Teaching All the Children with Special Needs
“No two children are alike. No two children learn in the identical way.” ~ Dr. Marian C. Diamond
We hear a lot in the news about differentiated instruction and special programming in schools. And when we hear those terms, we often think of children with special needs, such as those with specific learning disabilities, or ADD/ADHD, Autism, or Dyslexia. Sometimes we think of children who have emigrated from other countries and who need extra language support as a result.
But we seldom think of another group of students when we think of special needs programming –we seldom think of the gifted. The truth is we should think of giftedness and special needs at the same time.
Many people will say that gifted students will be just fine because they’re smart – and they easily “get” what average students (who are they?) have to work for – or what special needs students may find beyond their immediate grasp.
Others say gifted students are already advantaged and if we design special programmes for them we are creating an elite group within the school.
But, if you’ve raised or taught a gifted child, you know that it’s simply not that easy. Gifted children are no more alike than are those we think of as special needs children. The only given commonality is superior
• ability to lead others;
• talents in visual or performing arts;
• psychomotor abilities;
• intellectual ability;
• their performance at school; or
• ability to think creatively.
With that potential, many argue, why do gifted students need special programmes, differentiated instruction, or individual attention from the teacher? “Any extra money the school has – or any extra time/effort the teacher can bring to students – should be settled on students with special needs,” many people say. “After all, the gifted student is going to get through school with honours – and the child with special needs may not get through at all.
” Well, not quite. Gifted students may have a lot of “ability” or “potential” – but the gift often comes with strings attached. Gifted people often suffer from
• crippling perfectionism
• difficulty identifying real strengths and real weaknesses – and so, difficulty forming a stable and reliable self-concept
• un-channelled intense emotions
• boredom that undermines their efforts to complete small tasks
• strain of excessively high expectations from parents and teachers
• depression borne of worries about, and impotence in the face of, such things as the state of the world or the problems suffered by others
• loneliness and alienation as a result of being singled out (read “teased”) as the geek, the brain, the nerd, the teacher’s pet….
• self-destructive behaviours, including eating disorders, self-harm (e.g., cutting), sexual precocity, addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Furthermore, gifted people often suffer from learning disabilities. But, when gifted children have learning disabilities, their problems often are un-diagnosed or mis-diagnosed because many people, even experts, don’t understand how such “bright” kids could possibly have problems at school. The fact is gifted kids very often have problems at school.
They may profile differently, but they struggle to make it through to graduation just as do the kids we’re more used to labelling special needs. Differentiation and special programming are not just for those students we easily recognize as having special needs. They’re for everyone – the gifted included.
Do you have a child with special needs – of any kind? Are you looking for some academic support – or just someone to talk to? I’m a pretty good listener. Why not give me a call?