While there are always students for whom school assignments are relatively easy and those for whom they are very difficult, there are also students who struggle in one area and excel in others. In simple language, these students are often referred to as twice exceptional. They, for example, may have an astounding command of numerical sense and calculations and even complex applications. On the other hand, these same amazing students may struggle in areas such as in reading comprehension or even social engagement. This is just one of an almost limitless combination of student outcomes which are now recognized as twice exceptional, or 2e.
According to the National Association of Gifted Children’s (NAGC) website, 2e describes children who have gifted abilities in at least one area, combined with one or more learning domains where they demonstrate eligibility for federal or state disability status. Even though these children have gifted abilities in select emphasis areas, they often encounter difficulty with the entire scholastic experience. Often, the challenges focus on the students’ areas of weakness and can overshadow the areas of talent. For example, students who are highly creative, highly verbal, and hands-on learners may find frustration in the structure of the traditional school day. They may have difficulty maintaining the institutional pace and specific timelines required, resulting in being labeled as lazy or as underachievers as their grades misalign with what the standardized tests indicate is possible.
In many cases, 2e children’s deficit areas are not recognized early in their academic careers, especially if they represent specific learning disabilities such as emotional or behavioral disorders, an attention deficit disorder, or a facet on the autism spectrum. These children, while academically superior in select areas, often overwhelm educators with their inability to work within the traditional setting and pace with their classmates. However, traditional special needs classrooms also rarely align with 2e children since their intellect demands an active and fast-paced curriculum in addition to one with a less structured rigor threshold.
2e children in the classroom might present a picture similar to the one offered by the NAGC’s example, where a teacher may see a very challenging student with high ability and interest in science and math but extreme difficulty with work requiring reading and writing. At home, this same child may show intense frustration with homework, appearing unaware of what needs to be done, how, or when. Parents of 2e students may even receive complaints from the school officials regarding their child’s behavior as rude or off-track. This intense focus on normalizing 2e students to fit into a traditional student learner context within the constraints of a highly institutionalized educational environment is unlikely to work well for anyone.
What does work is for schools and parents to actively recognize that not all students process in the same manner or follow the same learning trajectory. It is critical that educators and parents actively work with their children to support their learning and to acknowledge when something within the environment is not effective. They must all recognize that students who are gifted in one domain are not necessarily gifted in all areas. Furthermore, parents and educators with students experiencing stress or frustration in their learning need to meet often and openly to discuss what adjustments can be made to maximize learning for each student while maintaining classroom harmony, and establish a healthy learning community for all, regardless of ability. Exceptional, twice exceptional, or specific learning disabled, the best way to maximize learning outcomes for all is to appreciate each individual’s needs and find a way that every child can actively compliment the learning community, leading to the establishment of cooperative and successful citizens of the future.