What is a Twice Exceptional Student?

KoolMinds Team
The term "twice-exceptional," also referred to as "2e" is used to describe students that are intellectually gifted and also have learning differences.  2e students have amazing talents and potential in some areas while also being challenged in other areas with learning differences, such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, sensory processing disorder, and more.  

2e students are among the least recognized and supported populations. Studies suggest that 2-5% of school-age children are 2e, with some reports being higher. 2e students are difficult to identify because their gifts and disabilities often mask one another.

Characteristics of Twice Exceptional Students

2e students have characteristics of both gifted students and students with a learning disability, and they also have their own unique characteristics. One of the hallmarks of twice-exceptionality is that they are inconsistent performers with uneven skills and asynchronous development. Other common characteristics of 2e students include:
  • Outstanding critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Strong sense of curiosity
  • Low self-esteem due to perfectionism
  • Strong ability to concentrate deeply in areas of interest
  • Sophisticated sense of humor
  • Excellent vocabulary
  • Behavioral problems due to underlying stress, boredom and lack of motivation
  • Difficulties with reading and writing due to cognitive processing deficits
  • Above average sensitivity, causing them to react more intensely to sounds, tastes, smells, etc.
  • Poor social skills

How to Identify Twice Exceptional Students

Identification for twice exceptional students is often a complicated process and requires the unique ability to assess and identify the two areas of exceptionality and deficits. Identification of 2e students is especially difficult as their strengths and weaknesses may disguise each other. One of the strongest indicators of twice-exceptionality is the inconsistency between classroom performance and standardized test results. It is important to use a multi-dimensional approach to identify twice-exceptionality and to include not only written assessments such as the WISC, but also behavioral checklists, reports and referrals. Teachers should also make note of any significant discrepancy between a student’s classroom performance and assessments with that of standardized test results.  Researchers developed a profile of indicators for twice exceptional students including: 
  • High performance on school screening tests for giftedness
  • Poor performance on local/district assessments of student progress
  • High scores on certain subsets of the Weschler Intelligence Scales for Children (WISC), including spatial testing and pattern recognition
  • Lower scores of WISC measures of processing and memorization

How to Support Twice Exceptional Students

  • Nurture the student’s strengths and interests. Strength-based instruction is one of the most effective strategies for 2e students. Giving these students learning opportunities that draw on their abilities is likely to engage them and give them opportunities for success.
  • Provide instruction that addresses their special needs second. 2e students still need special support, but research shows that prioritizing those needs can leave them feeling frustrated and cause them to give up.
  • Foster their social/emotional development. 2e students need a nurturing environment that supports the development of their potential. Strategies include instruction tailored to the students’ interests and strengths, activities designed with multiple intelligences in mind, flexible grouping, and an emphasis on individual growth. 
  •  Incorporate Counseling Support. The importance of providing counseling for 2e students has been noted in many studies. Counseling is recommended to address their unique needs and should be available on an as-needed basis.

Articles/Resources on Twice Exceptional Students

Videos about Twice Exceptional Students

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[i] Dlugosz, M. (2022, February 25). Twice Exceptional: Definition, Characteristics & Identification. Davidson Institute. https://www.davidsongifted.org/gifted-blog/twice-exceptional-definition-characteristics-identification/
[ii] Twice-Exceptional Students | National Association for Gifted Children. (n.d.). https://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources-parents/twice-exceptional-students
[iii] Mulvahill, E. (2022, April 20). How Teachers Can Support Twice Exceptional Students. We Are Teachers. https://www.weareteachers.com/twice-exceptional-students/

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