Supporting Twice Exceptional Students: Closing the Gaps in Our Own Learning

Dual Exceptionality or Twice Exceptional  (2e for short) students was a learning difference, a learner’s identity, a learning label I became aware of, and interested in, when I was the G&T Lead for our school and then our MAT nearly a decade ago.

“Twice exceptional or 2e is a term used to describe students who are both intellectually gifted (as determined by an accepted standardized assessment) and learning disabled, which includes students with dyslexia”.

“Twice exceptional (or 2E students) are sometimes also referred to as double labelled, or having dual exceptionality. These are gifted students whose performance is impaired, or high potential is masked, by a specific learning disability, physical impairment, disorder, or condition. They may experience extreme difficulty in developing their giftedness into talent”.

I cannot remember receiving much training on SEND in my PGCE. My understanding of inclusion has evolved through self-directed learning and reading over the years. When I did a key note for Driver Youth Trust last year I reflected on the fact that as an English teacher: why I have never received any training on phonics?

Moreover, at the inaugural Chartered College of Teaching event last year, Professor Tanya Byron gave us a whistle stop session on Clinical Psychology – neuro development is another gap in my training as an educator and a school leader.

So this is a disclaimer  – this blog is my musings, my reflections, my processing of information to make sense of my school leadership. I am “a Jill of all trades and a mistress of none!”


My ‘Why’ for finding out more and for understanding 2e?

When I was a Middle Leader, many years ago, we had a student, Student X, who was extremely bright. He aced every subject in Key Stage 3, and was listed as Gifted across the board. Student X was a model student, if a little aloof as he found it hard to socially connect with his peers. At the end of Year 9 Student X was withdrawn by his parents to attend a private school on a scholarship.  We were meeting his needs, he was making excellent progress, but he was an aspiring musician and the school had an enrichment offer we could not compete with.  Student X achieved well at GCSE and A Level, he went on to start at Cambridge. However, the academic and social pressures became too much. I am sad to say that Student X’s mental health deteriorated and  he became a victim of male suicide. Our school community were understandably shocked when we found out the news, 5 years after he had left us at the end of KS3.


8 years later I find myself supporting a student with similar characteristics. Student Y is a highly articulate young man who is bright, but unlike Student X, behaviour of Student Y is not always of the model student.  Student Y has the capacity to be the role model we know he has the potential to be. Student Y  is a brilliant leader, when he chooses to be, but he finds that he compromises himself a lot as he has an impulsive side to his personality. Student Y was  not diagnosed by his primary school as having SEND. Student Y has had mental ill health concerns at primary and was supported by P-CAMHs. Student Y is a Shepherd, and we have discussed the responsibility he has as a natural leader, to guide his flock of followers to safety, not to danger.  I am concerned about Student Y, I am working closely with him, his Mum and his Dad. I see the confusion on his face, the stress in his hands as he tries to make sense of who he is, as he tries to process his neuro divergent thoughts. At the same time, I have Student X sat on my shoulder, reminding me what happens when the system fails you as a bright young man with complex learning needs.


I am not saying that all twice exceptional students have mental health issues, but I am making connections between the handful of students I have taught who are sat at the middle of the Venn Diagram intersections within the Reuleaux triangle, who have a complex overlap of different labels to navigate. I want to add a 3rd circle to this diagram for mental (ill) health and learn more about the intersections of each.

2e 4


So ‘What’ are the characteristics of 2e students?

  • Superior oral vocabulary
  • Advanced ideas and opinions
  • High levels of creativity and problem-solving ability
  • Extremely curious, imaginative, and questioning
  • Discrepant verbal and performance skills
  • Clear peaks and valleys in cognitive test profile
  • Wide range of interests not related to school
  • Specific talent or consuming interest area
  • Sophisticated sense of humor



And ‘how’ do we identify, instruct, differentiate for and nurture 2e students? 

Below I have shared 4 articles that Vargini shared with me from the Imperial College 2e in STEM research project. I have lifted the key message that resonated with me from each:

Identifying 2e Students

  1. Students first identified as gifted who later show indicators of a specific disability area.
  2. Students identified as having a specific learning disability and who also show  outstanding talent in one or more areas.
  3. Students who may appear average or underachieving because the disability area masks any manifestation of giftedness.

Instructing 2e students

“Students who have both gifts and learning disabilities require a “dually differentiated program”: one that nurtures gifts and talents while providing appropriate instruction, accommodations, and other services for treating learning weaknesses. Unfortunately, research- based, well-defined, and prescribed practices for the 2e student with dyslexia are hard to find, and current practices vary widely.

Instruction for 2e students should be designed to develop higher-level cognitive functioning, or for their challenges–to develop basic skills (e.g. handwriting, reading, spelling, written expression, math computation). Otherwise, these students may be labeled average students or underachievers who simply need “to try harder.”

Supporting 2e Students

“Twice exceptional children don’t fully fit into either the traditional special needs or traditional gifted categories, so schools and teachers often do not know what to do with them, even assuming the child has been identified. This puts them at high risk of slipping between the cracks, and, purely due to poor fit, being unintentionally excluded from the school system”.

Nurturing 2e Students

“Even with a strong program which provides for both exceptionalities, these students will still encounter negative emotions and setbacks. They need an active support system to access during these times, to talk openly about their feelings, and to problem solve about getting beyond the emotions in a given situation. This support can take place in informal discussions with teachers, parents, or peers; or it may demand more formal situations such as individual counseling for mild issues and, perhaps, therapy for deeper or high impact issues”.

I am also going to add this article link from Dr Adam Boddison CEO NASEN:

Flashes of Brilliance

“It is not always easy to identify children with DME because their abilities can mask their needs just as their needs mask their abilities, so they can appear to be ‘average with flashes of brilliance’. In many classrooms these children may appear to be an average child, but the reality is that their needs are not being met and their potential is not being realised”.

Plus a Youtube link to Dr Stephen Hawkins talking about DME here.

My reading around neurodiversity is clearly in its infancy. I will be working with our Inclusion Leader Amjad, our More Able lead Bennie, our Mental Health lead Julie and the student/ his parents this term. We will work in partnership to support the learning needs of Student Y to ensure that he gets the assessments and interventions that he needs to support his neurodivergent thinking. Hopefully a coordinated approach by all of us will ensure that both the disability and the ability are addressed, whilst supporting his mental health.


Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Understanding more about how to support our students
  • The research that Imperial College are doing around 2e students in STEM subjects

Currently reading and thinking about:

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • Vargini Ledchumykanthan  – thank you so much for your help via twitter and email for the links on the reading and research into 2e students

One thought on “Supporting Twice Exceptional Students: Closing the Gaps in Our Own Learning

  1. A well encapsulated article of the plight of atypical learners , such twice exceptional (2e) students in schools. Their ability to cope and mask their difficulties, means that teachers and SENCO can overlook their needs, until they manifest in a deep social and emotional level or in a mental health difficulty. I am glad to be able to sign post you in the right direction , to seek some understanding in this area. Consolidating your experience with the knowledge and research into this area.
    As educators we are still putting the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together of what are the barriers to children’s learning and success; or even constructing the Venn diagrams in our understanding Giftedness/ most able and SEN- twice exceptionality . Really enlightening- thank you.


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