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October 2, 2013
by Christie Hunter

Why Twice Exceptional Children Are Often Lost

October 2, 2013 06:55 by Christie Hunter  [About the Author]

Chris is a prodigy in music and math but can't keep focused on one subject for more than a few minutes. Matt nearly dropped out of school because of frustration over his poor writing skills but then went on to become a famous journalist. Leigh was placed in a reading class for “slow” children when in fact she was a brilliant artist and suffered an unnecessary stigma for the rest of her life. In retrospect, it is possible we have all known twice gifted children.

Twice exceptional children are those children who demonstrate both an exceptional talent and disability. It is very important that teachers and parents learn to recognize the twice exceptional student early on and apply intervention because they are at high risk for underachievement in school and lifelong feelings of failure. Yet determining just who is twice exceptional and providing them with a proper education can be a major challenge.

Twice Exceptional Children Are at Risk of Falling Through the Cracks

Poorly understood twice exceptional children are difficult for educators to identity. Estimates of just how many children are twice exceptional vary. Roughly 2 to 5 % of the disabled population have exceptional gifts and 1.4% of the gifted population have disabilities. These numbers are conservative. [1] Twice gifted children may already have been identified with exceptional intelligence, but may be suffering from more elusively diagnosable disabilities such as dyslexia, Asperger syndrome, Tourette Syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder, anxiety or severe depression.

Three clear groups of twice exceptional children have been observed: students who have been identified as gifted but are having difficulties at school; students who have been identified as disabled but who have unrecognized exceptional abilities; and those who are considered average students because their unidentified gifts and disabilities are canceling each other out. [2] Students identified as gifted in school yet have an unidentified disability often start to demonstrate difficulties when they are older and the demands of the school curriculum increase. Students categorized as disabled may never be given a chance to meet their full potential if their gifts continue to be ignored. Twice gifted students who perform at average level are most at risk of falling through the cracks of the school system as they are the hardest to identify.

 How to Identify Twice Exceptional Children

Exceptional children are often seen as smart kids with problems at school. They may exhibit a superb vocabulary but have difficulty reading and writing, display extraordinary critical thinking skills and imagination yet grapple with a poor memory, employ a sophisticated sense of humor but have trouble making friends, or demonstrate remarkable leadership skills yet become angry or cry when dealing with frustrations. [3]

One of the main distinguishing features of a twice exceptional child is very low self-esteem. They may act out, be easily distracted or act impulsively in school to compensate for the debilitating frustration they feel. Their behavior is hard to understand and teachers may single that student out as being lazy, disruptive or not trying very hard, when in fact, their educational needs are not being met. Focus may then become about modifying the child's behavior rather than focusing on identifying the child's potentially hidden disabilities and exceptional gifts.

How to Best Educate Twice Exceptional Children

Emphasizing the disability rather than the ability can have negative effects on twice exceptional students. Indeed, they performed considerably closer to already identified gifted students on measures of intellectual capacity such as math and IQ, yet paralleled learning disabled students in areas of reading and written language ability. [4] Because of the stress on a student's weaknesses, twice exceptional students often see themselves as disabled. It is very important that educators learn to focus on the student's strengths rather than their weaknesses and emphasize what they do well so that they may see themselves as the bright learners they are and develop self-esteem. [5] It is also important to teach compensation strategies such as organization tools, technology, communication alternatives and memory skills, because these disabilities will most likely be there permanently. [2]

The Future of Education of Twice Exceptional Children

Although considerable attention is now being given to this unique group of students, proper education of twice gifted students is still woefully inadequate. Emphasis is still too much on testing in school and not on talent development. Traditional criteria still prohibits many twice gifted children from being placed in gifted programs due to their learning disabilities. Constant restructuring of school procedures and definitions compound the matter.  [6] Multidisciplinary task forces made up of special education authorities have been proposed to advocate for and to identify twice exceptional students, and be responsible for the implementation of school programs. [4] With the right amount of education and prevention, twice exceptional children will one day also be able to thrive in public school.

For more info continue reading.


[1] [“Gifted Students With Learning Disabilities: Recommendations for Identification and Programming”, M. Elizabeth Nielsen, College of Education University of New Mexico. 2002. Exceptionality, 10 (2), 93–111 ]

[2] [“Gifted and Learning Disabled: Twice Exceptional Students”, Dawn Beckley, University of Connecticut Storrs, CT ]

[3] [“The Twice-Exceptional Dilemma” Paperback, National Education Association. 2006 

[4] [“Gifted Students With Learning Disabilities: Recommendations for Identification and Programming”M. Elizabeth Nielsen College of Education University of New Mexico. 2002 Exceptionality, 10 (2), 93–111]

[5] [“The Eye of the Storm Services and Programs for Twice-Exceptional Learners”, M. Elizabeth Nielsen L. Dennis Higgins ]

[6] [“Introduction to Twice-Exceptional and Special Populations of Gifted Students” National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented  Susan Baum. 2004 College of New Rochelle ]


About the Author

Christie Hunter

Christie Hunter is registered clinical counselor in British Columbia and co-founder of Theravive. She is a certified management accountant. She has a masters of arts in counseling psychology from Liberty University with specialty in marriage and family and a post-graduate specialty in trauma resolution. In 2007 she started Theravive with her husband in order to help make mental health care easily attainable and nonthreatening. She has a passion for gifted children and their education. You can reach Christie at 360-350-8627 or write her at christie - at -

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