Twice Exceptional Students

What do Curie, Da Vinci and Einstein have in common? They’re all believed to have been “twice-exceptional (2e).” Twice-exceptional people are defined as gifted in combination with one or more of the following learning disabilities or special needs:

• Dyslexia
• Visual or auditory processing issues
• Sensory-processing disorder
• Anxiety and/or depression
• Tourette’s or Asperger’s Syndrome
• Autism Spectrum Disorder

This combination impacts how a person learns and how they should be taught. Susan Baum, Ph.D., Director of The 2e Center for Research and Professional Development at Bridges Academy, a school for 2e kids in Studio City, shares her insights on these complex individuals.

According to Baum, twice-exceptional kids are extremely bright, but often their areas of advancement go unnoticed if teachers only pay attention to the learning disabilities. These children “are different in a lot of ways,” says Baum. They’re more sensitive about what they can’t do. “It’s a real struggle for them emotionally. They become anxious, some depressed, because there’s so many things that they’re so smart in [yet] sometimes it’s the very simple things that they can’t do.” Baum notes that balancing this disparity is difficult for them. In her research, she found that 2e students were often the most disruptive kids in the school. Some got sick all the time. Some acted out. Some were the class clown. “But of those three populations, those that acted out had much more difficulty fitting into school,” says Baum.

How can parents tell if their child is twice-exceptional? That depends on what the issue is. “Sometimes it’s developmental. We just have to wait because these kids, bright kids, are often highly asynchronous. Their verbal abilities might be off the charts, but their motor skills lag … A lot of highly verbal kids are more interested in talking than going out and playing physical things. Baum says their verbal abilities develop and the motor skills don’t because one thing develops at a time. They can’t put their ideas in writing.

“2e children think in a much more advanced way than an average six-year-old. Their ideas come so quickly that their motor skills cannot keep up with what their brain is thinking about and what their little hands can write.” Baum suggests, especially when they’re little, giving them alternate ways to express their ideas or letting them try dictating something. Parents should rely on their gut feeling, keep notes on behaviors they see at home or hear about from school. Seek a professional for evaluation if there’s concern. Reading in depth about twice-exceptionality helps to know the right questions to ask. Tell the psychologist that you’re wondering if your child might be 2e. “Or,” says Baum, “when [parents] get the report [from testing] back … say, ‘Tell me what all these advanced areas are about, and how do we develop those?’”

At home there should be a very delicate balance between supporting 2e children in what they can’t do and praising them for what they can. Parents should pay close attention to when their child is at their personal best. Baum suggests taking notice of when the child is showing their gifts and under what conditions, because recognizing those positive behaviors is very helpful. For instance, maybe when you’re discussing the news at dinner, they say the most enlightening and insightful things, and try to enter the adult conversation. “They may interrupt. They have such important things to say.”

Baum also recommends ensuring that your relationship with your 2e child includes exposing them to exciting things, enrolling them in computer camp [or class] if they love that. “In the summer, make sure that you’re not worried about remediation, that you’re really more engaged with him to develop that gifted side of him. Let the specialists help with the challenges,” says Baum.

Not every school is a good fit for the twice-exceptional student. Baum thinks that because curriculum is so much about test scores, many 2e kids are having problems. There’s less play for young children. Schools are forcing kids to sit for longer periods of time than they should. “… they’re creating the problem that wouldn’t exist if schools weren’t the way they were right now. Schools don’t always recognize individual differences. Everyone has to be on the same page at the same time,” says Baum.

“Here at our center,” says Baum, “we … began to describe these children as a combination of two colors.” Yellow is all of their strengths and their talents and interests, which are extraordinary. They think in advanced ways. They like complex topics. “Then they have this blue side,” adds Baum. “Maybe they can’t focus well. They have poor executive function. They can’t produce, or they’re Dyslexic. They have their challenges. But you know what happens when you put yellow and blue together? You get green. These kids are green.” Baum feels it’s a mistake to treat giftedness one way and treat the disability another. “That’s a problem because these children are really green. They’re not yellow, and they’re not blue.” When working in their gifted area, they’ve still got that disability. “You know what Kermit says?” says Baum, “It isn’t easy being green.” Professionals use the metaphor of green to try to make people understand that 2e kids are both things simultaneously.

Parents of twice-exceptional kids may want to look for a strength-based and talent-focused school for their child.  This involves an approach using a child’s strengths to help them access the curriculum. If written expression is a struggle, perhaps they’ll perform a monologue for an assignment. If music is their forte, then those interests and talents can be nurtured. Finding a school that’s the right fit makes all the difference for academic and ultimately emotional success.

2e children have tremendous potential and in order for that potential to be achieved, their twice-exceptionality needs to be identified. Only then can the appropriate support be given to help them shine. In fact, one of them could be the next Albert Einstein. _

Ronna Mandel is a contributing writer to JLife. You can find her blog at 

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