HOUSTON - During this Autism Awareness Month, we bring you a term that you might not be familiar with: "twice exceptional" students. It's important for both parents and teachers to recognize the signs.
Dr. Matthew Fugate started out his career as an elementary school teacher. He became aware then that some students in the gifted and talented program also had undiagnosed conditions. This varied from mild autism to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia.
"That just led me down the path, and I became passionate about it. I wanted to know more, I wanted to advocate for these kids, which led me to where I am today, at the University of Houston-Downtown, working with pre-service teachers and in-service teachers to help them see these students in their classrooms," says Dr. Fugate.
He’s referring to twice exceptional students. He's so passionate about identifying and then helping these students that he became a professor to teach future educators about it. He even wrote a book to help spread the message.
"Our twice exceptional students are those students who are identified as intellectually gifted and talented, but also have an identified special education, learning or behavioral difference. It's important that teachers realize that these students exist, that the dichotomy of being gifted and also having special education needs, is often confusing for teachers, and they don't realize that these students are sitting in their classrooms," explains Dr. Fugate.
The signs can be so subtle that even parents can miss them. These students often excel in the classroom, yet struggle in other areas, including socially, and they don't end up getting a proper diagnosis. Since these students perform well in certain areas, their disabilities are often missed, which can create future, long-term challenges for them.
"You're really looking for our students who are in that Level 1 spectrum disorder, looking for those, maybe missed social cues, looking for repetitive phrases," says Dr. Fugate.
Dr. Fugate puts out the challenge to all educators to pay close attention to their gifted students.
"It's so important because I would say these students have a foot in two worlds! They have these intellectual needs that must be addressed because they are gifted, but they also have the challenges they face due to their special education needs. Oftentimes these students feel like they don't fit in with their peers, with either their gifted peers, or their special education peers. They often feel out of sync," states Dr. Fugate.
Without awareness, twice exceptional students can slip into adulthood, without ever getting the support they may desperately need, to help them grow and succeed in life. Almost 400,000 students have been identified in the U.S. as twice exceptional, but many more go undiagnosed.