Office of Advanced Academics
Identifying Twice-Exceptional Students

Twice-exceptional students are those identified for advanced academics (gifted and talented education) who also qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan due to an educational disability.  While twice-exceptional students vary greatly in their individual strengths and needs, the most common educational disabilities affecting twice-exceptional students are a Specific Learning Disability (SLD), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

Twice-exceptional students are sometimes overlooked because the behaviors in the areas of strength or need may mask one another or be misinterpreted.  Access to Advanced Academics/GT instruction should not be restricted by the educational disability. The following chart shows how and why having both kinds of needs may lead to difficulties in matching students’ learning capabilities and selecting appropriate instructional interventions.

Educational Disability Advanced Abilities Obstacles to Addressing Learning Needs
Recognized Hidden
  • Intellectual abilities are underestimated.
  • Cognitive abilities are not demonstrated in traditional academic ways.
  • Emphasis tends to be on remediation.
Hidden Recognized
  • Student is perceived as an underachiever.
  • Routine assignments are incomplete or poorly done.
  • Inconsistent performance attributed to motivation, poor self-concept, or laziness.
Hidden Hidden
  • Abilities and disabilities mask one another.
  • No problem is defined because the student is perceived as being on grade level.
Baum, 1990

Meeting the Dual Needs of Twice-Exceptional Students:

Applying a Strengths-Based Approach

When differentiating for the needs of twice-exceptional students, educators need to provide dual differentiation in order to capitalize upon students’ strengths while addressing their needs.

Differentiate to address student’s advanced abilities AND Differentiate to address student’s learning disabilities
Highlight advanced abilities and potential areas of strength AND Provide targeted, respectful intervention based on areas of need
Provide challenging curriculum AND Teach compensating strategies
Nurture budding interests and offer explicit options for exploring and expressing abilities and interests aligned with the skills of the discipline AND Provide social and emotional support
  • Mentors
  • Lunch bunch
  • Small group guidance sessions
  • Bibliotherapy
  • Journaling
Brainstorm extracurricular programs and opportunities with parents, including after-school clubs in areas of interest AND Engage parents as opportunity makers (not homework checkers) Adapted from Baum, 2015

“[A] person builds a happy and successful life not on remediated weaknesses but on developed strengths.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell

For a more complete listing of educational disabilities, as well as further explanation and research, see Appendix B of the Belin-Blank Center’s resource, The Paradox of Twice-Exceptionality (Assouline, Nicpon, & Fosenburg, 2014).

Castellano, J.A. (2003).  Special Populations in Gifted Education.  Boston: Alyn and Bacon.

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