In Special Needs News

Boy with glasses drawing in an elementary school classroom.Students with unique needs may benefit from additional support, services, and programs at school. Children with certain disabilities, such as autism, dyslexia, or ADHD, may benefit from an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or placement in a special education classroom or have.

However, for students with one or more disabilities who also are gifted, an added layer of complexity emerges. Many schools may not offer the specific types of services and instruction these learners need to reach their potential. According to the International Dyslexia Association, these students, known as “twice exceptional” or “2e” students, make up about 2 percent to 5 percent of all school-age children.

What Is “Twice Exceptional”?

Experts define twice exceptional learners as students with one or more disabilities who also “demonstrate the potential for high achievement or creative productivity.”

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act defines gifted students as those with high intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership achievement capability. Recent data suggests that between 13 percent and 15 percent of students have disabilities and receive Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) services. Six percent of children are gifted, per the National Association of Gifted Children. An estimated 6 percent of children with special needs are also gifted.

Twice exceptional students are a unique group. They are gifted students with disabilities who typically excel in certain subjects but may struggle or be at grade level in others. This dual exceptionalism often requires extra educational support.

Challenges for Twice Exceptional Students

Gifted and special education programs often place students in separate learning environments. Schools can be ill-equipped to accommodate students with disabilities who are also intellectually gifted.

The Children’s Health Council explains that twice exceptional children often face specific types of challenges in typical school environments. They may have outstanding abilities and talents in certain areas that parents and teachers may or may not recognize. This could include a strong problem-solving ability, high creativity, or advanced verbal skills.

Despite this, the Council states, “at school, they may have difficulty keeping up with course rigor, volume, and demands.” In turn, this may lead to poor academic performance or an unfair focus on any perceived areas of weakness.

Educators can have difficulty identifying 2e learners, as well as their strengths and needs. Consider the following examples:

  • A child with autism may engage in certain behaviors that make it difficult for their teacher to tell that the child, who would otherwise be high-achieving, is struggling with communication and social cues.
  • A gifted child with specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, may rely on context cues to understand the material. As a result, an educator may not realize that the child needs additional support with reading.
  • When a highly intelligent child has ADHD, teachers may perceive the child as lazy or uninterested. The child may understand the material but have trouble organizing tasks or staying seated for extended periods.

These “masking” behaviors can negatively impact a student’s performance in a traditional classroom setting. At the same time, they can affect an educator’s perception of a student’s ability.

As one team of education researchers puts it, “These disabilities and high abilities combine to produce a unique population of students who may fail to demonstrate either high academic performance or specific disabilities. Their gifts may mask their disabilities, and their disabilities may mask their gifts.”

In some instances, families may feel they must choose between fostering a child’s gifts and helping with special needs because the school is unwilling to accommodate both.

Options for Parents

When a child is identified as having a disability, teachers and parents can also partner with the school to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This can help the child access the accommodations necessary for success and work toward annual educational goals and objectives.

The Child Mind Institute recommends Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) classes for 2e kids. In these classes, one general-education teacher and one special-needs teacher teach the material.

Outside school, enrichment programs can support 2e kids as well. Some colleges and museums offer weekend or after-school classes for younger students. A student highly gifted in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) might take an engineering elective on the weekend.

For some families, enrichment may be preferable to moving the child into a higher-level class. Oftentimes, enrichment programs are more appropriate for the child’s age and maturity.

Professional services outside public schools can help children navigate their disabilities, such as the following:

  • Behavioral health services
  • Subject matter tutoring, such as in math or reading
  • Professional services, such as those offered by a dyslexia specialist or a speech-language pathologist

In some cases, parents choose to homeschool or enroll their 2e children in private school.


Meeting the needs of a 2e child can be challenging. The following resources can help parents:

  • Nonprofit organization Twice Exceptional Children’s Advocacy (TECA) helps parents identify whether their child is twice exceptional. The organization then supports parents in finding and advocating for education and resources for their 2e children.
  • The Gifted Homeschoolers Forum (GHF) serves families of 2e kids who choose alternative education. Its mission is to empower families with gifted kids to make strategic, proactive, and intentional educational decisions.
  • Some schools across the country cater to 2e students. Bridges Academy is one such school located in Los Angeles, California.

You may also want to check out the following articles related to education and children with disabilities:

When a family needs help advocating for their 2e child, a special needs planning attorney can provide guidance, too. An attorney with expertise in this area can assist families in identifying and advocating for the services to which their children are legally entitled. Find a special needs planning attorney near you today.

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