Twice Exceptional: Definition & Advice

To reach their high potential, twice-exceptional children benefit from a flexible learning environment.

Prisma Staff
October 4, 2022

Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school that combines a fun, real-world curriculum with powerful mentorship from experienced coaches and a supportive peer community

What is twice exceptional?

According to the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), twice-exceptional children are gifted in one or more areas, and also have one or more disabilities / learning differences, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or dyslexia. This mismatch between development and skill levels is known as “asynchrony.”

If that sounds like a lot to you, you’re right. The label encompasses so many diagnoses that it can be a particular challenge to identify 2e students, let alone figure out how best to support them.

The Davidson Institute, a non-profit that helps gifted students who score in the top 99.9 percent, explains: “twice-exceptional students, whose gifts and disabilities often mask one another, are difficult to identify. Without appropriate educational programming, twice exceptional students and their talents go unrealized.”


The National Education Association elaborates on the three possible ways 2e kids can end up with a misdiagnosis: A child identified as a gifted student may have an unnoticed learning disability; a special education student may get passed over for gifted education services; and a third category of student gets no gifted or special education services whatsoever, as their gifts and disabilities mask one another. These discrepancies can cause frustration in children, straining their mental health and leading to social, emotional, and behavioral problems.

Because 2e students have multiple diagnoses, there’s a particular need for a flexible, customized approach to meet their intellectual and emotional needs. Parents know their children best, which means they can “play a critical advocacy role, yet they also need support to fulfill this role,” argue researchers Lynn Dare and Elizabeth Agnes Nowicki.

One of the biggest challenges in helping twice exceptional students is finding a way to balance what often seem like contradictory needs. On the one hand, these learners need enrichment in order to ensure they are being engaged with an appropriate level of work. On the other hand, they also need accommodations to ensure their learning difficulties aren’t hindering their ability to perform at their best. This might include things like decreasing the quantity of assigned work or avoiding certain requirements. Dyslexic students should be allowed to dictate some writing assignments, use text-to-voice software or read a physical book along with an audiobook version.

How homeschooling benefits twice-exceptional students

While traditional school environments have procedures and policies in place to support 2e students once they are formally identified, thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, home-based schooling is particularly well suited to meet the special needs of these learners in the most holistic way possible.

Here’s what we’ve learned about why 2e students thrive at Prisma.

1. They learn at their own level

While 2e students in public schools have to get a formal diagnosis in order to qualify for an IEP that may require them to be pulled out of regular class time to get special services, a home-based learning program like Prisma is an individualized education program, by definition.

Since asynchronous development is one of the main characteristics of twice-exceptional students, you’re likely to find that they are at very different grade levels in their various subjects. If your 2e kid wants to zoom ahead and do highschool math but needs to read books at a slower pace, there’s no paperwork required. And, since much learning progress happens in spurts, you can always adjust their level after a break-through, without having to jump through bureaucratic hoops.

When you allow them to learn according to their unique needs, you bolster their self-esteem and teach them there is no “ahead” or “behind,” just the possibility to grow from where they are today.

2. They choose their own adventure

Gifted learners thrive when their intrinsic motivation is allowed free-reign. As part of our project-based approach at Prisma, we let kids propose their own topics, as long as it meets the criteria for the assignment. A strength-based approach can be really empowering — and a source of confidence that they can tap into when it comes time to work on their learning challenges.

3. They can control the environment

Some of the biggest challenges for 2e kids (and a major source of classroom behavioral problems) come from having to follow a set of rules and routines that don’t jive with their needs. When learning from home, 2e kids benefit from the ability to turn off the camera, take wiggle or snack breaks, or just have quiet time — no accommodations required. Rather than making them feel different when they go with their own flow, home-based learning allows kids to take responsibility for their needs and strategize how to get them met.

4. They have a supportive group of peers

Twice exceptional learners are at a greater risk of bullying in conventional public or private school classrooms, yet in a traditional homeschool setup they may not get the opportunity for socialization that will allow them to safely explore their exceptionality and build social skills. Prisma’s cohort model encourages relationships between learners, as they meet together daily with the same caring adult, often collaborating on projects and providing one another feedback.

5. They get one-on-one coaching

One of the biggest sources of frustration for 2e kids is having so much to offer in their thoughts, and then struggling to organize those thoughts because of problems with executive functioning (one of the common characteristics of 2e learners). Our coaches help learners build problem-solving skills. They practice using calendars, scheduling, and setting goals, so learners can figure out how to take their amazing gifts and get them organized. Since the coach, parents and learner develop a close relationship, they make sure the goals are appropriate for the individual learner, balancing the necessary accommodations with some healthy “stretching” beyond the comfort zone.

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