Twice-exceptional (2e) students are simultaneously gifted or bright, and yet also have a learning weakness or disability (e.g. dyslexia, math disability, ADHD, Asperger’s, slow processing speed, and/or weak executive function). While some parents, teachers, and even clinicians are initially surprised to hear that a student can be simultaneously very bright and experience difficulty with learning, when one considers the fact that ability is multi-dimensional – that we each have a unique profile of strengths and weaknesses in the many different cognitive abilities contributing to learning and achievement – it is easier to understand how a student could have peaks of strength in some areas and valleys of weakness in others. In recent years, knowledge and acceptance of twice-exceptionality as a reality has been growing in educational settings.
Many twice-exceptional students are “undercover” – they have not been identified as either gifted or as having a learning difficulty. This may occur because their strengths camouflage their weaknesses and their weaknesses camouflage their strengths, making them appear to be “average.” Melissa, a science and technology whiz who knows practically everything about cell phones and satellites, yet struggles to connect with others and has trouble with inferential thinking due to Asperger’s, is twice-exceptional. Jacob, a verbally precocious 2nd grader who reads at the 7th grade level yet cannot complete a grade-level writing assignment due to graphomotor challenges is twice-exceptional. And Daniel, a 3rd grader who finds unique solutions to advanced math problems yet does poorly on “mad minutes” math exercises due to working memory weaknesses is also twice-exceptional. Before I worked with these students they had not been diagnosed with any exceptionality.
What can I do to help?
Because their profiles are so complex, twice-exceptional learners are best served by professionals who understand their unique needs. The first step I take is to unpack the student’s profile – exactly when and where does he or she excel and when and where does he or she experience difficulty? This can be challenging because behaviors associated with one exceptionality, i.e. high intelligence (e.g. impatience, distractibility), can resemble another exceptionality like ADHD or Asperger’s. I need to figure out if the student is inattentive because he has an attention deficit or ASD; because the curriculum is out of step with his advanced learning needs; or due to both factors (i.e. the student is gifted and has ADHD or ASD). Once I explicate the student’s cognitive profile I make causal inferences to understand how their strengths and weaknesses impact learning, school achievement, social and emotional experience, and home life. Finally, an actionable, detailed learning plan is developed to build weaker skills while simultaneously enriching learning in areas of strength and interest.