Catering for every learner

To support implementation of the Gifted and Talented Students Policy, the Education Directorate commissioned specialist consultants, Gateways Education, to develop a series of six articles to provide information to parents and the community about gifted and talented children. The following article is the fourth in the series.

Further information about gifted and talented education can be found on the Directorate’s website at

Who are our twice-exceptional learners?

“Gifted students with learning disabilities are a unique population who are at special risk for social and emotional issues because of the incompatibility of extraordinary talent with significant learning problems” (Neihart, Reis, Robinson & Moon, 2002).

Definitions: Twice-exceptional students are those gifted learners who may also be physically or emotionally disabled or who may have specific learning disabilities, which impact the learning process. Specifically, these exceptionalities may include physical disabilities such as deafness, blindness, paralegia, and cerebral palsy or emotional disabilities such as anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and oppositional defiance disorder (ODD). The learning disabilities of dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, dysmorphia and dyspraxia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) combined with intellectual giftedness may also be evident in twice-exceptional students.

Characteristics: Twice-exceptional students may have high verbal ability but exhibit extreme difficulty in written language areas. They may use language in inappropriate ways and at inappropriate times, and they frequently have reading problems due to cognitive processing deficits. Twice-exceptional students have strong observational skills and may concentrate for long periods in areas of interest yet may also have deficits in memory skills along with attention deficit problems. Many of these students excel in solving “real world” problems, have outstanding critical thinking and decision making skills and strong questioning attitudes, however they may appear disrespectful when questioning information presented by their teacher. Twice-exceptional students have unusual imaginations and frequently generate original ideas. They also display the duality of being unwilling to take risks with regard to academics whilst still taking risks in non-school areas without consideration of consequences (Neihart, 2008).

The use of humour to divert attention from any school failure, to make fun of peers or to avoid trouble is a common coping strategy of twice-exceptional students. They sometimes appear immature when expressing feelings and to deal with difficulties, and will require frequent teacher support and feedback in deficit areas. These students may be highly critical of themself and others including teachers, but they can also express concern about the feelings of others even while engaging in anti-social behaviour. They may be perceived as loners since they do not fit the typical model for either a gifted or a learning disabled student and they sometimes have difficulty being accepted by peers due to their often poor social skills (Higgins, Baldwin & Pereles, 2000; Weinfeld, Barnes-Robinson, Jeweler, & Shevitz, 2006)

Identification: The identification of twice-exceptional students requires comprehensive assessment in both the areas of giftedness and disabilities, as one does not preclude the other. Identification, when possible, should be conducted by professionals from both disciplines and when at all possible, by those with knowledge about twice exceptionality in order to address the impact of both areas on diagnostic assessments and thus their eligibility for school based and other professional services.

The needs of twice exceptional students include:

  • Support to develop self-awareness, metacognition and self-efficacy
  • Accommodations appropriate to the their specific needs
  • Preparation and assistance with transitions between levels of schooling
  • Mentorships and work experience in secondary schools
  • Talent development experiences
  • Learning environments that support their academic, social and emotional needs
  • Families aware of the unique needs of their children and how to meet them
  • Teachers and school personnel who are aware of the unique needs of these special populations of gifted students

A strength based focus is critical and involves:

  • An understanding of both exceptionalities
  • Supportive home and school environments
  • Parents and teachers who will act as advocates
  • Help to develop skills in self-advocacy
  • Access to programs for the gifted
  • Scaffolding in the area of weakness

Strategies to help twice-exceptional students include:

Conclusion: Best practices suggest that parents, teachers and other school professionals, such as counsellors or psychologists of twice exceptional learners discuss with the student at an early age, his or her strengths and the way he or she learns. Research has shown that self-awareness, engaging in proactivity, perseverance, goal setting, the presence and use of effective support systems, and emotional coping strategies help lead persons with disabilities to greater success. Researchers believe that these activities decrease the student’s level of academic frustration and increase self-confidence and the student’s ability to advocate for themselves (Field, Martin, Miller, Ward & Wehmeyer, 1998).


Field, S., Martin, J., Miller, R., Ward, M, & Wehmeyer, M. (1998). A practical guide for teaching self determination.

Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.

Higgins, D., Baldwin, L., & Pereles, D. (2000). Comparison of characteristics of gifted students with or without disabilities. Unpublished manuscript.

Neihart, M. (2008). Identifying and providing services to twice-exceptional children. In S. Pfeiffer (Ed.). Handbook of giftedness in children: Psychoeducational theory, research, and best practices. New York: Springer.

Neihart, M., Reis, S., Robinson, N., & Moon, S. (Eds.) (2002). The social and emotional development of gifted children: What do we know? Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Strop, J. & Goldman, D. (2002). The affective side: Emotional issues of twice-exceptional students. Understanding Our Gifted, Winter (28-29).

Weinfeld, R., Barnes-Robinson, L., Jeweler, S., & Roffman Shevitz, B. (2006). Smart kids with learning difficulties: Overcoming obstacles and realizing potential. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.