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August 2017

are you 2E/Twice exceptional?

What does the term twice exceptional / 2E mean?


The term twice exceptional (2E) refers to students who are both gifted and have a disability / learning difference. Examples of common disabilities include: dyslexia, dyspraxia, Asperger’s Syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).


2E kids may also have difficulty with social skills, especially since 2E kids often feel as though they do not fit in with their peers. Furthermore, 2E kids tend to be perfectionists and have high expectations of themselves, expectations that are continually impeded by their disabilities. It is for this reason that 2E kids often find school frustrating.


How are 2E students identified?


Identifying twice-exceptional children is challenging, especially in circumstances where 2E kids use their strengths to compensate for their deficits. Their strengths and weaknesses cancel themselves out, resulting in average performance or underachievement. As such, they do not raise a red flag to their teachers. This can result in 2E students being misunderstood, misdiagnosed and dismissed as lazy and incapable. Furthermore, boredom, frustration, anxiety and lack of motivation, may result in behavior problems.


Although standardized tests are the most common method of identifying giftedness, they are less effective at identifying 2E kids. This is because their learning disabilities sabotage and skew the test results. Instead of relying on standardized tests, teachers and specialists need to rely on holistic methods, such as how the 2E student performs in class, looking for often hidden / masked talents in verbal expression, creativity and advanced critical thinking.  In addition, teachers should look for discrepancies between classroom performance and standardized test scores.


2E kids are often identified when they show exceptional promise in one or two areas. For example, a primary school student that is reading books typically read by high school students or a student that is several years ahead of their classmates in math.


It is important that 2E receive the support and intervention they need because if they are identified by their deficits rather than their strengths, 2E kids can become disillusioned with, and disengaged from, their school environment.



What characteristics are common in 2E students?


2E kids are often characterized as highly intelligent students who struggle in school due to a learning difference, ADHD or autism. Gifted kids often fly under the radar, resulting in many parents and teachers failing to recognize their potential. Identifying 2E students is important because it helps parents and teachers find ways for 2E kids to flourish and make the most of their intellectual gifts.


2E kids have puzzling academic profiles. Their academic performance can be inconsistent. On the one hand, they have higher-level intellectual abilities, a wide range of interests (in which they can develop expertise beyond their years), advanced vocabulary and exceptional comprehension of abstract ideas and concepts. On the other hand, they can have poor reading and writing skills and poor phonemic awareness.


It is generally recognized that 2E kids fall into three distinct categories:


1       Students who are identified as gifted, but also have subtle learning differences. For example, a student may use complex and                      advanced vocabulary, but have very poor spelling and writing skills. If you fall into this category you may tend to perform at your                  year/grade level.

2       Students whose abilities and disabilities mask each other and are thus unidentified. For example, the student may be a talented at                creative writing but struggle with spelling and punctuation. If you fall into this category you may often perform at, or slightly below, your          year/grade level.

3      Students identified as both gifted and having learning disabilities. These students stand out in a classroom because they are obviously           very bright, but frustrated with school activities and thus tend to act out. If you fall into this category you may perform ahead of your               peers in some areas and perform at or slightly below your year/grade level in other areas.


2E kids who fall into the third category are often overlooked because learning disabilities like ADHD and dyspraxia can hide their abilities and academic potential.


Another common characteristic of 2E kids is sensory sensitivity. Many 2E kids are sensitive to certain clothing. For example, labels in their clothes and seams in their socks. Many 2E kids are also sensitive to loud noises, smells and bright lights.



What kinds of difficulties do 2E students experience?


Below are some examples of the kinds of difficulties 2E students may experience.


  • A 2E student who cannot read or spell well due to dyslexia may feel dumb, have low self-esteem, get frustrated and may give up on trying to achieve his/her academic potential at school.


  • A 2E student with Asperger’s Syndrome may have significant difficulties in social situations. As a consequence the student is likely to be overwhelmed and anxious in social and group learning environments, limiting his/her involvement and participation in enrichment programs.


  •  A 2E student with ADHD may get in trouble because he/she does not pay attention in class and disrupts the class by blurting out all the answers. 


In addition, 2E kids often lack organizational skills. They often have messy desks, backpacks, lockers and have problems keeping track of their homework. Furthermore, 2E students also tend to have problems with gross and fine motor coordination, in particular in relation to poor handwriting and poor coordination when playing sports.

2E students have the characteristics of both gifted students and students with disabilities. Gifted characteristics can mask disabilities and/ or the disability can mask the gifted potential so that the 2E students appear to have average performance. Lack of understanding of the needs of 2E students, continue to cause 2E kids to be underserved in an education system. 2E students require support from both gifted and special education specialists in order to achieve their potential. 

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