Is your child’s handwriting all over the place, even though they chatter away in a vocabulary that has you running for the dictionary? Are they an extraordinarily talented artist, yet struggle in social situations to a debilitating degree? A child who has difficulties in some areas, yet excels in others, could well have Dual or Multiple Exceptionality (DME).
The term DME is used to describe children who have high learning potential and one or more special educational needs. It is not the same as having a spiky profile; children with a spiky profile have notable strengths contrasting against weaknesses in other areas, but do not have the exceptional talent or giftedness of a DME child.
There are a number of ways in which this might present. Your child may be extremely bright, but constantly in trouble at school for being late or not paying attention. This situation can lead to misdiagnosis.
The endless questions and boundless curiosity typical of DME children, coupled with acting out though boredom because of lack of challenge might be mistaken for ADHD.
On the other hand, it may be the giftedness that goes unnoticed. A DME child with dyspraxia may be bored silly with the level of maths on offer at school, but lagging behind because when everyone else is writing down their homework, they’re too busy struggling to zip up their pencil case while trying not to knock their chair over as they scramble to the next lesson. Their heads may be bursting with imaginative ideas for stories, but their dysgraphia means that it takes forever to write it down and, when they do, it’s illegible.
In cases like these, teaching staff may fail to give children the support they need because they say that they are keeping up.
Another scenario might be that their academic work is average because their exceptionalities are cancelling the other out, leaving no hints as to why the child might be unhappy. Or it may be head-bangingly obvious to parents that their child has a disability and an exceptionally high IQ or talent, but they just don’t know how to support them.
What can parents do to help a child with DME?
Start by focusing on the child. If they are verbal, talk to them about what’s going on at school and find out what changes they would like to happen. Many clues might point in the direction of DME – average performance at school, yet engaged by books and interests that seem far beyond their years; outstanding problem-solving skills and sense of humour that doesn’t necessarily translate to written work; exceptional flair for an aspect of the arts, such as music, yet finding it hard to keep up in other areas.
The only way to find out for sure is for your child to be assessed by an educational psychologist.
When it comes to developing strategies to help your child at home, be guided by their interests. Children’s librarians, museum and art gallery staff can help you to seek out support for your child’s learning. Keen readers may not be challenged by some modern children’s books, so dust off a few children’s classics to stretch their vocabulary. Make full use of technology - older children can download free apps onto their smartphone to help with organization, recording notes and producing written work.
The internet is a useful starting point to find online forums for parents in the same situation and to swap tips – Mumsnet has a gifted and talented forum. Use search engines to identify charities who will provide information to expand your knowledge of your child’s condition and offer advice on stretching and engaging them, such as Potential Plus UK, an independent charity that supports the social, emotional and learning needs of children with high learning potential and DME.
How should you work with school in cases of DME?
Parents should approach the school with solutions as well as problems. State schools will be mindful of budgets, so discuss low-cost extension opportunities such as using older students as buddies.
The school's special needs co-ordinator should draw up an individual learning plan for your child, which ought to incorporate opportunities to support and minimize disruption to their education caused by their difficulties, while promoting their talents and interests. Ideally, schools should praise good behaviour rather than flagging up bad, and reward hard work as well as achievement.
It is essential that these students are identified as early as possible and given the chance to realise their potential, preventing soul-crushing low self-esteem and underachievement from defining their personal and intellectual development.