What Exactly Is 2e Anyway?


As I stood in the checkout lane at Target and tried to explain to the bewildered cashier what 2e meant, I realized that I do this a lot.  It’s a fairly new term, and it’s one that I really like because it encompasses the struggles that we deal with along with the positive side of things.  The problem is, no one knows what it means.

I try to avoid the G word – gifted, because neurotypical people often have a pre-set idea of what that means.  Whatever their preconceived notions are, they certainly don’t match the reality of the Engineer bouncing around in front of them and being a general pest.  So I say 2e: twice exceptional.  I get blank looks.

Even among the gifted and talented community I often get the cyber equivalent of blank looks.  It’s great when someone actually asks what I mean, because it opens up a discussion that can only be positive.

So, let’s talk 2e.  Twice exceptional.  If you know what this means already, ignore me and carry on.

Bluntly, twice exceptional is a gifted student with special needs.  Those special needs can be almost anything: ADHD, ASD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, you name it.  It’s an alphabet soup in here.  It’s rather common among gifted kids, and it makes sense if you think about it.  Gifted kids are wired differently than neurotypical kids.  And sometimes, that wiring isn’t firing correctly.

If you want to read more in detail about 2e,  Hoagies has a lot of links, as does SENG and the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.

Now, you might be thinking “my kid has multiple diagnosis.  Are they 3e, 4e, 5e?”  Nope.  Just 2e.  Twice exceptional is a determinedly optimistic term that points out both ends of the spectrum.  The positive and the negative.  The strengths and the challenges.  You may have many different types of challenges, but one handy little umbrella covers it all.  That way you don’t have to break out the alphabet soup every time someone asks about your kid.

It’s also a covert way of saying my kid is gifted without using the actual word that evokes negative overtones.  And it’s something of an explanation as well.  The Engineer is gifted.  Very much so.  But he hasn’t been tested, and I know that a lot of people use the testing as the benchmark, particularly IQ testing.  How am I supposed to test a kid who won’t sit still?  Who can’t read?  Who gets easily bored and wanders off in the middle of things?  I know he’s gifted – anyone in the education field knows he’s gifted when they meet him, but there is no “official certificate” that I can whip out and quote numbers on.  Is he highly gifted?  Average gifted?  Almost neurotypical gifted?  (Fat chance of that.)  I just don’t know.

Gifted kids face challenges.  Twice Exceptional kids face almost insurmountable challenges without the support they need.  Their learning disabilities can present as disruptive behavior.  They struggle to cope with things like timed tests and the horrible challenge of sitting still.  They question everything but refuse to do homework.  They can be a teacher’s nightmare in traditional school.

Worse, they don’t test well in our test-focused schools.  I have a friend with a child the Engineer’s age in the local public schools here.  He has an IEP, he’s gifted, and he’s struggling in school.  Not because he doesn’t know the material, but because he gets an F for not writing the words correctly.  The teacher told his mom that he knows the material and will verbally answer correctly every time, but because he’s having issues with handwriting he fails the assignment.  How frustrating is that for a kid?  A parent?  A teacher, even, whose hands are tied and has to check the correct box and fail the poor kid.

The biggest problem with 2e kids in public schools is that they are completely out of the box.  No standard education will work for them – they need a customized education plan to succeed.  And no 2e kid is alike.  You can’t implement a Twice Exceptional program and expect all the 2e kids to do well, because they all have different challenges.

That is exactly why we’re homeschooling.  Traditional school would try to help the Engineer.  They would crush his spirit with negativity, albeit inadvertently.  He can’t behave.  He can’t help it.

He can’t sit still.  He can’t stop asking questions.  He can’t follow tamely and quietly down the hallway.  He just can’t handle being bored at all.  He can’t deal with the sensory input, and would have meltdown after meltdown because it’s just too much.  An IEP is a great help, but it’s limited.  Without an aide he wouldn’t be able to function.  School would be torture, not fun.  Not learning.

So we’re homeschooling.  We’re taking on the battle ourselves.  Armed with a lot of reading material, a lot of hands-on things, and a willingness to follow a stray question as far as we can into the ethosphere of the internet.

Go ahead and add Special Education Aide to my list of titles.  The growing, irritating list of titles.

Or you could just call me a parent.  Because that’s my job: to teach my kid and help him cope.


  1. Thank you all for this information. My husband and I are new to the 2e world. I write his as our 5 year old bounces across our couch reciting a multitude of facts about deep sea creatures and their habitats. His teacher has said on several occasions that she believes he may very well be a genius and the best conversations she has at school are with him, but he has been suspended from his montessori kindergarten/1st grade class 4 times this year already due to outbursts and hitting in times of duress. He is unable to sit still but can read complex words. We are working our way through packages and testing along with parenting classes and 2e books. Our concern is finding the right educational support for him. Our resources seem somewhat limited in the Sacramento, Ca area. We want him to feel supported because he is his own worst critic.


    • It’s so hard, isn’t it? Our resources are limited here too – children in the gifted program at public school in my son’s age range get 45 minutes of gifted class every 2 weeks. That’s nothing – he needs it on a daily basis! Your story is exactly why we’re homeschooling, as nothing else worked for us here. Do check out Celi’s post on resources at http://crushingtallpoppies.com/2016/12/21/gifted-children-and-non-traditional-educational-choices/ and look into micro school or Sudbury schools – those tend to work well for gifted and twice exceptional students. Jade Rivera’s Outschool is an excellent resource as well – Outschool offers online classes that we’re looking into for our kid. Good luck!


  2. I agree with many of the above comments. I usually try to explain to questioners that 2E means having high abilities and challenges at the same time. That 2E is a spectrum similar to the Autism Spectrum, and that 2E individuals are very unique and can sometimes be all over the spectrum in many different areas.
    Yes, it is sometimes difficult to assess a 2E individual, however a good assessor will use alternative tests to dig a little deeper and get to the bottom line or top line of both the abilities, and the challenges. Unfortunately for our 2E families, digging deeper takes more time and more money to pay for the assessments, usually resulting in incomplete results and a still cloudy picture of a complex individual. To summarize, assessment testing is limited by funding.
    I wish there was an easier solution to understanding the complexities of our 2E loved ones, but until then we will continue to support and encourage them to be engaged and successful.
    Thanks for writing your blog, Mary. I think your wonderful words will be very helpful for our community of parents, professionals and all others who are learning about what it means to be and to love a 2E individual. 🙂


    • Thank you for your kind words Marcie! I agree, it’s difficult to assess a 2e kiddo or adult, and the expenses have already become an issue for us too.


  3. Our 2E fifth grader (dual processing disorders, very high IQ) just started in an International Baccalaureate school with an inquiry based curriculum. He told me that he feels like he finally found a school that “fits” him. We are so happy.


    • That’s so wonderful! I’ve read great things about inquiry based curriculum – it sounds quite fun and like something my kid would enjoy as well. Hoping everything goes well for your son in his new school!


  4. I have a 2e kid – profoundly gifted with Dyslexia and Dysgraphia. It’s a huge misconception that homeschool is the *only* option for 2e kids (although the plethora of articles in the blogosphere on this topic would have us believe otherwise). First, homeschool is not a viable option for many families due to financial reasons, or personalities (some kids learn better from someone who is not their parent, and some parents enjoy working outside the home). Second, there are school systems -public and private – that do a wonderful job, where these kids are in a dedicated GT classroom, with teachers who have appropriate training and truly *get* them, where they surrounded by their true peers, where they blossom socially and academically. Our neighborhood school didn’t work for us, but we did some digging and found a public school in a neighboring district that has a fantastic GT program. I know it can be hard to test 2e kids, but there are many different types of tests available besides the traditional WISC IQ test (we have two friends with GT/ADHD kids that were tested using alternative tests). And, most importantly, those test results are an invaluable tool to advocate for your child. They are what opened the door for us – the door to acceptance into the GT program, the door to getting a 504 plan in place, the door to give my child’s teacher a better understanding of my child’s strengths and challenges. The 504 is different than an IEP, because it ensures that kids with disabilities (Dyslexia, ADHD, APD, etc.) receive appropriate accommodations in the classroom, and they don’t have to re-qualify for it every year like the IEP. (The new ADA laws recognize that gifted kids also have disabilities, so they don’t have to be performing below grade level to receive protection under the ADA.) Kids may also qualify for an IEP and a 504 and an ALP (advanced learning plan) – they are legally entitled to all three if needed. Bottom line – homeschool is not the only option – there are great schools that work for 2e kids, and test if you can because those results will support your advocacy efforts.


    • Good points! There are a lot of homeschoolers dealing with 2e (and writing about it.) It’s certainly not the only option, although it ended up being the best option for us because the school wouldn’t offer an IEP or a 504. The key is the support – are the kids getting the support they need from the schooling choice – and testing is crucial to getting that support. I think in our case that it was harder to get the IEP or 504 because he was just starting kindergarten – there were no teacher reports or results to point to, and hence no “reason” to test.


  5. I was excited to see this article as I am interested in finding new ways to explain “2e” to people unfamiliar with the the concept. The visual, however, I respectfully challenge. the depicted distribution is the normal curve or “bell curve.” High IQ or gifted IQ is commonly considered beyond 2 standard deviations to the right of average. High IQ is the first exception to average. WITHIN the high IQ, on the same distribution, the second exception to the normal distribution occurs. The second exception is not demarcated 2 standard deviations BELOW average on any metric. For example, if ADHD is the second exception, the exception occurs in interaction with high IQ but never suggests below average….anything. It is an atypicality, a deviation from average., but not necessarily below average (unless, for example, you change the normal distribution to indicate working memory. In this case you need to show two different distributions, perhaps one as an overlay on top of the other). I’d very much like to see alternative visual depictions of 2e.


    • Thank you for pointing that out! I am not a specialist or expert at this, just a mom who happened to be thrust into the whole 2e arena. As I wrote the article and designed the graphic I struggled to come up with an easy, visual way for neurotypical people to quickly understand that 2e is outside of the “normal” range in two very different ways. This one was the best I could come up with. In fact, as a layperson I consider the learning disabilities to be below average – as in: average kids will not have these issues. Please note that I’m not saying that learning disabilities are in any way lesser or undesirable (although I think my kid would label them as undesirable because he’s tired of dealing with it.) Just that both learning disabilities and gifted are outside of the normal population range.


    • that explanation is not necessarily true. It works for some kids, if you are talking solely about IQ, but it won’t even fit all kids when talking about IQ (ADHD can actually depress parts of the IQ). So a typical ADHD IQ depression would be really high in most things and then low in processing speed or coding. And for many of those kids it will be 1-2 standard deviations below average for those areas. And the bell curve representation is not a representation of IQ, it is a representation of all things. Most people when they think gifted 100% believe gifted kids are at the top of the bell curve in everything, when reality is there can be a lot of asynchronous development and they can be all over the bell curve depending on what you are talking about.

      And different diagnosis do the same thing. For example, my 2E kid has an IQ estimated between 140-160, with the more concise estimate of 155-160. They couldn’t give an exact number because the non-verbal IQ test they felt was STILL depressed due to his ADHD (and it was 139). On the other hand is WPPSI came back at 105, with a verbal IQ score of 75 and a performance IQ score at 125 (and hitting the ceiling on 2 performance tests). So he was literally hitting both sides of the IQ bell curve at the same time because he is both gifted and certain parts of the way he tests his ADHD, MERLD, and APD depress those test scores

      And ADHD IS diagnosed via standard deviations, but it is usually measured in terms of standard deviations of behavior, not IQ. This is what things like the Connors checklist do. Each score is standardized with standard deviations resulting in mild, moderate, severe, and extreme findings


      • Thanks for giving us an different look at things. Since I haven’t taken the Engineer for testing, you have a much clearer view of how things work. Thanks for dropping by!


  6. This article was spot on to our family experience. As a former educator, and parent of gifed kids, (one a 2E), I have long said that so many educators seem to have lost the point of education. One night in trying to explain to my husband and parents why my very bright 2E was barely barely passing, they kept saying, “But the bottom line is that he didn’t get the work turned in!” ( The week’s work had to be turned in on Friday morning, though each day was checked in class – he NEVER had it all by Friday!) I replied, “What you don’t understand is THEY HAVE THE WRONG BOTTOM LINE! The purpose of education is for students to learn the material and demonstrate their understanding in some way! The are grading organizational skills! Not math!” So frustrating to me as well as to him. He is an adult now, and very successful, but I was not sure he would ever get through middle school or graduate from hugh school.


    • Wow, that sounds extremely frustrating! I’m certainly not an expert on schools, but perhaps if educators changed the focus from “teach the test” to “enquiry-based learning” the system would work better for kids like our ours who just don’t fit in neat little boxes. Put college techniques in elementary school, as it were. That’s a systemic change so I don’t expect to see it anytime soon. Thanks for stopping by – I’m glad to hear comments like this!


  7. The ignorance about the terminology is not its newness.

    As the Twice-Exceptional descriptor is (at least) 28 years old, the only reason for its not being part of the common vernacular for school professionals is gross negligence on the parts of schools of education and leaders of fields outside of gifted land.

    I wish it were otherwise, deeply.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.