Do you know a kid(s) who are complex, interesting, tend to be intellectually deep, incredibly creative, emotionally intense, quirky, falling through the cracks because they are misunderstood? Yeah, the kids who don’t really fit into the gifted programs nor the special needs programs because they actually are both. They are twice exceptional or 2e for short! (who will be 2e adults)
What is 2e-ness? lacking skills brilliance uniqueness asynchronous unlimited possibilities
watch this short explanatory clip
Kids who are twice exceptional often has lacking skills on so many levels, are socially awkward, but brilliant in their field of interest and/or gifts – heavily burden under a long string of diagnostic labels – time to tilt our thinking and to focus on their strengths!
Most people (professional and otherwise) don’t always understand their strengths and/or challenges. The truth is that so often their strengths and challenges mask each other; collapsing into appearing to be average. Because of this fact, nobody tries to figure out what they actually need to thrive. Furthermore, they are often shamed with statements like, “you are careless / you can do better / you are just lazy”. These kinds of shaming statements are hurtful and give a message of “you are not bright / you are broken / you are not good enough / you are a disappointment” and do not help in any way, form or matter.
The reality is that these kids are the most important game-changers who innovate and are creative problem solvers the world truly needs. Think of people like Einstein, Dr Temple Grandin, Thomas Edison to name a few.
Diagnosis of Twice Exceptional (2e)
It is incredibly difficult to diagnose twice exceptional (2e) kids.
1. Practitioners who get twice exceptionalities are rare and far in between.
2. When kids take tests, many factors can influence the results. Factors like processing, comprehension, intuition.
3. Under-diagnosis, over-diagnosis, misdiagnosis, no diagnosis are the reality of twice exceptionalities.
What is Twice Exceptional (2e)?
“2e” is used as an abbreviation for simplicity. Twice exceptional (2e) kids who are both intellectually bright/gifted and have brain-based challenges such as ASD, ADHD, Apraxia, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia and so much more. Some kids only have one brain-based challenge, while most 2e kids have a complex string of comorbidities.
The field of education considers giftedness and learning disabilities as “exceptionalities”. Therefore the term “twice exceptional” refers to a student with exceptionalities on both sides of the bell curve theory. You know these kids are smart/bright, but also struggle to show it. These kids are very complex and some professionals prefer the term “multi-exceptional”.
A lot of conditions, as well as environments; needs to be carefully considered when planning to meet the complex educational needs of these kids. Teachers, therapeutic professionals. and most medical professionals, rarely know and understands the full picture. Even when they do; they are not always given the time, training or resources they need in order to meet the needs of these kids.
Some hallmark characteristics of Twice exceptionalities (2e) are:
1. Asynchronous Development
Twice exceptional (2e) kids have asynchronous development. They are “all over the show” in terms of grade level ability and/or age appropriate development. They are not “in sync” with their peers’ milestones. For example, you might have a 6th grader who reads at the 12th-grade level, has a 1st grader handwriting skills, knows history like a 3rd grader, understands math concepts at an 9th-grade level, and even have knowledge on a University level, can hold remarkably deep conversations with adults (if they are verbally able) and emotionally 4/5 years younger than their physical years.
2. NeuroDiverse – autistic and allistic
Neurotypical (typical) refers to kids (well; adults too, but we are in general talking about kids in this article) who experience cognitively “neurologically typical” development as well as typical socially and emotionally development. About 80% of all kids are neurotypicals. These kids are in the “middle” of the bell curve.
The other 20% of kids are neurodivergent (atypical) that has brain-based challenges such as ASD, ADHD and who do not experience cognitively “neurologically typical” development, nor typical socially and emotionally development – they are slower than their peers on so many levels
Only about 1% of neurodivergent kids are Twice exceptional (2e) kids. Twice exceptional (2e) kids are, by their very nature, not neurotypical and are outside-the-box learners. Twice exceptional (2e) kids are neurodivergent, thus, they are NeuroDiverse – autistic or allistic.
3. The Bell curve theory
The Bell curve theory can be useful when used properly, but the metaphor of the bell curve can cause a lot of misunderstanding, judgement and hurt too. I am no expert, just a parent, who myself is autistic-2e, with a passion to know more in order to help my son better. Phycology and Educational professionals tend to use “normal” a lot. For example the “normal bell curve” / “the normal developmental milestones” which indicate that that there is “abnormal” too. We have to THINK about what message we send with our terminology, as too many kids (+adults) are left feeling broken and traumatised.
– Neurotypical kids are in the “middle” of the bell curve.
– Gifted/high IQ kids are on the right side of the bell curve.
– Learning difficulties/lower IQ are on the left side of the bell curve.
– Twice exceptional (2e) kids, who are both intellectually bright/gifted and have brain-based challenges are on both sides of the bell curve
4. Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities
The Polish psychologist, Kazimierz Dabrowski; identified five areas in which children exhibit intense behaviors, also known as “overexcitabilities” or “super sensitivities.”
On Colleen Kessler from Raising Lifelong Learners’ blog/podcast and FB lives are amazing information about this. I will do a separate article on OE’s and provide links to all of Colleen’s blog/podcast and FB live posts. But for this article, it is important to know that Twice exceptional (2e) kids have one, more or all 5 of these overexcitabilities which makes them more “intense” than their typical peers.
5. Executive Function
Twice exceptional (2e) kids often struggle with executive function. They have trouble with “execution” and their grades do not reflect their abilities. Problems with execution include problems with planning, organisation, time management, prioritising, focusing, reflective thinking, emotional regulation, working memory, processing, low muscle tone and more. I will do a separate article on executive function, but since I am not an expert on anything, I will share links to experts who KNOWS the field, like Seth Perler who is an executive function and 2e coach and one I LOVE to learn from! Visit Seth’s website for more brilliant help on executive functions – click here
6. Processing Disorders
Processing issues and speed is at the root of most misunderstandings occurring between typical adults and 2e kids! Typical adults seem to confuse processing issues with some sort of wilfulness and their actions built on this assumption/understanding causes a lot of damage to kids. When a kid has trouble processing information, it can look like the child is not trying, is not paying attention, is not motivated or the classic – is just simply lazy! But it is not true and the typical adult don’t get this, react on what they see and understand on the surface, making matters worse!
Unfortunately, these kid’s brain-based challenges often mask their strengths/gifts. The difference between what a kid should be able to do and their actual execution causes a great deal of problems for these kids. Adults often say things like, “(s)he has got so much potential, yet (s)he doesn’t try harder!” The truth is that these kids are trying, they are working very hard using their strengths, abstract reasoning abilities, and intelligence to compensate for their weaknesses, but they are so misunderstood.
8. Avoidance & Resistance
This is a reality for most 2e kids. If the kid has an ASD diagnosis, make sure PDA is not at play too. The traits for 2e avoidance & resistance is overlapping the traits of a PDA profile. Come to think of it – PDA profiles are always bright – so they must be 2e. But then, who am I? A nobody without a pedigree nor degree, just a passionate thinking parent, simply me.
Take note that in kids with ADHD, it can also be DERS.
It’s can be very difficult to help twice exceptional (2e) kids when they seem unmotivated, avoiding, resisting or when they are overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, withdrawn, push you away.
Twice exceptional (2e) kids are highly intelligent and do create many diversions designed to avoid the perceived stress of dealing with these issues that overwhelm them. For example: “it is not going to work” / “you do it, my hands are too small” / “I just want to watch/read/finish this, then I will…” / “that is so stupid, I would rather do …”
Be sensitive to these needs. It will be wise to consider a good therapist who truly understand twice exceptional (2e) kids to help with the underlying emotions so your kid can learn to break through this avoidance in order to experience more success/victories.
9. Common Learning Challenges and Gifts
Or as some refer to as “learning disabilities”, “differences”, “challenges”, “differently wired” or as my friend, Megan Basson from Chasing Rainbows always say: “DIFFABILITY”.
Don’t let the stigma of the word “disabled” (dis-able) scare you nor define you (or your child), because it is most important to know and understand your kid’s abilities and needs. Even when there is no formal diagnosis, parents often have a “gut-feel” about their child’s gifts and challenges.
Gifts/Strengths to look out for:
Academic abilities are not the only way in which a kid can be gifted as there are so many ways a kid can be gifted: arts, music, problem solving, entertainment, acting, the list is endless.
Advanced sense of humor
Academically – STEM – Science, Technology, Electronics, Maths, etc
Artistically – Art, Music, Dance, Acting, etc.
Kinaesthetically/Athletically – sports, etc.
Crave learning and intellectual stimulation in their field of interest.
Innovative, problem-solver, original/unique ideas
IQ 130+ gifted.
IQ 160+ profoundly gifted
High-level thinking, ask unusually deep questions.
Communicate in a very mature way about interest, yet incredibly immature about other subjects.
Unusually observant in strength areas, learns very quickly in strength areas
Challenges to look out for:
There is more to look out for, however, this article is long already. More information on NeuroDiverse types of labels (diagnoses) will be shared via other articles and podcasts on this site.
Apraxia (speech and motor skills)
Autism – ASD 1/2/3 and other spectrum disorders.
ADHD, attentional, executive function
Avoidance & resistance
Dyspraxia, Sensory integration, fine motor problems
Dyslexia – letter recognition issues
Dysgraphia – letter forming issues
Dyscalculia – math disability
Low muscle tone
Processing disorders (sensory and speed)
Speech & language issues
Common problematic challenges 2e kids face
This list is by no means a comprehensive list, but should give a basic understanding of the issues:
Twice exceptional (2e) kids fall through the cracks. Standardised testing for IQ and learning disabilities fails Twice exceptional (2e) kids.
Twice exceptional (2e) kids feeling broken or like something is wrong with them and they waste years of their adult lives “finding themselves”.
Not getting the support they need because they are misperceived as not “gifted enough” for GT services and not “struggling enough” for SPED services.
Schools don’t keep up with the research on twice exceptional (2e) and don’t train teachers adequately to serve them. Twice exceptional (2e) kids do not know how to advocate for themselves or how to articulate what they need.
Discrepancies between strengths and challenge areas can negatively affect how twice exceptional (2e) kids are perceived and they may not “look” gifted. People who don’t understand twice exceptional (2e) kids often use ignorant statements like this: “(s)he is just being lazy”, “(s)he is not trying”, “What a shame, (s)he has so much potential”, “(s)he needs to be more motivated and disciplined.”
Strength based compensatory strategies can mask the gifts and or the legitimate learning challenges/differences/disabilities and this “masking” can even lead to NOT being diagnosed at all. Low grades can mask true ability.
Twice exceptional (2e) kids spend a ton of time and energy to process and do work as compared with peers and often get lower grades regardless of effort.
Twice exceptional (2e) kids learn fast and when a school doesn’t accelerate the curriculum, thy are often bored and disengaged. Things that feel/seems pointless busywork can lead to 2e kids refusing to do class/homework.
Processing information at incredibly fast speeds but output ability is incredibly slow. Can not take advanced classes because they are “underachieving”, causing more boredom and resistance.
Twice exceptional (2e) kids do not have the opportunities to build upon their strengths. Too much emphasis is on weaknesses; the fix-it-modality, instead of strength-based education. Deficits can shadow gifts and often the emphasis is on how they are NOT performing in their challenging areas and therefore they do not shine in their strength areas.
Accommodations are not articulated meaningfully to make a difference for twice exceptional (2e) kids and the teachers are unaware of accommodations or simply disregard them.
Twice exceptional (2e) kids often thrive with different aged peers but are kept with same-age peers because of “grade level” and they have to “do what everyone else does” even though it isn’t working for them, letting them fail instead of thriving. They often learn to resent school and learning.
How to support 2e kids?
Use authentic outside the box forms of assessment to gage the twice exceptional (2e) kid. Avoid assessments that do not measure 2e-ness!
Support social and emotional needs no matter how outside the box it may be. Model executive function skills. For example how to use a planner, organize workspace, etc. Make use of the “I do/we do/you do and or my turn/your turn” methodology to do so.
Celebrate even small victories!
Provide twice exceptional (2e) kids with great role models, older peers who can guide them and model the what and how’s of social/academia and otherwise, to them.
Make sure that documented accommodations actually work and that they are implemented at school and home!
Use strength-based education/life experiences to build upon their strengths, gifts, talents, interests, passions.
Don’t put too much emphasis working on weaknesses, avoid the fix-it-modality. There’s a time and a place to work on the challenging areas, but it should be done mindfully while having fun. Do not let them experience “its to fix me” For example, my son was born with extremely low muscle tone and he is doing hip-hop dance therapy, having no idea how hard he is really working on muscle tone as he is having fun doing so. The emphasis is on him expressing himself, moving and having fun.
Expose twice exceptional (2e) kids to a diverse range of experiences to expose them to many areas where passions may develop and they can have experiences that allow them to explore their curiosities. Allow them to use their imagination regularly to explore learning.
Unit studies or project-based lessons based on interests, that give twice exceptional (2e) kids ownership and choice in their learning. Avoid pointless busywork/worksheets type of things. Rethink homework all together and only give homework when there is a real purpose. Research points out that the value of busywork is not so valuable as most people think. It actually wastes valuable exploring time!
Provide alternate options that give twice exceptional (2e) kids time and space to process knowledge the way they do. Provide alternate options that give twice exceptional (2e) kids a way to show what they know. For example, a kid that is non-verbal and/or has dysgraphia (not able to form letters to write), but excel in building with Lego can use Lego to build his/her answer(s) or a kid that loves acting can act out their answer, etc.
Be careful not to just notice the giftedness and not the learning challenges. Or to just notice the learning challenges and not the giftedness!
Be careful not to focus on the challenges or to fix it all the time. Allow the strengths to be the keys to unlock/solve the challenges.
Be careful not to blame problems on laziness, not trying, low self-esteem, unmotivated rather than noticing how the disability affects the learner.
Have clarity regarding gifts and challenges so that you can design learning experiences that are appropriately challenging and supportive.
Take into account that twice exceptional (2e) kids are extraordinarily complex and that you simply cannot rely on a cookie-cutter curriculum to meet the diverse needs of these exceptional kids.
Know and understand that there is no quick fix, magic bullet or one solution fits all. To educate twice exceptional (2e) kids requires a real commitment and investment in time and energy to create engaging and meaningful learning experiences.
Be kind, be patient and as Dr Susan Baum always say – “Give the gift of time!”
In the comments below, please share what 2e means to YOU!
Thank you kindly,
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