Why & How to Advocate for Your Gifted or 2e Student
4 guiding principles to pursue a good-fit learning environment
Why to advocate for your gifted or twice-exceptional student
Parents of gifted and twice-exceptional kids often have to collaborate and advocate more than other parents to craft a good learning environment for their kids.
Why? Typical school practices aren’t designed with neurodivergent kids in mind. Furthermore, most teachers receive little to no training in giftedness or twice-exceptionality. Even in a gifted program, teachers may have little training about how to support twice-exceptional kids or kids with big emotions.
Therefore, many parents of intense or sensitive gifted/2e kids:
Email and talk with teachers more often than other parents.
Advocate and make requests more often than other parents.
Change their child’s school or educational approach multiple times to find a better fit.
Many parents I work with worry about being “that parent” - the one who contacts the teacher regularly with questions, suggestions, and concerns.
It’s time to de-pathologize the concept of an engaged, supportive parent. Research shows that all kids tend to learn better and enjoy school more when their teachers and parents communicate regularly. And for parents of intense or sensitive gifted kids, advocacy is sometimes the only way to help their child have a good educational experience.
Many parents of gifted and 2e kids:
Have to advocate if they want their child to have appropriately challenging curriculum.
Have to advocate if they want their child to receive appropriate supports and accommodations.
If you're feeling awkward or uncomfortable about advocating, that's normal.
I want you to know that your communication is appropriate and may be essential.
First, kids need learning at their level, and they need supports or accommodations for challenges. Parents sometimes worry they’ll be perceived as asking for “special treatment” if they inquire about learning opportunities at their child’s level or for supports related to a disability - but your child's learning needs aren't "special," just different. For gifted and twice-exceptional kids to receive an equitable, appropriate education, they need learning at their level, that they can access.
Second, you probably have valuable information about your child that their teacher doesn't know. As I mentioned above, most teachers don't have training in teaching gifted or twice-exceptional kids - and of course you're the expert on your kid's particular personality, preferences, and needs!
Third, it's unlikely your child is the only student in their class with advanced learning needs. In a 2017 study, researchers found that 14-49% of students had already mastered grade-level reading or math skills at the beginning of the school year. Any questions about advanced learning opportunities are probably relevant for other students as well.
Fourth, consider that your child's well-being and academic experience may be closely related. When a gifted or twice-exceptional child complains that school is boring or easy, parents may feel torn about how to proceed. Parents sometimes tell me they don’t care if their child gets advanced programming - they just want their child to be happy. Yet kids and teens are happiest at school when they’re appropriately challenged. That’s when students are more likely to feel engaged, stay focused, and enjoy learning. Families whose kids have unique characteristics often have to communicate more to make sure their kid’s learning needs are met - so the kids can be happy!
How to advocate for your gifted or twice-exceptional student
Below are 4 big guiding principles to help you advocate and collaborate with your child’s teacher - you can use these ideas at any time during the school year, or even before the year starts to prevent school problems before they start.
(1) Offer a partnership around shared goals.
Research shows that effective home-school partnerships often center around shared goals. For example, you and your child's teacher likely both want your child to feel comfortable at school, to get along with peers, or to engage with learning this year.
Focus on shared goals to encourage a partnership instead of an adversarial relationship. When you reach out to your child's teacher or school, I encourage you to think in terms of shared goals and to bring this concept into the conversation. This framework can also help you feel more comfortable and confident communicating with school. Instead of thinking, “I’m such a bother if I ask the teacher to meet with me and do extra things for my kid,” try something like, “The teacher wants the days to go more smoothly for my kid too - I want to let them know some things that will help.”
To further foster a collaboration, you can ask your child’s teacher how you can be a helpful partner. “What can we do at home to support our child’s experience this year? Is there any information you’d like from us that would be helpful for working with our child? If you notice them having a tough time, let us know so we can help make a plan right away.”
(2) Help the teacher understand your child’s behavior.
Your kid’s teacher can’t support them if they don’t understand the way they work. And unfortunately gifted and 2e kids are often misunderstood. Teachers may think your child is “lazy,” “rude”, or “careless” instead of understanding their neurodivergence or recognizing signs that they’re disengaged or struggling.
Some options for this step:
Create a one-page document listing your child’s strengths & challenges to give context for your child’s behavior.
Prepare information to share verbally during your fall conference or in a separate meeting.
Communicate one key piece of information & one concrete request in a short email or written message.
Some examples about how you can put your child’s behavior in context & make a request:
“He’s very sensitive to perceived criticism, so he might shut down when given feedback. He’s usually listening, he just can’t respond in the moment. After feedback, can you give him a chance to absorb it before he addresses it?”
“She’s very socially anxious and feels overwhelmed if she receives feedback in front of peers. Could you share any constructive feedback quietly or privately?”
“I know she comes across as rude sometimes. She has a blunt communication style but actually cares very deeply about others and doesn’t want to hurt their feelings.”
“I know it looks like he doesn’t care sometimes, but usually that’s a sign he’s overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to start. He often needs help getting started on something new. If he seems disengaged on an assignment, could you check in with him or let us know and we'll help him get started at home?”
(3) Advocate for appropriately challenging curriculum.
Gifted kids deserve to learn a year’s worth of content in a year’s worth of school, just like all kids. If your child isn’t learning new content or being challenged, it’s appropriate to advocate for a better fit. Sometimes it’s more effective to focus on how to match curriculum to their ability instead of focusing on your child feeling “bored.”
Some options for advocating for more challenge:
Ask the teacher what systems and supports are already in place for students who are gifted, talented, or twice-exceptional. Some questions to consider: What opportunities are there for students who already know grade-level math? For students who are reading above grade level? Does the school use flexible grouping or allow students to work ahead? Is there a process for gifted and talented identification? How does that work? This information can help you understand how the teacher might approach your child and what opportunities you might inquire about in the future.
Learn about different options for acceleration and ask the teacher or school whether they can implement one or more options you think could work for your kid.
Connect with other parents with advanced learners to increase your advocacy power.
Consider requests for future years as well - would the school consider clustering gifted students for more effective instruction and other benefits?
(4) Advocate for appropriate supports and accommodations.
In my experience, most intense gifted/2e kids don’t receive enough support at school. Because they’re bright, their teachers may not notice they need help with certain tasks or find certain situations stressful. Sometimes sensory, social, or emotional needs are chalked up to gifted quirkiness and aren’t given appropriate support.
For this step, think about any aspects of school that are hard or stressful for your kid. Then, make a plan to request specific support.
To request support, you can:
Identify a support strategy that works for your child and let the school know you would like your child to bring it and use it at school (e.g., chewelry to chew; a thick pencil for writing; ear defenders to reduce noise).
Contact or meet with the teacher and make a specific request (e.g., please let my child type instead of write by hand; please intervene with kids who are bullying my child; please let my child chew gum to focus).
Share strategies that have been helpful for your child in past school years or other learning environments (e.g., “His teacher last year noticed that he concentrated better on independent work when he sat alone").
Contact the teacher, share your child’s difficulty, and ask for their ideas about how to support your child (e.g., ideas to encourage friendships; ideas to make the writing process easier).
Share a diagnosis from a therapist or results from an assessment and request a 504 plan (at a public school) or accommodations (at a private school).
Request evaluation for an IEP or a 504 plan.
If you’d like to learn more about potential accommodations and supports, you can find examples by searching online - for example, “accommodations for anxiety” or “accommodations for ADHD.” Online lists are helpful for generating ideas, but there are endless potential accommodations or support strategies, and many will not be relevant for your kid. You can use these lists - along with conversations with teachers and other parents - to generate ideas that can be personalized for your child and their situation.
If your child already has an IEP or a 504 plan, I highly recommend checking in with your child’s teacher at the beginning of the year to ensure they have a copy of the plan and to see if they have any questions. During the school year, it's appropriate to check in as needed to make sure accommodations are being provided, especially if you're hearing something conflicting from your child's point of view.
If you want more ideas like this directly to your inbox, sign up for Gifted Lab Notes, my weekly email with tips and information for supporting your intense or sensitive gifted or twice-exceptional (2e) kid.
Would you like more help advocating for your child's needs at school? Check out Support Your Intense Gifted/2e Kid, my 8-week group coaching program. In this highly interactive program, you get guidance from a coach who understands intense gifted and 2e kids (me!) plus a chance to connect with other parents who get it. Many participants in the program learn new ways to collaborate with their child's teacher, and feel empowered to ask for new supports. For some gifted and twice-exceptional kids, a few targeted supports and accommodations can make school a much more comfortable and affirming place to be.