top of page

Twice Exceptional


Twice exceptional (2e) refers to gifted people who have some form of disability or learning difference. They are exceptional due to their giftedness and because they are different e.g. Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, ASD, etcetera.

A Twice Exceptional person is considered gifted when compared to same-age peers and is diagnosed with one or more differences. It can be used to refer to students with learning differences, although research is not limited to these areas.

Recognized learning differences include visual or auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder (ASD, Asperger’s and Autism), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), sensory processing disorder, Tourette syndrome (TS) and ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Those with a diagnosis of anxiety, depression or any other disability interfering with the student's ability to learn effectively in a traditional environment may also be considered twice exceptional. For example, 19% of dyslexic students were found to be superiorly gifted in verbal reasoning. Often children with 2e have multiple differences that present as a paradox to many parents and educators – this is known as multi-exceptional.

Twice exceptional strengths include superior vocabulary, advanced ideas and opinions, high levels of creativity and problem-solving ability, extreme curiosity, wide range of interests not related to school, penetrating insight into complex issues, specific talent or consuming interest area, and a sophisticated sense of humor.

The downside of 2e may include, high impulsivity poor social skills stubborn or opinionated demeanor, difficulty with written expression, highly sensitive to criticism, poor performance in one or more academic areas, discrepant verbal and performance skills and a lack of organizational and study skills.

Twice exceptionality usually doesn’t express itself until children are in school. In their early years, these children often seem very bright with varied interests and advanced vocabularies. Often parents are unaware that they have a 2e child. A twice exceptional student's grades commonly alternate between high and low - even within the same subject. The student might have advanced vocabulary and ideas but be unable to organize those ideas and express them on paper. They might be a skilled artist or builder but turn in assignments that are messy or illegible. They might complete assignments but lose them or forget to turn them in. To the parents and teachers observing this behavior, it may seem that the child just isn't trying. In fact, many 2e children work as hard, if not harder than others, but with less to show for their efforts. This struggle to accomplish tasks that appear easy for other students can leave 2e children frustrated, anxious, and depressed.

It is difficult to profile twice-exceptional people because the nature and differences of 2e are so varied. This contrast in twice-exceptional individuals makes it difficult to determine exactly how many people are impacted. Our best estimates of prevalence range from 300,000 to 360,000 in the United States which is approximately 0.5% of children under 18 years of age. Studies found that fully 16% of the gifted children tested had a learning difference of some type. Conservative estimates of the amount of twice exceptional children in Australia is around 40,000 (roughly 10% of gifted Australians).

It has been argued that this cohort of students could be considered the most misunderstood of all exceptionalities. In general, the twice exceptional student's strengths help to compensate for deficits. Conversely the differences/disabilities make the child's strengths less obvious. The combination of exceptional strengths and weaknesses result in inconsistency in performance. The three most common profiles are “bright but not trying hard enough”, “Learning disabled but with no exceptional abilities” and “average”.

Just as gifted and twice exceptional kids experience difficulties, negative interactions, feeling misunderstood, the same applies to gifted and 2e adults.  By the time they become adults they have often created coping strategies and self-accommodations. Some approaches are healthy and others are self-destructive.  Twice exceptional adults frequently carry baggage from their past. “Quirky” having “weird” habits and “annoying behavior” are terms frequently used to describe a twice exceptional adult. 

2e adults often relive experiences from their past. This can create problems with their spouse, in the workplace and even with their children. These experiences can be deeply painful. Self-abuse, substance abuse, and anger are also responses to constant messaging that somehow the gifted or 2e adult is broken.

Many 2e adults struggle figuring themselves out. They have frequent depressing memories of how confused, frustrated, and ostracized they felt as children and in school. These thoughts continue to impact their lives as they grow older. The adult world can be just as tough and judgmental as it was when they were children. As twice exceptional adults they have the added burden of needing to find a vocation, create healthy relationships, and be responsible for others. This is tough for any adult, but for someone who has always struggled to assimilate, it can be exceptionally challenging. 

Embracing their differences as opportunities for positive change, allows gifted and 2e adults to face the world with a positive outlook and strong sense of self-esteem. This new-found confidence and clarity will empower the twice exceptional adult to drop their defensive demeanor, become un-stuck, and to advance with determination.

bottom of page