What Does It Mean To Be Twice Exceptional?

Twice exceptionality has recently been defined by the Twice Exceptional Community of Practice (2eCoP) as when an individual demonstrates “evidence [of] exceptional ability and disability which results in a unique set of circumstances.” Twice exceptionality is not a diagnosis; it is a conceptual way of identifying, understanding and supporting the social, emotional and academic needs of a uniquely gifted learner.


Skill development of 2e learners is typically uneven, or asynchronous. Asynchrony usually exists between intellectual and physical development, and between intellectual development and the ability to use or express that intelligence. Twice-exceptional students demonstrate superior ability in one or more areas (specific academics, intellectual ability, creativity, leadership, visual or performing arts) and one or more social, emotional or academic challenges. These may be caused by a neurobiological disorder or an emotional, sensory or learning disability. Specific areas of challenge may include physical disabilities; sensory sensitivity; autism spectrum disorder; emotional and/or behavioral disorders; psycho-social issues; ADHD; learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, etc.; receptive and/or expressive language disorders; processing delays; difficulty with executive function.


Because of these dual exceptionalities it is critical that twice exceptional individuals are recognized and accommodated for both their strengths and challenges – and one should never be compromised for the other. It is only through this conceptualization, or “dual lens view” that appropriate academic, social and emotional supports and opportunities can be provided for the twice exceptional (2e) learner.

“Twice exceptionality can be difficult to understand and identify because most twice exceptional individuals use their strengths to compensate for what they can’t do.  When that happens, their abilities and disabilities mask each other, often resulting in average performance or underachievement.  The challenge of identification can be attributed to a number of causes – the sheer variety of strengths and abilities one might possess, the number of potential learning challenges or deficits and finally the variety of combinations and how those combinations are expressed or exhibited in each learner.”

-Melissa Sornik, President and Founder, TECA

Behavior problems may also occur due to underlying stress, boredom, frustration and lack of motivation. When 2e learners don’t get the supports and interventions they need, and more often than not are identified by their deficits rather than their strengths, the result is learned helplessness and low self esteem.


Typical gifted/2e characteristics also include sensory sensitivity, asynchronous (uneven) development, and perfectionism. Many gifted/2e kids hate labels in their clothes and seams in their socks, are sensitive to loud noises, and are picky eaters due to sensitivity to smells, tastes, and textures of particular foods. Asynchronous development among skills including intellect, emotional maturity and physical development often underlie surface problems of inconsistency in social skills and academic performance. Perfectionism may lead to unrealistic expectations and the unwillingness to try something new for fear of failure.


Common characteristics of 2e individuals will include not all, but many of the following:

  • High verbal ability

  • Poor writing skills

  • Reading problems  – comprehension, retention

  • Strong mathematical reasoning

  • Difficulty with memorization, computation, phonics and/or spelling

  • Keen visual/spatial skills

  • Good problem solving skills

  • Excels at puzzles/mazes

  • Highly developed critical thinking skills

  • Insightful

  • Ability to concentrate deeply in areas of interest

  • Inattentive

  • Disorganized

  • Difficulty with sequential tasks

  • Easily bored

  • Narrow but deep areas of interest

  • Questions rules/authority

  • Strong sense of curiosity

  • “Outside of the box” thinking/very imaginative

  • Risk-averse in school or with areas of challenge

  • Impulsive with little thought for consequences

  • Highly developed sense of humor

  • Emotionally immature

  • Emotionally intense

  • Requiring a lot of teacher support/scaffolding

  • Stubborn and inflexible

  • Emotionally sensitive

  • Places unreasonable demands on self/perfectionistic

  • Socially awkward, poor social skills

  • Unusually compassionate

  • Morally sensitive

  • Heightened appreciation for fairness and justice

2e Basics For Parents

Is My Child Twice Exceptional?

If you think your child may be twice exceptional and you would like to have them evaluated, it is important to work with a practitioner who is familiar with the concept of twice exceptionality. Practitioners should have experience with assessment and identification of giftedness and learning challenges, and how the combination of such exceptionalities impact the learning styles and needs of 2e individuals. They must be able to thoughtfully employ assessments that give light to areas of both strength and weakness, and recommend appropriate accommodations for each.

What Types of Accommodations Should be Provided for 2e Learners?

Students described as 2e benefit from an approach to intervention that provides enrichment opportunities to challenge their areas of strength, and support and skill-building for areas of difficulty. One of the key concepts of 2e is to promote success by focusing on what kids can do, rather than on what they can’t do. Changing the focus from disability to ability makes sense for high-potential learners and promotes success, which, in turn fosters good self-esteem and self-efficacy. Areas of difficulty should be supported, but they should not be the main focus.

Parents Are Their Children’s Best Advocates

Parents of 2e kids will likely recognize many of the characteristics described above and may be experiencing feelings of confusion, frustration and doubt about their kids’ abilities. Yet parents are usually the most accurate at identifying their gifted/2e children, especially when it comes to knowing their strengths.  Negative issues such as inappropriate behavior or underachievement may cause parents to question their own judgment and second-guess themselves, particularly when dealing with educators and mental health professionals regarding issues of identification, diagnosis and appropriate intervention.

Where can I find help for my child and family?

TECA has compiled the 2e Service Provider Directory, a nationwide, searchable list of hundreds of providers who welcome twice exceptional children, teens and their families into their practices. We offer this resource free to the public and encourage you to incorporate it in your strategy for researching for professionals to work with you and your child. Visit the directory here.

There is no doubt that parenting a 2e child is a challenging experience but with insight,
understanding and the intuition 2e parents usually possess, it is also incredibly rewarding.

Tips for 2e Parents

  • Don’t deny your child’s gifts. Every 2e child is gifted.
  • Don’t be deterred by a low IQ score. Low scores in processing or working memory may depress an overall IQ score. Subtest scores in the superior range are indicators of giftedness.
  • Join a support group for 2e parents. You shouldn’t have to choose between a parents of gifted or parents of LD support group.
  • Maintain a positive “team oriented” relationship with your child’s school.
  • Create opportunities for non-academic gifts. Start a cooking club or Lego club with other families to promote interests, talents, friendships and social skills building.
  • Foster independence, responsibility and self-advocacy by involving your child in the creation of behavior plans, contracts and school meetings when appropriate.
  • Support development of organization and other executive functioning skills by doing tasks and chores with, rather than for your child.
  • Interview professional care providers. Ask them about their experience with and knowledge of gifted and gifted/LD individuals.
  • Last and perhaps most important, find some time each day to take care of yourself. As little as a half-hour will make a difference. Raising a twice-exceptional child can often be twice as exhausting as raising a typical child!

When great strengths emerge beside learning challenges, amazing things can happen.