What is Twice-Exceptional?

The term Twice-Exceptional refers to a person who has two exceptionalities.  It commonly refers to a person who is gifted (one type of exceptionality or difference from the "norm") and has a second exceptionality, such as "one or more learning disability, attention deficit, autism spectrum disorder, emotional or behavior problems, or to other types of learning challenges" (2e Newletter, 2013).  The term can also refer to a person who is gifted and has a physical disability.  It is possible for a gifted person to have more than one additional exceptionality.  

In an attempt to clarify the definition of twice-exceptional, Reis, Baum, and Burke (2014), in their article in Gifted Child Quarterly (the scholarly journal published by the National Association for Gifted Children) have put forward a new operational definition of twice-exceptional.

Twice-exceptional learners are students who demonstrate the potential for high achievement or creative productivity in one or more domains such as math, science, technology, the social arts, the visual, spatial, or performing arts or other areas of human productivity AND who manifest one or more disabilities as defined by federal or state eligibility criteria.

These disabilities include specific learning disabilities; speech and language disorders; emotional/behavioral disorders; physical disabilities; Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD); or other health impairments, such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  These disabilities and high abilities combine to produce a unique population of students who may fail to demonstrate either high academic performance or specific disabilities.  Their gifts may mask their disabilities and their disabilities may mask their gifts.

Identification of twice-exceptional students requires comprehensive assessment in both the areas of giftedness and disabilities, as one does not preclude the other.  Identification, when possible, should be conducted by professionals from both disciplines and when at all possible, by those with knowledge about twice-exceptionality in order to address the impact of co-incidence/comorbidity of both areas on diagnostic assessments and eligibility requirements for services.

Educational services must identify and serve both the high achievement potential and the academic and social-emotional deficits of this population of students.  Twice-exceptional students require differentiated instruction, curricular and instructional accommodations and/or modifications, direct services, specialized instruction, acceleration options, and opportunities for talent development that incorporate the effects of their dual diagnosis.

Twice-exceptional students require an individual education plan (IEP) or a 504 accommodation plan with goals and strategies that enable them to achieve at a level and rate commensurate with their abilities.  This comprehensive education plan must include talent development goals, as well as compensation skills and strategies to address their disabilities and their social and emotional needs (Reis, Baum, & Burke, 2014, p. 222-223).

 A person's giftedness can often mask the other exceptionality, at least for a while, as the person's intellectual abilities compensate for the second exceptionality.  In addition, a person's giftedness may not be recognized, because of the disability (or disabilities).  Unfortunately, many times a 2e person is not identified for a gifted program, because his or her scores on identification assessments or class grades are not high enough for qualification for the program.  That same person may not be identified for special education support, even with Response to Intervention, because scores are not low enough to indicate the need for support. 

Research shows that teachers should develop a 2e person's strengths, while providing appropriate support or remediation for areas of challenge or weakness.  However, many teachers are unaware of the potential for twice-exceptionality or how to identify it.  Few teachers have training in both gifted education and special education.  Some educators do not believe that giftedness can occur with deficits.  They may not allow 2e students to participate in advanced level courses or won't use appropriate accommodations, even when they have specific instructions to do so in the students' IEP's or 504 plans.  This withholding of services can be considered to be discriminatory (Monroe, 2007; Reis et al., 2014).


Monroe, S. (2007).  Dear colleague letter:  Access by students with disabilities to accelerated programs.  U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights.  

Reis, S. M., Baum, S. M., & Burke, E. (2014).  An operational definition of twice-exceptional learners:      Implications and applications. Gifted Child Quarterly, 58(2), 217-230.