Twice Exceptional Learners

A Workshop presented by Learning Team A

Characteristics of Twice Exceptional Learners

  • Creativity: able to use vivid imagination to establish new, original ideas
  • Difficulty with memorization: able to make observations, but memorization is more difficult
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Acting-out behavior: this could include crying, anger, and withdrawal to express their feelings and cope with difficult situations
  • Poor organization
  • Analytic thinking: able to think higher orderly but has trouble with activities that are routine
  • Strong task commitment when interest is present: Twice exceptional students are able to concentrate for extended periods of time if high interest level.
  • Withdrawal/shyness
  • High verbal ability but present difficulty in written language
  • Display unusual imagination
  • Able to come up with original ideas that may seem very different
  • Exhibit leadership ability, but sometimes can play a role in their inability to exercise leadership skills
  • Not willing to take risks, especially when academically related
  • Issues with reading because of a processing deficit
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Can present extraordinary talents with visual and performing arts

Testing of Gifted and Twice Exceptional Learners

Evaluating for twice-exceptional students is a multifaceted undertaking, as assessments must be implemented in both giftedness and the disability. Following is a list of considerations suggested by the National Education Association to assist in identifying twice-exceptionality in students:

• Multiple data sources for gifted programming identification should be used. These include:

  • intelligence and achievement tests
  • teacher reports
  • creativity tests
  • student interviews
  • self-referral
  • portfolio
  • family or peer referral

• Combining multiple pieces of data into a single score should be avoided. If scores are combined, the lower scores can reduce the total score and, in doing so, disqualify a student with strengths from gifted programs.

• Modify the cutoff scores that qualify students for the gifted program to account for scores lowered due to the disability.

• Use the student’s daily classroom achievement to compare projected functioning on statewide standardized testing with actual performance,

• Use both formal (such as standardized tests) and informal (such as student class work) assessments.

• Talk to the student’s family about student performance outside of school.

• Make sure the assessment process is culturally sensitive to prevent any cultural differences from establishing bias in the recognition procedure.

It’s important to know that detection is seldom pursued for students when their gifts and disabilities camouflage one another. Because of this, educators should be overly watchful and look for understated signs of exceptionality in students.

(National Education Association, 2006)

Services for Twice Exceptional Learners

For twice-exceptional learners to achieve academically, socially, and intrapersonally, a continuum of services is needed at the k-12 level. Often, twice-exceptional learners will meet or exceed academic standards and targets. Sometimes this capacity to exceed standards can mask the potential range of needed services as twice-exceptional learners can have strengths and weaknesses in the same academic area that can lead to academic struggles and counter-productive coping strategies in the long run (Trail, 2011).

Trail, 2011, stresses that to meet the educational needs of twice-exceptional learners then you need to provide services that focuses on:

1. Nurture gifted potential—Focus on emphasizing strengths as to focus on weaknesses without prioritizing strengths is to risk the result of poor self-esteem, lack of motivation, depression, and stress (Trail, 2011).

2. Support academic achievement—Twice-exceptional learners have the gifted potential along with specific challenges that can negatively influence achievement. Focusing on instruction in compensatory strategies and providing accommodations in areas in need of support can help a twice-exceptional student maintain growth in areas of strengths while addressing weaknesses.

3. Foster interpersonal relationships—Twice-exceptional learners have a hard time developing meaningful relationships. Building a support system of involved teachers, peers, parents, and mentors can all help build long-range social growth and resiliency.

4. Promote intrapersonal understanding—“Twice-exceptional learners have a difficult time dealing with their mixed abilities” (Trail, 2011). High expectations of the self and low self-esteem can have a negative impact on the academic performance and long-term outlook of twice-exceptional learners.

For most twice-exceptional learners: The least restrictive environment is the general education classroom with consultative/collaborative support (2011). "Gifted and special education specialists can support the classroom teacher with specific interventions to provide students with additional challenge in their area(s) of strength and support in their area(s) of weakness" (Trail, 2011).

For some twice-exceptional learners: Specifically designed small-group instruction is needed to provide targeted instruction to support the student in areas of weaknesses as well as challenge them to exceed in areas of strengths.

For twice-exceptional learners with behavioral, social, or emotional issues: Small-group or individual support from the school counselor, social worker, or school psychologists.

For a small number of twice-exceptional learners in need for intensive intervention:

  • Radical Acceleration-- Extremely fast paced instruction for students whose IQ ranges 160+
  • Individual Instruction-- For students whose educational needs are incompatible with the curricular content of the classroom.
  • Special schools or schools in schools--a separate school or contained program designed for the instruction of gifted students (with or without additional exceptionalities)
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Accommodations Used for Twice Exceptional Learners

This list is not all inclusive, and it suggests strategies that may benefit other learners.

Assistive Technology:


Computer Programs

Electronic Spellers

Electronic Organizers


Audio Books




Multi-media Presentations

Use of Highlighters

Multiple Modalities

Graphic Organizers


Teach Through Arts

Allow Additional Time

Break Up Assignments


Read Aloud

Teacher Gives Cues

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A Guidebook for Twice-Exceptional Student: Supporting the Achievement of Gifted

Students with Special Needs


Job, J. (n.d.). Understanding Twice-Exceptional Students. Retrieved September 22,

2014, from County, Maryland Public Schools guidance document

Students with Special Needs

Supporting the Identification and Achievement of the Twice-Exceptional Student. (20

January 1). Retrieved September 22, 2014, from

The Twice-Exceptional Dilemma. (2006, January 1). Retrieved September 22, 2014,


Trail, B. A. (2011). Twice-exceptional gifted children: Understanding, teaching, and counseling gifted students. Waco, Tex.: Prufrock Press.