Help me help my daughter.
January 23, 2013 3:39 PM   Subscribe

How to deal with a school's unwillingness to challenge a twice-exceptional kid?

My daughter (A) is 8 years old and in second grade. She is unbelievably intelligent by any measure and consistently blows adults away with her knowledge and creativity. However, this has not translated well for her in school. Since she started school, we have tried to work with her teachers and the principal in applying appropriate challenges for her in the classroom. All are in agreement that she is very gifted, but they are unbelievably reluctant to do anything about it.

Last spring, her teacher finally told me about behavior issues A was having in the classroom. I'd had suspicions about her possibly having ADHD since she was three, so it was a no-brainer to go through the testing. After consultations with her primary doctor, a child psychologist, and a therapist, and a full battery of testing, my suspicions were confirmed. So, thus armed, I intended to start this school year off right by scheduling a meeting with her teacher, the school gifted coordinator, the guidance counselor, and the principal. My hope was that we could hit the ground running and not wait around for "Well, let's see how she does blah blah blah." But, that's just what we got. A took the MAP test in October and scored off the chart in reading and language, and above the 95th percentile in math. They claim that in-class differentiation takes care of any challenge she may need, but she's not learning anything from rereading books she read when she was four. Every suggestion I've made (accelerating to a higher grade for reading/language arts, independent study, being her own reading group in-class, on and on) has been rebuffed. Even things that were agreed to in the last meeting (Lexia time, for instance) haven't materialized.

It's now halfway through the school year and nothing has changed. They're making her take the MAP again next week (and she'll do it again in the spring), and we're meeting after the scores come back, but I don't know what more to do. They see her scores and say "Well, test scores aren't everything..." (which of course they're not), but then they make her take the test over and over to see how she does. Students with equivalent abilities (but without behavioral issues) have been grade-skipped, while we haven't been given the option (not that we'd necessarily take it, but it's an option).

Additionally, her behavior and general functioning has improved astronomically with her tiny Adderall prescription and behavioral therapy with a child therapist.

So, Mefi, what's my next step? We've already decided to open-enroll to another district for next year so I'm really just looking for ways to not waste this second semester. What should I be going into this meeting with?
posted by altopower to Education (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Special Ed Jargon ahead (might as well get used to it):

Look into special ed enrollment. IDEA (legal act that is a very big deal for public schools) requires that schools meet FAPE (free appropriate public education). You have a legal right to demand an IEP ("Individualized Education Program") assessment, which will determine what services she qualifies for and how those services will be implemented to meet her individual needs.

You also have a right to appeal if they decide she does not qualify for special education (which is what you want in this case; it opens up accommodations for her on an individualized as-needed basis)
posted by zug at 3:46 PM on January 23, 2013 [9 favorites]

In order to get an assessment if the school is refusing, you need to make a written request. Here's a sample form.
posted by zug at 3:48 PM on January 23, 2013

I was an exceptionally bright kid and I went to a school where I wasn't challenged. Pretty much ever. I went to a small private school in the south, so I really don't have any advice for you as far as how to advocate for your kid in a "real" school but I can tell you this: if your daughter is truly gobsmackingly above average, she is going to benefit way more from enrichment outside of school than anything that happens inside the classrom, and that's on you.

When I was 8 I was taking piano lessons (which I started when I was four), taking ballet, tap, jazz, and acrobatics, played baseball, basketball, and soccer, was in Girl Scouts, was reading grown up books, was helping my mom grade papers (she's a teacher), was reading articles about science that my dad found in the paper, and was going to any museum or learning enrichment thing the area I lived in had to offer.

Yes, I agree, that's completely absurd. I had basically no free time until I went to college. But I digress--I barely remember school at that time, because it was just a time to sit and doodle while the other kids learned things I had learned years prior by osmosis. It was how I spent my time outside of school that challenged me.

So, if you find that the schools are unable to give your daughter the intellectual rigor she needs, find a way to give it to her at home. Yes, it takes a lot of time, and yes, it costs an insane amount of money. But my parents decided that they'd rather spend their limited time and money making sure that we were "enriched" than on anything else.

As I got older, my extracurriculars were the only things that kept me engaged and not hating everything about my life--the school continued to fail me, in massive, massive ways, but at least I knew I had other outlets.
posted by phunniemee at 3:55 PM on January 23, 2013 [33 favorites]

I wasn't going to chime in but after reading phunniemee's comment, I will add my opinion: I think the school system is a tough place for a gifted student to really learn in a way that utilizes their talents fully.

I could read before I started kindergarten and my parents pulled me out of school and homeschooled me, and it was fantastic for me. Meeting the standards I needed to meet for each grade level was so easy we hardly even needed a lesson plan for it, and then we could go beyond and explore whatever I was interested in studying. They had me reading at my actual reading level and they gave me the challenges I needed in other subjects, and it was 1 on 1 instruction time which was invaluable. Homeschooling is obviously not feasible for all families, but if it might be feasible for yours, I'd strongly recommend you look into it. There are many more resources now for homeschoolers than there were 20 years ago.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:02 PM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

Do you think she'll need an IEP at the school district she's switching to? If not, I don't know if it's worth the bother of getting one. Schools have so many days to reply to your requests, so many days to set up a meeting, etc. It can be a very slow process, if the district isn't motivated.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:13 PM on January 23, 2013

Sped teacher with 15+ years of experience here (as well as parent to one gifted kid and another with ADD), I'm now an educational consultant.

Unfortunately, kids who are gifted are not covered under IDEA in most states. In other words, your daughter probably will not qualify for special education or any special teaching because of her higher ability level. It just won't happen. You can request meetings, hire a consultant, rage against the machine because she's bored out of her mind (and believe me, I lived this nightmare and now have a fabulous daughter who got a full ride to an Ivy), but you're not going to be able to force the school to give her the education she deserves. Which sucks. But you need to face that it's your reality.

She will qualify for an IEP with a primary health diagnosis of ADD; but that's not going to address her not being challenged.

What I would strongly suggest you do is to consider alternative schooling methods: homeschool, private school, or at the very least, consider having her moved up a grade, depending on her cutoff age and her maturity level. It works for some kids, not all.

I really do hate that my advice seems so negative, and it really sucks that gifted and talented kids get short-changed by the system. So you need to think outside the school to give her the education she deserves.
posted by kinetic at 4:15 PM on January 23, 2013 [17 favorites]

Oh, yeah, I was just thinking of this from the behavioral side. That's how she's going to get services, if any.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:19 PM on January 23, 2013

I have an eight-year-old in much the same boat (only he has sensory processing disorder and a motor skills delay + verbal, reading and math skills years above his grade level).

We tried public school. We tried private school.

We are homeschooling.

It's definitely not my favorite solution for this problem -- I really, really, for personal / career reasons, wanted to go back to work full time the minute this kid hit kindergarten -- but it's working out for us for the time being, and my kid is happier and less anxious than he's been in years. And no, he's not terribly lonely (even though he's an only child) and I haven't torn all of my hair out (yet).

I'm not so sure I would have taken the plunge if my kid did not also have a food allergy, and if said allergy had not been handled really, really shockingly badly last year by certain people at the private school we were paying way too much money for. (Once a well-regarded school has risked your kid's life more than once for stupid reasons, you start to rethink school as a thing altogether, let me tell you.) It was really a rock-and-a-hard-place decision and I was halfway ready to sell our house at a loss in desperation to get us into a different public district if it didn't work out. But it really has been working out, much much better than I expected it to. I'm not perfect at this teaching-my-own-kid gig, but my kid is learning about stuff he's really interested in, and he's not bored all day, and he's also getting appropriate support (with the help of a private occupational therapist we see) for his special needs.

And seriously, his stress level has decreased so much that his physical health has improved. He has been struggling with being underweight for his age for years, and he used to be so anxious and distracted at school all day that he would often entirely forget to eat lunch. He also wasn't sleeping well because of school stress. Now he gets plenty of sleep, and gets plenty to eat, and gets lots of exercise (thanks to lots of free play and bike riding outside, and a twice-a-week swimming class), and he's gained (healthy) weight and shot up more than an inch so far this year. Everyone who sees him lately (even the parents of his old school friends who think we are crazy for homeschooling) remarks on how much healthier and happier he looks.

I know not everyone can do homeschooling, though (it's honestly a big strain on us to do it), so if it's not for you then I hope you can find a good place for your daughter. Right now, in your current situation, I would focus on making sure she has a strongly written IEP for ADHD accommodations in the classroom (which she should be legally entitled to with her medical diagnosis) and also plenty of opportunities for challenge and enrichment outside of school.
posted by BlueJae at 5:11 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just as a note on the acceleration for reading/language - it can help in that they get more challenging books but it is highly unlikely your daughter's physical skills can keep pace with her reading ones. A friend's son has been pushed up a few levels for reading but is still not being challenged with that reading, and is now struggling to keep up with the writing side of things (physically, not intellectually). He, like a lot of 'gifted' readers, benefits from wide reading at home and other activities. And if she had behavioural issues previously they would probably be concerned that in an environment as challenging as being the very youngest in a class, that would arise again. Socially and emotionally it can be challenging for the child to be pushed up a grade, in a way that challenging them to have an individual intellectual journey outside school isn't.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:13 PM on January 23, 2013

I did forget to put in my original post...she has a 504 plan, and I had to fight to even get that. I made an IDEA assessment request in writing back in October, and they've basically refused. The 504 was sort of a concession on both sides. I wanted things documented, because they had gone out of their way to not have anything in writing, including the principal calling me to answer my emails instead of emailing back. Her 504 is very simple and just outlines the accommodations she needs in the classroom, including a chewy necklace and preferential seating. They're not really even following the preferential seating thing, though. I really wanted her to have an IEP, but Wisconsin doesn't allow for gifted IEPs, though other states do.

I was much like her as a child, but my ADHD went undiagnosed because I wasn't disruptive. I was not challenged, I was not motivated, and I went years not knowing how to deal with challenges. I see that in her already, she falls apart when something doesn't come easily to her, and I want that nipped in the bud before any more time passes.

We do some enrichment at home...she reads what she wants and we talk about the books (she's very into mythology right now), we do real-world math stuff, we do a little science. She takes piano lessons and plays soccer and softball, so she's getting well-rounded. I try to not have her do a lot of "stuff" because of her's better that she concentrates on a few things. And that's why our enrichment is so low-key.

Homeschooling is a thing that I've thought about and am keeping in my back pocket. Her district for next year is absolutely top-of-the-line as far as gifted ed (they go around the state and train other teachers/administrators on gifted issues), and the coordinator specializes in twice-exceptional students. I'm extremely optimistic about A's (and her younger brother's) success there. I can't just throw up my hands and say "Screw the rest of this year", though.

I'm well aware that you can't get water from a stone, but what happens when you don't understand why the stone is a stone in the first place? The whole process here has been incredibly disillusioning.
posted by altopower at 5:15 PM on January 23, 2013

Can you afford an attorney? An experienced local attorney/advocate could give you the best advice. If they're not even giving her preferential seating...oy. Even if there's no basis for legal action, having an attorney can encourage a lot more compliance. And you'd know what your options are.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:34 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Does she have an IEP for the ADHD, though? With a medical diagnosis she is at least entitled to that according to federal law (IDEA and ADA).

I think you are probably right that the reason the school doesn't want to skip her a grade is the ADHD. If they are seeing her failing to follow directions, failing to complete work in a timely fashion, etc., they could be telling themselves that she's just not ready for more advanced work no matter what her test scores say. I know I more than a couple of teachers say that out loud to me about my son (who is also highly distracted in a classroom setting, just for different reasons). What they did not seem to understand is that 1.) the special needs issues will still be there regardless of the level of work you are giving a kid -- it's a medical condition not a temporary behavioral problem, and 2.) a kid who already has trouble paying attention is going to have DOUBLE THE TROUBLE if that kid is also totally bored by work below his or her academic skill level. But trying to get people to understand this -- even at the private school that specialized in kids with LD/SN including twice exceptional kids -- was like beating my head against a brick wall.

That's why I think it's important that you fight to get a solid IEP for the ADHD, if she doesn't already have one, even if you cannot also get a gifted IEP at her school. Every single instance where ADHD gets in her way at school right now is likely being used as yet another justification for why "she's not ready" for school work at her actual academic level. So I think it would be good for her if you could smooth the path for her at school as much as possible by making sure everyone is on the same (literal, legal, documented, filed in triplicate) page about dealing with her ADHD, so it doesn't get in her way as much.

Also, have you considered the idea of homeschooling just until she gets to other school that you know will be better for her? Homeschooling is not an all-or-nothing proposal. I have a friend who is planning to homeschool her son for exactly six months while they are between districts.
posted by BlueJae at 5:35 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

You could keep on trying to get the school to give her extension projects/ fast track her to more advanced classes etc etc OR you could encourage and facilitate independent study. The latter is going to be more helpful to your daughter in the long term and more interesting in the short term. Talk to her about her interests and go from there. Does she like writing? Find a creative writing class (even one for adults) for her, or encourage her to write a short story a week. Take her to a bookshop and give her absolute free rein to find whatever books pique her interest. Does she like media? See if she can start doing things with local community radio. Does she like science? Get her reading good but readable books on biology (I can suggest a great number of these!) and get her outdoors keeping a notebook on animal behaviour. Encourage her to learn about scientific method and hypothesis testing, and then give her the means of running experiments.

In short, a smart kid with access to books who is encouraged to be creative with their time is going to be FAR better off than a smart kid who is spoon fed extension projects by overworked teachers.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 6:02 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the update. A couple of things, in that case:

* First, schools will rarely if ever discuss a child via email for legal reasons, so that's why the principal is calling you instead of responding to emails. Emails become part of a kid's academic record and can be subpoenaed.

* There are a few reasons that kids are put on IEPs instead of 504s. Basically, IEPs are for kids who require specially designed instruction outside the mainstream classroom and more importantly, they have measurable goals with timelines. In my experience, kids with ADD do not require any specially designed instruction (for example, a kid with a reading disability would get an IEP that had special pullout for reading services as well as annual measurable goals like, "The student will decode 200 sight words by June 2013."). Because ADD is considered a health disability, schools can't create goals to lessen the disability because that's just not possible.

* Ah, the preferential seating bugaboo. That can be a really tough accommodation for even the best teacher because on any given day, you don't know what will be disruptive to the kid. Is the heater loud? Are some kids extra chatty? Is the hall noisy? Is being close to the teacher actually beneficial? What I'm saying is that this can be a very hard accommodation to follow because you're talking about a disruptive environment to begin with, other kids with accommodations, etc.

One last thing. It's really hard as a parent to separate our own school experience from that of our kids. Seriously, even when I go into meetings with principals as a paid educational consultant (helping parents get their kids on IEPs), I'm afraid the principal is going to yell at me.

Feel free to memail me if you want advice (like I said, I do this for a living).
posted by kinetic at 6:03 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

> Because ADD is considered a health disability, schools can't create goals to lessen the disability because that's just not possible

What about a Behavior Intervention Plan, kinetic? Would that be a way to sneak in some gifted support? I'm thinking of something like "If A is bored and beginning to disrupt the classroom, she will be given [some more challenging work] to do at her desk."

But it sounds like this particular district isn't going to do anything that helpful.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:29 PM on January 23, 2013

Yeah, I've worked with families who had kids with ADD who did get placed on IEPs for "Study Skills," and then they get special ed help with executive functioning skills and stuff like that.

As far as Behavioral Intervention Plans go, in my experience, first the kid has to be really disruptive. Then the school will do a Functional Behavioral Analysis to get a better idea of when behaviors happen, under what circumstances, etc. If they can, they create a very concrete behavioral plan to stop behaviors before they start.

So, I suppose it's possible, if altopower really went all out on this, they could try that route. But first, the school will have to agree that the kid's behavior is so off the chart that the plan needs to be done. And even if it did get done, I really (unfortunately) doubt that the district would create a behavioral plan that involves giving a student different work because they're bored, because it's hard to prove a causality between academic boredom and negative behavior.
posted by kinetic at 7:01 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

My mother is fond of telling the story about how when I was in second grade, she went to the principal of my elementary school to ask him about implementing more challenging work for me because I was hopelessly bored in class. He yawned and told her that he had students in this school with, you know, actual special needs, so she and I should just be grateful.

My parents petitioned to have me moved to another elementary school in our town but outside our particular district. It was a hassle yet somehow they managed to get it approved. The principal at this new school was better at supporting a diverse range of students, and the teachers as a whole were better too. I was much happier there. I don't know if that's an option in your area, but I would look into it.

I'm well aware that you can't get water from a stone, but what happens when you don't understand why the stone is a stone in the first place? The whole process here has been incredibly disillusioning.

The stone is a stone because of my (former) principal's point: the schools have limited resources and struggling children are generally viewed as needing those resources more than gifted children. I'm not commenting on whether that view is right or wrong—I'm sure that multitudes of MeFites can attest that getting sufficient help for struggling children is also like trying to get water from a stone—only that this view is very common.

If switching your daughter to another school isn't an option, and the district she will be in next year is really as good at providing for its gifted students as you hope, then I would advise you to (1) support her in sticking it out through the end of this year and (2) help her to participate in as many extracurricular activities as possible, as suggested by phunniemee.

Best wishes, truly.
posted by The Girl Who Ate Boston at 7:23 PM on January 23, 2013

Her behavior is no longer disruptive (AFAIK)...her issues now stem purely from lack of focus. Basically the Adderall has tamed the hyperactive elements but hasn't quite done as much for the inattentive ones. She in no way would qualify for a Functional Behavior Assessment at this point.

My current idea that I came up with tonight on the way home from work is asking if they would do a pretest kind of thing, at least with spelling words. So if she gets them all correct on Monday, she could be given the next week's words and so on. I have a hard time thinking about applying that to other aspects of language arts, though.

Mr. altopower and I will talk further about what more we can be doing with home enrichment as well. Depending on how this next meeting goes, we may go ahead and start homeschooling for the remainder of the year.

kinetic, I will memail you tomorrow.

Thank you all for your's nice to have unbiased opinions and experiences.
posted by altopower at 8:10 PM on January 23, 2013

Having a better district slated up for next year is wonderful. Honestly, I would consider homeschooling until then if at all possible.

When I was her age and in a similar situation, my language arts teacher let me move through the workbooks at my own pace. When I finished the second grade one, she gave me the third grade book, and eventually the fourth grade book. That might be pushing the problem down the line, but if your daughter will be in a classroom that's more adapted to her needs next year, it might be worth considering.
posted by third word on a random page at 11:42 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can you put her in a private school for the rest of the year, such as a Montessori school that is by nature a self-paced and self-directed approach to education?
posted by Dansaman at 8:35 AM on January 24, 2013

I just wanted to say that I was grade-skipped and I don't really feel like that addressed the issues of the incredible boredom of school.

School was a nightmare for me, especially as i got into the upper grades. I was/am a voracious reader and I'd read so much, so quickly that it was hard for teachers to hold my attention.

For middle school I was in an experimental school where we did individualized tests and units to see what we needed to study. I passed all the tests in Social Studies and Language Arts. I concentrated on Math and Science, but plowed through all of the units there. I spent most of the 8th grade either fooling around with my friends or reading the textbooks in the Social Studies section.

In High School, I accelerated through it, took a shit-ton of AP courses, and then started college in my Junior year.

School and I had a love/hate relationship.

I don't know if there's a good answer. Part of school is sitting in a room, being quiet and doing what you're told. My mom used to tell me that it would train me to work, and she wasn't far wrong.

A good gifted program would help. A good Magnet School might be interesting.

Perhaps a language immersion program?

Try everything, and enrich like crazy. It's frustrating, but sometimes, it's what you've got to do.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:07 PM on January 24, 2013

Dansaman, in an ideal world, yes. But we are low-income, and it doesn't seem right to go through the rigmarole of getting a scholarship (and potentially taking one away from someone else) when we wouldn't plan on staying.

If anything, we'd pull her out and homeschool the remainder of the year. I'm holding tight till the next meeting, which is set for February 1. I don't want to make any major decisions before then, but I will definitely be keeping the homeschool option in mind.

And third word, that would be a great idea if I could get them to agree to it.

Ruthless, the language thing is a fantastic idea that I hadn't thought of. It's an area where she has virtually no knowledge (beyond Sesame Street Spanish), and she'd likely LOVE it.
posted by altopower at 12:14 PM on January 24, 2013

I have about two minutes right now, but:
I skipped a grade and it didn't help my boredom in the least. Gifted kids learn quickly. If your daughter skips, say, third grade, she'll just learn all the fourth grade stuff very quickly, and then where will you be? With a very young, bored fourth-grader.

I am/was homeschooling my 16-year-old. I say "was" because he's been attending college 3/4-time since he was 13, and these days, I'm only doing things like history with him. He attended school from K til fifth grade (age 10) a la the "phunniemee's parents' method," and then I dropped out of my nursing program to attend to his education full-time. It's not ideal, but it was the best of our options. For many gifted children -- especially the profoundly gifted and twice-exceptional -- perfect options just don't exist.
posted by houseofdanie at 6:49 PM on January 25, 2013

In case anyone is still reading this...we had the meeting at her school today. The upshot is that they're preparing to skip her to 4th grade next year, which I obviously haven't agreed to. Because of that preparation, they're accelerating her more this semester. I don't plan on complaining about that...they're doing what we want, just for a different reason. So we won't be pulling her out to homeschool the remainder of the year. Open enrollment begins on Monday, so we'll get our application done right away. We won't be asking for her to be skipped in her new district as it seems that she'll be better accommodated there in her own grade.

Thank you to all of you who responded with advice and thoughts!
posted by altopower at 6:09 PM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's great that they were willing to discuss this with you. I would suggest meeting with the administration at her new school and get their input on this idea, just in case. You don't want her going into her new school having learned all of the material already, because then she's just going to get bored again.

But this is a very good start!
posted by kinetic at 5:39 AM on February 10, 2013

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