exceptional or 2e in the USA and elsewhere). According to the Department for Education, about 2 to10 children out of 100 who are highly able also have a Special Education Need.

Potential Plus UK has been working with DME children since 1967. We know that these children come in all shapes and sizes with different strengths and weaknesses. We also recognise that it can sometimes be difficult to support DME children. They can seem very able, but they may also find difficulty in what seems to be the most basic of tasks. The difficulties they have depend on their Special Education Need. We believe that it is important that parents and teachers fully understand both the strengths and weaknesses of these children. They can then be supported to develop their self-confidence.

One important issue is to make sure they have friends and feel they can fit in. Sometimes having a special need and high ability can lead to feelings of isolation and even bullying. We also believe it is important to:

– help these DME children to believe in what they can do.

– develop good relationships with these children based on trust and respect. This will help them believe they are valued no matter how “different” they appear to other children.

– guide these children to make sure their expectations are relevant. Sometimes these can be too high or too low.

– give these children the chance to experience real success. This will help to improve their self-esteem.

– encourage these children to be independent.

– help these children to show their frustration and confusion in a positive way.

– guide these children to act less impulsively under stress.

– turn these children’s interests into ways of learning.

– help these children make friends with other children who want to achieve success. This can help to motivate DME children.

We believe it is also important to understand the negative behaviour that can come with Dual and Multiple Exceptionality. The children’s high ability sometimes helps them to compensate for their special need. However, this means they have to focus their energy on what they are doing or thinking. Sometimes they are unable to do this. For example, when the children are tired it becomes more difficult. On some days, this can make a child appear as if they are ‘trying’ and on other days they are ‘not trying’. This is not the case. They will be trying hard most of the time.

In addition, at school, DME children may well spend a lot of energy just to keep up with their classmates. Having to work so hard just to keep up can be very frustrating for these children. Thinking at a more advanced level makes this even harder. This is because they know what they would like to do, but cannot do it easily.

This means that many DME children face daily struggles at school and at home. Parents and teachers must remember this when they support them.

Good relationships between school and home are important. This will help DME children make the most of their learning potential. Parents and teachers need to remember to:

– support both the children’s special needs and their high ability.

– challenge the children’s high potential. This must be done through work which matches both their Special Educational Needs and their high abilities.

– make sure the child is making progress. This involves setting them the right learning goals.

– ensure that parents are informed about and involved in their child’s educational progress.

All of this will help these children to fulfil their high learning potential. DME children need to feel understood and supported. They also need to feel confident and able to ask for further support if needed. Without the right support, we believe that DME children can easily fall into a ‘cycle of underachievement’. They can also become increasingly demotivated.

Potential Plus UK is the national charity which supports children and young people with high learning potential, including those with Dual or Multiple Exceptionality. We offer a range of services, including an assessment service; an in-depth helpline for parents, carers and teachers; advice sheets and support for families. We also run a range of training workshops on supporting these children and events for the whole family. For more information see our website www.potentialplusuk.org or contact us via amazingchildren@potentialplusuk.org or on 01908 646433.