Twice Exceptional: What It Means, Why It Matters

twice exceptional

by Kathy Kuhl        (Part 1; part 2 next week) What is twice exceptional? Nearly everyone who reads this blog has an “exceptional” child. Exceptional means out of the ordinary. But twice-exceptional (2E for short) has a technical meaning in education. That meaning can lead to special help for special students.

Even if your child is not twice-exceptional, there are 2E resources that can help many of us.

What is Twice Exceptional (2E)?

Among educators, an “exceptional child” means a child who is atypical. That can mean having learning disabilities, physical challenges, or giftedness. “Exceptional” describes students that the public schools agree need special help in or outside the classroom.

A twice-exceptional student is a gifted student with a coexisting disability, according to the Council for Exceptional Children. Some have been slow to realize that students can have learning disabilities (such as dyslexia, autism, or ADHD) and also be gifted.  However, the situation is improving.

But What Do We Mean by Gifted?

Everyone has different gifts. Not all gifts are academic. Some may be great mimics, artists, or musicians. You may know a child with an intellectual disability who has quicker insight into people than many others do.

Being gifted academically means the student scores significantly above normal for their age on certain tests. The most common way to define giftedness is through test scores on an IQ test, such as the WISC, WPPSI-II, or Stanford-Binet 4 or 5.

However, those tests have serious limits. For one, they all have highest possible scores. A bright child may get a perfect score on the test or a subtest, leaving it unclear just how bright they are. Second, the overall score determines whether the student will be labeled gifted. That’s another problem. A child may ace several subtests, but not be considered gifted because of lower scores in other subtests. Our neuropsychologist once refused to give a composite score because the subtest scores differed so much. He said, “It would be meaningless.”

[What did he mean? Once in our homeschool algebra class, I showed the limits of averaging. I announced that the average age in our classroom was 21 years old. My students were surprised. But then I added our ages (13 + 14 + 15 + 13 +14 + 57 = 126), and divided by 6, which equaled 21. This wasn’t a helpful number. No one in the room was close to 21 years old.]

Variations Among the Gifted’s Scores

Most importantly, these intelligence tests were not designed to identify very gifted individuals. The tests are accurate in defining above and below average, not far above or far below. (See more at Hoagie’s Gifted link below.)

So, two gifted students can have great differences in ability. Measured in standard deviations from a normal IQ of 100, here’s the breakdown. Students are considered:

  • Gifted if their score is one standard deviation above normal IQ.
  • Highly gifted if their score is two standard deviations above normal.
  • Exceptionally gifted if their score is three standard deviations above normal.
  • Profoundly gifted if their score is four standard deviations above normal.

That means kids in these categories can be as different from each other as they are from typical kids—or more. You can imagine that moving highly gifted children up a grade level (or two or three) wouldn’t be enough to address their needs. 

That’s why I say that being gifted is a special need.

Giftedness Affects More than Academics

Giftedness forms only part of a child’s makeup. This has many implications, especially for 2E students.

  • Giftedness doesn’t mean giftedness in all areas. The child may also have areas of struggle and need–academically, socially, and emotionally.
  • Like any other child, a gifted child’s development can be uneven or unpredictable.
  • Gifted students can be emotionally intense. These students comprehend more.  So they may respond on a deep, emotional level to a tragic event or literary scene. Their reactions to the Holocaust or natural disasters can overwhelm them. But adults who understand the depths of those terrors can cope with their own emotions better.
  • Gifted children may struggle socially. They may have the intellect to start third-semester calculus at age thirteen, but not understand how to relate to their classmates in college. They can feel isolated from kids their age. Gifted students may have trouble finding people with common interests. 

Next time we’ll discuss:

  • Why it’s hard to identify a twice-exceptional student
  • What if your child is not officially twice-exceptional?
  • Resources are available for helping twice-exceptional students

I welcome your questions or comments below.


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