Children Who Are Twice Exceptional: What Are Their Characteristics?

Children who are twice exceptional are highly intelligent, but present social or learning problems. Keep reading to find out more.
Children Who Are Twice Exceptional: What Are Their Characteristics?
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 13 March, 2023

A child with special educational needs of any kind faces many challenges. Enhancing their talents and helping them to manage their emotions isn’t easy, especially in a world that’s not well adapted to diversity. But when two different conditions converge in the same case, these difficulties increase significantly. This is the case of children who are twice exceptional.

This is why it’s so necessary to understand double exceptionality and to know how to accompany it. This is a term that was introduced in the 1980s and didn’t enter the lexicon of educators until the mid-1990s. Also known as Gifted with Learning Disability (GLD) and sometimes abbreviated as 2E, it’s a concept that refers to children who live with two or more special educational needs.

You may not have heard of it until now. But, if your child shows inconsistent performance, emotions that do not match their abilities, or certain difficulties that contrast with their high potential, perhaps this is the reality they’re experiencing.

What is double exceptionality?

As we said, double exceptionality is the confluence, in the same child, of two or more phenomena that are to some degree contradictory. Children who are twice exceptional have high abilities, with all the cognitive and creative potential that this entails, but they also have other educational needs.

There are different types of doubly exceptional children depending on the difficulties or comorbid disorders they present along with high abilities. Below, we’ll tell you which are the most common, although other variants can be observed.

A therapist working with a twice exceptional child.
The emotionality of children with double exceptionality is more complex, so their social functioning and academic performance are affected to a greater extent.

Sensory deficits

In this case, children show visual, auditory, or motor deficits, together with their high endowment. Despite the difficulties this entails, they show a high level of reasoning and a good learning pace. In addition, they have strong verbal and communication skills, as well as varied interests and a good ability to use symbolic language.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

This type of double exceptionality is difficult to identify, as the behaviors and difficulties characteristic of autism may be overlooked or directly attributed to high abilities. This is especially true for girls, who’ve demonstrated a strong ability to mimic and emulate neurotypical social behavior.

Despite this, they often struggle with unstructured places and routines. They struggle to understand social cues and indirect language and may suffer rejection due to their shyness, rebelliousness, and lack of flexibility. Despite this, they often have high verbal and cognitive abilities and extensive academic knowledge.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

When high abilities coexist with ADHD, the main difficulties stem from inattention and impulsivity. It’s difficult for these children to stay focused even on tasks that interest and motivate them. In addition, they often have problems accepting rules and limits, don’t complete the projects or tasks they initiate, and their performance is inconsistent.

These children often face the challenge of meeting the high expectations placed on them, which they fail to achieve. Because of their high intellectual endowment, a certain type of behavior and performance is expected of them. In this way, the difficulties arising from their ADHD are overlooked. All this can generate great dissatisfaction, frustration, and insecurity in their daily lives.

Learning difficulties

On the other hand, high abilities can also occur along with one or more learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, dyslalia, or dyscalculia, among others. However, these children also show several advantages. For example, they may excel in vocabulary, abstract reasoning, or creativity.

A boy who's bored with his school work.
It’s common with children who are twice exceptional for the focus to always be placed on their deficiencies or areas of improvement while their high potential in other areas is overlooked.

Double exceptionality, diagnosis, and intervention

Although it’s difficult to obtain actual figures, it’s estimated that about 7% of school-age children are twice exceptional. And these figures may be considerably higher depending on the sources consulted. However, detecting them and making an appropriate diagnosis isn’t always successful. There are several reasons for this:

  • The tests and measures commonly used to detect high abilities aren’t useful in these cases because the other associated conditions can affect the children’s performance.
  • There are shared characteristics among several phenomena. For example, difficulty in following commands and rules is present in high abilities as well as in ASD and ADHD. Therefore, the evaluator may be left with a first diagnosis and not probe further until comorbidities are discovered.
  • The focus is placed exclusively on the child’s weaknesses and difficulties. This means that some disorders are identified, but the potential derived from high abilities isn’t discovered or developed.

When the diagnosis is incomplete, these children who are twice exceptional don’t receive the attention and supports they require, as their needs aren’t fully understood. This can affect their self-esteem, their school performance, and their social relationships, as they’re not accompanied to work on their areas of difficulty or enhance their strengths and advantages.

Improve their weaknesses and enhance their strengths

For all this, it’s key that parents and educators are aware of the existence of double exceptionality and are able to identify the signs. In addition, it’s important to remember that intervention with these children will be different from intervention with those who only have a special educational need. Tending to the child’s exceptionality from all angles is what will guarantee their well-being and good development.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Brody, L. E., & Mills, C. J. (1997). Gifted children with learning disabilities: A review of the issues. Journal of learning disabilities30(3), 282-296.
  • Vélez-Calvo, X., Calle-Calle, V., Seade-Mejía, C., & Peñaherrera-Vélez, M. J. (2023). Doble excepcionalidad: altas capacidades y trastornos del neurodesarrollo. Prevalencia en escolares ecuatorianos. CienciAmérica12(1).

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.