Why telling real stories about children and young people with Dual and Multiple Exceptionality is so important.

Children and young people with Dual and Multiple Exceptionalities (DME) are highly able and also have special educational needs and/or one or more disabilities (SEND). They are often not easy to identify and their needs even harder to determine both inside and outside the classroom. Amongst other things, their abilities can mask their SEND and they can ‘disappear’ in the system; they can be misdiagnosed or labelled lazy, badly behaved or troublemakers or they can develop a range of social, emotional, mental health and other problems which provide the focus for intervention without looking at their holistic needs as a child or young person with DME.

Every child is an individual and their abilities and needs even more so. To best illustrate DME, The Potential Trust is seeking stories about children and young people with DME, their journeys, how their needs are met and what happens to them at home and in their learning.

Our series kicks off in GTN Awareness Week with some real stories extracted from The School Handbook for Dual and Multiple Exceptionality by Denise Yates and Adam Boddison (published by Routledge in 2020) reproduced in part here with the kind permission of the authors. For more information or to order a copy of this book, please go to: https://www.routledge.com/The-School-Handbook-for-Dual-and-Multiple-Exceptionality-High-Learning/Yates-Boddison/p/book/9780367369583

If you have a personal story about DME which you would like to share with others, please email this to potentialtrust@gmail.com Please change the names and details to preserve anonymity. The Potential Trust reserves the right to edit the story and not to publish it on our website. Sending us your story implies consent for us to send it out on social and other media to raise awareness and support others in this important area of work.

Thea’s story

About Thea

What are Thea’s specific strengths? Extremely high levels of ability across the board.

What are Thea’s specific learning challenges? Sensory issues, social,emotional and mental health issues.

Schooling: State primary school, home education, primary school

Introduction to the child and the context

As soon as Thea went into Reception class, she said that she felt ‘different’. She was extremely perceptive for her age and emotionally mature. However, this feeling of ‘difference’ was making her miserable. According to her parents, she laid awake for hours at night, feeling anxious and unable to sleep; and repeatedly asked her parents what was wrong with her.

Thea attended reception at the local state primary school, where she was quickly put onto the SEND register at school. Thea’s difficulties were seen as ‘deficits’ and her social situation was regarded to being due to social and communication difficulties.

However, Thea’s parents saw a child who communicated well with older children and adults. She was also a child who thrived with a combination of challenge and careful support. This support enabled her to access more complex problems and then, with the right encouragement, she was even more willing to go out of her ‘comfort zone’ and attempt things that she found more difficult such as physical activities.

Her parents also recognised that Thea was highly sensitive, not only emotionally but also physically. She was easily overwhelmed, and it was felt by her parents that this was clouding the school’s judgement of her actual academic ability.

Identification of DME

As Thea became increasingly withdrawn and isolated, her parents wanted more information and approached the charity Potential Plus UK. After several calls with an educational adviser, they decided to have Thea assessed so that they could understand her learning profile – her relative strengths and weaknesses – and so that they and the school could provide her with more appropriate support.

In the assessment, Thea scored exceptionally highly on both the verbal and non-verbal sections of the assessment. She demonstrated cognitive functioning on the 99.8th percentile (a rarity of 1 in 500 people) and her attainment was on the 99.9th percentile (1 in 1,000) when she was given the opportunity to attempt more difficult concepts in a safe environment.

An accompanying sensory profile highlighted that she had sensory issues in several areas including auditory and visual sensitivities which would continue to impact upon her achievement and wellbeing if not addressed.

Description of DME provision

Unfortunately, the school Thea attended at the time did not take on board the recommendations in the assessment report. As a result, and reluctantly, Thea’s parents took the difficult decision to withdraw her from formal schooling for a period whilst they looked for alternative provision. Now that they had more information about Thea’s strengths and the challenges she faced, they were able to find a school which was receptive to working with them.

The school to which Thea moved was receptive to many of the assessment report’s recommendations which included providing an accelerated academic curriculum in Thea’s areas of strength; working collaboratively with a local secondary school as time progressed and providing opportunities for Thea to work on non-academic issues of social interest. To help meet her challenges, Thea had an integrated support plan for her auditory and visual needs.

All of this was brought together and coordinated by the SENCO via an IEP which ensured a formal framework for action and a process which could be regularly monitored and evaluated.

Impact of DME provision

The combination of an appropriate level of challenge with similar ability peers and opportunities for self-directed study along with adaptations for her heightened sensory issues have enabled Thea to better manage her anxieties and develop her self-identity.

The school has also benefited from its understanding of the needs of DME learners and the support provided to them through organisations such as Potential Plus UK. This has enabled them to identify and put appropriate provision for other DME learners in their setting.

Thea’s parents recognise that they will need to navigate the

‘rollercoaster of having a child with DME’

 especially during transition. Both they and the school acknowledge that the collaborative nature of their relationship has been crucial to ensuring Thea’s wellbeing so far.

To read more about Thea and her journey and the other DME stories, go to The School Handbook for Dual and Multiple Exceptionality by Denise Yates and Adam Boddison.

About The Potential Trust

The Potential Trust is a registered charity (charity number 326645) whose aim is to provide, promote and encourage whatever makes education and learning more interesting for children and young people (up to school leaving age) who have High Learning Potential (sometimes called more able, highly able or Gifted and Talented) or Dual or Multiple Exceptionalities (sometimes called DME, Twice Exceptional or 2e, neurodiverse or gifted with learning differences). We want to support all those children with more than the average share of curiosity, creativity, perception and persistence and to enable them to have access to events and experiences that facilitate their personal and social development and their creative, artistic and practical abilities as well as their intellectual abilities. We do this by:

  • Providing Potential Bursaries
  • Running Potential Conferences
  • Developing Potential Collaborations
  • Being a catalyst for Potential Change.

For more information about how to get involved or to support us, please log onto our website at https://thepotentialtrust.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @PotentialTrust

Names and details have been changed to preserve anonymity. Any views are those of the authors.