Twice Exceptional: What’s Going On Here?

Twice Exceptional (2e): What is it? And why does it matter?

Twice Exceptional, What's Going on Here?, Image: Orange flowers

What is it?

Twice Exceptional is when a person has at least two different diagnosis, one of which is giftedness, and the other a special need or disability. The special need can be physical or neurological, though the term is most often applied to neurological diagnoses, like Autism, ADHD, OCD, Dyslexia etc.

It seems simple enough, but of course it isn’t. Twice exceptional is hard to diagnose, or even to notice – many children never get a formal diagnosis. This is because giftedness and special needs interact in weird and wonderful ways. It’s a hot mess in there. In fact many special needs are co-morbid with giftedness – gifted children, according to some researchers over three times more likely to have certain diagnoses than the general population.

It’s also complicated because many of the characteristics of giftedness are actually incredibly similar to a range of different special needs. So children can appear to have a disability that don’t, and other children will have a disability, but it will look like normal giftedness.

If you’re a person struggling with whether you or a family member is twice exceptional, you are also unlikely to find clarity in getting a diagnosis – the field is so little researched that there aren’t a lot of clinical studies out there to help your local clinician diagnose twice exceptionality. They are probably less likely to miss a diagnosis or mis-diagnose than the general population . . . but it happens.

But why does it matter?

One of the main reasons it matters is that getting a clear idea of how you or your child’s twice exceptional brain works  – there’s a decent amount of research on a lot of special needs with the corresponding guides on how to help. This can make a huge difference – it saves re-inventing the wheel. There will be therapies and treatment plans that can give you and your family pointers on where to start, or what to do.

But the gifted part is also important – giftedness can complicate therapy plans – smart kids can see through and undermine poorly thought out designs! As well, a lot of the symptoms of different conditions are altered by the giftedness. Children will often use their giftedness to mask or compensate for their disability. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it’s maladaptive and will cause problems later on. Finding therapists and specialists with experience with twice exceptional kids can make a huge difference in this regard – they know what to look for, and how to approach gifted kids and adults.

So, Where do I find more information?

A few good places to start include (but there are many more):

If you are interested in the experiences of other twice exceptional families, have a browse though the GHF Press page. And you can read here about our own 2e family’s journey.

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