First of all, what does the term “twice exceptional” mean? Simply, it refers to a child who is intellectually gifted, but who also has some challenge to learning, including, but not limited to, ADHD, an autism spectrum disorder, a behavioral or emotional disorder, or a specific learning disability. Unfortunately, often the giftedness is masked by the disability, the disability is masked by the giftedness, or neither is addressed since the child appears to be doing fine. twice exceptionality is a puzzle and we must identify all of the pieces in order to help the child to fulfill his potential.
As we seek to understand appropriate measures by which to identify twice-exceptional children, we must also understand the complexities of twice-exceptionality. While we have to look at a child’s innate intelligence and academic potential, we also need to be able to see the array of possible impediments to the child’s reaching that potential.
When we talk about twice-exceptional (2E) learners, there is a tendency to look at them as a group. What can we do for 2X learners? How can we modify curriculum for 2E learners? How should we differentiate for 2E learners? Unfortunately, the problem is not that straightforward. Gifted students who have physical, emotional, psychological, or cognitive obstacles in their paths need to be addressed differently. For example, a teacher certainly would not provide the same accommodations to a blind gifted student as to a gifted student who is deaf. Similarly, the needs of the gifted child with ADHD are different from those of a gifted child with emotional or behavioral issues. To carry the argument in a slightly different direction, the needs of a student at one end of the autism spectrum are even quite different from those for the student at the other end. We want to provide the best educational opportunities possible to each child, but we would be doing these 2E learners a disservice if we thought of them all as simply “2E.” We absolutely must look at their individual needs based upon the type and degree of both their obstacles and their giftedness.
In 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was passed as reauthorization of The Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In NCLB, giftedness was defined as: “Students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.” [Title IX, Part A, Definition 22. (2002)] Many states and districts do follow this NCLB definition. Gone is reliance on the measure of one’s giftedness as a numerical number achieved on an intelligence test; however, intelligence quotients (IQs) may still qualify one as gifted in terms of providing a window into the “potential for high achievement.”
As children reach the school years, parents often see signs of giftedness in their children first. Stories abound of how Johnny was speaking in complete sentences at 1 or Susie was reading at 3. These certainly are early signs of precociousness; however, other signs must be considered as well (depending upon which definition of giftedness we choose to use). Similarly, if a parent sees that Johnny has difficulty distinguishing among vowel sounds, or writes illegibly, reads haltingly or becomes enraged at the slightest provocation, there may be a twice-exceptionality. I believe that parents are integral players in identifying 2E children.
The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) tells us, in its position paper on twice exceptionality, “Whereas the concept itself is becoming more well-known both in and out of gifted education, professionals still are unsure of the prevalence of twice-exceptionality because no federal agency gathers base-rate data for this group of students. Estimates made through various sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, suggest that there are approximately 360,000 twice-exceptional students in America’s schools (National Education Association, 2006), making the call for awareness and understanding about twice-exceptionality critical for educators nationwide.
Also to be considered, Piaget believed that we must understand a child’s logic in order to understand their level of intelligence. He believed, "Children have real understanding only of that which they invent themselves, and each time that we try to teach them something too quickly, we keep them from reinventing it themselves." (http://www.time.com/time/time100/scientist/profile/piaget02.html) Any true measure of their intelligence, then, should be one that allows them a degree of individual exploration and re-invention.
NAGC cautions, “IQ tests do not measure creativity, leadership, initiative, curiosity, commitment, artistic skill, musical talent, social skills, emotional well-being, or physical prowess - all components which can be included in definitions of giftedness. There is considerable evidence that students who are economically disadvantaged, from ethnic minorities, and/or speak English as a second language generally receive a lower score on IQ tests. This is a fault in the tests, not the students” [Callahan, C. M. & Eichner, H. (2009). IQ Tests and Your Child. Retrieved November 3, 2009 from www.nagc.org].
The bottom line, then, is that when looking at the possibility of twice exceptionality, we need to look at the whole child. We need to be aware of how easily he learns, assimilates, and displays knowledge, but also of when he becomes frustrated, how he relates to other children his chronological age, and parents’ impressions of the child. Only by putting together all of the pieces of the puzzle that is each child can we assist him in fulfilling his true potential.