Twice Exceptional

Photo by Ivan T via Flickr
Photo by Ivan T via Flickr

Imagine instinctively solving advanced math equations in your head — but struggling to read the word “multiplication.” Or mentally composing elaborate plays that you can’t write down. Imagine your frustration. Imagine your humiliation. Imagine life in a world that focuses on your weaknesses and ignores your gifts.

Such is the world of the twice exceptional child, a child who is simultaneously gifted and learning disabled. To many, the very words “gifted” and “learning disabled” are complete opposites. How, some wonder, can one person be “smart” as well as “dumb?”

Well, “gifted” does not equal “smart” and “learning disabled” does not equal “dumb.” A gifted person is one with incredible potential, one who sees and experiences the world in a way that is more intense, more open to possibility. A learning disability affects one’s ability to process or interpret information; a person of normal intelligence who struggles to read or write likely has a learning disability.

Children who are both gifted and learning disabled frequently feel confused. They may be ahead — very ahead — in some school subjects, but behind (even very behind) in others. The twice exceptional student doesn’t quite know where he fits in; his teachers and parents wonder why he’s not living up to his potential.

According to the Colorado Department of Education, “Gifted students with disabilities are at-risk because their educational and social/emotional needs often go undetected. The resulting inconsistent academic performance can lead educators to believe twice-exceptional students are not putting forth adequate effort. Hidden disabilities may prevent students with advanced cognitive abilities from achieving their potential.”

Some schools, however, are making strides to ensure that twice exceptional children have the opportunity to succeed, even as they learn to cope with their disabilties. Watch this “Chance to Read” video to see how one school is helping twice exceptional boys:


The Building Boys Bulletin

The Building Boys Bulletin Newsletter gives you the facts, encouragement, and inspiration you need to help boys thrive. Written by Jennifer L.W. Fink, mom of four sons and author of Building Boys: Raising Great Guys in a World That Misunderstands Males, Building Boys Bulletin includes:

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“I learned a lot about helping boys thrive over the past 20+ years — most of it the hard way! I’m eager to share what I’ve learned to make your path a little easier.”   – Jennifer

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5 Responses

  1. You mean, some schools don’t detect it, and even if they do, may not be able to do anything about it? Even in a school, they may be further behind and lacking in their potential instead of behind but aiming high in their strong areas? Really doesn’t sound like school is the answer, huh? (Sorry… a little sarcastic today!!)

  2. i never knew there was a name for that! although it makes perfect sense! to an extent, this describes me through school. i started reading at age 3…not just repeating…really reading. and though i tried so hard, math never came to me that easily! in kindergarten i was reading at a 3rd grade level. in middle school i was in the gifted program…but there wasn’t any differentiation. i was gifted in reading, so i must be gifted in math as well! i wouldn’t say i was LD in math, btu i struggled so much that i often ended up in tears trying to finish math homework…even through high school! i will say though that because i struggled so much in math, it has made me better at teaching math! i had to pick things apart (of course the tutor twice a week helped me understand more too) so much that i can explain things in so many different ways now!

  3. Thanks for your comment, Missy. I’m sorry you had to deal with that in school. I’m willing to bet that your “failure” in math felt even worse *because* you were gifted, right? The old, well-if-she’s-so-smart-she-should-be-able-to-do-this, right?

    It’s great that you’re now able to help other math students. I think a former struggling student is often a far better teacher than one with an intutive grasp of the material. I had a math teacher in HS who clearly knew his stuff, but it was obvious to him that he couldn’t even understand our questions. He had no idea why someone *wouldn’t* understand, b/c the math concepts were perfectly clear to him.

  4. Hello:

    I recently visited your site, and I believe that the our web page listing colleges which offer comprehensive programs for students with learning disabilities would be a great addition to the resources you list on

    There is a lot of other helpful information on our site, including a page that links to more than 60 no-cost scholarship search sites

    I hope you will recommend and link to both pages so we can help your website visitors learn more about their educational options.

    Dan Rosenfield
    American Educational Guidance Center

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