Twice Exceptional: Gifted Chaos


Twice-exceptional students, often abbreviated as “2e,” are high ability children with varying learning disabilities. They are exceptional both because of their intellectual gifts and because of their special needs.

There are estimates of about 300,000 twice-exceptional students in the United States

(Twice Exceptional, Oxford Press, Edited by Scott Barry Kaufman, 2018).

Their exceptional capacity may dominate shadowing their disability; their disability may dominate shadowing their exceptionality; each may shadow the other so that neither is identified or addressed. Studies as early as the 1970s indicated the students from special populations could also be gifted, but it wasn’t until the mid 1990s that “twice-exceptional” became a part of teachers’ terminology.

There are estimates of about 300,00 twice-exceptional students in the United States (Twice Exceptional, Oxford Press, Edited by Scott Barry Kaufman, 2018). Of all gifted students evaluated at the Gifted Development Center (, one-sixth had
an exceptionality.

Disabilities Paired with Giftedness

Autism Disorder — a lifelong developmental disability which typically appears in early childhood. In 2018 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that about one in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder. These children may exhibit varying degrees of atypical behavior that interferes in the learning process in the areas of: Communication; Social Participation; The Repertoire of Activities, Interests and Imaginative Development; Developmental Rate and Sequences; Sensory Processing and; Cognition. Students with Autism Disorder may be served in a variety of educational settings.

– Asperger’s Disorder — a neurobiological disorder that can range from mild to severe, also part of the autism spectrum disorder. Odd/unusual behaviors are due to neurological differences and not the result of intentional rudeness or improper parenting.

– Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) — a neurobiological disorder that affects 11 percent of the school-age population (CDC). That’s 6.1 million children in the United States between the ages or two and 17, half of which receive some form of medication for it.

Symptoms may include: inattention; hyperactivity and; impulsivity. Children suspected of having ADHD must be appropriately diagnosed by a knowledgeable, well-trained clinician.

Dysgraphia — a learning disability that affects writing abilities. Just having bad handwriting doesn’t mean a student has dysgraphia.

Dyscalculia — a brain-based condition that makes it hard to make sense of numbers and math concepts. It affects roughly five percent of the population and many of these people do not realized they have a learning disorder. Dyscalculia is not another name for math anxiety, nor is it considered dyslexia for math.

Dyspraxia — a lifelong disorder that affects a person’s motor development. Though many challenges can persist throughout a person’s life, the types of difficulties experienced can change.

– Tourette’s Syndrome — an inherited disease of the nervous system, marked by muscular and vocal tics.

– Dyslexia — a neurologically-based, often familial, disorder which interferes with the acquisition and processing of language. It is not the result of lack of motivation, sensory impairment, or inadequate instructional or environmental opportunities.

2e Students’ Strengths

– Superior vocabulary and highly creative

– Resourceful and curious

– Imaginative and questioning

– Strong problem-solving ability

– Sophisticated sense of humor and a wide range of interests

– Special talent or consuming interest

– Advanced ideas and opinions


– Easily frustrated

– Stubborn and manipulative

– Opinionated and argumentative

– Highly sensitive to criticism

It is mandatory the gifted and special educator collaborate. This helps to foster the students’ social and emotional needs; enhance their capacity to cope with mixed abilities; identify their learning gaps and provide explicit instruction.

What Works

– Activities that focus on students’ gifts and interests

– Open-ended outlets for demonstration of knowledge

– Differentiation instruction and tasks that fit the students’ learning

– Real-life tasks with hands-on experiences

– Integration of visual and performing arts

Less Effective Strategies

– Rigid task guidelines and rote memorization

– Belief that 2e students can organize their thinking without accommodations or instructions

Ten Ways to Spot a 2e Child

  1. Is not achieving in school the way you believe (s)he should
  2. Seems bright, but lazy
  3. Gets easily frustrated and melts down often
  4. Has attention and organizational problems that undermines his/her achievement
  5. Struggles with social skills and making and maintaining friendships
  6. Fails to hear correctly or is overwhelmed by sensory stimulation
  7. Has difficulty with sound/symbol relationships
  8. Shows high verbal ability, but extreme difficulty in calculation and rote memory
  9. Isn’t able to show what (s)he knows
  10. Worries all the time and refuses to try new things

Seven Myths About 2e Students (Amanda Morin,

  1. Being gifted makes up for having a learning or attention issue.
  2. Students can’t be gifted and lack basic skills, so they’re just not trying hard enough.
  3. 2e students aren’t eligible for Individualized Education Plans (IEP) or Section 504 Plans.
  4. Giftedness and challenges can’t be addressed at the same time.
  5. Addressing weaknesses should be the top priority when helping 2e students.
  6. 2e students need accommodations, so they can’t be in Advanced Placement (AP) classes.
  7. 2e students should be more mature than other kids their age.


I am a Professional Development Specialist who has researched and designed nine different six-hour seminars for educators and administrators. One of the seminars is on twice-exceptionality ( I work with many educators who are not knowledgeable about 2e students and what services their schools may, or may not be providing. Teachers are eager to attain knowledge, resources and instructional strategies that will empower them to assist in identification, and classroom practices to meet the extraordinary needs of the 2e students. There are thousands of students in our classrooms throughout the United States that have gone unidentified or underserved. Equity in education means there should be no obstacles to achieving potential. Therein lies the challenge.


2e (Twice Exceptional Newsletter) —

SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) — https://

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum — Great Potential Press — Wrightslaw —

National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) — https://

US Department of Education (USDE) —

Individual’s with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) —

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) —

Timothy Gangwer is the CEO and Professional Development Director of the Visual Teaching Alliance for the Gifted and Talented ( A former teacher and University Supervisor at the University of Texas, Austin, he is the author of Visual Impact, Visual Teaching: Using Images to Strengthen Learning, along with nine other books. He is the former Visual Literacy Consultant to the Ministry of Education, Paris, France, Ministry of Education, Toranomon, Japan, Mediterranean Association of International Schools, Casablanca, Morocco and the Association of International Schools in Africa, Abidjan, Ivory Coast.


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