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Twice-Exceptional Students: Definition & Characteristics

Instructor: Allison Camps

Allison has taught in elementary school inclusion classrooms and has her master's degree in Special Education.

In this lesson, you will learn characteristics of twice-exceptional students. You will also learn tools you can use to help these students reach their potential.

Twice-Exceptional Students Defined

You are in the middle of teaching your third-grade students basic division. All of the students are sitting on the carpet listening, all but Jonny. Jonny is roaming the classroom, touching the sides of books and paying no attention (or so you think).

You remind Jonny that it is time to sit on the carpet with the rest of the class. He comes to the carpet and sits down. After a minute, he is playing with the bracelet on the girl sitting next to him. You ask him to sit at his desk so he does not interrupt the rest of the students.

He walks to his desk and sits down. He begins rummaging through his pencil box. At this point, you are frustrated and send him to sit in the hallway while you finish your introductory lesson with the rest of the students. You are frustrated, to say the least.

When Jonny comes back into the classroom, you assign him to complete the first section of a division worksheet. He not only completes the first section without any trouble, he also completes the remaining sections and the challenge portion that involves long division. You are baffled. Here it seemed Jonny was paying no attention to your lesson, but he not only comprehends basic division, but he is also able to do long division.

Jonny is part of a unique population identified as twice-exceptional students.

Students are identified as twice exceptional when they possess outstanding gifts and talents, but also have a learning disability. These students might fall through the cracks because they might be unidentified as twice exceptional and consequently not provided the appropriate accommodations, or modifications, to help them reach their full potential.

Identifying Twice-Exceptional Students

Being that there is so much diversity among twice-exceptional students, there is no one method to identify these students. This is why they are sometimes misdiagnosed or misunderstood. Twice-exceptional students typically fit into one of three categories:

  1. Students are identified as gifted (with no diagnosed disability). These students' disabilities are covered up by their talents.
  2. Students are diagnosed with a disability (with no identified giftedness). These students' giftedness is covered up by their disability.
  3. Students are neither identified with a disability or as gifted. These students' giftedness and disability even each other out, so neither is clearly distinguishable.

As a teacher, it is your responsibility to look for the following characteristics in your students, particularly younger students.

  • Discrepancy between the student's level of work and his/her potential
  • Evidence of a strong talent or skill
  • Signs of a processing deficit, or shortfall

Helping Twice-Exceptional Students

One of your goals as an educator should be to provide children with the skills and knowledge to grow up into successful and confident adults. Twice-exceptional students need to be identified and provided with differentiated, or specialized, programming.

You should undertake the following:

  • Promote the student's strengths
  • Encourage student's self-esteem through social and emotional growth
  • Recognize holes in the student's skills and provide appropriate remediation
  • Share your observations with other team or staff members so the student receives support in all academic areas

Let's revisit Jonny, the student mentioned in our opening example. Jonny clearly exhibits impulse control. Within just the introduction portion of the math lesson, Jonny was out of his seat, distracted by a student's bracelet and fidgeting in his desk. You automatically saw Jonny as a distraction, to the point you removed him from the classroom. It wasn't until the you observed his above-average math skills that you probably began to dig a little deeper into the whole picture of Jonny.

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