Understanding Twice Exceptional Children


How many of you out there have a child or teen who is struggling with a learning disability but seems to understand higher intellectual topics without prompting? How many of you have a child or teen who has been identified as gifted but seems to struggle intensely with just one subject or is often depressed or anxious? It is possible that your child may be considered “twice exceptional”, also known as “2e”.

A brief introduction

A learning disability includes anything that interferes with “traditional” learning. Different educators have different ideas of the word ‘traditional’ but, in my book, a traditional learning environment in the second decade of the twenty first century decade of the 21st century includes: a school classroom with a teacher trained in classic teaching techniques, which include memorization, calculating success through examination, use of technology and that is often best suited to auditory learners.

Common learning (READ: Reaching Common Core Standards at an Early Age) disabilities include: ADD/ADHD, processing disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD),various types of anxiety (including extreme test anxiety) and depression. This is just a short list.

A gifted child is one who has an IQ of about 130 or above in at least one area of the brain. A child does not have to be gifted in every subject to be considered gifted. They don’t necessarily learn faster, they learn differently. They are capable of achieving tremendous academic, creative and humanitarian achievements.

Here’s the catch. A gifted kid, with limitless potential may never even know that they are gifted if they are impeded by their learning disability. This is devastating for the child, their family and, quite possibly, the world at large. To quote the UNCF, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”.

How to identify clues that your child or student may qualify as twice exceptional (2e)

They may have one or more of the following strengths:

  1. A sophisticated sense of humor for someone of their age
  2. A particular talent such as art, music, math etc…
  3. In-depth opinions about complex issues
  4. A highly developed sense of justice for a person of their age
  5. Very curious and/or has an excellent imagination (FYI, children who are exposed to large amounts of video games and social technology often lose their sense of imagination earlier than in past generations)
  6. The ability to problem solve without prompting
  7. Incredibly superior vocabulary used in an appropriate fashion

They must also have one or more of the following:

  1.  Impulsiveness
  2. Does not take constructive criticism well
  3. Struggles socially
  4. Inability to organize and/or has poor study habits
  5. Has difficulty expressing themselves with the written word
  6. Low performance in one particular academic area (For example, they excel in all subjects but math)
  7. Has panic attacks during exams but has very high grades on homework and classroom assignments

Please note: If your child does not have something from BOTH lists, they are probable not 2e.

What can you, as the parent, do if your child has already been identified as learning disabled but you think they might be gifted?

The first thing to do if your child or teen has already been identified as learning disabled (LD) or if they have been formally diagnosed with clinical anxiety or depression, is to get an IQ test administered by a highly qualified professional. IQ tests have been criticized over the years and also highly praised, depending on who you ask. I suggest finding a tester who has been identified as gifted themselves, as they would have professional and personal insight into the mind of the gifted child.


Take a look at the Gifted Development Center’s website for more insight. The second thing to do is talk to ALL of your child’s teachers. They may or may not be able to recognize giftedness because additional and specialized training is required in this area. However, it never hurts to ask. If even one teacher-core subject or elective-thinks that your child might have qualities of giftedness, I suggest that you investigate further. If none of your child’s teachers think that he or she might have underlying giftedness, don’t stop there. Certain types of giftedness are hidden due to learning disabilities, especially in the teen years.

A third option is to think back into your family tree. Often giftedness runs in the family. This is not always the case but it is a good indicator in many instances. Please note that standardized test scores are NOT a good indicator of giftedness. They are only a good indicator of how well a student takes an exam under a tight time schedule. That being said, many gifted children score very highly on standardized exams, but others receive average scores or very low scores. Standardized exams test the average population of millions of children.

A fourth option is to observe whether or not your child engages in imaginative play. As a disclaimer, this will only be effective if your child is under 5-7 years of age, a time when many learning disabilities have not yet been identified. If your little one lines up all of their toys and creates an imaginary scene and gives character and voice to the objects (horses, dolls, dinosaurs, soldiers etc…) and then puts on a little play in their mind, the child is using imaginative play. Highly creative children can create play scenarios out of the most simple of objects. Video and computer games do not count as imaginative play.

What if your child or students doesn’t fit neatly into this already confusing category?

Twice exceptional children may be harder to identify in the classroom environment due to frustration with traditional academics. Parents and educators can also look for the following signs of Twice Exceptional or 2e:

  1. Ability to grasp abstract and philosophical concepts
  2. Is an interested and astute observer of the world around them
  3. Has an excellent long term memory but a poor short term memory
  4. Will not participate in learning if they are not acutely interested in the topic or subject
  5. Consistently does poorly on timed examinations but perhaps could score very highly when given additional or limitless time
  6. Is considered by teachers to be an underachiever
  7. Is overwhelmed with details
  8. May pretend to be lazy to hide or disguise their disability
  9. Would rather stop the learning process all together rather than ask for help from a parent or teacher
  10. May become defensive when asked about a possible disability

For many learners, identifiers of 2e can become harder and harder to locate during the teen years. There is so much going on in the life of any teen, let alone one who is dealing with both giftedness and learning disabilities. However, this may be the MOST important time to get academic assistance for a student who learns differently. Learning is definitely more of an art than a science and I have no doubt that more and more information will become available in future years.

Think of the differences and benefits that a non-traditional learner would be able to take advantage of today as opposed to 50 years ago. In the mean time, however, your child is dealing with the tools we have available to them in 2014. The quicker and more accurately a 2e child is identified, the quicker and more effectively they can receive academic assistance to help them not only survive but thrive in the early years of the 21st century.

Extra sources:

UCONN Gifted


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