What Does It Mean to Be Twice Exceptional?

In this blog, I wanted to explore the topic of what it means to be twice exceptional. The term twice exceptional (2e) refers to intellectually gifted children who have some form of disability. 2e students are often given special consideration in schools for both their higher-than-average aptitudes and their special needs.

There is no clear-cut profile of a twice exceptional child because the causes of twice exceptionality can be so varied. The disabilities that can classify an intellectually gifted child as 2e can range from dyslexia to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Diagnoses of attention deficit disorder, anxiety, or depression can also designate a student as twice exceptional. Further, some 2e children may have no formal diagnosis but do have learning differences, such as a preferred learning style that makes it hard for them to function in a standard classroom.

The percentage of 2e students is not clear because the nature of twice exceptionality is so varied, but some estimate the number at 2 to 5 percent of all gifted children. Dr. Linda Silverman of the Gifted Development Center (GDC) has found that one-sixth of the gifted children tested at the GDC have a learning difference of some type.

2e students are often misunderstood. The combination of their strengths and weaknesses can result in behavior and academic performance that perplex parents and teachers. Twice exceptional students often appear uninterested, lazy, or disruptive to those around them. Dr. Susan Baum has qualified three profiles into which 2e students often fall: bright but not trying hard enough, learning disabled but with no gifted abilities, and average. For 2e students the case is often that the student’s strengths compensate for deficits while the deficits conceal strengths.

What happens when students have this interplay of strengths and weaknesses is inconsistency in performance. Grades may fluctuate between great and very poor even within the same subject. Assignments may be completed but never turned in. Students may be able to verbally articulate deep understanding of a topic but can’t translate their thoughts to writing. 2e students may become frustrated with their performance, draining their enthusiasm and energy for school.

Identifying Twice Exceptional Children

2e children can exhibit a wide range of traits, many of which are typical of gifted students. Some common strengths exhibited by 2e children include: advanced vocabulary, high level of creativity and problem-solving skills, and having a wide range of interests not related to school. Some common weaknesses include: poor social skills, high sensitivity to criticism, and lack of organizational and study skills.

Before students reach school age twice exceptionality may appear as simply giftedness in the form of varied interests and advanced vocabulary. However, when students reach school, it is often the teacher who first begins to notice specific problems. If an issue is spotted early on, it is usually in the form of a social problem, such as the student having a hard time making friends and fitting in. Academic problems often don’t appear until later when workload and content become more challenging and the student’s strengths can no longer completely compensate for his weaknesses.

When difficulties persist, school personnel or parents may decide to pursue psycho-educational testing to determine the causes of the student’s struggles. It is critical that the professionals conducting the evaluations are knowledgeable in giftedness. Because certain characteristics of giftedness can seem like those of a learning disorder, sometimes, gifted children are incorrectly diagnosed with a disorder. Evaluations should indicate what the child needs in order to build on strengths and compensate for weaknesses.

Support for Twice Exceptional Children

2e children typically thrive in learning environments that engage multiple senses and offer hands-on learning. Often, the specific type of support that is needed for a 2e student depends on the specific student. For example, some 2e students may need extra time on tests while others need extra attention to learning time management skills. Above all, it is important that 2e students receive support that allows them to develop and challenge their gifts. They need to be recognized for their gifts rather than be conditioned to focus on compensating for their weaknesses, which can elicit negative behavioral patterns.

Public and private schools that have truly implemented appropriate support systems for 2e students are unfortunately scarce. Many parents of 2e students choose to pursue supplemental or alternate options than the services that would be provided to them through a 504 plan or IEP.

At Educational Connections we have a handful of tutors who are well versed in the needs of 2e students. To learn more about the supplemental support that we can provide, please contact [email protected].