Twice exceptional – 2e

Helping Twice Exceptional Students Make the Grade

Making the grade can be very challenging for twice-exceptional students, students who are both gifted/academically talented and learning disabled. The student’s giftedness may mask the learning disability and the learning disability may mask the student’s giftedness thus neither condition is given the attention necessary to enable students to make the grade. (Eide and Eide, 2006)

“Children who are both gifted and learning–disabled are often called twice-exceptional (or 2e), because their abilities lie outside the norms at both ends of the bell curve. These 2e children are immensely diverse. In fact, they embody every imaginable combination of strengths and weaknesses”
Eide and Eide report in their book “The Mislabeled Child”.

A few examples of famous people who were twice-exceptional and able to make the grade because of their ability to compensate for their learning disabilities include: Presidents George Washington and Woodrow Wilson, Tom Cruise, actor, Patricia Polacco, author and artist. and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller who were all dyslexic. Nelson Rockefeller who was also governor of New York is said to have memorized every speech because of concern about his inability to read the words;– Winston Churchill, world leader, Walt Disney, artist, pioneer in Hollywood films and television as well as a folk hero of the 20th century who represented imagination, optimism, and self-made success in the American tradition. Alexander Graham Bell,

inventor and Thomas Edison, one of the world’s most prolific inventors holding over one thousand US patents, all had specific learning disabilities. In addition, Edison was also dyslexic and didn’t learn to read until he was 12 years old.

In school, the young Edison’s mind often wandered, and his teacher, the Reverend Engle, was overheard calling him “addled”. This ended Edison’s three months of official schooling. Edison recalled later, “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.” His mother home schooled him.

Patricia Polacco, who didn’t learn to read until she was 14 and didn’t write the first of almost fifty books until the age of 41, truly helps us understand the struggles and pain of the twice exceptional child. Her autobiographical “Thank You, Mr. Falker is dedicated to George Felker, the real Mr. Falker, “a teacher who unlocked the door and pulled (her) into the light”.

Once she learned to read all Polacco wanted was to be in a class of “regular” students. She was devastated when she discovered that she had been assigned to the class known in her new school as “the junkyard”. Mrs. Peterson is the teacher of this class of twice exceptional children and the heroine of “The Junkyard Wonders”.

In the epilogue we read the success stories of the “junkyard” students including the artistic director of the American Ballet Theater Company in New York, a textile designer in Paris and an aeronautical engineer for NASA who helped design the lunar modules for the Apollo missions.

Although both books are written for children of all ages, adults including parents and educators enjoy and appreciate them as well. Patricia Polacco devotes much of her time speaking to school audiences to convey her admiration and appreciation for what teachers accomplish.

The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, began to collect data about ten years ago on the number of K-12 students identified as gifted/talented and receiving services for a learning disability. In the Individuals with Learning Disabilities Educational Act (IDEA), these students are defined as having;

“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.”

An estimated 180,000 children have been identified as twice exceptional but many educators maintain that this does not include all 2e children because of the

difficulty in identifying them. In spite of the fact that this group of children is so diverse they share many characteristics that should help parents and teachers identify them and provide the interventions to enable them to make the grade.

In addition, it is important for pediatricians and other health care providers to be able to identify twice-exceptional children. These physicians often make significant recommendations to parents that enable their children to make the grade.

Characteristic of Twice-exceptional Children

  • They perform well in some classes and poorly in others. They perform well in the area of their giftedness but do poorly in the areas affected by their learning disability.
  • Many twice-exceptional students do poorly at rote memorization.
  • They have difficulty completing easy assignments but do well with more difficult concepts.
  • These students have periods of “spaceiness” or “glazed look” during which time they are in deep thought.
  • One of the most perplexing characteristics is that they can be hyperactive at times but also have periods of deep concentration to the point that they shut out the rest of the world.
  • Many of these students do not perform well on timed tests because they analyze the questions to a much greater depth than the average student.
  • Problems with eye hand coordination or fine motor skills make it difficult for some of these students to take notes in class.

Strengths and Weakness of Twice-exceptional Children

Twice- exceptional children often have much stronger oral language in contrast to their written language. They think in higher-level concepts and as mentioned above they do not do well with rote memorization.

Their long-term memory is much stronger than their short-term memory.

Helping Twice-exceptional Children Make the Grade

It is really important to focus on every student’s strengths. A classroom that embraces the multiple intelligences and looks for the genius in every child will focus on the strengths of every child. Baum (1984) reports “research has shown that a focus on weakness (the learning disability) at the expense of developing gifts can result in poor self-esteem, a lack of motivation, depression and stress. What all students need is focus on strengths, interests, opportunities to challenge their intellect. Enrichment activities designed to circumvent weaknesses should encourage abstract thinking and creativity”.

Educators have long understood that students learn in different ways using different modalities. Therefore many have embraced Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences. Gardner questioned why so many individuals were just average students throughout school and became very successful in adult life. He concluded that success in school was measured primarily by strength in linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence while success in adult life includes spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic intelligences.

Linguistic intelligence is the ability to use words effectively, the written word as well as oral language. Much of the school curriculum is devoted to the development of this intelligence. It is the intelligence used by the author, public speaker and in everyday life the ability to read traffic signs and recipes.

Logical-mathematical intelligence is the capacity to work well with numbers and/or to have talent using logic or reasoning. This is the intelligence of scientists, accountants, computer programmers and also a major factor in school success.

Spatial intelligence involves the ability to visualize pictures in one’s head or to create them. Artists, sculptors and inventors make strong of this intelligence. Einstein said he used this intelligence to come up with his theories of relativity.  Armstrong.

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is the intelligence of the whole body as well as the hands. “Einstein wrote that in addition to visual-spatial capacities he also used ‘muscular’ processes in working out some of his top physics problems.  Armstrong p. 18. It covers a broad range of professions from the athlete, actor to machinist and surgeon. And in every day life includes using a can opener to playing a strong game of tennis.

Musical intelligence includes the ability to carry a tune, remember melodies, a sense of rhythm, talent to compose music or to just enjoy listening to music. Students who strong in musical intelligence often are unaware that they tap their feet while doing their class work. Musical intelligence is also used in a wide variety of careers ranging for the performing arts to piano tuners to music therapists.

Interpersonal intelligence is a talent for working well with people. As students they often are not too successful academically because they are too busy socializing but become enormously successful in the business world.

Thomas Armstrong suggests that Intrapersonal intelligence “may be the hardest one to fully understand but it also could very well be the most important . . .it is essentially the intelligence of self-understanding, of knowing who you are”. 11 p.20 This is an important intelligence for counselors and therapists to help others get a better understanding of themselves.

Naturalist Intelligence involves the ability to identify natural forms around us such as flora and fauna, geological formations and cloud formations. It is the intelligence of the biologist, forest ranger and veterinarian.

Gardner stresses that everyone possesses all eight intelligences in varying degrees.

There are many instruments readily available on the Internet for educators to assess each student’s level of intelligence among the eight and then to teach to and through the strongest intelligences for them. This is a very important factor to help twice exceptional students make the grade. For example, students who are gifted in Musical Intelligence are often also very strong in Logical-Mathematical but may have a learning disability in the area of Linguistic Intelligence. They should be taught through their strong intelligences and taught to compensate in their weaker area.

It has long been established that learning disabilities cannot be cured. It is our responsibility to teach the students to compensate for their learning disabilities.


As discussed above, teaching to the student’s strengths is a very effective way to help the student compensate for his/her learning deficit. Identifying the student’s interests is another key factor to enable the student to compensate. Establishing whether the student learns best using auditory, visual, or kinesthetic approaches is also very important.

For many twice exceptional students getting their thoughts from their head to the paper is a major stumbling block. Having them practice to develop their handwriting skills should be done in no more than fifteen-minute increments at a time. (11Vail) Permission to use computers for writing tasks has been a very effective means for 2e students to compensate.

For some twice-exceptional students it is helpful to learn the use of mnemonics and/or visualization. Knowing that 2e students do well learning complex abstract concepts they should be given the opportunity to do so.

The first step in helping twice exceptional students make the grade is to identify them. Once that is done their giftedness can be addressed as well as intervention for their learning disabilities can succeed. From there not only can they make the grade, they can go to the moon. Patricia Polacco’s “junkyard wonders” did!


Gardner, Howard. 1983. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books

Eide, B. and Eide, F.2006. The Mislabeled Child. New York: Hyperion

Baum, S. 2004. Twice-exceptional and Special Population

Vail, P. L. 1989. Smart Kids with School Problems. New York: Penguin Books USA, Inc.

Armstrong, T. 2000. In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnum

Armstrong, T. 2009. Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom

Polacco, P. 1998. Thank You, Mr. Falker, New York: Philomel Books.

Polacco, P. 2010. The Junkyard Wonders. New York: Philomel Books.

Polacco, P. Patricia Polacco. Com. Who Am I? Retrieved August 24, 2011

“Edison Family Album”. US National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2010-12-06. Retrieved March 11, 2006.