What are Twice-Exceptional Students?

Not all learning differences cause struggle. Some students’ learning differences cause them to perform exceptionally well in certain areas. These are known as “gifted” students. Some students face significant challenges in one skill or area, yet are gifted in another. These students are known in the education world as “twice exceptional.“ They need extra support for certain tasks but outperform their peers on others. They have exceptional needs that may require intervention, and they also demonstrate exceptional performance in another subject or skill.

Why haven’t I heard of this?

Chances are, if you have heard of this term, it’s because you know someone who was identified as twice-exceptional. Twice-exceptional students, sometimes abbreviated as 2E, are unfortunately quite often overlooked. They are either identified as only needing special education services to address a deficiency, while their giftedness goes undetected, or are tracked for a gifted program without receiving any of the supports they need to really be successful.

Of course, neither scenario is ideal. The student whose gifts go unnoticed won’t have the opportunity to be pushed and challenged in the areas in which she shines. And students who are placed in a gifted program without special education services that they need risk falling behind at some point as the challenges they need help with become too burdensome. Plenty of students in either case would thrive the most in a gifted academic setting with an IEP to address the areas where they need extra support.

How Twice-Exceptional Students Perform

There really is no one-size-fits-all description of what a twice-exceptional student’s performance might look like. And not all twice-exceptional students are gifted and challenged in the same way. Some are excellent at standardized tests but struggle with demonstrating their understanding through project-based learning. Others are outstanding readers but find writing impossible. Some are musical prodigies but read far below grade level. And others still are academically gifted but have severe difficulty with self-regulation or other social-emotional skills. There’s no rule about where a twice-exceptional student’s strengths and weaknesses lie. The only thing they do have in common is that they all just need to feel like all the parts of their unique learning profile are seen and valued.

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