Twice Exceptional Students

It is often taken for granted that high ability children are, as a group, students who will score high on intelligence tests and perform well in school. Increasingly there is recognition of high ability children who also have conditions that interfere with their ability to learn (e.g., learning disabilities, ADHD, processing difficulties, etc.). It is essential that these twice-exceptional (2e) students have attention paid to both their extremes; they should have remediation for their weaknesses, as warranted, but there needs to be a focus on promoting their strengths and talents at the same time.

Appropriately addressing all of these children’s needs happens far too infrequently, however. With all of the possible combinations of gifted abilities and learning disabilities, there is no cookie-cutter way to classify a twice-exceptional child. It is important to have these children assessed by a professional trained in both high ability and special education. Without identifying 2e students, we run the risk of not being able to recognize their exceptionalities, which may result in one of the following three
scenarios:
  • *A 2e student may be identified as high ability but seen as underperforming in school. In this case, their giftedness may mask their disability to the point where it is only recognized when school becomes more rigorous, and the child begins to fall behind.
  • *Conversely, a child may be identified as learning disabled, but the student’s disability may instead mask their giftedness. In this instance, the student never has the opportunity to excel in their area(s) of strength because they are never recognized and nurtured.
  • *More often than not, however, a student with both exceptionalities of abilities and disabilities will find themselves languishing in the general classroom because their extremes mask each other to the extent that they appear to possess average academic aptitude.

Teachers may often misunderstand these students because they can be intelligent and frustrating at the same time. They may see students as lazy, disruptive, or under-performing if they don’t recognize the duality of the 2e child’s extremes. For this reason, it is essential for parents to advocate for their children and to make sure that they are not only identified appropriately but that they also receive services in the classroom that adequately address both their abilities and disabilities. As with any
learning disabled (LD) student, twice-exceptional children should have an individualized education plan (IEP) that meets their particular needs, but they can also benefit from developing a specific support plan for each classroom. Accommodations may include but are not limited to preferential seating, allowing them to work or test in a quiet space, breaking assignments into segments, or allowing them extra time to complete their work. Twice exceptional students, similar to all high ability students, also benefit from being allowed to work on independent research projects in areas of their interests and strengths. Support strategies should be individualized for each child to ensure that their disabilities don’t prevent them from taking full advantage of their equally exceptional strengths.