Twice Exceptional ChildrenParents may suspect that their child is gifted, yet be baffled when their smart child has difficulty learning in certain areas. Some intellectually gifted students also have special learning needs such as a learning disability. Gifted students may also have other special educational needs such as auditory processing problems, dyslexia, ADHD or emotional problems.

When a highly intelligent child has a learning disability, it is difficult for parents to make sense of the learning and behavior patterns they observe. A “masking” phenomenon often occurs; high intellect is partly hidden by learning problems, and learning difficulties partially obscure a child’s true level of intelligence. This can result in two problems: the child’s intellectual gifts are not nurtured and developed, and the learning disabilities may not be properly remediated.

Because these students are extremely intelligent, they can utilize many compensatory strategies in order to learn and appear more successful. They use abilities such as reasoning skills, strong memory, attention to detail, or other gifts to circumvent their disability. It is difficult for teachers and parents to observe the learning problems and, therefore, the child’s learning disabilities frequently are not identified and the child does not receive help in the area of disability.

It is often difficult for adults to be alert to the signs of intellectual giftedness in children who do not learn easily and rapidly in all areas. Therefore the child’s giftedness also goes unrecognized and these students do not receive the proper encouragement and educational support to fully develop their gifts, talents and desire to achieve academically.

Gifted individuals with learning disabilities exhibit both strengths and areas of need. Not every child has the same pattern of highs and lows. Therefore, adults must be vigilant in determining appropriate educational interventions.

Some characteristics of twice exceptional students include the following (keep in mind that each individual will exhibit a unique profile):

  • Above average abstract reasoning ability
  • Strong mathematical reasoning skills
  • Comprehensive knowledge in subjects of interest
  • Exceptional attention to detail
  • Advanced grasp of the “big picture”
  • Keen visual memory, spatial skills
  • Advanced vocabulary
  • Imagination, creativity, insightfulness
  • Extraordinary talent in areas such as music, arts, science, language
  • First-rate problem-solving skills
  • Wide variety of interests
  • Sophisticated understanding of satire, humor, metaphors, analogies
  • Command of complex relationships
  • Socially adept, popular
  • Difficulty with memorization in areas such as math facts, phonics, spelling
  • Distractibility, disorganization, poor follow-through
  • Hypersensitivity to criticism
  • Perfectionism, slow rate of work production
  • Unreasonable self expectations, negative view of own performance
  • Often, failure to complete assignments
  • Difficulties with sequential tasks

Appropriate Educational Services for Twice-Exceptional Students
The intellectual abilities of gifted students with disabilities must be nurtured. These students must be provided with appropriate challenges. Frequently the pace of education is too slow for these students and they become disinterested. These students need challenging, stimulating, relevant instruction that emphasizes problem solving and understanding the “big picture.”

Society owes each intellectually gifted student an education that nourishes their talents, develops strong reasoning abilities, and sparks curiosity. Students who receive a stimulating education enter the adult world as full, eager, competent participants, able to contribute their talents to society.

Intelligence is a multifaceted, malleable, and vibrant faculty that can either be encouraged or hindered by experience. Our society must commit to nurturing the capacities of intellectually gifted students with disabilities. Educators must:

  • Be alert to the signs of intellectual potential in students who learn differently or who do not learn rapidly and easily
  • View non-conventional types of talents such as artistic, musical, visual-spatial, and social gifts as indicators of intellectual giftedness
  • Use portfolios, projects, debates, discussions and other methods of instruction and evaluation in order to reach a student’s gifts
  • Stress high-level problem-solving, abstract thinking, and creativity
  • Have high expectations for children’s futures—not set limits based on pre-conceived notions
  • Emphasize self-directed learning, experimentation and active inquiry
  • Support strong self concept as the driving force for success

Simultaneously, we must identify and remediate learning disabilities so that twice exceptional students can fully participate in academic experiences to the level of their intelligence. Students must receive the educational support they require in areas of need such as speech and language services, reading remediation, educational therapy, counseling or tutoring. The traditional school curriculum and methodology must be modified to circumvent weak areas of functioning.

Learn more about the special educational needs of gifted students.

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