Twice Exceptional or Just Exceptional? Let’s Find Out

by Teresa Currivan, LMFT, Parent Coach

The term “Twice Exceptional” or “2e” is commonly used to describe children and adults who are intellectually gifted and who have some form of disability: they are exceptional both in their abilities and in their disabilities.

What might we be missing when we use the term “2e” too broadly? Because the highly to profoundly gifted child has a very high risk of being missed and misdiagnosed due to many factors, it would be helpful to be more clear about what we are saying when we mean twice exceptional vs. highly to profoundly gifted. These terms overlap, and we often use them interchangeably for various reasons, but there is much room for improvement in our ability to get more specific in our understanding of our gifted children and their needs. 

Here is a typical list of characteristics of a 2e child: 

  • advanced language
  • analytical thinking
  • intense drive to find out the meaning of things on their own terms
  • the ability to find connections between things that others can not see
  • unique or higher level sense of humor
  • heightened sensitivity to needs and motivations of others
  • aversion to being judged; they may do really well with one teacher, and be “the awful child” with another
  • strong sense of fairness and justice
  • accelerated learning beyond their age group in one or more areas, while also possibly appearing to be behind in others
  • intense sensory processing issues –eg, heightened sensitivities to foods, touch, sounds, sights, movement — or conversely the need for more stimulation in any of these areas. (See my article on sensory issues, link below.)
  • lack of executive functioning and attention issues. In very simple terms, this is the child who has a hard time getting organized or following several steps of instructions before getting sidetracked. (ADHD is also a 2e trait that can stay through adulthood, but often the frontal lobe catches up by age 12, and then again by age 18, and the ADHD-like traits lessen.  See for more on this.)
  • fluidity in learning and interest. They may be the expert in history one month and appear to have no interest the next. They also learn best when able to learn across subjects such as learning math while measuring for cooking, etc.

The “2” in “2e” implies that these gifts are paired with something wrong  – commonly dyslexia, dysgraphia or ADHD, among others. While 2e children can have these disabilities, these same labels are too often applied without fully understanding the specifics of each gifted child. Being in the exceptionally gifted category comes with heightened sensitivities, intensities, perfectionism, and intense drive to learn and create. As we all know, these traits can be misunderstood as pathologies. The same child who is profoundly gifted but mistaken to be moderately gifted with disabilities is going to be less likely to thrive. This is something I see all too often. The highly to profoundly gifted cannot accurately be diagnosed, I believe, until things specific to their needs are understood and addressed such as appropriate learning environment, accurate testing, and sensory issues. Any combination of these can exponentially increase the likelihood of misdiagnosis. At the same time, once addressed, it will become clear if there are other issues that need to be identified, or if the child is simply highly to profoundly gifted with all of the complicated the side effects that can come with it.

As the father of a profoundly gifted 11-year-old said of gifted individuals, “It’s like we’re all lopsided, and the more gifted, the more lopsided.” It is often difficult to describe the differently wired brain. I would add to this that the children can appear even more lopsided than the adults.

I cannot stress enough that professionals who do not understand the highly to profoundly gifted population are not going to understand or be able to accurately diagnose them. If your child has been diagnosed as 2e, or you suspect they are in the higher ranges of giftedness, they may just be a typically highly to profoundly child, or “exceptional”.


Teresa Currivan is a mother, licensed marriage and family therapist, school therapist,  coaches parents by phone at Help My Child Thrive Coaching, and offers parent support groups. Teresa has been published on sites such as, Filter Free Parents, and is a blogger at GHF and Hoagies Gifted Education. She specializes in giftedness, twice exceptionality,  educational fit, and family dynamics, as well as gifted adults. She lives in the San Francisco, California Bay Area with her husband and son. You can find more articles on this website. Follow her on her Facebook at

***Not sure if your child is gifted? Or maybe you have a question about your gifted child or family? I offer free 20 minute consultations for first-timers. Email me and we’ll set up a time to talk. I’d love to hear from you. ***


Want to read about a typical 2e child’s story? I recommend this article:



Why It Is Vital To Know If Your Child Is Gifted



You may also find these helpful:



What is a Visual-Spatial Learner?





How to Obtain Proper Testing for the Gifted Underachiever






How Can I Tell the Difference Between Sensory Issues and Other Childhood Disorders in My Child?



As of March 1, this article is part of a blog hop over at Hoagies Gifted Education. Hoagies Gifted Education page is an amazing resource for everything gifted. Go check them out, and check out the other bloggers on the Topic of Special Gifted Populations: HoagiesSpecialPopulationsBlogHopHoagiesSpecialPopImage

©2019 Teresa Currivan