Understanding 2E Kids

Twice-exceptional or 2E kids have both exceptional abilities and disabilities. In some ways, they are gifted. However, they may also face developmental or learning challenges.

In my experience as an advocate (and in a state that requires GIEPs-gifted IEPs), I have come across two main recurring themes with gifted students. One is that unaddressed gifted and talented traits will often lead to behavior problems.

The second is that I have found very few schools that “do gifted” well. I would continue to work with the school, but I also would pursue programs and experiences on your own (or you risk losing valuable time). Mind you, it is getting better. The internet and social media have been a game-changer for things like this. But, we still have a long way to go.

2E Gifted With an IEP

2E kids are at risk of slipping through the cracks. One factor is the fact that primary schools are set up in a way that help children develop grade-level academic skills. What I find is that most schools do accelerated rather than enhanced or experiential learning. Time to break away from stereotypes are realize that not every 2E child is a little Sheldon Cooper!


When giftedness masks skill deficits, that can only take you so far. Eventually, when they reach higher grade levels with higher expectations (social or academic), they may hit a wall. The sad truth is, they may never get the proper diagnosis and support. The 2E child might also have issues that outweigh his giftedness.

As there’s no universally-accepted definition of a gifted child, which is not only about intellectual potential, a teacher – and even parents -may find such child’s situation confusing. The signs can be difficult to understand or recognize.

Giftedness may sometimes mask thinking and learning differences. There are times when the child’s extreme strengths are cancelled out by skill deficits and vice versa. 2E students can also seem as if they’re only average students.

Gifted with an IEP

The US Department of Education has made it clear that twice-exceptional students are protected under the IDEA or Individuals w/ Disabilities Education Act. If there is suspicion of disability, schools are mandated to evaluate the child. If eligible, the student must have a 504 plan or an IEP.

However, let me clarify. Not all states recognize giftedness or have an obligation to provide services to gifted students. What IDEA tries to clarify is that being gifted is not a reason to withhold an IEP for the areas of need.

To be successful, both a 2E student’s giftedness and challenges must be addressed. They must be challenged in their areas of strength, and must be supported in areas they find challenging, just like any other student who has a thinking and learning difference.

According to the National Education Association, 2E learning programs must be personalized to meet both the child’s gifted and special education needs. Both are equally important.

Whether the school has individualized learning plans or more general special programs for gifted students, what is important is to play to the child’s strengths.

When a teacher notices a student to be average in some areas, but exceptional in 1 or 2 areas, or is quite superior in all but one areas, the child should be referred for testing (if that state recognizes gifted). A neuropsych evaluation is the most recommended way to appreciate the child’s full profile in terms of academic and cognitive strengths and weaknesses, as well as to personalize a curriculum.

In math, for example, a 2E student may be ahead by three grade levels. However, he might require additional support in reading. It’s crucial for teachers and parents to be clear about their 2E students since failing to understand them can be devastating.

Misunderstanding Can Lead to Long Term Damage

Adults who don’t really understand twice-exceptional children, often resort to giving misinformed messages that only tend to damage. They say such kids don’t try hard enough, don’t care about school, or are lazy. 

When testing for aptitude and learning disabilities, you may find that 2E children are smart, although struggling. If your child fits under this description, you should explore until you’re clear about everything that’s going on.

In general, parents have a gut feel about it, but to be sure, they seek clarity by getting professional testing performed by a neuropsychologist or a diagnostician who will test for the child’s learning problems and giftedness. Some schools also offer testing to determine if their services would help.

You can also research on the following tests, WAIS III, WISC IV, Woodcock-Johnson, Stanford Binet, UNIT, DAS, NNAT, Ravens Progressive Matrices, and K-TEA/NU. Regardless of how you choose to test your child, it is important that the diagnostician is in constant consultation with the family after the testing. This way, all the family’s questions will be answered thoroughly.

What Are Discrepancies?

Discrepancies are the differences between what the child must be able to do vs. the child’s actual execution, which causes problems for the child. This is why you may hear adults wonder aloud how a child who shows so much potential does not want to try harder.

It’s about reframing the thinking from “won’t” to “can’t.”

When a student’s gifts are masked by their difficulties, it can result in:

  • Their needs aren’t met, they fall through the crack, and waste years of their adulthood just to find themselves.
  • Ignorant adults often say damaging and irresponsible statements about 2E children.
  • Kids mask their gifts or legit learning disabilities/differences; this can result in non-diagnosis.
  • Differences between the strengths and challenges can adversely affect the perception of these kids.
  • Poor grades tend to mask the true ability and then adults limit their potential.
  • They don’t get the necessary support usually because of misperceptions.
  • Compared to their peers, 2E kids often receive lower grades despite their effort.
  • Schools aren’t updated on 2E research and their teachers aren’t trained enough to serve these kids.
  • Twice-exceptional kids are sometimes bored. They are fast learners and when the school curriculum doesn’t keep up, they disengage.
  • They may feel unchallenged or frustrated about things they feel pointless and may refuse to do their school work.
  • They may thrive with peers of different ages but are limited to peers of the same age because of grade levels.
  • They may not be allowed to take advanced classes because they may be found to be underachieving. This only causes more resistance and boredom.
  • Pull-out programs may be insufficient.
  • They may feel different about being pulled out of class, and middle schoolers hate the idea of looking different.
  • Kids in pull-out programs may be made to take up makeup sessions to compensate for missed work, and feel ostracized.
  • There are sometimes no accommodations at all, usually when there’s no identification or when undergoing a dragging RTI process.
  • Information processing is incredibly fast, but delivering output is quite slow.
  • Accommodations are not being used.
  • Accommodations are not meaningfully articulated to create a difference for the 2E student.
  • Teachers may be unaware of accommodations or totally disregard them.
  • Teachers may not be trained enough to differentiate learners.
  • 2E students may feel broken or as if there’s something wrong with them.
  • 2E students may not have opportunities to build on their strengths or may emphasize too much on weaknesses.
  • They may not be tested at all.
  • They may be over-excitable, emotional, and sensory.
  • They may be made to do what everybody else does, though it is not working for them.
  • Deficits sometimes overshadow gifts. There’s an emphasis on non-performance; thus, they cannot shine.
  • 2E children can be hard to diagnose. When they take tests, a lot of factors can affect the results in either direction, including compensation, processing, and intuition.
  • They may resent school and learning, in particular, after the start of middle school.
  • They may feel bad about themselves and internalize shame.
  • They may feel incapable.
  • They may not realize their strengths’ true worth.
  • They may not develop their talents/strengths/gifts.
  • They may be unable to stand for themselves and articulate their needs.

Ideas for Getting Started with your 2E Child

How you choose to pursue this with your child’s IEP team will vary by what your state obligates the school to do. Not all states are required to provide gifted programming.

  • Use life experiences and education to build on their gifts, strengths, interests, passions, and talents.
  • Provide project-based lessons they find interesting. This way, students will have ownership and a say in their learning.
  • Use experiential learning.
  • Use authentic assessment forms.
  • Eliminate pointless busywork.
  • Completely rethink giving homework; only give them when there’s real purpose.
  • Appreciate the value of homework based on what research says.
  • Don’t merely use tests and paperwork for assessment; alternate them with student preferred product possibilities.
  • Offer alternatives for the way kids process knowledge.
  • Provide support for emotional and social needs.
  • Provide EF skills coaching, including using a planner, chunking studies, and organizing, among other.
  • Teach not only what to learn, but HOW to learn.
  • Build their independence.

Differentiate: Compressing and Accelerating Curriculum to Keep Up with Learning

  • Catch them being good, and celebrate successes – even the small ones.
  • Teach self-care.
  • Provide good role models for kids.
  • Make sure documented accommodations work. Thoughtfully and carefully articulate so students can communicate to teachers effectively.
  • Expose learners to diverse experiences to give them exposure to various areas where they can develop a passion.
  • Let them explore their curiosities by planning experiences.
  • Let them explore learning by regularly using their imagination.
  • Use dynamic assessment for proper assessment performance.
  • Give ideas for parents and teachers to post.
  • Use sufficient wait time. Have patience and allow them to process their thoughts, and not to expect fast responses.
  • Be generous with your praises and compliments.
  • Listen to your kids actively.
  • Come up with a creative differentiated curriculum.
  • Use interdisciplinary experiences for teaching holistic approaches.
  • Provide relevant learning and experiences that they care about.
  • Make the expectations clear. Make it in writing.
  • Learn to emotionally co-regulate.
  • Provide challenging work.
  • Avoid focusing too much on memorization; instead, teach 2E kids how to think.
  • Reassess the meaning of achievement.
  • Educate parents and teachers about twice-exceptional kids.
  • Advocate for 2E kids, and all kids for that matter.
  • Do some deep inner work. Take good care of yourself so you can better support your kid.
  • Be mindful of your legal rights. Ensure your child has the proper documentation and identification to support their needs. 
  • A lot of people think that giftedness and learning disabilities are at opposite ends. Some states may identify a student as having giftedness or LD, but never both. But, it is a fact that giftedness and LD can simultaneously exist.

Missed Diagnosis

There are seemingly bright students who have difficulty maintaining their grades. Often, they’re neither identified nor provided services because they’re not performing below grade level. Also, children with LD diagnosis get passed over in gifted programs.

Overall, their IQ test scores are overshadowed by their learning disability. This prevents them from proper identification and being provided the services they deserve as a prodigy or gifted. If a gifted child has dyslexia, then an IQ assessment that is very reading-intense is not going to show valid results.

Various Gifted and LD Categories

Gifted and LD students can be categorized under 3 groups, each one with unique challenges:

  1. Identified gifted kids with subtle learning disabilities – While they are expected to perform well, they are often clueless on what to do because of their LD.
  2. Unidentified children whose disabilities and gifts are masked by their average achievement. They struggle to keep up with their peers. Their exceptional intellectual ability works overtime to make up for their undiagnosed learning issues.
  3. Identified LD learners who are gifted as well – These kids are at risk the most because of the implication that comes with an LD diagnosis. Something is wrong, and it needs fixing before things get worse. As a consequence, their superior skills are put on hold. In reality, nurturing their gift is key to allowing them deal with the learning difficulties.

Ultimately, 2E learners must learn to advocate for themselves. Their teachers and parents can help by sticking to the following guidelines:

  • Focus on developing the child’s gifts.
  • Encourage compensation schemes.
  • Offer a nurturing environment that respects individual differences.
  • Encourage individual strength awareness.

Kids with learning problems but are likewise gifted have unique needs. They understand much more than their peers, but they may have difficulty tying their shoelaces, spelling simple words, or even remembering to bring their textbooks.

In spite of their advanced intellectual skills, twice-exceptional kids often need accommodations and academic support to succeed. However, they may refuse help since it may make them think it is a form of cheating.

2E kids may find even the typical classroom challenging. This is because cluttered and highly stimulating environments tend to magnify attention problems.

For most twice-exceptional children feeling respected, valued, and a sense of belongingness are crucial to success. However, they often feel stressed out and out of place.

As they defy the typical gifted and LD stereotypes, they can be over-medicated and misdiagnosed. Educators easily assume they’re downright lazy or just less capable compared to their peers.

Minimum Accommodations

As I said at the beginning of this article, I have found very few schools that just embrace giftedness and do a fantastic job with it. Most do accelerated (but not enhanced or experiential) curriculum.

But, this is a starting point. I suggest that you join parent groups and work within your community to find what works. Hoagies Gifted is one of the best known gifted resources for families.

  1. The curriculum must be at a challenging level; it must be engaging and preserves self-efficacy.
  2. To provide full curriculum access, the information must be offered in alternative ways such as demonstrations, videos, and hands-on learning, among others, and using assistive technologies, as necessary.
  3. AT may support the writing process. it often helps to have the student first dictate the stories, then type them later. Likewise, encourage the school to apply alternative expression modes like poetry and drama.
  4. Use learning and teaching activities that allow 2E learners to stay focused on the lessons. Effective strategies include simulations, presenting moral dilemmas, project-based learning, Socratic questioning, and creative problem-solving.
  5. Provide a quiet space for students to organize their ideas and focus on their tasks. The space must have a computer, as well as other materials that can help in the learning process.
  6. Provide a space that is conducive to reading, with comfortable seating, and has soft lighting.
  7. When smaller class size isn’t possible, whole-class teaching must be kept to a minimum. Put 2E students with others of similar skills and interests to maximize learning.
  8. To help build their confidence, allow the child to choose his preferred method of learning and assessment, and respect his choices. This way, 2E kids can accept accommodations without feeling inferior or different.
  9. Teach emotional intelligence skills via direct teaching and group discussions. When 2E children share their emotional and social issues, they will discover that their peers also experience the same problems.
  10. Identify and nurture their talents. This is crucial to their long-term success. However, they’re usually compromised by social, emotional, or academic challenges. Give them opportunities such as attending advanced classes in their talent areas, allowing them to work on creative projects with similarly talented students, providing mentorships, and allowing them to join in competitions.