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Twice Exceptional Students

Most people are not familiar with “twice exceptional students” who have superior abilities in some academic areas and learning difficulties in others. The concepts of “gifted” and “learning disabled” are often viewed as mutually exclusive. Thus, this group of students can be very difficult to identify and serve properly.


This is how the National Education Association has described “The Twice Exceptional Dilemma”:


Students who are gifted and disabled are at risk for not achieving their potential because of the relationship that exists between their enhanced cognitive abilities and their disabilities. They are among the most frequently under-identified population in our schools. Twice-exceptional students present a unique identification and service delivery dilemma for educators. Often educators, parents, and students are asked to choose between services to address one exceptionality or the other, leaving twice-exceptional students both under-identified and underserved in our schools.


These students tend to fall into three categories:


Students identified as Gifted who demonstrate high intellectual ability and potential. When they do struggle, they can be seen as underachieving or lazy; however, an undiagnosed learning disability is often the cause of their poor performance. This can result in behavior problems and frustration.

Students identified as Learning Disabled where the focus is placed primarily on what they can’t do. Learning challenges overshadow strengths, so the gifts are not explored or addressed in academic services. These students may end up bored in special education classes and act out as a result.

Unidentified students who appear average and tend to work at grade level. Their abilities and disabilities mask each other so they are not screened for special services. They tend to stay in general education classes which don’t address their learning strengths or deficits.

Twice exceptional students are difficult to identify because their intelligence can enable them to compensate for their disabilities. However, their disabilities hinder their achievement and performance. Many are not identified until high school, if at all. Gifted students with learning disabilities may perform at average levels which can obscure the need for either specialized service. Without proper identification and services, they cannot reach their full potential.


Once identified, twice-exceptional students need programs and instruction to address both of their exceptions. According to the National Education Association, “The ideal fit for a twice-exceptional student and his or her educational environment is one where both the student’s giftedness and disability are evenly accounted for through appropriate education and services.”


Throughout my career in education, I have worked with twice exceptional students in different capacities. I have evaluated these students to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses. I have advocated for the unique services needed by these students and have provided school placement guidance. My work as an IECA member has also involved workshops and presentations on twice exceptional students. In addition, I have made presentations to the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools (NJAIS), Westfield Parent-Teacher Council, and Delbarton School on this student population. For more information, please contact my office. Resources for parents can also be found at www.understood.org.

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