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What is “twice exceptional”?


A "twice exceptional", “dual exceptionality”, or 2E child is one who is intellectually gifted, but also has difficulties such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, dyspraxia, hearing or vision problems or other difficulties. Such children can be puzzles to both teachers and parents if they have all the attributes of an exceptionally or profoundly gifted child except where affected by the difficulty. The children can even appear 'normal' (that is, age appropriate) in their area of weakness, but much confusion, frustration and distress can ensue unless an accurate assessment of strengths and weaknesses is obtained. Many people don't realize that a child can be both gifted and have special needs, but Linda Silverman, the director of the Gifted Development Center (GDC) has found that 1/6 of the gifted children tested at the GDC have a difficulty of some type. Efforts to help twice exceptional children fulfil their potential (which is at least as great as “normal” gifted children) are well underway in North America but still lamentably lacking in the UK.



The presence of a specific learning difficulty does not mean that a child is any less intellectually gifted. Dyslexia, dyspraxia, and other difficulties can co-exist with huge intellectual potential in the same way as can blindness, deafness or a broken arm.

All these difficulties simply complicate the expression or realisation of potential. If the child receives appropriate support they are perfectly capable of achieving as highly as non-2E gifted children. Indeed, it is acknowledged that some twice exceptionalities actually confer advantages on the child, such as the superior spatial abilities possessed by some dyslexics (see Arts Dyslexia Trust) and the passion and single mindedness those with Asperger’s Syndrome can bring to bear on the study of their chosen subject.


British Universities are, in general, much better than the schools at providing appropriate support. They recognise that learning difficulties should not be allowed to limit intellectual growth and freely acknowledge that some of their best and brightest students also have specific learning difficulties or other challenges. 



Unfortunately a lack of parents’ and teachers’ knowledge and understanding can mean that neither the child’s giftedness nor special need is identified, or one aspect of the child is identified while the other is not. If it is only the giftedness which is recognised the child may be labelled lazy, oppositional or unmotivated. In the longer term a misunderstood twice exceptional child may be at risk of being placed in a unit for emotionally and behaviourally disturbed children, or of dropping out of school completely.


Sometimes the child’s giftedness enables him to compensate for the special need, even to the extent that his difficulty goes undiscovered. If the child develops such excellent coping strategies it may seem as though there is no problem. However, often the child is expending extra effort to simply deal with daily life, diverting energy and mental resources from tasks like learning. The process can easily break down when they are tired, ill, having a bad day, or when academic demands increase, such as in secondary school or university. The other part of the problem is that these children may be unable to reach their full potential, and become frustrated and distressed when they do not understand why they can think so well but be unable to achieve what they want.


A comprehensive publication covering characteristics, diagnosis, remediation and appropriate provision can be found at “Twice exceptional students at a glance


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Untangling the twice exceptional  mix


The fundamental problem with twice exceptional children is in untangling the complex mix of giftedness and special needs, which can be difficult even for those professionals experienced in the field. Gifted children, in particular exceptionally and profoundly gifted children, are adept at developing compensatory skills which make them much more difficult to spot.  The children do not realise that what they are experiencing is not normal for everyone, but they are unable to perform at the level they expect from themselves. Their emotional and behavioural responses to this frustration and to the frustration they may perceive in parents and teachers can add to their difficulties and cloud underlying issues still further, but twice exceptionality may be suspected if a child showed many signs of extreme intelligence at an early age but encountered difficulties with academic tasks or the school environment.


Parents and teachers often need to be proactive in the search for diagnosis and assistance as the idea that an exceptionally gifted child may have learning difficulties such as a sensory processing deficit or dyslexia is still one that many professionals are not familiar with, even though, for instance, Leonardo da Vinci is said by some to have been dyslexic. In order to help the child it is necessary for parents and teachers to be as well informed as possible, and this page An Online Resource Guide to 2E is a good place to start.  


To begin with, a thorough individual evaluation of the child’s ability, development and achievement by an educational psychologist will be needed (see PEGY identification). A significant difference between ability and achievement may indicate an underlying problem which can be hugely distressing for the child even if achievement is at or above chronological age, and would indicate the need for further investigation. Observing variation of performance on different test items and how the child goes about various tasks may indicate to an experienced tester that further investigation is called for. However, specialists in specific learning difficulties, sensory and psychological disorders need to be familiar with the complications arising from giftedness in order to accurately assess and diagnose such children. (See also Diagnosis and Misdiagnosis)



“Teachers and parents often are unaware that children with special needs may be able to do a task sometimes, but not always. Their coping skills may fall apart when they are tired or ill. They may be able to muster the extra mental/physical/emotional energy to do a difficult task if the subject is one that engages them and they are fresh and rested, but not at the end of the day on a topic they dislike.”   The Challenge Of The Highly Gifted Special Needs Child

by Meredith Warshaw



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Educational provision for twice exceptional children


It is absolutely essential that the child receives adequate challenge whilst help is given for their difficulty.


Unfortunately it is not unusual for a gifted child diagnosed with, for instance, Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD, dysgraphia or social and emotional difficulties to be given no accommodations for their giftedness at all. The school takes the position that the child will be “OK” academically, but that what they really need to work on is their deficit in social skills, attention regulation, handwriting, and so on. The child’s giftedness is neglected, a disastrous policy for many twice exceptional children who become depressed and disaffected.


The ideal placement for a twice exceptional child is almost always that which is appropriate for their intellectual level, with accommodations made to support their learning, while steps are taken to remediate their difficulty, but this will vary depending on the child and the educational situation.


“The twice-exceptionality of a child being considered for whole-grade acceleration adds a new dimension to discussions and decisions. Although twice-exceptionality is no longer considered novel, the notion that a twice-exceptional child may need to be accelerated is novel. Whereas the IAS originally was not developed with twice-exceptionality as a consideration in the decision-making process, the second edition of the IAS includes twice-exceptionality as a factor. Although it does not appear in the scored items, the discussion of twice-exceptionality is one of the factors initially reviewed through the chart that documents Prior Professional Evaluation Services in Section III: School History.

Here is a brief discussion of each of the disability categories mentioned in the chart, i.e., learning, social-emotional/behavioral/psychiatric, and physical. This brief discussion is not meant to be exhaustive; instead, the purpose is to mention these conditions, cite some current references, and compel the team to seriously consider the influence and potential need for accommodation that the disability may require when deciding about whole-grade acceleration as a programming option.” From “Relevant educational and psychological research” by Assouline, Colangelo, Lupkowski-shoplik, Lipsocmb and Forstadt


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Accommodations – ways of assisting twice exceptional children.


If efforts to remediate the learning difficulty do not bring the child up to the standard required by their intellectual level then assistance and/or accommodations should be put in place to ensure that academic options are not restricted and the child’s intellectual growth is not limited.



“What are accommodations?

Accommodations are alterations in the way tasks are presented that allow children with learning disabilities to complete the same assignments as other students. Accommodations do not alter the content of assignments, give students an unfair advantage or in the case of assessments, change what a test measures. They do make it possible for students with LD to show what they know without being impeded by their disability.” From LD Online



It will be useful to research support options which can be tried, such as the simple use of keyboarding instead of handwriting, to those outlined at


Dyslexia and other SLDs

and the mix of strategies for dyslexia outlined here.

An example of excellent practice in school can be found here  


The biggest difficulty is often in persuading schools and local authorities to implement necessary support. Some still deny that giftedness and specific learning difficulties can exist in the same child, many refuse to support a child who is achieving at age level, despite the distress and damage caused to the profoundly gifted child. Many twice exceptional children find that they do not receive effective support until they reach university - but of course, they are the lucky ones. Those whose learning difficulty severely impacts achievement do not make it to university and their gifts are lost to society.  


A number of parents elect to home educate their children so that they can provide a tailor-made programme for their child’s specific needs, assisted greatly by the resources on the internet.  Help and advice is available from mailing lists like the GT Special Home , GifTEds and from PEGY Home Education page.


“Colleges are unfazed by 2e children. In fact, it may be the first time that these kids are seen as normal. Parents and students may find it heartening to look at some of the websites for Ivy League colleges. Harvard, for example, offers the following to their 2e students: diagnostic testing services, note-taking services, oral tests, readers, tutors, books on tape, reading machines, tape recorders, videotaped classes, untimed tests, a learning center, a resource center/clearinghouse, and modification of the requirements for graduation.” Those 2e “bad kids” by Nadia Webb


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Diagnosis and Misdiagnosis


A number of experts and specialists in the twice exceptional field believe that gifted children can be misdiagnosed with a deficit or syndrome due to characteristics arising from their giftedness. These characteristics can be more intense in more highly gifted children.

Extreme caution should be employed in diagnosing problems BEFORE an adequate response to the child’s giftedness is put in place. A severely under challenged socially advanced profoundly gifted child may appear to have the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD if stuck in lock-step progress though school with age peers.


Few specialists in the emotional and behavioural problems of children are familiar with characteristics and complications arising from exceptional giftedness and may misinterpret an exceptionally or profoundly gifted child’s behaviour and responses.


According to Dr James Webb in “Misdiagnosis and dual diagnosis of gifted children”,

Many gifted and talented children (and adults) are being mis-diagnosed by psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, and other health care professionals. The most common mis-diagnoses are: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (OD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Mood Disorders such as Cyclothymic Disorder, Dysthymic Disorder, Depression, and Bi-Polar Disorder. These common misdiagnoses stem from an ignorance among professionals about specific social and emotional characteristics of gifted children which are then mistakenly assumed by these professionals to be signs of pathology.”


Some workers in the field of giftedness are interested in the possibility that Dabrowski’s Over Excitabilities may be more common among the gifted – though so far no comparative research substantiates this. It is thought that Dabowski’s Over Excitabilities may mimic some learning difficulties, but great caution should be exercised in assuming Over Excitablities are responsible for learning differences. The child should first be assessed by a psychologist highly experienced in twice exceptional children, or such an assumption may lead to the child not getting the help they need for a real problem.


“When people think of a twice-exceptional child, they usually think of someone who’s gifted and learning-disabled. The “second exceptionality” is typically an educational issue like dyslexia, or sometimes a physiological issue like sensory integration dysfunction. In other cases, however, a child’s second condition is said to be emotional, social, or behavioral. These are the children described as hard-to-manage, badly behaved, or just plain odd – despite, or perhaps because of, their high intelligence. They may even receive psychiatric diagnoses like Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), Asperger Syndrome, or Bipolar Disorder.” From “When your child’s second exceptionality is emotional: Looking beyond psychiatric diagnosis” by Barbara Probst  


Exceptional giftedness can also cause problems in obtaining an accurate diagnosis of physical problems, as, for example, the case of a child with auditory processing disorder who was passed as ‘normal’ after reading the tester’s body language and script upside down across the desk, enabling her to give correct responses during testing. The tester simply could not believe such a young child could do such a thing. Something as simple as accurate eye testing can be difficult if the optician does not believe that the child has read the letter chart on entering the office, and is quite capable of both repeating it without being able to see it, and being too embarrassed (or too mischievous) to admit they can’t actually see it!


There are also sometimes cases of teachers or parents reaching judgements which they are unqualified to make, particularly in ‘identifying’ a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Asperger’s Syndrome.


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Gifted children can certainly have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), but sometimes they behave as if they have it when they don’t simply because they are so bored in the classroom.


However, in some cases it is very hard even for the experts to distinguish whether the gifted child has no ADHD or is just very capable at compensation. The most important thing to remember in this case is to listen to the child and how they describe themselves and their ability to complete required but uninteresting tasks, particularly for an older child who is able to compare themselves with others and to analyse and articulate the problem.


Other conditions, such as auditory processing disorder (APD or CAPD) or sensory processing disorder, may make the child appear to have ADHD.  


“Often, children with CAPD are suspected of having attention deficit/hyperactivity

disorder (ADHD). Like children with ADHD, children with CAPD can appear

distractible or inattentive. CAPD children with auditory hypersensitivities who become

over-stimulated by noise are especially likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. Many

children with CAPD also have dysfunctional sensory integration (DSI), which can cause

motor hyperactivity, sensory seeking, and sensory distractibility.” From “Hearing beyond the ears Part 1” and “Hearing beyond the ears Part 2” by Drs Fernette and Brock Eide


ADHD and children who are gifted by Webb and Latimer, and Attention deficit disorders and gifted students: What do we really know? by Kaufman, Kalbfleisch and Castellanos

discuss ADHD and giftedness.


Before referring a gifted child for ADD/ADHD evaluation by Sharon Lind “There is no doubt that gifted children can be ADD/ADHD. However, there are also gifted children whose "inappropriate behavior" may be a result of being highly gifted and/or intense. This intensity coupled with classroom environments and curriculum which do not meet needs of gifted, divergent, creative, or random learners, may lead to the mislabeling of many children as ADHD. To avoid mislabeling gifted children, parents and educators may want to complete the following check list to help them decide to refer for medical or psychological evaluation”


Parenting gifted children with AD/HD” by Dr Sidney Moon discusses the impact of ADHD, and makes suggestions for ways in which parents can help their children.


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Asperger syndrome:


Gifted children with Asperger’s syndrome by Maureen Neihart

“The article discusses ways in which Asperger's Syndrome might be missed in gifted children and proposes guidelines for differentiating characteristics of giftedness from characteristics of Asperger's Syndrome.”


The misdiagnosis of Asperger’s disorder in gifted youth by Ed Amend  

“Thorough evaluation is necessary to distinguish gifted children's sometimes unusual and sometimes unique social interactions from Asperger's Disorder”


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Further reading


Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, Ocd, Asperger's, Depression, and Other Disorders” by Webb, Amend, Webb, Goerss, Beljan and Olenchak


The Mislabeled Child: How Understanding Your Child's Unique Learning Style Can Open the Door to Success” by Brock and Fernette Eide


Different Minds: Gifted Children with AD/HD, Asperger Syndrome, and Other Learning Deficits” by Dierdre Lovecky


Hoagies’ Gifted Education page on twice exceptional


The Davidson Database articles on twice exceptional


Uniquely gifted webpage


Advice and support is available from mailing lists like GT Special Home (US based list for those homeschooling twice exceptional children), GifTEds (UK based list for anyone caring for a twice exceptional child) , and GT Special (US based list for those caring for a twice exceptional child).


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On this page:


What is “twice exceptional”?


Untangling the twice exceptional mix


Educational provision for twice exceptional children


Accommodations – ways of assisting twice exceptional children.


Diagnosis and Misdiagnosis, including


Asperger’s Syndrome


Further Reading








“So what does it mean to be gifted/special needs?..


For my son who is gifted and mildly dyslexic, it means being bored to tears in math and science classes because they are too easy, while struggling to read grade-level books. It means not being able to read books that discuss science and other topics at his level of understanding. It means finding reading class books challenging, but the classroom discussions excruciatingly boring.


For my son, who is gifted and has dysgraphia (extreme difficulties with writing), being gifted/special needs means having his hands get cramped and tired after only one page of writing. It means being unable to write and think at the same time, so that his written work doesn't come anywhere near reflecting the depth of his thoughts. It means he is thinking about math concepts that his teachers don't understand, but having trouble writing them down...”  by Lee Singer, from “Uniquely Gifted: Identifying and Meeting the Needs of the Twice-Exceptional Student” ed Kiesa Kay



“twice exceptional students need a strong support group to assist them with several key emotional issues that may impede their academic achievement: anger, fear of failure, a strong need to control, low self esteem, and sometimes, even fear of success.”

From “Emotional issues of twice exceptional students” by Strop and Goldman



“Many of these "multiexceptional" youth are already passed over for both gifted and academic support programs because their talents and disabilities often mask each other”, says Nancy Robinson, PhD, a University of Washington psychologist who works with gifted children. For example, students who are highly intelligent could compensate for their reading problems by making good guesses.


“That's why identification methods that look for intra-individual differences--comparing a child's oral-language and printed-language skills, for example--are more likely to catch a talented student with a learning disability than other methods that compare students' performance with benchmarks for normally achieving peers”, says psychologist Julia Osborn, PhD


"There are so many bright kids who aren't getting any help because they are achieving and reading at grade level when they are capable of much more," Robinson explains. "They'll often be missed because, by hook and by crook, they're able to get some meaning out of the printed word, although by no means are they reading at a level to support their advanced learning abilities.”


From When talent masks learning disability , American Psychological Association




“One example of undiagnosed learning difficulties is “stealth dyslexia”:

“reading difficulties are just one of the many neurologically-based manifestations of dyslexia. In fact, in our practice we often see children who are struggling academically due to difficulties that are clearly dyslexia-related, yet who show age-appropriate – and in many cases even superior – reading skills. Because of their apparently strong reading skills, most of these children have never been identified as dyslexic, or given the help they needed to overcome their academic difficulties.” Concludes “Typically, the children we see with stealth dyslexia struggle through elementary school, performing well below their potential and often making superhuman efforts just to keep up. When they meet the heavier writing demands (as well as more complicated reading assignments) in middle and high school, they frequently find themselves unable to keep up. A downward spiral of failure and despair is often the result. This outcome is completely unnecessary. With early identification and appropriate interventions, these children can be equipped to gain all the knowledge and success of which their powerful minds make them capable.”

From Stealth dyslexia by Drs Fernette and Brock Eide

“…it's sometimes hard to know natural from needy behaviour. This is made more complicated because advice to parents - and it comes from all sectors: relatives, neighbours, educators, psychologists - often does not take into account how higher levels of intelligence and depth of emotionality affect the whole child. The general lack of professional education regarding issues of giftedness can lead to wrong advice or even misdiagnosis.” 

From Diagnosis Questions by Dr  Maxwell


“Gifted Children with AD/HD Differ from Average Children with AD/HD in Cognitive, Social and Emotional Variables” , “Gifted Children with AD/HD Differ from Other Gifted Children” and “Assessment of Gifted Children Needs to Be Done by Those Knowledgeable About Both Giftedness and AD/HD” From Gifted children with AD/HD by Dierdre Lovecky