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Understanding Twice-Exceptional Students

Written By Geoff Nixon . March 28, 2018

What is Twice-Exceptional?

When students excel in a particular area, we tend to notice. We recognize the need to foster their skills and strive to offer the appropriate resources and instruction. Expectations are set higher and the necessary support provided. When learning challenges persist, despite consistent targeted instruction, we tend to notice. We work with the child, educators, and other professionals to determine the cause and institute effective interventions. But what about the student who is gifted in math, but unable to master basic spelling or grammar? Or the student who is reading well above grade level, with exceptional fluency and comprehension, but unable to regroup in addition and subtraction or understand number sense? Twice-exceptional or 2E children are considered among the most under-identified group of schoolchildren with learning challenges. The needs of these gifted individuals who also have significant learning challenges can frequently go unnoticed, preventing them from meeting their potential.

Gifted children are described as excelling in one or more of the following areas: creativity, intellect, arts, leadership ability or a particular academic subject. They can have a hard time relating to others and making friends. These students often have difficulty communicating complex thoughts verbally. Motivation, interest, and attention can wane if they aren’t challenged academically. The success that these individuals achieve in some areas can make it more difficult for adults and peers to recognize their challenges in others. As a result, they are often miscategorized as unmotivated or lazy when unable to complete tasks perceived as easier than the ones they stand out in. In addition, the substantial discrepancy in achievement can be devastating to their own self-esteem.

Reasons for Under-Identification

ldonline.org outlines three subgroups of 2E students that are most often overlooked.

  • Students who have been identified as gifted, but are having difficulty in school. These individuals may be mischaracterized as underachievers who lack motivation.
  • Individuals with identified learning disabilities whose exceptional abilities go unnoticed. Since no one has recognized what they’re capable of, they seldom benefit from gifted services.
  • Those whose strengths and challenges conceal each other. These students perform on-level academically, but are capable of far more.

The gap between potential and achievement is likely to widen as these children grow older if needs aren’t addressed.

If you suspect that your child is gifted, but have also observed one or more significant learning issues:

Talk to your child about strengths and challenges. One observation about twice-gifted students is that tasks are often either too difficult or too easy. Feeling as though nothing seems to fit can be frustrating or encourage isolation. Acknowledging how hard a task is and that you see your child is trying can make a huge difference. It can also help for children to know that learning difficulties are not associated with intellect and that identifying a concern opens the door to finding the right tools needed to be successful.

Talk to your child’s teacher about what is happening in the classroom, testing, and available resources or interventions. Let the teacher know if what’s occurring at school differs significantly from what you’re seeing at home.

Twice-exceptional students need support in both areas. A 2E student may have difficulty in a higher level class, due to a learning issue, such as dyslexia or Auditory Processing Disorder. However, that student should continue to receive higher level instruction in addition to the accommodations and resources needed to overcome identified challenges.

Social and Emotional Develmopment

Social emotional development is also important. In addition to difficulty interacting with peers, twice-exceptional students can have high anxiety. Gifted students are often perfectionists, which can make accepting and working through learning challenges even more difficult. Getting involved in community activities such as clubs, sports, or volunteer organizations can help create common ground with peers away from academic pressures. Having someone to talk to about concerns is also important.

Sometimes the students who seem to have it all figured out are the ones who need us the most. Identifying and supporting a student’s needs while still celebrating and developing their strengths can help them achieve. Recognizing their gifts, while providing the support necessary to unlock their potential, can make all the difference for these amazing students.

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