The term twice exceptional refers to children who are exceptional both because of their intellectual gifts and because of their special needs.
A 2e child usually refers to a child who, alongside being considered intellectually above average, is formally diagnosed with one or more disabilities.
The disabilities are varied, for example
attention deficit disorder, with or without hyperactivity
diagnoses of anxiety or depression
or any other disability interfering with the student’s ability to learn effectively in a traditional environment.
The combination of marked strengths and weaknesses found in 2e children can result in behavior and academic performance that puzzle parents, teachers, and even some medical and mental health professionals. Because their disabilities or deficits are often not apparent to those around them, twice-exceptional children may appear to be uninterested, lazy, distracted, or disruptive in class. They might present any of the three profiles identified by educator and researcher Susan Baum:
- Bright but not trying hard enough
- Learning disabled but with no exceptional abilities
In each situation, the 2e student’s strengths help to compensate for deficits; the deficits, on the other hand, make the child’s strengths less apparent.
There is no clear-cut profile of twice-exceptional children because the nature and causes of twice exceptionality are so varied. Some 2e children may have no formal diagnosis, but do have learning differences of other kinds, such as in learning style or preference, that make it hard to function in a standard classroom. This variation among twice-exceptional children makes it difficult to determine just how many of them there might be. Some estimates place the number at 2 to 5 percent of all gifted children, while others believe it to be higher.