Twice Exceptional Learners (2E)

Students who are gifted may also have a special need or disability. The term “twice-exceptional,” also referred to as “2E,” is used to describe gifted children who have the characteristics of gifted students with the potential for high achievement and give evidence of one or more disabilities as defined by federal or state eligibility criteria. These disabilities may include specific learning disabilities (SpLD), speech and language disorders, emotional/behavioral disorders, physical disabilities, autism spectrum, or other impairments such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).


A “twice-exceptional learner (also known as 2E)” is a child or youth who performs at—or shows the potential for performing at—a remarkably high level of accomplishment when compared to others of the same age, experience, or environment and who:

  1. exhibits high performance capability in an intellectual, creative, or artistic area;
  2. possesses an unusual capacity for leadership; or
  3. excels in a specific academic field (TEC 29.121).

…and who also gives evidence of one or more disabilities as defined by federal or state eligibility (IDEA, 2004) (300.8) (Section 504) criteria such as:

  • learning disabilities;
  • speech and language disorders;
  • emotional/behavioral disorders;
  • physical disabilities;
  • traumatic brain injury;
  • autism spectrum disorder; or
  • other health impairments such as ADHD

General Characteristics

Twice-exceptional learners do not form a simple, homogeneous group; they are a highly diverse group of learners. The contrast between their strengths and challenges may result in negative perceptions by adults, peers, and self.

Twice-exceptional learners do not easily fit into gifted education or special education programs. They are not always viewed as belonging in G/T education, but they possess many of the traditionally identified characteristics of gifted learners. They are not always viewed as belonging in special education, but they have some of the characteristics of students with disabilities. At times, their disabilities may mask their ability to be traditional producers.

The characteristics discussed should be viewed as those that are typical of many learners who are gifted and who also have a disability, rather than characteristics that all such learners possess.

Definitions and Characteristics of Various Exceptionalities

There is no general profile of a twice-exceptional leaner. All twice-exceptional learners are gifted learners. However, these children’s giftedness interplays with one or more disability. Often twice-exceptional learners’ disabilities exist in combinations (e.g, learning disability combined with sensory integration dysfunction or autism combined with obsessive compulsive disorder). An understanding of the characteristics of twice-exceptional learners requires an exploration of giftedness and of the various disabilities.

Autism/Asperger Syndrome


Autism is a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences.


  • Gifted English Learners may exhibit characteristics that are different from their native English speaking peers
  • Severe social problems
  • Psychomotor coordination deficiencies
  • Organization difficulties
  • Lack of ability to read body language or facial expressions
  • Inability to understand pragmatic language
  • Often has one particular area of interest to the exclusion of all else
  • Can be comorbid with sensory integration dysfunction, obsessive compulsive disorder, or anxiety disorders
  • Language differences often coincide with cultural differences

Specific Learning Disability


Specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.


  • Processing deficits resulting in slow responses and work production
  • Difficulty with long/short term memory
  • Deficient or extremely uneven academic skills
  • Lack of organizational and study skills
  • Possible social problems
  • Inordinately frustrated by school work
  • Possible issues of impulsivity
  • Can be comorbid with ADHD and sensory integration dysfunction
  • Possible gross and/or fine motor difficulties

Attention Deficit Disorder without Hyperactivity


A medically defined disorder characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity.

It involves an inability to direct and/or control attention due to an under-focus on all stimuli (hypo-focused).


  • Seeks stimuli through a variety of actions in order to stay focused (e.g., fidgets, squirms, shifts from one activity to another, touches everything)
  • Difficulty sustaining attention for even short periods of time
  • Easily distracted by external stimuli
  • Loses/forgets things, information, etc.
  • Interrupts or intrudes on others
  • Inability to follow more than one step in a set of directions or instructions
  • May engage in physically dangerous activities
  • Cannot see the consequences of actions

Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity


A medically defined disorder characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity.

It involves an inability to direct and/or control attention due to an over-focus on all stimuli (hyper-focused).


  • Distracted by stimuli and responds by(e.g., fidgeting, squirming, shifting from one activity to another, touching everything)
  • Difficulty sustaining attention for even short periods of time
  • Easily distracted by external stimuli
  • Avoids or complains about noise, other students, lights, smells, etc.
  • Paces or roams the room
  • Impulsive
  • Interrupts or intrudes on others
  • Inability to follow more than one step in a set of directions or instructions
  • Cannot see the consequences of actions

Emotional Behavioral Disorder


A condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child's educational performance:

  • An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors
  • An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers
  • Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances
  • A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression
  • A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems EBD Includes mood disorders, anxiety disorders (e.g., generalized anxiety disorders, panic disorders, social phobia), and obsessive compulsive disorders, but psychiatric diagnosis is not a required criteria for IDEA.


  • Extremely inflexible
  • Low frustration threshold
  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Limited capacity for change
  • Extreme explosive episodes
  • Completely falls apart when hungry, tired, or stressed
  • Excessive worrying
  • Social withdrawal or aggression
  • Irritable or angry
  • Depression
  • Variety of physical symptoms

Speech and Language Impairment


Speech or language impairment means a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.


The characteristics of speech or language impairments will vary depending upon the type of impairment involved. There may also be a combination of several problems. The types of impairments include:

  • Articulation disorder
  • Fluency disorder (stuttering)
  • Voice disorder
  • Language disorder, which refers to an impaired ability to understand and/or use words in context. Expressive language disorder: difficulty expressing ideas. Receptive language disorder: difficulty understanding verbal communication

Traumatic Brain Injury


Traumatic brain injury means an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects a child's educational performance. Traumatic brain injury applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas, such as cognition; language; memory; attention; reasoning; abstract thinking; judgment; problem-solving; sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities; psychosocial behavior; physical functions; information processing; and speech. Traumatic brain injury does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma.


Children who sustain TBI may experience a complex array of problems, including the following:

  • Medical/Neurological Symptoms: speech, vision, hearing and other sensory impairment, decreased motor coordination, difficulty breathing, dizziness, headaches, impaired balance, loss of intellectual capacities, partial to full paralysis, reduced body strength, seizures, sleep disorders, and speech problems
  • Cognitive Symptoms: decreased attention, organizational skills, and problem solving ability; difficulty with abstract concepts; memory deficits; perceptual problems; poor concentration and judgment; slowed information processing; and poor memory
  • Behavioral/Emotional Symptoms: aggressive behavior, denial of deficits, depression, difficulty accepting and responding to change, reduction of inhibitions, distractibility, feelings of worthlessness, lack of emotion, low frustration level, helplessness, impulsivity, inappropriate crying or laughing, and irritability
  • Social Skills Development: difficulties maintaining relationships, inability to restrict socially inappropriate behaviors, inappropriate responses to the environment, insensitivity to others' feelings, limited initiation of social interactions, and social isolation
  • Any or all of the above impairments may occur to different degrees. The nature of the injury and its attendant problems can range from mild to severe, and the course of recovery is very difficult to predict for any given student.

Resources and activities to do with your child

Families play a critical role in the lives of their twice-exceptional children. School can be very challenging for twice-exceptional children and they need a home environment that is accepting and supportive. Above all, do not let the problems of school destroy family relationships. Focus on helping your child to develop his/her potential rather than trying to fix them. Click on the following links for more information:

I'm Not Who You Think I am - Activity

This activity will create opportunities to have conversations with your child on how they perceive themselves and could be the spark to create better self efficacy. Twice-exceptional learners are sometimes viewed as:

  • Weird
  • Disrespectful
  • Stubborn
  • Annoying/Embarrassing
  • Lazy
  • Immature
  • Impulsive

In reality, these students are dealing with the clash between asynchronous cognitive and affective development. This activity shows what these behaviors could mean from students’ perspectives, what supports they might need from you, and what inappropriate self perceptions children may have. This can be an excellent opportunity to learn more about what makes your child unique and help them be more aware of the strengths that they bring to the world around them.

View Activity


It can be extremely difficult to advocate for twice-exceptional learners. Do not become involved in the blame game; instead, work collaboratively with the school using a problem solving approach.

I believe my child may be twice-exceptional — What should I do?

  • Review the Characteristics of Twice-Exceptional Learners and check off the characteristics related to your child.
  • Share your concerns with your child’s teacher, ask him/her to visit the web page to learn more about twice-exceptional learners, and schedule a follow-up meeting.
  • Learn more about the Referral Process and how students are identified for Gifted Education Services and identified for Special Education Services.

My child is experiencing problems in school, not performing at a level equal to his/her potential, and/or does not want to go to school — What should I do?

  1. When you become aware a problem exists, begin your discussions with the classroom teacher. Phone or email the teacher to ask if you can (1) observe the class and (2) schedule a conference time after your observation.
  2. Prepare for your observation and meeting by talking with your child to find out as much as you can about the cause of the problem.
  3. Remember your child’s description of the problem is their perception. There can be differences between perceptions and reality.
  4. Begin the meeting on a positive note by sharing something positive from your classroom observation. Then discuss your concerns and explain your desire to work collaboratively to resolve the problem.
  5. As an advocate for your child, it is your job to help the teacher understand your child’s strengths and how areas of challenge are impacting his/her school performance.
  6. Share samples of your child’s work that demonstrates particular strengths and interests, as well as, samples of work where areas of weakness resulted in poor performance.
  7. Develop a plan, process for monitoring progress, and schedule a follow up conference. Thank the teacher for taking the time to meet with you.


Ways to support you child as they work to complete homework

Parents of twice-exceptional students have witnessed the frustration their children experience when trying to complete homework assignments. Supporting your child is very important; however, do not take on the responsibility for doing the work. You can support your child in in the following ways:

  1. Set aside a specific time when homework is to be done. If possible, make it a family time to read and work on projects.
  2. Provide a place to work that is stocked with all the materials needed to complete assignments.
  3. It is helpful to discuss what needs to be done and prioritize homework before beginning so the things due the next day are completed first.
  4. Encourage your child to set a goal for what homework they will complete, estimate the time it will take, time themselves to see if they reach their goal, and celebrate accomplishment of goal.
  5. Plan short 10-minute breaks during study time and plan a fun activity when all homework is completed.
  6. When students are unorganized, papers are lost. Work with teachers to set up a system to either email assignments home or post them on a website. Completed assignments can be scanned and emailed to the teacher.
  7. Help your child understand the instructions but never become too involved in answering or completing assignments. Remember, it is their job to do the homework.

Related Resources


District Service Options

Districts have a variety of models to provide G/T services. It is important to note that Districts may offer one or more of these options. It is important to be familiar with your rights and know the expectations of the modes of delivery. Your child will be provided their services for acceleration and enrichment through these models. Take a look at the following district approved service options and questions that you are able to ask to advocate for your child.

District Service Options  - View Resource