Twice-Exceptional Students

By Lawrence Hardy

Was it because she was ill-placed in a French immersion program? Or were there deeper, more profound reasons for the first-grader’s lack of progress?

Most every day, at precisely 9:35 a.m., Mary Quackenbush would raise her hand and ask to go to the bathroom. Not coincidentally, that was when language class began at Maryvale Elementary School in Montgomery County, Md.

Mary’s mother, Priscilla, says the 6-year-old would go to the bathroom, then spend the next several minutes wandering the halls. She would do anything, it seemed, to get away.

At a conference the next year to discuss Mary’s progress, her teacher told Quackenbush: “Mary has the lowest reading ability of all my second-graders.” And how did she compare with the first-graders? Quackenbush asked. The first-grade teacher replied: “Mary has the lowest reading ability of all my first-graders.”

That’s when Priscilla Quackenbush burst into tears. A military nurse practitioner at Water Reed Army Medical Center and the mother of two gifted teenage boys, Quackenbush knew for some time that her precocious, blonde daughter --  who had a knack for organizing things and an uncanny sense of compassion for children and even adults --  was different. She seemed to possess extraordinary talent and a devastating disability at the same time.

Another district might have dismissed Mary as lazy, disruptive, or simply unable to achieve. But fortunately, Montgomery County has pioneered programs for “twice-exceptional” children like her. Since September, Mary --  now 8 and diagnosed with profound dyslexia --  has been in a special third- and fourth-grade class at another elementary school with six other students, all of whom qualify for both gifted and special education services.

“It’s really been wonderful for her,” her mother says, “a big turning point in just the way she feels about herself.”

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