Twice exceptional, sometimes known as “2e,” refers to intellectually gifted children who have one or more disabilities. In addition to being above average intellectually, these children are diagnosed with disabilities such as dyslexia, autism, Asperger syndrome, Tourette syndrome, or other disabilities that negatively affect their ability to learn in traditional academic environments. There is no official classification or profile for 2e, but there are estimates of over 300,000 children fitting in this category.

Twice-exceptional education is a movement that started in the early 1970s with what was referred to as “gifted-handicapped” education. This approach to education has been supported by 35 years of research and “best practices” meant to address the unique needs of this category of students.

Recognizing and addressing the needs of twice exceptional children, as you may guess, presents its own unique challenges. The student’s strengths may compensate for her deficits. Alternatively, their weaknesses may make the children’s intellectual abilities less apparent. What an awful double-edged sword. If not addressed properly, children may become bored and lose interest in school. This may be interpreted as the student being “lazy” or “not trying hard enough.” Deficits in reading ability may be masked by the child’s gift in being able to infer a great deal from the words the she can read. This is why composite scores in reading and math should be avoided. Many schools will look to these scores to disqualify children for services. You must always pay attention to the component scores.

There are some characteristics which tend to be common to these children. Twice exceptional children tend to be more “intense” and highly sensitive to their emotional and physical surroundings. They tend to have superior vocabulary, but difficulty with written expression. They may have a sense of humor that is more appropriate to older children or even adults. These children often have poor social skills and are highly sensitive to criticism. Frequently, they may have a specific talent or consuming interest in a particular area. Any dinosaur experts out there?

Detecting issues tends to be difficult in the early years, with social struggles becoming apparent earlier. As academic demands increase, it becomes increasingly difficult for these children to compensate for their weaknesses.

The idea of twice exceptionality is gaining more acceptance in the education field. In future installments, we will address how to best evaluate these children to ensure they get the supports and services they need as well as finding the most appropriate public and private programs to meet these needs.