What is 2e or Twice Exceptional?

The term “Twice Exceptional” or “2e” is 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.

The reason this term is so important is that during a twice exceptional child’s school years, he or she is very likely to be misunderstood by his/her teacher, mental health professional, doctor, and sometimes parents. The most common ways they can be misidentified and the problems this can create are as follows:

  • They can be identified as gifted, but not trying hard enough. This leaves out the child’s need for remediation. Many 2e kids are gifted at faking it, for example a reader who makes up words that he or she can’t read.
  • They can be identified as learning disabled, focusing only on remediation. This leaves out their need for intellectual stimulation and creative achievement. In addition, remediation for 2e students requires a deeper knowledge of their learning style and can be counterproductive without this knowledge. (For example, requiring a certain amount of repetition through flash cards and forced reading can make a 2e child not only bored and garner minimal results, but make the child ashamed that they are “not getting it,” possibly shutting down doors to further learning.  This scenario is unfortunately very common.)
  • They are seen as average, addressing neither the need for remediation or the need for more intellectual stimulation and creative output. These are the ones who are gifted at getting by, using creative coping mechanisms to make it appear as though they have no challenges or gifts. These children often slip through the cracks.
  • They can have intense sensory issues that can look like inattentiveness, lack of interest, ADHD or other behaviors. These behaviors are often identified without addressing the underlying sensory issues.

The danger in all of the above scenarios is that school, professionals, and parents may not be able to meet their needs until their needs are correctly identified. Meanwhile, their social and emotional needs remain unmet, mistreated, or missed, resulting in outcomes as small as missed educational opportunities and as big as depression, acting out, poor self-esteem, and loss of the love of learning.

It is common to see 2e boys acting out in the classroom by first or second grade, if not sooner, while 2e girls can become gifted at fitting in. The depression and frustration the child feels might look like anger in a boy, and depression, cutting or picking, or nothing in a girl. Girls or a boy who is more inward in his reaction may not act out or show problems until the middle school years. This gender discrepancy is important to note because many 2e boys are misunderstood as troublemakers, and many 2e girls’ problems are not addressed until later, if at all. (It is also a gifted and 2e trait to not be gender specific so the gender rule does not always apply.)

It is generally thought that 2e individuals have a higher IQ than a person who falls into the typical gifted category. While the gifted IQ range is between  130 to 145, it is thought that 2e individuals are higher in the range, from 150 to 180 and even higher. It is thought that the higher the IQ, the higher the asynchrony. For example, a 2e child who is 8 years old may be able to talk about science as a 40-year-old, relate to others like a teenager, and have tantrums like a 3-year-old. A gifted person may not have such extremes and might have an easier time fitting into a typical school as long as it is suited to them. People often use the term “gifted” to describe 2e individuals. 2e is a fairly new term.

2e individuals usually display at least some of the following characteristics and skills:

  • Advanced Language
  • Analytical Thinking
  • Very driven to find out the meaning of things on their own terms
  • A large perspective and can often find connections between things that others can not see
  • Unique or higher level sense of humor
  • Heightened sensitivity to needs and motivations of others (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
  • Intense limbic systems, which equals sensory processing issues (heightened sensitivities to foods, touch, sounds, sights, movement etc. or conversely the need for more stimulation in any of these areas.) See my article on Sensory Issues
  • Lack of executive functioning, having ADHD traits. 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 11 or 12 and the ADHD-like traits lessen.)  see Davidson.

2e individuals by definition show deficits in other developmental areas. One who is gifted in mathematics and coding needs help with human relationships or managing their intensities. Another might be gifted with relationships, but has difficulty learning to read. Any combination can be made.

While every child is unique, 2e children have similarities as well as great discrepancies, making them the amazing people they are.

Teresa Currivan is a mother and a licensed marriage and family therapist who also coaches parents and individuals by phone at Help My Child Thrive Coaching. She specializes in giftedness, twice exceptionality, life changes, creative blocks, and family dynamics. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son. You can also find her on Facebook at fb.me/teresacurrivancoaching. 

***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. TeresaCurrivan@gmail.com ***

You may also find this article interesting: What is a Visual-Spatial Learner?

© 2017 Teresa Currivan