Some of the time students seem to not fit in the classroom. They may have increased vocabularies, but poor math skills. They may be voracious readers and have unbelievable thoughts and ideas, but struggle writing and getting their thoughts on paper. They may be constantly in motion and challenge authority, yet are able to explain exactly what the teacher just introduced in a content area class. They may be an accomplished musician or exceptional artist yet can’t find their homework or stay organized from class to class.
This is the world of the twice-exceptional (2e) student. They are gifted in one or more areas, and also have a disability of some sort. They have two exceptionalities, hence the term twice-exceptional. They often receive special education services through an individualized education plan (IEP), or have a 504 plan that provides for their disability needs. Identifying these students as students with one or more disabilities is frequently the easy part. There are services and laws that protect students with disabilities. The problem in most schools is that once a student is identified as having a disability, they are often omitted from any search or program to identify gifted students. The common myth many people-educators and parents alike-believe is that if a student has a disability they cannot possibly be gifted. That is not true. Many students with disabilities who are also gifted are not identified and miss out on educational services that would meet the needs of their giftedness. On the other hand another common myth is that if a child is gifted in a certain area they cannot possibly have a disability. This is also untrue. It is quite a dilemma because in many students their giftedness masks their disability, or the disability masks their giftedness.
While the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 covers students with disabilities, there is no federal legislation providing a requirement for schools to provide services to gifted children. It should be noted that when IDEA was originally being crafted in the mid-1970s (originally the Education for All Handicapped Children Act [EHA] enacted in 1975), gifted children were discussed as part of the exceptional student population. Because advocacy groups and others pushed hard for students with disabilities the law was enacted minus the gifted. The intent was to revisit gifted students upon reauthorization of the EHA, but that has never occurred. The TALENT Act (To Aid Gifted and High-Ability Learners by Empowering the Nation's Teachers Act) holds promise but we will have to wait to see how this Amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) plays out in practice.
In 2010 Wisconsin moved to eliminate the Discrepancy Model in identifying students with learning disabilities. School districts had until December 1, 2013 to eliminate the discrepancy model. This is when a student’s IQ score was compared to their grades or achievement in school. If there was a specific numerical discrepancy between the two, a child could be identified with a learning disability. The discrepancy model is now fully phased out and multiple measures are being used. One result of this is the move toward Response to Intervention (RTI). Some educators and parents state that this move now excludes many gifted students from identification, especially twice-exceptional students, even though Wisconsin’s RTI framework includes all students including gifted students. Teachers and parents need more information about twice-exceptional students.
Twice-exceptional students in Wisconsin are at the mercy of their local school district. There are considerable differences from school district to school district throughout the state regarding services for gifted students, and even more differences for twice-exceptional students. This wide-range of differences includes no programming for gifted students and few identified twice-exceptional students, to good gifted programming including services for twice-exceptional students. Services for gifted and twice-exceptional students truly depend upon where students live. This is true across the board including underrepresented students.
Individual school districts may offer some services, but there is no mandate or model for school districts in Wisconsin to follow. It continues to be up to parents to advocate for their children so their individual needs are met be it through special education services, gifted services, or a combination of both.
Resources About the Twice-Exceptional Child
“2e Students: Who They Are and What They Need”
The Davidson Institute for Talent Development
“The Twice Exceptional Dilemma”
Downloadable PDF booklet about the twice-exceptional student in school.
“Legal Issues in Identifying and Serving Twice-exceptional Gifted Learners”
Downloadable PDF article by The Association for the Gifted Division of the Council for Exceptional Children
“Twice Exceptional Students Guidebook”
Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery County, MD, the sixteenth largest school district in the U.S. with vibrant gifted and special education programs.
Note especially these charts: Chart p. E1 comparing characteristics of gifted students with and without disabilities. What Works Charts-pp. I4-I9
Hoagies’ Gifted Twice-Exceptional page
NAGC Twice-Exceptional Special Interest Group
TALENT Act: To Aid Gifted and High-Ability Learners by Empowering the Nation's Teachers Act (S.512 & H.R. 2338)
Congress.gov page for the TALENT Act
NAGC page for the TALENT Act
WI DPI Programs for Students with Learning Disabilities
WI RTI Center Specific Learning Disabilities Eligibility Criteria
WI DPI Overview for Foundations for Gifted Education in Wisconsin
WI DPI RTI page
Wisconsin’s RTI model includes all students, including students with disabilities and gifted students.