Updated: Feb 10, 2021
by Emily VR
Remember the saying, “there’s strength in numbers”? When it comes to supporting both parents and schools, the expression holds true. Whether your child has special needs or gifted differences, he or she may need accommodations and/or services in school. Did you know that you can start a parent group or PTA Committee for ALL special needs and learning differences, including gifted needs? You can also forge partnerships between existing parent support groups, even if they focus on very different types of needs.
Why should you consider advocating for both Special Education and gifted needs, and how will this benefit students with all kinds of learning differences, disabilities, and strengths?
All kids with differences need understanding at school! For special needs of all types, school accommodations and services exist for one purpose: to make it possible for our children to access an education and to learn at school. Your child may have a 504 Plan or an IEP. He or she may receive therapy or pull-out services for learning differences, or may need special equipment during the school day. He or she may be in a gifted education pull-out program, or may be accelerated in a subject or full grade. Each of these students requires services or adjustments in order to learn in the classroom, and to avoid the negative effects of unmet needs. Raising awareness about differences and school needs can benefit students with all diagnoses.
Precedent for partnership. Special and gifted education partnerships are not a new idea: the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) was founded in 1922, and it is the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving the educational success of all individuals with disabilities, with gifted needs, and with both (gifted students with one or more disabilities are called “Twice-Exceptional,” or 2e).
Educators need your support! Whether your child receives services from specialists, therapists, aides, Resource teachers, and/or Special Education teachers, these individuals can be some of your child’s strongest advocates. Unfortunately, although it’s not intentional, these special people may not receive the same PTA/PTO volunteer support and appreciation as regular classroom teachers (those things do matter!). Joint efforts can help. District departments for Special Education, Dyslexia, Counseling, and Gifted Education may need the support of parent groups in order to accomplish goals. Positive partnerships can improve parent-school relationships and student services in numerous ways. Including all special services in support and advocacy can strengthen a district for everyone.
Combined groups can facilitate friendships. Parent groups can host family events, either as fundraisers or casual gatherings, and these can allow children with special and gifted needs to form important friendships. All students with differences can feel misunderstood by peers, and sometimes, can suffer social isolation. Forming bonds with others who feel different can help a child feel less alone.
Families with disabilities need your advocacy. Differently-abled children can have a wide range of strengths and needs, but all of them deserve the chance to maximize their potential. Special Education laws and funding do assist children with disabilities, but families and schools still need advocacy and support. These parents are heroes, and they have incredible demands on their time and energy. Combining efforts can expand the reach of their work.
Twice-exceptional children need understanding. The needs of 2e children can be complex, and in groups focused on individual diagnoses, parents may have trouble finding others who can identify. Combined advocacy can provide 2e families with support, a voice, and better understanding from both educators and other families.
Gifted needs are special needs. When special and gifted education advocacy is combined, parents can help dispel myths about giftedness, and can reframe discussions about gifted education. Too many parents and educators still equate giftedness with high achievement and view gifted accommodations as elitist. When gifted education is included in joint advocacy efforts with Special Education, parents and educators may be able to see gifted needs through a more accurate lens.
Parent support groups for specific diagnoses are still important for emotional support and exchanging resources – but geographically, few families with identical needs may be near one another. For your child’s diagnosis, there may not be enough local parents to effectively advocate and support your district. It’s possible to have both individual and combined groups: in the district where I live, parents belong to groups for specific needs – such as dyslexia and gifted needs – but we also have a combined PTA committee for Special and Gifted Education. This committee includes every type of special need and learning difference, it’s one of several in local districts, and it’s working to make a positive difference. If your local PTA isn’t open to something similar, don’t give up: you can (and should) still establish partnerships between existing groups!
If you’re starting a new group, a number of resources can help: for gifted groups, check out the below links and other posts in the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Blog Hop (below!). Whether you start a group or collaborate with existing ones, remember these tips:
Stay positive in your advocacy
Adopt a team approach when working with educators
Advocate with integrity and respect
Work to see issues from multiple perspectives
Ask how you can help
Consider affiliating with state or national organizations, and/or advocating at the state/national level
Support the teachers and administrators in your district as well as your group’s parents.
Parenting a child with special needs or learning differences can be a lonely job. Fortunately, in a parent group, you don’t have to be alone. Special and gifted education partnerships don’t just benefit your own child: they create a community, they help teachers and schools, and they can improve awareness and education for all children with differences.
We are proud this post is part of the April Blog Hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!
Blog Hop graphic by Pamela S Ryan – click above for more Blog Hop posts!
Council for Exceptional Children: https://www.cec.sped.org/
Start a Special Education PTA: https://www.pta.org/content.cfm?ItemNumber=2100 from National PTA (You can also create council or school PTA committees combining Special and Gifted Education advocacy.)
The below resources focus on gifted groups, though some advice can apply to groups for other diagnoses:
Starting a Gifted Parents’ Group: https://globalgtchatpoweredbytagt.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/starting-a-gifted-parents-group/ from Global #GTCHAT, Powered by TAGT (Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented)
How parent advocacy groups can make a difference: http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10339.aspx from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development
Forming a Parent Group: http://www.iagcgifted.org/committees/parent-affiliates/the-nuts-and-bolts-of-forming-a-parent-group.html from the Illinois Association for Gifted Children
Starting and Sustaining a Parent Group to Support Gifted Children: http://www.nagc.org/sites/default/files/Parent%20CK/Starting%20and%20Sustaining%20a%20Parent%20Group.pdf from the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC)
Establishing a Parent Support Group: http://www.txgifted.org/establishing-psg from the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT)
What Makes a Parent Group Successful: http://www.txgifted.org/files/What-Makes-Parent-Groups-Successful.pdf from the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT)
Parent Support Groups: https://pty.vanderbilt.edu/parents/parent-support-groups/ from Vanderbilt University – Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth