A "twice exceptional", “dual exceptionality”, or 2E child is one who is intellectually
gifted, but also has difficulties such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, dyspraxia,
hearing or vision problems or other difficulties. Such children can be puzzles to
both teachers and parents if they have all the attributes of an exceptionally or
profoundly gifted child except where affected by the difficulty. The children can
even appear 'normal' (that is, age appropriate) in their area of weakness, but much
confusion, frustration and distress can ensue unless an accurate assessment of strengths
and weaknesses is obtained. Many people don't realize that a child can be both gifted
and have special needs, but Linda Silverman, the director of the Gifted Development
Center (GDC) has found that 1/6 of the gifted children tested at the GDC have a difficulty
of some type. Efforts to help twice exceptional children fulfil their potential (which
is at least as great as “normal” gifted children) are well underway in North America
but still lamentably lacking in the UK.
The presence of a specific learning difficulty does not mean that a child is any
less intellectually gifted. Dyslexia, dyspraxia, and other difficulties can co-exist
with huge intellectual potential in the same way as can blindness, deafness or a
All these difficulties simply complicate the expression or realisation of potential.
If the child receives appropriate support they are perfectly capable of achieving
as highly as non-2E gifted children. Indeed, it is acknowledged that some twice exceptionalities
actually confer advantages on the child, such as the superior spatial abilities possessed
by some dyslexics (see Arts Dyslexia Trust) and the passion and single mindedness
those with Asperger’s Syndrome can bring to bear on the study of their chosen subject.
British Universities are, in general, much better than the schools at providing appropriate
support. They recognise that learning difficulties should not be allowed to limit
intellectual growth and freely acknowledge that some of their best and brightest
students also have specific learning difficulties or other challenges.
Unfortunately a lack of parents’ and teachers’ knowledge and understanding can mean
that neither the child’s giftedness nor special need is identified, or one aspect
of the child is identified while the other is not. If it is only the giftedness which
is recognised the child may be labelled lazy, oppositional or unmotivated. In the
longer term a misunderstood twice exceptional child may be at risk of being placed
in a unit for emotionally and behaviourally disturbed children, or of dropping out
of school completely.
Sometimes the child’s giftedness enables him to compensate for the special need,
even to the extent that his difficulty goes undiscovered. If the child develops such
excellent coping strategies it may seem as though there is no problem. However, often
the child is expending extra effort to simply deal with daily life, diverting energy
and mental resources from tasks like learning. The process can easily break down
when they are tired, ill, having a bad day, or when academic demands increase, such
as in secondary school or university. The other part of the problem is that these
children may be unable to reach their full potential, and become frustrated and distressed
when they do not understand why they can think so well but be unable to achieve what
The fundamental problem with twice exceptional children is in untangling the complex
mix of giftedness and special needs, which can be difficult even for those professionals
experienced in the field. Gifted children, in particular exceptionally and profoundly
gifted children, are adept at developing compensatory skills which make them much
more difficult to spot. The children do not realise that what they are experiencing
is not normal for everyone, but they are unable to perform at the level they expect
from themselves. Their emotional and behavioural responses to this frustration and
to the frustration they may perceive in parents and teachers can add to their difficulties
and cloud underlying issues still further, but twice exceptionality may be suspected
if a child showed many signs of extreme intelligence at an early age but encountered
difficulties with academic tasks or the school environment.
Parents and teachers often need to be proactive in the search for diagnosis and assistance
as the idea that an exceptionally gifted child may have learning difficulties such
as a sensory processing deficit or dyslexia is still one that many professionals
are not familiar with, even though, for instance, Leonardo da Vinci is said by some
to have been dyslexic. In order to help the child it is necessary for parents and
teachers to be as well informed as possible, and this page An Online Resource Guide
to 2E is a good place to start.
To begin with, a thorough individual evaluation of the child’s ability, development
and achievement by an educational psychologist will be needed (see PEGY identification).
A significant difference between ability and achievement may indicate an underlying
problem which can be hugely distressing for the child even if achievement is at or
above chronological age, and would indicate the need for further investigation. Observing
variation of performance on different test items and how the child goes about various
tasks may indicate to an experienced tester that further investigation is called
for. However, specialists in specific learning difficulties, sensory and psychological
disorders need to be familiar with the complications arising from giftedness in order
to accurately assess and diagnose such children. (See also Diagnosis and Misdiagnosis)
“Teachers and parents often are unaware that children with special needs may be able
to do a task sometimes, but not always. Their coping skills may fall apart when they
are tired or ill. They may be able to muster the extra mental/physical/emotional
energy to do a difficult task if the subject is one that engages them and they are
fresh and rested, but not at the end of the day on a topic they dislike.” The Challenge
Of The Highly Gifted Special Needs Child
Educational provision for twice exceptional children
It is absolutely essential that the child receives adequate challenge whilst help
is given for their difficulty.
Unfortunately it is not unusual for a gifted child diagnosed with, for instance,
Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD, dysgraphia or social and emotional difficulties to be
given no accommodations for their giftedness at all. The school takes the position
that the child will be “OK” academically, but that what they really need to work
on is their deficit in social skills, attention regulation, handwriting, and so on.
The child’s giftedness is neglected, a disastrous policy for many twice exceptional
children who become depressed and disaffected.
The ideal placement for a twice exceptional child is almost always that which is
appropriate for their intellectual level, with accommodations made to support their
learning, while steps are taken to remediate their difficulty, but this will vary
depending on the child and the educational situation.
“The twice-exceptionality of a child being considered for whole-grade acceleration
adds a new dimension to discussions and decisions. Although twice-exceptionality
is no longer considered novel, the notion that a twice-exceptional child may need
to be accelerated is novel. Whereas the IAS originally was not developed with twice-exceptionality
as a consideration in the decision-making process, the second edition of the IAS
includes twice-exceptionality as a factor. Although it does not appear in the scored
items, the discussion of twice-exceptionality is one of the factors initially reviewed
through the chart that documents Prior Professional Evaluation Services in Section
III: School History.
Here is a brief discussion of each of the disability categories mentioned in the
chart, i.e., learning, social-emotional/behavioral/psychiatric, and physical. This
brief discussion is not meant to be exhaustive; instead, the purpose is to mention
these conditions, cite some current references, and compel the team to seriously
consider the influence and potential need for accommodation that the disability may
require when deciding about whole-grade acceleration as a programming option.”From
“Relevant educational and psychological research” by Assouline, Colangelo, Lupkowski-shoplik,
Lipsocmb and Forstadt
Accommodations – ways of assisting twice exceptional children.
If efforts to remediate the learning difficulty do not bring the child up to the
standard required by their intellectual level then assistance and/or accommodations
should be put in place to ensure that academic options are not restricted and the
child’s intellectual growth is not limited.
“What are accommodations?
Accommodations are alterations in the way tasks are presented that allow children
with learning disabilities to complete the same assignments as other students. Accommodations
do not alter the content of assignments, give students an unfair advantage or in
the case of assessments, change what a test measures. They do make it possible for
students with LD to show what they know without being impeded by their disability.”
From LD Online
It will be useful to research support options which can be tried, such as the simple
use of keyboarding instead of handwriting, to those outlined at
and the mix of strategies for dyslexia outlined here.
An example of excellent practice in school can be found here
The biggest difficulty is often in persuading schools and local authorities to implement
necessary support. Some still deny that giftedness and specific learning difficulties
can exist in the same child, many refuse to support a child who is achieving at age
level, despite the distress and damage caused to the profoundly gifted child. Many
twice exceptional children find that they do not receive effective support until
they reach university - but of course, they are the lucky ones. Those whose learning
difficulty severely impacts achievement do not make it to university and their gifts
are lost to society.
A number of parents elect to home educate their children so that they can provide
a tailor-made programme for their child’s specific needs, assisted greatly by the
resources on the internet. Help and advice is available from mailing lists like
the GT Special Home , GifTEds and from PEGY Home Education page.
“Colleges are unfazed by 2e children. In fact, it may be the first time that these
kids are seen as normal. Parents and students may find it heartening to look at some
of the websites for Ivy League colleges. Harvard, for example, offers the following
to their 2e students: diagnostic testing services, note-taking services, oral tests,
readers, tutors, books on tape, reading machines, tape recorders, videotaped classes,
untimed tests, a learning center, a resource center/clearinghouse, and modification
of the requirements for graduation.”Those 2e “bad kids” by Nadia Webb
A number of experts and specialists in the twice exceptional field believe that gifted
children can be misdiagnosed with a deficit or syndrome due to characteristics arising
from their giftedness. These characteristics can be more intense in more highly gifted
Extreme caution should be employed in diagnosing problems BEFORE an adequate response
to the child’s giftedness is put in place. A severely under challenged socially advanced
profoundly gifted child may appear to have the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome and
ADHD if stuck in lock-step progress though school with age peers.
Few specialists in the emotional and behavioural problems of children are familiar
with characteristics and complications arising from exceptional giftedness and may
misinterpret an exceptionally or profoundly gifted child’s behaviour and responses.
“Many gifted and talented children (and adults) are being mis-diagnosed by psychologists,
psychiatrists, pediatricians, and other health care professionals. The most common
mis-diagnoses are: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional
Defiant Disorder (OD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Mood Disorders such
as Cyclothymic Disorder, Dysthymic Disorder, Depression, and Bi-Polar Disorder. These
common misdiagnoses stem from an ignorance among professionals about specific social
and emotional characteristics of gifted children which are then mistakenly assumed
by these professionals to be signs of pathology.”
Some workers in the field of giftedness are interested in the possibility that Dabrowski’s
Over Excitabilities may be more common among the gifted – though so far no comparative
research substantiates this. It is thought that Dabowski’s Over Excitabilities may
mimic some learning difficulties, but great caution should be exercised in assuming
Over Excitablities are responsible for learning differences. The child should first
be assessed by a psychologist highly experienced in twice exceptional children, or
such an assumption may lead to the child not getting the help they need for a real
“When people think of a twice-exceptional child, they usually think of someone who’s
gifted and learning-disabled. The “second exceptionality” is typically an educational
issue like dyslexia, or sometimes a physiological issue like sensory integration
dysfunction. In other cases, however, a child’s second condition is said to be emotional,
social, or behavioral. These are the children described as hard-to-manage, badly
behaved, or just plain odd – despite, or perhaps because of, their high intelligence.
They may even receive psychiatric diagnoses like Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity
Disorder (AD/HD), Asperger Syndrome, or Bipolar Disorder.” From “When your child’s
second exceptionality is emotional: Looking beyond psychiatric diagnosis” by Barbara
Exceptional giftedness can also cause problems in obtaining an accurate diagnosis
of physical problems, as, for example, the case of a child with auditory processing
disorder who was passed as ‘normal’ after reading the tester’s body language and
script upside down across the desk, enabling her to give correct responses during
testing. The tester simply could not believe such a young child could do such a thing.
Something as simple as accurate eye testing can be difficult if the optician does
not believe that the child has read the letter chart on entering the office, and
is quite capable of both repeating it without being able to see it, and being too
embarrassed (or too mischievous) to admit they can’t actually see it!
There are also sometimes cases of teachers or parents reaching judgements which they
are unqualified to make, particularly in ‘identifying’ a child with Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder or Asperger’s Syndrome.
Gifted children can certainly have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), but sometimes they behave as if they have it
when they don’t simply because they are so bored in the classroom.
However, in some cases it is very hard even for the experts to distinguish whether
the gifted child has no ADHD or is just very capable at compensation. The most important
thing to remember in this case is to listen to the child and how they describe themselves
and their ability to complete required but uninteresting tasks, particularly for
an older child who is able to compare themselves with others and to analyse and articulate
Other conditions, such as auditory processing disorder (APD or CAPD) or sensory processing
disorder, may make the child appear to have ADHD.
“Often, children with CAPD are suspected of having attention deficit/hyperactivity
disorder (ADHD). Like children with ADHD, children with CAPD can appear
distractible or inattentive. CAPD children with auditory hypersensitivities who become
over-stimulated by noise are especially likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. Many
children with CAPD also have dysfunctional sensory integration (DSI), which can cause
Before referring a gifted child for ADD/ADHD evaluation by Sharon Lind “There is
no doubt that gifted children can be ADD/ADHD. However, there are also gifted children
whose "inappropriate behavior" may be a result of being highly gifted and/or intense. This
intensity coupled with classroom environments and curriculum which do not meet needs
of gifted, divergent, creative, or random learners, may lead to the mislabeling of
many children as ADHD. To avoid mislabeling gifted children, parents and educators
may want to complete the following check list to help them decide to refer for medical
or psychological evaluation”
“The article discusses ways in which Asperger's Syndrome might be missed in gifted
children and proposes guidelines for differentiating characteristics of giftedness
from characteristics of Asperger's Syndrome.”
Advice and support is available from mailing lists like GT Special Home (US based
list for those homeschooling twice exceptional children), GifTEds (UK based list
for anyone caring for a twice exceptional child) , and GT Special (US based list
for those caring for a twice exceptional child).
“So what does it mean to be gifted/special needs?..
For my son who is gifted and mildly dyslexic, it means being bored to tears in math
and science classes because they are too easy, while struggling to read grade-level
books. It means not being able to read books that discuss science and other topics
at his level of understanding. It means finding reading class books challenging,
but the classroom discussions excruciatingly boring.
For my son, who is gifted and has dysgraphia (extreme difficulties with writing),
being gifted/special needs means having his hands get cramped and tired after only
one page of writing. It means being unable to write and think at the same time, so
that his written work doesn't come anywhere near reflecting the depth of his thoughts.
It means he is thinking about math concepts that his teachers don't understand, but
having trouble writing them down...” by Lee Singer, from “Uniquely Gifted: Identifying
and Meeting the Needs of the Twice-Exceptional Student” ed Kiesa Kay
“twice exceptional students need a strong support group to assist them with several
key emotional issues that may impede their academic achievement: anger, fear of failure,
a strong need to control, low self esteem, and sometimes, even fear of success.”
“Many of these "multiexceptional" youth are already passed over for both gifted and
academic support programs because their talents and disabilities often mask each
other”, says Nancy Robinson, PhD, a University of Washington psychologist who works
with gifted children. For example, students who are highly intelligent could compensate
for their reading problems by making good guesses.
“That's why identification methods that look for intra-individual differences--comparing
a child's oral-language and printed-language skills, for example--are more likely
to catch a talented student with a learning disability than other methods that compare
students' performance with benchmarks for normally achieving peers”, says psychologist
Julia Osborn, PhD
"There are so many bright kids who aren't getting any help because they are achieving
and reading at grade level when they are capable of much more," Robinson explains.
"They'll often be missed because, by hook and by crook, they're able to get some
meaning out of the printed word, although by no means are they reading at a level
to support their advanced learning abilities.”
“One example of undiagnosed learning difficulties is “stealth dyslexia”:
“reading difficulties are just one of the many neurologically-based manifestations
of dyslexia. In fact, in our practice we often see children who are struggling academically
due to difficulties that are clearly dyslexia-related, yet who show age-appropriate
– and in many cases even superior – reading skills. Because of their apparently strong
reading skills, most of these children have never been identified as dyslexic, or
given the help they needed to overcome their academic difficulties.” Concludes “Typically,
the children we see with stealth dyslexia struggle through elementary school, performing
well below their potential and often making superhuman efforts just to keep up. When
they meet the heavier writing demands (as well as more complicated reading assignments)
in middle and high school, they frequently find themselves unable to keep up. A downward
spiral of failure and despair is often the result. This outcome is completely unnecessary.
With early identification and appropriate interventions, these children can be equipped
to gain all the knowledge and success of which their powerful minds make them capable.”
“…it's sometimes hard to know natural from needy behaviour. This is made more complicated
because advice to parents - and it comes from all sectors: relatives, neighbours,
educators, psychologists - often does not take into account how higher levels of
intelligence and depth of emotionality affect the whole child. The general lack of
professional education regarding issues of giftedness can lead to wrong advice or
“Gifted Children with AD/HD Differ from Average Children with AD/HD in Cognitive,
Social and Emotional Variables” , “Gifted Children with AD/HD Differ from Other Gifted
Children” and “Assessment of Gifted Children Needs to Be Done by Those Knowledgeable
About Both Giftedness and AD/HD” From Gifted children with AD/HD by Dierdre Lovecky