It is possible for students to be gifted and have a learning disability. This circumstance—being particularly advanced in some domains, while facing challenges in others—is called “twice exceptional,” or “2e” for short. Identifying this learning profile and finding the right school are important steps in paving the road for 2e students to succeed.
For these students sometimes a learning difference depresses giftedness, or giftedness masks a learning difference so that neither is validated and addressed. These exceptional students can therefore appear average.
The 2e Challenge
With 2e students, strengths and weaknesses come in a wide variety of combinations. Some children can make conversation like little professors, rattling off facts and insights at a surprising rate—yet they struggle with the executive functioning skills needed to complete the projects, papers, and assessments that fill school days. Others have impressive abilities for solving problems and thinking spatially—yet struggle to read and write.
If not well-informed in this area, adults may treat deficits as the consequences of poor motivation or behavioral issues.
Twice-exceptional children may become confused, frustrated, and anxious. Deep inside, they know they are bright, but they can’t effectively demonstrate learning. Negative feedback loops (which may be internal or external) develop when misunderstood 2e students consistently miss out on opportunities to shine or encounter disapproval due to poor academic performance.
The earlier parents and educators can identify 2e students, the better. Children of any age need to believe in themselves, and they can’t do that without caring adults who also believe in them. It is of critical importance that 2e students have opportunities to consistently engage in their area(s) of strength. Additionally, the sooner learning differences are diagnosed, the sooner children can access specialized services to offset their challenges.
Along with improved academic success, honest and accepting exploration of strengths and weaknesses helps 2e students build the confidence and self-awareness they will need to advocate for themselves throughout their lives.
Finding the Best Fit
Choosing a best-fit school for 2e students is vital to their success. In addition to providing appropriate challenge and support, the ideal school is one that invests in faculty professional development regarding these types of learners.
Curricular flexibility is also important because 2e students often have out-of-sync development. A 9th grader, for example, may be ready for pre-calculus, while having language skills that are on grade level.
Small class sizes make it easier for teachers to tune into students’ individualized needs.
And finally, look for a school where teachers truly enjoy mentoring students. Experienced educators can help 2e students navigate difficulties, take on challenges, and keep both in perspective.
When parents are considering schools, I recommend being open about the 2e learner’s needs. Doing so helps to assess the qualities described above, plus gain insights into how the school interacts with parents. If the school is a good fit, twice-exceptional students can thrive even in the most rigorous academic environments. The key to their success is a strong collaboration between parents, faculty—and the students themselves.
Audrey Ludemann is a principal of The Bertram Group, an educational consulting company. Ludemann’s experience includes more than 15 years in the classroom, plus a decade as an educational advisor.