By Laura Walker
The term “exceptional child” includes children whose academic or functional abilities fall above and below the typical skill level of their peers. Many times, an exceptional child has difficulties in one area of functioning but shows average or above average ability in others. Regardless of where a child’s abilities fall, exceptional children generally require modifications in curriculum or instruction to reach their greatest capabilities.
“The key to helping exceptional children thrive is to focus on what they can do rather than placing limitations on them based on their disabilities,” said Maureen Long, Principal for Canopy Children’s Solutions’ CARES School-Jackson. “When parents and caring professionals keep the emphasis on a child’s strengths and abilities, we can help the child reach greater levels of achievement.”
Knowing how to best support an exceptional child is key to unlocking their underlying potential. Ms. Long outlines ways parents can best support an exceptional child on both ends of the abilities spectrum.
Accept the diagnosis – Some parents think children will outgrow concerning behaviors; however, those that impair functioning in school, or with family and other relationships may need professional help. The consequences of delaying therapy or individualized instruction parallel the consequences of delaying medical treatment. Like a physical diagnosis, such as cancer or infection, early intervention yields the best results.
Access empirically- supported therapies – There are many fad-driven, non-scientifically supported therapies available today for a variety of issues, so it is important to do your own research using respectable sources – academic journals, medical professionals, professional organizations.
Social stigma – Depending on a child’s situation and/or disability, he or she may be judged or treated differently. The best way to deal with this is education. People are afraid of what they don’t understand. The more parents can do to educate others on a particular disorder or disability, the more a child will be accepted into his community and the more comfortable he or she will be when integrating with peers.
Education – Ensuring your child receives a quality education requires a hands-on approach for children on both ends of the exceptional spectrum. Parents should tour a school or special program to gain full understanding of what is offered and what to expect. Ask about curriculum/learning approaches the teachers use; student/teacher ratios; use of technology; and special interventions or therapies available onsite. Ask about teacher development and training. Be sure to meet the teachers and ask how you will be kept up-to-date on your child’s participation and progress in the class. Talk with other parents who have experience with the school, but don’t rely on someone else’s word – go see for yourself.
Learn your rights – Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, children with disabilities have access to educational interventions through public education. Additionally, the Mississippi Gifted Education Act of 1989 mandates gifted education programs for children of specific age groups and abilities. If your child attends private school, these schools are not legally obligated to provide these special courses, but many do. Do your research and ask questions.
Resources – When a child receives a difficult diagnosis, whether it is Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD or another challenge, it can be helpful to reach out to parents of children with the same diagnosis for advice on next steps and begin building your network of support. A variety of organizations is available to provide advocacy and support to families.
Understanding and accepting the uniqueness of an exceptional child is important to helping him or her reach their full potential. Whether a child needs gifted classes, one-on-one tutoring or specialized therapy, having a strong family and community network to support them along the journey will yield the most positive outcomes.
Laura Walker, is a staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions. Canopy Children’s Solutions’ CARES Schools offer specialized education solutions for children, including those with a variety of intellectual, behavioral, or developmental disabilities. CARE Schools are located in Hattiesburg, Gulfport and Jackson. They are accredited, non-public schools designed to meet the educational and behavioral needs of students whose behavior prohibits participation in the public school setting.
ABOUT CANOPY CHILDREN’S SOLUTIONS: Canopy Children’s Solutions (Canopy) is Mississippi’s largest and most comprehensive nonprofit provider of children’s behavioral health, educational and social services. Founded in 1912, Canopy offers a full array of integrated, community-based services in all 82 counties as well as intensive campus-based and educational programming. For more information, please contact 800-388-6247 or visit mycanopy.org.