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Twice Exceptional Students: Gifted Children with Disabilities

By Finn Orfano

Twice exceptional students are those who have been classified by the school system as being both gifted and disabled. These students require accommodations that will foster their strengths while improving upon their weaknesses. Here are some ways to recognize and assist a twice exceptional child:

Identification of Twice Exceptional Students

Sam is only in the second grade, yet he can read on a sixth grade level. Sam also has a high-functioning form of autism that prevents him from communicating well with his peers. Because Sam has traits that qualify him as both academically gifted and developmentally disabled, he is considered to be a twice exceptional student.

Students who are classified as being twice exceptional often face complicated challenges in the public school environment. They need emotional, behavioral, and academic supports that help them adapt to their environment as disabled children while also enriching their experiences as gifted children. Because twice exceptional students typically exhibit a large degree of variance between their educational strengths and weaknesses, there are several key ways in which these individuals can be formally identified. Some twice exceptional students are initially categorized as gifted children and later begin to show deficits that meet the criteria for one or more disabilities. For other children, the reverse is true--disability traits are exhibited before gifted traits become apparent. A third group of twice exceptional students are harder to identify because they appear to be average overall, with strong and weak traits masking one another.

Public school students who are thought to be twice exceptional can have their skills assessed through a multi-factor evaluation (MRE). The results of the evaluation allow the IEP team to make decisions as to which services will most benefit the twice exceptional child.

Teaching Twice Exceptional Children

Twice exceptional children can easily be prone to frustration and behavior problems if they do not receive the motivation and guidance needed for them to succeed in school. Teachers, aides, and school counselors can help by adjusting the curriculum in a way that provides coping strategies for disabled children while also offering opportunities for encouraging giftedness. Twice exceptional students tend to thrive in the classroom when they are given enrichment activities that focus on the areas of their strengths in addition to the provisions needed to assist them in compensating for their deficiencies. With appropriate academic and emotional supports in place, twice exceptional children have a much better chance of realizing their potential in school.

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