support an exceptional child

Supporting Twice Exceptional Children

By Dr. Tamara Soles

When it comes to neurodiversity, overlapping conditions is often the rule rather than the exception. Twice exceptional, or 2e, is a term used to describe a child who is both intellectually gifted and has a condition such as autism, ADHD, or a learning disability. 


Twice exceptional children are in danger of having their strengths overshadowed by the attention placed on their challenges, rather than trying to uncover their talents and accommodate their differences. On the other hand, some 2e kids do well enough academically due to their high intellectual capability, which causes their other needs to be missed. 

Having either their strengths or their challenges overlooked by those around them puts twice exceptional children at risk for social, emotional and behavioral challenges. Their self-esteem may suffer, particularly because their high level of sensitivity (which often accompanies giftedness) can make them acutely aware of their challenges and the negative perception others may have of them. If this sense of inadequacy is not addressed through the recognition of their giftedness and appropriate encouragement to reach their full potential, these children often end up becoming disruptive at school—acting out, daydreaming, or frequently moving off task as an expression of their feelings of frustration or boredom.

Here are five strategies to support twice-exceptional kids:

  1. Strength-Based Learning: Encourage teachers and therapists to adopt a strength-based approach to learning. By building upon children’s areas of passion and talent, we instill a love of learning and foster a sense of accomplishment. While supporting their challenges, we must also leverage their strengths and interests. 
  2. Encourage Self-Advocacy: Empower children to express their needs and advocate for themselves. Teach them to embrace their strengths and communicate their challenges confidently, helping them develop important life skills.
  3. Create a safe, nurturing environment wherein difference is celebrated: All children need to feel valued not for their abilities but simply by virtue of being human. Emphasize the importance of neurodiversity in our society and actively seek out and create neurodivergent spaces. Embracing their neurodiversity means embracing the beauty of their individuality.
  4. Appropriate level of challenge: Find creative ways to adapt the curriculum to provide the appropriate level of challenge. Allow opportunities to explore a topic more in depth through independent study. Students can build on the concepts being learned in class but tailor it to their own interest and cognitive level, for example researching a topic in more detail, building a model, writing a report, or creating a presentation for classmates. My favorite high-school English teacher once assigned an essay to the class but insisted that rather than write another essay (which was a strength of mine), I had to write a different ending to the play. He found a creative way to challenge me while still staying with the curriculum. 
  5. Create a plan: If a child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), ensure that both their intellectual strengths and their other challenges are addressed. 

Supporting twice exceptional children requires understanding, collaboration, and creativity. By nurturing their strengths, accepting their challenges, and creating an inclusive environment, we can empower them to reach their full potential. As parents, educators, and therapists, it is our privilege to support them on their journey, providing the tools they need to flourish. With the right encouragement, these unique thinkers may be tomorrow’s innovators and problem-solvers.

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