2e: Hiding In Plain View

Gifted kids stand out.  They’re the prodigy playing the piano, the 5-year-old entering a spelling bee, or the math whiz fixing a mistake that NASA made.  They’re noticeable.  They’re memorable.  They’re brilliant.

And then there’s 2e.  Twice exceptional kids.

2e kids don’t stand out: at least, not in a same way gifted students do.  My child stands out, but for all the wrong reasons.  I’m constantly having to explain that he’s gifted, and then having to define how and provide examples to prove it.  Because no one believes me.

We recently had a less-than-stellar doctor’s appointment for the Engineer.  At one point I mentioned that he’s 2e to the doctor.  After having to define twice exceptional (first red flag) she put on a doubting face and asked “so how, exactly, do you know that he’s so smart if he can’t read?”

Her comments drove home the fact that twice exceptional students face a huge struggle in even claiming the label.  If you have to expend every bit of your incredible brain trying to overcome a disability, then it’s hard to demonstrate brilliance.

I won’t quote facts and figures here – I’ll leave that for the experts.  I’ll simply say this: twice exceptional students fall through the cracks.  They’re often unidentified, labeled as behavioral problems, and struggling with basic stuff while excelling at complex subjects.  Twice exceptional students fit the definition of asynchronous perfectly: they’re all over the place.  Ahead, behind, average – all at the same time.

Ironically, the gold standard of testing also fails 2e students.  It’s difficult to test a student who can’t sit still, or who struggles with dyslexia.  In order to get accurate results you have to know what the disabilities are and work around them.  That’s tough because the giftedness of 2e kids often masks their disabilities and prevents a proper diagnosis.  Which causes the tests to fail.  Which keeps them from getting gifted accomodations.  Vicious cycle.

It’s sobering.  One expert estimates that the prison population has up to 20% of gifted inmates – and as much as 70% have some kind of disability.  When you consider that the general population has a much lower rate of gifted (6-10 %) that’s a startling comparison.  Twice Exceptional students are at risk for life, it seems.

I read these reports and studies and I look at them through the lens of a parent.  My child is twice exceptional.  What if I put him in public school and expected them to meet his needs?  What if he struggled?  Would his behavioral issues become the primary focus?

Of course.  A teacher can’t teach if a student is being disruptive.  My son would quickly be labeled a problem child despite documented medical issues.  And if I’m honest, I’ll admit that the giftedness (boredom because he’s not reaching his potential) triggers the disabilities at times.

So I have a question for the educational system: what if we took all those problem children with behavioral issues, and gave them the individualized, challenging education that they needed?  Would the behavioral issues improve?  Would we discover the brilliance of giftedness among these children?

What if kids like mine were put in a situation where they were in control of their education?  Where they felt responsible instead of powerless?  Where they could follow their complex interests while being supported  in the disability struggles?

Sure, not all students are self-starters.  Not all students would want that level of control in their education.  But for those who do, it would completely change their mindset from enduring school to enjoying learning.

I don’t know how to make this happen.  I don’t know how to fund it.  But I promise you this: all of our pipeline-to-prison issues would be less.  All of our underserved, gifted minority students would be appreciated and recognized instead of ignored.

You probably think I’m dreaming, and I am.  A little.  But I have a source for this dream: a  Sudbury school.  Sudbury schools are democratic, facilitated by staff, and run by the students.  At first glance it sounds like an educational utopia – a pipe-dream.  But it works – researcher Peter Gray found that some 75% of Sudbury graduates went on to higher education, and the remainder lived fulfilling lives.

Our educational system has to do better at identifying twice exceptional students.  Our culture needs to stop assuming that gifted means straight As.  Until we manage this we will continue to fail our 2e students.  They will drop through the cracks of our educational system into the morass of adulthood, ill-equipped to handle the rigors of reality.

It’s tough to be 2e.

Note: Sudbury schools have a lot in common with unschooling – a form of child-led homeschooling.  So even if you don’t have a Sudbury school near you, you may have the option of unschooling. 

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This post is part of Gifted Homeschooler’s Forum Blog Hop on Gifted and Twice-Exceptional: Revisiting 2E Issues.  Please drop by the website and check out the other helpful posts on this difficult subject!




  1. I’m a former teacher with a 2e daughter. I wish I could go back in time to all of my classes and interact with my students again. How differently I think I would view some of them now with what I have learned. There is so much that even the best and most dedicated teachers don’t know.


    • Even the most dedicated teachers have to work within the system – it’s impossible to be everything for your students with time and budget constraints!


    • I often think the same thing. Since becoming a parent, I have learned so very much that college couldn’t teach. But now that I do know more and have experienced homeschooling, I don’t think I ever want to go back to the school setting.


  2. Yes! If only schools took a few pointers from alternative education. I must admit to thinking that 2e kids are like the canaries in the coal-mine; they push against the way things are done from two directions and show the flaws and cracks in the way things are done. Maybe we can all dream together about how to make education work for everyone. 🙂


  3. This is pretty much it. Yet doctors have heard of Helen Keller and schools have too. I think one of the issues with 2e kids is that it’s such a wide spectrum of abilities and special needs. Another factor is that there are special schools for blindness, deafness, and dyslexia (though often very expensive). And many states, including MA, do not have a mandate for giftedness. So it’s a difficult situation. I’ve been homeschooling my son for five years now because he got no accommodations made in school (private and public) and created a vortex of depression, anger, behavioral issues, etc.


  4. You’ve pretty much just described our own journey through school. You pose an excellent question: what if we gave the troublemakers more individual attention? i think my daughter’s experience would have been vastly different.


    • It’s so hard to give attention like that in a classroom setting, so I get the teacher viewpoint too. For kids like ours, homeschool is literally the only choice if you can’t hire a full-time tutor (hah! not happening!) So hard!


  5. Love, love, love this post! This is information I wish I’d had several years ago as my husband and I were trying to figure out why our incredibly bright, curious, creative son was reduced to tears at even the thought of reading or writing anything. We later realized he was gifted and dyslexic, but the school he was in had been zero help in diagnosing, instead identifying him as a “distraction” in the classroom. This is why we homeschool now. The problem, as you say, “…giftedness of 2e kids often masks their disabilities and prevents a proper diagnosis. Which causes the tests to fail. Which keeps them from getting gifted accomodations. Vicious cycle.” Thanks for such a well-written piece — I hope all parents who need this information find their way here!


    • Thank you for your comments! So glad your son got the diagnosis he needed to get help – I’m starting to realize dyslexia is a tricky beast.


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