Understanding the Needs of Twice-/Multi-Exceptional African American Students

11 Jul

Charles Sutton
Galileo School for Gifted Learning
Level 7 Learning

Over the course of studying about gifted students for the purpose of endorsement to work in a gifted environment, it became obvious that two groups were notoriously underrepresented through selection for gifted services more so than other subgroups. They include the twice- or multi-exceptional—those students who have gifts and talents, but also have one or more disability that inhibits academic performance—and students from minority cultures such as African or Hispanic Americans. The question arises: how are students who are both from a subdominant culture and also multi-exceptional affected in the process of being identified as gifted students? Additionally, are they are receiving services for both the exceptionality and giftedness once they have been selected? This paper will take a look at how one group of researchers attempted to answer these questions through a qualitative study involving eight, African American students who are also diagnosed as twice-exceptional.

In the Mayes, Hines, and Harris (2014) study, the sample students they used were all African American high school students with disabilities—ranging from specific learning disabilities to one student with a traumatic brain injury—all of whom had already been selected by their school for gifted designation based on non-academic skills and talents. That means, instead of having high testing scores or a strong record of classroom success, these adolescents had been identified based on specific talents such as visual arts, music, or dance, etc as identified by specialists in those areas within the school environment. Since they were already acknowledge as gifted, this study says little about the identification system, which is typically poor for both twice-exceptional and African American adolescents and children in general. However, the researchers were able to identify four main characteristics that this group experienced that could possibly jeopardize their success in school and into adulthood.

The first similarity is that while all of the students were identifed as gifted, seven out of eight were unaware of their gifted designation, while each knew that s/he had a disability. This is primarily due to their in school placement. Most of these students were in special education classes and none received even pull-out services for their gifts. Even though they were in a special needs class, these students felt that their teachers and tutors “…often overlooked the accommodations they needed” (p. 130). These were the accommodations for their disabilities that are written into each student’s IEP. The students were not even aware that they should have been receiving additional special services designed to encourage and enhance their gifts. Also, although each student identified at least one teacher or staff member who took special interest in them, most of the teachers in the system treated them with “…general rudeness and lack of connection…” (p. 130). These attitudes from the teachers and staff members may have contributed to a lack of services that the children received in school.

The second commonality for these students is they all experienced similar personal and social challenges. As was discussed in an earlier paper, children with disabilities tend to have low sociometric measures, which means that they are typically rejected by their classroom peers (Baydik & Bakkaloglu, 2009). The students in the study were not exceptions to the rule. The study reported, “…seven of the eight students shared that they were often bullied or teased by their peers, which in turn impacted their behavior at school” (Mayes, Hines, & Harris, 2014, p. 131). The increased negative behaviors tend to exacerbate the sociometry problem, and the problem increases (Baydik & Bakkaloglu, 2009). Additionally, many of the adolescents reported the need to try to hide their special education designation to avoid maltreatment from their peers. Furthermore, while African Americans are in the majority of students in their school’s population in this study, and these particular students also felt pride in their racial and cultural heritage, “…they also realized that they faced stereotypes both within the school and in the larger society” (Mayes, Hines, & Harris, 2014, p. 132). For example, the student with the traumatic brain injury reported that his teachers “…stereotyped him as ‘another black, lazy kid’…” because his injuries cause him to have more than average absenteeism (Mayes, Hines, & Harris, 2014, p. 132). Along with the propensity for teachers to characterize twice-exceptional children only according to their disabilities—not by their gifts—these particular students were doubly stereotyped due to racial discrimination from the teachers and staff members (Mayes, Hines, & Harris, 2014; Ford, 2010; Rizza & Morrison, 2003). This additional stereotype may account for why these studeents not only did not receive gifted enhancements to develop their talents, but they also lacked accommodations and services needed for their disabilities.

The next commonality between these students is that poor self-concept led them to worry about their future. While a number of these students mentioned that specific teachers encouraged them to take advantage of their gifts and talents through post-secondary education and training opportunities, the students lacked the self-confidence to believe that they could succeed in those programs. One student reported that despite his best efforts, he cannot read. Another stated that she was “…gravely concerned about her ability to be successful in community college. She was concerned that the professors would theink she was ‘dumb’ and that they wouldn’t accommodate her needs” (Mayes, Hines, & Harris, 2014, p. 132). Perhaps the stereotypes that these adolescents experienced due to their cultural and ability differences negatively affected their self-efficacy and self-concept to the point that it has nearly made it impossible for them to move on without significant intervention. Counseling could, perhaps, help with this problem.

The last similarity between the study subjects was that they all had “…limited interactions with their school counselors” (Mayes, Hines, & Harris, 2014, p. 133). The seniors had more contact with guidance than those in the lower grades simply due to the fact that the counselors were attempting to ensure that the students meet their requirements for graduation. However, one student reported that in her opinion “…her school counselor hindered her progress towards graduation due to lack of communication” (Mayes, Hines, & Harris, 2014, p. 133). She reported late responses and miscommunications that led to a lowing of her GPA.

Since this is a paper about curriculum, an attempt will be made to tie in possible curriculuar fixes that may help students like these become more successful. First, using a model of curriculum that is provided for the whole school may help teachers identify more of the students who lack the testing ability and/or are in traditionally under-identified groups, as is the case with these students. Therefore, using Renzulli’s Schoolwide Enhancement Model might be effective toward the goal of illuminating the skills of students with gifts that are not otherwise seen (Renzulli & Reis, n.d.). Additionally, this model has proven to be effective for both gifted and non-gifted students alike, so whether or not the students are identified, they will have curricular opportunities for enhancement and compacting (Van Tassel-Baska & Brown, 2007). By using tier II and tier III enhancements to enduce academic growth and successes, this curriculum may also help the study group’s self-concept and self-efficacy issues. While no curriculum will take away the stereotypes and prejudices that influence teacher and staff judgement or treatment by society at large, perhaps adopting a multicultural, responsive classroom model would also help reinforce that cultural difference based on deep cultural experiences are all equally valid. In doing so, perhaps the students will not develop defecit thinking that says that their own culture is inferior to the dominant American culture (Ford, 2010). If they can learn this from the curriculum, then they may be able to avoid some of the self-doubt that inhibits their success and the use their academic and creative gifts and talents by which to build a career.

Based on this study—which is very unique as I could not find another like it—there is clearly a need to do more research on how to use counseling and curriculum to help twice-exceptional students who are also not a part of the dominant culture. While these students have strong gifts, either academically or creatively, and tend to have good task commitment, they are frequently blocked from success due to a double experience of prejudice and stereotyping. Teachers need to do two things to help. First, we must build a culturally responsive class where every student can show his/her abilities in ways that are valid in that culture. Also, we need to provide the proper accommodations for the students’ disabilities so that the challenges do not mask the students gifts and talents. Additionally, counselors and giudance professionals should become more accessible and responsive to the special needs of these students for both accommodations and gifted services (Mayes, Hines, & Harris, 2014). If those things can happen, there is a much higher chance that twice- or multi-exceptional students from subdominant cultures will meet their potential.


Baydik, B., & Bakkaloglu, H. (2009). Predictors of sociometric status for

      low socioeconomic stutus elementary mainstreamed students with and without special needs. Educational Sciences/Theory & Practice, 435–442.

Ford, D. Y. (2010). Underrepresentation of culturally different students in

      gifted education: Reflections about current problems and recommendations for the future. Gifted Child Today, 33(3), 31–35.

Mayes, R. D., Hines, E. M., & Harris, P. C. (2014). Working with twice-

      exceptional African American students: Information for school counselors. Interdisciplinary Journal of Teaching and Learning, 4(2), 125–139.

Renzulli, J. S., & Reis, S. M. (n.d.). The schoolwide enrichment model:

Rizza, M. G., & Morrison, W. F. (2003). Uncovering stereotypes and

      identifying characteristics of gifted students and students with emotional/behavioral disabilities. Roeper Review, 25(2), 73–77.

Van Tassel-Baska, J., & Brown, E. F. (2007, January). Toward best practice:

      An analysis of the efficacy of curriculum models in gifted education. Gifted Child Quarterly, 51(4), 342–358.
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Posted by on July 11, 2016 in Education, Gifted learning


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