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Twice-Exceptional (2E) Learners

I seldom think about my limitations, and they never make me sad. Perhaps there is just a touch of yearning at times; but it is vague, like a breeze among flowers.

~ Helen Keller

The term twice-exceptional learner (sometimes called 2E learner) is one that is often heard and far too often misunderstood. What does it mean? What do parents need to know about supporting their child’s development?

What follows here is information about 2E learners and 15 practical ways to empower them.

Twice-Exceptional (2E): The Facts

Twice-exceptional learners have co-existing special education needs—for example, giftedness combined with ADHD, or dyslexia, or a learning disability, or a hearing or visual impairment, or some other combination. These may not be easily identified, and thus, these children may be underserved in schools—from preschool onward. One exceptionality may mask another, or children may fall through the cracks without either of their exceptionalities being appropriately addressed. As they move from primary-level programming through elementary school and onward, low grades can shadow or conceal their abilities. Moreover, discrepancies between a child’s strengths and challenges can negatively affect how that child is perceived. For example, in some cases, kids are “not sufficiently gifted” to be eligible for specialized or gifted education programs, and also “not sufficiently struggling” for other special education provisions. They may not “fit” with what’s available within their local school system. Furthermore, far too often, teachers and early education service providers are not adequately trained in special education or how to effectively differentiate program offerings, learning environments, or activities. A great many schools and learning centers lack current resources or materials that address twice exceptionality or optimal services for exceptional learners.

Over the past few decades, there has been considerable research on ways to encourage diverse learners’ abilities and support their development, with studies ramping up recently due to heightened interest in neurodiversity. What has come to light? Here are some findings:

  • Set fair expectations.

  • Encourage children to develop their strengths.

  • Invite kids to ask questions.

  • Family matters.

  • Reinforce children’s play, including their engagement in open-ended, exploratory, interdisciplinary, and multisensory learning experiences.

  • Help children find peers who share similar interests, abilities, and disabilities, and with whom they can interact.

Most importantly, parental attunement to the individual child will help to ensure that their learning and other needs are identified. To that end, parents can become informed about possible ways to provide encouragement and support.


Research studies on twice-exceptional learners reveal many recommendations for parents. Here are 15 strategies parents can consider. (Note that, in many respects, these suggestions are applicable to children across the learning spectrum.)

  1. Offer choice.

  2. Involve your child in co-creating their learning and recreational experiences.

  3. Provide ample opportunities for inquiry and reflection.

  4. Pay attention to your child’s social-emotional well-being.

  5. Check that documented education-related accommodations are clear, being followed, and work—and be willing to advocate for adjustments as needed.

  6. Help your child learn to articulate what they need and to self-advocate respectfully.

  7. Avoid asking children to do busy work, unnecessarily repetitious tasks, or meaningless time-fillers.

  8. Praise your child’s efforts.

  9. Reinforce your child’s resilience and adaptability.

  10. Celebrate small successes, not just large ones.

  11. Encourage and model creativity at home and elsewhere, and facilitate various outlets for creative expression.

  12. Help children develop skills relating to HOW to learn. (Including step-by-step basics such as organizing, goal-setting, prioritizing, eliminating distractions, pacing, and smart and possibly adaptive use of technology.)

  13. Help children develop an appreciation for WHAT to learn—all the exciting possibilities! (Including satisfying their curiosities, building relationships with family and friends, and extending their knowledge.)

  14. Be a good role model. For example, demonstrate solid coping strategies, flexibility, initiative, optimism, determination, and the power of collaboration.

  15. Show that you have faith in your child’s abilities!

Above all, parents, teachers, caregivers, and others (such as early learning program providers, guidance counselors, and healthcare professionals), must strive to work cohesively to respond to children’s twice-exceptionalities and individual needs. This includes enabling their capacities, bolstering their confidence, and fostering their love of learning—wherever they may be and

however, they may learn!


Joanne Foster, Ed.D. is a multiple award-winning author of eight books. Her most recent is Ignite Your Ideas: Creativity for Kids. She is also co-author (with Dona Matthews) of Being Smart about Gifted Learning, 3rd Edition. To find out about Dr. Foster’s publications and presentations, and for resources on supporting children’s well-being and learning, go to

Cover Photo by RDNE Stock project

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