Beneath the Surface: Twice-Exceptional Students

May 1, 2015

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau

Drawing of snake from The Little PrinceIn The Little Prince, the narrator describes a picture he drew as a child. He was rather proud of this drawing and was certain it would inspire fear in those who viewed it. When he revealed his masterpiece to the adults in his world, however, they were not afraid; all they saw was a simple drawing of a hat. The narrator was indignant: “My drawing was not a picture of a hat. It was a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant.” Upon offering an explanation of his piece, the narrator expressed his honest thoughts about grown-ups: “They never understand anything by themselves and it is exhausting for children to have to provide expectations over and over again.”

Twice-exceptional (or 2E) children – those who are both gifted and have a learning disability – are often rendered exhausted as they try to explain how they think and learn to “grown-ups”. What is going on inside of them may differ greatly from what other people, including their teachers, are able to see.

“I saw a very different child than the teacher was seeing.” – IEA Parent

Twice-exceptional students are seldom identified as gifted, as having a disability, or as twice-exceptional. Often the disability masks the giftedness, the giftedness masks the disability, or the giftedness and disability mask each other, preventing the rest of us from understanding the inner workings of these children.

Although 2E students were identified as a “distinct” group in 1977, data regarding the number of individuals in the group were not collected until 2000. It is now estimated that between 2 and 5% of gifted children have learning disabilities and that 2 to 5% of students with learning disabilities are gifted. The Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act defines 2E as:

“A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations.”

While each individual is vastly different from each other, this distinct group of learners are connected by their exceptional intellectual ability, discrepancy between ability and achievement, challenges in learning or processing, and the anxiety of being different.

Special programs exist for children with learning disabilities, and there are programs for gifted students, but few deal with both exceptions. Without services that celebrate a child’s gifts and talents, these students fall victim to low academic self-efficacy and issues regarding self-confidence.

“No one knows what I know!!! I see and hear the answers in my head, but I just can’t get them out onto paper. Everyone thinks I am a stupid kid that is ‘slow.’ But I get it – I get it all!!! I hate myself!”

Once we see what is truly going on within a child, we must support and nurture all aspects of his or her needs. A child learns through success; supporting children’s gifts feeds them and provides them with energy and confidence to tackle their learning difficulties.

Addressing students’ disabilities is often seen as a more pressing need than nurturing their gifts, and it is easy to get caught up in needing to “fix” the disability. Though we do need to support these children and help them work with and through their disabilities, we must not lose sight of their incredible intellectual capacity. We should still provide them with advanced curriculum by allowing for modifications that keep any weaknesses in mind.

A gifted child’s self-concept improves when we help him or her nurture all aspects of self – intellectual, spiritual, social, emotional, and physical – in a safe, nurturing environment surrounded by like-minded peers. Feeding the intellect of the twice-exceptional child is the best way to begin the process of personal growth. Knowing and celebrating our possibilities – as well as our limits – helps us to lead a life of purpose, passion, and wisdom.

Twice-exceptional children are not broken. We do not need to fix them. Instead, we need to help them understand both their strengths and their weaknesses, nurture their gifts, and help them find ways to succeed and grow. But before we can do this, we must truly see them for who they are.

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

It is so incredibly important that we look at the whole child and truly understand what is going on so that we can support and nurture the growth of these wonderful individuals.

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This post is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page May Blog Hop on 2e Kids. Check out all of the other great blogs participating in Hoagies’ May Blog Hop!

Hoagies Blog Hop - 2e Kids



IEA Staff