In essence, we all think and learn differently. Each student has areas of strength and may also face difficulties based on their unique challenges. However, twice-exceptional (2e) students experience both sides of this spectrum more intensely and their needs may be more complex than those of other learners.
Students who are simultaneously gifted while also displaying learning differences are often misunderstood in the classroom. Even when they have been identified as 2e students, myths and misconceptions about twice-exceptional students can hold them back from achieving their multifaceted potential.
As parents, educators, and supporters of 2e kids, understanding these common misconceptions of 2e students can help us provide better educational services and active empowerment for these exceptional children.
One myth about twice-exceptional learners is that being a gifted student will cancel out the challenges of learning differently. It is true that a 2e child might use their exceptional strengths to mask or disguise the ways they learn differently, which can allow them to appear as if they have average abilities.
Falling into this misconception leaves the greatest strengths of 2e children untapped and their unique needs unsupported. It is the least helpful approach for the student, because it essentially expects them to muddle through on both sides and limit their personal potential. The first step to supporting these students is to recognize and address both their gifts and their challenges.
This is the myth of one thing or the other. The idea that a gifted child can overcome anything with their natural talents leads to a misguided perception that the child is just not trying hard enough. In fact, a student who excels at math, art, music, science, or logic may struggle with processing speed, executive functions, problem solving, and social skills.
Implying that a 2e child is not applying themselves is demotivating and unfair. Having exceptional tools and skills in one area is a strength that can help students translate into other subjects, but only with guidance and coaching. The learning differences 2e children have are not the result of laziness, and being misjudged or criticized for them is frustrating to many students.
There is a misconception that 2e learners do not need or are not entitled to individualized education programs (IEPs) or 504 programs to succeed. This can sometimes be the case when the student is doing relatively well and getting good grades in school. However, the US Department of Education is clear that 2e students are covered and that schools must evaluate the student if a learning challenge is suspected.1
Under the Individuals with Educational Disabilities Act (IDEA), schools must use “a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information about the child, including information provided by the parent.”1 Having good grades should not prevent a child from receiving services and support for their learning differences.
A common misconception about education strategies for twice-exceptional learners is that all facets of their abilities cannot be worked on at the same time. In fact, if only areas of growth and basic skills are addressed, 2e students lack the educational challenges they need in their areas of strength.
Focusing only on remedial skills at the expense of access to subjects and skills they feel passionate about leaves 2e children feeling bored, restless, and is counterproductive in most cases. Taking this approach turns their gifted education into a ‘reward’ that is being withheld. A more successful and insightful approach to 2e education is to provide balanced support and encouragement for students to excel and advance in both areas simultaneously.
There is a general misconception that a student who is receiving specialized educational support and is entitled to accommodations under an IEP is not able to enroll in advanced placement classes or gifted programs. In fact, under the IDEA, students receiving specialized services cannot be denied access to appropriate high-level coursework.1 Since AP curriculums and advanced subjects can be delivered in many ways and different educational settings, a 2e student’s IEP can and should include challenging AP classes that align with the child’s strengths.
At the high school level, a student with parental consent can enroll in any offered class for which they meet the prerequisites, and be entitled to accommodations in the classroom. If available, 2e students may benefit from a mastery learning approach in all subjects which matches their pace of learning.
This is a more subtle misconception that arises from a tendency of 2e children to have asynchronous development. They are often far ahead of their peers in intellectual development, and can have complex and insightful discussions with adults about their areas of interest. This can then lead to confusion when their social and emotional intelligence lags behind their intellectual maturity.
In combination with their gifts, 2e children can also experience hypersensitivities and difficulty picking up on social cues from children their own age. They may be frustrated by the slower learning pace of others when they want to explore more deeply or more complex facets of a topic. Sometimes they are perceived as argumentative or challenging in the classroom, but in fact they may need support in gaining the practical skills of social and emotional maturity.
Twice-exceptional students may face this misguided attitude when it seems to teachers, parents of other students, or classmates that the 2e child is receiving extra attention on every level. However, providing support to children who learn differently is intended to level the playing field of opportunity for all students and allow them to succeed academically despite individual differences.
What would be unfair would be to allow 2e students to be held back from exploring their gifts and benefiting themselves and society with their exceptional abilities because those gifts come with unique challenges in other areas. A fair and empowering educational environment provides each student the understanding and support they need to reach their academic and life goals.
This seems a positive outlook but is in fact a misconception about 2e students. They may excel in academics and receive recognition for high achievements, but they often have low self-esteem and even school avoidance. They may have challenges making friends or experience bullying. It can be harder to recognize the signs of these serious issues when the student continues to get excellent grades and complete assignments on time.
2e students who feel understood and supported by their teachers and parents are more willing to take academic and social risks, and can better weather the challenges they face outside the formal classroom. Some may need a one-on-one teacher relationship that moves at their intellectual pace and helps them leverage their strengths to achieve lasting and meaningful academic success.
At Lydian Academy, we celebrate the unique strengths of every student and support their individual needs throughout their academic journey. With a purely one-to-one learning approach, 2e students develop strong relationships with their teachers and can learn at their own pace, which is often much faster than a multi-person classroom can sustain. Our dedicated instructors understand the intricacies and potential of 2e students and can support them in developing self-esteem and maintaining a passion for learning that lasts a lifetime. Reach out today to learn more about how Lydian Academy can customize your child’s curriculum to match their exceptional style of learning.