Twice Exceptional Learners: Gifted Students with Learning Disabilities


“Unevenness is the rule among academically gifted children, while global giftedness...is the exception” - Ellen Winner


On the basis of IQ, gifted children are more likely to show wide discrepancies between subtest scores than non-gifted children. In one study in the Port Washington school district (Sweetland), 54.7% of gifted students showed a greater than 18 point discrepancy between their WISC-III VIQ / PIQ, compared to 17.0% of a control sample. As a result, twice-exceptionality, or giftedness with learning disabilities is more the rule in gifted populations, than the exception. Despite this frequency, twice exceptional or 2E students may find themselves struggling to fit into conventional school curriculum - too advanced for some lessons, but behind in others -as a result these kids are often in a situation in which neither their gifts nor their challenges are recognized.

Step 1: Identification of Twice Exceptionality If we were to give one piece of advice, it would be to have a high index of suspicion for 2E. Gifted students often have many resources at their disposal to hide difficulties in sensory processing, reading and writing, and attention and organization, so that although they may perform well enough in the classroom, they may wear themselves down with extra work at home, become anxious or depressed, and achieve much less than their potential would predict. Wide discrepancies may be noted in IQ tests taken for entrance to public or private school gifted programs - but sometimes a twice exceptional student will only begin to show difficulties in the later grades as the quantity of information and work expectations increases.

Step 2: Recognizing the Challenges Recognizing the challenges are not always easy tasks in twice exceptional students because gifted students can use higher order strengths to compensate for lower order perceptual weaknesses or processing problems. For instance, a gifted dyslexic student may use his strong contextual filling-in ability to compensate for weaknesses in individual word reading, or a verbally-gifted student may mask his difficulty with organization and writing by getting help from friends and family. Higher order skills in reasoning and problem solving ability might help students get by with routine classroom and social scenarios, but things can fall apart if the demands are too intense (finals), or real-time multi-tasking (note-taking in a challenging class, unpredictable new social environments) is required.Wide discrepancies in subtest scores may be helpful, but some gifted students can also find away to mask their weaknesses on these. For instance, gifted students with a weakness in visual memory may still ace standardized visual memory tests because they verbally describe what they see so that the information is stored in their auditory memory. Nevertheless, this weakness in visual 'snapshot' memory is important to recognize because these students will have have trouble with visually demanding lessons (diagrams, multi-stepped math work, charts, etc.) and often note-taking in general. When we assess twice exceptional students, we make a point of asking how they arrived at answers - because the compensatory strategies taken may reveal the sources of problems in school performance.

Step 3: Encouraging Self Understanding We believe that self understanding should be a primary goal for helping twice exceptional students. The frustrations of 2E students are often poorly understood and underestimated because from an outside view, these kids and young adults may look successful. But the personal burdens are often significant - children who destroy their own work because they are ashamed of what their hands can produce, kids who feel like they are frauds because they don't really understand what others assume they know. Children normally see the world and themselves in 'absolutes' - Good vs. Bad - and as a result, they struggle to accept their contradictory selves.

Step 4: School and Test-Based Accommodations - 504 Since the 2004 re-authorization of the IDEA, twice exceptional students have qualified for individual support in the form of 504 accommodations or an IEP. From Wrightslaw.com: "Twice-exceptional children are gifted children of above average abilities who have special educational needs - AD/HD, learning disabilities, Asperger Syndrome, etc. Because their giftedness can mask their special needs and their special needs can hide their giftedness, they are often labeled as "lazy" and "unmotivated".

Some schools and school districts have refused to allow qualified students with disabilities to participate in accelerated or gifted and talented programs and have required these students to give up the services designed to meet their individual needs. These practices are inconsistent with Federal law.

OCR says that if schools "condition" participation in accelerated classes or programs by qualified students with disabilities by requiring these students to forfeit their necessary special education or related aids and services, it amounts to a denial of FAPE under Part B of the IDEA and Section 504."

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