Identifying and Supporting Twice-exceptional (2e) Children

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Alissa Talamo, PhD
Clinical Neuropsychologist, NESCA

  • Rodney gets decent grades and achieves close to or at grade level in all of his district assessments. When concerns about his reading achievement were raised and an evaluation was conducted, it was found that his IQ is well above average, superior in some areas, but his reading decoding scores are below the average range for students his age. He has a combination of some gifted abilities and other areas that require intensive intervention. Rodney is twice-exceptional. (National Education Association, The Twice Exceptional Dilemma).
  •  Because of his behavioral difficulties, James attends a special program within his school for students with emotional and behavioral disorders. His teachers have difficulty seeing him as “gifted” as he is often uncooperative and reluctant to perform academic tasks in class. However, indicators are there. He participates in a weekly community program with students who are not disabled, to design a functioning robot and does so with a tremendous amount of ingenuity. He is also an avid reader outside of school and can offer a very keen oral analysis of the works he has read.  James is twice-exceptional.  (National Education Association, The Twice Exceptional Dilemma).

Twice exceptional—or “2e”—students are those who possess outstanding gifts or talents and are capable of high performance, but who also have a disability that affects some aspect of learning (Brody & Mills, 1997).  The largest group of twice exceptional children are those students who are academically gifted but who also have a disability (e.g., learning, physical, social/emotional or behavioral).

Some common characteristics of gifted students who also have a disability include:

  • Demonstrates a high verbal ability, but displays extreme difficulties in written language (reading, written expression)
  • Has strong observation skills but difficulty with memory skills
  • Shows attention deficit problems, even though they demonstrate special talents that consume their attention
  • Understands concepts at a high level, but struggles with basic skills (e.g., reading decoding, math fact fluency).

As a result, these students are at risk of facing challenges, such as:

  • Asynchronous development (the child is far ahead intellectually, but far behind socially and emotionally)
  • Underperforming academically
  • Frustration
  • Argumentative personality
  • Sensitivity to criticism
  • Poor study habits and organizational skills
  • Difficulty in social situations
  • Because they are clearly bright but performing poorly, they may be perceived as “lazy,” which, in turn, puts them at risk for criticism that can negatively impact self-esteem, which can also put them  at risk for depression.

Unfortunately, in the states of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, there is currently no gifted education legislation. As a result, schools are not required to identify gifted students.  Even if a specific school system does choose to identify these students, there is no mandate to create a program for those identified, and there is no gifted funding.  Massachusetts and New Hampshire are two of only eight U.S. states that do not have a gifted and talented mandate. And while Rhode Island has mandated identification of gifted students and requires programs to serve those students, it does not provide the schools with any government funding.

Since Massachusetts and New Hampshire are not yet mandating screenings for giftedness, nor mandating programs for these students (although some schools do so independent of the lack of mandate), it is important for parents to be informed of their child’s learning profile to advocate for needed services as well as to encourage their child’s areas of strengths and interests. The best way to determine if a child meets criteria for twice exceptionality is through a neuropsychological evaluation. A thorough neuropsychological evaluation will help a parent and school understand a child’s cognitive, academic and social/emotional strengths and weaknesses, helping to identify what supports or programming that specific child truly needs.

In addition, there are supports out there, as many giftedness programs and extra-curricular opportunities exist. Some helpful websites include:

  • davidsongifted.org – along with a strong (and easily searchable) database, the Davidson Institute and Davidson Academy are dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted students in the United States, including summer programs, scholarships and an accredited online school.
  • massgifted.org – The Massachusetts Association for Gifted Education’s (MAGE) mission is to support and advance the understanding of high potential/gifted children and their special needs, to promote the establishment of programs, services and opportunities for high ability/gifted students, and to encourage the exchange of information pertaining to gifted individuals among educators, parents, policy-makers and students on the national, state and local levels.

Additional sources used for this article:

childmind.org/article/twice-exceptional kids both gifted and challenged


www.understood.org/myths about twice exceptional 2e students




About the Author:

With NESCA since its inception in 2007,  Dr. Talamo had previously practiced for many years as a child and adolescent clinical psychologist before completing postdoctoral re-training in pediatric neuropsychology at the Children’s Evaluation Center. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Columbia University, Dr. Talamo earned her doctorate in clinical health psychology from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University. She has given a number of presentations, most recently on “How to Recognize a Struggling Reader,” “Supporting Students with Working Memory Limitations,” (with Bonnie Singer, Ph.D., CCC-SLP of Architects for Learning ), and “Executive Function in Elementary and Middle School StudentsDr. Talamo specializes in working with children and adolescents with language-based learning disabilities including dyslexia, attentional disorders and emotional issues. She is also interested in working with highly gifted children.


To book a neuropsychological evaluation or consultation  with Dr. Talamo or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate that you would like to see “Dr. Talamo” in the referral line.


Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Supporting the Twice-Exceptional Children in our Lives

By | NESCA Notes 2018


Free to Be 2e!
Supporting the Twice-Exceptional Children in our Lives

By: Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS
Licensed Clinical Social Worker, NESCA

Richard Branson
Businessman and Investor

Whoopie Goldberg
Actress and talk show host

Tim Burton

Daryl Hannah

What do the above celebrities all have in common, aside from being wildly successful and having household names? They are all considered “2e”!

The term, “Twice Exceptional” or “2e” is gaining popularity in educational and therapeutic settings, but what does it mean? The term refers to children who possess both exceptional gifts and talents, and who also experience various learning difficulties such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Learning Disabilities, and Autism Spectrum Disorders. A recently published textbook, Twice Exceptional: Supporting and Educating Bright and Creative Students with Learning Difficulties (2017) explores this movement in detail and offers the latest evidence- and strengths-based approaches in supporting the extraordinary “2e” young people in our lives.

Scott Barry Kaufman writes frequently on this topic. He argues that education and intervention have often employed a silo approach, meaning that these systems have viewed children as either exclusively disabled or exclusively gifted, instead of appreciating the dynamic interaction of both. Kaufman describes this as an “artificial mutual exclusiveness” that is harmful to children whose unique profiles include both remarkable strengths and complex learning deficits. This often leads to difficulty “fitting in” in traditional educational settings as well as to children feeling misunderstood and unappreciated for the things they are good at doing. According to davincilearning.org, a website dedicated to “multiple exceptionality” or the intersection of giftedness, disability, and trauma, there are three ways we misunderstand the needs of twice-exceptional children:

  1. Disability masks giftedness, and the focus on correcting disability leads to giftedness being overlooked.
  2. Giftedness masks the signs of disability.
  3. Both giftedness and disability mask each other, and the person appears to be ordinary.

So what is to be done? If you have a “2e” child in your life, consider the following recommendations set forth by Dr. Kaufman:

  1. Specialized methods of identification that consider the possible interaction of the exceptionalities.
  2. Enriched/advanced educational opportunities that focus on developing the child’s interests and highest strengths while also meeting the child’s learning needs.
  3. Simultaneous supports that ensure the child’s academic success and social-emotional well-being, such as accommodations, therapeutic interventions, and specialized instruction.

As parents, educators, and therapists, we must be sensitive to the intricacies of a child’s abilities and deficits, and take care to not focus too exclusively on such a false dichotomy. Instead, let’s “see beyond lables,” as Dr. Kaufman suggests, and focus on natural strengths, internal motivation, and opportunities for growth.

Many accomplished people with learning differences attribute thinking differently as a factor in their success. May all our “2e” friends find what works best for them and create their own self-defined success.

NESCA is proud to offer evaluation services that help to uncover underlying reasons for struggles as well as unique strengths and aptitudes and to integrate findings into a recognizable portrait of of the whole child, teen, or young adult. If you would like to learn more about Neuropsychological Assessment or Transition Assessment at NESCA provides, click here.

And for more information about twice-exceptionality, see below!

*Disclosure: Rebecca Girard, LICSW contributed to Twice Exceptional: Supporting and Educating Bright and Creative Students with Learning Difficulties in the chapter, “Appreciating and Promoting Social Creativity in Youth with Asperger’s Syndrome”

About the Author:

Rebecca Girard, LICSW, CAS is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in neurodivergent issues, sexual trauma, and international social work. She has worked primarily with children, adolescents, adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families for over a decade. Ms. Girard is highly experienced in using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) as well as Socio-dramatic Affective Relational Intervention (SDARI), in additional to a number of other modalities. She is excited to provide enhanced psychotherapy to children with ASD at NESCA as well as to provide individual and group therapeutic support to youth with a range of mood, anxiety, social and behavioral challenges. Her professional passion is promoting tolerance and understanding of neurodiverse people of all abilities, and creating an empowering and accepting environment in therapy for clients of all ages. Her approach is client-centered, strengths-based, creative and compassionate.