Some children present a unique set of gifts which are combined with special needs and sensitivities. We call these children 2e, or twice exceptional. Very often it is difficult to identify this combination of abilities and properly support 2e children in school and at home.
The danger in not recognizing the characteristics of twice exceptional students is that their intellectual gifts might not be able to fully develop in an educational setting where conformity is required. Letting these advanced kids fly under the radar means they may lose confidence in their intellectual abilities, be improperly labeled, and never receive the gifted education they need to thrive.
What Is 2e?
2e children are intellectually gifted and often display amazing strengths in these areas:
- Creativity and advanced problem-solving abilities
- Keen sense of humor and excellent vocabulary
- A focused desire to learn about their areas of interest
- Special talents in language, art, music, or mathematics
These strengths and abilities coexist with other signs of neurodivergence, meaning that 2e children may perceive things differently and face challenges with stimulating environments. They may struggle with expectations of conformity, as well as interruptions or transitions during learning. They tend to withdraw or act out, and often risk being overlooked or written off as uncooperative.
Types of 2e Students
So many students are never identified as gifted or challenged that it is difficult to estimate how many would be accurately described as 2e. Some research suggests that there are hundreds of thousands of children with a unique combination of strengths and weaknesses that may impact their academic performance.
There are three rough categories where a 2e student might fall:
- Students who are recognized as gifted. They score well on tests but might have difficulty fitting into standard AP or gifted programs. Their gifts are compensating for their challenges, which might result in them being seen as underperforming or “lazy” based on their obvious abilities.
- Students who are recognized as having learning differences. They might have learning differences that cause them not to perform well on tests even when they know the material, and be placed in special education However, they are often bored and act out in these environments which do not leverage their unique talents.
- Students whose unique needs go unrecognized. When their intellectual gifts and their learning challenges mask each other, they may not qualify for gifted education or special support. Students who fall in this category may not receive any individualized attention and are managing to “muddle through” their education by “passing” as a student without unique needs.
How to Identify 2e Students
Because every child learns in their own way, with their own set of abilities and challenges, it is difficult to use one single measure to identify 2e students. Looking closely for the common characteristics of 2e children can help parents and teachers to recognize these unique learners.
- 2e children often show early signs of their gifts. They may teach themselves to read or complete puzzles beyond their age range.
- They might be incredibly focused on play that aligns with their interests.
- Despite these gifts, they show declining academic performance.
- They may have difficulty with one type of instruction, for example, verbal, while following written instructions perfectly, or vice versa.
- There may be evidence of extraordinary talents or gifts, combined with a gap in performance in other areas or formats.
- The student may withdraw or “zone out” and is likely to resist moving from one activity which they are passionate about into other subjects.
- They may show signs of attention challenges, ADHD, or processing disorders that affect their ability to focus or make decisions in the presence of distracting stimuli.
The Challenges Faced by Twice Exceptional Students
While there are federal laws that require schools to provide special education programs for those with diagnosed disabilities, there is no matching requirement to provide gifted or individualized education programs for 2e students. Individual school districts will have varying levels of state or local funding and support for gifted programs.
Recognizing and supporting the specialized needs of twice exceptional students is often a low priority, and standard screening and teacher observations are not designed to identify 2e learners. Parents may need to be proactive in asking for testing both for learning differences and advanced or gifted tendencies.
In many educational settings, 2e students can be easily overlooked, and face these challenges without appropriate support:
- Daily frustration and discouragement
- Being seen as argumentative or uncooperative
- Difficulty with writing and personal expression
- Being sensitive to criticism and social isolation
- Difficulty with organizational skills and study habits
- Testing below their knowledge level
- Difficulties in executive functioning
- Being misunderstood and/or misdiagnosed
- Failing to be challenged or engaged in the classroom
Emotional and Social Challenges
Some 2e students develop school avoidance behaviors because of the emotional and social challenges they face in the classroom. Rather than being encouraged and valued for their strengths and creative thinking, they often feel misunderstood but are unsure how to advocate for themselves. Learning and thinking differences can make it difficult for them to communicate their needs effectively.
2e students often feel:
- Frustration with the low expectations of others, being misunderstood, and being kept from pursuing the topics, academic skills, and gifts they are passionate about. They are often frustrated by the pace or delivery methods in their classroom.
- A powerful need to perform well, approaching perfectionism in their areas of interest. 2e students may experience a very deep sense of failure when they find themselves unable to perform well either mentally or physically. They often hold themselves to very high standards.
- Low self-esteem which stems from losing confidence in their own abilities when formats or environments are not allowing them to succeed. They may begin to believe that failure is unavoidable and stop trying. This can lead to depression or withdrawal.
- Socially isolated because they do not fit easily into one category of student or another. They may already be struggling with social skills due to their learning differences, and feel anxious when they have to “perform” in front of other gifted students. Many times they relate better with adults than their peers.
How Can We Better Support 2e Students?
To better advocate for your 2e child in school, you will need to meet with teachers and educators to help balance the supportive programs and situational challenges your child faces. Some of the ways that parents and educators help the system support these unique learners are:
- Asking for testing that includes both factors, or working with a professional to accurately identify your child’s strengths and challenges
- Working with programs available under a well-managed IEP with support from your school system
- Advocating for the 2e student to remain in gifted or advanced education programs by providing other services to support their learning differences in the classroom
- Empowering children to make the most of their skills and talents with flexible teaching formats and a pace of learning to match their abilities
- Placing them in programs that challenge them, and teaching the value of failure in the learning process to improve their resilience in new environments
- Partnering with instructors and caregivers to help your child reach their full potential with collaborative approaches to learning and daily life
Learn More About Individualized Learning Programs
There are schools that specialize in creating personalized learning environments that focus on each individual student’s success. At Lydian Academy, we support 2e students with one-to-one classrooms which are tailored for the way they learn. We believe that every student can thrive in the right educational environment.
Our private middle and high school programs are all one teacher-one student and are available through virtual learning or on campus in Menlo Park and Burlingame, CA. With classes that move at the student’s pace, twice exceptional learners can dive deeper into subjects they are passionate about while taking the time to truly master new topics and areas of growth.
We offer full-time flexible schedules and rolling enrollment, which means you can make the switch to Lydian at almost any time of the year. Contact us today to schedule a virtual open house or campus tour, and learn more about how we are fully supporting 2e students to reach their academic and life goals.