Twice Exceptional


“People who are worried about giving special learning advantages to children need to rethink their whole perspective.”  The Mislabeled Child. Fernette Eide, MD and Brock Eide, MD, MA, 2006.

Have you heard the term twice exceptional before? If not, you are not alone. Sometimes abbreviated as 2e, twice exceptional refers to students who are gifted in one or more areas and also have special needs or disabilities that interfere with their ability to learn in a traditional school environment.


2e students present unique challenges that are often difficult for teachers, parents, and most importantly, the student to overcome. They have great potential to learn and excel, but their disability often prevents this from happening. These students are at risk for failure if their unique needs are not effectively met. One of the most common characteristics of a twice exceptional student is low self esteem. They work much harder than their peers but typically do not achieve the same results or the same feedback.

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There are numerous challenges in teaching 2e students. First, it is often difficult to identify a challenging student as twice exceptional because their giftedness may mask a learning difficulty or vice versa. In these cases, the 2e student will often deliver inconsistent results, seeming average at best. The most accurate way to know if a student is twice exceptional rather than unmotivated is through the results of an intelligence test, such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children. A 2e student will have outstanding results in some areas and well below average results in other areas.


Once identified, appropriate accommodations should be made with the goal of allowing the student to develop his strengths while improving his weak areas. Research studies consistently show the best method of teaching 2e students is by using strength based teaching strategies. At the same time, the student should be taught compensation tools to empower him to be independent. This is easier said than done. Most school districts will not allow a student to have an individual curriculum in a regular education classroom or an inclusion classroom that follows state standards in curriculum. Accommodations in the regular curriculum often will not address the unique challenges of a 2e student. This leaves a self contained special education classroom that is usually populated by students with both academic and behavioral challenges. Clearly, this is not the answer for a 2e student.

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Finally, once appropriate accommodations have been identified, they need to be implemented. This typically is not easy for the student or for the teacher. If the student is lucky, he will have one or more teachers who are motivated to help him succeed. Since the classroom teacher is responsible for many students, however, the 2e student often is not given the individual direction necessary to make success possible. Parents will also impact the student’s success, but to a lesser degree. School aged children, as we know, spend the majority of their time in the classroom. Therefore, the success of the 2e student is greatly dependent on the investment of his teachers.


With appropriate supports and a strength based, differentiated approach, a gifted student with special needs can succeed and even excel in school. Certain states, such as Idaho, have standard programming in place to meet the needs of twice exceptional students. These programs should be offered to students everywhere. For more information on twice exceptional students and programs available to them, see below.




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